Saturday, November 20, 2010

Devo Diary Chapter 4

Devo Diary Chapter 4:
The Discovery

March 1999

I can hardly believe it's been nearly two years since I last wrote anything down. I took some time off grad school and went to Seoul to teach English. Even though I hardly learned any Korean besides annyeong haseyo and kamsahamnida, I had way more fun than I ever did in Raser City. The money was sweet, and I spent most of my time clubbing and hanging around drag nights at gay bars.
I hooked up with a girl, for the first time since college. I met her at a drag night in a gay bar. I thought she was Korean at first but it turned out she had grown up in the US. Just nineteen years old, on a student exchange program, she said she had just broken up with her first and only girlfriend. I knew I shouldn't but she was so luscious, shorter than me and round in all the right places. I took her home with me in a cab and she was so drunk, she kept trying to make out with me in the back seat while the cab driver drove in circles, staring at us in the rear view mirror.
"You lesbian?" he asked in broken English, grinning like he had just won the lottery.
What could I say? I just nodded.
So I took her to my apartment and we went at it on my tiny, hard bed. She said she had never been penetrated, and I asked if she wanted to try it. She said yes, so I popped her cherry with a big purple dildo. She didn't like it.
The next morning, she woke up sober and started talking. And talking. And talking. It suddenly became clear how young she was. She was cute, but there was no way anything more was going to happen between us. I walked her to the subway station and never spoke to her again. I felt kind of bad, but I think she knew the score, because she never tried to contact me.
Actually, I hurried her out of the apartment because I had a first date that afternoon with a Korean guy--a straitlaced businessman, but young--the same age as I am, 26. We dated for about a month, but he was way too boring, and the language gap was a drag. When he asked me to wash his socks, that was the last straw. I broke up with him, and not very nicely.
Yeah, I was a real bitch.
Then I fell in with a bunch of Norwegian expats, mostly grad students and office workers. Before I knew what was happening, I was dating one of them, an industrial engineer named Bjørn. My life was the most normal it's ever been. I cut off my extra-long hair, and got a more stylish, shoulder-length do. It was like saying goodbye to the nerdy girl I had been since high school.
Bjørn was a nice guy if a bit quiet and conservative. Tall, pale, blond hair and blue eyes, just my type. He was like a modern day Viking, only clean-shaven. For once in my life, there was no drama, no weirdness, and I really took the relationship seriously. Like clockwork he came over every Friday night and either I would cook or we would go out to dinner, then we'd rent X-Files episodes on VHS and eat junk food. The next morning, I would make a huge breakfast: eggs, sausage, toast, hash browns, the works. You can't get that kind of thing in Seoul easily, and Bjørn loved it. I gained ten pounds, easy. I was so happy to leave all the stupid bullshit of my old life behind and be like a practice wife with him, but it always felt like I was just playing a part.
For one thing, our relationship always had an expiration date. Bjørn was in Seoul on a two-year non-renewable work exchange, and I had no intention of staying in Korea forever. A few months into the relationship we talked it over, but he didn't want to move to the US permanently and there was no way I could move to Norway and be gainfully employed. He suggested ending our relationship then but I convinced him to keep dating me until it was time to leave.
We had fun while it lasted. We liked each other a lot, even if it maybe wasn't true love. We had some common interests, like the sci fi TV and movies, and the gorging on junk food. I tried to learn Norwegian, even though he considered it a waste of time. And man, that language is hard. In the end all I could ever remember is Jeg elsker deg and Jeg kommer til bussen. It was nice, though, to be part of his big group of friends.
But there was another problem. He couldn't stay hard when we had sex. Not every time, but about half the time he would go soft just as we were about to do it. I didn't know what to do--I didn't want to make it worse by making him self-conscious, and he certainly wasn't the type to talk about his feelings. So neither of us said anything, meanwhile it happened more and more frequently. By then his contract was up, and I had decided to go back to Lester State to finish my degree, so it didn't matter anyway. I still worry that it was something I did or said that killed the mood for him, but I never knew what. I know he was attracted to me, because once he said in his very serious way, "You have a nice body." It's weird, but after years of insecurity, when he said that, for the first time I finally started to believe it. I may be a nerd, but I am sexy. So that was like a nice little present he gave me. Thank you, Bjørn.
The whole time we were together, I still wondered about my disability obsession. Like, what does it mean? Why do I have these weird fantasies? I really did like Bjørn a lot, but it's not like I ever stopped thinking about K. The pain isn't as sharp as it used to be, but he's on my mind all the time. Even when I was dating Bjørn and happy, I kept having incredibly vivid dreams about blind guys. In Seoul one time I paid a ton of money to get a massage from a blind masseur I heard about through a friend. But he was pathetic and terrible, so I never went back. I felt like with Bjørn I could leave all the weird sex and hookups behind, but it's still in me. I don't get to have a normal relationship. It was just pretend.
So now I am back in Raser City again. It's actually really good to be back. I feel like I'm returning to my real life, coming back to my real self after having been asleep for two years. I got an awesome apartment, so much better than the shithole I was in before. I'm still in the student ghetto near the university, and again it's an old house that's been split up into apartments. I'm in the back of the house. It's a studio, but with a big eat-in kitchen. No refrigerator next to the bed this time, thank god. The previous tenant painted the walls: the entryway a deep rich blue, the bedroom a chocolate brown with gold leaves, and the kitchen a bright sunny yellow. The kitchen overlooks the alley facing west, and in the evening I can see the most glorious sunsets. I came back to town with nothing, so I got all new furniture from Ikea, including for the first time ever, a double bed.
And I have a car! For the first time in my life, my own car. I hate to drive, though, and I'm really bad at it. The last time I drove a car was also the last time I saw K. I had already moved away from College Town, and was spending the summer with my parents before going to Raser City. Somehow I managed to swing a trip back to College Town on my way out west, although K had moved back in with his parents temporarily. That awful, awkward visit, I stayed with him for a week his parents' house. They let me drive their minivan, but I was terrified to get behind the wheel. I remember standing outside the car, looking at K in total desperation and suggesting only half as a joke that he should drive. He got that irritated, impatient look and told me to just do it. I can't help but think of that moment whenever I get in the car, even though it was years ago now.
Things have changed with my friends while I was gone. Sharon has started her own company, some sort of internet startup. I don't know the details, but it's making a lot of money. She and Rachel both have started seeing new guys, serious boyfriends, who they each say in awed whispers might finally be "The One." Rachel's guy is Ewan, a playboy millionaire who owns a scuba diving resort in Bali. He wears either a sarong or a kilt all the time, and he knows how to play the bagpipes. Rachel moved in with him in the house in the suburbs he inherited from his grandparents. It looks like a grandma house that got taken over by a goth SCA fraternity. Sharon is still living in her house on the water in West Raser City--her guy moved in with her. His name is Cyril, and he's a bisexual Shakespearian actor from the deep South. Well, really more of a Shakespearian LARPer or cosplayer. The four of them have started an improv acting company/singing troupe/rapier academy. So basically my friends have gone from being hippies to Ren Faire types, but that's fine with me. Dressing in 16th century costume and singing or learning to fence is way more my thing than hiking or rock climbing. I honestly wasn't all that close with them before I left town, but now the four of us are spending all our time together.
I have another friend now too, even more unexpected. It turns out my childhood friend Tovia is here. Tovia, with whom I wasted hours and hours in high school sitting around the comic book shop discussing the finer points of superhero lore and playing stupid role playing games. He moved to Raser City while I was in Seoul. It's so weird seeing him again now that we're grown up. He's four years younger than I am, so we were never in the same classes--he was always more like a little brother. He looks the same, just a little taller now: a bit pudgy, with goofy frizzy hair and an intense stare. Oh and he's going by some other name now, said he always hated Tovia because everyone thinks it's a girl's name. But all the kids we grew up with have names like that. The first generation of Jewish immigrants to the US all had Yiddish names, so they named their kids the most goyish names they could think of: Morris, Seymour, Sherwood. But our parents got caught up in the ethnic pride thing in the 1970s, so my generation all got Hebrew names like Eitan, Zev, Joram, Orly, and Tzipporah. I even knew a girl named Batsheva. I ask you! Who names their daughter after a whore, even if she is in the Bible?
So anyway he may have changed his name but he's still Tovia to me. He's still into all the nerdy things we wasted our time on as kids (he denies any recollection of having created a Ghostbusters role playing game but I remember it vividly). Except now he's added a new hobby: kinky sex.
It's kind of scary how similar we turned out. We're both kind of bi, leaning more towards hetero, but like he said "I never learned to only be attracted to the opposite gender." We're both into SM, and we both like to be the top. His other favorite saying: "No one ever told me to be ashamed of sex." It's practically all we talk about together, but I'm getting the impression he has a lot more experience with SM than I do. He certainly has a lot more equipment. I talk big, but the truth is the most I've done is tie up a guy years ago with some old stockings. The sex with Bjørn was always 100% vanilla. I want to do more, but I don't really know where to start.
Well, ok, one exceedingly embarrassing drunken evening, Tovia let me top him but I didn't do much more than half-heartedly give him the weakest flogging ever and we agreed never to speak of it again. I'm just not attracted to him in that way.

April 1999
I just read the most incredible thing in the Raser City Weekly. I've always loved that paper. I read it religiously, even when I was out of town. And one of my favorite parts is Dan Savage's sex advice column. So there I am, reading the paper, ok, so I was sitting on the toilet, jeez, no judging. And there in Savage Love is a letter from a man with a fetish for amputee women. My entire life I've been certain, dead certain, I was the only one, that it was a psychological deformity so hideous and shameful it had to be kept hidden forever. But there it is, a letter from someone else like me. Apparently there's even a name for it: acrotomophilia. It's not exactly a word that rolls off the tongue, but that hardly matters.
I'm not the only one.
I'm not the only one.
I'm not the only one.
The first thing I do after exiting the bathroom is look online. I learn another name: devotee. There are a few websites here and there, and some listservs and bulletin boards, but not many. Almost all of them are for guys into amputee women. A few are for gay guys, and I lose hours and hours looking at photos. I sign up for some of the listservs, and as I'm doing so, I have the strangest sensation of vertigo, like I'm sliding forward out of my chair. This is going to change my life.
I feel like suddenly it all makes sense. I've always known I had this attraction. One of my earliest memories is of lying in bed when I was probably four years old and telling myself that I have special feelings for people with "problems." I covered my dolls with bandages and pulled off their jointed limbs. In elementary school, there was a girl in another class who had a prosthetic arm. I stared at her shamelessly until she got angry and yelled at me, but I didn't even blink. I still feel bad about that. But now knowing that it has a name, that it's a thing and not just a weird part of me, that changes everything.
This changes the way I feel about K too. He wasn't my one perfect soulmate who I was magically fated to meet. I have a fetish for blind guys, that's all. Which means I could meet someone else who makes me feel the same way. Only this time I'll be a better person, no more drama. I am kind of tempted to contact K and apologize for the crazy way I acted with him, but I don't. My self-imposed ten year moratorium on contact is still not up.
But that initial surge of excitement doesn't last. The more time I spend online, the more discouraged I feel. I'm pretty much the only straight woman in these groups. One site even says outright that only men are devotees, there are no women devs. I'm like, hello, here I am, but no one is listening. And some of the guys are really disgusting. They brag on the listserv about following disabled women around, taking their photos on the sly, even compiling lists of names, phone numbers, and addresses, which they offer to share. I call out one guy for doing that--stalking is never ok, no matter why you are doing it. He has the balls to get defensive about it, says I just didn't understand what it's like to have this intense attraction with so few ways to fulfill it. Well, I do understand. Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean my desires are any less intense. It's like an itch I can't scratch. Sometimes the longing is almost unbearable. But I will not be like those assholes.
Aside from the truly horrible posts that make me ashamed to call myself a devotee, there are also all kinds of crackpot theories about why we have this attraction. A lot of people seem to introduce themselves by coming up with some sort of Freudian origin story. Most of them are something along the lines of "When I was little I saw a [neighbor/ classmate/ random stranger] who was using [a wheelchair/ crutches/ braces /prosthetics] and I got this special feeling." That makes no sense to me. First of all, how do you know that wasn't just the first time you remember having dev feelings? What about that random fleeting experience caused you to become a devotee? If just seeing a disabled person causes dev feelings, would everyone in the world be a devotee? Second, I know I never had an experience like that when I was a child. I've just always felt this way. We don't even know why some people are gay, never mind the more complicated stuff. I decide to stop worrying about why and concentrate instead on how.
The one person I can talk to about all this is Tovia. He looks at me very sadly and says, "I can't believe you thought you were the only one."
"Why not? It's so weird. Who else would ever be this way?"
He just shakes his head. "Believe me, there's fetishes for everything. You barely move the needle on weird."
After making this earth-shattering discovery, the next thing I do is take out a personal ad. Dan Savage says kinky people have to advertise. Vanilla people can count on meeting someone compatible at school or at work, but if there's something specific you're looking for, you have to put it out there. Once again, I turn to the Raser City Weekly, my favorite paper. Every week I pore over the "I Saw U" section, hoping someone saw me as I was riding the bus or grocery shopping (no one ever does). A while ago I even tried regular dating through the personals. The guys I met were all normal, no axe-murderers or anything, but always so completely incompatible. Each time I knew within seconds that we would not hit it off, but out of politeness, we had to endure a dinner or coffee and make small talk.
Well, no more. I am going for what I really want. I title my ad "Disabled = Sexy" and write up a brief description of myself and what I'm looking for.
When I tell Tovia about the ad, he says, "You can expect to get very few responses, and you can expect to be lied to."
"What? Why would someone do that? I mean, what's the point?"
He shrugs and doesn't answer. I'm still not sure what made him say that.

May 1999
I got a response to my ad! Ok, maybe not what I was hoping for. A guy left a message saying he's a quadriplegic. We talk on the phone briefly but after my previous experience with personal ads, I learned not to drag things out. It's better to meet in person as soon as possible so you can at least see what he looks like. We arrange to meet at a Starbucks downtown.
When we meet, the first thing I notice is he's using a big electric wheelchair. Like really huge, with a headrest and big armrests. We order drinks and he pays, dumping out a bag full of stuff, including a key on a large handle-shaped key ring before pulling a credit card out of his wallet with great difficulty.
 I carry both our coffees to a table right beside the registers. As we sit down, he pulls out some postcards to show me.
"This is my art," he says proudly. On the back of each card is gallery information. These are professionally printed cards, but the art looks to me like a kid's crayon scribbles. I'm not totally ignorant about contemporary art (what is the fancy degree for anyway?) but it honestly looks like crap to me. I don't say anything.
"So you're probably wondering how I got injured," he says.
"Car accident?" I ask hopefully.
"No, I was a heroin addict and OD'ed. I was in a coma for a week. When I woke up,  I was like this."
Oh shit. Now that he mentions it, I notice that his speech is slurred. This was not at all what I had in mind. Paralysis is one thing, but I don't think I'm up for dealing with a brain injury or a former junkie. I feel like running out the door, but instead I force myself to smile and nod sympathetically.
"At least I had my art to fall back on," he continues. Oh god, this just gets worse and worse.
I somehow struggle through about thirty minutes of small talk, then he goes to use the bathroom. Thankfully, Starbucks has big wheelchair accessible bathrooms, but when he's done, he can't seem to get the door open. I'm not sure what the problem is, but he can't seem to hold the door open and get his chair through. He keeps banging it and getting stuck. I'm ashamed to say I just sit there and watch. I have no idea what to do. Does he want my help? Should I let him do it himself? I don't really want to go prop open the door to the men's bathroom. I know I should at least ask him what to do, but I'm just too freaked out. While I sit there debating with myself, eventually he works his way free.
Shortly after that, we leave, and it's clear we will not be meeting again. I feel terrible. It's not his fault he doesn't have the right kind of disability for me, but I can't tell him that. I wish I could be nicer to him, but the whole thing is just too scary.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Devo Diary Chapter 5

Devo Diary Chapter Five:

The Con Artist

May 1999

Another guy responds to my ad. He says his name is Angelo. Ok, not really, Angelo is like his middle name or something, but he's decided recently that's what he wants to go by. He has some sort of congenital muscle condition. He can walk ok but can't use his arms or hands. His family is from Brazil, but he grew up here in Raser City. He says he lives on his own but gets people to come in to help him. Oh, and he is loaded. Rich.
We meet downtown. I pick him up in my car, then we grab some lunch and go to a park to eat. He's not really my type--he has long black hair hanging down his back in tight spiral curls, greasy with product, and a long, deeply tanned face with a prominent nose. I guess he has kind of a Latin lover thing going on, and he seems pretty confident about his appeal to women. Honestly, Bjørn the Viking was really more my type. But this guy Angelo--his arms are curled up against his chest, and I just can't help staring. The whole time we're together, I do everything for him: putting on his seat belt, helping him eat.
I admit, that part was pretty hot. We get burritos for lunch, and as we sit in the park, I unwrap his and hold it up for him to take bites. He keeps looking into my eyes as I'm feeding him. I'm trying to hold back but I'm so turned on in spite of myself.
The whole time we're out, he keeps going on and on about himself--his family, his business and how much money he has. The thought occurs to me that he might be trying to impress me with the money talk. If that's the case, he's way off the mark. I really don't care about things like that. I hardly pay attention to what he's saying.
My own life is kind of in limbo right now. I finished my useless degree, but I'm still not really employable. Luckily for me, Sharon hired me to work in her company. I'm kind of a freelance temp, one rank below the secretaries, but I'm being paid more than double what my grad student stipend had been. The work is boring but so easy, and I can surf the internet and hang out with the other secretaries as much as I want. So even though I'm done with school, I'm still living a slacker lifestyle.

My second date with Angelo, we go out for coffee downtown. He makes fun of me for my scaredy-cat driving, but whatever, I'm the first to admit I'm not a good driver. I've only had the car for about a month, and I hate to drive.
Again he goes on and on about his nieces and nephews, how awesome they are, about his parents in Brazil and how much money they have, and his internet business here. I can't figure out exactly what the company does, but it seems to be doing well.
"I'm worth twelve million dollars," he says as I open the car door for him by the café.
The numbers don't even mean anything to me, but without thinking I say, "Last time you said fourteen million."
He gives me a strange look. "That's twelve million in assets, fourteen in investments."
I just shrug. "I think I have $500 in my checking account." For that I get a pitying look and a speech about how I don't have to live like that--he'll buy me anything I want. I really don't care. There isn't that much that I want. I love my apartment, the rent is low, I have a cushy job that pays ok, and no debt.
At the café, he tells me more about his best friend and business partner, a woman named Brigit Seabrook. The way he talks about her, it sounds like he's in love with her, but he insists they're just friends. Besides, she's married and has two kids.
But all this aside, I kind of feel like I'm falling for him. Just seeing his curled-up arms, and doing things for him, holding his coffee for him, it gets me going.

The third time we meet, it isn't even exactly a date. He happened to be in the neighborhood, he says, with Brigit, and wants to know if he can stop by. I don't see her drop him off because my apartment is at the back of the house. I just open the door and he's there.
I don't have a couch, so we sit on the bed, leaning up against the wall. It feels really strange having him over so soon, when I hardly know him. We didn't talked about the devotee thing before, even though from the ad, he already knows, more or less. Now finally he starts asking me about it.
"So you get off on disabled guys? What disabilities?"
"Um, anything I guess. My first boyfriend was blind, but I like wheelchairs too, anything."
"Even, like, retards?"
"No! Jeez! Don't even say that, come on."
He laughs. "But what is it about, is it the helplessness?"
"I don't know," I mumble, blushing. Of course that's it, or at least part of it, but I can't just come out and admit that to him. "It's just like, hardwired in me or something. It's always been part of me, even when I was a little kid. My favorite movie was Empire Strikes Back because Luke gets his hand cut off." I can hardly believe I'm admitting all this to him, but he just stares at me with his huge brown eyes and I feel like opening up.
"Do you find my disability attractive?" he asks in a low, husky voice.
"Oh god, yes."
He leans toward me. "Can I kiss you?"
I wrap my arms around him, almost propping him up on the bed, and we kiss passionately, madly, for what feels like hours. His lips are so ridiculously full, like a girl's. The whole time, his arms stay against his chest between us and it drives me wild, thinking about how he can't put his arms around me, even if he wanted to.
Too soon, he says he has to go. Brigit will be waiting for him in the car outside. He leaves, then I'm alone, going crazy with desire. The pillows retain the overpowering scent of the essential oils he puts in his hair: lemongrass and clary sage, he said.

For the next two days, I'm in a state of the most intense, continual arousal that I've ever felt in my life. All I have to do is think about Angelo kissing me, the feel of his arms against my chest, and it's like having a mental orgasm. I heard a documentary on NPR about a female-to-male transsexual talking about how the testosterone injections made him almost unbearably horny all the time, so that even the copy machine at work turned him on. As I stand in front of the copy machine at my own job, I know exactly what he meant. That big, humming, hot machine in front of me, my racing thoughts--I felt like I can barely stand up. All I can think of is Angelo, and seeing him again.
For two days, though, he doesn't call. It's agony to be stuck at work, wondering when I might hear from him. From my desk phone, I call my voice mail at home every hour to check for messages. Nothing.
Finally, on the third day he leaves a message: can we meet for coffee again downtown on Saturday? Yes, of course. I would have even skipped out on work, anything to see him again.
We meet in front of a café located on the ground floor of a high-rise filled with offices. Since it's the weekend, it's pretty deserted, but he doesn't want to go inside. Instead, we take an elevator to the roof of the building, where there's a patio with benches and potted plants.
Glancing around a bit nervously, he says, "There's something I have to tell you."
Rather than answering, slowly, like an impossible miracle, or a magic trick, he uncurls his arms and stretches them out toward me.
"You fucking asshole!" I scream, pummeling his chest with my fists and kicking him in the shins. "What the hell?! How could you lie to me like that?"
In that instant of realization, all the little details, all the things that didn't add up, suddenly come together in my mind. His bulging biceps, for one. The way his "disability" as a whole, or the way he talked about it, or the help he supposedly got, made no sense. I had registered all this, but just went along with it anyway. There had even been a moment, when I was driving badly, and he scolded me for driving through a crosswalk when there were people trying to cross.
"A friend of mine got a ticket for doing that," he had said, and even then, a part of my brain said "Yeah right, 'a friend.' You mean you got a ticket," but I had just filed it away with every other discrepancy, willfully ignoring it.
He dodges my attack, while I keep yelling incoherently and sort of half crying.
"Please, stop!" he begs. "Can we talk?"
I look around; there's a man sitting on a bench nearby. Is this part of the set-up? Is that guy a friend, listening in, maybe so he can collect on a bet? My mind races, imagining the scenario: Check out that bat-shit crazy ad. Bet you ten bucks I can make that bitch fall for me.
"Ok, we can talk, but not here," I say. I know I should just walk away, never talk to him again, but I can't change gears that fast. I can't go from obsessive lust one minute to cutting off all contact, at least not without finding out some answers. And it seems like he really wants to talk to me.
We end up going back to my car, just sitting there with the engine off. At least here I know no one else is listening.
"Tell me why," I demand, glaring at him from the driver's seat.
"I saw your ad and I was curious what it was all about," he replies, spreading his arms with his palms up, a show of innocence. I can't stop staring at his hands, and he notices. He waves them around. "Weird, huh," he says with a mischievous grin.
"I can't get used to it," I whisper, almost to myself.
"Look, I'm really sorry," he continues more seriously. "I didn't mean for things to happen this way. I thought you would be some kind of sex freak, but you're so normal." I glare at him angrily. "I mean, you're really sexy," he adds hastily. "And god, when you fed me that wrap in the park, it was so hot."
"It was pretty hot," I admit.
"I really like you," he says. "That's why I had to tell you the truth. I hope you can forgive me, cuz I want to be with you for real. Please?"
I stare at him, considering. Say no, say no, the rational part of me insists, but the residual effect of a week of endorphins is too powerful.
"You have to earn my trust back," I say, trying to sound stern. "But I like you too. I'd like to try." He grins, realizing I've caved. The first thing he does is invite me to his apartment.
So I go home with him. His apartment is in a ultra-modern complex in a swanky neighborhood at the edge of downtown. He assures me repeatedly he has not been lying about how much money he has, and it's clearly an expensive place. Huge picture windows in every room look out over the bay.
The apartment is strangely empty, though. It's clearly lived-in; there are shelves with knick-knacks and lots of photos of kids: his nieces and nephews, he says. But no furniture, no sofa, and no bed, just a few small pillows scattered on the carpet. A large set of free weights and an old hospital-style wheelchair sit in the corner.
"I had knee surgery about a year ago. That was from when I was recovering," he says, following my gaze. "I originally planned on using the wheelchair to meet you, but I didn't think I could pull it off. So I thought I'd just do the arms instead. Did you ever see the movie The Usual Suspects?" He curls up his arms again, but stops when he sees my horrified expression. "Ok, ok, relax! Do you want a soda or something?"
"Why don't you have a couch?" I ask.
He waves a hand dismissively. "Oh, I just can't be bothered. I prefer pillows on the floor."
"For sleeping too?"
"Yeah, it's more comfortable. A soft bed gives me a backache."
I just nod. Ok, whatever. It's a lot to take in all at once. We sit on the floor and watch TV for a while, making small talk. Pretty soon we're making out again, lying on the floor and kissing. It's so strange, him leaning over me, with his strong, muscular arms. I'm not ready to go all the way, though, and he seems to get that without my saying anything. He takes off his shirt and pants, but not his underwear. We make out for awhile, but he doesn't pressure me to go further. Finally, as it's starting to get dark, I decide to leave. I go home, my head still spinning.
Angelo calls me the next evening.
"You sound out of breath," he says.
"I was practicing my fencing," I explain, setting the rapier I've borrowed from Cyril in the corner.
Angelo laughed. "Oh ho, working out your anger at me, were you?" In fact, that's exactly what I was doing, lunging and thrusting the blade around the apartment, but I've not going to admit it. We talk and talk, and gradually he makes me forget how angry I had been about him fooling me. He calls again the next day, and the next. We talk on the phone for hours, then a day later, he comes over and we go out to dinner. He drives this time, and it all seems so normal. After dinner, he comes back to my place, and we make out for a while, but again we don't do much more than kiss. Again he doesn't pressure me to go further, and pretty soon he says he has to go home.
As he's leaving, he says, "Ok, let's go out again on Friday. I'll call you in the morning to let you know what time, then I can pick you up in the evening and we'll go out to dinner."
Friday. It sounds good. He's so attentive and nice, and in spite of all the weirdness, I'm starting to feel like we could have a real relationship. After all, he already knows the most secret thing about me and it seems to turn him on, in a strange way.
But Friday morning comes and goes, with no call from Angelo. I linger at home, waiting in vain, until I'm over an hour late for work. At the office, I call home constantly, but still no message. I call and leave messages for him three times during the day, trying to sound casual and not crazy, but he still doesn't call back. By evening I'm so worked up and anxious I can't eat. Where the hell is he? I pick up the rapier and practice a few lunges, but the memory of how he had teased me make it impossible to lose myself in the exercise. I put it down in favor of just pacing, going over the patterns in the Persian carpet over and over.
By 9 PM I felt like I'm going out of my mind. I can't call him again, and it's clear he has stood me up. I want desperately to talk to someone, but I purposely kept the whole thing a secret from all my friends. Tovia was the only one I had told about the ad, but I hadn't told even him about Angelo. I still don't want to tell him he was right. Instead, I call Rachel.
"Hey, why didn't you come to fencing practice tonight?" she asks.
I take a deep, shaky breath. "Um, can you come over? I really need to talk to you."
And she does, bless her heart. Sitting on my bed, she listens to the whole sorry tale. I have to start at the very beginning.
"So I, um, have this sexual attraction to disabled guys," I say. It still seems unreal to even say the words aloud.
Rachel looks at me a bit blankly. "Well, that's different," she says flatly. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but in a way her unconcerned response is a relief.
"I've had it my whole life," I continue. "Remember I told you about a guy in college who broke my heart? Well, he's blind, that's the reason I can't get over him. There have been a few others, but nothing serious until now."
She stares at me, her eyes going wider. "It all makes sense now! We always wondered about you, why you never seemed to be in a steady relationship. I thought maybe you were a lesbian."
I laugh. "No, not a lesbian. Well, maybe bi."
"Do you go for disabled women also?"
"No, just guys. I don't know why." We talk about the devotee thing some more, then eventually I tell her about the ad, about Angelo, how he tricked me, then won me back, then stood me up and disappeared.
"You could have told us about this," she scolds. "You didn't have to keep it all a secret. This would never have happened if you hadn't kept it hidden."
"But it's so embarrassing," I wail, crying now. "I was sure you would tell me there was something wrong with me."
"I would never say that. There's nothing wrong with you." She hugs me and I cry some more. It's all too much, everything that happened with Angelo, contrasted with the immense relief at finally telling Rachel and hearing her say it was no big deal.
"But I just don't get it," I say, unable to let go of what just happened with Angelo. "Why would he disappear now?"
She shrugs. "People say 'I'll call you' all the time, but they don't mean it."
"No, this wasn't like that! It wasn't a casual offer. We had specific plans to go out tonight, he just hadn't set the time."
"Forget him," Rachel advises. But I can't. I feel so stupid about all the ways he fooled me, how willingly I went along with the whole thing. But I suppose that's the way a con artist works. Find out what people really want and dangle it in front of them--then it doesn't matter that the details don't add up. The suckers fill in all the gaps themselves. He made me want to fool myself, which was more powerful than any story he could have invented on his own.
But there's the mystery too, and that I just can't let go. I get why he answered my ad and pretended to be disabled, that was probably just curiosity. I've seen online that there are pretenders, guys who get off on pretending to have a disability. This doesn't seem to be the case with Angelo, or he would have wanted to keep on pretending with me. But once he admitted the lie, he seemed uninterested in anything disability related.
And we never even had sex, for god's sake. All we did was make out like a couple of teenagers. Don't guys usually wait until after the sex to pull the disappearing act?
And why get me to fall for him a second time? Was that some kind of sick game, just to see how far he could manipulate me? What about the man on the roof? What was the deal with his apartment? Maybe those were pictures of his kids and he was going through a divorce, that's why there was no furniture. And all that talk about the money, his family in Brazil, his company, were those lies too? It's infuriating not to know.
I have a few strange clues. The last night he visited, he left a pile of receipts he cleared out of his wallet. Why do that? I pore over them, but the only thing I can figure out is that Angelo is not his first name, which I already knew. It's Mark. I try to find leads to another number for him or to find out if his company is real or not, but come up empty, no answers at all. The one other clue I have is Brigit Seabrook. The previous week, her name and phone number had showed up on my caller ID. The call had come while I was out, but rather than a message, all that was recorded was the distant sound of children's voices, as if someone had dialed by accident. Why had she (or someone using her phone) called me? How had she even gotten my number? It's all so bizarre.
Three days later, with still no word from Angelo, I summon up the courage to call Brigit. A child answers the phone.
"Hello? Can I please speak to Brigit Seabrook?" I ask.
"Mom, it's for you," I hear the kid say.
Brigit comes on the line, and I explain what's going on. "Can you tell me what's going on with Angelo? I mean Mark?"
"How did you get this number?" Her tone is frosty, hostile.
"You called me."
"No, I didn't."
"Your name and number came up on my caller ID."
"I never called you."
"Well, anyway, I think there is something strange going on with Angelo, and I want to know what it is. Why did he ask me out? And why won't he return my calls?"
"I think you should talk to him."
"But he won't talk to me. Please, just tell me what's going on."
"I think you should talk to him."
We go around and around like this, but she totally stonewalls me. I get the feeling there is something going on, but whatever it is, she's not going to tell me. What the hell? Is she part of his little mind games? Eventually it's clear she's not going to crack, and I have no leverage on her. I have to give up.
Rachel was right--I'm never going to find out why he played me like that. It's intensely unsatisfying, but I just have to learn to live with it. It's hard to believe all this happened in the space of just two weeks. I burn the receipts and erase Brigit's number.

Postscript, March 2000

I'm perusing the "I Saw U" ads as usual when one jumps out at me:

Angelo or Mark or whatever your name is. Please get in touch. I just want to know what happened. I won't get mad. Please just call me. Cindy.

I wonder if I should call this Cindy, to let her know she'd been had and that it wasn't her fault. What was the bait he used to hook her? How many women has he done this to? I want to tell her it's ok she opened up to him, that she was able to express her desires, even if it was to the wrong person. It could happen to anyone. But in the end I don't call.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Devo Diary Chapter 6

Devo Diary Chapter 6:


September 1999

I've been coming out as a devotee to just about all my friends lately. Rachel was right--if I had talked to my friends, that whole thing with the con artist would not have happened. Or maybe I would have fallen for it anyway, but it wouldn't have been as awful.
The first people I call are Kara and Nam, my best friends from college.
Kara's reaction: "Thank god you're finally admitting it."
"What, you mean you knew?" I'm astounded.
I hear a sigh on the other end of the phone. I can just see Kara rolling her eyes. "It was pretty obvious. You know, the way you were with K."
Like the totally crazy obsessive way I was around K. Yeah, I guess she's right. I really did want to tell people back then too, but without knowing there was a word for it, that it was a real thing and not just some mystery, some twisted part of my soul, I literally couldn't express it. There was a moment when we were all living together, me and Kara and Nam and several other friends, when I tried once to tell them. K wasn't there, but most of my closest friends were. We were all sitting in the living room and I don't remember how it came up, but suddenly I was trying to explain my feelings for K. Nam has this Lolita fetish thing, and I tried to frame it in those terms.
"Like, you know how you feel about women pretending to be all young and girly?" I tried.
"But that's just something I latched onto. If that image wasn't around, it would have been something else," he argued. Huh. I'm not going to delve into his psychology, but that definitely wasn't true for me. Another friend suggested that I was just repressing my true lesbian desires. Nope, not that either, but once I said no, she was even more convinced that I was gay.
I tried again to explain it, but the more my well-meaning friends quizzed me, the more exposed I felt, and I just shut down. I never did utter the words. Without knowing about other devotees, I literally didn't have words to express it. But I guess Kara remembers all that too, and not being stupid, connected all the dots. Still, it's a tremendous relief to talk about it openly with her, even with all the fucked-up things that happened with K, to hear her say it's alright. I met Kara on the first day of college, and even though we're not so close now that we're living on opposite sides of the country, her opinion matters a lot to me.
"I just want to tell everyone now," I tell her. I've heard that gay people who come out often go through a phase of wanting to drape themselves in rainbow flags and tell the entire world they're gay. I definitely get that.
"Eh, that's maybe not the best idea," she says hesitantly. "This might just be a phase, and then you would be sorry that every person you work with knows the intimate details of your sex life."
Thank you Kara, practical as always. So I am reigning in my desire to tell strangers on the street, and limiting my coming out to close friends, the people I would talk to about sex anyway.
The only people I absolutely can't tell are my parents, not after the way they freaked out over K. Although I admit a big part of that was my fault.
It was the weekend that Kara and I graduated from college. Nam and our other housemates were a few years older and had graduated already. Over that long graduation weekend, there were many awkward hours spent sitting around our dingy living room, my parents and my brother, and Kara's parents and grandmother, attempting to make bland, inoffensive conversation. I had invited K over one afternoon, because I was determined to introduce him to everyone, but I could not bring myself to tell them that he was blind before he showed up.
Instead, I pulled out a stack of photos I had taken of him and passed them around without comment, mere moments before he was supposed to arrive. In the photos, the flash of the camera reflected against the scar tissue covering his eyes, making them shine a brilliant blue, but my parents and Kara's parents glanced over the photos without noticing anything. It wasn't until my brother looked at them that the truth came out.
"Is he blind?" my brother asked incredulously. I just nodded, blushing.
"Wha-a-a-t?" My mother was horrified. "He's what?!"
A moment later, K knocked at the door. He lived on the other side of College Town, but he had lived there his entire life, so it was no big deal for him to walk to our house. I let him in, made introductions, and we sat down next to each other on the sofa. Always charming and talkative, he couldn't understand why no one was returning his friendly overtures. Dad responded in monosyllables while Mom sat at his side, looking daggers at me. I squirmed in embarrassment and everyone else just watched in appalled silence. After five minutes, Mom started gesturing toward her watch in hugely exaggerated, silent pantomime.
"What!" I burst out. "Mom, what are you trying to say?"
"We have to get back to the hotel now," she said through gritted teeth. There were hasty goodbyes all around. I could tell K was annoyed to have walked all the way across town for a five minute visit. I wanted to apologize to him for how shamelessly rude my mother was being, but that would have to wait. My parents expected me to go back to the hotel with them, leaving K and Kara and her parents and everyone else at our house. I rode next to my brother in the back seat of the car my parents had rented, feeling like a child trapped in their world again.
"Is he your boyfriend?" Mom demanded.
"No," I said, hating the way my voice sounded like a sulky teen's.
"Are you sure? He really seemed like your boyfriend," Dad insisted. They pestered me with this question all the way to the hotel, but I insisted he was not. Not because he was blind, no, nothing would have made me happier than to say, "He's my blind boyfriend." But the other shit, the more complicated parts of our relationship, that I would not tell them. It was just easier to lie.
"You were sitting too close to him on the couch," Kara admonished me later, when I finally returned home. "It was obvious there's something between you."
Well, none of that matters now, it's all long over. But I will never tell my parents about being a devotee.
So now that I am officially out and proud, I really need to meet some disabled hottie. After what happened with my personal ad, it seems the local paper is not the way to go. I've turned instead to the internet. Rather than casting a wide net and hoping a real disabled person sees my ad, it seems to make more sense to find someone online. I've been searching all the groups and listservs for devotees and disabled people, trying to find a guy close to my age who lives in Raser City. It's a big city--there has to be someone, right?

I meet Tovia for dinner at a Mediterranean place by the water. As we're walking outside on a boardwalk overlooking the bay, I update him on my internet search. Tovia is one of the few people I told all the details of everything that happened with the con artist, and my subsequent online quest. He's been moderately sympathetic, for a guy.
"I have a date tomorrow," I inform him, as we stand side by side at the railing, looking over the water.
"Really? And he's disabled?"
"Yeah, he's missing both arms at the shoulder."
Tovia looks at me with a mixture of concern and horror. "That's a lot."
"I know." I giggle like I've just announced I have a date with a movie star.
He sighs and rolls his eyes. "You're so weird." Strangely, it doesn't bother me when he says something like that. I am weird, but he's my friend anyway. Just the fact that we can share a laugh over it feels so freeing.
Over mezze and several glasses of wine, I fill him in on the details of my date.
"His name is Bob Potter," I begin, and Tovia bursts out laughing.
"You're kidding!"
"He has no arms and his name is Bob? It's like a terrible joke," he says. I don't get it. "You know, like a one-legged woman name Eileen?"
I give him a dirty look. "You're such a child. Anyway, his name is Bob and he lives in Marysville." That's like three hours south of Raser City, which kind of sucks, but compared to all the other guys I have seen online, it's practically next door. He's thirty-five years old, almost ten years older than I am, also not ideal, but I can be flexible on that. He works for the city of Marysville, gainfully employed--not bad, right? He sent me a photo of himself at work: a small, balding man sitting behind an office desk, wearing a tie and short-sleeved white button-down shirt. Metal prosthetic arms, the kind that end in a hook, are clearly visible.
"So at least I know he's not faking," I conclude, laughing.
"Sounds ok," Tovia says with a shrug. "Do you like him?"
"I don't know, we haven't really talked that much. But he just happened to be coming to town for work tomorrow morning, so we figured we might as well meet up." I don't mention that he looks like thirty-five going on sixty in his photo. I had said he looked cute anyway, just to be nice, and he was ridiculously flattered.
"So does that kind of disability do it for you too?" Tovia asks.
"Yeah, sure." I think about it some more. "But it's still not like K."
"What the hell?" he says incredulously, tossing an olive pit back on the plate. "I thought you were over that guy already!"
I look at him with big, tragic eyes. "No. He was just so perfect for me! I mean, we had so many things in common. We were even part of the same group of friends. It wasn't like I had to go online to search for him, we just met naturally. And his eyes! Those blue, blue eyes, oh my god, it got me every time, just looking at him. He was handsome too, and that's not just me saying that. Strangers were always saying so, and girls would flirt with him. I'll never meet anyone like him again." I set my wine glass down. I'm a lightweight when it comes to drinking, and I've probably a little too much.
Tovia grimaces at me, a look halfway between pity and disgust. "I thought Carmen was perfect for me too," he says, "but it doesn't work that way." Carmen is his ex-girlfriend from before we reconnected. I never met her, but I know he's still a little hung up on her. "You know, she's part Cherokee. She has the most amazing long fingers. I'll never meet anyone with hands like that again. But you have to get over it and find someone new." I don't see how liking someone's hands has anything to do with me being a devotee, but whatever.
Bored with listening to my stupid problems, Tovia changes the subject. "Did I tell you I met a girl who's in a wheelchair?"
I perk up. "No! Tell me."
"Her name is Elisa and she's a paraplegic from a car accident when she was a teenager." Apparently they met at a party, through mutual friends. Tovia goes on and on about how cool and smart and interesting this Elisa is.
"So are you going to ask her out?" I ask.
"What? No." He seems surprised.
"Oh come on, you clearly like her. Ask her out!" But he just shakes his head. He likes her as a friend, he doesn't want a relationship right now, he's not interested in her in that way, blah blah blah. I think it's because he still isn't over Carmen.

The day Bob comes to Raser City, he spends the morning doing something work-related at City Hall, then comes to pick me up near my apartment in the early afternoon. I say hello to him awkwardly though the window of his ancient, beat-up Honda Civic, then get in on the passenger side. He turns to face me and extends a hook to shake hands. I shake the hook, but it feels strange.
"Hi, I'm Bawb Pawddah. How aaahhh you?" he asks.
"Wow, you really have the New England accent," I blurt out. I know he's from back East, but on the phone his "pahk the cah" accent hadn't been so prominent. I know it's hypocritical and un-PC to be so judgmental about an accent, but seriously, that accent is like nails on a blackboard. Most people who ever plan on leaving the area don't talk like that, or get rid of it.
Luckily he doesn't seem to mind my comment, but just laughs. "Yeahr, my family moved out West when I was twelve. I dunno why, I'm the only one who still has an accent."
As he's talking, he puts the car in gear, while I watched attentively. It's an automatic, and the gear shifter is the old t-shaped type with the button on the side. He pushes the button in with his knee then yanks the shifter back with a hook. Once the car is in gear, he fits the hook into a small metal ring attached to the steering wheel. He steers with just that ring, rather than trying to grasp the wheel like an able-bodied person. He notices me staring, but doesn't seem to mind. He knows all about me being a devotee, so I guess he's prepared for my interest in this kind of thing.
"I'm afraid to get a new cah cuz they changed the shape of the shiftah. I dunno what I'll do when this one finally dies," he explains.  As he eases out into traffic, he asks, "So do you wanna go downtown? There's an exhibit at the aaaht museum that looks intresting."
I had assumed we would just go get coffee and spend the requisite 45 minutes gauging whether there is mutual interest, but apparently not. This was going to be an actual date with activities.
"Sure, why not," I say, trying to sound enthusiastic. I'm always up for a trip to a museum. I am a huge nerd, after all.
I soon regret agreeing to this. Normally I can find something interesting in the most dry, academic topic, but this exhibit of architectural drawings tries even my patience. Also walking around a museum is not the best way to talk to someone, especially someone you don't really know. The silence in the big echoing exhibit hall inhibits any kind of serious conversation, even though there aren't many other people around. Once inside, we kind of split up to look at the exhibits. Once I realize how dull the drawings are, I blow through fairly quickly, but Bob moves at glacial speed, poring over every single drawing and placard excruciatingly slowly. I dawdle at the end, then walk through the hall again, hoping he might catch up, but no. The entire exhibit is only one large room, but after an hour he still isn't even half way through.
Trying not to let on too obviously that I'm dying of boredom, I sidle up next to him. "So what do you think? Pretty interesting, huh?"
"I dunno, nawt really," he says.
Biting back a more colorful response, I asked in as neutral a tone as possible, "So if you're not interested, why are you spending so much time on each thing?"
He gives me a serious look. "Since they went to all the trouble of writing it, I feel like I have to read everything."
"But if it's not interesting, maybe we should just go," I suggest. "You know, like to a café where we can talk or whatever."
Bob looks regretfully at all those unread placards and acquiesces with a little sigh. Soon we're ensconced in a Starbucks in my neighborhood again. Despite my impatience at the museum, I really do want to make this work, so I do my best to engage in conversation.
He tells me all about his childhood, happy by his account. He's the oldest, but his parents had four more children after him, which according to him is unusual. When a child is born with a disability, most people don't have more kids after that, he declares. I don't know if that's true or not.
Well anyway, even as he's talking about how wonderful his parents are, it seems to me they were kind of overprotective. I mean, he wasn't even mainstreamed, but went to a special school right through high school, and it sounds like he spent a lot of time at home even as a teenager. That seems excessive and unnecessary to me, but I don't say anything. Who am I to judge the decisions his parents made? But it probably explains why he's so awkward and dresses like my dad.
As we're talking, a little boy, maybe four years old, wanders over toward our table while his mother is distracted with placing her order. The boy gapes up at Bob, his eyes wide.
"Are you a robot?" he asks.
I burst out laughing, but Bob is very patient with him. "No, I'm a person just like you, but I was born without arms. These are just metal arms I use instead," he explains. "They're connected with a strap over my shoulders, and when I pull forward, it opens the hook, then when I pull back, it closes." He demonstrates, pinching the rims of the hooks open and shut. The kid just stares at him until the mother comes to take him away, apologizing.
"That was hilarious," I say. "You were mistaken for a robot! How cool is that!"
Serious as ever, Bob only says, "I don't mind explaining my disability to kids if it can make them moah open-minded. I do counseling too, for recently injured amputees. They're still mourning the loss of the limb, but I try to help them see the pawsitive."
I didn't say anything in reply because I'm stuck thinking about how different my world view is. Mourning the loss of the limb. As soon as he says it, I understand, of course that's what a person would go through. But I never saw it that way, for me it's just exciting, what makes a person special. It's not something to mourn. I don't fantasize about the injury or rehab, it's the normal life after all that which attracts me. But how could I explain all that to him?
After the café, we go back to my apartment, and I invite Bob in. Even though I'm getting bored fast, it seems like the friendly thing to do, and like he expects me to. Except that in my tiny studio apartment, there is nowhere to sit except on the bed, so that's where we sit. He gives me that look, and I know he wants to kiss me, but I'm not feeling it. To deflect him, I start asking more questions, which he's happy to answer. He tells me how he learned to do everything with his toes as a kid, and even now in the office if no one is around he prefers to take his shoes off and write with his feet. He even asks me for some paper and pencil and demonstrates.
As he's doing this, I'm distracted by a movement at the big double window. I jump off the bed and open the front door, which is right next to the window, just in time to see a homeless-looking guy take off down the walkway.
"What the fuck!" I shout. "You better run! Next time I'm calling the cops!" Seriously, what is wrong with this town? When I first moved here, creepy-looking guys tried to follow me home twice. But did this guy follow me, or Bob? What was he after? The front windows face right into the main room, and they're only covered with mini blinds, so it's not that hard to see in around the edges. Ugh, from now on I'm changing my clothes in the closet. And I'm getting some proper curtains.
I'm seriously creeped out by the peeping tom, but Bob is unconcerned.
 "Wanna see how my prosthetics work?" he offers. I nod. He unbuttons his shirt, revealing a white undershirt. The straps web over his shoulders, meeting at a metal ring in the middle of his upper back. He demonstrates again how they work, then slips them off.
"I don't usually let people see me without my prosthetics," he says, waving his tiny residual limbs up and down. "I feel like Chicken Little." They are very short and thin.
I watch him with clinical interest, but I just can't get into him. I'm not feeling turned on at all. "I, um, hate to be rude, but it's getting late, and I have to work tomorrow," I say. He gives me a strange look, then lies back on the bed to slip his prosthetics back on.
Once he has his shirt and jacket back on, he stands awkwardly by the door. "I had a nice time today."
"Yeah, me too," I say. "Thanks for driving all the way up here."
"So, can I have a hug?" he asks.
"Um, no, I don't think so," I blurt out before I even realize what I was saying. God, I'm such a bitch.
"Well can I at least call you?"
"Sure, ok." And he leaves. I heave a sigh of relief. I should never have invited him to my apartment.
Bob doesn't call me, but the next day I get an angry email.

I drove all the way up to Raser City to meet you because I thought you were a genuinely nice person, but you just used me. You're only interested in my disability. I deserve better than that. I want to be with someone who can appreciate me for my personality, and not just my body.

What the fuck? A hundred angry responses come to mind. How dare he accuse me of using him, when he was the one who waved his stumps in front of me! I never asked him to--that was all his idea. Did he think that because I'm a dev, he had to? Then that's his problem.
And what am I supposed to say to that email? He's accusing me of only seeing his body, when it's his personality that turned me off. I so want to write, "Actually, your dull-as-dishwater personality prevented me from even noticing your body."
Part of me wants to really tell him off, but another part of me feels guilty. Even though I didn't ask him to take his shirt off, I shouldn't have invited him into my apartment. I shouldn't have lied and said his photo looked cute. I shouldn't even have met him, but how could I know what he was like until I did? He wants me to like him for all of him, but I don't, and he blames me for it. There's really nothing I can say that will make him feel less hurt.