The next weekend, Birk takes the train to visit me again. This time, when I go to pick him up at the train station, I notice a row of parking spots directly beside the platform that are mostly empty, under a sign that says Kiss and Ride. There’s another sign under that sternly warning that you must stay with your car.
Aha, so these are the free spots you can use for pick up and drop off, rather than paying to park in the lot and having to walk a very long way. I pull into one of the spots and stay in the car until the train pulls into the station (late as usual). As the people start getting off the train, I dash out of the car to go get Birk. I figure since I’m only leaving the car for a minute, it should be fine.
Once again there’s a few moments of confusion as I fight through the crowd and get close enough to grab Birk’s hand and lead him in the right direction. He’s also pulling a small rolling suitcase, which slows us down even more. It takes less than five minutes to get back to my car, but we’re still among the last people off the platform.
I give Birk a quick, affectionate kiss then toss his suitcase in the trunk of my car and turn to open the driver’s side door. As I turn around, a tall older dude with a lined face calls out to me.
“Hey, you almost got a ticket!”
“What? Me? I was just gone for a minute.”
The older guy gives me a sardonic grin. “The cops hang out right there and wait for the train to come in. Anyone who leaves their car gets a ticket. But I told the cop that you were helping a blind feller, and he agreed to let it go this once.”
“Oh my god, I had no idea. Wow, thank you so much!”
“No problem. But be careful next time, you might not be so lucky.”
“I know. Wow, thank you.”
As I drive away, Birk and I marvel at my near escape thanks to the kindness of this one stranger. I’m stunned that this was going on while I had no idea.
“It was awfully nice of that guy to say something,” I say.
“Yeah,” says Birk, “but you can’t ever park there again.”
“Ugh, you’re right! What the hell! So we can’t use the Park and Ride just because you’re blind? I have to pay to park in the lot every time I pick you up?”
“I could try to find the car on my own,” Birk offers.
“No, that’s bullshit! What, am I supposed to sit in the car and shout out the window until you find me? I’m telling you, it’s discrimination.”
He just chuckles. I imagine he’s pleased with how outraged I am on his behalf.
We drive back to my house. I take him on the grand tour, showing him around my tiny one story home. He has one hand on my elbow and the other stretched out, feeling for landmarks along the walls and furniture, so he knows where things are.
The first thing he does is pull out his insulin kit on the kitchen counter and check his blood sugar level. I haven’t really seen him do this before because he’s kept it kind of discreet until now. I watch as he pulls out the equipment, which is all marked with large tactile signs. He pricks his finger and puts the test strip in a machine which reads the results out loud.
Naturally, all this equipment is readily available for blind people since diabetic retinopathy is so common. I’ve never really thought about any of this before. I was so focused on his blindness, but of course he is still diabetic as well. It’s not like he reached some end point where one condition was replaced with the other. He just has to deal with both.
When he finishes and packs everything away, I get started making dinner for us, just a simple pasta with a sauce of eggplant, tomatoes and olives. As I’m chopping onions and garlic, Birk lets me know how grateful he is for my garlic chopping advice to smash the clove first with the side of the knife.
“The other day I was making myself some spaghetti and I forgot the garlic until I started cooking,” he says, leaning stiffly against the counter as I cook. He runs his fingers over and over the countertop. “Before I would just have given up and skipped the garlic because it would have taken me too long to peel it. But I just used your technique and it was done in a second! I can’t believe I never knew this before! You’ve changed my life,” he says fervently.
“Well, I’m glad it’s so useful.”
“Seriously, I think of you every time I chop garlic.”
“Wow, that’s like the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard. You really know what to say to a girl.” I laugh and lean over to give him a playful peck on the cheek. That slightly surprised look on his face makes it even better.
When we sit down to eat, I give him one of a new set of water glasses I just bought. Not just because Dean broke my last nice glass, but it’s part of my larger project of having adult things to entertain at home. I bought this particular set of glasses with Birk in mind, because they have a raised bumpy design all around the outside. I feel like it would be interesting to touch.
I give Birk the glass, but he doesn’t seem to notice the pattern on it. Being a dev, I have to push for that devvy moment, to try to get him to fulfill the tiny fantasy I’ve been having.
“What do you think of the glasses?” I ask. “Did you notice the pattern?”
“What? Oh, yeah, ok,” he says, uninterested.
Ugh, what is wrong with me? Why do I always have to do this? I’m slightly disappointed that he doesn’t care about the glasses, but don’t mention it again. It was embarrassingly silly of me to even think something like that would matter to him.
He’s much more interested in the food, and tells me how great my cooking is. And really that’s more important that a stupid dev fantasy, right?
After dinner, I wash up then we retire to my fancy new couch in the living room. I thank him for coming over, and he says it’s no problem. Even though we’ve discussed this several times, already, I have to ask again:
“Are you sure it’s ok that we’ve been getting together every weekend? I feel like I’m taking you away from your kids.”
“No, they’re fine! It’s really ok. I’m just so happy to see you.”
“I know it’s too early to be discussing this, but I feel like I have to be clear, I really want to have kids. I’m turning thirty-five next month, so I’ve got to do it now. My plan is to have kids within the next year.”
I’m fully expecting him to say that if that’s the case, we shouldn’t be in a relationship, but to my surprise, he goes directly in the opposite direction.
“I’ve always wanted more kids!”
“What? Are you sure?”
Birk nods enthusiastically, his eyes blinking rapidly. “Oh yeah. I told you, I’m ready for a change. I’ll move here and raise the kids while you work.”
“Yeah, right. Men always say they’ll help but when the baby comes, the wife does all the work.”
“No, I’m serious. When my kids were babies, I was the one who stayed home with them while my wife worked.”
“Yeah, I thought I told you.”
My mind is reeling. I’ve been having my doubts about Birk, but isn’t this everything I’ve always wanted?
“The first thing you need if you have a baby is a rocking chair,” he continues authoritatively.
I’m not quite sure that’s really the first thing, or indeed the only thing one needs, but as it happens I have a rocking chair, a new Craftsman style one that I purchased to go with the couch and coffee table on Roopa’s recommendation. The way Birk talks about this so concretely makes me start to feel like this amorphous, improbable fantasy could become real.
“Actually, what I really need is a bigger house,” I say. Even though I just moved in and I like this tiny house, if I have a baby, I’ll need more space.
With all these ideas spinning in my head, we retire to the bedroom, although we are NOT, I explicitly clarify, going to put this plan into action tonight. In other words, we are using condoms. Birk’s pale face turns dark red. He’s so cute when he’s embarrassed.
Birk feels his way with the back of one hand along the edge of my ridiculously high bed from the foot, up the long side, to the head. I’m already in bed, waiting for him. As he’s about to climb in, he pauses, a mischievous look on his face.
“So this will be the first time doing it in the new bed…?”
I laugh. “Oh, uh, not exactly…” He knows I’m a dev and obviously I’ve dated other people before him but since Billy I’ve learned my lesson and tried to keep details about exes purposely vague.
“What?” Birk’s eyebrows raise in surprise as he scrambles into the bed. “Seriously? So I’m the second?”
“No…not the second…”
Birk gives a hearty laugh. I’m so relieved that he doesn’t seem bothered by any of this.
“Really?” he says. “My goodness, you have been busy.”
“Hey!” I swat him playfully on the shoulder. “I’ve been here for almost a year now.”
“It’s good to know you’ve been making the most of your time here,” he says jokingly, his eyes looking up slightly above my head.
“Let me show you,” I say with a little growl, tackling him and pushing him down onto the pillows. He grins up at me.
I kiss him hard and let him flip me over so now he’s on top, looming over me but not making eye contact the way a sighted person would, his face turned a bit to the side as he pulls up my shirt and runs his hands over my chest. That dev feeling wells up inside me, aching with desire.
When I was a frustrated dev teen, I felt like if a hot young blind guy so much as touched me, I would die of desire, that my attraction was so overwhelming I would just fall down dead on the spot, or at the very least, swoon like a Victorian lady. Needless to say, that is not a thing that has ever happened to me, or anyone. And Birk, pasty white, overweight, square, is not the kind of person who normally inspires that kind of response in romantic fiction.
But in that moment, we are there together, him feeling me, me being felt by him. Part of my dev attraction is how unexpected it is, being with the guy no one else thinks is sexy. I want him to run his sensitive fingers all over me, to see my body in a way no sighted person ever would. As he trails his fingers along my skin, I feel electrified, powerful and oh so sexy, and I want to make him feel the same.
He puts his hand between my legs, and I show him how to touch me. He doesn’t get mad or pout or insist on his own little system, or treat me like a video game he’s trying to level up. He just pays attention to how I’m responding.
As we’re doing it, he leans over me, and I stare into his face, enjoying his expression of concentration and pleasure. What is it about looking at him, knowing he is not looking back at me? It’s not that I don’t want him to know what I look like, in fact I feel that he is intensely aware of every part of my body. There’s just something about the gaze not returned, of him encountering the world through touch instead of sight, that feels almost sublime. It’s almost overwhelmingly satisfying.
Late, late we finally drift off to sleep. Or rather, Birk falls asleep and begins snoring like a buzzsaw, while I toss and turn next to him. In my experience, all men snore, but he is by far the loudest I have ever encountered. In the morning, he apologizes and promises to do something about the snoring. It’s nice of him to offer, but I doubt there’s any solution.
The next morning, I take him back to the train. I have learned my lesson and pay to park in the lot, avoiding the Kiss and Ride. It’s a long walk from the lot to the platform, with him on my arm and trailing a small rolling suitcase behind him. I guide him up the platform to the door of the train, then we say our goodbyes and I leave him to find a seat on his own.
As I’m walking away, some random middle aged guy asks me where Birk is going.
“The terminal in Central City,” I say. I want to add: Not that it’s any of your business, but I refrain, with a massive display of self-control.
“You’re not going with him?” The man stares at me, appalled.
“He’s fine,” I say testily, although the man still looks skeptical. I walk away before I break out in an angry lecture on ableism and prejudice. Later, it makes me laugh that this random jerk must think I’m a terrible person for “letting” Birk travel alone. If only he knew how Birk travels on his own all over the country and even overseas for work.
Things suddenly get really busy at work and I can’t get away for the next few weeks for another date with Birk. He suggests going to the opera in Central City but I just can’t find the time. I feel a bit like this is a bid to impress me, since he’s never actually been to the opera before and doesn’t know anything about classical music. It’s sweet of him to offer to go with me, though.
After our last date, I’m on a dev high that just won’t quit. My dev feelings usually go in unpredictable cycles. When the high comes, it’s like a form of mania. I’m buzzing with energy and excitement, but all I want to do is indulge my fascination with blindness. It’s a problem when Birk isn’t actually around and we can’t just have sex all the time. Instead I turn to the internet, reading and re-reading the same sites, watching the same video clips over and over.
For the first few days, it’s invigorating and fun, but after a week, then two, I’m exhausted. Still I can’t sleep. Pleasure turns to delirium but the dev obsession won’t go away. I walk down the hall at work to my office, feeling like a zombie, oblivious to everything around me, clips of dev fantasies on infinite repeat in my head with the volume turned all the way up, obliterating any other thoughts.
I still have my doubts about Birk, about his family situation. But the fantasy he’s offering me is so tempting, I want to just give in. Even when we’re apart, he emails or calls almost every day.
Mark July 21 down on your calendar. It is the annual disability pride parade in Central City. The committee I co-chair has sponsored and I have been in the parade the past three years showing my incredible disability pride. I could actually not care less but since I have to be there I figure you could march with me and it would get you all hot and bothered. I would do you right at the end of the parade route but I’ll likely have the kids with me. We can do something after the parade.
Talk to you later.
Oh ha ha, very funny--what do you take me for! I may enjoy the parade but there will be no untoward gestures or getting it on at the end of the parade. But I will be sure to wear my "devotee pride" t-shirt, ha ha.
At the end of May, Birk takes the train again for another overnight visit. He very proudly shows me a little plastic device he got to reduce snoring, that sits inside his nose to hold it open. It doesn’t do much, since snoring happens at the back of the throat, not the tip of the nose, but it’s a nice gesture.
This will be our last visit for a few weeks, since I’m going on a work trip overseas. As we’re lying in bed together, Birk says, “I’d like to ask you to be my official girlfriend.”
I squeeze him tightly, my arms wrapped around his chest. I feel a little choked up. No one has ever asked me like that. Usually it’s either, “uh, I guess we’re, like, dating now or whatever” or that “I don’t want to put labels on things” bullshit that guys say when they want to keep you on the shelf but also see other chicks on the side. Or Buttboy, who wins the prize for shittiest boyfriend ever when he said “I never really thought of you as my girlfriend” after a year of dating me exclusively.
Birk seems so much more mature, more steady and reliable by comparison. The next day, he sends me an email:
It is always great to talk with you and even better to be with you! Thanks for a spectacular day yesterday!!
Here is my address. Send me your address. I'll check on your home while you are gone. Kidding, but send me your address.
I look forward to talking with you tomorrow and spending lots of time with you in the future!
Thanks for the address, here's mine.
Are you planning on stalking my empty house while I'm away? Well if you do, at least water the lawn for me, thanks!
Anyway thanks again for being so understanding about my work....I really do appreciate how supportive you are, even pushing me when I'd rather just play. And you know when you asked me to be your girlfriend, you made me really happy, I've been giddy ever since. I can't wait to see you again. Ok, I won't lie, I'm looking forward to my trip too, but I miss you at the same time.
I pack up for my extended trip with my heart singing. I have a blind boyfriend. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.
I take a three week trip to Seoul for work. Actually, it would have been a shorter trip but Ted offers to let me stay with him and Hyunh, so with the money I save on a hotel I’m able to stretch it out longer. I also plan to take a week of vacation on the way back and stop in Raser City, since I’d have a layover there anyway. I’ve learned that the secret to jetsetting on a shoestring budget is to parlay every trip into something bigger.
For weeks before the trip, I’ve been emailing everyone I know, trying to arrange to see all my friends in Raser City while I’m there.
One particular exchange goes like this:
Hello to the Mantis,
How are you doing? You've been very bad for not writing to me since I moved--I trust you can think up some suitable punishment :P
So I may have mentioned it before, but I'm leaving for Seoul on Tuesday, then on the way back I'll be staying in Raser City for a week. I'll be staying with my friend Lulu. If you and Titania are around, we must find time to meet. You still owe me a dinner from before I moved away!
Life in Craptown has been pretty good, except the dating scene has sucked. After scoping the local freaks and losers, I concentrated my efforts on Central City, but even that didn't go so well most of the year. But then very recently I met this blind guy who lives in one of the suburbs of Central City; we've only been dating about a month but so far it's been going really well. He's a great guy, who knows, maybe I have finally gotten lucky :P Anyway he asked me to "officially" be his girlfriend, it was so sweet!
Let me know when you're free to meet up. A weekday would be best if you're not working. Hope you're doing well!
The Mantis certainly does not deserve his own personal consideration from the great Mistress. There are a thousand apologies offered for the lack of correspondence since you have left. Lately I have not been feeling so well, but the upside is, I'm on disability so I have lots of free time... If you are free on Wednesday night of the week you are here, you will have the pleasure of being able to dine with Titania and I ('cuz she's free Wed. night). If not, you will have to stomach me all on my lonesome. I look forward to seeing you either way. I hope you have a wonderful time in Seoul and I will talk to you soon.
By the time I see his reply, I’m already overseas. Even though I’m not pining after him, I still treasure these little exchanges. I can’t help but tease him in reply:
The Mantis should feel even more honored that the Mistress is taking time away from her very important work in Seoul to send him an email. And whatever else you may have heard, I am not just here for shopping. I am working.
Surprisingly, both William and Brenno are (separately) also going to be in Seoul at the same time as I am for work. The idea of seeing one or both of them there in my old stomping grounds is strangely appealing but alas plans fall through with both of them.
Nevertheless, I enjoy my time in Seoul. It feels a bit like a victory lap to be back in the same place where I was a struggling, aimless grad student, now that I am a gainfully employed grownup. Even though I am there for work, I have more free time than I expected, so it does feel a bit like a subsidized shopping trip. I do a lot of shopping.
I also manage to visit many old friends I haven’t seen in ten years. So many of them are now married, have kids, or have been married and divorced and married again. Bjørn has long ago moved back to Norway, but friends seem surprised to hear that I lost touch with him entirely the moment I left. Should I have kept in touch with him? It’s strange to think how unaware I was of my dev self at the time. Once again I feel like that’s the reason I haven’t married and had kids like my friends.
At one dinner party at a restaurant, one Korean guy in my group of friends admits he always had a crush on me. I liked him too. For a second, I get a glimpse of an alternate life, one where I became an expat wife and mother of biracial, bilingual, bicultural kids, as some of my friends have done. I feel a twinge of longing.
“Why didn’t you ever ask me out?” I ask him.
“You always had a boyfriend,” he replies, meaning Bjørn.
“But you had a girlfriend!” I say, which is also true.
Well, marrying any able-bodied guy before I had a chance to explore my devness would probably have been a mistake in any case.
It is also a mistake, I realize almost immediately, to stay in Ted’s filthy apartment rather than just ponying up for a damn hotel room on my own like a grown-ass person. I should have known after witnessing their ridiculous cross-country trip, but Ted and Hyunh are still living like students, even though like me Ted is in his thirties.
I appreciate their offer to put me up for three weeks, but their place is a disgusting pit. When I arrive, they don't even have hand soap. The apartment is tiny, just two small rooms and a kitchen that is more like a hallway with a table.
It’s also very inconveniently located, in the far suburbs, a twenty minute walk from the nearest train station along a depressing stretch of industrial buildings. I overhear Ted scolding Hyunh for walking home alone at night because he thinks that street is unsafe. He offers to come pick her up at the station but of course I’m left to fend for myself.
The sink is perpetually stacked with dirty dishes, even though they hardly ever cook anything, but just eat takeout and cup noodle. It’s bad enough that they never clean anything, but they also have a cat.
Their cat is cute, black with white spots, still young and kittenish. But it has major behavior problems and persecutes me night and day, in addition to making the place even dirtier and smellier. Ted thinks that spraying Lysol in the air is an acceptable alternative to cleaning the cat box, which is located right next to the shower. Every time I step out of the shower, kitty litter sticks to the bottom of my feet.
Keeping my things away from the cat is a full time job. I have to save my receipts for reimbursement; once I let one small receipt fall to the floor and the cat utterly destroys it in less than a second. It’s amazing how quickly the cat reduces the paper to tiny shreds.
The cat's favorite toy is a little stuffed doll of the Pink Panther, which it eviscerated and carries around by the neck. I will never look at the Pink Panther the same way again.
The apartment itself has a lot of stuff but little furniture, and paper-thin walls through which I can regularly hear Ted spanking Hyunh, grunting and laughing while she makes little girl mewling noises. He also asks seriously if I would watch porn with them. EEEWWWW. NO. Why do guys always assume that because I have some kinks I will always be down for whatever?
Of course Ted wants to hear all about Operation Hot Wheels, so I have to admit that that relationship didn’t work out but now I’m dating a blind guy. Once again Hyunh gives me a funny look and says, “But why?”
“Because he’s fucking sexy,” I retort, staring her straight in the eye until she looks away in embarrassment.
Even though we’re now half a world apart, I’m still on my dev high. I can’t stop thinking about Birk, no matter what I’m doing. As I ride the train, speeding through the city, the skyscrapers slipping by out the window, I close my eyes and think of a blind guy back in the US, waiting for me, and I’m overcome with such desire, I feel like I might just drift away.
I send Birk long emails every day, recounting every detail of what I’ve been doing. We even manage to talk on the phone a few times, thanks to my mobile phone plan that is generous with international calls, although finding a time when we are both awake and in a good place to talk is a challenge.
In one email to Birk, I write,
Thanks so much for calling yesterday! Sorry it took three tries to get through, and you didn't even see the email I sent you--you must have thought I had forgotten about you already, ha ha ha. It was so cool to talk to you and hear your voice! Sorry I couldn't be more open on the phone, but I was on the train with a friend, and I was trying to keep my voice down and not annoy the other passengers. They're very strict here about not talking on the phone on the trains--there are so many people that if everyone did it, the noise would be unbearable.
The weather has been beautiful yesterday and today--sunny and warm but not too hot. Too bad it won't last--the rain is supposed to start in a few days.
So yesterday I met up with a Korean friend. It was great to see her and catch up again--she's my age, a very cool person. She's had to move outside Seoul to a small town for her job, so she sympathized with me about living outside the city for work. I was with her when you called me the second time, and I missed the call because I didn't pick up fast enough. So I told her a little bit about you and she told me about her boyfriend, a German guy. They've been together for about a year or so, but never lived in the same city, or even in the same country—he works for a bank and travels all over the world so they meet up in different cities. Now that's a long distance relationship; by comparison you seem really close, ha ha.
Anyway don't worry, even though I'm running all around, I'm still thinking about you all the time and I'm always really happy to hear from you. Hope you're having a great weekend, and let me know what you're up to.
A few days later I write,
I went out to dinner with two female friends, Junghee and Yoonah. We were leaving the train station, amid the hordes of people, when this blind guy asked Yoonah for directions to the bookstore, and of course she pointed and said "That way" then Junghee tried to drag him by the hand, so I felt obliged to step in and give him some assistance in a way that would actually be useful. The bookstore was quite far from where we were, and the way there was rather confusing, so we walked over with him. On the way I chatted with him (with my friends translating) and told him about you--he was really surprised to hear that my boyfriend is also blind.
I'm sorry to say he was clearly one of those people lacking in basic social skills, probably a product of special education and overprotective parents. He asked if you work, and I said you're a social worker (seemed the easiest term to use) and he was really amazed. He said he's in college now (he seemed quite young) but he can't imagine holding down a job, then I told him you had traveled to Russia and he was even more amazed, and seemed convinced that you must be some sort of celebrity. I was really dismayed to hear such a backward attitude from him; he was clearly filled with self-pity.
Then when we finally arrived at the bookstore, I asked what he was doing there (I assumed he was meeting someone or something) but he said no, he just wanted to try going there and looking around the bookstore ???? Whatever, at that point we left him to it. I felt like we had done enough, and he was slightly creepy. I really didn't think that S Korea had such a backward attitude about disability, but you can run into that kind of person anywhere. I know there are definitely social services to encourage people to be more independent, but in a conformist society it's hard to get people to accept any kind of difference.
I asked Yoonah if she thought that guy was the norm here, and she said no, which was my general feeling too.
So then after that over dinner I was talking more about you with Junghee and Yoonah, and they were both giving me that "you're such a wonderful person" schtick which I really hate. They're more casual acquaintances, not close enough friends that I would tell them about being a devotee, so they think of me as like an angel of mercy for dating a disabled person. I get that a lot from people who don't know me that well, and it really bugs me, because one, it feels condescending and two, it's far from the truth, as my close friends know. Anyway I'm hardly a saint and it feels really weird to be taken for one.
Birk replies with an equally long email, updating me on his daily life, going to work, going to the swimming pool with his kids. He jokes about horrifying people with his pasty white legs at the pool, and suggests that next time I should join them. At the end, he adds:
Also, I just want to say that your reward will be great in heaven for giving a poor slob of a blind guy some pussy!
His email makes me laugh but I have to remind him that’s not really what being a devotee is about. And that guy was so socially maladjusted I couldn’t find him attractive at all. Also I don’t want Birk to think that blind people are shunned here because that’s not the case at all; in fact I think in some ways access is better. You don’t need to own a car to get around easily, and the train stations are equipped with tactile blocks and braille everywhere. It’s certainly better than the crappy train he has to ride to visit me.
It also gets me thinking, I travel a lot around Asia for work, and if Birk and I are serious, I’d want him to come with me, at least for a short trip. Would he do it? How would it be for him?
Toward the end of my trip, I go to a spa with private outdoor hot tubs. I choose the Rose Bath. This one features a big wooden bath with tons of fresh roses floating in it. Roses tend to lose their scent and wilt when placed in very hot water, but still it’s pretty. As I’m soaking in the tub, suddenly there’s a huge thunderstorm. I go out onto the private enclosed verandah and let the rain fall on my naked body while the thunder cracks right overhead. After a year of stress and frustration, I feel lucky again, like things are finally going my way.
With a sense of relief, I thank Ted and Hyunh, bid goodbye to their filthy apartment, and fly across the Pacific, back to Raser City. Lulu picks me up at the airport. I’m so happy to see her again.
Lulu is temporarily living with her parents in a suburb south of the city while she plans her next move. She tried auditioning with opera companies all around the country, including the one where I met up with her in Central City. But she didn’t get any parts, and she decided she doesn’t want to pursue a professional opera career. Instead, she’s moving to New York City to get a degree in social work. She’s staying with her parents for a few months until the start of the fall semester.
I haven’t been back to Lulu’s parents’ house since her brother’s funeral. It’s been five years and they are getting by but of course there’s still lingering grief behind everything. Lulu confides in me that she now feels much more pressure to get her life on track, to find a career, get married and have kids.
“I’m the only one left to make my parents proud, you know?” she says.
I tell her about Birk, how he offered to have kids with me and stay home to raise them. She raises a skeptical eyebrow.
“Talk is cheap,” she says.
“I know!” I agree. “We’ll see if he means it or not. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much but for now things feel really good.”
I spend the week running around like crazy trying to visit as many friends as possible. It feels so good to be back with people who feel normal, who understand me, who are open-minded about sex and not all weirdly judgy.
My visit coincides with the latest production of the Raser City Lyric Opera, La Boheme. Except for Suzanna, who as usual has the lead soprano role, Mimi, almost none of my closest friends are in it. They even turn up their noses at going to watch it with me; they’re all feeling burned at never getting a leading role and have moved on to other companies and other productions.
I meet Suzanna for lunch downtown, and she admits that she’s also frustrated at not getting any roles with bigger companies around the country. Like Lulu, she’s been auditioning and not getting anywhere. Suddenly, playing the lead in the same small company for the rest of her career seems less appealing. She’s still with Uri, and I’ve heard their relationship is rocky but she doesn’t really talk about it, and I don’t pry.
After lunch, as she’s driving me to the train station, some idiot rear ends her car while we’re stopped at a red light downtown.
“Hey! What the hell!” Suzanna jumps out of the car, her mass of blond curls bouncing and her blue eyes flashing angrily. She’s usually so mild; I’ve never seen her like this.
A skinny hipster dude emerges from the other car and twitches around nervously, inspecting the two dinged bumpers.
“Sorry!” he shouts. “The light turned green and you didn't go!”
“So you had to hit me?” Suzanna exclaims incredulously.
“I've had too much coffee!”
Suzanna rolls her eyes. They exchange contact information and we go on our way.
I go by myself to a weekend matinee of La Boheme in the suburbs. It feels so strange to be in the audience rather than up on stage. I have never watched one of their productions that I was not in. Sitting there alone in the dark, watching one of my favorite operas, I’m overcome with such longing that I nearly start crying. I miss performing so much. After the show, I go backstage and say hello to everyone, the director and producers, the stage manager, conductor, costumers and cast members. They are all so kind and ask how I’m doing. I say good but inside I’m thinking take me baaaaaack. Already there are so many people in the chorus I don’t know.
My friend Gretchen is the lead in a show called Boylesque, a kind of campy gay burlesque with boys. She’s the only woman in a cast full of hot gay boys, playing the dominatrix leader of the troupe. The poster is a photo of all the shirtless boys lying in a puppy pile with Gretchen stepping on them. The show itself is a series of hysterical sketches and musical numbers. Lulu and I go to opening night, and after the show Gretchen brings us along to the cast party. At the party, Gretchen wears her little black dress and wig from the final scene, and she looks so much like Karen from Will & Grace that it’s almost scary. She struts around with her riding crop, and we eat chocolate-covered strawberries and take turns spanking each other.
Aaah, this is my true home. I feel deeply in my soul that this is where I belong.
I love spending so much time with Lulu. It’s like a week-long sleepover. The weather is chilly even though it’s summer, and she lets me wear her clothes. Each night, we lie in bed together, spooning and laughing so hard at nothing we can’t even get to sleep. We still call each other “wifey” but it’s only pretend. I think again of Gretchen marrying her best friend, but Lulu reminds me for the millionth time it will not work between us.
“I just really need the dick,” she says.
As promised, the Mantis and Titania meet me for lunch at a fancy, high end Jewish deli. Over plates of latkes and reuben sandwiches, they inform me that they are breaking up, but still staying friends.
“Oh no, but you were such a great couple!” I’m surprised how disappointed I feel to hear this news.
Titania shrugs. “Sometimes things just don’t work out. It’s ok.”
They don’t offer more explanation as to why things didn’t work out, but that’s their business.
“What about you?” they want to know. I fill them on in everything that’s been going on with Birk, how I like him but I’m still not sure.
“I’ve never dated anyone with kids. I mean, I really want my own kids, but I don’t know that I’m ready to be a stepmother to two tweens.”
“Just take it slow,” Titania advises.
The Mantis changes the subject. “So what happened to Devo Diary?” he wants to know. “When are you going to write down all your sexy adventures?”
I laugh. “You just want me to share all the naughty bits about you!”
He makes a fake innocent face. “Whatever the Mistress deigns to write, the lowly Mantis will be honored to read.”
“Yes, but the truth is I want to write but I feel like if I start now, before I’m married, it will just be a requiem to my dating life, as I’m forced to accept eternal spinsterhood.”
“Whatever.” Titania is not having it. “Being married is not the only route to happiness.”
She speaks with the voice of bitter experience. Well, she has kids so she doesn’t have to figure out how to create them on her own, but I don’t say that.
“Who knows,” the Mantis offers. “Maybe you’ll marry that blind dude.”
“Yeah, maybe.” When he says it like that, it does seem unlikely.
“Anyway,” the Mantis says, changing the subject, “have I got a story for you.”
“What? Tell me!”
“So a few months ago we went to a concert to hear Paul McCartney. We got to sit right up close in the wheelchair seating area. It was awesome. Then after the concert, a buddy of mine was working crew in the theater and he offered to get me in backstage. So we go around the back, in through the stage door. I’m just sitting there in a hallway, trying to figure out what to do next, when Paul McCartney sees me and walks right up to me.”
“Wow, no way!”
“Yeah, so he puts his hand on my shoulder with this pitying look, and he says really slowly, ‘Did you enjoy the concert?’ And I’m thinking, oh my god, he thinks I’m a retard, that’s why he came over to talk to me.” His eyes are shining and he’s barely holding back laughter as he tells me.
“What! So did you set him straight?”
“Hell no! I stared up at him like a dummy and said, ‘It was great! Can I have a picture?’”
He shows me a picture on his phone of Paul McCartney standing next to him and Titania, with an arm awkwardly on his shoulder. The Mantis is grinning like an idiot. We all have a good laugh over how he got to meet Paul McCartney only because he was mistaken for a developmentally disabled person who got a backstage pass as part of some charity program.
After lunch, we say our goodbyes outside the restaurant. The sidewalk is broken up and uneven. As we talk, I stare at the front caster of the Mantis’s chair, swiveling freely an inch above the broken pavement. At my farewell party a year ago, I thought that would be the last time I ever saw my Raser City friends, but somehow I know this is the real last time.
Back home to the Midwest, my parents come to visit immediately after my return. It’s their first time seeing Craptown in all its crappy glory.
“The problem with this town,” my mother sniffs, “is that there are no trees.”
I point out that there are plenty of trees, just not on my street, and there are many other problems: the rampant poverty and racism, the fact that the KKK run the local police, the conservative attitudes and surfeit of churches. On a personal level, some other problems are the fact that I can’t find a decent restaurant, and that every salon I go to gives me a soccer mom haircut no matter what I ask for. But yes, she is correct that the lack of trees is a symptom of the crumbling civic infrastructure and general ugliness.
It doesn’t help that we’re in the middle of a summer drought. The lawn is nearly dead, and I’m praying if not for rain at least for a watering ban so I can just let it die completely.
The college my mother attended is a few hours’ drive away. She hadn't been back since she graduated in 1964, so the three of us have a nice time going to see the campus together. Because there’s freshmen orientation going on, we get to see in the dorm rooms too, which she says are mostly unchanged, although in her day, rather than a cafeteria, they were served all their meals by waiters. Also they had to dress for dinner, with the girls all in dresses and white gloves.
As we tour the campus, every single person we encounter thinks I’m an incoming freshman visiting with my parents. For the record, I just celebrated my thirty-fifth birthday. So I’m always told it's good to look young, but this just reminds me of how no one respects me at my shitty, toxic workplace.
The drive home from the campus is through lots of pretty scenery of cornfields. We
drive right into a thunderstorm, with the thunderheads on the horizon ahead of us, bolts of lightning hitting the ground and everything.
Anyway it’s nice to have a pleasant visit with my parents for once. My mom lays off asking me about my dating life, although she does wistfully mention several times that she’s so ready for grandchildren. In the abstract. No pressure, of course. Somehow that makes me feel even more guilty for not having kids yet.
After my parents leave, there’s another major storm, including two tornadoes, constant
lightning, and almost four inches of rain in one night. I spend an hour or two in the basement just in case, but luckily the funnels don't touch down in town. That one storm reverses the drought, and the grass is green again.
At long last, after nearly two months apart, Birk takes the train to visit me on a Saturday. He can’t stay over, and I feel bad for making him ride three hours in the train each way just to spend a few hours with me, but he says he doesn’t mind.
We don’t do anything at all but lie around my house and eat a lot of junky food. I don’t say anything, but I’m starting to feel stressed about it. I want to go out and do things—go to galleries and shops and the theater, but of course there’s nothing like that in Craptown. I also hate the physical inactivity. Back in Raser City, even though I had a car, I walked a lot. Here, all I do is sit: in the car, at work, at home. I’m starting to gain weight.
I have to admit I’m also worried about Birk’s health. Since he suggested having kids, I’ve been trying to think practically about how that might work. It’s not just the matter of his job and family, but also his health. Being diabetic and overweight, he’s at high risk for so many complications. I do some internet research on type I diabetes, and see that he’s at high risk of a heart attack within the next ten years. He’s already complaining that he’s been feeling vaguely unwell lately but hasn’t been able to get a doctor’s appointment.
We make plans for me to come visit him in Central City in a few weeks. I suggest that the art museum downtown near the train station has a very nice sculpture collection and the website advertises special tactile tours for blind people. That seems like a fun, devvy thing to do together.
When I was dating K and he was dating Lydia, they often talked about going to Europe together, and wondered how that would work because Lydia wanted to go to all the art museums that K couldn’t enjoy. It was another tiny example of my scorn for Lydia, her lack of imagination and consideration in dealing with K’s blindness. Of course, I tell myself, I would never be bothered by that because even though I love going to art museums, I love going out with a blind man even more, and whatever we do together is exciting. I would happily sacrifice a trip to the Louvre for marriage to K. But maybe I could still do those things I enjoy. Birk says he wants to visit the art museum with me, maybe in a few weeks. He promises to contact the museum about the tactile tour.
Birk can’t stay over this weekend, so in the afternoon I take him back to the train station. The train is not there yet, even though it’s supposed to leave in fifteen minutes. This is the last train Birk can take and still make his connection back to Ogdenville. We have a very anxious time of it, wondering where the train is, if Birk will be stranded overnight here or in downtown Central City. Of course because this train line is so poorly run, there’s no announcement or message board or even any employees around.
Five minutes before the scheduled departure time, the train pulls into the station, all the arriving passengers get off, and the few departing passengers get on. I hurriedly kiss Birk goodbye and point him in the direction of the open train door. Right on time, the train pulls out of the station.
Why is everything here so haphazardly run? I’m longing for the efficient, expansive trains of East Asia. Dating a blind person long distance would be so much easier if we lived in a place with decent public transportation.
The next day, Birk writes,
How are you? Is it hot enough for you? I just talked to the kids and there were thunderstorms in the western suburbs.
I called the art museum this morning and left a message for the woman the schedules the tours but she didn’t return my call. When called her back again this afternoon, she tried to give the impression that I was hounding her. I only called back again to see if I could arrange the tour for the 20th. If she gives me any attitude I’m going to touch every piece of art if I go there.
I had some dude on the phone at work yelling at me this morning asking for my supervisor’s name and number. He didn’t believe me when I told him she was out of the office. He is going to file a complaint against me. Not exactly sure what I did that warrants a complaint but he claimed I wasn’t doing my job and wasn’t doing what the materials we sent him said that we did. He had an employment issue and I told him he needed to contact the EEOC or the state Civil Rights Commission and then he started asking me what we did. “My taxes fund your Center and you are supposed to assist me filing the complaint!” I told him that we don’t do that but he said that the materials we sent him said we did do that. What a fucker.
Anyway, it has been quiet since then. Yesterday, I got home from your place on the train without any problems around 10:00 pm. I went to bed at 11:00 and felt great this morning. I haven’t felt tired all day. I slept pretty well.
What have you been up today? Did you have a date with one of your other boyfriends?
Talk to you later.
I’m surprised at the strength of his anger in this email. Usually he seems easy-going to a fault, almost overly self-effacing and passive. The guy hassling him at work is understandably irritating. Birk has told me many similar stories of angry people calling his office demanding disability accommodation and getting abusive when he explains why they can’t have what they want. In one case, the mother of a blind adult screamed at him over the phone for being “insensitive.”
“You have no idea what it’s like to be blind!” she shouted.
“Actually, I’m blind myself,” he said. In a movie, that would be the needle-scratch moment that brings her up short, but in real life, it didn’t even slow her down. She just carried on as if he hadn’t said anything at all. When he interrupted her to let her know again that he is also a blind person, she accused him of lying.
When he told me that story, Birk had a good laugh over it. I haven’t seen him get angry over this kind of thing before. Why is he so worked up over the woman not returning his call at the art museum? It seems like an overreaction to a minor miscommunication. I want to go on the tactile tour with him but it’s not really that big a deal.
Hi there, I'm glad to hear you got home by 10. After all that, the train left right on time. Thank goodness!
I couldn't sleep last night because the fan was bothering me. I was either too hot or too cold, actually the real problem was I didn't get enough exercise during the day. Too much lying around!
Sorry to hear about that asshole hassling you at work. Just remember that line "my taxes pay for your job" is the last resort of the idiot who has no legitimate argument.
Let me know what the art museum people say. If they don't respond, you can lodge a complaint or even a lawsuit!
The next weekend, I drive up to College Town to visit Kara and Nam again. We have a good time just hanging out. Even though they also have cats, compared to staying with Ted, visiting them is a far more pleasant experience as a guest since their cats mostly harass each other, and leave me alone. Their house is also equipped with hand soap and dry, clean towels, and cat boxes that are cleaned out regularly. I go shopping with Kara and purchase an Art Nouveau style carpet for the living room, which completes my home decorating.
I bring them presents from my trip: bags of potato chips and biscuits with unusual flavors, cute character socks, sour plum tea, candy made from spun sugar. Even though I have already told them most of the details, I regale them again with stories of my trip and of course all about Birk as well.
Kara and Nam have both known for a long time about me being a devotee, and of course they were there when I was dating K, before I was self-aware. They tease me about dev stuff all the time, but it feels good that it’s such a normal thing that we can joke about it. I let them know my doubts about Birk, because of his family situation, although I don’t mention his weight, since Nam has also been putting on more weight and is sensitive about it. That doesn’t stop him from monitoring Kara’s weight, but I learned long ago not to get involved in the sometimes tense relationship dynamic between them.
“Eh, I don’t see you as a stepmother,” Nam says. “Unless it’s as a poisoning, child-abandoning evil stepmother.”
“Stop! You know I’ve always wanted kids.”
Nam shudders as if he can’t imagine why. One of the cats wanders by and plops itself in his lap, happily taking the place of any potential child.
Ever creative, Nam spins out a wild fantasy of me as a the Cruel Mistress living in a castle and being waited on by a handsome blind servant.
Instantly, I have a crystal clear, detailed mental image of such a figure: delicate features, pale skin, white-blond hair with a bit of a curl, green eyes that are glassy, unseeing.
“He stumbles just a bit as he brings you the tea tray,” Nam says. “That’s really more suited to you than being a suburban stepmom.”
“I guess,” I have to admit. “Find me the castle and the servant and I’m there.”
Practical Kara just sighs and rolls her eyes at this nonsense. “Just don’t rush into anything,” she says.