Monday, March 1, 2010

Devo Diary Chapter 60

Billy, part 2

April 2006

Billy gets an invitation to an adaptive horseback riding event, and I pressure him to go. He seems kind of uninterested, but I convince him that we should both go together as a date. He eventually signs us up after I repeatedly remind him, but he doesn’t realize I have an ulterior motive for wanting to do this.
I did some horseback riding as a kid, nothing glamorous, just some very basic lessons in summer camp. I was never any good at it but I was a horse-loving girl. The whole reason I want to go to this event with Billy, though, is because of a line I read in the book Moving Violations, where a para describes riding on a horse as being like walking again for the first time in twenty years. Of course I don’t say anything about this to Billy but I’m secretly kind of hoping it might be some kind of cathartic experience for him.
I feel guilty about engineering these situations that I find devvy. I keep promising myself that I’ll stop, but I keep doing it again anyway. And maybe it’s not so bad? It’s not like I’ve ever talked a guy into doing something he hated. Like when I convinced K to become a licensed massage therapist. I felt guilty about that for years, that I only talked him into it because it fulfilled my fantasy job for a blind person. But years later he thanked me for encouraging him to do it.
Billy certainly knows I’m a dev, since he’s been reading all my posts on PD. But he still hasn’t posted anything himself, and I’m not sure how he feels about it. He likes all the sex we have but he also makes little comments about me being a freak in a half joking, half serious way.
Also he’s jealous of my vibrator. It sounds absurd to even spell it out like that, but he definitely is. Every time he’s in my bed and sees my stash of sex toys he has to make some sarcastic comment about BOB, Battery Operated Boyfriend, and how he can’t compete. It’s beyond tiresome. Every time he starts up with that nonsense I just say STAAAAHPPPP in the most bored tone, to let him know how ridiculous he’s being and that I’m not even going to engage in a conversation about this. He stops in the moment but the next time he comes over he’s at it again.
This streak of sex negativity bums me out and I don’t want to dig into it too deeply. After all, we don’t even have p-i-v sex. He seems less invested in acting out penetration since he can’t feel it, and I don’t really care for it, so we don’t bother. I find it incredibly freeing. So why the jealousy of my vibrator?
So there’s a lot we’re not discussing, and I try to just let it go and enjoy myself. The horseback riding outing is fun. We go to a horse farm with about a dozen other adults and children with various mobility impairments, and their families. The woman who owns the farm uses a power chair herself, driving it across ditches and through the mud with impressive abandon.
Getting everyone on a horse takes forever. The able-bodied companions like me hop on in the usual way, but there’s a high platform that allows Billy to transfer straight across from his chair into the saddle. The saddle has an extra high back, and there are volunteers who stand on either side of each rider in case they start to slide off. We all ride along a trail in single file for a short distance, moving along at a sedate walk.
My horse is right behind Billy’s, and I watch his back as we amble along. Is he having that walking experience? Does it feel special and different?
“Well?” I ask after it’s over. “What did you think?”
He shrugs. “It was kinda fun I guess.”
I have to push. “Did it feel like walking?”
“No, not really. It felt like riding a horse.”
Ugh, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I just enjoy the moment without trying to map it onto some dev fantasy from a book I read? We both had a good time; why not just leave it at that?

Billy comes to my apartment on a Friday night, and I decide that for once instead of eating at a restaurant or getting takeout, I will cook him a proper dinner.
While I think of myself as a good cook, I don’t ever cook meat because I don’t like it that much. But Billy is the kind of person who thinks it’s not a meal unless there is a huge piece of meat, so I attempt to cook a pan roasted chicken recipe. But I’m so worried about food poisoning that I overcook it and it comes out tough.
“Don’t you think you’re trying too hard?” Billy says, giving me that mean snake look as he picks at the chicken on his plate.
“What are you talking about?” I play dumb.
“Don’t you think you’re trying too hard?” he repeats.
I know what he means. I’m auditioning for a wife role, and he’s letting me know he’s not interested. But again, I skip over the hard conversation and just let everything slide. La la la, nothing matters, just have fun.
After dinner, we make pot brownies, using some of the massive stash he got as payment from some investment banker. Now baking I am good at, and I know how to make them properly. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to eat them properly. Or rather, I know that it takes at least thirty minutes to feel anything and you need to wait before eating more, but somehow I never do.
“It’s not working,” Billy says after eating the first one. “You didn’t make it right.”
I roll my eyes. “Just wait.”
We sit in the kitchen staring at each other. Suddenly, we’re both laughing uncontrollably at nothing.
“Wait,” I say. “Wait, wait, wait. I think it’s working.” We laugh some more. But now that I’m feeling good, I want to feel even more good by eating more. After another thirty minutes, the high flips from happy to paranoid.
The next thing I know, we’re getting in bed, hiding under the covers with the lights on even though it’s only nine pm, staring at the clock and feeling like something is very wrong. Eventually we fall asleep.
It occurs to me later that this is a stupid way to spend an evening, yet we do it over and over again. Each time I think, I will eat less brownie. Just a tiny bit, then I will stop. Yet each time we end up huddled under the covers, going to bed by nine.
This is option one for our date nights, when he comes to my place. Option two is when we go to his place. There, we watch tv and drink cans of Yeo’s soy milk, then go to bed and have sex in exactly the same way every time.
I’m still very much attracted to him, yet the sex seems to get slightly less fun each time. It’s not that we’ve fallen into a routine. I’m ok with sticking to what works. It’s that he doesn’t seem that interested in me pleasing him. What he wants to do is hold me down and make me come as many times as he can, which is a lot. Which sounds great, except that he does it with a kind of detached determination, like what is really pleasing him is that he’s MAKING me come. I never want to say no, but as it goes on and on I start to wonder, is there ever a point at which this becomes abusive?

Billy eventually also seems to realize that the sex is getting a little stale, and suggests we mix it up a little.
“You’re like, all kinky n shit, right?” are his exact words, as he gives me the side eye.
“Hell yeah!” I will not allow him to sex shame me. “What are you thinking of?”
“I dunno, maybe, like, a threeway?”
“With a girl or a guy? I’m open-minded.” I know already that he means a girl but I can’t help teasing him about the possibility of another guy. He doesn’t find it as funny as I do.
For all my adventuring, a threeway is something I have not done often, and I have never attempted to pick up a girl with a partner. I’m really not sure how to go about it, but we talk it over and decide to go out to a club and see what happens. It’s been over a year since I’ve been to any club, and a lot of the places I used to go have closed. We pick a place downtown pretty much at random.
In the car just before we go into the club, he pulls out a sandwich bag with some of the pot brownies I made.
“To take the edge off,” he explains. We each have a tiny bit, and at least this time we stop at that since we leave the rest in the car. We have some drinks in the club too, since we’re both feeling super nervous.
It’s weird and exciting to be out with him and also looking to meet someone. Suddenly we’re both on our best behavior again, trying to project an image of ourselves as kinky hipsters rather than lazy stoners who spend most of our time eating and watching tv. We’re dressed up, and he stops making passive aggressive comments for now.
The club is half empty, but as I gyrate awkwardly on the dance floor, I catch the attention of a tall, thin girl with a cool retro look. I smile at her and she grins back at me, moving closer. We dance near each other for a little while, not really touching or anything. By now my head is spinning from the pot and alcohol. I give her a sloppy grin then stagger off to where Billy is sitting, waiting for me.
I drink some water and sober up slightly. Billy has seen me flirting with the tall girl, and he’s interested. We both go back out to the dance floor. I’m proud of him for dancing with me in his chair, because I know it’s not something he does often and he’s a little self-conscious about it. He moves his wheels back and forth while I shake my ass in front of him, letting him know I think he’s super sexy. We make eye contact with the tall girl again, that dance floor steady gaze that says we’re interested even though music is so loud it’s almost impossible to talk.
I stare at her some more while dancing. Something about her is different…
Slowly, I realize that the tall girl is actually a man in drag. Or maybe a trans woman. I haven’t actually spoken to her or even learned her name, so I have no idea how she might choose to be identified. I blame the pot for me not figuring it out sooner, but my first reaction is embarrassment that I didn’t know. I’m sure she can see it on my face. I’ve never been good at hiding my emotions.
I flee back to our table with Billy, who seems to have made the same realization at the same moment. We sit there in silence, staring at each other shamefacedly. I don’t think I’m interested in a hookup with a trans woman, and I know for sure Billy definitely is not. I feel stupid for not realizing earlier, and I feel guilty and ashamed for my unkind reaction.
The tall girl sashays by our table, her mouth twisted in a sardonic grin with a look that says, you suck but I’m not going to let it bother me.
Ugh, now I feel even worse for being so rude to her.
We slink out of the club back to Billy’s car, still not saying anything. Neither of us suggest having a threeway again.

We continue on in the rut we’ve developed, hanging out aimlessly, having vaguely passive-aggressive sex. I can’t exactly describe what he’s doing that bothers me but somehow I feel like his intention is not for us to have a mutually satisfying experience but for him to prove how manly he is by making me come a lot.
He’s also started making a lot more snide comments about how I’m so freaky and other digs at me for being a dev, or a chair chaser, as he calls it. Even though he never posts anything on PD, he’s reading it all the time. I start to feel very self-conscious about everything I write. Posting on the board had been starting to feel almost like free group therapy, but now I don’t want to open up so much if he’s going to criticize everything I write.
Billy even goes through everything I’ve posted before we met.
“So you just go around stalking every guy in a wheelchair who crosses your path, right?” he demands over Chinese take-out at my place.
“No, I already told you! It’s not like that. He has to be my type.”
“Yeah, but you admitted to stalking that guy you saw before.”
He’s referring to a post I made months ago, long before I even met him. This is what I wrote:

So just this afternoon, I was out enjoying the sunshine and getting coffee at a little shopping area near my house. Lots of people were out doing the same thing, eating at outdoor restaurants, looking at the high-end boutiques, etc. Suddenly, there before my eyes, the most devastatingly handsome quad guy. Blonde hair, very clean cut, probably late 30s. He was in a manual chair, seemed to have pretty good arm function, and with a wide strap around his chest to keep him from falling forward. But he was out with his parents, a guy who was probably his younger brother, and a girl who seemed to be the brother's girlfriend (at least I hoped so). God damn, I felt weak in the knees just looking at him. But as they wandered from shop to shop, his dad was pushing his chair, and he was never alone for even a second. I was dying to go up to him and say "I think you're hot, call me", but I just couldn't do it in front of his entire family. Talk about socially awkward. Eventually I started to feel like a creepy stalker, and just gave up. But damn! I can't believe I had to let that one get away.

A few people posted suggestions for how I could have approached him, such as handing him a card with my number and saying “Call me.” I replied:

I did have a business card with me and considered giving it to him, but I didn't really want to hand my entire life and vitals over to a stranger. I actually walked right by him with the card but lost my nerve because: 1. his dad was standing RIGHT THERE and 2. he kind of gave me that "why are you following me" look, and in the interest of not being a creepy stalker, I left.
And anyway, why was a 30 something guy letting his DAD push his chair around a perfectly flat, smooth sidewalk? The guys I know don't even have push handles on their chairs, and wouldn't be caught dead being wheeled around by their dads.

“The whole post was about how I didn’t stalk him,” I protest.
Billy gives me the mean snake look. “I can’t believe you wanted to just walk right up to him and hit on him in front of his family and everything. He was, like, just out shopping and there you were creeping on him.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t do anything, ok?” I’m trying to put a good face on it and not show Billy how much it upsets me to hear him say that. Not just because I hate that he has such a negative feeling about devs, but because I hate that he’s criticizing my post. I have a picture-perfect memory of every single sighting of a hot guy with a disability that gave me that dev rush. It’s like a private movie reel I play over and over in my head whenever I want to relive that rush, or just want something pleasant to think about. That quad in particular has really stuck with me. It’s not that I regret not talking to him, but the memory of watching him however briefly is a sweet, private pleasure. It felt good to share it with other devs who understand how I feel. When Billy criticizes me for it, I feel like all the pleasure in life has flown away, and like I have to censor everything I post because I know he’ll be reading it and judging me.
“And who cares if his dad or mom or anyone was pushing him?” Billy continues. “It’s none of your business.”
“Yes, you’re right,” I say shortly, standing up abruptly and tossing our empty Chinese takeout cartons in the trash.
Later, as we’re lying in bed together, as he’s staring up at the ceiling, he says, “I wish you were normal.”
I sit up angrily. “What the fuck does that mean?”
He slides his gaze over to me, giving me the heavy-lidded mean snake look.
“You know.”
“No, I don’t. Tell me.”
“You’re just with me because I’m in a wheelchair.”
I want to scream. Not this again! But I’m not ready to break things off and I still really like him. Also, I don’t want that to be true. If I’m just dating him because he’s in a wheelchair, that means I’m a bad person. So to prove to myself that I’m a good person I must also prove that I’m with him for the right reasons, meaning the non-dev reasons.
“We met because you’re in a wheelchair but that’s not why I’m choosing to be with you,” I say calmly, the same line I used unsuccessfully on Rollerboy.
Billy is also not having it. “I wish you were normal,” he says again.
“Well, maybe you’re just dating me because I’m a dev,” I tell him in annoyance. “I’m not normal. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to be with me.”
I call his bluff, because he’s not ready to break up with me either. I roll over and eventually we both fall asleep.


For the first time in weeks, I check my Devo Girl email, the one I only use for meeting guys. Since I started dating Billy, I haven’t been looking at it at all. I’m startled to find this message from a few weeks back:

Subject: Hi (from Trip)

Hey,

The last message I sent, the title “she hate me” was actually you I was talking about. I'm well over that little fiasco and I'm driving the country now, in Georgia today and probably up to New England next week. I understand why you would write me off as a bad thing, but it would be good to hear from you if you can see past that BS. You are not only interesting as a person, intelligent and adjusted, but you're so dang hot.

Either way, peace. If you don't write back I won't bother you more. It would be cool to hear how your job search went though.

God damn! Why is it always the guys I least want to hear from, the biggest flakes and players who keep popping up again? I never would have guessed that Trip of all people would try to contact me again. Does he seriously want to get back together again, even though he doesn’t even live here anymore?
I have to admit, if he had sent me this message back in January, I might have fallen for it. Maybe. But I’m happy with Billy, and not interested in anyone else.
I reply,

Hey, sorry, I haven't been checking this account much lately. I appreciate the apology, and no, I don't hate you. But I do have a boyfriend now (a para, of course), and I've been spending all my free time with him. I also finally got a job offer. I’m still waiting for official confirmation but likely I’ll be moving some time over the summer.

Trip writes back immediately:

My loss, and all the best. He's lucky, or rather, fortunate. Have a good one.

That’s it. I’m astounded that he was considering a real relationship with me, but I don’t feel the slightest remorse about turning him down. In spite of his hotness, he is a dick.


May 2006

Billy is attending a conference for his work and invites me to go along with him. The conference is being held at a hotel in Arcadia, the same fancy resort town a few hours north of Raser City where I once went on a romantic weekend with Rollerboy. Billy asks if I want to go with him to stay in the conference hotel.
I get so excited about the idea of a romantic getaway with Billy that I start trying to extend the trip. The conference hotel seems kind of boring. Maybe after the conference is over, we can stay one extra night at one of the more resort type places on the way back. Billy is not so into the idea but I spend hours researching hotels. Ok, they are all way too expensive. But then I find a travel website that lets me search by price and narrow down the ones that have wheelchair accessible rooms.
After hours and hours of searching and agonizing over a decision, I finally convince Billy to stay an extra night with me. I settle on a place called the Campfire Inn. The website has glossy photos of a cute Alpine lodge nestled in the rolling hills of Arcadia. It looks lovely, and it’s not too expensive. I book us a wheelchair room online.
The day of the trip, Billy picks me up in his car and we drive north. I try not to think of Rollerboy as we pass through Bessemer, but it’s impossible not to. I haven’t been back here since we broke up. The main highway takes us directly past his place—I can see his apartment complex from the road. It’s been five years. I wonder if he’s even still living there. I want to say I don’t have any regrets about my dev relationships, but I feel kind of depressed thinking about how much time I wasted with him. Sarah kept telling me there are so many other guys in wheelchairs in Raser City, try to meet someone else. She was right. I’m sitting next to one right now. I smile happily at Billy, excited to be on this trip with him. He doesn’t take his eyes off the road.
Anyway, driving up to Arcadia with Billy is a very different experience. For one, he drives like a normal sane person, not like a macho idiot with a death wish. Thank goodness. Also it’s summer not winter, so as we go up the switchback roads over the mountains, there isn’t any snow, also thank goodness.
The conference hotel is nice enough but bland and corporate, located right in the center of the city. The conference itself is huge and has taken over most of the first floor. As soon as Billy rolls in, people he knows are coming up to him and greeting him. It’s nice to see this professional side of him. Not the stoner slacker, but the side that is friendly and outgoing, chatting easily with his colleagues. I get a huge thrill when he introduces me as his girlfriend. Everyone is really nice and relates to us like regular people. No one is condescending or awkward, which is kind of amazing.
For two days I’m on my own while Billy attends the conference. There are only two activities in the hotel: a swimming pool and slot machines. Even though it’s May, the weather is too chilly for swimming. I try my hand at gambling but after I lose twenty dollars in nickel slots in about ten minutes and don’t win one cent, I call it a day.
I spend the rest of the time lounging around our room, reading books I brought with me and watching tv. Boring, but I’m looking forward to our next stop which will be more romantic and fun.
The Campfire Inn is located about an hour outside the city of Arcadia, in the beautiful hills that this area is known for. We have a leisurely breakfast before checking out of the conference hotel, then stop for lunch along the way, so it’s early afternoon by the time we arrive, following the google map I printed out at home.
The Campfire Inn is not what I expected. First, it’s not exactly nestled in rolling hills in the middle of nature, but on the main strip of honky-tonk tourist traps. Second, it’s not an adorable Swiss chalet but a motel that looks like it was built in 1960 and never updated.
We park the car and go to check in. The only person working there is a Russian teenager who seems to be on a summer work exchange. She can barely speak English. I give her the reservation number and she hands me the key to a second floor room.
“Where’s the elevator?” I ask.
“No elevator. Stairs,” she says, gesturing to her left.
“What? This is a reservation for a wheelchair accessible room. There has to be an elevator!”
She shrugs.
 “How is he supposed to get to the room?”  I wave towards Billy, sitting next to me looking pissed off.
Again she shrugs. I’m starting to panic. I insist that there is a note about wheelchair access in the reservation I made online, but she has no record of that and none of the rooms are accessible. Even the first floor rooms can only be reached up a flight of stairs.
The full horror of the situation starts to sink in. We’re far from the main road, and at least a five to six hour drive back to Raser City. I don’t want to spend my romantic weekend getaway doing nothing but driving. But how will we find some other place to stay? All the other mid-century modern motels on the main strip look exactly like this one, probably inaccessible, and who knows if they even have vacancy.
I go around and around with the girl, trying to get her to understand what we need. Finally she says, “Maybe this one.”
She leads us around the back, past the front desk, out the service entrance to the pool, then from the pool area we can reach one of the rooms and enter through a sliding glass door. It’s awkward and annoying. Billy has to negotiate several tight corners and bump up though the very narrow glass door, but at least we manage to enter a room without him having to drag his ass up and down concrete steps.
“Ok, we’ll take it,” I tell the clerk. She nods, totally bored, and goes back to the front desk.
Billy heaves himself out of his chair and onto the bed while I drag in our suitcases and check out the room. The bathroom is just accessible enough that he can reach the sink and toilet, but he can’t close the door or use the shower. Instead of the king size bed I wanted, there are two narrow, hard twin beds with ugly polyester bedspreads. The whole room is decorated in late 1980s pastels. It’s cramped and slightly musty.
“So, um, what would you like to do for dinner?” I ask hesitantly, even though it’s only early afternoon.
From his prone position on top of the bed closest to the sliding glass door, Billy gives me the mean snake look, his eyes half closed and full of hatred. “I’m not leaving this room until we check out tomorrow morning,” he declares angrily.
“But at least we got in, right?” I say, smiling weakly.
He glares at me. “It’s fucking annoying. I’m not going in and out behind the front desk and around the pool. This place sucks. I thought you checked that it was accessible.”
I want to die of shame. Yes, this place sucks. Me of all people, I should have known better. I’ve read so many vacation horror stories online. I should have called the hotel to check like I did when I came here with Rollerboy. I should have called more than once, and spoken to a manager. Why did I just trust the online booking system? What was I thinking?
“I’m sorry,” I whisper. “It’s my fault.”
“Damn straight it’s your fault. I said we should go straight back after the conference, none of these other places are worth staying at, but noooo you insisted.”
“I’m sorry! I was wrong! Do you want to drive back to Raser City now? We don’t have to stay here if you don’t want.”
“Nah, I don’t feel like driving now. What’s on TV?” Now that he’s settled in, Billy has no intention of shifting from this bed until tomorrow morning. He grabs the remote from the nightstand, turns on the TV and tunes me out.
The next few hours feel like the longest of my life. Instead of a leisurely walk/roll around the paved trails or looking into quaint little shops or going to a nice restaurant, we sit in this horrible, dark motel room. Instead of a romantic getaway, we’re both feeling angry and trapped. We order pizza delivery for dinner.
After dinner, Billy gets up to use the bathroom and brush his teeth. He grumbles about not being able to take a shower. I offer to wash his hair in the sink or give him a sponge bath, and he stares at me like I’m a lunatic.
“Fuck no! Let’s just go to sleep.”
I crawl into my lonely twin bed, hating myself for being so stupid. I should have known better. I should have listened and not pushed for a ridiculous fantasy vacation. It takes me hours to fall asleep.
The next morning we check out first thing and drive back to Raser City.


June 2006

My friend Stephanie announces that she’s getting married. Stephanie, the lesbian with the tattoos and shaved head who has slept around with tons of women including one of her female professors, is now getting married to a man. I don’t know what to make of this. We’re pretty close and I have shared a lot of detail with her about my sex life including the dev stuff, and she has done the same. From everything she’s told me, she seemed exclusively attracted to women. Why is she now getting married to the first guy she has ever dated, after knowing him only a few months?
I cautiously congratulate her, but privately I have a theory. Stephanie likes to shock people. In her conservative Texas hometown, being an out lesbian vegetarian with a shaved head and tons of tattoos was shocking, but here in Raser City, no one raises an eyebrow. There are millions of women just like her here. About a year ago, she started eating meat again, and not just meat but steak tartare and entrails and blood sausage, the most disgusting kinds of meat, and talking all the time about how delicious it is. She still has a shaved head, but now she staggers around on pointy Italian couture super high heels like it’s the latest punk rock fashion trend. She even said to me once, “What’s more radical than a lesbian sleeping with a man?”
Her attempt to shock is certainly working. Everyone is astounded, especially her conservative Christian mother who for years has been getting her evangelical church to pray for Stephanie. Her mother is so elated by this news that she springs for a two week honeymoon trip to Iceland.
“I want an all-expenses paid trip to Iceland,” Sarah grumbles. “So all I have to do is pretend to be a lesbian for a while?”
“I don’t think the lesbian part is what’s pretend here,” I say.
“Whatever. Can I ask her mom’s church to pray for me too?”

Stephanie invites me and Billy to go out to dinner with her and her fiancé, Steve. We go to the Spaghetti Factory, a horrible chain restaurant in a strip mall close to my neighborhood, which is not where any of us really wants to go but at least I know for certain it will be wheelchair accessible.
We meet in the entry and go through the incredibly awkward introductions.
Stephanie is wearing tight jeans and towering heels, pink buzzcut grown out blonde and in a high ponytail. Also she’s wearing makeup, which gives her a more girly look than I have ever seen on her before. It’s like she’s been whupped by the femme stick.
Steve is unremarkable, a completely average white dude with no distinguishing features. He seems nice enough, but he’s really a nonentity.
Billy is on his best behavior, all charming grins and jokes, no trace of the mean snake. Everyone shakes hands, then we head in to the corporate approved fake quirky interior, dimly lit to give the false impression of fine dining.
I thought for sure after spending so much time in real Italy that Stephanie would scorn this American fake Italian food, but she seems fine with it, ordering a steak as rare as they will make it.
We make small talk about travel, comparing all the places we’ve been and all the details of Billy’s upcoming around the world trip. It’s blandly pleasant. Inside, I’m dying to ask Stephanie what the hell she’s thinking but now is not the time.
The conversation works around to Stephanie’s Iceland honeymoon trip, and from there to the upcoming wedding, which will be a very small event in her hometown, just family. I’m relieved not to be invited, although I don’t say so.
“I just feel so much more settled now, you know?” Stephanie says, staring at me pointedly. “I really regret all the stupid, immature things I did before. It’s time to be a grown-up now, don’t you think so?”
“Uh, yeah?” I can’t believe this is the same person who used to rail at the shackles of heteronormativity.
Stephanie fixes me with her ice-blue eyes and zooms in for the kill. “You really should do the same. Put all…that behind you and finally become an adult.”
I glance uneasily at Billy twirling spaghetti on his fork beside me but he seems unconcerned. I know what she means by that: all the dev stuff and the BDSM stuff.
Even though Stephanie and I are very different people, I always felt like she was one of the few people I could confide in because her sex life was as unconventional as mine. She was the only person I told about Trip, because she had cheated on so many girlfriends, I knew she wouldn’t judge me. And she didn’t—at the time she cheered me on. I can’t believe that after all that, now she’s slut-shaming me. She can go ahead with whatever misguided posturing she wants, but why does she have to drag me into this too? Isn’t it enough that she’s renouncing her true queer self, why does she have to drag me into this farce with her?
“Wotta bitch,” Billy says later, once we’re back alone at my place.
“Yeah, I know,” I say, kicking off my shoes angrily. “I’m done trying to be friends with her.”
I hate new femme Stephanie. I miss classic dyke Stephanie, the one who regularly delivered anti-male rants. I’m sure this marriage will not last; she’ll be back to carpet munching within a year. She can always re-punk her hair and makeup if she wants to but if she lasers off her tattoos she will find it a lot harder to re-apply them.
But at least Billy’s got my back. Sort of. I guess he’s the only one who’s allowed to shame me for being kinky and a dev.

The truth is I desperately want to get married, although unlike Stephanie I totally would marry a woman if I met the right one. I know Billy is leaving and I’m moving away probably but I feel sad and frustrated that he doesn’t feel that way about me.
And I really want to have kids, which is starting to feel more pressing as I’m turning thirty-four this month.
“Whatever!” Lulu says when I whine about it to her. “You still have plenty of time!”
Since I’m only working part time and my contract is about to run out while I wait for my provisional job offer to become a real job, I have a lot of free time. I hang around a lot with Gretchen, one of my friends from the opera. She works as a nanny, so her schedule is as erratic as mine.
Gretchen is like the inverse of Stephanie, in that she always thought of herself as straight but somehow fell in love with her female best friend and they got married. Well, they had a wedding in their church then filed for domestic partnership since same-sex marriage still isn’t legal in this state.
“Don’t worry,” I say breezily over our late extended brunch of pancakes and mimosas. “Attitudes are changing quickly. I’m sure within twenty years, gay marriage will be legal.” I’m parroting back a line I’ve heard from Dan Savage.
Gretchen gives me a pained frown. “I don’t want to get married in twenty years. I want to be married now!”
“I’m sorry.” I realize belatedly how insensitive my comment was. Gretchen wants a full legal marriage because she wants to have kids and make sure both she and her wife Jen have parental rights. But that’s not even half the problem, because she’s still figuring out how to get pregnant.
“I thought you were going to ask Jen’s brother to be a donor?” I ask.
“I know!” Gretchen gestures in exasperation and rolls her eyes. “It would be so perfect! I thought we had agreed but then Jen was like, no way, I can’t ask my brother to do that.”
“So now what?”
“I don’t know. A sperm bank, I guess, but it’s so expensive. We don’t have the money. I’m trying to spend down our debt. It feels impossible to even start saving for it. Who knows how long it will take? I’m already thirty-six. It feels too late.”
I know how she feels. I can’t talk about this with any of my other friends, but I feel like Gretchen gets it. I’m ready to have kids now, but with who? I can’t just conjure up the perfect guy any more than she can impregnate herself.
“It’s not fair,” she says. “How come everyone else can get pregnant for free, and we have to pay so much for it?”
I sympathize with her, and try to be reassuring. Gretchen would be such a great mom. She’s already great with the kids she takes care of as a nanny. It feels like our lives are a giant puzzle and it’s impossible to get all the pieces to fit the way we want them to.

Then it happens, the provisional job offer I have been waiting on for months is finally approved and I get an actual contract. Not a moment too soon, as my temporary part-time job is about to end. I have about a month and a half to pack up my life and move across the country. My relief at finally landing a job is tempered by trepidation. Already there have been so many red flags with this company, not least that it took them forever to approve my hire. I have a bad feeling about it, but what can I do? I applied to dozens of other places and was turned down at every single one of them. This is literally my only option.
A week later, Billy leaves for his around the world trip, from Europe through the Middle East, then East Asia. He won’t be back until after I leave. So that’s it, our relationship is over.
Before he leaves, Billy comes over to my place in the afternoon for one last visit. He congratulates me on my job, but I just feel sad. I feel cheated not to have more time with him. I give him copies of detailed maps of major train stations in Seoul and Taipei that I picked up while I lived there, with wheelchair access clearly marked. It feels nice to help him plan his trip in this small way.
As he’s leaving, Billy announces that he’s taking the plywood ramp with him. I don’t mind, since I need to get rid of it before I move anyway. But I know the real reason he’s taking it is that he doesn’t want me hooking up with any other wheelers. He told me so, with the mean snake look in his eyes as he said it. It’s too exhausting and depressing to argue over, so I don’t say anything, but just help him load it in the back of his car.
I wave goodbye, then go back in my apartment and sit down at my desk, feeling empty and sad. I miss him already, with his goofy jokes and charming smile. But even through the haze of sadness and longing, a tiny voice whispers, It’s better this way.
A tiny sliver of relief that he’s gone lightens my heart.

I go out for drinks with a dozen of my closest friends from the opera to celebrate my thirty-fourth birthday. I wonder if it’s not a trifle unseemly to be throwing myself a birthday party at my age, but whatever, it’s just a casual get-together at a bar, and we all have a good time.
Every day since Billy left, I miss him less and less. At the party, surrounded by my real friends who are kind and never judge me, not even about dev stuff, I don’t miss Billy at all. I’m better off without him. I hear that voice loud and clear now. But I am going to miss my friends like crazy when I leave.

Epilogue: September 2006

Billy calls me on the phone when he returns home from his trip. By this time, I’m already settled in to my new home. We have a long, pleasant chat about his trip and my new job.
After I hang up, I’m left with a lingering feeling of displacement. The way he was on the phone—funny, charming, considerate—that’s the Billy from when we first started dating. For the first time in ages, I remember what made me want to go out with him in the first place.
But that’s not the Billy of the last few months. Slowly, he transformed into the mean snake, an asshole who criticized me constantly, and never had anything kind to say. And he clearly hated that I’m a dev, but pretended to be ok with it at first so he could have sex with me. It feels like with Rollerboy all over again.
I recall the story he told me about screaming obscenities at his mother when she was taking care of him. Suddenly the pattern snaps into place. He is the type of person who is kind with people that he’s not close to, but he treats the people he’s close to like shit, and the closer they are, the worse he treats them.
I think again about photo I saw in his personal ad, the one with the mean snake glint in his eye. It revealed his true self after all. But at least now I don’t feel so bad for being taken in, since he did have a good side at first.
I feel like I dodged a bullet. I was so sad that he left then I left but now I realize it was tremendously lucky. Who know how long I would have stayed in a miserable relationship with him, stubbornly trying to make it work. Years, probably. Thank goodness it ended so soon, and so cleanly.
I don’t call him back.

4 comments:

  1. This chapter was such an emotional roller coaster - I got so sucked into all of your hopes and disappointments. The twist with Stephanie, wtf?? DID her marriage end up lasting at all?!

    So damn petty that Billy took the plywood ramp. My goodness. I'm glad that by the end of the relationship, you were in a place where you didn't have to waste a bunch of time mourning him.

    Looking forward to the next chapter!

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    1. Haha, thanks! I lost touch with Stephanie after she was such a bitch to me and I moved away. I heard through a mutual friend that the marriage didn’t even last a year.

      It was petty of him to take the ramp. He was a mean, petty guy! Writing these two chapters was really hard; I put it off for months because I didn’t want to go back and dredge up all those memories. I’m so glad it’s over and I can move on.

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  2. Wow. I sometimes get sad that I'm a dev who has only slept with one wheeler and has missed out, but then i read this and think that i also missed out on a lot of extra shame and self doubt just cause these boys cant handle us. So complicated. But good for you for trying.

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    1. Um, thanks I guess? I figure if I can’t be a good example I might as well be a cautionary tale. I feel like I had to have these experiences to free myself from longing and fear of missing out.

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