I HAVEN’T SEEN ROBERT for five days. He’s working on fixing things with his wife, but she’s not as smart as I am, and Robert needs smart. This is what he told me.
One reason Robert knows I’m smart is because I pick out better books for his three-year-old than she does. I get the books from my grandma’s store. I get the artsy ones that have deep adult meaning and cool kid pictures. Grandma makes me pay for the books. I didn’t ever have to pay for books before, but I gladly hand over the cash, which I will hit Robert up for later.
Today I buy Annabel Lee.
“Where are you getting all this money?” Grandma asks.
I tell her Robert and I are sharing our money. My grandma points out I have no money to share.
When I get back to my apartment, I write an inscription about how our love is as true as the love Poe writes about in Annabel Lee, but I don’t say that, exactly, because it would be sappy. And instead of inscribing, I write on a notecard, and slip it inside, so he doesn’t have to throw out the whole book if he doesn’t leave his wife.
CAMERON SAYS he has a present for me. He gives me his three favorite pictures from the Victoria’s Secret catalogue. “You can put these up with your pictures of women triathletes,” he says.
I examine the pictures. The women all have smooth stomachs with soft belly buttons, and I am pleased. “Thank you,” I say, looking at his nose or his forehead—not his eyes, in case I still love them. I say, “There’s this part in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings where Maya Angelou says she thought she was a lesbian, but really she was just becoming conscious of her own body and learning to love it.”
“So, Cameron, how do you think she knows?”
“She’s just making excuses. She’d do Toni Morrison if she could.”
ROBERT CALLS. He’s in his car. He’s always in his car when he calls because it’s the only phone bill Marla doesn’t open.
I haven’t seen him for five days because he says that to see me on a day he sees the marriage counselor would be dishonest.
I spend the next half hour preparing for his arrival. I shave my legs twice, once up and down and once diagonally. I place a volleyball and a swimsuit in the middle of the floor so he thinks I’ve been out playing, instead of home waiting. I’ve spent all week waiting: Cleaning behind stuff, putting new stuff in concealed spots, and throwing up.
I sit on my floor and imagine what it will be like when he gets here. He’ll look the same as always—khaki pants, brown loafers and oxford-cloth shirt. He wears the same clothes on the weekend that he wears to work. Once I told him his life has no boundaries, and he said he’s too old for jeans.
Robert buzzes me and I buzz him back. His eyes dance when they see me, and he kisses me right away, in the door frame; other guys would wait until they walked in and closed the door.
Robert sits down on the floor, which looks funny because we haven’t sat anywhere in my apartment besides the bed since the first day he was here. “I have to stop making love to you,” he says.
This means he won’t be divorcing Marla any time soon. This means my future is disintegrating. I say, “Then why are you here?”
“Because I wanted to tell you in person.”
He’s told me this in person at least ten times.
“Thank you,” I say.
“I can’t call you anymore,” he says.
“Okay,” I say. He’s never said this.
We stare at each other. It feels awkward to be clothed. He asks, “What are you going to do now?”
“You mean with my life?”
“Yeah. Are you going to go back to school? Are you going to play volleyball professionally? Are you going to get a job? You’re so lucky. The whole world is open to you. You have no responsibilities to anyone but yourself.”
“I’m going to try dating women,” I say. It comes out quickly and we’re both surprised, but I’m relieved to see the lust in his eyes.
“That’s great,” he says. Then he says, “I have to admit that I’m a little jealous. But I’d sure like to see it.”
I can’t believe I’ve gotten myself into this conversation. I know these will be lies that are hard to keep track of: “I have a date this weekend.”
“With whom? Do I know her?”
“Robert,” I say, “the only women we know in common are the women on the trading floor and your wife.”
“Well, I thought maybe it’s Amy.”
“No, this woman is much more beautiful than Amy.”
“Does she look like you?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. I’ll tell you later.”
“But we can’t talk later.”
“Well, you’ll have to use your imagination.”
“Okay,” he says. “I have to go,” he says.
I can’t believe he’s going to leave without even making out in my bed.
We kiss, and it’s passionate, like always, because we always think it’s the last time.
I READ ADS all day. I decide looking for men is best in the Wilmette paper because everyone in Wilmette owns a big house. The Reader is best for looking for women because it’s free, so it attracts the people who are too exciting to hold down jobs.
All the ads sound stupid, so less is best. I answer an ad that says, “five-eight, nice figure, graduate student.”
I write a list of things I like. I list stuff like Plato and running and spaghetti so she knows I’m well-rounded. I send her a swim-suit shot, but I don’t tell her my dad took it.
After I send my letter, I start worrying that she won’t call, and then I binge and throw up.
I go to the bookstore, which is the only safe place for me when I get on the throwing-up track. I spend an hour in the bookstore. I pretend each of the women customers is my ad woman, and I make up scenarios for our first date. One woman is big-breasted and cross-legged on the floor in front of fiction—the M’s. We have a great date that ends when I can’t figure out a graceful way to get our clothes off.
I realize that for the past hour, I have not thought of Robert once, which makes me even more committed to being a lesbian. I buy Nice Jewish Girls: An Anthology of Jewish Lesbian Writing to make sure that being a lesbian will not mess up my life.
CAMERON COMES DOWN to the beach and I’m playing on a woman’s net. He sits down to watch.
“You’re getting good,” he says.
“How have you been?”
“I’m okay when I’m playing, but when I go back to my apartment, all I do is think about Robert.”
“Why don’t you come to a movie with me and Julie tonight?”
“Doesn’t she hate me?”
“No, not at all.”
I go out of curiosity, mostly. Julie is short and Asian and I have a better body. Cameron has a thing for Asian women. She feels superior because she got Cameron. I feel superior because she’s ugly. We are very nice to each other.
We see Fatal Attraction, and I cry at the end when the man goes back to his wife.
HER NAME IS PATTI, and she calls three days later. I say I’m glad she called. I want to ask what sorts of replies she got, but I don’t want to seem insecure. She suggests dinner and we pick a time. I tell her I’ll pick her up; I want to be in control.
I beg to borrow my parents’ car. I have to have it back by midnight, but that might be good if she turns out to be ugly.
As I pull up to her apartment, I rewind the tape to “Sweet Virginia” because it sounds erotic but not obviously erotic. She must be loaded because her apartment building is full of marble. I ring her bell and she makes me wait five minutes in front of fifty mirrors, and when she comes down, every one of my six thousand hairs is in perfect place, which is good because all of hers are too. She could be a model. She has large breasts and long legs. I hope she thinks I’m beautiful, too, but I feel big and gawky, so I try to make up for it by being suave and confident. She says, “Hi,” and I shake her hand. As we walk to the car, she presses her lips together to keep from smiling. I let my arms swing and my keys jingle.
“Sweet Virginia” starts up, and I ask her if she has an idea of where to go. She has no ideas, so we drive around until we spot an upscale pizza place.
This is what I tell her about myself: I am planning to play professional beach volleyball. I used to work on the trading floor.
This is what I find out about her: She’s planning to be a nurse anesthesiologist. She used to be a professional ballerina.
CAMERON AND I are warming up. When we hit at each other, we pass the ball up perfectly, until he says, “I’m cheating on Julie.” I am glad to hear he didn’t reserve all his cheating for when he was with me.
“Aren’t you engaged?”
He catches the ball. “Yeah. But I panicked that I would never have sex with anyone but Julie for the rest of my life.”
“Who is it?”
“Pearl. You don’t know her. She’s sixteen. She’s a secretary in the ER.”
“Sounds like you two are really compatible.”
“She has a golden tongue.”
“Why is it golden?” I want to know if mine is golden.
“Last night, she said, ‘I want you to come in my mouth.'” I let Robert come in my mouth all the time, so I have a golden tongue, too. I can’t believe Julie left a message about blow jobs if she doesn’t have a golden tongue. I’m embarrassed for her.
I hit the ball hard at Cameron, while he’s thinking about Pearl. Or Julie. It doesn’t matter.
PATTI AND I work out at her expensive health club. We run twenty laps and swim fifteen. I am in much better shape than she is. I don’t tell her that I work out three times a day to keep myself from bingeing and thinking about Robert. She says she feels like an unworthy running partner. I like that. When we go to the locker room, I wonder if we should go in separate rows. We don’t talk about it, though. We undress next to each other.
This is what I tell her about me: I am attracted to the women I play volleyball with. I just got dumped by a married man.
This is what I find out about her: She was attracted to the other women dancers in her company. She just dumped a doctor who was supporting her in her own apartment.
I TELL HER I don’t really have a car, so she always has to drive. She wants to dance. She wants to check out the lesbian club scene. We go to one, and it’s full of industrial lesbians drinking beer and wearing sneakers. The next one we go to has flashing lights on the outside and dancing women on the inside. We watch for a little, to see how women do it. They seem to be doing it just like men and women do it; you dance like you’re by yourself.
I start sweating after about four songs, and I don’t want to be sweaty, in case this is the night Patti sleeps over, so we stand on the side for a while. Three different women ask me to dance. I say No to all of them. I say I’m with Patti.
Men never approach me like this. I decide I’m a much hotter commodity among lesbians. I could have more power if I stuck to women.
This is what I tell Patti about myself: I want to be a writer, but I have never written anything. I’m bulimic. Well, I say I used to be.
This is what she tells me about herself: She’s had plastic surgery three times. She’s a hooker. Used to be.
ROBERT CALLS and he says he has to see me.
I don’t want to see him. I don’t love him. He’s too fucked-up.
“What time?” I ask.
“Seven,” he says. And I know Marla moved out again, or he’d have to come over during the day.
I call Patti when I know she’ll be at school, and I leave a message that we’ll have to reschedule. “Something suddenly came up,” I say.
He comes over with a bottle of wine and no explanations. I don’t ask. I just drink his wine, and we get into bed quickly, before we have to talk about anything prickly, which is everything.
He kisses my vagina, and it feels good if I don’t think about who’s doing it. I’m not on the pill anymore, so I tell him to come in my mouth. He’s rolling his hips and stroking my hair. He tells me he loves me, and I am glad my mouth is full.
PATTI PICKS ME UP. She wants to go to another lesbian club.
I say, “I think we know each other well enough to kiss. Are we ever going to kiss?”
Patti looks straight ahead, over the steering wheel. She presses her lips together so she doesn’t smile.
“Let’s just wait until it happens,” she says.
“It’s not going to happen if we don’t make it happen. I’m getting antsy.”
“Okay,” she says, and she turns her face to me. I lean toward her and kiss her. I put my hands on the back of her head and she puts her hands on the steering wheel.
We kiss for about a minute. Enough for me to say I know what it’s like to kiss a woman, but not enough to call myself a lesbian. I have a huge smile on my face. “Thanks,” I say, “that was really nice.” I know it means a lot to her to kiss me because she doesn’t kiss tricks, and she doesn’t let the doctor use his tongue.
We go to the club.
This is what I tell her about myself: I love her legs. This is what she tells me about herself: Three of Robert’s friends in the Yen pit were her clients.
I TELL HER to park her car and come up to my apartment. She likes coming up because she likes my books. “You have such a curious mind,” she says.
“Let’s have sex tonight,” I say.
“I have to be in the mood,” Patti says.
“Well, what do you need?”
“I need to be in control. I’m used to being the one in control.”
I lie down on the floor. “Okay. You take control.”
She says, “I don’t know what to do.”
“Let’s take off our clothes and get in bed.”
“Let’s leave on our underwear,” she says.
We both have on lacy black panties. We lie down side by side, facing each other, and I put my hand on her breast—the top one. Her skin feels good.
“I feel stupid,” she says.
I feel stupid too, but I want to feel her body against mine. I want to know what it’s like for breasts to come together. I say, “Just try it,” and I put my face close to hers, and she laughs. And then I hate her.
“Let’s get dressed,” I say.
“Are you sure?” she says. “Are you angry?”
“No, I’m not angry,” I say, throwing her clothes at her. I pull my T-shirt over my head. She leaves.
I TELL MY MOM I’m a lesbian now, and I’m bringing my girlfriend home for dinner. Mom says, “Does this woman like dark meat or white?”
“What? Mom, aren’t you surprised?”
“No. You’ve always had a lot of trouble with men.”
I say, “Forget it. I just decided I’d rather come alone.”
I tell Patti I don’t want to see her anymore. I give no explanation, and she doesn’t ask.
I JUST FINISHED sitting at the mahogany dining room table. Now I’m sitting at the stark white kitchen table. I move between the two for variety. I am annoying my mother while she cooks lunch, hoping the day will go faster.
“You’re going to have to stop waiting for him,” my mom says. “It’s dragging your whole life down.”
“I don’t have a life.”
“Well it’s dragging your volleyball down.”
“Wow,” I say. “You’re worried about my game?”
“He’s not as great a guy as you think. If he’d cheat on his wife, he’d cheat on you.”
“He loves me, Mom. I know he loves me.”
“He could love you and still never be able to leave his family, and you have to accept that.”
I move back to the dining room. I know I should not want to get back together. I know I’m wasting brain cells planning our future. But it’s so hard to plan my future without him. It’s hard to draw all new pictures. It’s so much easier to start with a picture of his house, or his restaurant, or his hair.
I GO TO a lesbian bulimic overeater’s anonymous meeting to get picked up. At the meeting all the women are beautiful, except for one really fat woman who is a sex addict left over from the group that meets right before this one.
We go around the room and say our names and that we are bulimic. I hate saying it, and I tell myself that I am not bulimic. I am not like these women. I am done throwing up.
I don’t listen to anyone sharing. I pick out two women in the meeting and I tell myself that I must ask one of them out. I’m nervous, but if I make an ass of myself, I can go to a different meeting.
The first woman who introduces herself to me asks if I want to get coffee.
Her name is Rachel, and she’s Jewish, which means she’s the first date in years who would meet my family’s requirements.
She takes me back to her apartment and shows me personal, meaningful things. I try to be interested and compassionate, but I don’t want her to think this is long-term. She says she hasn’t thrown up for two years. I tell her I don’t throw up anymore, either. While she talks to me, I size her up—not gorgeous, but an incredible voice. She’s got a flat stomach but flat breasts. I hope for really big nipples.
ROBERT IS LIVING alone at his house, fixing things. He calls me up to ask if I want to have lunch. “It’s a beautiful day,” he says. “So you’re probably going to play volleyball.”
“Yeah,” I say, “I do want to play volleyball.” He’s silent. “Do you want to come with me?” I say.
“That would be nice.”
“Come quickly. If I get there too late, all the nets will be filled.” He picks me up in a new BMW. “You bought a car?”
“Yeah. Do you like it? It has a CD player. Listen.” He presses play and L.L. Cool J comes on.
“You bought that?” I ask.
“Yeah. I thought you said it was good.”
“Well, good if you’re going to live with me.”
“I like it,” he says.
“This car is an extension of your midlife crisis. This is like when my dad bought a motorcycle.”
“This is not a midlife crisis. It’s deeper than that.”
At the beach he gets a Nieman Marcus beach chair out of the trunk and he folds the Wall Street Journal under his arm. He’s wearing khaki pants.
We walk to the courts, and I get ahead of him in the sand. You can tell a volleyball player by the way she walks through the sand—upright and steady. Robert wobbles and doesn’t pick his feet up high enough. I wait for him, but once I’m on the beach I’m anxious to get a game. “Sit here,” I tell him.
Before I find a court to challenge, some guy asks me to play. He says, “You can have half the court,” because he knows I hate playing co-ed.
“Okay,” I say, and head over to the court. I leave Robert in the sun with no lotion and a paper that’s already turning yellow.
RACHEL TAKES ME dancing to introduce me to the lesbian club scene. It’s different from going with Patti, because Rachel has friends here. I hope Rachel and I will have sex tonight because I don’t want to have to be this social again.
She walks me back to my apartment, and I invite her up, and when we get there I feel awkward standing in the middle of the apartment, so I force myself to kiss her. After a couple of seconds, it feels good, and I decide I should kiss her like I’d kiss a man because then I’ll know what to do. Our tongues slide together and my hands run up and down her body.
We move to my bed, and I try to take off her shirt. I want to get everything off as fast as I can.
“No,” she says. “I like to keep our clothes on as long as possible.” I don’t tell her I’m already at my limit. I leave her shirt on and put my hand under. I want to feel every part of her.
Once I realize that we really are going to have sex, I tell myself that I can go slower.
I want to see what I’m touching, so I get out of bed and turn on the bathroom light.
I can’t keep my hands still. Everything is so soft and smooth, and I can’t believe how much freedom my hands have with her body. It doesn’t feel real. I feel like I’m doing something sneaky, unofficial, outside of any rules
The next time I push her shirt up, she helps it over her head. I take off her bra, and I feel like I’m playing dress-up. Before she can move, I take off all my clothes. I want to feel my body against hers.
I move my hands across her breasts a million times before I put my lips to them, because I still feel sort of funny. But once I do it I can’t stop.
For a while, I don’t notice what she’s actually doing. “Tell me what to do,” I say, in case she forgot that I have no experience doing this. She tells me to turn over. “Why?” I ask.
“It’s better on your stomach. Did you know that? It’s more intense that way.” I want to believe she knows everything in the world about lesbian sex, so I turn over and spread my legs. My back is arched, and I rise up a little on my knees and rest my head on my arms, and before she even touches me, this position feels good. I can’t tell what she’s doing—if she’s using her fingers or her mouth. She’s not soft like Robert—she’s hard and rhythmic. I am loud, because Robert likes that, but I stop to say, “Wait, show me what you’re doing.” She says she has three fingers in me.
“Yeah,” she says, “you seem to like it.”
I do like it, but now I want to do it to her. So I arch my back a lot and squeeze my muscles, and I come. Usually, I’d want to come again, right away, but I want to do it to her.
“okay,” I say, “you lie on your stomach.” She lies down and spreads her legs. “Rachel, I can’t see anything. How about if you start on your back.”
She flips over, and she puts her arms behind her head so her back arches a little. Her breasts are flat and her stomach is flat, and everything seems to slope to her thighs. I rub my face in her pubic hair, and it smells a little salty and a little musty and I take deep breaths until I know her scent. I spread the lips of her vagina, and her clitoris is huge. I lift my face and rest my chin in her hair. “Rachel, do I have an undersized clitoris?”
She says, “Well, it’s smaller than mine. But I’ve seen smaller.”
I spread her lips again, I hold them open and run my tongue softly up and down. I make circles, and I suck, and I kiss. She says, “Yes,” sometimes, so I can tell how I’m doing.
“Bite,” she says.
I take little bites on the side, and she spreads her thighs wider, and she rocks her hips, and I get so excited that I bite where I should be licking, and Rachel yells out.
“Sorry,” I say. “I’m really sorry.”
She pulls me up by the arms to her mouth. “You have to wait a minute,” she says, “that really hurt.” She kisses me like it’s okay that I just took a bite out of her, and I love her for being so forgiving. our mouths taste salty and musty, and my legs are wrapped around her waist, tightly. I want to be inside her. I stick my tongue deep in her mouth. I stick my tongue in her ear and she giggles. I stick my tongue in her vagina slowly, and she moans. She turns over, and she says, “Use your fingers.”
I put three in and out and she moves her hips with me. She says, “You can put in more than three.”
I wonder how she can tell how many I’m using. I put in four, and my hand glides in and out. I push harder and harder. I love making her scream with each thrust.
She drops her hips and my hand slips out, and then I can tell that she’s come. I feel a little silly for not knowing when it happened, but I’m really proud that I made her come.
I crawl up her back, and I lay my wet hair on her warm butt. I put my arms over hers and I kiss the back of her neck. I kiss behind her ears, and I whisper, “More.”
I fall asleep with my face in her thighs, but she wakes me up when she flips over. She puts her face next to mine and kisses me good night.
She sleeps. I can’t sleep with her face right there, so I think. I think it was fun to do this, but I don’t want to have to talk to her when she wakes up.
I don’t want to go down to the newspaper stand holding hands.
I think about how everything we did was for an orgasm, and if we’re just going to put stuff in each others’ vaginas we should just use penises. I am relieved to know that I like penises better than women. I feel self-righteous that I tried sex with a woman and didn’t like it.
I want her out of my bed. I want to try masturbating on my stomach.
I want to throw up, and I would have to lie to her if I don’t get rid of her.
“HI. IT’S Cameron. What’s up?”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m moving to Los Angeles.”
“What? When? How can you just be telling me now?”
“I just decided. There’s no reason to stay here. I’m better than all the women and the men won’t play with me.”
“Your defense sucks.”
“I know. I’m working on it. I’m going to live with my parents and save my unemployment checks, and I’m moving in March.”
“Well, we’ll have to play a lot before you go. I want to be able to say I played with a pro beach volleyball player.”
I’M LIVING in my parents’ attic and I’m working on my defense.
I don’t talk to my parents except to borrow the car. They hate that I treat their house like a hotel, but they love that I’m planning to move away from Robert.
Every morning, my mom drives me and my dad to the train, and he gets off at his office and I get off at the beach.
The key to defense is believing in yourself—relaxing, and knowing that wherever the person puts the ball, you can get there. But it’s not enough for me anymore to just touch the ball. I have to get it up where I want it on the court; no one will give me a good set if I can’t pass the ball where I want it.