Thursday, February 26, 2015

(Dis)Connection: Vignettes

by Annabeth Leong

"I want to lock you in the closet at my job and just keep you in there," he said as I fucked him.

It was our last time together, and we both knew it. The story doesn't need much detail to be clear. He wanted me in the way that makes a person willing to make grand romantic gestures. I wanted to return that feeling, but didn't. We fucked well, so we were doing that before I left for the airport.

This is the last time I'm going to ride this fantastic cock, I remember thinking. I tried to memorize every good place it touched inside me.

He kept talking, fantasizing out loud about what it would be like to prevent me from leaving him. I get off on that sort of fantasy sometimes, so everything began to feel amazing. We were in perfect accord, connected by a mutual vision of me, helpless, forced to live a life I couldn't make myself want on my own. I came hard.

Then I got up and the disconnection set in. For me, it was just a hot fantasy. It was a thing I could walk away from. For him, it was a sincerely felt wish.

***

I decided to make her my friend, and then I single-mindedly pursued her. "It's like romance," I told my male partner confidently, unperturbed, because at that time in my life I was in denial about the fact that the way I felt about certain women wasn't like romance—it was romance.

One night, I convinced her to come out with me. We walked to the playground in the dark and kicked off our shoes and climbed onto a structure made of metal rope. We clung to it beside each other, our bodies vibrating as the metal hummed in response to the breeze. I was so hungry to know every little thing she was willing to tell me about herself. I could feel myself taking her sentences in deep, pouring love all over them, and reflecting them back to her. We stayed out for hours before I finally drove her home.

Before she left town a few weeks later, she called me over to her apartment and gave me her shoe collection and a bottle of good vanilla. I bought books I thought she would like and mailed them to her new address. I sobbed inconsolably. I still wear her shoes, though they are just slightly too small for me and hurt my feet.

***

There is a sort of love that defeats the constant concern I feel for how others see me. The only thing that matters when I love that way is what that one loved person thinks. And so sometimes I feel safe from almost everything, exhilarated by the freedom.

He talked slowly and hated to be interrupted. I learned to accept five-minute pauses in conversation as he pondered. I didn't know how much of myself I normally hold back until I found myself loving him without reserve. He didn't like smoking, and one day I thought about how if I really loved him, the feeling ought to make me better. I took the cigarette out of my mouth and haven't smoked one since.

One day we were at dinner in the college cafeteria, and we were playing a silly game we had just dredged from the depths of our childhood memories. We made a pact not to break each other's gaze. The goal was to try to trick the other person into making a noise. With an absolutely straight face, he picked up his bowl of hot soup and slowly poured it straight into his lap, and I laughed harder than I ever had in my life.

When he told me eventually that we didn't share Christ in common and couldn't be friends anymore, I stared at him blankly, with a child's innocent lack of comprehension. The world could not be that wrong. It could not.

***

I didn't like her; I liked her best friend. Her best friend was a singer with a big voice who never fixed the pronouns when she sang covers of old blues songs. But this singer kept throwing me at her friend, telling me to ride with that other girl to the party, enticing me to go to that other girl's house, promising that she'd show up there eventually, leaving me waiting for hours.

But I would get bored sometimes and kiss the girl I didn't like. She asked me to pour candle wax on her back, then blow it cool. Ever accommodating, I said I would, and then I got curious and asked her to do it to me, too. One night, we did that together with a guy we knew from a local bar, stripped to our bras, burning each other and kissing and giggling. Later, we walked out into the night. I was so warm inside and outside that I barely felt the need to get dressed to go out to the street. The three of us held hands.

He showed up another day at the bar with roses for each of us, thinking we were great friends, or that we were together, and I ducked my head because I was there waiting for the singer, as usual.

***

I wooed him by writing a poem, but then he went away for the weekend and I fucked someone else, probably because at the time I didn't really know how to say no. So we broke up, and he wrote me a poem, and when I read it I felt shamed and humbled, because I had to admit that his poem was better.

***

When I miss her with the sharpest sting, I am thinking of the moment when we were saying goodbye after the first time we had lunch together. We were standing on the street next to her car, and all I wanted right then was to spend as much time with her as possible. I was afraid of humiliating myself, but I needed her to know, so I asked if we could do this again. Like, soon. Like, tomorrow.

That was stupid
, I thought. I was supposed to play it cool—pull out my smartphone and schedule something three weeks in advance. But the truth was, I would have canceled just about anything for another chance to be near her. And I wasn't busy tomorrow.

Her face wide open, she nodded at me with the sort of enthusiasm that adults rarely allow. I knew from her expression that she was with me all the way. We felt exactly the same about the lunch we'd had together.

I'll always hold that moment close, that experience of wanting in profound accord with someone else. Of being told yes in a way that wasn't just about lunch but also meant yes you are perfection and yes I think I maybe love you.

"Yeah," she said. "Let's do it."

24 comments:

  1. Wow, folks say I've had a varied life. You're no slouch yourself, Annabeth!

    We're on this planet for experience. Seems you're doing your part towards a full life. I tend to admire "go for it" people. I've always felt bisexuals had it the best. Bisexuals don't categorically eliminate half the world from their experience. Everything sexual is a possibility.

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    1. I'm glad you like the essay, Daddy, and I'm all for gathering experience.

      Sexual orientation is a really complicated issue for me right now, so please bear with the following.

      1) While for much of my life I identified as bisexual, I am for various reasons not currently comfortable identifying that way. These days, I usually say "not straight," and then give a paragraph of additional explanation if it's appropriate.

      2) What you've said about bisexuals includes several assumptions that feel awkward/painful to me. Being out as bisexual has attracted a whole lot of creepy behavior, questioning of my life and morals, attempts to invalidate my non-mainstream attractions, and lack of acceptance from multiple directions. I wouldn't describe it as "the best." It's not the worst either, I'm sure, but in a real-life way it's involved a lot of difficult things, and I am frustrated that it feels like people often view it like it's a fantasy sex playground.

      3) I wish that orientation felt as voluntary to me as what's implied by the idea that bisexuals don't categorically eliminate half the world. I struggle with what can sometimes feel like the moral superiority of taking the position that one is attracted to "human beings" not gender. Gender is absolutely involved with my attractions, even if that's complicated and confusing. (There seem to be people who really are attracted to human beings not gender, but that is not me.) Over the past couple years, I've lost almost all attraction to men, which has caused a great deal of turmoil in my personal life and isn't in line with the idea that I'm open to everything sexually. I also want to acknowledge that there are more than two genders.

      4) There is a painful stereotype of bisexuals (especially bisexual women) being open to everything sexual—read "slutty." I know that's not how you intended what you said about possibilities, but I still flinched to see it.

      5) It's really important to me to acknowledge the reality of my attractions and feelings throughout my life. I have spent time being ashamed of and hiding my feelings for women. I don't want to overcompensate now by lying about the way I've felt about men at various times (though it sometimes seems it would be easier for me now if I did). So I wrote this piece acknowledging various relationships, and in that way walked into the bisexual commentary. However, it makes me a bit sad for that to be what's focused on. I wrote from a non-straight perspective, but I really was trying to write about connection and disconnection, not about bisexuality specifically. That's not to say that I mind discussion of non-straight identities. But would this essay be that different if the people described were all of a single gender? It wouldn't be true to my life, but I don't know that the main takeaway here is about being attracted to multiple genders.

      Anyway, I felt compelled to point those things out, but none of it is intended as a personal attack. As always when I go into things like this, it's because I love and respect the people here and think it's worthwhile to explain myself rather than shut down or turn away.

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    2. Clearly I shouldn't make definitive statements about things we can only know by experience. Glad you didn't take offense to my flippant generalizations. I've seldom questioned my own gender role, (beyond a massive libido) even on the few occasions when I've been attracted to individual men. Seems we're all on a sliding scale when it comes to gender, and it can be a moving target.

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    3. Thanks so much for this reply, Daddy. I really, really appreciate you reading this and not taking offense yourself! I appreciate the open-mindedness of this response, and I very much agree that people seem to be on a sliding scale as far as gender/sexual orientation, and that sometimes the sliders seem to move.

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  2. Annabeth, from my perspective, you've had an amazing variety of experiences for someone so relatively young. As someone relatively not-so-young, I definitely agree that the sliders sometimes seem to move. My current nebulous theory is that there are some innate traits, but age and experiences and perspective can bring some traits to the front at certain times, and others when circumstances are different.

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    1. Thanks, Sacchi. Your nebulous theory lines up rather well with some research I've done. It actually sounds a fair bit like the theories put forward by Lisa Diamond, whose book, Sexual Fluidity, describes her longitudinal study of non-heterosexual women.

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    2. Maybe I'll check out that book. I very nearly said more that might get me in trouble, such as that in my experience, hormonal changes as women age can--may--just might--tip the balance of already-fuid orientation. (But don't tell anybody I said that, okay?)

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    3. Yeah, I think the book is worth reading. I didn't 100% agree with it and there are definitely additional ways I would like her to research (for example, the research described in her book, while extensive and lasting over a period of time, was mostly on women under 30). At the same time, I really like the way she approaches her research questions.

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    2. I believe you are quite correct. Once again in an effort to provide an unfiltered response to an article I've ended up offending someone whom I deeply respect as a person and a writer. My sincere apologies.

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    3. My sincere thanks for the apology. It's accepted. I had to step away for a day—I regret having left you on the hook during that time.

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  4. I remember being at a party where sexuality was being discussed - this of course is not unusual, but some made the statement she thought bisexuals had it made - the best of all possible worlds. The only bisexual person there (not me) said, not so. He found it very hard to live in both those worlds, especially when a partner of either sex would find out and accuse him of shallowness. He did say that his fondness for one gender surpassed that of the other, but wouldn't tell us which!

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    1. Thanks for this story, JP. The person you're talking about made some excellent points, and it sounds like he did so with style!

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    2. I have one author friend whose husband recently threw her out of her own house because she liked women as well as men. It's no bed of roses.

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    3. My heart goes out to your friend.

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  5. It seems odd to me that all the other comments on this amazing post homed in on the issue of sexuality. For me, these vignettes are much more about love, and how it's so rare for that pull to be totally reciprocal. You've captured that truth with your usual brutal honesty.

    I'm so glad you ended with a relationship where the desire for more connection was mutual.

    With regard to the issue of being attracted to both genders, it seems to me that maybe you think too much. (I guess you wouldn't deny that...!) It's perfectly okay for you to love and/or want whomever you wish. You don't have to put yourself into some box. If someone else tries to slap a label on you, just ignore them.

    I've always been attracted to females as well as males, since before I knew the words for this. Somehow it has never bothered me. I haven't had the chance to act on my desire for women very often, but I would if I could. I should say also that it isn't "Women" that I'm drawn to (or "Men" either). It's particular individuals. I think that may be what's meant, sometimes, by being attracted to "human beings", but that implies that gender is irrelevant. It's certainly not. But for me at least, attraction is a package deal that incorporates all the dimensions, physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual.

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    2. Bingo Lisabet- That's why I specified 'individual men' in my reply to Annabeth. Although I *can* say I'm attracted to women as a gender, (I'll pretty much fuck any female of my own species :>) with men it's only as individuals.

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    3. Lisabet, thank you so much. I'd honestly been worrying that I'd failed at the writing for this one since people seemed so fixated on what was to me an incidental detail. Your take is absolutely what I was going for, and I'm happy the vignettes worked that way for you.

      I wanted each one to portray both sides of the connection/disconnection coin, because I think most relationships have moments of both. Other than a One True Love story that ends with a Happily Ever After, there are the moments when everything is working right, combined with the moments when everything is going wrong.

      I'm glad you liked the ending vignette as well. That was actually the one I wrote first, but then I found myself wanting to contrast it with moments of mismatch.

      You're right that I would never deny thinking too much! On one of the few social media profiles I maintain, I describe myself as "thoughtful to a fault." I think maybe that comes off as a humblebrag, like saying at a job interview that one has a problem with being too committed to one's job. I think you on the Grip know me well enough to know that there really is a flaw in there.

      Thanks for the story of your experiences with attraction. And to you as well, Daddy. I think after all my tortured wanderings through the mental desert, I'm slowly coming around to the sort of self-acceptance you describe—but I seem to have to go through that mental desert first!

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  6. My late father considered the love between male friends as "so much better" than the love between a man and a woman because it wasn't "sullied" by sex. Tells you a lot about him, doesn't it? My poor mom!

    I have a few close friends with whom I have the kind of connection you talk about. Most of my male friends that I've known for years I had sex with at one point or another-recreational sex, or "rec-sex" as I used to call it. But our connection as humans went so much deeper that it outlasted any silly groping we ever did. I've never had nor wanted to have sex with a woman. But I have close women friends on whom I've depended on for my very sanity, like when my Mom passed away and I couldn't stop crying. I also depend on my husband, but the poor man can't be everything to me, nor do I want him to. I fear that I'm his everything and the idea of him being "lost" without me terrifies me. He's a good man, and I want him to reach out to others, but he's content with family only. He doesn't trust easily.

    Your writing about connections reminds me of the old feminist lingo of "clicking", as in, we were talking about things, and both realized that we just "clicked" together. It means to mutually acknowledge that you have a strong commonality. I've felt that with total strangers in random situations, as well as with close friends. I see it as our inner selves reaching out of the loneliness of being trapped in our own skulls, to try to connect with someone else's inner self. When it works, it's the most wonderful feeling...second only to having tantric sex with someone with whom you have that kind of relationship.

    I devoured the entire series of the Pern books by Anne McCaffrey not only because there were dragons, but because the dragons would "impress" themselves on a chosen human at their hatching, and from then on the two would share access to each other's inner thoughts. How cool is that? I'd love for a chosen wonderful being to be in my head with me...or would I? Would I yearn for the privacy to escape?

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  7. Fiona, thank you for your comment. I really like your descriptions of this experience. While I would say that I loved everyone I wrote about, I did not sleep with all of them. Connections and love aren't all about physicality (though I also don't want to deny the role of physicality).

    I feel for you as far as the worry about your husband. I am frightened when I feel like someone really and truly needs me. I know my own mortality and fallibility, and it feels like so much responsibility to have, responsibility that I will inevitably not be able to live up to.

    "Clicking" as you describe it sums this all up beautifully. As far as the dragons, I do love my privacy. I think I would want escape. But I can also understand the appeal. It would be nice to have that level of connection as long as one could take breaks!

    I'm honored to get your thoughtful perspective here!

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  8. Annabeth, your post is poignant, as usual. It really shows the fluidity of attraction on several levels. I could relate to the deal-breaking nature of the relationship with a Christian who needs a Christian mate/partner. I've been there (as the sinful heathen).

    Re bisexuality, I once write an erotic story in response for a call-for-submissions, so I wrote "Het Cats," a fairly lightweight story about 2 friends who define themselves as a lesbian and a "fag" (his term) and are surprised to realize that they feel enough physical attraction to have sex, and then wonder about being excluded from their favourite watering-hole (the local "gay/lesbian club"). They decide that what they both want is a friendship with benefits, but they each want to continue looking for a Significant Other (he wants a man, she wants a woman).

    This story was rejected for an erotic bisexual antho, and when I read the book, I could understand why my story didn't fit. All the stories that got published were emotionally deep, and many were about painful conflicts and rejection. Not a single piece in the book was about "the best of both worlds" or sex with "anything that moves." My story was essentially a fantasy (the kind I've had about several gay-male friends who probably don't feel the same way about me!) The published stories seemed based on a very different reality.

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    1. This is really interesting, Jean. I see what you're saying about fitting into the anthology, but I also feel like "Het Cats" sounds radical in its own right. I sense a lot of fear (and also insistence from conservatives) that other-sex attraction somehow negates same-sex attraction. Your characters sound brave and strongly guided by their own internal desires, and the story sounds like it's in that niche of truth-telling work that's hard to place because there are several "approved messages" that it flouts and disrupts.

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