Hugging myself as though kicked in the gut, wanting to turn the lights out and write in the dark because the bulbs are bald and their eerie brightness sears, tears, rips right through me. Even my eyes are aching, crazy eyes in their socked out sockets, my mouth a crater and how many times have I been pinned to the bed like a butterfly in the hobbyist’s drawer? I know the grunts of men, many men, hear them in my dreams.
I once saw a movie and in it a woman was gang raped, the men taking turns, brutally thrusting into her as though she were an inflatable raft in filthy waters and the look on her face, the let’s-play-dead-look in her face is one I’ve worn many times, eyes rolled up in my head. “Sexy,” said one man while pinning my arms above my head, “very sexy,” then he went at me until I burned and bled, burned and bled.
It happened before my marriage and now twenty years later, it’s happening again. The men lining up like predators, ready to skunk me with the scent of their sex. Why don’t they just wear hunter orange? There’s a book on my hand-painted table with a picture of a red bird on the cover, beak open. That red bird is starving. That red bird doesn’t sing, it cries and that red bird is me. I can’t even see her wings—is she flightless, just like me? O rare, wild bird, beautiful, beautiful bird, what happened to you? Can you cry out my story?
Just now I’m remembering a game called “Pass the Body.” One person—the body—stands stock still and stiff as a board while surrounded by the players. The body let’s herself fall, be passed around from person to person, fast, faster, fastest. If the body goes slack, she falls.
Okay then, I’m the body. Okay then, I get passed around faster and faster. I get passed from man to man so fast their faces blur. Their hands become the fins of fish and why do I fly to the hook, again, again? I who was so hurt when I heard the rumor: “look out, Liz is back and Liz is loose?”
Because of the massive devastations of my childhood. Because the way I’m touched and the way I’m treated is not the way of self-respecting women. It’s the way of women half dead in their heads. Let’s get crass here, really crass—I get my brains fucked out. And why? Because my father was all over me from the day I was born. Finger-fucked as a baby. That’s just one of the many, many atrocities all the way up until I was eight. Then it stopped. Amen.
My father hated me as a teenager. Why? Because I was pretty, o so pretty, pretty and witty ands bright and all the boys wanted a piece of me. And they got it. The word no wasn’t in my vocabulary. Still isn’t. Because if I said no to my father in any shape or form, I was tortured, badly.
I learned one thing from him and one thing only: sex is love. I am fifty-four and only a few days ago, a few short days ago did I realize that sex is love is the law I live by. For my ex-husband, money is love. Soon after our separation, when we were planning to mediate our divorce, we had a meeting with our financial planner to set up temporary support for me. Afterwards, the man I had been married to for eighteen years looked at me and said, “Saving money has been my life’s work.”
I thought, how sad. I thought mine had been about mothering and writing, but the switch has been flipped and I’m being electrocuted by my truth—sex is love and what is sadder than that? There was no sex in my marriage and that left me love-starved, quite literally so. At my worst, I weighed 93 pounds. Down from close to 120. Just 93 and my hair was but an inch long. I was a desiccated woman who had been defiled as a child, but could not, would not remember that.
And now? Where is the love supreme, the beautiful beloved? My body is hovel, hut, pig sty and the men? They love it. They want me, really want me and I have pushed many out of the way. At least for now. Men want their whores, their wives and whores and nobody, nobody loves a slut.
I call my dog a little hussy because she’s all about wanting to be wanted. She’s learned a lot from her mistress, won’t eat her food unless she’s petted first. My pelt has been petted so many times I’m all animal hide. Sex is primal. So are wounds and when primal sex creates primal wounds, healing is nearly impossible.
I am not a sex addict. I am an object, a thing, an it. That inflatable raft in filthy waters. The men taking turns, then going home, always going home to their real homes and real wives. I’m just material, material for a fantastic fantasy that veers near violence because sex at its red hot melting point is so intense no man remains a gentleman. Only my ex-husband was a gentleman and he eschewed me soon after our only son was born.
As a young woman I was never picked, or more precisely, I was picked for passion and passion alone. I thought it was the way to a man’s heart. Let him have me, keep my mouth shut. To speak of need was taboo and how many times—countless, countless—was my father’s hand plastered upon my mouth so I couldn’t cry out while he brutalized me? I learned to down pain like liquor in a shot glass.
Still do. Today I spent reading the stories I wrote as a young woman. In the starring roles—man after man who couldn’t love me in the supporting role—a beautiful, brilliant young woman overlooked as though she were a common weed. “Corn husk,” one man said, “you’re nothing but corn husk, but you write like an angel.”
Those stories formed a book I couldn’t get published. Early despair then in both love and writing. When I read those stories today, I kept thinking, these are good, really good. They warranted publication and I warranted love.
One man, just yesterday, said I was the most passionate woman he knew and believe me, he knows me, has known me in every possible way, for nearly thirty years. I did not take this as a compliment. Nor did I take it as an insult. He needs me to be a certain woman—a Collette, a Mae West, but not as a vulnerable Elizabeth.
This is a man who, although married, has chosen to stay what he calls essentially alone. At first this pondered me, saddened me, but now I see it as a model. A woman I’ve known, also a long time, recently commented that I have never been without a man. Or let’s say, multiple men. They are always there. Ready to touch, to fondle, rise upon, then move on.
Not picked. It parallels my literary career. I have published books. They remain largely unread. My work has been nominated for awards, but never wins. I have taught many years, but always as an adjunct at slave wages. Now I’m waiting to hear about a teaching position I very much want and all I can do is remind myself that I am the one who is not picked.
Can the tables be turned at mid-life? The best I can offer is a maybe. Right now the most important person in my life besides my beautiful son is little ole me. I’m choosing to stay essentially alone, practicing my words: this is okay, this is not. I’m seeing a man ten years my junior and he’s very much in training. He’s passing the tests, calls me not just to say hi, but to make sure I feel safe. And my little hussy of a dog gets to flirt with his two male shelties. She may be in heaven, but I’m not, preferring instead this very imperfect earth and very imperfect love.