Friday, April 30, 2010

Devo Diary Chapter 47



Seymour the Cyborg

October 2004
Even though I swear to only date disabled guys from now on, I still have active profiles on a bunch of regular dating sites. I try to do keyword searches for words like wheelchair but nothing ever turns up.
Then one day a deaf guy messages me on OkCupid. I can hardly believe my luck. HE messages ME. It's like it's meant to be. I don't have to feel like the creepy stalker devotee, I won't have to hear "we have nothing in common" or "you're only dating me because of my disability" because he's the one who contacted me first.
His first message to me is titled, "Our bookshelves have books in common." The body of the message is just as bland. "Hello, I see that you listed the Necronomicon as the book you have read most recently. I have also read that recently and found it interesting. Your profile is interesting. My name is Seymour. Please email me at seymour__@___.com if you would like to get to know me."
As introductions go, it's lukewarm at best. And honestly that line my profile about the Necronomicon is over a year old at this point. I read it to impress William but now I realize it's pretentious, sexist crap, just a masturbatory fantasy for male nerds. But most guys online rarely write more than "hey" in their first message and obviously never even read anything I write in my profile, so I haven't bothered to update what I wrote. Seymour is the first guy in a long time to respond to more than my photo.
I check out Seymour's profile. His photo is a professional black and white portrait, a far cry from the usual bathroom selfie or party photo with ex-girlfriend inexpertly photoshopped out. He gazes soulfully into the camera, his mouth twisted in an uncertain half-smile.
He's only two years older than I am, well-educated, with thoughtful, literate answers to all the prompts. But who am I kidding, all I needed to see is that he is deaf. Suddenly he's all I can think about.
I email him right away, he writes back, a long, erudite, charming message. Pretty soon we're exchanging emails multiple times a day, getting to know each other. He works in an insurance office but his dream is to become a full time professional blogger. That sounds like bullshit to me, but he spins it as a kind of cutting-edge high-tech version of freelance writing. He directs me to his blog and I kind of lose myself in it, reading all the back entries.
The blog is all about his experience with deafness. He was born hard of hearing, but it wasn't discovered until he was three years old and not saying more than a few words. He writes vividly about receiving his first hearing aids, and learning language at last, how it transformed his world from a confusing jumble of disconnected images to order and predictability. I'm moved by what he writes, but not surprised. His description of learning language is similar to other things I've read about congenital deafness. We think of language as reflecting our thoughts but really it's the opposite, without language we can't think. It's language that gives us inner life.
Because Seymour could hear well enough with hearing aids, he never learned sign language and was mainstreamed in regular public schools. This means that he is small d deaf, because he has hearing loss, but not big D Deaf, because he doesn't know American Sign Language and isn't part of the ASL-using Deaf community. He writes at length about his parents making the decision to go with "oralism" meaning spoken language only, not sign language. As a dev, I've read a lot about this debate: supposedly the idea is that sign language is a crutch, and if you teach a deaf kid sign, that's all they will ever use and they won't make the effort to learn to speak or read lips. But some people in the Deaf community advocate for ASL or an integrated approach, and personally, I agree with them. Why is it that bilingualism is considered good for hearing kids but bad for deaf kids? If ASL is what feels natural and useful for kids to learn, why would you deny them that? The argument for oralism strikes me as nothing but ableism, based on what seems normal and right to hearing people only. But hey, who am I to argue with Seymour's parents, about a decision they made thirty years ago? I keep my opinions on this to myself.
Anyway oralism seems to have worked out for him. He graduated college and got a job but in his twenties his hearing slowly deteriorated further, to the point where hearing aids were not enough. He describes getting to the point where he could only communicate at work by writing notes, and how frightening and disorienting it was to be cut off from language again. So he got a cochlear implant, which is really what the blog is all about.
The blog is called Confessions of a Cyborg, because he says having this technology implanted in his head makes him a real life cyborg. He writes about having the surgery, how the implant went right into his ears, destroying any residual hearing he had left, followed by the days of total silence during recovery. Then he describes what it was like to have it turned on, how it sounded like nothing but static at first, until it was calibrated and his brain started making sense of the new information, and gradually he started to understand speech again. He kept going back for fine-tuning, until everything sounded mostly ok except for music, which still wasn't quite right, but the doctor was like, hey, it's not magic. There's still a limit to the technology.
I love this idea he has about being a cyborg. I send him a long email about how pop culture is full of sci fi stories of enhancing bodies to make people stronger, faster, have superhuman abilities, but we never think about how the first applications of these technologies in the real world will be for people with disabilities. So if you lose your hearing and get an implant that gives you superhuman hearing, are you still disabled? Isn't the Six Million Dollar Man just a disabled person with adaptive equipment?
Seymour likes the way I think about these things, but I don't reveal to him that I'm a devotee. Somehow I just get the feeling he wouldn't like it. He's so serious and doesn't seem to have any experience with the world of kink. Instead, I just mention that I have known other people with various disabilities, but I don't say why.
I tell him that my time in Seoul and Taipei gave me a sense of how frustrating it can be when you can't communicate clearly, when no one can understand you, when you're only picking up a tiny fraction of what people are saying to you. I realized that you can only ask people to repeat themselves three times, any more and the conversation is stopped dead, and you can forget about whatever idea they were trying to get across. If I didn't get something after three tries, I either had to pretend to understand when I didn't, or just shrug and give up. Seymour agrees that he's had the same experience as well.
After emailing back and forth for quite a while, we finally agree to meet for dinner. I suggest a Turkish restaurant a few blocks from my apartment. I give him directions to my place, and he ends up parking in front of Sarah's apartment building, because that's the only block with open spots and no time limit. I go around the corner to meet him, and we shake hands in front of his car.
Seymour is a really small. I mean, I'm only five foot three so most guys are taller than I am, and I don't usually think much about their height. But Seymour is even shorter than I am by about an inch, and slight. He's mid-thirties like I am, but his colorless hair, nervous expression and very conservative clothes all make him seem substantially older. Something about him reminds me very strongly of Bob the amputee. Their faces are strangely similar, kind of mousy and shy. That is definitely not a good sign, but I thrust those thoughts out of my mind. I shouldn't be making snap judgments like that, based on someone I met once years ago.
As we're meeting for dinner, it's already fully dark and the moon hangs low in the sky, strangely reddish and large, just above the darkened silhouettes of the trees. We stand there and gaze at it for a few minutes, and as we're lingering there by his car, Sarah comes out of the gate of her apartment.
She waves, and I briefly introduce her to Seymour.
"Are you watching the eclipse?" she asks us.
"The what?"
She rolls her eyes. "There's a lunar eclipse tonight. That's why the moon looks like that. It's going to reach totality in less than an hour."
"Uh...cool, I guess." I can't get that excited about a lunar eclipse. I'm way too focused on my date with Seymour. We say goodbye to Sarah, who is going up to the observatory to watch it with her ex (ugh, of course).
"Do you want to watch the eclipse or get dinner?" I ask Seymour as he locks up his car.
He shrugs. "Whatever you prefer."
I definitely prefer dinner. Eclipses come and go, but this is my first ever date with a deaf person and I am beyond excited. If anything, the eclipse seems like a bad omen, not something to seek out. I turn away from the red moon and we walk to the restaurant together, not saying much because it's dark and he can't easily see my face.
Once we're sitting across from each other in a more brightly lit setting, we can start to have a proper conversation.
"Just talk normally," he instructs me. "Don't raise your voice, because it distorts the sound and I actually hear it less."
"Ok."
His voice is clear and easy to understand, but there's a slightly nasal, muffled quality, a kind of roughness around the edges. His mouth moves in a deliberate, studied way as he talks, and when he makes an o sound, somehow his lips make nearly a square shape rather than round. The traces of years of hard work to be able to speak so well are clearly visible. I'm captivated just watching him talk.
So far, all my devotee experiences have been with blind guys and SCI guys, but deafness is pretty high up on my list of preferences. Like blindness, deafness is a different way of being in the world, a different way of relating to people. I want to know everything about him, about his experiences, what he thinks and feels.
When I speak, he stares at my mouth with laser-like intensity. I've never had someone give me such unblinking attention. It's unbelievably sexy. I do my best to speak normally, without over-enunciating, but it's hard to relax when I can practically feel his gaze caressing my lips.
The server brings us menus and Seymour flips through his uneasily.
"I've never had Turkish food before," he admits. "I don't know what any of this is."
"I haven't eaten here before either but it's pretty similar to Middle Eastern food, which is what I grew up eating. It's like comfort food to me."
"It's like what?"
"Comfort food."
"I'm sorry, what?"
"Comfort food. You know, like food that you eat a lot as a kid."
He turns his gaze back to the menu. "I don't know what any of this is," he repeats unhappily. "Is it spicy? I don't like anything spicy."
I try to recommend pide, which is essentially a cheese pie, but Seymour ignores me and orders a vegetable soup. When it arrives, though, he's not pleased. Evidently it isn't what he was expecting.
"What is all this?" he asks irritably, searching through the bowl with a soup spoon.
"I think that's a green bean."
 He sighs. "I really prefer regular food. I don't ever eat stuff like this."
I'm getting flashbacks to my regrettable relationship with Rollerboy, who refused to eat anything other than burgers and pizza. But I'm enjoying myself too much on this date to let it get to me, so I do my best to ignore Seymour's complaining, and instead lead by example.
"My stuffed eggplant is delicious! Do you want to try it?"
He declines, and spends the rest of dinner picking at his food, but luckily the conversation turns to better topics. We chat away about cyborgs, accessibility, language.
"Do you know that scientists now think language was invented by children?" he asks.
I did not.
"There's been new research recently of an emerging sign language in Nicaragua," he continues. "It's children who are leading innovation in creating new signs and grammatical complexity. It was probably the same when spoken human language first started to emerge in the evolutionary past."
"Wow, I had no idea, but that makes sense, since children's brains are so much more elastic."
"Yeah, play isn't just play, it's how our culture is formed."
But even though Seymour shares this anecdote, he is not enthusiastic about sign language or a global community of signers.
"So you never learned ASL at all?" I ask carefully.
"No, it's a waste of time." He waves a hand dismissively. "ASL and all other sign languages will be gone within a generation. Once everyone gets cochlear implants, no one will bother with it anymore."
"Really? I've heard the Deaf community is pretty attached to ASL."
"It's pathetic," he sneers. "The Deaf community is just clinging to an insular little world but their so-called 'culture' is dying, and good riddance. With cochlear implants there's no reason anymore for a special separate culture for deaf people."
I just sort of nod without really saying anything. I'm a bit stunned at the level of vitriol he expresses. Personally, I think ASL and Deaf culture are really cool. I know the manual alphabet and a few signs but I wish I had taken classes in ASL. Recently I was in a pizza restaurant and saw two young women conversing in ASL. One of them in particular had this amazing rhythm and flow to her signs, her whole body swaying elegantly as her hands moved. It was mesmerizing.
To be honest, I'm a tiny bit disappointed that Seymour not only doesn't know any ASL but is actively hostile to the Deaf community. In my dev imagination, I would have preferred a Deaf guy who is proficient in ASL. But that's not who Seymour is, and I feel guilty holding him to some imagined ideal. Who am I to refute his lived experience? What kind of monster would reject him just because his disability isn't exactly the same as my fantasies?
I remind myself to tread very, very carefully around this. Plus there's the fact that I still haven't told him that I'm a devotee, and I'm starting to wonder how I'll ever be able to. I kind of get the sense he wouldn't take it well.
After I have a piece of dense, syrupy baklava for dessert, we split the bill and walk back to my place. I let him in the gate and we walk around the main house to my apartment in the back yard. He pauses at my front door, and we face each other under the flood light at the back of the house.
"Thanks, um, I had a really nice time," he says awkwardly.
"Yeah, me too. Sorry you didn't like the restaurant so much."
"No, it was fine. I really like talking to you."
"Me too."
We stare at each other for a beat, then I lean in and kiss him, right on the mouth, a long, lingering, passionate kiss. I feel like fireworks are going off around us. I mean, like real actual fireworks. It's like scene in a romantic movie where the camera is spinning around and around the couple as they kiss. I've hardly ever been this excited about a new guy before.
After a few moments, he pulls away and gives me a heavy-lidded, besotted look.
"Wow."
"Yeah."
"We definitely have to do this again," he says huskily.
"Yes, definitely."

For the next few days, I'm walking on air. Seymour and I continue to email back and forth. I feel so turned on just thinking of how he watched my lips while I spoke, of the deliberate way he moved his mouth when he spoke. And the fact that he has a college degree and is gainfully employed puts him far ahead of Rollerboy, K, The Mantis, so many of the guys I have dated. Maybe this could really go somewhere.
The response from my friends is not what I might have hoped, though. When I tell Sarah that I'm dating the guy she saw me with the night of the eclipse, she stares at me in disbelief.
"Him?" She wrinkles up her brow in distaste.
"What's wrong with him?" I reply defensively.
"Ugh, come on! You know!"
"No I don't! He's a nice guy."
She sighs and rolls her eyes. "Whatever."
I don't know exactly what her problem with him is but continuing this conversation would violate my policy of not engaging when Sarah gets all judgy on me, so I just roll my eyes and change the subject. I think it's just her prejudice against short guys. Whatever.
When I tell Lulu that I'm dating a deaf guy, she laughs and says, "Does he taaaaalk laaaaaaiiigg thiiiiiiiiis?"
"No! Oh my god, what is wrong with you?"
"Sorry," she says, not looking very sorry at all. "But does he talk funny?"
"No he doesn't!"
Ok, so I also cross Lulu off the list of people I want to talk to about Seymour. I've told Lulu so much about being a devotee, and I thought she really understood me. She even tells me when she sees a cute young guy in a wheelchair out in public, how it makes her think of me, and she notices those guys more than she used to. It's disappointing to hear her be so casually prejudiced.

As much as I want to see him again, it's a few weeks before Seymour and I find time for a second date. He has to travel for his work, and I'm getting busy again with rehearsals for the next opera. This time around, we're doing I Puritani, which I really don't know or care for. Learning all the new music is such a drag, but at least it's fun to go to rehearsals with my friends. I've started carpooling with Suzanna since she lives nearby, and she at least listens to me talk about Seymour without judgment.
Once Seymour and I finally have a weekend free, we make a date for Saturday night. He asks where I want to go, and I mention a new Chinese place not far from my apartment. He says sure. Despite the way he complained before, I think of this as a safe bet. Everyone likes Chinese food, right? Even Rollerboy once let me take him to a Chinese place.
Seymour picks me up and I give him directions to the restaurant. It's a chilly, rainy night. We run clutching umbrellas from the car to the restaurant, glowing warmly with red neon lights. The whole front wall of the restaurant is glass, now fogged over and dripping with condensation.
We sit down and I flip through the menu with a sinking feeling. This is northern Chinese food, very authentic. I don't recognize anything. There certainly are not any of the Americanized familiar dishes.
Then as soon as the waitress hands us the menus, Seymour turns to her and says, "I'm allergic to sesame. What do you recommend?"
She looks at us blankly as he repeats the question several times, then she retreats to the kitchen to check with the cook.
"I didn't know you have a sesame allergy," I say, trying to keep the annoyance out of my voice. "Why didn't you say anything when I asked if you want Chinese?"
"I assume there isn't sesame in everything on the menu," he replies somewhat defensively.
"Yeah, probably not," I agree, although inwardly I'm not so sure. There's probably sesame oil in every single dish. "Do you want to go somewhere else?" I ask tentatively, because I really want to try this place.
"No, it's ok."
The waitress comes back and points to an orange chicken dish. "You have this one," she barks.
"Is that the only dish that doesn't have sesame?" I confirm.
"Yes, this one!" She stabs the menu with a finger. So we place our orders.
After the waitress leaves, Seymour pulls out a tiny black microphone from his pocket. "I'm going to use this in here, because it's so noisy," he explains as he clips the microphone to a small plate and places it at the edge of the table between us. "The wire goes right into my implant, so I can hear you better."
"Ok, cool." I eye the empty plate nervously. I can just imagine the distracted waitress clearing it away. The wire goes right into his body. How horrible if she were to yank on it, not knowing what it is. The rest of the evening, I keep an eye out for the waitress and impulsively put my hand on the plate whenever she comes near.
The food comes out quickly. The potstickers I ordered are amazing, but I don't share them because of the sesame oil. Seymour takes a big bite of his orange chicken, then immediately spits it back onto his plate.
"Ugh! What is that!"
I examine his plate more closely. In among the morsels of boneless chicken are big slices of orange peel, toasted to give a caramelized flavor. I take a bite of the chicken. It's delicious, sweet and sour but in a smoky, complex way.
"You're not supposed to eat the orange peel," I say, marveling at bit that I even have to explain this to an adult.
Seymour pulls an aggrieved face. "What! Why would they serve something you can't eat?!"
"It's just for flavoring." I can think of many, many other instances of being served food where you don't eat the whole thing. Bone-in meat. Any fruit in a thick peel, like banana. Lemongrass, but I'm sure he's never tried Thai food. "It's like a bay leaf," I say, grasping at the most common equivalent I can come up with  on the spot.
"A what?"
"A bay leaf."
"A what?"
"A. Bay. Leaf."
"Why would you put a leaf in your food?"
Now I am feeling slightly annoyed by his attitude. I gave him a chance to choose a different restaurant and he didn't take it. I think the food here is terrific but it's hard to enjoy my meal with him across the table picking at his plate like a child.
This is not a productive line of discussion, so I change the subject. We chat about work, and he boasts about how many readers his blog is getting, how it's leading to requests to write articles for print magazines.
The conversation circles around to our dating history. He admits that he's hardly dated at all. Even though he's almost forty, he's only had two girlfriends in the past, and only one of those relationships lasted more than a few weeks. He complains about being socially ostracized in high school and even college, which, you know, I get it. People suck. The height thing isn't doing him any favors either.
"I've tried going out with women who are taller than me, but I just feel like a chihuahua running with a greyhound," he admits. It's an unfortunate image.
In an attempt to put him at ease, I tell him that my dating history is not a happy one either, and that even though I'm thirty-two, my longest relationship has only been two years long and I've never lived with a partner. This is all true, but I leave out the many, many hookups, one night stands, and friends with benefits or other ambiguous relationships. I also leave out the BDSM and being a devotee. There's no way this sheltered, inexperienced guy will understand. I still don't have a long-term plan for how to roll this information out but it doesn't have to be the first thing he learns about me. Maybe after a few months, once we get to know each other better.
I finish all my food while he leaves his plate mostly untouched. We split the bill and get ready to leave. My wet umbrella is under the table, and when I bend down to pick it up, I see a pile of chewed food on the floor next to his chair. What the hell? Apparently he spit the orange peel onto the floor, and not a little bit either. I never saw him do it.
I don't say anything. What do you even say in a situation like this? Honey, please don't spit your food on the floor of a restaurant when you are on a date, or really at any other time? He's already walking toward the door, so I just head out after him. At least the rain has stopped.
When we arrive back at my place, I invite him in, because I still really want to make this work, and he's got me on a dev high that won't quit. He nods approvingly of the décor in my tiny living room: the Persian carpet, the Pre-Raphaelite prints on the walls, the many bookcases crammed with books.
The one downside of my antique apartment is that the heating unit also seems to be of the same 1940s vintage as the house itself. I crank up the heat as soon as we walk in, but it still feels damp and chilly.
Seymour sits nervously on my narrow couch, while I sit next to him, trying to cultivate an air of both flirtation and reassurance.
"I, uh, haven't really done this very often," he says.
"Relax," I tell him, leaning over to kiss him, running my hands over his chest on top of his clothes. He's dressed like my dad at the office: wingtip shoes with black dress socks, pressed pleated pants, button down shirt with singlet and a sweater vest. I don't think I have ever seen someone my own age dress quite like that.
We kiss some more, and he seems to unwind a bit and get into it. He leans over until he is lying down with me straddling him, his head resting against the arm of the sofa. But in that position, every time he moves his head, it dislodges the receiver of his cochlear implant. He sits up again.
"That feels so weird, like the sound just fades then comes back," he says. He shows me how the small round receiver sits against the back of his head on the left, held in place by a magnet under his scalp. A wire snakes down into a box on his belt. I know he normally takes it off when he sleeps, but I guess it doesn't usually come off by accident.
We start kissing again, but when he rubs his head against the back of the sofa, the receiver slips out of place again. He snaps it back in place with an embarrassed smile. I think it's kind of cool and frankly sexy to think of the sound fading out and in again but I can see how it would be annoying, and I don't want him to be even more self-conscious.
To try to make things easier, I switch places with him, so that I'm the one laying back on the sofa and he's the one on top. It would probably make more sense if we just went straight to my bed, but somehow it feels too soon for that, besides, I'm just enjoying the moment, not really thinking ahead.
He pulls up my shirt and sweater, revealing my stomach and bra. I let him caress me as we continue to kiss, but when he pulls back to readjust his position, I pull my sweater back down again, because it's still cold in here.
All of a sudden, he sits bolt upright. "What are you doing?" he shouts. "I thought you were interested in me!"
"Wha...?"
"You're putting your shirt back on! I thought you wanted to do it! If you don't you have to tell me!"
"I just pulled my shirt back down because I'm cold..." I try to explain, but he's not listening.
"You know blue balls is a real thing," he continues, his voice dropping down to an angry hiss. "It's cruel of you to tease me and lead me on like that." He works back up to a crescendo, his face turning dark red as he reaches top volume. "I NEED TO KNOW WHEN WE'RE GOING TO HAVE SEX RIGHT NOW!!"
I stare at him open-mouthed, stunned into silence. After a few moments I repeat, "I just pulled my shirt down because I'm cold."
"I'm going to walk around the block to clear my head," he announces through gritted teeth. I watch wordlessly as he laces up his wingtips and marches out the door.
Shakily, I creep into the kitchen and make myself some herbal tea, my stomach churning. What is happening? One second I'm having a great time, enjoying that new relationship euphoria, the next I'm in the middle of the kind of horrible, protracted fight that usually only comes months later. I can't make sense of him or how I should react. All I keep thinking is that I can't change gears that quickly. It's like emotional whiplash. I still really like him and want things to work out somehow.
When he walks back in fifteen minutes later, I'm focused on being conciliatory and understanding. I offer him some tea in a coffee mug, which he accepts but drinks standing up in my tiny kitchen. He's still kind of steaming.
"Um, what was that all about?" I ask as he blows on his tea. "Like I tried to tell you, I was just cold. Pulling my shirt down had nothing to do with how I feel about you. I'm just the kind of person who's always cold, and the heater doesn't work very well..." For some reason I really want him to believe me on this, but even though he's looking straight at my face as I'm talking, he doesn't seem to be taking it in. His eyes are slightly unfocused, not that laser-like intensity from before.
Without responding to my protestations, he asks if I've read a book by someone I've never heard of. I don't even catch the name.
"It's an autobiography about growing up deaf," he explains. "He describes the anger of deaf people as like a flash of lightning."
"What?" I have no idea where he's going with this.
"There's something about the experience of growing up with hearing loss, it just makes you so angry sometimes. And that anger just explodes. It's like a flash of lightning, just like he says. I like, literally see a flash, and I just kind of lose it for a moment."
Well. I know how it is to have a hot temper, because I sure do. But I'm a little taken aback that he's using his deafness as an excuse for his anger issues. I mean, wasn't he just telling me he's not really deaf anymore because of his cybernetic implants? But maybe I'm being too judgmental. Who am I to tell him how to be deaf? If he says flashes of rage are a deaf thing, maybe I should just go along with it.
"Mmm hmmm." I nod noncommittally. This seems to be his entire apology.
"Look, I really like you, but I just, I don't want to be toyed with," he says.
"Who's toying with you?" I burst out defensively. "I told you, I was cold!" We're going in circles, like a couple fighting months into a relationship, not the second date. I suddenly feel acutely how late it's getting, and I'm freaking exhausted, but also slightly panicky at the thought of losing him already. I can't change gears that fast.
"I'm sorry I made you feel disrespected," I continue in a gentler tone. "That wasn't my intention at all. I really like you too. I think we just need to spend more time together to get used to each other."
His expression finally softens. "Ok, I'd like that too. Can I take you out to dinner again?"
I smile. "Yeah, I'd love to."
"But no food with sesame this time, ok?"
"Of course." At the reminder of the fiasco in the restaurant I can't help but needle him a little bit. "But I love sesame, I eat it all the time. Hummus, halvah, gomashio, you name it."
He frowns. "I'm going to have to ask you to make sure you don't kiss me after you've eaten sesame."
"Ok, sure, I promise," I say, trying very hard not to roll my eyes. Ok, I get it, allergies are serious but why does he have to be so goddamn humorless about everything?
By the time he finally leaves, it's nearly midnight and I feel wrung out like a dishtowel. But we promise to get together again soon.



Nov 2004
I continue to email daily with Seymour the cyborg but our third date keeps getting postponed. He's traveling for work again, then I'm off on a long-planned trip to see my friends Kara and Nam in College Town. It's actually a kind of informal reunion.
I'm visiting them over Halloween and Election Day, with parties and dinners planned every night I'm there. I see my mad artist friend Borek again, who sets up the twelve foot high statue of Chthulu on the front lawn for the trick-or-treaters.
It's a little weird seeing such good friends while this whole thing with Seymour is hanging over me. I want to tell them all about him, after all, they all know I'm a devotee. But on the other hand, I'm starting to think this relationship might not be going anywhere, and I don't want talk about him to take up the whole trip. I only see them once every few years. If Seymour does end up being no more than a blip in my life, I don't want the idea of him crowding out everything else while I'm here. Anyway Nam has said he isn't even going to bother learning the names of the guys I date until the relationship lasts longer than six months.
So I tell Kara and Nam the bare minimum and resist talking about him more, but he's so much on my mind that it still feels awkward. I don't want to talk about him but I can't stop thinking about him. Do I like him or not? I can't even tell anymore.
On the night before Election Day, I go with Kara and Nam to a big noisy party at Borek's house, but it's not about politics. Everyone is drinking homemade absinthe, playing Dungeons and Dragons and doing some low-key post-Halloween LARPing. In short, a nerd party. Kara and I dress like little Victorian goth girls.
The whole time I've been here I've been trying to keep in touch with Seymour but it's tricky because he's off in Ohio ringing doorbells for John Kerry. We've been sending emails and leaving voice messages but just missing each other. Suddenly, in the middle of the party, he calls me. I rush to a back room to try to find a quieter place to talk to him.
"Hey, how are you?" I resist the urge to shout into the phone, since it distorts the sound. "I'm so glad you called!"
"I'm GREAT!"
"Oh, um, that's good. I'm having a good time with my friends too. Actually I'm at a party right now."
"We're SO CLOSE," he enthuses. "We're going to turn this thing around! We CAN DO IT."
"Um, ok, good?"
"We just need to knock on a few more doors. I gotta keep up the energy and keep pounding the pavement!"
I try to engage him in a conversation, tell him what I've been doing, but all I get from him are obvious verbatim quotes from whatever pep rally the Democratic party has been throwing for volunteers. I wish him luck and hang up, feeling deeply unsatisfied.
I sit for a little while longer in the quiet room by myself, not wanting to go back to the party. Something about that whole exchange leaves me with a bad feeling, but I'm not sure why. I'm frustrated that Seymour wouldn't talk to me, and I hate that our relationship feels so unsettled. But more than that, I find his whole way of talking profoundly irritating, although I'm slightly embarrassed to admit it. After all, I already voted for Kerry by absentee ballot before my trip, and I really want him to win. But I've been watching the news, and I have a sinking feeling that it's a lost cause. I'm glad Seymour is out there knocking on doors. I probably should be too. But his zealous recitation of canned lines seems deluded and pathetic.
The next evening, Kara, Nam and I crowd around their tiny second hand TV to watch the election returns, and boo loudly when the networks all start calling it for Bush. But even in the midst of my disappointment over a bad election result, I can't stop thinking about Seymour. I kind of hate how silly he sounded on the phone, but I also kind of hate myself for being so petty. I guess if more people like me had gone knocking on doors like he did maybe the election would have gone differently.

As part of this mini reunion, I also meet up with Leonard, aka the guy I briefly dated in my sophomore year of college, before I met K. Leonard dumped me for someone else when I went for study abroad, then regretted it and tried very hard to get me back when I returned. But it was too late, I had already met K and barely even recognized that Leonard existed. He moped around for a year, sometimes showing up at the house I shared with Kara and Nam, but I was totally oblivious to him. He gave me a draft of the novel he wrote, which sat unread outside my bedroom door, collecting dust.
Kara and I threw a graduation party and invited everyone we knew, including Leonard. At the party he met a friend of mine. They got married and had two kids.
Kara and Nam drive me out to the suburbs to visit them at home. Their house is surprisingly fancy considering he dropped out of grad school and is now a freelancer. I'm glad to see he's doing so well.
I'm shocked by his appearance. In college, Leonard was rail thin, but now he's fat, with a receding hairline. His wife still looks the same though, with her round cheerful face. They are both happy to see us, and we spend a few hours chatting about old times. Mostly just him though, his wife goes to take care of the kids.
I try not to let it show, but I'm burning with jealousy. This is what I want: married, kids, nice house. If I weren't a devotee, I could have had this with him, this very guy. He was clearly ready to settle down, and if I hadn't been with K, I probably would have said yes to Leonard.
As the conversation goes on, I get the feeling that while for me, he's just The Other Guy, for him, I'm The One That Got Away. Maybe? Not exactly that, more like I'm a relic of his wild college days, the crazy, weird one he dated before settling down with his normal, ordinary wife. And here I am, still living the bohemian lifestyle ten years later. Could it be that he's a tiny bit jealous of me, living the free single life with no kids?
I don't say any of this to him directly, but in the car on the way home I mention some of it to Kara. "Why can't I have that life?" I sigh, staring out the backseat window.
"You don't really want that," she replies tartly.
"What are you talking about! Yes I do!"
"If you did, you would have made it happen already," she reasons in that infuriatingly logical way she has. "You have other things you want also."
"I hate being a devotee! Why does it have to make life so complicated?"
"You would never have been happy with Leonard no matter what. Don't even waste time thinking about it," Kara advises wisely.

I fly back to Raser City feeling more confused than ever about Seymour. On the plane ride home I pick up some horrible cold virus that morphs into a sinus infection, forcing me to postpone seeing him in person again even longer.
We keep emailing but the tone is getting increasingly hostile. I say something I think is a joke and he takes offense, then won't let it go even after I apologize over and over. This happens more than once.
After the email exchange gets more heated, he calls me one afternoon.
"Look, I don't want to argue with you," he says testily.
"Good, me neither. Please stop arguing."
"I'm not the kind of person who has to be right all the time. Not like you. I could be right 30% of the time and let you have 70%. Would that satisfy you?"
Where does he come up with this shit? "I have no idea what you're talking about. It's not a contest. And I don't have to be right all the time. I never said that," I insist.
"You know, I went back and looked at your profile again," he says, his voice rising in anger. "It says, 'Strong is sexy, weak is sexier.' I know what you mean by that." His tone is sarcastic, insinuating.
That's where I finally lose it and start yelling.
"What the fuck do you think I mean by that? What are you implying?"
"What am I what?"
"Implying," I hiss into the phone, trying my hardest not to shout.
"What?"
"Implying."
"What?"
"Immmmplyyyyingggg."
"I told you it distorts the sound if you do that. Can you please just talk normally?"
I have a sudden inspiration, one I should have thought of weeks ago.
"Can we use IM instead?" We both use the same free email client, so instant message is already set up.
"Sure, ok. Bye."
While I start up my computer, log into my email and wait for him to come online, I have time to get good and angry about what he said.
Among the many prompts in an OkCupid profile is a fill-in-the-blank that says, "____ is sexy, _____ is sexier." In my mind, filling in the strong/weak thing is a nod to my devness. It's also an SM thing, and I figured that even if no one got the dev reference, they might at least recognize it as a kind of dom/sub dynamic. Also who cares what you write in your profile because no one ever even reads it. Most guys only look at the photos. I can't believe Seymour is taking this as some sort of key to my supposedly defective personality.
By the time he finally comes online, I'm fuming, but he's totally distracted by the technology.
>Oh hey this really takes me back. I used to IM all the time but I haven't done it in almost 10 years, he types.
What is he even talking about? This is the most obvious, frictionless form of long distance communication for him and he isn't even using it.
>We use to use all kinds of abbreviations like "brb" for "be right back" or putting a word inside an asterisk like this for *emphasis*, he continues.
>Yes I know, people still do that. My god, it's like texting with someone's grandmother. I'm ready to reach through the lines and throttle him.
>Can we please get back to what we were just talking about?
>Yes, you were saying something that sounded like "--puty."
>No. I was trying to say that you are jumping to conclusions about who you think I am based on one line in an online dating profile, which you are misinterpreting.
>Ok, so explain it to me then
I start to type something about how if he had looked elsewhere in my profile he would have noticed I mention being into BDSM, but before I can finish the sentence, another line from him pops up.
 >but I still think it's pretty indefensible.
I furiously delete what I have written and instead reply, >Why should I even bother if you've made up your mind already?
>You think of me as weak, he writes.
>That's not true! I can't believe you're basing all this on one throwaway gag line on OkCupid rather than what you have seen of me in real life.
>You thought you could take advantage of me.
>You're the one who wrote to me first! I didn't seek you out, you sought me out.
We go around and around like this for nearly an hour, me trying to defend myself and him not listening. It's frustrating to be silently typing away when I really feel like yelling and gesturing dramatically. At least this way I don't have to keep repeating words, but the instant message system doesn't indicate when the other person is still typing, so we keep writing replies to messages several lines up in the conversation, because we keep typing over each other. After a while my rage subsides into exhaustion. I sure as hell am not going to tell him about being a devotee now.
>Wow, it really is true that nice guys finish last, he writes.
Oh man, now I have really had it with him.
>What are you even talking about?
>I'm a nice guy but it's clear you don't appreciate being treated nicely. You want someone you can argue with all the time.
>This is pointless, I type. If you've already made up your mind that I'm a terrible person, there's no reason to continue this conversation.
>I guess you're right, he concedes.
>Goodbye.
>Goodbye.
I sit in front of the computer for an hour, scrolling through the whole stupid argument and wondering how the hell I even got here. What a fucking waste of my time. I keep seeing his red, angry face as he yelled, "I NEED TO KNOW WHEN WE'RE GOING TO HAVE SEX RIGHT NOW!!"
How I wish I had replied, "Ok, never! If you had kept your mouth shut, you could have gotten some, but now you will never, ever have sex with me!"
I should have locked the door when he went to walk around the block and never seen him again. Why did it take me weeks to finally break it off?
No, I should have broken it off after that childish performance in the restaurant. No more whiny manchild bullshit, I vow. Not eating like a grownup is a huge red flag.
No, I should have never even gone on that first date. All the red flags were in his blog: how he grew up socially isolated, how much he is deluding himself about his social skills now. I flash back to so many entries in his blog about communication difficulties with his co-workers. He frames it as examples of how much better his hearing is with the implant, but even with it, he's still not getting every word even in a one on one conversation. He said the cochlear implant isn't magic, but he acts like it is. The implant doesn't make him not deaf. It's just a more advanced variety of hearing aid.
I'm sorry his parents fed him a line of ableist bullshit and he internalized it, cutting him off from a community of people who could have helped him deal with his "deaf anger" and cope with his disability better, but it's not my problem to solve.
I delete the text conversation, then go through my email and delete all his messages and his number from my phone. It's like a switch has finally flipped, and all the anger and resentment I should have been feeling weeks ago finally comes flooding out. I'm angry at him, but also at myself for letting this go on so long, for letting my dev desires get the better of me again, for getting involved with this guy in the first place.
The truth is, I had seen his profile before he ever messaged me, and decided not to contact him. I could just tell that he wouldn't be open to dating a dev, that our personalities are too different. When he messaged me, I thought it was a sign that maybe things would work out anyhow. I should have gone with my first instinct. Never again, I vow. I'm going to let any guy in the future know that I'm a dev, and if he can't handle it, then we shouldn't be together anyway.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Devo Diary Chapter 48


Mickey Cross, part 1


Dec 2004
While I'm still fuming over the debacle with Seymour the Cyborg, I get an email out of the blue from Lin Chia-ming, my friend from Taipei. We liked each other a lot but decided in a very serious, mature kind of way that a relationship would not be possible because neither of us could make a permanent move; I couldn't get a job in Taipei and he couldn't get a job in the US. Anyway he writes to tell me that he's getting married, to the conductor of the chorus that I invited him to join.
I have decidedly mixed feelings about this news. They're both lovely people and I know I should be happy for them, but I can't help feeling petty and jealous. Not because I want to marry him myself; I really don't. But it just feels so unfair, like everyone is getting married but me. And it's because of me that they met. He might never have crossed paths with her if I hadn't asked him to come to those rehearsals with me. Sunk down in self-pity over the dismal state of my own dating life, I can't bring myself to reply to his email.
Even though I have a lot of friends and a busy life, with work, grad school, and rehearsals for the next opera, I can't help but feel profoundly lonely. When I don't have rehearsal, the evenings stretch out endlessly, dark and quiet. The silence in my empty apartment is oppressive. Especially when I'm home alone on a Friday or Saturday night, which is often, I feel like a loser. I know I could go out by myself, but I don't want to do that either.
I think of the lines from that Robyn Hitchcock song:
I'm so lonely I could melt
And be forgotten instantly
When I start feeling like I'm melting away, I run through my list of friends to call. Lulu is at the top of the list, but she's often out on dates or with friends or family. I mentally go through the list of my other friends from the chorus, but Ariel and Gretchen have partners and real lives. Even Sarah isn't always around, and anyway I'm still trying to spend less time with her. Kara and Nam, on the other hand, are usually at home in the evenings, although the time difference between the West Coast and the Midwest means I can't call them too late.
"I feel so lame being home on a Friday night," I whine to them. "I should be out at a club or something."
"If that's how you feel, definitely don't have kids," Nam advises. "You'll have to stay in every night."
"I don't want to go out just to go out, I want to go out to meet a partner to marry and have kids with," I explain. "How am I supposed to meet someone sitting around at home?"
I can practically hear Kara shrug over the phone. "Desire is the root of all suffering," she intones.
Right. Again, I remind myself not to turn to Buddhists with my relationship woes. I love the two of them but when we talk about relationships, somehow they both make me feel worse. I haven't forgotten Nam's little dig about how many guys I've dated or attempted to date. He's right, the list is getting really long.
As I am casting about for more connections, I make friends with one of my neighbors. My apartment is in an L shaped block of three units in the backyard of a single family house. I'm at the long end of the L. In the middle is an undergrad girl I hardly ever see, but at the other end of the L is guy named Jonathan who is also in grad school. He has blond hair and blue eyes, a wholesome Midwestern kind of dude with polite, soft spoken manners. We go out for drinks from time to time, and as I get to know him more, I start to nurture a tiny, warm attraction to him. Why not, he's smart and kind and cute. But he's also able bodied, so my attraction never grows strong enough for me to make a move.

As if it's bad enough that all my exes are married, my cousin who is eight years younger than I am recently got married. At least my younger brother still shows no signs of marrying his long-time girlfriend. I do my best to put aside my petty jealousy because my cousin is a sweet girl. She married a French guy and they have just moved to Paris. I email her congratulations and she invites me to come visit. I plan a trip to Paris over Christmas, then over to London for New Years to see my grandmother.
I'm excited for my trip but a few days before my flight out, as I'm logged into one of the many devotee egroups I belong to, I start chatting with a guy who's online at the same time. His name is Mickey Cross. At first I confuse him with a different member with a similar name who has CP.
He writes,
> If you're confusing me with M___, who can't type, spell, or use his brain, then I'm afraid I'll have to punish you... :)
Shit! I apologize profusely. Mickey fills me in with more detail, and I finally match up the name with the correct member and his past posts. He's blind, and close to my age, only three years younger.
He also lives really far away. I have a policy not to initiate long distance relationships online. There are so many disabled guys in Raser City--why not try to find someone local? But coincidentally, he lives in a suburb of Hub City, which is where my uncle and aunt live, the parents of the cousin in Paris I'm about to go visit. It's not unlikely that I'll have some reason to go there in the future. Blind guys are a lot harder to find than SCI guys. Why not, I figure.
The first night, I stay up until 3 AM messaging with Mickey, even though I should be packing for my trip. Like K, he's blind from birth, no light perception. I don't tell him, but that's my number one dev trigger. Even thinking about it makes me tingle all over, right down to the soles of my feet. He just uses a cane to get around, no guide dog. Even better.
He sends me a photo, and I tell him how cute he is.
>Thanks for the compliments, he writes. It's always reassuring, since well, I've never exactly looked at myself in a mirror. :)
>So you're not creeped out by the dev thing? I ask. It's a relief that we met on a dev site so he knows this about me up front, but as I have learned from Rollerboy, just because a guy is on a dev site doesn't mean he's necessarily ok with it.
>No, the devotee thing doesn't creep me out at all, he assures me.
The next night, I come online and there he is again. I tell him about my time living in Seoul and Taipei, my stalled out career and interminable grad degree. He reveals that he's basically unemployed and living with his parents. I try not to judge, remembering how hard it was for K to find a job he wanted to do, and a place that would hire him. Mickey is thinking about something in IT, maybe going back to school, but nothing definite. When I tell him about my amateur opera career, he admits that he's not into music at all. Scratch that stereotype, anyway.
He asks me more about being a devotee, and I give him my standard answer.
>I can't explain why, I think I was just born this way. I think blindness is *so* sexy.
>Haha it is?? Well, where do I find more people like you??? Know any?
It strikes me as bad form for him to ask to meet other devs when I'm trying to flirt with him, but I just let that go and concentrate on what for me is the main topic at hand.
>Oh my god yes!! SO hot!
>Haha, why? Because I have to feel around?
>Yes, I write coyly, although what I'm really thinking is OH GOD YES. That's it exactly. I think of his sensitive fingers moving carefully, interpreting the world around him, and I get that stabbing feeling right in my gut, followed by a tingling rush over my entire body.
>Seems like amps and wheelies get all the luuuuuuv, he continues, as I'm sitting there blissed out on my dev high.
>Well those other girls can have them, blindness is *way* sexier.
Once again I stay up way too late, and put off packing, only to fall in bed exhausted and wake up too early. The night before my flight, I'm back online again, and sure enough, there he is. We chat some more about dev stuff, then somehow the conversation turns to wannabes.
>The dev thing is one thing, but I don't understand the wannabe/pretender phenomenon, he writes. I mean, sure I'm independent and get along ok, but any disability is no fucking picnic! Google BIID and tell me you completely understand the need to hack off a limb or two. *LOL*
I know what BIID is. I don't really understand it but I have sympathy for people who have it, because from what I've read, it seems like more of a mental disorder than a hobby. And after all, trans people might also have surgery to remove healthy body parts. I try pushing back very gently on this idea but Mickey is not having it.
I don't like how hostile the conversation is getting, so I circle back around to a safer, more fun topic, and compliment him again on his photo. He's got kind of a long thin face, with brown curly hair, and his eyes have that blue scarred over look that just slays me.
>Do you have any other photos? You're super cute :) I write.
>I don't have that many obviously but I'll see what I can come up with. What do you look like? Short or long hair? curly or straight? any other physical features you want to add to my developing mental representation are welcome. :)
>Let's see, brown eyes and hair, I get told often I look a lot younger than 32.
While I'm still typing, he cuts in,
>Color doesn't mean shit to me. *LOL* sorry. I know, people just automatically throw those details in. :)
I'm so embarrassed I actually draw my hands back from the keyboard. I of all people should know better.
>Sorry! I'm just not sure exactly what to add to a non-visual description. What do you want to know? And anyway, when you think of someone you know, what features do you think of?
>How they feel, sound, smell, taste... Obviously not what they look like. And no, contrary to popular myth, I do not go around feeling faces. *LOL* that would be boring. Anyway... a face is a face is a face. Unless of course she has a beard or something... *shudder*
I'm feeling more and more uncomfortable at the direction this is going. I get what he means that blind people don't go around touching the faces of everyone they meet. That's just some Hollywood, ableist bullshit. On the other hand, the other blind guys I have dated have done it, while we were kissing and making out. The moment when K touched my face for the first time was one of the most profoundly intimate and deeply erotic moments of my entire life. The face is so sensitive--how can he not get that? On the other other hand, I feel kind of like I did with Seymour the Cyborg, frustrated with how he doesn't match up to my dev fantasies, then guilty for holding him to an unfair standard.
But anyway it turns out Mickey has a wholly different agenda in mind when asking about my appearance. While I'm dithering around trying to reconcile my dev desires, he writes,
> Uh, I have a preference for more full-figured women, let's say...
God damn! What is it with blind guys and BBWs? So far of the guys I have encountered, it's been a solid 100% of them. Maybe he should be talking to The Mantis, not me.
>Hm, I'm definitely not plus-sized, but I'm not skinny either. I'm curvy and soft, a classic hour-glass figure.
>I like lots of sand in the bottom of my hourglass though... or to say it a bit cruder, lots o' junk in da trunk. *LOL*
Ugh, this is definitely not me. I try to nudge things gently back on track.
>You're supposed to be flirting with ME, silly!
But once the topic has been opened, he is not going to give it up so easily.
>Hmmm, are there Asian BBWs I wonder?  I'm not sure why his imagination has strayed in that direction, probably either because I mentioned living in Taipei, or because Raser City has a big Asian American population. He continues, Maybe those who have eaten too much American food? Some sweet short very round girl with a girlish voice... awwww. *swoon* Maybe you can pretend? :)
>What do you mean, pretend? I AM sweet, short and round, just not Asian. Again, you're supposed to be flirting with me! Yeesh! :) I don't know exactly what you're trying to accomplish here.
>Hahaha, ok ok I'll stop. :) I promise, I won't chase your friends. :)
This nonsense makes me realize that it's time to log off and go to sleep already. He tries to keep me online longer.
> Aww, you're gonna get me all interested, and then go away on your trip! :)
>Damn, I'm such a tease! But fear not, I will have internet access while I am away. I promise, I'll send you little notes from Paris and London at odd hours :) And I'll only be gone for a little over a week. By the time the dust settles from Christmas and New Years, I'll be back.
>Haha ok:) after all, you're going to the city of luuuuuuv. *laugh* So, do the French really have bad b.o.? I saw a survey once of European hygiene habits, and the bottom of the list for bathing and changing one's underclothes was France. *LOL*
What is it with this guy?
>Ok, I really have to go now. Talk to you later!
> Ah ok... well, have a good trip! *hug*
It's past midnight by the time I finally log off, toss some clothes in a suitcase, and drop off to sleep. The next morning I'm on my way to the airport. Ordinarily I hate to fly; the combination of low-level but persistent anxiety and debilitating motion sickness makes these long flights torture. But this time I settle back in my chair, pop two Dramamine, and spend the hours from Raser City to New York then on to Paris in a blissful, drug-induced dev haze. I have to feel around. Oh my god, yes. That mental image gives me a dev high that lasts through both flights.

Paris is amazing. I spent a year in France as an undergraduate, and it's so great to be back. My French sucks, but contrary to stereotype, I find everyone very friendly and willing to speak English, as long as I begin with "Bonjour" rather than "Hello." My cousin is subletting a place in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, a gorgeous second floor apartment that dates from the Belle Époque, all blond wood floors and ornate crown molding. There's even a steam-punk kind of vintage elevator that is the only access to the apartment.
The jet lag is brutal but I power through it to run around sightseeing and shopping. My main objective is not perfume or fashion but CDs of the 1970s folk rock group Malicorne. K introduced them to me and I still love their music, but it's impossible to find in the US. I return from Virgin Records with a pile of CDs. My cousin's husband looks at me like I'm crazy.
"You know French people never listen to such music, right?"
I don't care. I'm loving it all so much.
On Christmas Eve, my cousin goes to her in-laws, and I decide to check out midnight mass at Notre Dame. That's kind of a mistake, since I end up stuck in a massive crowd at the side of the nave and have to stand for the entire thing, over three hours, with no way to escape or sit down. Well anyway it is an experience.
The next day my cousin returns in the late afternoon, and I ask her if I can borrow her laptop to check my email. I go through my school email, check a few websites, then finally open the other email I use for dev stuff. There's a message from Mickey, sent just after I left. I open it up to find a dick pic. I hastily close the image and hit reply.
>Gah! Dude! I'm at my cousin's house, and she was sitting right by me as I opened that picture, all innocent...luckily she didn't see it...jeez, give a girl some warning!
He writes back a jokey reply about dirty pictures and reading erotica online. I respond with more flirtation.
>I would selflessly assist you in the enjoyment of porn, although I think a full *demonstration* might be more effective in conveying the experience than a mere description. I am always ready to help the handicapped, or as my friend Nam says, to help myself to the handicapped.
This email exchange continues while I'm still at my cousin's place. In between the shameless flirting, though, he works in more complaints about people with BIID, suggesting they should maybe just fall on a pair of scissors or something. He also heaps scorn on blind people who never learn Braille and can't spell for shit. I'm with him on that one at least.
But our correspondence ends once I hop on the Eurostar over to London, since my grandmother does not have a computer.
My grandmother lives in northern London, in Golder's Green with all our fellow Jews. She's had the same flat unchanged since I was a baby. We used to come often when I was a kid. I love going to visit her there, but seeing the flat as an adult is a little jarring. While my parents have moved several times since I was a kid, this place alone is unchanged. It feels like stepping back in time to my childhood self.
Unfortunately my grandmother also treats me like a child, complaining mightily about me going out even in the daytime, and setting a strict 7 pm curfew. I must eat dinner at home with her, no going out to the theater or opera or anything. It's killing me because The Marriage of Figaro is playing at Covent Garden and I want to go so badly but she lays down the law. I have to remind myself that I'm here to visit my grandmother, not to be a tourist.
The London half of my trip is a big disappointment. The weather is miserable, and everyone is so rude in the shops and restaurants. On my third day here, my father flies in from the US, his yearly trip to visit his mother. I was hoping we could go to the opera together, but he gets food poisoning from his in-flight meal and spends his time padding about the flat in his pajamas, looking pale and miserable. My grandmother dials her continuous anxiety up to eleven, and I worry too, although I know it's nothing serious and he'll be fine in a few days. I don't get to go to the opera.
Then there's the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Horrific images fill the news, casting a pall over the season. My grandmother does nothing but watch TV and crochet all day long, so the TV is constantly on. She's an expert on every British soap and talk show, although many of her regular programs are preempted for grim news updates. When the programs resume, I can't help but notice that standards in the UK seem, I don't know, somehow racier than in the US. Or maybe it's just because I'm sitting next to my grandmother, in the matching green velvet lounge chair that used to be occupied by my grandfather, before he died fifteen years ago.
A commercial for lotion comes on, featuring erotic close-ups of a naked woman's hips and side boob, the nipples just barely concealed.
"What is this!" my grandmother grouses. "When I was young, nobody would ever reveal their bodies in this way! Now it's everywhere!"
I don't say anything. The talk program resumes, and the two fiftyish, heavily made up female presenters chat about how the latest beauty trend this year is anal bleaching. I glance over at Grandma, but she's got her nose in her TV guide magazine, reading up on the latest episodes of Coronation Street.
On New Year's Eve, Dad is still not feeling great, so we stay in and watch the countdown on TV together. Unlike the US, where no foreign tragedy would interrupt the excuse for public drunkenness, here the entire celebration is given over to mourning the earthquake and tsunami victims. It's a somber, depressing start to the new year. I have a feeling 2005 is not going to be a great year.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Devo Diary Chapter 49


Betty

Jan 2005
I return from my trip to Paris and London with a bad cold that turns into yet another sinus infection. Now not only am I wrung out and exhausted from jet lag, but I'm up all night coughing. At the same time, we're into hell week for the next opera, I Puritani.
Of all the operas we have done so far, this one is my least favorite. The music is nice enough, but it's hard to memorize and hard to sing. The Puritan era sets are grim, the lighting is dark, and the blocking is so boring. I spend pretty much all my onstage time parked at the back of the stage on one of the raised sets. I'm so much in shadow I'm sure no one will even see my face. But since I'm still sick even when the show opens, maybe that's not such a bad thing. I was happy to be assigned one of the noble lady costumes, with a corset, yellow brocade skirts and a full curly wig, but I regret it now because it's so heavy and hot. When I put it all on and stand on stage I can feel my fever spiking, melting the stage makeup off my face. I mouth the words rather than sing out and risk cracking my voice. I feel woozy by the end of the first act.
I'm not the only sick one though, practically the entire chorus seems to have colds. The second we walk off stage, everyone erupts into hacking coughs. With the pilgrim era costumes, it feels like we really are in the 17th century, beset by an outbreak of plague. Backstage, we all just sit around listlessly. No one has the energy for the usual gossip and playing around.
Suzanna is the lead soprano again, in the role of Elvira, but music director has cast himself as the tenor lead, Arturo, Elvira's love interest. It's unseemly not only for him to give himself the lead, but to cast himself as twenty years younger is even worse. Suzanna is freaked out that she has to kiss him on stage every night.
"It's like kissing my dad!" she laments to me in the car.
There is a new lead in the mezzo role, Enrichetta. She's in her late forties, with a deep, rich voice, but like Suzanna, not a diva and not too proud to hang around with the women of the chorus. She obviously has developed a big crush on William. They have one big duet together, where he leans in and sings right in front of her face.
"Don't you care that he spits all over you?" I ask her.
The pit orchestra has nicknamed William "The Fountain." When he stands and the edge of the stage to sing, right over the pit, they have threatened to put up umbrellas.
Enrichetta tosses her long brown hair back, shaking her head and batting her eyes languidly. "I don't mind at all," she says huskily.
I laugh and make fake gagging noises. I'm not jealous of her. Well, maybe a tiny bit jealous, but they would be a good match. He could do a lot worse. Like Vicky, for instance, although he is not seeing her anymore. But also I know he won't take her up on her offer, because he is committed to his new regime of self-improvement. He's still seeing a therapist, has bought a new car, and finally stood up to his manager to make his work more tolerable. And he seems determined not to date anyone else from the opera company. If he's aware of Enrichetta's advances, he gives no indication. But he seems much happier lately, and we've transitioned to being just friends. I can live with that.
I've been watching old episodes of Sex and the City on DVD, and William reminds me so much of Mr. Big. He even looks a bit like Chris Noth. Their on again off again romance rings true but I hate that Carrie ends up with Big in the end. In real life, there's a reason he is still unmarried for so long. There's no way a guy like that is going to maintain a relationship, no matter how much he says he wants it.
Anyway, between being so busy with the opera and being sick, I let my correspondence with Mickey Cross lapse. I don't have it in me for those late night message sessions lately. He sends me emails every week or so asking if I have forgotten him already, but I put him off until the run of the opera is over.

Out of nowhere, I get an email from Atom the Archaeologist.

I don't know if you'll get this but I thought I'd try anyway.  You're probably wondering why the hell I'm writing to you.  I just watched an anime film and it reminded me of you. 
Well, I'm sorry I disappeared and was such an ass to you. I know it was almost 2 years ago and it probably doesn't mean much but I still feel bad.  I had a mini freak out about my work and living situation at the time.  I had no reason to be such an asshole to you. Sorry again.
Anyway, I'm sure you've finished your degree by now and are probably in China somewhere or something.  I just wanted to drop you a line and see how you're doing.  I always think fondly of you whenever I see a strap-on ;)  I'd love to hear from you if you get this.

Atom

I am completely, utterly floored. Of all the guys I have dated, he is the last one I ever expected to hear from again. I still feel stupid when I think of how I gave him that speech about wanting a real relationship as I was putting his cock in my mouth. No wonder he never took me seriously. We were friends with benefits at most, not even friends, really. We just hooked up a bunch of times then he disappeared. Why is he contacting me again? It's nice to get an apology, but what does he want? A real date or just more sex?
I have to find out, on the off chance he's ready for something real this time. I try to keep my reply light and with low expectations.

Ha ha, anime and strap-ons, that's me I guess :) Which one did you watch?
Actually I am still here in Raser City, although I was living in Taipei for a while. Where are you? I thought you said you were moving to Hawaii.
Don't worry, no hard feelings at all. I was disappointed not to hear from you again, but it's not like things between us were at all serious. I just figured you weren't that into me and let it go. But thanks for apologizing, that's very sweet.

The next day, I get a reply.

Glad you wrote back.  Thanks for not giving me a hard time. I'm still in Raser City and still at the same job.  Things greatly improved, both monetarily and otherwise.  I am in the process of changing careers though.  I need to get out of archaeology. 
I watched Fist of the Northstar.  I think it's from the mid 90's.  It was pretty cool.  I want to watch more but I never know which ones are good.
I have yet to meet another girl into strap-ons since I've seen you.  I don't know what everyone else's problem is.  It's too bad because they're a lot of fun ;)
Well keep in touch.  We should grab a drink sometime and catch up if you're interested.

Aha, so he wants me to peg him again. Well, why not, I'm not seeing anyone at the moment. And he is smoking hot, with those muscley arms, blue eyes, and golden skin that smells like sandalwood. I agree to meet him for a dinner, and we set a date.
I actually start to get excited. Maybe things will be different this time. I send him a confirmation email the day before and end with, I'm looking forward to our date.
He writes back the next morning, Uh, it's not a date I have a girlfriend.
What the fuck! I feel like I just got played.
I reply, If you have a girlfriend, why did you ask me out.
A few hours before we are supposed to meet, he texts me to say something came up and he's too busy. Our not-date is canceled.
But then a few weeks later, he emails me again.
I'm guessing you're not interested in meeting up again. If you ever want to break out the ole' strap-on and give it a whirl let me know ;)

I reply,
What? Dude, you're the one who sent me a cryptic email about having a girlfriend then canceled at the last minute. I called you back that night, but you didn't pick up the phone, then you said not to call for awhile, because you had friends in town. Sorry to be suspicious, but the whole thing started to seem kinda weird, like there was some drama going on with you and your girlfriend that you didn't mention to me.
As for the strap-on, when you first got in touch with me, I figured that was all you wanted and actually I was totally up for it, but not if it's going to bring drama into my life. And if you are seeing someone, why are you asking me that? Just do it with her. If I have misunderstood, please tell me, but just level with me, what is really going on with you?

Atom writes,
Sorry for the unintended drama.  I wasn't trying to act suspicious.  I actually had three sets of friends in from out of town for another friend's engagement party.  It was pretty hectic for that week so I didn't want to make plans I'd have to potentially break anyway. 
There is no drama with my girlfriend and I.  To level with you, yes I did get in touch with you to see if you're interested in strap-on play, but I also honestly wanted to see how you were doing because I always felt bad about how I broke off contact with you.
The girl I'm seeing doesn't have the interest or personality to get into strap on play or other dom interests.  I'm sorry if it was inappropriate to see if you were interested.  I'm not trying to get you involved in any drama or FOX network type love triangle.  I just wanted to see if you were up for some innocent mutual fun.

Motherfucker! I bet he hasn't even told his girlfriend that he's looking to get pegged on the side. I'm so fucking sick of guys treating me like garbage just because I'm willing to do kinky shit with them that they desperately want but can't admit to. So Atom will only date someone vanilla and pure. I'm too dirty for a real relationship. But he still wants it up the ass so he sneaks around behind Miss Vanilla's back.

I write back,
No, I'm not up for that and it's not just innocent fun. This is the definition of drama, and I'm not interested. I'm not your whore to call up whenever you want some kinky action. I'm sorry your girlfriend is not meeting all your needs, but that's not my problem. Maybe try dating someone else who is willing to have the kind of sex you want.

Thankfully he does not reply. I don't ever want to hear from him again.


Feb 2005
Now that the show is over, and the next one has not started rehearsing yet, I have a lot more free time on my hands. I email Mickey Cross but I'm just not feeling it with him. After the first rush of excitement at meeting him online wears off, his awkwardness starts to grate. Besides, I really want to meet someone local.
I go out to a few Sub Rosa Society events by myself, but I'm not really feeling that either. Lulu has announced that she's done with BDSM and doesn't want to go to any more events with me. One evening I meet guy at one of these events who seems promising, and we spend an hour or so flirting, as much as possible by shouting over the loud music. But I've had a cold coming on all week, and all that shouting just does me in. I have to beg off early and go home to crash. I feel like shit the next day, and it seems not at all worth it.
I've also been spending a lot more time with my lesbian friend from grad school, Stephanie. While I was in Taipei, she spent a semester in Italy and has come back as a different person. I think she realized that while being a lesbian vegetarian with tons of tattoos and pink spiky hair was shocking in her tiny hometown in West Texas, here in Raser City, she's just one drop in an ocean of tattooed vegetarian lesbians. So her trip to Italy was a chance to reinvent herself. She still has the tattoos and the spiky hair (although it's black now), but she starts wearing girly makeup, couture clothes, and terrifyingly high heels every day. She also has developed a taste for meat, and not just any meat, but the most disgusting rare cuts and as well as organs and offal. Her transformation works, I am shocked.
She meets me at my apartment before we head out to a bar, and as we're leaving, I say hello to my neighbor Jonathan. Over drinks, I confide in her that I think he's kind of cute, and we've been hanging out occasionally.
"Him?" she says with a sneer. "He's fat!"
"Really?" I hadn't noticed. He's not huge, but now that she mentions it, I guess he is a little flabby.
"Come on," she insists. "You can do better."
"Ugh, I don't know. Nothing has been working out lately." I tell her all about my pathetic attempts at dating women in Taipei. I can't believe I blew it with Chimi because I was still hung up on William. He's so not worth it. I should have valued her more when I had the chance. She was ready to move to Raser City to be with me, but I said no. What was I thinking? Oh how I wish I could go back and give her a different answer. But it's too late now.
"Whatever," Stephanie snorts. "There's always someone else. You can pick up girls here too, you know."
"Yeah, but I don't want to, you know, bother the real lesbians with my wishy-washy bullshit."
She rolls her eyes. "So find another bi girl who wants to experiment. There's like a billion of them in this town. Come on, it's not that hard. Just go online."
"Yeah, ok, I'm gonna do it!"
We speculate for a while on what I should put in my ad, then Stephanie drops a bomb on me, probably the reason she wanted to meet with me in the first place: she's dating a professor. Well, not so much dating as getting fucked on a regular basis. The prof in question is super famous in her field, probably the highest profile lesbian on the faculty. Also easily twenty years older than Stephanie, and married to a woman. This thing with Stephanie is strictly on the downlow.
Over the next few weeks, I get periodic updates from Stephanie, usually when she calls me on the phone late at night.
"She just fisted me and left," she says. I can't get a read on how Stephanie feels about this. She projects an uneasy mix of pride, shame, arousal, anger and frustration. I just listen to her talking, nodding along and trying to be supportive but not really knowing what I should do or say. Then she starts talking about cutting herself. I suggest she should see a doctor, or a therapist, put a stop to all this and get help. Instead, she stops talking to me about it.

Meanwhile I'm trying to put her advice to find other bi women into practice. Once I think of it as trying to meet other women like me rather than trying to pass myself off as a lesbian, I feel a lot more confident about the whole thing.
As always, I turn to the internet, and create a new profile on Nerve.com in the W4W section. I make it clear in the profile that I've mostly dated men but I've always known I'm bi and I'm looking to change that default hetero setting.
It's not that different from trying to meet men online. I swap messages with a bunch of women until one stands out, then we quickly switch to email.
Her name is Betty di Luna. At first I think that's just her screen name, but no, it turns out that's really her name. When I imagine my ideal sexy girl, I think of a 1920s flapper with a Louise Brooks haircut, white stockings and little black shoes with French heels. In her photo, Betty has that bob haircut. She's cute, curvy and adorable. I love her antique name. Also it's eerily close to my fictional avatar, Betty DeLuxe. She's bi like me, and has mostly dated men until now. She seems perfect.
She's in her thirties like me, but Betty is a student at a satellite campus of Lester State, what they call a non-traditional student trying to finish up her BA in zoology. She writes,

I'm soooo sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you--I got slammed at school and am just now coming up for air.  I'm still trying to figure out how to keep up in Chemistry while maintaining some semblance of a life :)
That's cool that you're a writer!  Maybe I can bounce some ideas off of you, and you can tell me whether or not I'm nuts ;)  Your grad degree sounds really interesting--how much longer do you think it will be until it's completed?  When will you be performing?  I'd love to come see you!
What do I do besides school?  Well, I've decided I have to go out twice a week, no matter what.  Whether it's with friends or a date or whatever, doesn't matter.  For a long time I was really holing up with books and just reading and working on school, and I realized that wasn't very balanced :)  I volunteer at the Raser City Zoo every Sunday afternoon, take care of a 5 year old little girl a few hours a week, work as a massage therapist a few hours a week, and have been going out every Friday and Saturday, whether to a play, a concert, a movie, or just a friend's house.  I try to be involved in political and social causes too, but it's sometimes hard to find time :(  What do you enjoy doing?

I don't know when my grad degree will finally be finished, that's kind of a sore subject. Instead I tell her about the opera and she asks to come, but the current show is not, I feel, our best effort. We've begun rehearsing for Tales of Hoffmann, which has some lovely and super famous music, but the story is really weird. Worse, the director decided it will be semi-staged, by which he seems to mean that we will be fully moving and acting on stage but all the sets and costumes will be half-assed, and everyone will be doubling up on roles. Also the performance will not be in our usual professional theater with a full backstage, but instead in an older, smaller theater without monitors or a green room, so all our many costume changes will take place in the hallway. So far this production feels like a hot mess, but Betty says she loves musicals, which is another point in her favor. I promise to give her a postcard when the performance date gets closer.
Betty is also a writer like me, although it's been ages since I wrote anything more than those crazy Betty DeLuxe stories with Kara and Nam, which are really more of a shared in-joke than anything else. I want to tell Betty about the amazing coincidence with the name, but since sharing those stories with Skip, then regretting it, I've decided that it's better to keep that private for now. Still, the fact that the names are so similar is also making me feel like Betty is the perfect girl for me. Even more so when I ask what she's writing and she replies,

You might actually be the perfect person to talk to about one of my maybe-too-silly story ideas--it's a Broadway-style musical about a 1920's era call girl.  Although I can't decide if it should be 20's era for real or just have that look, and I can't decide if she should be an actual call girl, or just promiscuous.  Either way, I want her to be free-spirited and, as you said, "dangerous and sexy."  A vamp :)

I'm swooning now. I write back and tell her how this new service Netflix has a huge collection of 1920s movies and I've been watching some great vamp actresses like Gloria Swanson and Bebe Daniels. I don't think her idea is silly at all. I would watch the hell out that musical.
We exchange more excited emails, flattering each other about how cool the other one is, then it's time to meet in person,  at the little hipster bar near my apartment.
We chat about school and work. Betty's dream is to work full time at the zoo. Everything else she's doing, the part time nanny gig, the part time massage therapist gig, her college degree, it's all in pursuit of that goal.
"Of all the animals, the hyena is my favorite," she says. "Did you know that hyena society is matriarchal?"
I did not know.
"Hyenas are one of the only mammals where the female is bigger than the male," she continues. "The females don't have vaginas like other mammals. They have a kind of penis that the male has to penetrate, but that can only be done when the female is receptive. It's, like, physically impossible for the male to rape the female. But the females have a u bend in the uterus, so it's very difficult to give birth."
"Wow, I didn't know any of that," I say. Until this moment, the entirety of my knowledge of hyenas came from The Lion King.
"Nobody knows how awesome they are!" she exclaims, her eyes shining with excitement. "They're such fierce, strong females but hardly anyone knows about them. I want to educate people, spread the word. The way we think about the animal world, predators and prey, it's based on sexist ideas about males and females, but the reality is so much more complex and cool."
I agree. As first dates go, it's a good one. The next day I send her an email:

Hi Betty, thanks for staying out so late last night, I really had a great time talking to you. I'm really looking forward to seeing you again. Good luck with the chem exam! :)

She replies,

I had a great time with you last night!  I feel sorta dorky because I was nervous and awkward--I really felt like I was the nerdy kid on a date with the prettiest girl at school all the while worrying about whether or not she would like me :)  Yes, I know it's silly, but true.
I'd love to see you this weekend--Saturday should be good for me.  I hope you have a great week :)

xo,
B

I'm blushing as I read this. I love the girly-girlyness of being with her. I realize that I'm sick of hanging out in bars, pretending that I like to drink alcohol when I really don't. I want a girly date with Betty. We meet for brunch at the Bayfront Diner, a few blocks from my place, and get enormous plates of buttermilk pancakes.
After brunch, in a secluded corner on a tree-lined street in Bayfront, we kiss shyly under the green leaves, in the bright sunlight, then wander around the shops, holding hands. Raser City is one of the most gay-friendly places in the US, so I have no concern about people seeing us. In fact, I want them to realize that we two girls are a couple. I feel so cool and sexy. And just like that, I have a girlfriend.

March 2005
The one big difference between me and Betty is that she is an animal lover and I am not. To be more specific, she has a dog and I fucking hate dogs. I realize this is an unpopular opinion, but I hate the way they smell and drool and I absolutely do not want a dog jumping up on me.
I try to warn her before she invites me over to her place for the first time by saying that I'm not a dog person. She promises not to let the dog jump on me.
Betty's apartment is in kind of a sketchy neighborhood called Lakeside, in a ground floor unit of a big old apartment complex that looks like it was built in the 1920s. It reminds me of the place I lived in a few years ago, the one with the faulty radiators that were so noisy I had to break my lease and move out.
As soon as we walk in the door, a huge rangy, grizzled german shepherd mix starts jumping around like crazy and lunging at me. I try to stifle a shriek as I jump backward.
"This is Ghost," Betty says, hauling on the dog's collar. He barely notices, his eyes still fixed on me. "Just let him sniff your hand," she suggests. I put my hand out flat and he sticks his snout up at me. Betty urges me to pet him, so I give him a few tentative pats on the head. His fur is coarse and greasy. I pull my hand away as soon as he calms down and stick both hands in my jacket pockets.
Once the dog stops jumping, Betty gives me the tour. The one bedroom apartment has hardwood floors and watercolor paintings made by a friend on the walls but almost no furniture. The only things in the living room are a folding massage table, a stand lamp, and several built-in shelves crammed with books, knickknacks and a TV. The bedroom is a jumble of clothes and dressers, and a small desk and chair with a laptop.
Like my old place, the layout of the apartment makes no sense at all. It's like the architect designed the frame of the entire building first then cut up the units on the inside at random. The living room and bedroom are ok, but the way to the kitchen is a long, slightly curved hall, lined with a counter but essentially dead space. Along these counters, Betty has perched three huge glass tanks holding one turtle each. They regard us with reptilian eyes as we walk past. The tanks smell musky and swampy.
I heave a huge sigh of relief when we leave the apartment to go walk around the lake. She takes the dog with us on a leash, of course, but at least outside it's less interested in me.
So even though I like her a lot, things with Betty move kind of slowly. For one, we're both super busy with school and work. For another, Betty can't be away from her place for more than a few hours at a time, because of the dog. She can't just drop everything at a moment's notice, or sleep over at my place.
But anyway we continue to hang out and talk on the phone whenever we have a chance. When I meet up with my opera friends for dinner at a nearby diner, I bring her along and introduce her to Suzanna, Lulu and Ariel. Betty is a little shy but gets along with them well enough, and they are all kind to her. Suzanna, sweetheart that she is, goes out of her way to chat with Betty and treat us like a long-established couple, not some random experiment.

In the middle of all this, I land my first job interview. I mean a real career job, not just something to cover the bills. I haven't quite finished my degree yet but my advisor encouraged me to apply for an opening that came up suddenly, so even though I don't really feel qualified, I go for it.
The interview is a nightmare. I have to fly out of state to interview in person, but right before I leave, the cold I've had for weeks turns into another sinus infection. The doctor gives me antibiotics but they make me so sick to my stomach that I stop taking them for the two days I'm traveling. I know this is a terrible idea, but I'm desperate. I can't be doubled over with stomach cramps in the middle of the interview.
In the middle of the night before the interview, I have a full-on panic attack in my hotel room. Even drugged up on cold medicine, I can't sleep. I spent hours in the bathroom, my vision of the white tile obscured by hallucinations of black spinning windmills as I nearly hyperventilate. A voice keeps repeating in my head, what am I doing here, I'm not qualified.
The next day at the interview, I'm bleary, slightly feverish, and coughing uncontrollably. The interviewers look at me with pity and disgust, then ask me a bunch of questions I can't answer. After the interview is over, I excuse myself to go to the toilet. I hear them loudly talking in the hallway just outside the bathroom about what a weak candidate I am and how there's no way they are going to make me an offer. I want to scream, "I can hear you, assholes!" but instead as I walk out into the hall, I paste a smile on my face and they look at me like they know I could hear them and they don't care.
"It was a long shot anyway," my advisor says with a shrug when I get back. "There will be other openings. Just wait."
It takes me another week to get over the infection, and weeks more before the coughing finally subsides.

Once I'm finally feeling a bit better, Betty offers to give me a massage. I can't think of anything nicer. She does this thing where she lays warm, smooth rocks on me and it feels great.
I'm really trying to relax and enjoy my time with her, but somehow it's like everything is just off whenever we're together. I always feel so on edge at her place, because that dog follows me around constantly, always trying to jam its gross nose in my hand or up my butt.
"He doesn't understand why you aren't being friendly with him," Betty says, sounding fed up and annoyed with me.
"I'm trying," I insist. After all, I'm letting it get near me, which is more than I do for most people's dogs.
Also there's the fact that she has no furniture. We watch episodes of Futurama together on DVD, but we have to sit on the floor of the living room, craning our necks up at the tiny TV sitting on one of the built-in shelves. I love that show but right now I'm just not getting into it.
I find myself being weirdly judgmental of her physical appearance in a way that I never would with a guy. I can't help but note that her figure isn't perfect--her boobs are kind of small, and her waist is kind of lumpy and undefined. I'm about ten pounds overweight, but she's a little heavier than I am. I love her bob haircut, but it's not as sharp as it could be. In my mind, I keep redoing it so it looks cuter. I try to stifle these thoughts, and never breathe a word of criticism to her. I know this is all just internalized sexism and projected inadequacy on my part. I'm disappointed in myself for even thinking these things, but the longer I'm with her, the less attracted I feel.
After several dates where we don't go beyond kissing or cuddling, she finally invites me to sleep over. Once again the dog follows me around, but at least it sleeps in a dog bed in her bedroom, not in the bed with her. At night the tanks of turtles are even creepier, with their eerily glowing UV lights and softly burbling filters. I hurriedly brush my teeth then get into bed with her.
Bed is a bit of an exaggeration. It's really a double futon laid directly on the hardwood floor, covered with pillows and blankets. It's like how Buttboy said, "I don't really have a bed, it's more like just a soft area." It's hard to believe that was almost ten years ago. Why am I still living like this?
So we lay down in the soft area, kissing and cuddling. She's curvy and soft and I like laying with her. It feels so sweet but also slightly naughty. But once again we don't go any further, and I start to feel like a fraud again. I should be going down on her, right? Or asking if she wants to do that for me? Somehow I just don't want to.
Even though our interactions are starting to feel increasingly tense, we still keep spending time together as a couple. Betty decides that it's time to introduce me to Madison, the little girl she babysits. We make a date, I go over to her house and she drives us both over to Madison's house to pick her up.
On the drive over, Betty says in a serious tone, "I have to tell you something."
"What?"
"Betty isn't my real name. I had it legally changed last year because my ex-boyfriend was stalking me. I got a restraining order against him but I had to be sure he couldn't find my new apartment or where I work or go to school, so I changed my name. But I had already been nannying for Madison since she was a baby and she was too young to understand that I needed to change my name. She's the only person who still uses my old name. So anyway don't be surprised if you hear her call me Jennifer."
She parallel parks in front of a Craftsman bungalow and hops out, while I remain in the passenger seat, my mind whirling. Jennifer? ex-boyfriend? stalker? I thought I was getting to know her, but she had left out some key details about her life. I mean, it's understandable why she didn't want to bring this up right away, and to be fair, I haven't told her anything about me being a devotee. We are both strangers to each other, more than we realized.
Betty comes back out of the house, holding the hand of a little blonde haired girl who's dressed in a grey parka, brown corduroy pants, and a somewhat ratty pink tutu.
"Lookit my tutu," she says to me, as Betty straps her into a carseat.
"Yes, yes, it's a very nice tutu," Betty says, then adds to me, "She insists on wearing it every day. She only lets her mother wash it once a week."
"Very nice," I say with a smile. I really don't know anything about kids. I'm never around them.
Madison just stares at me. "You're Jennifer's friend," she says flatly.
"Yes, she's my friend," Betty says with forced cheer. We decided in advance to tell Madison we are friends, a concept she understands, rather than trying to explain "girlfriend." Or whatever our relationship is.
"She's at the age where she asks a lot of questions," Betty had explained.
I'm fine with that. Sure enough, on the short drive to the park, Madison is a never-ending fountain of questions: why did Jennifer stop at the intersection? why did the other car go? why is the sun shining today? why is that car red? why? why? why?
At the park, Madison makes a beeline for the playground equipment, and we spend an hour watching her on the slide and monkey bars, then eating granola bars and dried fruit snacks at the picnic tables. With the kid always right there, I don't really have a chance to talk to Betty about any of what she just told me.
I have rehearsal in the evening, so I say goodbye to both Betty and Madison in the park and head back to my car.
The next evening I get an email from Betty.

I don't think this relationship is working out. You made me feel very unsafe with the way you reacted to me telling you about my ex-boyfriend. It was a really traumatic experience and I just need to concentrate on healing right now. I can't have anyone in my life who isn't validating me.

As I read the email, a horrible sinking feeling grows in my gut. Did she really just break up with me over email? What the hell? I knew things were not going great between us but I had no idea she was so upset. And what exactly did I say that upset her? I wrack my brain but can't come up with anything specific. Maybe I did say something insensitive. Or maybe she just isn't ready to be in a relationship yet.
I email her an apology, trying to sound supportive and not too defensive, even though I am a little irritated that she thinks so little of me. But I understand that she needs space, and I wish her well. Honestly, I'm kind of relieved it's over with her. Again I feel like a fraud, like I'm not attracted to girls enough to be in a serious relationship. I feel embarrassed that I introduced her to my friends, that I made them go along with my latest failed experiment. What am I even doing with my life?