This is the way our world ends, baby. First of four parts.
Jan. 10, 1999, 8:37 a.m. Well, it’s a cold dance we dance this morning. You are up at the crack of dawn and the bed is empty even before you leave. I pretend to sleep so I can revel in the delicious morning ritual I know will be ending soon. I hear you brew coffee, shower, talk to the dog. I listen to the cadence of your footsteps on the kitchen floor, the rumble of garbage trucks, the shrieking sirens and disembodied voices of our neighbors outside our windows. I have my eyes closed, but I can see you slowly and quietly opening the dresser drawer for a clean white T-shirt and clean socks. I feel your satisfaction as you tightly lace up your boots, for they are freshly polished. Then, I tense my body; my eyes still closed, for the last step in this morning ritual. The coffee pot sputters and you pour coffee, add sugar and milk, and almost tenderly leave it on the night table next to my sleeping head. Your hand lightly brushes my hair.
Last night, late, I woke up, the bed shaking and heaving, and heard rather than saw you pleasuring yourself — your suppressed sighs, the frantic rhythm of your body — and that’s when I knew: It’s over. Because you did not turn to me, and I realized you probably haven’t been turning to me for a long long time. Then, unbidden, I remembered my purely sensual pleasure at the sight of you in clean white socks and clean white underwear, wearing nothing else but your slack-jawed smile, your wiry black hair. Then I remembered the sight of you fresh and steaming from the shower, completely naked, impatiently wiping the fog from the bathroom mirror so you can shave, and the black specks of hair you left behind on the bathroom sink. And on those mornings when you kissed me goodbye, it was a real kiss, full and warm on my lips.
You turned to me often in bed at night and our goodnight kiss became passionate. Your right hand and then your right foot pulled down my underwear even as you slid my T-shirt over my head. I slid your underwear off, but insisted, always, that you keep your socks on. And your smile and then “Oh, baby” as you entered me. But that was 10 years ago and events have transpired to tear us apart, events neither one of us could ever have possibly predicted. It’s nobody’s fault, and I’m not even angry. In fact, I’m grateful to have a few more mornings listening to you; the familiar sounds of ritual, of a marriage, even as it is ending, give me pleasure. And so when I hear the front door softly click open and then close, I open my eyes and drink my coffee.
Jan. 15, 1999, 9:05 p.m. In the bathtub this evening, darling, my nipples looked like old roses, uncompromised by sexual want or need, unblemished by desire, the tangle of hair between my legs, like the site of a shipwreck, and the message in the bottle is this: You don’t love me anymore. I passed my hand over my nipples and up and down the slippery sides of my thighs, onto my belly, my hands in my hair, and I couldn’t for one second fathom making love to you. I knew you were waiting for me behind the closed door. I knew you could hear me run the water for my bath, hear the water dip as my weight displaced the almost full tub, spilling out over the edges. I hesitated for a fraction of a second, before I dropped the towel, because already I felt too exposed. My body more like a paperweight, a piece of marble, pink and solid, but not passionate, and somehow not alive. I lit three candles alongside the tub. They glowed like stars against the black tiles of the bathroom, and in the water, I floated, solid as the earth.
At dinner tonight, you were tight-lipped and polite. You said “Pass the butter” as if you were speaking to a stranger, not the wife you have lived with and loved for over 10 years. I don’t know what to make of this new territory we have stumbled into neither by accident, it seems, nor by design. Is there a map to be found? If only we had the courage to say what we are thinking, but we don’t because that would make it palpable, give it weight, make it real. And so we drift from dinner to dinner, morning to morning. And so I close the bathroom door to you. And so I blush to think of being naked before you. Baby, baby, baby, is this the way the world ends — behind closed doors, like a broken wheel, not with a bang, but with a sigh?
When I stepped out of the tub, I was surprised by my reflection in the mirror. I looked soft; still damp and glowing from the hot water, I almost … almost opened the door and opened my arms to you. But then I remembered how long it has been since you kissed me, and I remembered how long it has been since you told me I was beautiful and smiled, really smiled, at me. Listen, at one time nothing was dearer to me than the sight of you walking up the block, hurrying home to dinner in our kitchen, a glass of red and a quick, hot tumble on our wide double bed.
Is this the way the world ends?
Feb. 1, 1999, 1 a.m. Husband, these are the letters written between my legs, and it’s after midnight and your message said you would be home at 10. This is not the first time this has happened. The first time I paced the streets, terrified to walk too far from the phone; what if you called? And as I walked, I thought: Everywhere else the world seems so untroubled. I admired the quiet glow from the street lamps, and the blue light shining in the windows from the TV, and the calm life behind those closed doors. I wondered if perhaps we would be better off screaming at each other, or if you were having an affair, so I could feel wounded and betrayed. So this dissolution could be fueled with drama and slamming doors. So there could be a reason to call my friends, stay out late and drink too much, pack my bags and spend the weekend with family. But I do not even have the words yet to speak to anyone. I don’t know what I would say … so I have this …
Tonight I am resolved to not pace the streets, obsessively check messages or rummage through your pants pockets, emptying the contents like a seer deciphering runes or tea leaves. It’s clear one of us has to say something very soon, but it will not be me. Instead I will tell you that my dreams have become very erotic; one night a man appeared to me, dressed in long, white robes. His skin was the color of onyx and as the silken cloth slipped past his shoulders, I saw that he was very erect and I became very aroused. I touched myself and found that I was wet. As I awoke, filled with shame, because my hands were between my legs, I was terrified that you knew. That even sleeping soundly by my side, you would somehow know how aroused I was and want something from me.
I notice now that we do not dress or undress in front of each other. I wait until the phone rings, the dog needs to be walked or you are somehow occupied before I get ready for bed. And it is strange to close the door to you, again and again. To close the door as if my nudity would offend or startle you. In truth I thank God for the dreams I have begun to dream, because I wondered if I was a woman anymore. Because it had been so long since the quickening in my loins and my nipples signaled your desire or mine. Since I began to feel such a profound separation between my mind and my body. Husband, I have not enjoyed feeling so frozen, frigid … not even virginal, just used up, dry. It is early winter and I have been tracking the return of light to the world. In December, the sun set at 4:25, in January the sun set at 4:45. Now, in early February, the sun begins to set at 5:15 … tick, tock that’s the clock, darling, and not my heart.
March 12, 1999, 4:05 p.m. I tell our therapist that we have traveled to a country where lovers no longer sleep naked, and you remain silent. I tell the therapist that I no longer know what it’s like to feel you inside me, and you remain silent. She asks you about your childhood, about your mother, and you change the subject and talk about how work has consumed you, about responsibilities, about money. And when we return home, I am in the bathroom getting undressed and your lips find their way to my breasts and I am surprised and pleased. We gracefully fall onto our bed, locked in an embrace, and I find that my head is oiled with passion, but my body is not. But I don’t tell you this; I don’t tell you that I am miles and miles away from this coupling. But you know this anyway, don’t you? You do. You must. How could you not? Forgive me for saying this, but afterwards, it was as if you had just negotiated a difficult turn on a mountain road, played a game of tennis, balanced the checkbook. As you rinsed yourself off in the bathroom sink, you were triumphant and relieved: I still got it, baby. But got what exactly?
I see other women dancing before your eyes. The possibilities. I do. As you entered me, on top, your eyes closed, I saw other women before your eyes. A panorama. When you left the house, I remained in bed, completely naked, slippery between the damp sheets, but … untouched. And this more than anything is what is most painful. To feel so alone and untouched even with your tongue down my throat, your arms on my breasts, so deep inside of me. And ashamed that when your fingers sought me out, I was not wet at all. Embarrassed and sad at losing the formula for arousal, the elixir of passion. A cold, cold witch, barren, like the women in fairy tales. The princess, now the old queen, barred from the hive. Our friends think we are the perfect couple, but I think in silence, Yes, but I am frigid. That is the terrible secret I carry in my heart. Because there is nothing wrong with you. You can still get hard. That is proof of your passion, of your love, of your desire to make this work. But I … do not get wet, I am not “juiced up,” I am not aroused. And my dreams don’t count because people fly in dreams, descend down to hell in dreams, people do impossible things in dreams.
After you left the house, I sat outside at my cafe, because the day felt preternaturally warm, the harbinger of spring, right? So I took some joy in that, or rather felt a measure of peace. I wished for someone to drop a red rose at my feet, a token, a talisman of passion. I wished that a tall dark stranger would enter my life, enter me, and wash away my fear that my sex is frozen, encased in a glittering block of ice. Move me, melt me down. Listen, more and more, I feel that the mirror is not kind to me. More and more the light has to be right. It has to be soft, pink; it can’t be overhead lighting, it can’t be fluorescent. It can’t be so muscular … Thirty-nine is not an easy age to be on this precipice. All this should’ve happened years ago when I still had a chance at redemption. And then I forgot about love and the lack thereof, and became passionately engaged with the movement of the clouds over my head, shot through with sunlight. As the day dropped off into the horizon, I watched them form and reform again and again. It got colder and I still sat there. I willed time to stop moving. I could not face the empty house, the unwashed dishes, the unmade bed and your absence. I wanted to sit there forever, meditating on the symbols inherent in the sky, because surely there must be meaning there?
March 20, 1999, 10:35 a.m. Condensation slides down the window on Sunday morning, while off in the distance church bells ring. Steam heat sizzles inside the pipes. My head reels. It is extraordinary, this morning is extraordinary. My eyes are bloodshot. My head reels but a small prayer is answered. You are off to visit your parents for a week. And what bliss to have the house to myself, uninterrupted, night and day. What bliss to step out of the bath, out of my clothes, and into bed without an audience. What bliss to wake up on Sunday morning and arrange myself here at the computer, with coffee and cigarettes. I sit dressed in my pink brassiere, a faded pair of flannel pajama bottoms, my head a rat’s nest of dark roots and gray hair. Dark circles, no makeup, chipped nails — yes, say it!! A veritable witch. I haven’t showered for two days. I haven’t made the bed, which even now is littered with cracker crumbs. Last night I rented a John Wayne movie, and ate cheese and crackers with milk, in bed. And then I got myself off with my three middle fingers … whoosh! Bang! I didn’t wash myself afterward, or shake the sheets out. No. I just rolled over, fat and sated, and went to sleep. How’s that decadence, for witchyness? The sheer pure unadulterated joy of a nervous breakdown is not to be underestimated. Please, sir. Do not underestimate the freedom of it, the insanity, the pure childlike joy of just not giving a shit anymore.
I wish the river outside the window would overflow, come roaring through this apartment and wash everything away. I wish a hurricane or a tornado would flip me over so I could land upside down. So I could plant begonias in my twat and fuck every stranger I see on the street. So I could wander the streets like a crazy woman muttering poetry by Yeats or Pound or Eliot. Unwashed, untethered. The joy, forgive me, forgive me, of not having your unsatisfied sullen face before me is wondrous to behold. Today I am not the ice queen unable or unwilling (I’m never sure which) to give you a blow job, perform a strip show, totter on high heels to stir your libido or breathe life into mine. I am just what I am … unwashed. Just a woman. Listen, I peer down at my tits, and I think: These are still young tits. Firm yet ripe. Surely there is a mouth or two left on this planet who would enjoy sucking on them. Perhaps from a champagne glass? Surely this is true? Wait, let’s be frank. I’m not Shirley. I’m your wife. Take her … please. Ha, ha, ha.
I know the price I will pay for this. I am sure that there will be a price to pay for this exuberance. I know this must be the high before the big crash. Please, I am not naive. I remember thinking when we made love: His cock is such a perfect fit! It is like a key that has been made to fit my lock. Together, we were smooth, shining and oiled. I used to wear a crocheted bikini around the house and I felt like such a dirty girl, dirty but delicious. I used to wait for you to come home, wearing a long T-shirt, pure white, with nothing on underneath. I couldn’t wait for you to slip your hands up inside me. I didn’t even want to speak to you, didn’t even have time to say hello. There is no time to say hello! Just do me. Immediately! Right here on the kitchen floor. And then with our last $5 we’d go down to the corner bar for beer and peanuts.
It is Sunday morning and you are out of town for five more days. While you are gone, I am trying on my new identity. I am giddy with the possibilities and also half-crazy, more than half-crazy, two-thirds crazy. And the worst part is I still love you. I have never stopped loving and I am afraid that I always will. There is a very good chance that as the sun sets on this Sunday, as I shower, wash my hair, brush off the crumbs from the bed (as any sane person must do), I will end the day the same way I ended the day yesterday, my head buried in the pillows, desperate for your smell, your touch, your laugh, your smile. But right now? Right this minute? I am an unwashed witch, with the lingering smell of my own cunt on my hands, music blasting from the stereo, and in just a few moments, I will be dancing by myself in the middle of my dirty kitchen, delirious to be alone, deliriously free.
Part 2: The skin you kissed 10 years ago
Lillian Ann Slugocki is coauthor, with Erin Cressida Wilson, of "The Erotica Project." More Lillian Ann Slugocki.
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