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.


  1. Can this be turned into a novel ASAP??! I have never identified with a story so much! I'm so happy that you are telling it how it really is out there. Really looking forward to the next chapter - it's making me feel like I should start writing about all my dating disasters with disabled dudes lol

  2. Thank you thank you thank you! I love that your taking the time to write your experiences out, they/you are very interesting. I think you are very brave for putting an add right out there in the paper, I'm way to chicken for stuff like that...

  3. This brought back so many memories for me. It was my favorite chapter yet. Keep 'em coming!

  4. Well written, enjoyable reading.

  5. I love this. The piece, and this chapter in particular.

  6. Love this story!!