Friday, July 30, 2010

Devo Diary Chapter 26

Skippy Boy Genius, part 1

August 2002

After Kevin dumps me ostensibly for having future career goals but really because he's a cowardly closet case, I spend some time moping about my apartment alone, binge reading the Bridget Jones series and eating cookies. But after a week of this I decide I've spent enough time feeling sorry for myself, especially over someone so inconsequential and incompatible. It's time to get back out there and start dating again.
The problem is who. All of the guys in my graduate program are either married or gay. I commiserate with Sarah, the one who lent me the Bridget Jones books. She was also recently dumped for good by her long term on-again off-again boyfriend Seamus. While she claims she could never marry him because they both have red hair and she doesn't want red-haired children, I know that secretly she really did feel like he was the only one for her. Also she is being forced out of our grad program due to some very unfair politicking. The stress of all this has caused her to lose a bunch of weight and now she's hotter than ever.
We try getting dressed up in our best tattered black and going to a goth club, and while we grind with a few guys on the dance floor, neither of us actually meets anyone. I was hoping for a repeat of how I met Patrick the Fireman, but it doesn't happen.
Since meeting someone by chance seems unlikely, we turn to internet dating. I haven't really tried personal ads in almost five years, and it's amazing how much has changed. Before, I had to craft a haiku-like print ad in the Raser City Weekly and hope for the best, but now there are photos and lengthy profiles online. The best ads are attached to the website, which is also one of the better sex-positive kink-friendly online magazines, so it seems like a good place to find sex-positive, kink-friendly people. After spending hours perusing the ads with Sarah in the graduate lounge on campus, I decide it's time to create one of my own.
After I lost my old camera while trying to take a picture with Rollerboy in the parking lot of Six Flags, I invested in a digital camera. This investment pays off now as I take hundreds of self-portraits around my apartment, trying to get the most flattering shot that doesn't also have a toilet in the background. I settle on one super close-up where I'm looking away. Somehow I fiddled with the settings enough to create a weird blue washed-out look that strikes me as artistic. Once I have the perfect photo, I spend hours crafting clever yet revealing answers to the prompts, hoping to attract just the right kind of intellectual, soulful nerd who can also make me laugh. For "Which celebrity do you most resemble" I put Judy Garland, not because I really look like her, but because I wish I looked like her, also for retro aesthetic value. Under "Career" I write, "I'm a superspy and can shoot lightening from my fingers." It sounds better than "thirty year old graduate student with no end in sight."
What I don't put is anything about being a devotee. What would be the point? It would only alienate any able bodied guys if I explained what it was. Meanwhile I scour each ad in hopes of finding someone with a disability, but come up empty. I look at every other personals site, trying to find the magic "disabled" filter that Dorie said netted her a date with a handsome para, but the profile filters must have changed already because I come up empty there too.
So Nerve it is. I title my ad "Lucky Lucky" and cross my fingers.
Over the next few days, responses trickle in. It's kind of exciting to even get a message. I start emailing with a bunch of guys, and give some of the more promising ones my phone number. I chat for an hour on the phone with one nerdy, artistic guy whose photo is not flattering, but I decide to give him a chance anyway. He gives me the URL of his blog where he has been posting his art.
"My art really means a lot to me," he explains earnestly. "You know, like, spiritually."
Later I look up his website. It's a collection of Star Wars fan art: soulful pictures of Yoda and Boba Fett awkwardly photoshopped against a starry sky. I burst out laughing. I love Star Wars as much as the next Gen Xer but come on, have some perspective about your "art." I feel this is one of the great advantages of internet dating, that he has revealed this aspect of himself before I wasted time meeting in person. I don't call him again.
Next, I exchange a few long emails with another guy who seems more intelligent and less lame. He's a filmmaker, and we talk about the classic and foreign movies we love. But he can't help bragging that he had a short film at Cannes a few years ago, and wrote the screenplay to a big budget action film that is currently in theaters. Of course I look up the films on IMDB, and right away I see his real full name and bio. His Nerve profile says he's thirty-four, but judging by when he graduated from film school, he has to be in his fifties.
When I confront him with this data over email, he gets defensive.
"Age is just a number," he whines. "But because of the filters in the personal ads, if I put my real age, women won't even see my profile. Why can't I have the chance to get to know someone first?"
"Age is more than just a number and you know it, otherwise you would be dating women your own age," I reply. "As for getting to know someone, the first thing I have learned about you is that you are dishonest. I have no interest in getting to know you further."
I block his email and move on.
One guy manages to keep it together long enough to progress from messaging to email to phone conversation to a real life date, without seeming like an irredeemable creep. His name is Franz. He's German but has lived in the US since he was a kid, so he barely has an accent. He's quite handsome--tall and blonde, but somehow we never move from small talk to anything physical. He's interesting enough; like everyone else these days he works in IT, and we have some common interests. Still, it's like that spark isn't quite there. Is it because he isn't disabled? Or am I being too quick to judge?
For a second date he takes me to a bar where trans women serve drinks and dance on the bar top for Midwestern tourists come to gawk at our sinful big city ways. This is not really my idea of a good time, but the show keeps us from having to talk to each other over dinner. Franz seems just as lukewarm about me as I feel about him, but even though this relationship is going nowhere fast, he can't seem to let go.
The next week he calls me while he's at the supermarket. Because I'm at home doing nothing, I sit there and listen to him wander the aisles and debate what to buy. Occasionally the conversation gets more interesting but any real topic quickly gets derailed by shopping. After an hour of this I put down the phone and wonder what the hell just happened. Is this all I can expect of internet dating, this noncommittal sort of nothing? Why is he even calling me? Is he really that insecure that he needs a random chick to keep him company over the phone while he does the weekly shopping? I decide to stop taking his calls.
Sarah and I comb through the ads more carefully, looking for any guy close to our age who seems remotely interesting. There's a guy with the screen name Tommy Crown who has a great photo and a ton of charisma, but based on his profile, he seems like an insufferable asshole. I resist contacting him, even though his name keeps popping up at the top of every search. Another guy has set his screen name as "Add to Cart." I think it's funny, but Sarah just sighs.
"It really just is online shopping," she says.
On Yahoo Personals, after an exhaustive search, I turn up one profile of a para dude. He's reasonably good looking in his photo, but he's more than ten years older than I am, and it's clear from what he wrote that we have absolutely nothing in common. Also he lives about two hours south of Raser City. He seems more mature than Rollerboy, but in every other way it feels like I would be making the same mistakes over again. I feel guilty about forcing myself on some unsuspecting para. For his sake, it's better if I just leave him alone. I look at his profile over and over, but eventually decide not to contact him.

Just as I am starting to feel like I will be single forever, Kara and Nam, my best friends from college, fly out to Raser City for a visit. My apartment is so tiny that I have to sleep on an air mattress in the living room while they sleep in my double bed, but it doesn't matter because we're all so happy to see each other again.
To scratch my dev itch since being dumped by Rollerboy, I have been reading Moving Violations, a memoir about life as a para. Nam sees it on my bedside table and picks it up himself, which surprises me because he's usually squeamish about anything disability related. My dev itch get scratched even more as I talk with him about all things SCI, comparing my experiences with Rollerboy with the book. So many of the stupid, insensitive things people said to us and the thousand tiny indignities are the same.
Kara, on the other hand, seems relieved that I'm not limited my dating pool to only disabled guys. "Keep all your options open," she urges me.
We spend most of our time together watching stupid movies or Star Trek reruns and riffing on them. We also spin out future plotlines for Betty DeLuxe, a fictional character we have been collaboratively writing over email for the past six years. Betty is a superspy on a series of bizarre, absurd adventures borrowed freely from X-Files, Dr Who, kung fu movies and any other nonsense we feel like adding, with a liberal dash of Lovecraftian mysticism, courtesy of Nam. Sometimes we even write our friends into the story as characters. We talk about someday rewriting it for actual publication, but as much fun as it is to write, it's probably too irredeemably silly for anyone else to read. But it doesn't matter. I love Kara and Nam, and I love writing with them. Their visit goes by far too quickly.

At the same time, I'm also busy with twice weekly rehearsals for The Marriage of Figaro with the Raser City Lyric Opera. I can still hardly believe my luck in being cast. There are only eight sopranos in the chorus including me, and most of them were vocal performance majors. I haven't been in a full staged production since high school. It feels like everyone has more experience than I do. Even though the chorus only sings a tiny bit, the director has given us a lot to do. To play up the comedy, he's given us all kinds of business onstage, and in the wedding chorus he has the women dance as we sing. I practice every day at home, exhilarated but also terrified I might make a mistake.
In spite of my nerves, every part of the process is thrilling to me, from rehearsing in the warehouse in a sketchy part of town to getting fitted for costumes and wigs to long Sunday afternoons practicing staging. Unlike the chorus I just quit, everyone in the Raser City Lyric Opera company is really friendly, even the leads, who are professional singers. The soprano who sings the part of Suzanna is especially nice, although I'm too much in awe of her to talk to her much. She's about my age, with long, springy corkscrew blond curls and blue eyes. She has a powerful voice that is clear as a bell, but unlike most divas who arrange themselves stiffly onstage to be admired, she throws herself into the comedy without the slightest embarrassment. All of the leads are so good in their parts. I'm practically pinching myself to be in such a high quality production.

Just as rehearsals move to four times a week, two things happen with my personal ad on Nerve. First, a new guy messages me and we hit it off right away. He's a fan of comics and sci fi and all the nerdy things I love, and he's into BDSM in a big way. I'm swooning by the time we move from messaging to talking on the phone. Second, a few days after the new guy contacts me, my profile gets selected to be a featured ad on Nerve, meaning my photo is on the front page of the website and all its affiliates for over a week.
Suddenly, I am flooded with messages. Not all of them are from guys who want to meet me either, some are just mean-spirited jokes and criticisms of my photo and profile. Seriously, do these guys really have nothing better to do with their time? I delete all the messages without answering, the good with the bad, because they are all too late. I have already met the one I have been waiting for.
The new guy's name is Skip. When I ask if this is his real name or a nickname, he just says, "I'm from the South."
We arrange to meet for the first time on the campus of Lester State University. I try not to think about the fact that he parks his car in exactly the same spot where I first met Rollerboy, and suggests going to the same restaurant. I instead recommend we sit outside instead, since it's such a nice day. We get drinks at the Starbucks on the corner then wander over to the building that houses my department, and climb up to sit on the grass embankment nearby. It's an odd little patch of green over a high retaining wall, so we are actually about five feet above the sidewalk. Sitting there on a sunny warm afternoon creates an oddly detached feeling, like we are watching everyone but not really part of the same world.
Skip is not that tall and kind of squarish shaped, but I think he's really cute. He has bleached his short hair a silvery blond and spiked it up, setting off his blue eyes. His teeth are a little crooked, with an underbite, which gives him a charming kind of bulldog expression. The way he smiles when he looks at me is heart-meltingly adorable. He's thirty-two, and just got divorced about a year ago (no kids, thank god). He and his wife moved to Raser City from Atlanta not too long ago, but he started getting seriously into the SM scene, and it just wasn't her thing. Eventually they realized they were sexually incompatible.
"It sucks when you split up over SM," he says. "I can't tell my family the real reason we got divorced. They thought she was great, and I'm just being an immature jerk. I can't tell my mother 'We split because she doesn't want to tie me up and spank my ass.'"
We talk more about our experiences with BDSM (experience level: moderate; we both want to do more), what toys we own, what we'd like to do. I start off talking about medical fetish things, how I still have a drawer full of casting materials given to me by Patrick the Fireman and never used. Then I spill my guts about the whole devotee thing, K, Rollerboy, Paradevo, all of it. I figure, why not? He understands kink, and we're both in a place where we don't want to hide who we really are anymore.
As it turns out, Skip has a fetish too--he's a furry. But because there's so much prejudice against furries, he never actually comes right out and says the word. Instead, he asks if I have ever been to Disney World.
"Yeah, once when I was a kid," I say.
"Well you know, almost all the people inside the costumes are women. Like Chip n Dale, those are totally women."
"How can you tell?"
"I don't know, some people who are into that kind of thing can tell it's a woman in the costume and they, like, look at photos of them online."
"I know, weird! Haha!"
To my shame, it's not until much, much later that I finally figure out that he is talking about himself. He is totally into mascot costumes, among other things.
Despite my so ineptly fumbling at taking in this veiled confession, he is not at all bothered by my own revelation about being a devotee.
"There is a fetish for everything you can possibly imagine," he tells me. "Popping balloons, sneezing, everything. Yours is no biggie."
Well, being a devotee does feel like a big deal to me, but I'm happy and relieved that I can share that part of myself with him and not be judged.
The conversation moves on from sex to comic books.
"I'm a huge fan of Daredevil," I say. "Because, you know, blind guys are my thing."
Skip laughs. "Daredevil is awesome!"
"I know, right? Best superhero ever! I read Born Again so many times. I used to read all the new issues when I was a kid. X-Men too. I used to go to the comic book shop every week when I was in high school, but I stopped reading when I was in college, I guess around 1994 or so."
"Well yeah, because Marvel was still good in the 1980s but in the 1990s they sucked. But you know, they've brought in a bunch of indie writers and it's getting good again. You should pick up the new run on Daredevil. I'll lend you my copies. You'll love it."
"Thanks, that would be great." I smile at him, buzzed on my soy chai latte. Just like that, three hours have passed, and as the late afternoon sun turns everything golden, my heart is overflowing with joy at sharing my greatest passions with this guy with spiky silvery hair who is obviously equally smitten with me.
Wanting to extend this moment and much as possible and share even more with him, and ok, to impress him as well, I tell him all about Betty DeLuxe, the story I am writing with Nam and Kara. It doesn't occur to me that this is something private, more along the lines of an in-joke, a shared fantasy and alter-ego, that should not be opened to just anyone. But I can't help myself. I want him to inhabit this fantasy with me, and he does. He gets it immediately, riffing on the same b-movie tropes.
I spin out the image of Betty DeLuxe, superspy, with her red hair in pigtails and wearing a skin-tight red leather catsuit. I don't have to say it, but he gets that Betty is me-- not the nerdy, frumpy grad student I really am, but the glorious avatar I aspire to, equal parts silly and sexy. In the story, Betty has a girl sidekick named Lacuna Exposition, but it seems to me there is room for another sidekick.
"You could be Skippy, Boy Genius!" I blurt out.
He tilts his head down and looks up at me with puppy dog eyes. "But I'm not a genius," he says with a trace of embarrassment. "I never even went to college." Then he puts on a Forrest Gump voice and says, "I'm not a smart man."
I wave my hand. "Of course you're smart, what are you talking about? Anyway it's just a character. Betty's a kind of 'shoot first ask questions later' type, so she needs a boy genius to help with the details. All the best characters have a boy sidekick."
"Sure, ok." He gives me that winning, bulldog smile.
As much as I want to tie him down and make him beg for mercy right then and there, I restrain myself. After all, we only just met. I walk him back to his car and we promise to meet again soon. Just as he's about to get in the car, he suddenly leans in and kisses me, a hot, hungry kiss right on the mouth. A second later, he pulls back.
"Ok, I better go while I still can," he laughs.
"Ok, bye." I stand on the sidewalk waving, feeling like I've just been shot with a bolt of electricity.
A few days later, we go out for dinner, to my favorite Korean restaurant. Skip spent seven years in the army, part of the time stationed in South Korea, instead of going to college. He was in an artillery unit, which according to him was mostly about studying weather patterns, to figure out how wind would affect the trajectory. It turns out we were both in Korea at the same time, although in very different places, of course. We spend a long time over dinner reminiscing about our time there.
After dinner, he takes me back to his apartment. He lives in a gorgeous, super mod high rise right downtown, the 25th floor with an amazing view. It's a smallish studio he moved into after the divorce, and it's packed with comics and sci fi figurines, toys, posters and all kinds of cool junk. In a small glass bowl is a betta fish that he got for company. He named it Eric the Fish, after the Monty Python sketch.
On the wall is a huge poster of Wonder Woman stepping on Batman's face, a close-up of her boot crushing him as he grimaces. It's amazing.
Skip gestures at the poster with a trace of embarrassment. "I used to have that up in my cubicle at work. I got a lot of funny looks for that."
"No way, that's awesome!"
The poster gives me an idea. I take out my digital camera and take some pictures of him lying on the floor with me stepping on his face with my bare foot. I want to send the pictures to Kara and Nam with the caption, "My new boyfriend!"
Skip shows me some of the SM gear he has. I put leather cuffs on his wrists and spank him a bit but neither of us is up for a big scene yet, so we just end up having vanilla sex, because we can't keep our hands off each other.
Afterwards, as we're lolling around in his bed, he suddenly turns all serious and says, "I have to tell you something."
"Oh no, what?" My heart stops for a second. This can't be anything good.
Looking very unhappy, he confesses, "I've been laid off of work."
"That's it? Oh my god, you had me all worried. I thought it was something serious."
"This is serious. As of next week, I'll be unemployed. I can't pay the rent on this place, so I have to move out at the end of the month. I'm looking for another job but it's really hard without a college degree. I don't know what I'm going to do."
I wave my hand airily. "I'm sure you'll find something." His soon to be ex job is in web design. There are a million IT jobs in Raser City, and if he found one, he must be able to find another.
But he still looks miserable. "I actually found out a little while before we met in person, but I was afraid if I told you, you wouldn't want to meet me."
I sit up on one elbow so I can look him right in the eye. "It doesn't matter to me. Why would you even think that?"
"Most women don't want to date a deadbeat with no money."
"Well, I'm not most women. I seriously don't care. I'm working on my own career. I'm not looking for a man to support me. And besides, you're not a deadbeat. I'm sure you'll find something soon."
Skip blinks up at me as if he can hardly believe his ears, relief flooding his face. "You really don't care?"
I roll over on top of him, wrapping my arms around him tightly. "I think you're awesome."
"I think you're awesome too."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Devo Diary Chapter 27

Skippy Boy Genius part 2

September 2002

I can't believe my luck in meeting Skippy, Boy Genius. I feel like my fictional character, Betty DeLuxe, come to life. He's perfect for me. Here I thought that I should be looking for a disabled guy, but finding someone just as kinky as I am is even better. We can create any kind of role play--I can tie him up or blindfold him and pretend he is disabled without feeling guilty or ashamed. Just the thought of all the things I want to do with him is so exciting that I can't sleep. I mean I literally can't sleep. Each night I drift off only to wake up a few hours later, my mind racing with sexual energy. The first few days it's intoxicating, but after two weeks, I'm exhausted, burned out already and we haven't even done that much yet.
So far we've mostly been having vanilla sex, because we're both so wound up, we can't wait for the release. SM is all about building tension and teasing, and we already have plenty of that.
He comes over to my apartment when I'm just lounging around, wearing a light blue fleece sweatshirt. He snuggles up to me on the couch.
"Are you trying to drive me crazy?" he asks, rubbing his face on my chest.
For a minute I'm confused. I'm just in pajamas. Why is he acting like I'm in sexy lingerie? Oh right, the furry thing, I had forgotten about that. I put on the fleece for comfort, not to wind him up, but I love the idea that he's more turned on by a sweatshirt than by lacy panties.
Skip is still a bit embarrassed to open up about all his kinks, but I'm slowly putting it together. He's into fuzzy fabrics like fleece, but also vinyl and latex. He's really into mascot costumes, I guess because it restricts movement and is so oversized and clumsy. Or really any kind of restricting outfit, like corsets and boots, mostly on women. He talks about getting a mascot costume for me to wear. I'm not crazy about that idea, but since neither of us has any money, that seems a long way off.
My fantasies are a lot easier and more low-budget to enact, so we do that first. I buy some band-aid type stick-on eye patches at the drug store to use on him. These have the advantage of looking like medical devices and also stay put during sex, unlike blindfolds which inevitably slip off or gape at the bottom. I paste the patches over both his eyes and pretend he's really blind. We have sex in the usual way (already super hot), but this is only the start of what I have planned.
After sex, we both fall asleep, but I leave the patches on him. In the morning when he wakes up, he's still blind. Just watching him feel around for me in the bed turns me on. He asks to take the patches off but I say no. I lead him to my little table in the living room and make him wait while I make breakfast. I serve him tea and toast, watching as he feels the side of the plate, then the rough surface of the bread before putting it in his mouth. My heart starts racing. I want to keep him like this all day, to take him out for lunch at a restaurant with the blindfold still on. Just the thought of going out in public like this makes me feel flush, almost dizzy with excitement.
Except he's really not into it. Every few minutes he's asking to take the patches off. I tell him no in my best Mistress voice and he plays along until the start of breakfast, when he finally gets fed up and tears them off, taking some of his eyebrows with them.
"Come on, can't we play just a little longer?" I whine.
"No, this is too annoying."
My heart sinks a bit. I thought he was up for more extreme, long term role playing, but maybe not yet. We can work up to it.
It's ok, because unlike with Rollerboy we have more than just sex in common. As promised, Skip lends me a big stack of Daredevil comics starting with the Bendis and Maleev run. I'm blown away by how good it is, not just the storytelling, but the art as well. It's not the stiff old cartoony style, but more realistic and artistic. Matt Murdock looks sexy as hell, with his flat, scarred over blue eyes. Most artists don't know how to draw him differently than any sighted person, but Maleev really makes him look blind, from the scarred eyes to the way he holds his head and uses his hands. I read each volume over and over, and when I finish, I go to my local comic book store for the first time in years and get the latest issues. My devotee obsession kicks into high gear, and I can't get enough. Because my insomnia doesn't let up even when Skip is sleeping over, I crawl out of bed in the middle of the night to re-read more issues.
Selfishly, I'm loving the fact that Skip is between jobs right now, because it means he has tons of free time. We hang out together all the time, although he is not too impressed with my converted garage basement apartment. He points out the large pipe running vertically along one corner of the bedroom.
"You know that's for the toilet upstairs, right?"
I didn't know. I chose this apartment for a relationship I no longer have, but now I'm stuck here at least for a while longer while I complete my graduate degree. The Pakistani family upstairs still wakes up at seven each morning, which is a drag when Skip and I up until 2 am talking about the X-Men or writing Betty DeLuxe stories together.
I introduce Skippy Boy Genius to my writing partners Kara and Nam over email. Skip seems to be warming up to the designation I gave him, and he's really into our collective story. Soon he's contributing new chapters, which we write exquisite corpse style, with each one of us taking a turn over email. Nam seems really happy to have a new collaborator, and I'm thrilled that Skip is hanging out online with my oldest friends.
Sarah approves of Skip as well, because he is a Buffy fan. Coincidentally, Sarah has recently started dating someone she met on Nerve as well, a Mexican-American guy named Brian. He's ok, I guess. He's the whitest Latino guy I have ever met, and I'm not just talking about his appearance. He's super straight laced and uptight, but Sarah seems really into him. He's a big sci fi nerd like the rest of us, so we all get along. The four of us go on a double date to a Bruce Campbell book signing. The crowd is raucous and lively. It's so much fun to get swept up in the ecstasy of fandom with Skip and Sarah. Rollerboy would never have wanted to go to an event like that. Sarah was right, common interests really do matter.
When Skip has to move out of his fancy high-rise apartment, I help him out by letting him stash a bunch of his stuff temporarily at my place, including Eric the Fish. Skip seems very attached to the betta fish in its tiny bowl, and I'm excited to take care of the little creature.
"Just give him some fish flakes and change the water every few days," Skip says as he drops it off.
I dutifully change the water on the third day, feeling that I am doing something good by giving Eric the Fish nice fresh water. But soon his scales start turning white and sloughing off and within two days the fish is dead. I'm horrified.
To his credit, when I tell Skip, he doesn't get angry or blame me. He just seems really sad, which is almost worse. Apparently really is my fault for not letting the fresh water sit to allow the chlorine to dissipate. But Skip never told me! How was I supposed to know? I feel terrible. And somehow, I feel like this is a ominous sign for our relationship.

In the week before my debut performance with the Raser City Lyric Opera in the pivotal role of soprano chorus girl #6 in The Marriage of Figaro, the entire company including sets and costumes loads into the theater and we have rehearsals every night. For the first time, I get to see the entire show--all the leads, the costumes and wigs, the props and the set, and the full orchestra. The wigs are a bit ratty looking but the costumes are gorgeous and the leads are all fantastic, especially the young soprano singing the role of Suzanna. We're in one of the biggest theaters right downtown. Everything about it is exciting, from signing in at the stage door to the dressing rooms with the banks of mirrors with lights around them, to the feeling of standing on stage, looking out at the rows of seats. Every day I arrive extra early to have plenty of time to put on my costume, do my hair and makeup and hang out with the other women in the chorus dressing room. In between our time on stage, we go back to the dressing room for more chatting or eat junk food in the green room. When the Countess sings "Porgi amor" we listen over the monitors and sing along with her.
I get two comp tickets for opening night, and give one to Skip and one to Sarah. A few days before opening, Skip says to me, "Someone in your opera is in the Sub Rosa Society. They put the performance dates on the calendar of events."
The Sub Rosa Society is a local BDSM organization. I haven't been to a Sub Rosa event yet, but Skip has. It's something we've been planning to do together eventually. We both have a good laugh over Figaro being promoted as a BDSM event.
But now I'm really curious about who in the company could have gotten us on the Sub Rosa calendar. I ask around among the chorus women, but no one knows. The chorus men are in a separate dressing room, so I haven't really gotten to know them yet. The only one I know is Brenno, my baritone friend who I know from my old chorus.
"Try asking Ron," he suggests. Ron is a middle-aged bear with full sleeve tattoos, gold hoop earrings like a pirate, and a handlebar mustache--a big barrel-chested guy with a high tenor voice. He seems a likely candidate.
I corner Ron during a dress rehearsal. "Are you in the Sub Rosa Society?"
He giggles good-naturedly. "No! Everyone always assumes I'm into the kink scene, but I'm not at all."
I'm so embarrassed about stereotyping him but he doesn't seem to mind. At least he knows what I'm talking about without any explanation. "So who put our show on their events calendar?"
"Oh, that was Marty. He's the Sub Rosa director."
"You're kidding!" I had no idea we had such an exalted society member here in the ranks of the Figaro chorus. You could not have picked a less likely figure. Marty is extremely tall but bulky and ungainly, with unkempt curly gray hair--an IT nerd with little grace or fashion sense. I'm pretty sure Marty and Brenno are the only straight men in the entire company.
As I'm talking to Ron, Marty happens walk by, half dressed in his costume, his billowy white shirt open to reveal a very hairy chest.
"Hey," Ron calls out, waving him over. "Did you put Figaro on the Sub Rosa events calendar?"
Marty lopes over with a goofy, friendly laugh. "Yeah, that was me! It's my first show, so I wanted to make sure everyone knows about it."
He thinks it's funny that I'm the one who noticed the listing, because he would not have guessed I'm a kinkster either. But he knows Skip from some Sub Rosa events, and vouches for him as a great guy. "You two have to come to our next play party," he enthuses. It's so cool to get a personal invite from the director like this, but so strange and unexpected that my two worlds have collided in this way.

I'm still a little nervous on opening night, but everything goes smoothly. At the start of Act II, I run into the conductor in the green room.
"Hey," he says, "You're really good. Be sure to come back for the next show."
"Really?" I squeak. I'm stunned. I still feel very keenly that I am the least experienced person in the cast, and my main job is not to mess up so badly that I stand out.
"Yeah! You look good on stage and you're the only one who actually remembered all the stage directions the first time. Next show is going to be some Wagner monstrosity, so we'll need as many good people in the chorus as we can get."
I'm beyond pleased. Suck it, former chorus director promising me a solo then pretending to forget and giving it to someone else, and telling me I'm not attractive enough to play a diva.
After opening night, Skip comes backstage to meet me. We take photos together with me still in my costume, and Marty looming over both of us grinning. It's a photo of pure happiness.

In the second week of the Figaro run, my parents come to town to see the show. It seems a bit excessive that they would fly all the way across the country to see me in a tiny chorus part, but I'm glad they are excited for me.
I debate what to tell them about Skip, and consider not telling them at all, but I don't want things to be like before with Rollerboy, where I didn't mention him for almost a year. And I'm worried Skip will think something is wrong if I hide him from my parents. Besides, I think they will like him. So I tell them, but with multiple warnings that this is not someone "special," as my mother would say, which is code for future son-in-law. I repeat several times that the relationship is just starting, and I don't know yet if it will work out.
"Ok, I get the message," Mom says.
I take them to lunch at a hipster diner downtown on Saturday afternoon, and as arranged, Skip meets us there. My mother does not say anything about him being a shaygetz; I'm pretty sure she's just relieved he can walk.
The introductions and small talk go just fine, because Skip is a friendly, charming guy. After the food comes, though, my mother and I fall into a deep discussion of the movie we saw together the night before, Possession, which is exactly the kind of slow-moving, talky, intellectual historical drama we both enjoy. Also we both read the book a few years back, so there's a lot to discuss and compare. The conversation goes on for a long time before I realize Skip is kind of zoned out. I try to move on to more general topics but it's too late; he doesn't really engage.
The lunch goes politely enough but later when Skip and I are alone, he says, "That was kind of intense."
"You and your mom, it's like all this intellectual talk. I can't keep up."
"Come on, it's not that bad."
"And like the opera and grad school and everything. Why do you want to hang around with a dummy like me?"
Ugh, not this again! It feels like Patrick the Fireman all over again. "Stop it! You're not dumb."
He just sighs and doesn't say anything more.

October 2002

Skip still hasn't found a new job. One prospect comes up, but he turns it down because the salary is too low. When I ask the amount, he names a figure twice the starting salary in my field. I think he's being awfully high and mighty for someone without a college degree, and in a job for which he--by his own admission--has no special training. Seriously, how is a web designer getting paid so much? Whatever, he's still collecting unemployment, so it's not a big deal yet.
I am still enjoying how much free time he has to hang out with me, but I don't love his new living arrangement. He went from a glam high rise right in the middle of downtown to a run-down 1970s era hippie shack shared with two other people in a neighborhood called Outer Reach Beach, which is exactly the opposite side of the city from where I live. It takes over an hour to drive there, longer if traffic is bad. His roommates are a hetero couple, both very nice, flaky artist types. While they are friendly to me, I feel awkward staying over, and there seems to be an unspoken agreement that we should keep sleepovers to a minimum. The apartment has a big open living room and kitchen, but Skip's bedroom is tiny, and crammed with all his stuff. The gabled roof creates a sloped ceiling over the bed, making the room feel even more claustrophobic. When I leave at midnight, my car, parked across the street from the beach, is crusted and sticky from salt water and sand in the humid air.
But we still have fun. One Saturday night we go out to a club event run jointly by the Sub Rosa Society and some local artists and performers. There's a stage set up in the middle of the dance floor, and the show is amazing--acrobats sliding up and down ribbons suspended from the ceiling, sword swallowers and fire eaters, and a guy who suspends himself from hooks piercing his back. The last act is a group of bellydancers holding votive candles in glass jars as they dance, the tiny flames flickering as they smoothly rotate around and around, as if their joints were all set on spheres. It's magical and I'm so happy to be there with him. I would never have known about this event if Skip hadn't invited me.

I've been reading up more on BDSM, trying to improve my skills. I buy a few books, but there are also a lot more websites than when I first started exploring a few years back. While looking at sites that give tips on DIY bondage gear and other practical information, I find myself clicking over to sites about kinks and fetishes of all kinds. I had no idea there were people turned on by things like popping balloons or sneezing. It makes my interests seem so much less weird and embarrassing than I always thought. In a way, it's deeply comforting to know how many other people there are with all kinds of kinks, for things I would never have imagined. I used to tell myself I could never, ever tell anyone about my attraction to disabled guys. I would have to keep it a secret forever. Now it's been a few years since I started being more open about it, but for the first time I really feel like it's not such a huge deal, that I'm not a crazy pervert weirdo. As I read more kink message board posts and pained advice letters, I notice a trend--so many guys keep their interests secret until they get married to vanilla women, then want to know how they can trick, plead or guilt their wives into indulging their balloon popping or sneezing fetish or whatever. It seems so sad to me. I swear I will never keep my devness a secret to a partner again.
It also helps to meet other kinky people. Skip takes me to a party thrown by some people he has met in the BDSM scene, all in their twenties and living together in a huge old Victorian house. The star of the party is a cute furry girl. She and Skip compare notes on their favorite fabrics, and she shows us a pile of her fake and real furs. Everyone wants to know more about what turns her on. It doesn't feel gross or voyeuristic, just like the others are genuinely curious. She's so happy and enthusiastic about her kinks, she makes it seem fun and cool, rather than gross and weird. For the first time I'm really seeing what it means to be kink positive.

In order to play more effectively with Skip, I upgrade my bondage gear. I realize the nylon pantyhose I used as makeshift rope on Buttboy will not cut it, and the real cop handcuffs Ewan gave me are uncomfortable and dangerous. I invest in a set of leather cuff restraints, a ball gag, nylon rope, and a riding crop. I take the crop with me when I go out with Skip to the clubs, then use it on him when we come back to my place.
I feel like he is a natural sub. The way he puts his head down and looks to the side when I'm tying him up or flogging him drives me wild. Guys who are not into BDSM always worry that I might attack them out of nowhere, but nothing could be further from the truth. There is no fun in an unwilling partner. But a guy who is truly a sub, who gets off on being told what to do and who feels pleasure in pain, that is rare and oh so sexy.
"I'm not a sub," he says, "I'm a switch," meaning he likes being both dominant and submissive.
"You are a sub," I insist. "I can see it."
He rolls his eyes.

Skip and I go to another event organized by the Sub Rosa Society, a special screening of this new film called Secretary. I don't really know anything about it, but Marty sends me a personal invite via email, so I book our tickets right away. The movie theater is the least glamorous venue possible, a small, second run multiplex in a half empty high rise at the edge of downtown. The lobby is filled with Society members, some dressed in full-on fetish gear, even though it's 2 pm on a Saturday. I feel very ordinary in my jeans and sweater. I just have time to wave hello to Marty from across the crowd, then it's time to go in.
Every seat is sold out, so Skip and I barely manage to snag two seats together along the side toward the back of the theater. I try to stifle my annoyance at our terrible seats and concentrate on the film, which is actually really good. I get swept up in the narrative right away.
About thirty minutes into the film, just as James Spader is starting to put the dom moves on Maggie Gyllenhaal, I hear this weird buzzing sound off to my left. At first I'm not sure if it's my imagination or what. I try to ignore it but during the quieter scenes it's unmistakable. I squirm around to look. Skip is sitting to my left, and next to him is a dowdy middle aged couple. The wife is wearing a dog collar, and I glimpse the husband putting his hand between her thighs. I look away as fast as I can.
"Hey," I elbow Skip, with my eyes trained firmly on screen. "Tell them to knock it off."
"No!" he hisses back at me. "This is a Sub Rosa Society event. They can do whatever they want. Just deal!"
This surprises me, but I don't want to miss any more of the movie. I do my best to tune it out, but the buzzing and heavy breathing and squirming go on for a long time.
The next week, I see Marty again at rehearsal. He asks me how I liked the event, with his usual goofy good-natured grin.
"So are we going to see you and your guy at more events?" he asks.
"Ah, I don't know. I really liked the movie but I felt kind of uncomfortable," I admit.
"Why? What happened?"
"Ugh, there was this couple sitting next to us masturbating with a vibrator the whole time."
"You're kidding! Why didn't you tell me? I would have kicked them right out."
"Really? Skip said it was fine. Afterwards he said I need to be ok with that kind of thing if I want to go to more events."
"No!" Marty looks genuinely pissed off. "That's not true at all! I wish you had told me. I would never have allowed that."
"Uh...ok. But don't you also have, like, sex parties?"
"Well yeah." The goofy grin returns. "But this wasn't a play party. It was just a movie, and that was totally inappropriate. Seriously, we want everyone to feel comfortable at all our events."
I feel vindicated, and I wish I had said something at the time. It's good to know Skip isn't as much of an authority on the Society as he claims. I promise to start attending more events.

Less than a month after the final performance of Figaro, I am back to twice weekly rehearsals for Lohengrin, the next Raser City Lyric Opera production. It's fun to be in rehearsals again, especially now that I've made some friends in the company, but it's hard to get excited for the show itself. We're doing a full on medieval setting, but the staging is so stiff and boring, and that stupid wedding march is so hackneyed it's almost embarrassing to sing with real words. Not to mention that I'm half afraid my parents will disown me for appearing in a proto-Nazi opera. Wagner was always forbidden at our house when I was a kid.
But as promised, the chorus this time around is a lot bigger, including some cool new girls in the soprano section. I also discover one of the older men in the bass section lives just a few blocks away from me, so we have been carpooling together. He's in his early fifties with a big bushy beard and a pot belly, a former cab driver now self-employed as a gardener and part-time poet. He's lived in Raser City a long time but he's originally an East Coast Jew like me so we hit it off right away. Commuting with him is fun--the minute I get in his truck he starts talking, which I assume is the cabbie in him. He even wears a flat cap like a cabbie.
It's so easy to open up to him, and not just because he talks a lot. He tells me all about his dating life, the woman he loved for twenty years but just couldn't marry. When they were together, sparks flew but they just couldn't stop fighting. He's been seeing other women off and on but no one else even comes close.
In return, I tell him all about Skip, not just the gooey romantic stuff but all about the kinky parts too.
"I gotta say, kiddo, he sounds like bad news to me," the gardener warns me.
I get instantly defensive. "Why? Because he's into the fetish scene? There's nothing wrong with that. Actually I think it's a more healthy way to work out our aggressions."
"No, not that. You're thinking long term but he's still on the rebound from his divorce."
"You're wrong!" I insist. "He told me he loves me! And besides, he already had his rebound relationship last summer before we met. He told me all about it."
"Uh huh." The gardener stares out the windshield at the traffic zooming around us on the freeway, then changes the subject.
I don't care what he says, this relationship with Skip is the best I've had in a long time. Maybe ever. There's just one problem, though, and it has nothing to do with BDSM or his divorce. It's my career. I've been coasting along in my graduate program, but now I'm supposed to be applying for internships overseas. I could be gone for a year or more. I had been looking forward to travel but now the thought just depresses me. I don't want to be apart for so long, but I can't give up this opportunity entirely for a relationship that is just starting. After a lot of soul-searching and negotiating with my advisor, I decide to apply for a six month trip. I can still have the internship experience, but Skip and I won't have to break up over it. Our relationship could withstand us being apart for just a few months. Maybe Skip would even come with me, or visit for part of the time. But I don't tell him about these plans, not after what happened with Buttboy, who got my hopes up by casually promising to come with me then admitting he never meant it seriously. And I don't want a repeat of Kevin, who told me after one month that he couldn't keep seeing me because I might move away in a few years. Only crazy people make long term career plans based on a relationship that is only a few weeks along. I'm hoping that if I wait to mention it to him later, I can plan for our future together but still appear casual and relaxed about everything right now.
 I file an application for a short term trip and hope for the best.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Devo Diary Chapter 28

Skippy Boy Genius part 3

October 2002

Skip and I make plans to go to the Raser City Halloween parade with his flaky artist roommates. The parade is a big event every year but it's been forever since I've gone. I used to go with my Ren Faire friends but since we all drifted apart, or rather, since I let all my friendships and interests lapse while I was with Rollerboy, I haven't gone to events like that. Besides, I always borrowed costumes from them. The only costume I have now is the vinyl nurse outfit I bought early on in my relationship with Rollerboy, back when we were still experimenting and things were fun. I've never worn it out of the house, because it's so short that my ass hangs out the back, but I put on a double layer of white tights that are opaque enough to be like leggings, and I figure it's ok.
The parade is fun but overwhelming. We walk and walk in a huge mass, carried along in a crowd dressed in fetish gear, as anime characters, as giant insects and aliens, while people in the apartments along the street above us party on their balconies. After midnight, as the crowd thins slightly, there's a scuffle up ahead of us and we decide to duck out, but as we're running by, we see a knife dropped in the street. Skip seems more freaked out by this than I am. I'm just happy to be out doing things again, instead of hanging around a mall or watching TV all weekend like with Rollerboy.

Nov 2002

Skip has a new job, finally. He complains about the pay cut, but I guess his unemployment has run out and he realizes he can't be picky. Whatever, his starting salary is still higher than mine will ever be. He shows me around his new office downtown, where he's doing web design for a direct-marketing company that sells electronic gadgets, the kind of things you might see in Skymall magazine.
Our hangout time is now curtailed to weekends only, which is a bit sad for me. But I am glad he found something, because he was starting to get kind of depressed and cranky. Hopefully his mood will improve now.
His silvery spiky hair has grown out, looking a bit darker at the roots. He wants to get it dyed again but money is still tight, since his first paycheck hasn't come yet.
"Why do you need it dyed? It looks fine to me," I say.
"My hair is not naturally this color," he points out, as if talking to a child.
"What are you talking about?" The truth is I had never even considered that--it seems so quintessentially him. So cute and endearing, like his dimples and bulldoggy underbite.
"My hair is brown," he says.
"No, it's blond," I insist.
He looks at me like I'm crazy. "It's brown." He pulls out an old photo, from when he was still married, and shows me. He has an ordinary guy haircut, with straight light brown hair--he's almost unrecognizable. It's hard to believe it's the same guy.
"You look better as a blond. If you don't want to pay for a salon, I can bleach it for you," I offer. Rollerboy had naturally blondish hair but he lightened it with the kind of cheap drugstore peroxide high school girls use, and I used to help him apply it. How hard could it be?
Skip agrees, so we buy the lightest color of blond we can find at the drugstore. He sits on a chair in my kitchen while I slather it all over his head. The whole time I'm doing this, he's doubting that it will look right, and I'm brushing off his doubts. Bleach is bleach, right? It will make his hair lighter.
When we rinse it out though, his hair has gone a bright yellow.
"Agh! What the hell is this!" he freaks out in front of my bathroom mirror.
I admit it's not what I was expecting, and not as cool as his previous silvery white look, but I don't think it's that bad. "Come on, it's ok."
"I look like a fucking baby chick!"
I feel extremely guilty for all this, but at the same time I think he's overreacting.
"I could put some light brown over it to make it look more natural," I offer, but he's done with my amateur styling. After repeated reassurance that he looks fine, he seems to get used to it after a few days.
Undeterred by this near-fiasco, I decide to try dying my own shoulder-length dark brown hair. I still have a Betty Page cut and I've been trying off and on over the years to make it jet black, but the dyes I have used only darken it very slightly, almost imperceptibly. I try instead to go in the opposite direction--a mahogany red sounds nice. I get a reddish box from the drugstore, figuring that the color will be muted because my hair is so dark. But this too contains peroxide, as I discover too late. When I rinse it out, my hair has gone bright, artificial red. Like Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis. Except unlike her, I have thick black eyebrows and heavy dark features, which jump out hideously against the Technicolor red. I take one look at myself and rush back to the store for a brown dye. After a second dye, my hair is back to almost exactly its natural color. It's a relief, but I feel profoundly stupid. Why did I go to all this trouble to end up back where I started? Maybe I should have taken a risk and tried the red for a few days? I decide not to tell anyone what I have done, not even Skip.

Skip invites me to go to the Raser City Street Fair with him. I'm excited to go, in part because the number of times we have gone out to events has dropped sharply since he started working. Lately, whenever I go over to his place on the weekend, he expects me to sit on the couch and watch him play some new video game called Grand Theft Auto.
"It's like a whole new gaming experience! Each scene is so detailed you can just sit and watch it like a movie," he says hopefully.
"Uh huh."
"And look, there are real radio stations in the car. Even NPR!"
I zone out listening to Terry Gross as Skip murders and robs his way through the game, which I can tell you is not even remotely as interesting as watching a movie.
So I'm excited to go to the street fair, instead of yet another weekend spent watching video games. Skip's roommates are even more excited. I arrive in the late morning at their place so we can all take the bus downtown together. They are the kind of people who spend the entire year getting ready for Burning Man, and they are going all out on costumes for the fair. They declare my jeans and t-shirt too boring, and give me a quick makeover. I find myself in a tight, skimpy miniskirt and jacket made of shiny green spandex edged with fake fur, with riot grrl pigtails and mirrored sunglasses. The only shoes that will fit me though are a pair of platform flip-flops. I feel super cool, like Betty DeLuxe. We take a bunch of photos of ourselves clowning around, me making fake guns with my fingers, then head out to the fair in high spirits.
Experiencing the fair mainly involves walking slowly through massive crowds of people, which is fine for the first few hours. We strut about, eat sausages and cotton candy and fried dough, stare at the ugly and overpriced art until it starts to seem strangely appealing. The weather is gorgeous--a warm, sunny West Coast day. I don't even notice that I'm wearing almost nothing.
But as the sun dips in the late afternoon, I suddenly start to feel really cold, and my feet are killing me from wearing someone else's shoes. I suggest to Skip that it's time to go home. We've gotten separated from his roommates in the crowd, but it's ok. We hop on a bus and head back.
By this point, the sun is setting, the evening breeze off the water has picked up, and Outer Reach Beach is getting really cold. We trot back from the bus stop as fast as we can. I'm dying for a sweater and a bathroom.
We clatter up the outside steps to his front door. Skip rattles the doorknob then turns to me.
"Uh, I didn't bring my keys."
"We all left together. I guess I didn't think about it."
"So call them!"
He has his phone at least, thank god. Skip makes a quick call to his roommates then hangs up.
"They're at a bar," he says apologetically, sitting on the doorstep and looking like he's getting ready to settle in for a long wait.
"No! I'm freezing my ass off! Tell them to come home now!"
"Why should they cut their evening short? They'll get here when they get here," he says grimly.
I can't fucking believe this. How could he leave the house without his keys? And why can't he tell them to come home and let us in already? Are we supposed to just freeze out here until his roommates decide they're ready to call it a night? I'm so pissed at Skip, not just for being careless, but for insisting that my well-being is less important than his roommates' leisurely bar-hopping. It feels like the screening of Secretary all over again, where I'm supposed to just endure whatever bullshit rather than risk inconveniencing someone else even slightly.
It takes almost two hours for Skip's roommates to return, during which time I share most of these thoughts with him. When they finally return, I dash to the bathroom then back to his bedroom. Once I'm back in my own clothes and warmed up, I'm ready to put this whole mess behind me, but evidently Skip is not.
"What the fuck was that?" he glares at me as we are both huddled on his bed, since the gabled roof does not afford enough space to sit upright.
"What do you mean? You're the one who forgot your keys."
"Yeah, but that princessy fit you threw was not ok. Honestly, I'm just about ready to run out the door right now."
I can't believe I'm hearing this. He fucked up and now he's threatening to break up with me because I got annoyed. Before I can get really defensive, panic sets in. Is he really serious? Does he actually want to break up over this? He seems serious. I really don't want to lose him! And it's not the first time I've been accused of acting like a princess. The more mature thing to do would have been to just wait quietly without complaining. I guess he is right. Shit! What is wrong with me?
I spend the next four hours apologizing and pleading with him not to break up with me, feeling deeply ashamed and terrified that this amazing, super hot relationship could end so quickly. I really love him! What the fuck is going on?
In the end he grudgingly accepts my apologies and we fall into an exhausted sleep, well past midnight. I feel like utter crap.
After this fight, we can't seem to get back to the fun times we had at first. We go to see the latest Harry Potter movie together, but as we are waiting in a long line at the multiplex, I give him my hat and gloves to hold for a minute, and somehow he loses one of my gloves. Despite my promise to him (and to myself) to be less princessy, I can't help but be upset over the lost glove. I mean, I really liked that pair of gloves. He doesn't even apologize.
When we first got together, we couldn't keep our hands off each other, but now he seems a lot less interested in sex. My sex drive is still as high as ever, but he's just not into it like he used to be. One evening he sleeps over at my place, but that's all he wants to do, just sleep. As we're lying in bed together, I pull off my t-shirt and wave my boobs in his face.
"Come oooooon," I whine. "Let's do iiiiiiit."
"No, I'm tired," he replies, pushing me off him.
"Come on, you know you want to," I insist.
"Stop it. You wouldn't like it if I pressured you for sex. Turn the light off and go to sleep."
I tug my shirt back over my head and snap the light off, mortified. He's right, I shouldn't be pressuring him, that's a shitty thing to do. What's wrong with me? Yet I still feel swollen with desire, and I'm just dying for some release. The sting of his rejection hurts, and in my double bed, I can't even get away from him. I lie in the dark awake for a good long time.
Once I do fall asleep, I dream that I lost my wallet. It's not until I have the same dream every night for a week that I remember this was the same recurrent nightmare I had right before Kevin dumped me.

The next weekend, when Skip comes over to my place, he sits down on my couch and says very seriously, "We have to talk."
My stomach drops and I feel nauseous. This is not going to be good.
"You know I got divorced because I wanted more space to explore my sexuality," he leads off. "Well, I don't feel like I'm done with that exploration yet."
"Ok. There are still a lot of things I want to do too that we haven't done yet."
"Um, that's not what I mean. I love you and I want to do those things with you, but I'm not ready for a monogamous relationship yet. I want to have an open relationship."
"Uh....that's really not my thing."
"Ok, but this is something I really feel I have to do."
"So are you breaking up with me or what?"
"I don't know." He looks anguished. "I don't want to lose you. I love you!"
I start to tear up. "I love you too! I don't want to break up either."
We hug for a while, but then he pulls away again. "But I'm serious, this is something I have to do.  I still feel like I need to find myself."
"Ok." I'm trying hard to be respectful even though this all sounds like bullshit to me. "So what, are you talking about sometimes hooking up with someone else?"
"No, I mean polyamory. I don't want to be tied down. I want to be able to be with more than one person."
"But I don't think I can do polyamory."
"How do you know? Have you ever even tried it? You know, having only one partner is so narrow and limited. Everyone in the Sub Rosa Society says it's so liberating, like, to evolve beyond jealousy."
"In my experience, it doesn't work that way. The jealousy never goes away, it just gets worse over time. Believe me, I've tried."
"What do you mean you tried? Are you talking about ethical polyamory or just some asshole who cheated on you?"
"I know the difference," I say, annoyed. "I'm serious. I really, really tried. It was with K, my boyfriend in college."
"The blind guy?"
"Yes. We were together for two years, but he had another girlfriend at the same time. They were in an open relationship, and I was the third."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Devo Diary Chapter 29.1

Chapter 29 part 1

September 1993

Ok, so this is the whole truth about what happened between me and K.
I was about to start my senior year of college, just returned from my junior year abroad. I moved into a shared house with my best friends Nam and Kara, who I hadn't seen for a year while I was overseas. My time abroad had been lonely and frustrating, with obnoxious classmates who flat out told me junior high style that they didn't like me, and multiple failed attempts to date guys who stood me up or flaked out after one or two dates. I spent a lot of time alone with my thoughts, and I came to realize that I was not really interested in any of them. I still hadn't come out as a devotee yet, in fact I was years away from even knowing the word or realizing I was not the only one in the whole world with these feelings. I had done my best to bury it but after a long, lonely summer, I knew I had this one dream that I could not deny. What I really wanted more than anything else was a blind boyfriend.
Within days of us all moving in together in the shared house, Kara mentioned offhand that she had recently met a girl who had a boyfriend named K___ who was blind. Suddenly, in that moment, all those random thoughts that had been floating around in my head all pointed in one direction, like iron filings pulled by a magnet: I was going to meet K, no matter what it took. But I couldn't tell Kara this directly; even though she was my best friend, I could not tell her about my bizarre fixation. I was still many years from telling anyone.
So instead I nudged and hinted and reminded until we got ourselves invited over to their house for a party. Like us, K and his girlfriend lived in a shared house with a bunch of other people. To my dismay, I discovered the girlfriend was someone I knew already. Her name was Lydia. We had been in the same class sophomore year, a medieval art history class which still stands out and one of the worst classes of my college career. Lydia was best friends with the professor. This was just one of the many differences between us. Which is all to say, even though my opinion of Lydia is irretrievably biased and unfair because we were rivals for K's affections, my dislike for her began long before I even knew of K's existence. Really, she never had a chance--I was judgmental and jealous of her right from the start.
To me, everything about Lydia seemed affected and contrived. She spoke in the high-pitched but plummy tones of a dowager countess in a Hollywood movie. I judged her for constantly talking about how marginalized she felt as a "queer" person although there has never been a time in her adult life at that time or since that she was not dating or married to a cis man. I judged her for believing that her degree in library science entitled her to join support groups for women in science. I even to my shame judged her for being fat, something I would later notice seems to be a thing with a lot of blind guys. Yes, I know I'm being petty and mean, but the truth is even if I had loved and respected her as a sister I probably would have acted in the same selfish and single-minded way.
I went to the party at their house honestly not expecting anything. K had a girlfriend, and I was not going to throw myself at him in front of all their friends. Within minutes of our arrival, they mentioned that they had recently become engaged. My heart sank. Clearly I had no chance.
But two things changed my mind. First, K was even sexier and more attractive than I had imagined. He had dark brown hair that he wore long, hanging in thick waves to his shoulders, and a slim mustache and goatee. His dark hair contrasted with his bright blue eyes, opaque and scarred over with glaucoma. I had only ever seen actors on TV pretending to be blind, but it was nothing, nothing like the real thing. His eyes rolled and twitched on their own, and he never wore sunglasses to hide them. I couldn't stop staring at the way he moved his hands, feeling around, at the way he held his head always tipped down or to the side, unless he was really excited about something, then it was like his whole face opened up as he faced right at you. He was the most captivating person I had ever seen.
Second, and more importantly, Lydia told me that she and K had an open relationship. Kara went home early from the party, but I stayed late, later than anyone else, and Lydia gave me a ride home. In the car, she told me that she had K had been together since they were teenagers in high school.
"I'm bi," she said in confidential tones as she drove me across town. "We're getting married, but I still want to have, you know, other experiences."
"I'm bi too," I said, because it's true. It wasn't until months later when K pointed it out that I understood that she was coming onto me. I guess from her point of view, I used her to get close to K while rejecting her advances. But at the time I was too clueless to see that. All I got from that conversation was that it was ok for me to flirt with K. Which I did, shamelessly.

We had a Halloween party at my house, and I made sure K and Lydia were invited. While we were getting ready, as Kara and I were moving the heavy coffee table from the living room to the hall to make more room for dancing, I smashed my thumb and fractured it, but I didn't care. Nothing was going to stop me from being at this party. I bound up my thumb with cardboard and scotch tape, downed a few shots, and promised Kara I would go to the ER in the morning. By the time K arrived, I was drunk enough not to care about anything else. We were playing traditional Irish music (in case there was any doubt how nerdy and deeply uncool we were) and I tried to show K how to dance a jig. He gamely went along with my efforts, even though he insisted (correctly as it turned out) that he really can't dance. I was wearing a kimono as a costume, and it kept coming open but I didn't care. I was dancing, or trying to dance with K, that was all that mattered.
Nothing happened between us that night. K went home with Lydia, that's all. After I finally went to the ER the next day and got my thumb set, I had a heart to heart with Kara. It took me hours to work up to confessing to her.
"I like K," I murmured in great embarrassment.
"Well that's bloody obvious," she snorted.
"But what do I do? He's with Lydia!"
"I don't know. That's up to you. But she won't shut up about how they have an open relationship. Why not take them up on it?"
So I called K on the phone and asked him out for coffee with me and Kara.
"The girl with the exploding kimono!" he said. "Yeah, sure!"
It was awkward, the three of us on a not-date. I thought it would be less terrible of me to have another person there, but as the three of us crowded around the little café table, the conversation faltered. I was dying to ask him about his blindness but I didn't want to be rude. Instead Kara and I chatted idly about the upcoming wedding of a friend in which we were both enlisted as bridesmaids.
"The dresses are so ugly!" I complained. "The bride promised us that she would pick nice ones that we could wear again, but that was a lie. They look like they were made from motel curtains. And they're teal. Ugh!"
"Yeah," Kara agreed. "Not just that but everything in her registry is teal. It's like she's going to have a teal life."
"Well I suppose that's better than bright red," K chimed in, smiling artlessly as his blue-white eyes rolled back and forth like a metronome. "I imagine that would get tiresome."
"Do you know what colors are?" I asked in a rush, before I could lose my nerve, my heart pounding and my face flushed with embarrassment.
"Yeah, I had some vision when I was a kid. Enough to see colors. I still sort of remember."
I was relieved that he didn't seem bothered by my question but I had the feeling that despite what he said he wasn't thinking of colors the way a sighted person would; something about saying that red would be exhausting seemed more like a guess. But it would've been rude to press him on that so instead I went for the more obvious question. "Um, do you mind--can I ask how come you're blind?"
"I don't mind, it's ok to ask. I have congenital glaucoma."
"Really? I thought glaucoma was a disease of old people," I blurted out without thinking.
K did seem slightly annoyed by that. "No, you can be born with it. It just means that fluid in the eye doesn't drain properly so it builds up pressure and causes scarring."
"So do you smoke pot for the headaches?" Kara asked. Nam was a huge pothead but we were not, and she was still working out how she felt about it.
"Nah, I've met too many blind people who used it as an excuse to be flaky stoners. I never wanted that to be me. I've been lucky; it hasn't caused any headaches for a long time."
Real interactions always change the fantasy script. A few months ago, even just sitting there talking with a handsome young blind guy was beyond my wildest dreams but talking to him only made me want to do more. I knew right away that just being friends would not be enough. So I asked K out on a real date and he said yes.

We went to a vegan restaurant. I was beyond happy to be talking to him one on one at last, and this time the conversation flowed easily. We had a lot of the same nerdy interests in common--science fiction, singing, classical music, Asian culture. He was smart and well-read, with a boyish enthusiasm that I found instantly endearing. When dinner was over, we went for a walk in the park near campus. Walking with him holding my elbow was exhilarating, like flying a kite. I led him to a wild, overgrown hidden corner of the park where I used to go with Kara, Nam and Borek to have campfires late at night.
When we were behind the trees where I knew no one would see us, I stopped and we stood facing each other in the quiet, chilly night. I asked if he wanted to touch my face and he said yes. He ran his sensitive fingers carefully over my entire face, starting with my forehead and working down to my chin, tracing my eyebrows, the ridge of my nose, my mouth. Then he leaned in and kissed me.
I could hardly believe that my fantasies were coming so wholly and completely true. I had spent so much time dreaming about being touched by a blind man, I felt like if it ever happened, I would faint dead away. But that's not what happened. I felt alive, wide awake and shot through with bolts of energy, white hot desire.
We went back to my house. I took him to my bed, but when it came to the crucial moment, I hesitated.
"You're not a virgin, are you?" he asked with mock disdain.
" had one boyfriend a year ago, but it, um, really hurt going in."
He promised to take it slow. Maybe it was some combination of him putting me at ease, me being consumed with lust for him, and the shape of his cock, but it was fucking amazing.
K slept over, the two of us pressed up against each other all night long in my tiny single bed. In the morning we woke up late, and I walked him to the middle of town. He insisted he could walk the rest of the way home by himself, so we said goodbye at the intersection.
"When can I see you again?" he asked, his eyes wide and searching, his face lit with the same happy glow as mine. I still could hardly believe he liked me back.
"Whenever you want," I replied, staring deep into his blue-white eyes, bloodshot from lack of sleep.
But in all the excitement, he had forgotten to call Lydia to tell her where he was. When he finally waltzed in at ten am, she was livid. This was before cell phones, so she had no way to know he hadn't been hit by a car or something. I was not the first girl to come on to K. He had fooled around with other women before, and she had been with other guys. But I'm sure Lydia could sense from the beginning that something was different with me, and she was not happy. They had a huge fight when he got home, and she demanded that he stop seeing me. He said only if she agreed to be 100% monogamous. She didn't want to do that either. So that was it, she agreed reluctantly that K could keep seeing me, and for two years we were boyfriend and girlfriend.
Today it seems like everyone talks about open relationships and ethical polyamory but back then we didn't know of any models or advice for what we were doing. We just had to figure it out as we went along, with a lot of fighting, resentment, jealousy and tense negotiating. It's not like I was happy about the arrangement, but there was a certain excitement about doing something new and daring.
I was completely, head over heels smitten with K, just stupid, dopey in love, and acutely, painfully jealous of Lydia. I felt like the second wife. He lived with her, and one of the ground rules she established was that he was not allowed to sleep over the whole night at my house. Whenever he came to visit, at least once or twice a week, we would hang out with my housemates, watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and eating dinner together, then go up to my room to have amazing, mind-blowing sex. Then she would come pick him up in her car at midnight. Every night, our time together ended with us sitting on the couch together, half asleep and waiting for his ride like she was his mother picking him up after a playdate.
I was so overwhelmed by K I couldn't think about anything else. When I was doing schoolwork, it was like my mind was on a dual track, one half on my assignments, the other half replaying every moment I spent with K. When I wasn't doing work, I spent hours lying on the couch lost in daydreams about him, my own private movies on constant loop--the way his eyes and eyebrows twitched and moved uncontrollably; the way he turned his ear toward the TV; the way he walked around all the trees in the park because he said he could hear them; the same way he could hear where the windows and doors were in a room; the way he reached for things with the back of his fingers; the way he held his hand when expecting me to hand him something, never reaching out but waiting to receive.
One night while we were all watching Star Trek together, there was a scene with Geordie, the blind engineer, complaining about how his hi-tech visor was a poor substitute for real sight.
"Shut up Geordie," K shouted back at the TV, half joking and half serious. "I would kill for a visor like that!" We all laughed.
I was so happy at the way my friends embraced K. None of them seemed weird or nervous about his blindness or the way his eyes looked. It was just no big deal, which in itself was a big deal to me. He brought over a deck of playing cards that he had shoved through a Braillewriter, and we had house poker games on a regular basis.
Nam and K and I wrote and recorded some fake 1930s style radio shows with silly action adventure plots. K was so good at doing all the voices. I loved to watch his face as he played the villain or the kid sidekick. In every day conversation, K was not expressive in his face; it was sometimes hard to know without asking whether he was irritated, bored, contented or what. But when he was really excited about something, his whole face would open up with boyish enthusiasm. These stories were the origin of Betty DeLuxe, although most of that I wrote later with Nam.
K loved music and had taken lessons in voice, piano and violin. He sang in the university chorus, which I also tried to join. K coached me as I practiced for my audition, but I didn't get in. We would sing together all the time around the house, mostly folk music and classical, although he never hesitated to tell me when I was out of tune or my technique was bad.

January - May 1994

I got one sliver of a taste of what it might have been like to be K's only girlfriend when Lydia went out of town for a week, and he basically moved in with me. For one blissful week, K slept over in my narrow single bed, which we also shared with Nam's two cats. I was so happy, but all that time together only made it more painful when he went back home at the end of that week.
Nam was so kind to me as I was grieving this renewed separation, taking me out to a prayer circle where I tried to meditate my way into numb acceptance. Most of my closest friends were supportive of our unconventional relationship, especially Kara and Nam. They really liked K as a friend, because he was so charming and also a huge nerd like us. They all knew Lydia too of course, but privately admitted they found her kind of annoying. One friend even told me, "You know, K seems a lot less disabled when he's around you than when he's with her," which thrilled my dev heart. After all, I had been practicing in my imagination for years before I even met him.
I did get some raised eyebrows about the open relationship thing though, especially when my friends saw me moping around and miserable. One friend suggested very delicately that K might just be using me, which seemed crazy to me. If anything, I was the one using him. I felt intensely guilty about not telling him why I was really attracted to him, but I didn't even know the word devotee. There was no way I could explain it.
And it wasn't like I didn't think about what I was doing. Being the second girlfriend was not what I wanted, but if it was all I could have, I would take it. As I saw it, I had two choices, either pine for K from afar, or be with him sometimes. But really, it didn't feel like a choice at all. I was so intensely, irresistibly drawn to him that it felt like gravity. I couldn't resist. At least this way, I got to have sex with him.
Even K hesitated about our relationship at first. He thought I seemed too emotionally weak for this kind of thing.
"Don't tell me what I can and can't handle," I insisted. "I'm stronger than you think."
He said, "All I can offer you is a little patchwork of now and thens, but I hope it will be enough to warm you."
Yeah, he was super cheesy.

There was one time when K, Lydia and I went on what I guess you could call a date together, to go listen to a concert by the college orchestra. Lydia had injured her knee and was on crutches, but still insisted on trying to guide K. Every time she swung her crutches forward, her elbow would slip out of his hand, and I would passive aggressively come up on his other side and try to take his other hand. Then she would slow down and shove her elbow back into his side. We made halting, awkward progress through the lobby of the auditorium.
I spent the entirety of the concert itself watching K out of the corner of my eye, and thinking about how much I wanting to be having sex with him instead of sitting here not even daring to hold his hand.
"Well that was bloody awful," Lydia declared sourly when the concert ended, and I realized I hadn't heard a single note.
Another time, the three of us found ourselves at a party together, invited by mutual friends. We stood awkwardly by the buffet. K announced that he was hungry, but Lydia made no move to help him. I didn't want to interfere again like at the concert so I waited to see what she would do, but when K started feeling around on the table to try to find the food on his own, I finally stepped in, describing what was there and filling up a plate for him while Lydia wandered off. Seriously, how could he not realize how much better I was for him?
One day, I showed up at K's house for a date to find that he had shaved off his beard, and shaved his entire head. He was bald as an egg, and he looked like an entirely different person. A much less attractive person.
I was taken aback, to say the least. He knew I loved his long hair and beard, which made him look like a pirate or a Musketeer. I've never been good at hiding my emotions in the slightest, and he quickly soured when I did not share his excitement over his radical transformation.
"I can't believe how shallow you're being," he said petulantly. "Judging me by my appearance! I mean, come on!"
But it wasn't just his appearance, although that really was jarring. I knew (because he told me) that this was all Lydia's idea ("a negative feedback loop" he called it) and she had done it at least in part to get to me.
We fought for over an hour, until he seemed almost ready to break up with me over my pettiness. I apologized and backpedaled; after all, what could be done at this point? It took me a long time to get used to his new look but I tried not to mention it again.
Luckily for me, he was too lazy to keep up with shaving his head on a regular basis, so his hair eventually grew to a normal length again, but he never regained that piratical look I had fallen in love with.

In books and movies, a blind person's house is always meticulously ordered, every item in the exact right place so it can be found later. This was not the case with K. His house was a chaotic disaster area--clean and dirty laundry everywhere, dishes strewn about and never washed, books stacked up wherever, cat litter all over the bathroom floor. One of the few times I was visiting, K suggested making waffles. With great difficulty, I located the basic ingredients in random places about the kitchen, and washed a big mixing bowl that was sitting in the sink. But when I dug the waffle iron out of the back of the cabinet, I found it encrusted with burned-on batter from a long past attempt. We gave up and went out to eat instead.
K bitterly recounted a recent fight with Lydia where he threw a blindfold at her and said, "You try making lunch in this kitchen!" To be fair, it wasn't all her fault; they lived with three other people who were also to blame for the mess, and it's not like my house was particularly neat. But at least Kara and I periodically organized cleaning brigades.
Adding to the chaos at his house, K's cat got out and because she was not spayed, she got knocked up. A few months later she gave birth to four kittens in his bed. The kittens were cute but constantly underfoot. He got in the habit of shuffling slowly about the house, barely lifting his feet, to avoid stepping on the kittens that swarmed around him wherever he went.
For someone with a congenital disability, K was pretty independent. He walked all over town on his own, he had studied aikido and karate and was generally pretty confident physically. He could even do a bit of echolocation to avoid walking into things.
But in other ways, it seemed to me like he had developed all these skills then kind of gotten stuck. K had gone directly from living with his parents to living with Lydia, and I thought he relied on her far too much. He was eligible for free taxi vouchers, but didn't bother to go through the application process because she drove him everywhere. Figuring it would be less humiliating if he went home after our evenings together by taxi rather than having her pick him up, I pushed him to get the vouchers. Although in the end the taxis were so unreliable, it was hardly worth it.
I was shocked when he admitted that he had never learned to write by hand. He was proficient in Braille, and always had immense towers of bulky Braille books and magazines collecting dust around the house. He was fast at typing, but beyond a jerky scribble that served as a signature even though it never came out the same way twice, he never bothered with handwriting. I discovered this when he owed me a small amount of money, and brought over his check book to pay me back. The oversized checks had raised letters and lines so he could feel where to fill in the blanks, but instead of doing it himself, he asked me to write out the amount and the date.
"You know, you could easily learn to do this yourself," I suggested.
He shrugged. "Lydia always does it for me."
"What about when she's not around?" He didn't answer. "What if there was an emergency and you needed to write a note for someone? Don't you think it would be useful to know how?" I pressed. Truthfully, this was a very unlikely occurrence, and I was more interested in the dev thrill of teaching him to write. I grabbed one of my school notebooks and we practiced writing letters together. Of course, he wasn't starting from zero; he had learned the regular alphabet as a kid, but he didn't have much practice writing. I watched him moving the pen deliberately, with the finger of the other hand following each letter. I showed him how to fill in each field on the check, but as far as I knew, he never actually used this skill in real life.

That year the Midwestern winter was even more brutal than usual. For a week the temperature dropped to -20F. It was so cold that the tears on my eyelashes froze as I was walking to class. The snow on the ground was the texture of sand, and campus was like the frozen tundra. A water main on our block froze and burst, so for a day we were without water. Nam filled the bathtub with snow, thinking we could at least flush the toilets when it melted. But the snow took so long to melt that the water was fixed before we could use it. I wondered if he had scraped the snow out from under his car, because once it melted, it left behind a sludge of mud, broken glass, cigarette butts and other detritus in the tub. Even after the water came back on, none of us could shower until Nam cleaned it all out.
K and I were accustomed to walking as our main mode of transportation around town, but the extreme cold made it challenging. As we walked across campus one frigid afternoon, he pulled his knit cap down so that it completely covered his face. Normally, I was happy, even proud to be seen with him in public, and I loved that he never covered his eyes with dark glasses. I wanted everyone to know that I had a blind boyfriend. But this hat over the face thing was a step too far for me.
"Stop it," I said. "You look silly."
K instantly turned stubborn. "I don't care what I look like. It's more comfortable like this."
As he often did when he was holding someone's arm, K left his cane folded up in his pocket. With the hat down over his face, he didn't look like a blind person. He just looked like an idiot pulling a stupid stunt with his girlfriend. An old lady walking in the opposite direction stared at us.
"Come on," I insisted. "You look retarded."
"Don't use that hate speech with me," he sniffed, his voice a bit muffled under the hat. "I will not give in to the tyranny of the sighted and your narrow, superficial expectations. You can get frostbite on your nose in the name of fashion if you want but I'm staying warm."
We walked the rest of the way home with his hat like that.

Around the same time as the brutal cold snap, I came down with mono.
"The kissing disease!" my friends giggled, and implied that I had gotten it from being in an open relationship. But in fact I was the only one who got sick. I was worried that I would give it to K and he would give it to Lydia, and she would hate me even more. K wanted to stay away for that reason, but I whined and complained until he came to visit anyway. Luckily, nobody else caught it from me, but I was sick for weeks.
In the spring semester, I became casual friends with a guy in one of my classes. He lived nearby and we sometimes found ourselves walking to campus together. As usual, I managed to mention K in conversation because I wanted to brag to everyone I met that I had a blind boyfriend.
But instead of being impressed or at least surprised, his response was, "Oh, wow, I'm sorry. That sucks."
"What do you mean 'that sucks'?" I replied, incensed. "He doesn't need your pity, and neither do I."
"Yeah, but you can't, like, go to movies or watch TV together."
"What are you talking about? He definitely goes to movies, and we watch TV together all the time. Just because he can't see the screen doesn't mean he can't listen to the dialog. I describe the action and he follows along just fine."
"Oh, uh, ok, I guess. So how long have you been together?"
"Um, it's complicated. Nine months, but we're in an open relationship. He has another girlfriend who he lives with."
"No shit, huh? A blind dude and he's got two chicks at the same time. Damn!"
"I told you he doesn't need your pity," I said smugly.
I thought that was it, but the next week the guy asked me out on a date.
"No!" He had seemed nice enough in an average white guy able bodied kind of way but I'm not even the slightest bit interested in whatever boring mediocrity he had on offer. "Dude, I told you I have a boyfriend."
"Yeah, but you can see other people too, right? Besides, it's gotta be a drag being with a blind guy all the time. Come on, we can go to a movie and I'll show you a good time."
"What the fuck! No! I love K, and I'm not going out with you or anyone else!"
He seemed genuinely surprised that I turned him down. I couldn't believe that my relationship with K would mean so little that a guy would assume I was basically available to anyone. Fuck that guy. I spent the rest of the term avoiding him, but I felt like he had revealed to me how a lot of people thought of what I was doing.