My boyfriend has a very interesting face. Sometimes people say to me, your boyfriend has a very interesting face.
My boyfriend and I have been in a relationship for ten years. He enjoys going on hikes and reading the news. He tells groups of people that he is interested in traveling to Europe by himself. He explains things to me I should already know. I rely on him for certain information. He sometimes stares at me after I ask a question.
He spends time in his home office, creating complicated art that I don’t understand. He speaks often to his sister on the phone who does not like me. When they speak I press my ear up to the wall of his home office.
On Sunday mornings I like to go to church. I don’t tell my boyfriend that this is where I’m going. I am embarrassed of my desire to sit in church. Sometime last year though something that I had tried to block and seal off had become exposed and I realized that what it needed was to breathe. A clear longing sat in me and I followed it.
Last night we went out and today I woke up late and hungry. My boyfriend is at work and I am alone. I see a fly and swat at it. A shock of red blood comes out. I must have assumed a fly would be dry or green inside. I bundle it in a tissue to flush it down the toilet. I’m not sure if what I am feeling is its body or head or the two mashed together but it is hard inside the tissue like a small bead. I toss it into the toilet then sit down to pee. I stay there enjoying my own personal smell. I flush and watch the tissue with the fly inside swirl around the toilet with my urine.
“Goodbye and thank you,” I say and bow my head slightly.
I walk slowly into the bedroom and put on my tutu, taking great care and concentration with each movement. I stand still in a corner of the room, my chin pointed a bit upward, my shoulders back. I am just standing here, I think. I try to remember every single person I have ever known. Some are unhappy now, some are very wealthy, some are dead. Most will never think of me again. I try to accept this truth. I nod slowly and rhythmically to myself. I try to understand. I raise my arms, move my hips back and forth, open and close my palms. I am performing a dance of grief, I think. I let out a moan. I am letting go.
I lay several cartons of ice cream and bags of chips out on my bed and position myself in the center. I feel safe, barricaded and surrounded in this way. I eat as the lavender curtains flutter a little in the wind. Occasionally I hear birdsong.
I lay there for hours with crumbs on my breasts, staring out the window and waiting for my boyfriend to come home. I pull my skirt down to masturbate, but realize I have forgotten my vibrator so I waddle to the bedroom with my tutu around my ankles. I return to bed, lay down and think of flaccid penises and pale, flabby thighs. I am ashamed of my thinking of it, but still the image returns. I am comforted by the limpness of the penises, their companionship. How tender, I think. They demand nothing from me. I love them all.
I didn’t have an orgasm until I was sixteen. I searched for a long time, tugged and twisted various flaps of vaginal skin and felt nothing. Over the years I’ve heard numerous stories of my friends masturbating at very young ages, rubbing their toddler clits up against sofa arms and pillows, straddling various pieces of furniture. I find these stories extremely impressive.
I’ve always known that to give off the impression of sex is important. When I walk around I try to conjure up the odor and release it from my armpits, from underneath my breasts, from my mouth, but I don’t know if I have ever experienced true pleasure. My friends had something inside of them. It came barreling out of them as children. I am somehow fundamentally separate from the creatureliness of my desire. For this reason I am not yet free.
Later my boyfriend comes home, dropping his backpack by the door.
“Hi,” I say without moving. “Have you eaten?”
He looks at the food on the bed, the crumbs on the sheets and my body.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Ok,” I say.
My boyfriend’s mother has made dinner for the family. His father is a rich man who enjoys talking about the theater. Everyone listens intently. I imagine his penis sitting there between his thighs like a baby bird. His sister is beautiful. She sits slouched back and frowning. I cannot look at her. I make specific movements with my form. I pick up my glass in significant concentration and set it down. I angle my chin upwards and sit the way a dancer would. I am in control, I think. People can deduce things about my temperament based on my posture, I think. I am performing a dance for which the instruction is stillness. I sit up taller and feel a warmth coming from the cloth of my pants. I remember I am on my period and didn’t put a tampon in before I left. I often bleed freely at home, leaving streaks of blood on the sheets, the toilet, my upper thighs. My vagina is becoming moist and soon enough it will also be a little crusted. When this happens it’s a confusing and overwhelming mixture of physical sensations. I excuse myself to go to the bathroom.
When I wipe I stare at three large blood clots. They look like glistening tadpoles. I stare at them fondly and squeeze them between my fingers. They’re surprisingly sturdy. I’m proud of them. Is this being a mother, I wonder. I can hear the sounds of their voices, the clink of the silverware, their active bodies at rest together. Here on the toilet I am liberated. I have fluids coming from me because I am an organism and I know this because I am alert. I listen to their murmurings. There is no space for me to join. I’m not sure what I would have said there or there.
I open the door very gently and tiptoe out of the bathroom. As I continue to listen I find myself wandering into his parent’s bedroom. Their bed has a variety of decorative pillows on top and their closets are organized immaculately. I walk up to the dresser and stare at the framed photographs. Is this a life, I think as I look at them being easily at the beach, at a sushi restaurant, at a graduation. In several of the photos my boyfriend’s sister has pursed her lips, has her arm around my boyfriend and is looking right at me, frightening me. I take one of the photographs with me and lie down on the big, soft bed. I think of my boyfriend being seduced by his sister and masturbate. I do this quickly and then leave.
When we get home my boyfriend says he is going out.
“Will you come back?” I ask.
“Of course,” he says.
“When?” I ask.
“I don’t know.”
“Ok,” I say.
I sense the severity of our isolation. I consider taking a dance class. I know in my heart that I am a dancer, but to be in pursuit of something you must make a choice and to make a choice you must choose something over another thing and then you must focus on the thing you have chosen which requires you to sit for many hours and for many days and years with your own desires. This is painful to me. I don’t know how I would face myself.
Years ago I did attend a single beginning adult ballet class. The class was very difficult. I never went back.
I had signed up late at night, drunk in bed. To prepare I bought a black leotard, tights, a tutu and ballet shoes. I twisted my hair into a careful bun and stood with my shoulders back. I am standing on the edge of something, I had told myself. I am beginning. When I told the teacher this was my first dance class she looked at me and blinked.
“But you look like a dancer,” she said.
“I went shopping,” I said.
As I watch my boyfriend prepare to leave I think maybe I can observe myself more or observe myself less. Maybe I can become more certain of who I am or less interested in who I am. Maybe who I am is something very different than my basic and true nature and I should loosen my grip on myself. I feel very gauzy. I am blending in with the room.
I hear the sound of the front door shutting and I quickly hurry down the stairs. It is my intention to follow him though I am not thinking clearly or in language.
If this were a normal walk, which I take often, I would stare inside the houses. If I’m lucky the curtains are open and I can see inside. Sometimes there is a large TV and sometimes it’s on. If it’s on, the light is not static. It dims and brightens the room alternately. It moves in and out. There might even be a figure sitting inside watching the TV. I am under the impression that I can deduce certain ideas about the figure based on my own experience and biases. I feel desire coming at me in many ways. I also live in a house with light fixtures, I remind myself. I also have habits and preferences. I have a taste I have cultivated. I try to calm myself.
I touch my collar bone and whisper, “I can feel you.”
When I test whether front doors are locked and when I attempt to crawl through windows I am being pulled along by a force that I must follow.
I don’t have time for any of this now. I’m following my boyfriend. I walk quietly behind him, far enough so that he cannot see. I touch a large tree as I walk and it allows my consciousness to sharpen. Is it enough to want to change on the individual and domestic level, I wonder. I walk quietly behind him. I am used to this and I am good at it. I walk quietly.
I follow him into a small and white brick building. I enter into a gallery. It appears my boyfriend is attending an art opening of some kind. I stand in the corner taking in the room. I pluck a cracker from a tray. The room is beautifully lit. The light shines on everyone, making them all look radiant. Is this how we care for one another. Is the approximation of a thing or person always more desirable than the thing or person itself, I wonder.
All around people are standing in circles speaking to each other. They wear loose, strange clothing. Their outfits are significant to their overall impression. It’s a marker I can identify and understand but not replicate. I am terrified of them, but watching protects me. I am very porous and through various openings fear gets in, but standing here it is as if no one will ever notice me again. I’ll never be real enough to be false. I’ll choose what touches me. I’ll be absolutely true.
On the walls are large paintings. My boyfriend is standing next to a woman. They are talking and seem familiar with each other. She is small boned and has hair that reaches her chin. Her eyeliner is smudged but beyond that she has on no makeup. She is effortless. I mimic her slouched posture. I can’t believe the haircut I have chosen for myself.
He leans his head back slightly and laughs. I look at a painting of a naked, pregnant woman. It seems that my boyfriend exists outside the energy of our relationship. I feel a secretion between my legs, a wetness. This is what he does when he is not with me. This is who he is and what he does.
Suddenly I am very tired. Must I sustain and endure this level of activity for the rest of my life, I wonder. Must I go to functions and ride trains, participate in the human effort. I always assumed one day I’d be able to rest either in a deep forest or on very expensive sheets. Will this day never come.
I sigh and assume a neutral position with my body. I make no gestures. Both a person and a flower are one third water. Even in little rooms this is true, I remind myself.
I leave and return home well before my boyfriend. In bed I scroll through the images of him with the woman I have taken on my phone. I imagine her braiding my hair as I masturbate, my boyfriend sitting on top of me, his warm and drooping balls resting on top of my belly and his penis small and inactive. When he comes home drunk he breathes into my neck, puts his hand up my shirt. I lay very still. I am motionless because I am pretending to sleep.
He gets up to use the bathroom. His phone goes off. I look at it.
“It was so nice to see you tonight.”
You too, I think. You too.
On Sunday morning I take my seat in the church pew. I listen to the familiar sounds of the wood creaking. Here there is no delusion of independence. Here we all need many things and we engage together in the mutual and ongoing search to fulfill these needs. I’ve worn a long, white linen dress. I’d like to join a community of women, I think.
I look around the room and a feeling of being comes over me. When the choir sings I look at the small, dewy faces of the men and women joined together. I listen to the expressions of sound they are making. The woman next to me has on a floral blouse. I can smell her perfume. She has on several rings and bracelets that sound like soft bells when she moves. I’d like to go home with her and carry on her life together, as one.
I try to imagine speaking to the woman. I am trying to connect, I think. I am in relation to many things. I have a vaginal canal and a face, I remind myself. I briefly consider asking the woman if she might be open to taking me home with her. Is this a reasonable thing to ask, I wonder. Is this a possible outcome? I can’t remember.
My boyfriend is a person not a place. My boyfriend is not a house. I am not an ornament, I remind myself.
When we stand to sing I am crying. Here we take joy very seriously. Everyone is respectful of my private event. I think about my father, who I am not close to. He grew up on a farm and had a cruel, manipulative mother who he is very angry at. When he wasn’t being ignored by his father his young body was being pounded on by his father’s fists. He did not find solace in the hills or with the animals. I do not know why.
When I step outside the light is everywhere. I open my mouth to let it enter me.
That night my boyfriend is on the computer. I peek through the crack of the door, see his hunched back, his brow furrowed in concentration. I tiptoe back to bed and pull my shorts down to my ankles. I lay on my back with my gaze focused on the door. I grimace as I sense his presence in the next room. I think of putting my face very close up to his loose balls, his mound of fluffy pubic hair. I think of smashing it in and staying there. He does not want to be with me right now. He wants to be working on the computer in his home office instead. I come silently.
“Hey,” I yell from the next room.
“Yeah?” He says.
“I enjoy leisure but is this inertia?” I ask.
There is no response.
“Should we disengage from institutions?” I ask a little louder.
“I’m working,” he says.
“Ok,” I say.
I move my eyebrows up and down quickly, make an odd face to the cat. I get up and practice plies. I squat down and up, down and up. I leap around but I can’t get very high and when I land my body is heavy. It makes a loud thud.
“What are you doing?” My boyfriend asks, sounding irritated.
“Dancing,” I say.
“When did you start dancing?”
I think about this for a moment.
“Since just before I was an infant,” I say.
I twirl into his home office. He continues to stare at the computer. I position myself several feet behind him. I finger myself mildly underneath my shorts for a couple seconds as an experiment. Nothing happens. He doesn’t move. Interesting, I think.
Later in bed my boyfriend turns towards me and places his arms around me. I am watching a tutorial on what to expect at your first adult ballet class. I am practicing my dancer face. There is a lake on top of my face, I think. The lake has calm waters and a welcoming shimmer. I try to invite peace to enter me through all of my orifices. I summon it and I can feel it starting to enter through my mouth, nostrils, asshole, and vagina. I flare my nostrils open in anticipation, imagine my vagina expanding infinitely outward. My boyfriend closes the computer without hesitation and starts to press his torso up against mine. My body feels womanly and circular. I feel a hardening coming from his and I wince.
I shimmy away slightly, yawn.
“I keep thinking about that woman we saw,” I say.
He sighs. “Which woman?”
“At dinner the other night.”
At dinner we had seen a woman who appeared to be older, but had surgically altered her face and body so much that she also seemed ageless. She went in sharply at the waist and jutted out at the hips. She had large, moist lips and as she laughed her dark hair shook in the light. Her nose was hardly there. Our table was positioned in such a way that I could watch her all night. I took out my phone and filmed her. When she went to the bathroom I followed her, heard the stream of her urine, watched her reapply her lipstick in the mirror, and smooth her hair. My body hovered beside hers. I could have touched her skin.
I washed my hands and stared at my face for a while after she left. I blinked at myself in the mirror. You have also made choices that got you here, I thought. I touched my one face. Tonight I have interacted and taken many actions. The woman had left me but I felt that she was supposed to be with me in an important way, that she had many things to teach me.
“She really took control,” I say to my boyfriend.
“You mean the surgeries?”
“Yes. She desired something and reached for it.”
“I don’t think it was about her desire,” my boyfriend said.
“I’m tired of not knowing what to do.”
I continue to long for the woman, her moisturized face and lips. I bet right now she is performing a complicated skincare routine. I stare out the window and squint. I am trying to see.
I consider asking my boyfriend if he could pretend to be the woman. I think of what dress I have that would fit him and also most closely resemble the style of the woman. I could paint his nails a peach color. It would be a nice evening.
“The problem is you are very useful but my ambition is indirect,” I explain.
“Would you ever want to look like that?” He asked.
“Of course,” I say.
“I think you’re wrong about her.”
“Ok,” I say.
The next night I am watering the plants in my leotard and tutu. I am trying to walk gracefully on my tiptoes and spilling the water a little on the floor. My boyfriend says he is going out again. I follow him without hesitation down several streets and inside a dimly lit restaurant. I sit at a table where I can get a good look at him, but far enough away so that he will not notice me. I order a glass of wine while the waiter stares at my tutu.
My boyfriend has worn an expensive jacket that I have never seen. He is joined by a woman. It is the same woman from the art gallery. Hello again beautiful, I think. I watch their mouths open and close. His hands move and then they stop moving. One still hand is now on her thigh. He leans in and touches her cheek. I don’t mind. I feel nothing but warmth. It’s good for us to love isn’t it. I am ready for this. Finally I understand. I have been invited here by some force and I am ready. Yes I think. My answer is yes.
The woman is strange. I can’t interpret her. She laughs and nods her head. I can’t believe it. All around me everyone is laughing and nodding their heads. They are situated in time and they are together. Is every movement a choice. Expressions and bobbing heads. Is every gesture a decision to be made, an indication of a particular identity and personality. How vast. I am faint with overwhelm. I need a plan. I am small and not deliberate. Are we anything beyond or beneath our constraints. Is it like jelly? Can we hold it? What am I getting at? It’s enough to drive a person crazy. Are we all the same paste?
I stare at the woman.
“We will keep each other safe,” I whisper to her.
I reach down between my thighs where I am balmy and uninjured. I move the crotch of my leotard to the side.
“Doesn’t he have a very interesting face,” I say softly. “He wants to travel to Europe by himself you know.”
The table I am sitting at appears to block most of the lower part of my body from view, but I can’t be sure.
“Whisper into my small ear until I am soothed,” I moan quietly.
My gaze shifts to my boyfriend. I can’t remember what his body looks like under his expensive clothes. He is deeply unfamiliar to me. I watch him relating to others. I am confident no one will ever notice me again and I feel bold. I have found the erotic and if it is harmful to me I don’t care.
As I finger myself I tell the waiter I’d like another round. I come loudly while faces with large eyes turn to look at me. Several men are moving towards me with alarmed expressions. I quickly finish the rest of my wine and stand to straighten my tutu. I hold my head up and my shoulders back. Some wine dribbles down my chin. I am the picture of my composure, I think.
Why can’t I have everything?
I know what I have should be enough.
I know that and I’ve always known that.
It’s not my fault that it isn’t.