Part of the “uniform” of my 20s was a black, suede backpack. I was living in San Francisco, but bought it at St. Mark’s Place in New York. Its contents varied depending on where I was going, but two things were a constant– condoms and a portable toothbrush.
These two items collectively served as a reminder that I was ready for anything. And that the world was full of possibilities. A sort of slutty message of hope.
I’m not in my 20s anymore.
And yet, I’ve been carrying around a handful of condoms in my bag – tucked into a zippered case, attached on a string – ever since my ex asked me for a divorce last May.
My friend Mary Kate noticed them last week when I was leaving her house, as I was pulling my keys out of the zippered case. I saw her glance. Not in a nosy way… just following my hands.
I told her about the black backpack. San Francisco. The condoms and the toothbrush. How I felt like anything was possible.
I also told her I felt like a 14-year-old boy who carries around a condom for so long that his wallet is now imprinted with a circle. But that carrying them somehow reminded me that I’m ready. Like a Boy Scout. “Because you never know where you are going to meet someone…”
She laughed. She always laughs – it is one of her more charming qualities – and teasingly said, “Right. You’ll just meet some guy, bring him home and sleep with him?”
She already knew the answer. So did I.
Once upon a time, “Yes.” But not anymore.
Not because I’ve had an ideological shift. It’s not a question of morals. Never has been. Just the painful awareness – which I’ve written about at length – that I am not capable of casual. And the guidance I’ve been given to avoid the manufacture of my own misery.
I learned that with Mr. Thursday Night last spring. And with the Southern Svengali in the fall.
It’s not about the sex. (Because we didn’t have sex.) It’s not about ridiculously-devilishly-handsome good looks. (Although both of them possessed those.)
It’s the connection. The energy. The emotional intimacy. That’s the turn on…and what ultimately brings me to a physical connection. I thought it was always my body moving too fast. But really it’s my mouth. My ears. My heart.
I mentioned this conversation to a friend the next day. She asked if it had occurred to me that every time I open that zippered case – which is several times a day, as I keep my keys in there also – I remind myself of the sex I am not having. Or, more to the point, of the intimacy – both physical and emotional – that I do not have in my life right now.
It had not.
The deliberate manufacturing of my own misery.
She continued speaking but I heard little of what she said as I was stuck on this new idea. I unzipped the pouch, pulled out the sleeve of condoms, walked into my bedroom and put them in the drawer next to my bed. All the while, she kept talking.
“I just took them out of my bag,” I interrupted.
I added that should I find myself in the position where I “just have to have sex, right here, right now,” I can go to a Walgreens – most of them are open 24/7.
“Perhaps that would serve as a pause,” she replied.
It’s been a little over a week since I took the condoms out of my bag. And the world still feels full of possibilities.
Epilogue: In taking photographs for this blog, I noticed that the condoms had expired. I promptly tossed them in the trash.