Choosing To Be A Lesbian Alcoholist

Patsy and I in Israel, nearly 20 years ago.
Patsy and I in Israel, nearly 20 years ago.

 

The last time I saw Patsy was at my wedding – nearly 13 years ago.  She officiated, combining Jewish, Hindu, Native American and British elements into a ceremony that spoke to both of our hearts and sensibilities.

I spoke to her yesterday for the first time in more years that I can count – not quite 13, but far too long.

We talked about Mickey – her mom – who had just died and what that felt like for her.  About meeting in Israel on a press trip nearly 20 years ago.  And so much of what had happened in the in between.  Things we caught in passing, in pithy Facebook posts and the occasional email.

She had no real sense of what had happened between my ex and me.  Or even that I had (happily) given up the fight with alcohol nearly seven years ago.

And because she had not been with me for every step, every man, every tear and nuance of the journey – she saw the story, my story, far differently than me.  Her reflections were, in a word, a revelation.

She had recently asked me in an email if there was “someone special” in my life.

It was the question I have come to expect. To brace myself for. To both love and despise – as it can feel both hopeful and humiliating, depending on the day, my mood and the current state of my heart.

I told her that I did not. That it hurt my heart to write that.

I told her about the suggestion that I not date for a year after my divorce. How that was pretty easy as no one was really asking. (Which is not exactly true. More to the point would be, no one I was interested in was asking.) And how that year had come and gone.

I told her I had met some extraordinary men, experienced some wonderful emotional intimacy and some wonderful romance.  But none had been truly available for one reason or another.

I told her I am online, like every other schlub, although it is not how I imagine meeting someone. And to keep me and my big, juicy, open heart in her thoughts and manifestations.

It was “my story.” The one I tell myself. The one I tell here.

Yesterday, she helped me tell the next chapter. It had a decidedly different feel.

I told her about the “romantic friendship” with my spiritual-traveling twin. About the man nearly 13 years my junior, who has been dancing around me (and me, him) for some months, and our breakfast date that morning. And about a similar dance I have been doing with a man who looks a lot like Daniel Day Lewis – my ex’s doppelganger.

I told her about the friend who continues to tell me, “I’m still interested.” How my feelings remain platonic. And that I have no desire to try to “make them” otherwise.

And I told her about a new man – the chef – who I actually did meet online. We’ve had just a few dates, and my feelings feel “right sized.” He is easy to talk to and I have fun spending time with him. I find him attractive and I like how he kisses.

“I think you are very genuine,” he blurted across the table a few nights ago. I like that too. Because it is kind and observant, but mostly because it is true.

Patsy replied, “You ARE dating a lot of men right now. You are having fun. You just haven’t settled on one.”

It was true. It IS true. It sounds different from “I am still not in a relationship,” even though the actual details are the same. And it feels different.

She added that in the nearly 20 years she has known me, that I have always had men in my orbit. Always. That I have always been attractive to men. Always.

This was news. I had not seen it that way.

Seems I have spent the past 30-plus years mostly noticing the time in between. The times of breakup and/or longing. And believing that everyone else was constantly in relationship – meaningful relationship – and wondering why I was not.

She reminded me of the other chef. The one I dated before my ex-husband.

And I recalled the hotel bartender in Israel who suggested I show him the pictures in my room. When I replied, “I think you’ve seen all the pictures in all of these rooms,” he asked if I was a lesbian. Earlier he had asked if I was “an alcoholist,” as I turned down a drink.  Close enough.

I chose an evening with my new press-trip friends (among them, Patsy) over an overseas fling, and a good story to be certain. I chose to be the lesbian alcoholist.

And in that recalling, I saw myself as Patsy saw me. (And likely, many others.) Attractive. Discerning. At choice. I have always been at choice…in relationships. And now, in how tell my story.

 

 

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Artist Date 47: Holding On To That Bull For 8 Seconds

I drive a 13-year-old Honda Civic Hatch DX.  They don’t make my car anymore.  From time to time I find a note on the windshield, someone offering to buy it.

In the glove box, in the side pockets, and behind the cup holders are stacks of CDs.

I grabbed them, haphazardly, when I left Seattle.  Three Dog Night.  Basia.  Mazzy Star.  Those were my ex’s.  Donna Summer, Stevie Wonder and Torch Song Trilogy are mine.  As is a disco mix my friend DJ Andy T made for me.

basiaI can listen to them over and over again without growing bored.  Singing along.  The familiar words keep me awake while driving long stretches.  Keep me from my thoughts.

And then I hit a wall.  Pulling out disc after disc as I make my way down Lake Shore Drive, looking for something I want to hear.   I come up empty.  No more Bonnie Raitt.  Annie Lenox.  Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.  No more Dire Straits.  No more Gipsy Kings.

My destination for this week’s Artist Date – 47 – was easy.  To Laurie’s Planet of Sound on Lincoln Avenue.

I pass by here almost daily.  There is a white board outside with new arrivals written in dry-erase magic marker.  There are t-shirts in the window.  And inside there are records, books and CDs.  I can tell from peeking in, but I’ve never been inside.  Until Friday.  And then, just for a moment.

There is a hipster man-boy at the register.  Big curly hair, plaid button-up shirt and chunky, nerd glasses.  We nod at one another.  I think John Cusack, High Fidelity.

elvis costello

I am holding The Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions CD.  $6.99.  I used to have this on cassette.  I remember singing along with Elvis to “Alison,” “Pump it Up,” and “Every Day I Write the Book.”  I remember my high-school crush giving me grief for buying “best of” albums.

My phone rings.  It is a call I have been expecting from a friend and mentor.  I drop the CD back in the bin and walk outside.  I will return later for it.

But I don’t.  During the course of our call, I find out she is moving away.  The stars have aligned and a “not-to-be-missed” opportunity has been presented to her family.  I am the first person she has told.

I am delighted for her.  And I feel the loss inside of me too.  I am acutely aware that our relationship will change.  I am tired of change, I think.  And yet, when things stay the same, I am restless and bored.

We finish our call and I go to Paciugo for gelato.  I order a piccolo cup – toasted coconut, sea-salt caramel, and cinnamon – and eat it walking home.  The sun is shining and the air is cool.  I am wearing gloves.  I tell myself I will go back to Laurie’s later.

But I don’t.

A friend comes over, and later, when I drive her home, she asks if I am looking forward to my Friday night alone.  Sometimes I do.  Especially this time of year, when night comes early and my radiator-heated apartment feels toasty.

I do not feel this way tonight.  I tell her so, bursting into tears.  By the time I pull over to her apartment I am sobbing uncontrollably in her arms.

I am so lonely.  She holds me.

I have been on the verge of tears all week.  This is not entirely unexpected.

Perhaps it’s because my ex-boyfriend – the one I always sort of held out hope for and thought “maybe one day…”– got engaged.

Perhaps it is because my friend and mentor is moving.  Or because I have begun to look for work in earnest, for the first time in 12 years.

Perhaps it is because I chatted online with my ex-husband today and that always kind of throws me off my square.

Or maybe it is because it is the first week in November.  That it’s just that way right now.  I don’t know.  I’m not sure that it matters.

All I know is going home by myself, to myself, is a really bad idea.  I know I won’t cook or write or take a bath.  I am pretty certain I will do something not helpful, like look up old lovers on Facebook.

I don’t feel like going back to Laurie’s either.  I don’t want to hear the chatter in my head.  And I don’t want to talk about it.  There is nothing more to say.  And knowing that is really something of a miracle.

Dallas_Buyers_Club_posterDallas Buyers Club is playing at the Century Theatres.  If I drive fast I can make the 8:30 show.  I make a beeline and arrive with time to spare.

I buy a ticket and claim a seat on the end.  I lay my coat on the seat next to me, joining the one belonging to the man sitting two to my right.  He is also alone.

I think about Tony, my first close friend diagnosed with AIDS.  I remember him cutting my hair in his kitchen and doing me up like a drag queen, full-well knowing I would never wear my hair like that.  But it makes him happy.  I remember smoking pot with him and eating empanadas in Detroit.  I remember that AZT made his mouth taste like metal and put him in a cranky mood.

But mostly, I get lost in the story unfolding in front of me.

I forget that Matthew McConaughey is Matthew McConaughey and not Ron Woodruff – a red-neck, homophobic, drug-addicted Texan diagnosed with AIDS.  I open my heart to this man who lived seven years instead of 30 days.

This man who befriended a card-shark, drag queen named Rayon.  Who smuggled non-FDA approved treatments into the United States for his Dallas Buyers Club.  Who in helping himself, helped others.

I cry watching him hold on to that bull for eight-seconds.  (See the movie.  You’ll understand.)  I cry when the screen goes black and silent white letters report his death.  Even though it isn’t a surprise.

I have gotten caught up in someone else’s story instead of my own.  It is what I had hoped for.

Driving home, I feel just a little bit better.  But I am still holding on by my fingernails.  Like a newly sober alcoholic counting the minutes before bed – congratulating himself and thanking God for making it through another day without drinking.

Holding on to that bull for eight seconds.  Holding on.

Artist’s Date 19: We’re Only As Sick As Our Secrets

anne sextonI met Catherine Kaikowska my senior year of college, in an 8 a.m. poetry class.

She was all black.  Turtleneck.  Boots.  Leggings.  All hair.  Brown.  Shoulder length.  Wide and kind of frizzy.  She hiked herself up on the desk, crossed her legs in front of her and cracked open a can of Diet Coke.  “Fuck, it’s early,” she mumbled.

I liked her right away.

She liked me too, and invited me to meet her at The Peanut Barrel – an East Lansing institution known for good burgers, cheap pitchers of beer, and peanut shells covering the floor – where we sucked down Labatts Blues, chain smoked and talked about sex until closing.

She was from Ohio, and used to work the door at a club where Chrissie Hynde played before she made it big with The Pretenders.  The place she vowed she’d never return to until that time.

I haven’t thought about Catherine in a long time.  Until last Thursday, when I slipped a biography of Anne Sexton into my robin’s egg blue Samsonite carry-on bag, circa 1972, and boarded a plane bound for Nashville.

I was first introduced to Sexton in Catherine’s class, along with Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich and her mentor at Michigan State University, Diane Wakoski.  Yet my interests lied with the testosterone-rich voice of Charles Bukowski.  The beatnik fantasy of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

I pulled the book out – a tomb, really, nearly 500 pages, hardcover and wrapped in acetate that is supposed to protect it – at Midway Airport, after checking my orange hard-case luggage and picking up a mediocre Americano.  Artist’s Date 19, surrounded by fellow travelers with faces tucked into ipad and smartphone screens.

If we are only as sick as our secrets, then Sexton was the picture of health – for she had none.  She was transparent, as I have been described.  Only more so.

Teacher and mentor John Holmes begged Sexton not to publish her darker, highly confessional poems.  Advice she ignored, and turned into, “For John, Who Begs Me Not To Enquire Further.”

And yet, clearly she wasn’t well, as she took her own life at 45, just two years older than my 43.

Sexton threaded the stories of her life through men – how they reflected her.  She was wildly flirtatious.  A presence.  And, at times, profoundly sad.

She tended to sexualize significant relationships.  She had fluid boundaries.

She felt, at times, in competition with her mother.  And was considered alcoholic.

She gave away her heart too easily.

In “More Than All the Rest,” a poem to her long-term psychiatrist Dr. Martin Orne, she writes:

“Oh, I have raped my inner soul/And give it, naked, to you,/Since my warm mouth and arms/might love, and frighten you.”

I saw myself.  I looked around the airplane to see if anyone else saw me too.

I felt sick, like the medical-school student convinced she has contracted each disease she studies.

But I am not Anne.  I didn’t suffer post-partum depression.  I didn’t hand over my children to be raised by my mother-in-law.  I don’t have children.  I’ve never been pregnant.

I haven’t been institutionalized.  I didn’t take my own life.

Sexton’s gift was making something out of her sick.  Creating art.  Allowing others to see inside the most shameful parts of herself and whisper, “me too.”  In the process, she found both “her people” and herself.

Me too.

The plane touched down.  I was 78 pages in.  I slipped an index card into the book to hold my place, on it is a prayer I had written.  My own words.  My own healing.