Here I was wrapping up the semester, working my ass off, making money and now another residency is upon us. In 8 days to be exact. I know, despite my body and mind begging me to daydream, to sleep, to watch TV and catch up on everything I can’t when school and work merge, that I can not fall behind on this journal.
Residency was a becoming a rapid collection of beaded memories, each tapping into the next as I dropped them on a long string to hold on to, at least until I could write it down. Drinking. Huck. Michael. Friends and students in a house in Venice, all exhausted, all laughing, a kiss here or there from one gender or another. The house was cold but I was so eager to be close to the conversation, the music, the clips and text we shared with each other. The stimulation was not just rich in mentor-lead conversations at school, not only in the brilliant faculty readings of poetry and fiction, but in the hanging cocoon of comradery.
Michael, my boyfriend of almost two months, was not a writer. And he was without a car on the other side of a sprawling city. He felt isolated but didn’t complain. There was friction. There were brief visits and misty eyes. Long silences and growing irritation. He was my other life. There in Venice, some other part of me was living through a world not too far from the Bloomsbury Group. I didn’t want Michael’s reminders of the broken car, the dogs now urinating and defecating in the house during my absence and his own suspicions to cloud me. That was real life. It didn’t melt into the dreamers world.
Another person isolated from the group was Huck, my lover from the previous semester, now a friendship taut sexual tension. If I disappeared for a night, everyone thought I slept with him. I would come home to the Venice House and announce, “I didn’t sleep with him!”
“That’s a surprise,” my fiction writer Cat responded.
Exhausted from residency, one morning I asked to crash in Huck’s hotel room for a few hours to nap. The Venice House was a drive away and I didn’t have my car. Michael was taking it from shop to shop to figure out how much it would cost us. I brought Huck a sandwich and asked to just lie down there until the lecture later that afternoon. He said yes.
When I arrived, he was watching Stephen King give a lecture on his laptop. I peeled off my skinny jeans and put on Huck’s shorts so I could breathe. Then I crawled under twisted sheets and a blanket. My eyes were closed. My leg exposed. I was truly exhausted but still acutely aware of every sound in the room. I pushed my mind off the dock and felt my leg twitch. Finally, I could sleep.
A pop of the vodka bottle at his desk. The crunch of plastic as he discarded the sandwich container. I was awake. He gave me his critical paper to read. He showed me some clips and photographs of Bukowski and the women he loved. My head was swimming in fatigue and I knew I was crossing a line.
Huck got on the bed a few times. We replayed some karaoke from the night before on my phone and laughed. Just as I felt close he would get up and cross the room. That afternoon I wrote this in my notebook:
He gets up and walks to the bed sometimes.
He lays next to me, hiding behind a wall of pillows.
Sometimes he stands at the edge of the bed, staring down at me.
“What did you think of my paper?” he asks, as I gently fold each page face down.
“I am only on page 6,” I said.
He changes shirts.
He pours more vodka.
He hunches over his computer,
Occasionally glancing at me through the mirror on the wall.
“You can’t stay here,” he says.
I feel a little blood trickle into his shorts.
I think its blood.
He looks tired but the sunlight makes the blue rise.
The blue of his shirt.
The blue of his eyes.
“You can’t stay here,” he says with his back turned.
I don’t move.
The sheets smell like him.
I smell like sweat.
We stay unmoved in our own filth.
I got up and dressed. He stayed at his desk. It wasn’t the same room from last semester. Our room was on another floor.
I kissed him on the lips, soft and quick. “Bye honey,” I said in a mocking housewife voice. He looked at me and I kissed him again. This time he closed his eyes. Maybe it was just a second longer. He looked at me hard when I opened the door to leave and I knew he was capturing me in his writer’s eyes. He would remember how I looked. He would remember the moment and maybe write it down. Maybe he would throw it away. But I wouldn’t be back.
I did think about sleeping with him. I would be lying to everyone who reads this if I didn’t admit that.There were moments when I wanted to. Outside, I sat on a familiar curb in Venice smoking a cigarette. Just one block deeper in that neighborhood was the apartment where I married the wrong man almost a decade ago. This neighborhood was where I drifted deeper into the streets and parked my car with a bottle of wine and a handful of pills. I was obsessed with another man and leaving my husband was the most difficult thing in the world at 25. Hurting him was more than I could bear. I like to think I was young and stupid then. Here I was, on the same winding streets, juggling two men in my mind. Again.
Three of us writers discussed infidelity in a bar one night earlier that week.
“Is it so wrong to sleep with someone else? Would it really ruin a relationship?” I asked.
“Yes! It would do irreparable harm!” said one writer, a man.
“No! Why do we have to expect one person to be our everything? There can be different people who appeal to different sides of ourselves. One person can not fill all our needs,” said another writer, a woman.
“It is a lot of stress to be someone’s everything,” I said.
“And impossible,” she said before sipping the foam off her beer bottle.
I was alone now. No one was there but my buzzing phone. The streetlight across from me turned off and on. It didn’t flicker. It had no rhythm. I wanted to believe it stayed on when I was thinking about the right man. The streetlight would give me the answer.
Michael stood by me through one of the roughest transitions of my life.
He was good to me. We were fine before all of this. He handled my temper tantrums, my drunk antics, my casual flirtations with other people. He loved my dogs. He loved me … in a way no one had before.
But we just started. Our relationship was young. Was it right to be monogamous now? Would it mean anything if I slept with someone else right now? It is only sex. It isn’t my soul or my life. It is just a moment. People have moments all the time with other people. That doesn’t mean they love them. That doesn’t mean they sacrifice something greater for the moment.
What if I had sex with him and pretended it never happened?
Then what was the point of doing it at all? Do I have to have sex with Huck? Why? Why was my mind driving at intercourse with someone I already had sex with, already cared about and who already hurt me. What was the point of reliving it? The adrenaline. The titillation. The false satisfaction. It is recycled mistake.
He already hurt me. He would hurt me again.
And I would hurt Michael. Michael. Someone who only ever treated me with kindness, forgiveness and affection. Am I only not doing it so he doesn’t get hurt? Is that enough of a reason not to do something? Was he just like my ex-husband?
No. He wasn’t. Not at all.
No, it is different.
I can’t lose Michael.
I can’t lose Michael.
I can’t lose Michael.