It took the gashes she etched into my back months to heal. I feared they’d be pulpy and inflamed forever. I took artsy photos of my battle scars in the sepia lighting of my bathroom and uploaded them to the internet. When I wanted to feel something for her, I would dig my nails into the welts closest to my ass. Being on top of someone, filling someone up who’s that empty — took all of me. I loved her. I really fucking did. Who else would if I didn’t?
I can still hear the way she said my name. Nasally and sweet, never a whisper. In anger, while coming, in despair — it sounded eerily similar. The sound of it creeped me out and turned me on simultaneously. Having sex with someone you’re fearful of is exhilarating. Don’t knock it until you try it.
I remember our first trip to the sex shop. On the long ride to the Northside she was chatty with plans.
“We need handcuffs, and a leash. I really want a leash. Would you like that? Owww.”
When we entered the shop she seemed uncharacteristically shy and unsure. She gazed starry eyed at the massive purple and pink dildos and hodgepodge of vibrators. I wandered over to the heavy duty machinery — fuzzy handcuffs, bedazzled chains, and glittery whips — but she summoned me back, enveloping my arm and my hand simultaneously. The way she did when she was about to ask for something. I stared at her longingly, ready to oblige any request. She timidly pointed to a massive, black dildo.
It sat commandingly on its own display. There was no packaging or instructions, just the massive, inanimate dick.
“I know, it’s big. But I like it. It’s thick. And it has veins. Ooooh.” “The color isn’t weird to you?”
It was the color of tar or charcoal. And it had gathered a layer of dust because who else in the world would purchase this behemoth of a dick. She removed the dildo from its pedestal. I flinched. I wasn’t totally sure contact with such a monstrous object wouldn’t send us catapulting into a haunted historical orgy.
She held it in both of her bronze, puny hands as if presenting me a sacrifice.
When we fucked, she clung to me for dear life. She sunk her natural fingernails into my back and begged me to whisper in her ear that I loved her and wanted to marry her. I always withheld for a few minutes. I knew replying with her courthouse fantasy would take her over the precipice into orgasmic bliss.
But I knew the moment I stepped foot in New Orleans that I didn’t want to marry her. The most colorful city in America was gray and wet that day. It was cold, too. The shotgun houses, ferns swinging from the scaffolding, and gumbo smell wafting through the cobblestone-paved streets elicited no warm feelings.
Our relationship was different. She’d yelled at me during the weeks before with such disdain that I forgot she wasn’t my mother. And if my mother and I couldn’t repair our relationship, she and I definitely weren’t going to. The way she clumsily bit my lip when she kissed me was no longer endearing. Hearing her whine my name, in any context, was starting to be stomach curdling. The clamminess of her hands against mine as we strolled Esplanade Avenue was off-putting.
How do you tell someone you’ve fallen out of love and you’re not sure which event precipitated it? I rehearsed it in my mind as the Uber turned off of Canal onto Baronne, splashing water onto partygoers and into their souvenir hurricane cups.
“You remind me of my mother and I don’t quite know where we go from here.”
“I don’t love you anymore. If I can’t love you in New Orleans, where can I love you?”
Out of cowardice, I settled for telling her I needed time. She nodded, then asked to go to a restaurant.
I sat across from her in a cozy bistro on the corner of a residential New Orleans block. It might’ve been Julia Street. The wooden exterior of the eatery was forest green and worn, the sidewalk cracked with a spooky charisma and charm. Patrons exited slowly and happily, their stomachs bloated, their mouths probably still tasting those final bites of andouille sausage and fritters.
We ordered grits, grit cakes and some other version of grits I can’t recall. Ten minutes after we’d put in our order she summoned the waiter over once again. She added fried green tomatoes and bananas foster to our tab, menu items which I’d brought to her attention before our initial order. She’d done this the day before with the very same items.
“Are you sure?” I’d ask when she nixed my suggestions. She knew her own patterns but derived some obscure thrill from the chaos she could cause.
“I’m sure. We can’t eat all of that”, she had scoffed.
Then she did a thing I loathe — waited for the server to approach and began thinking through the order. The waiter stared down at us pleadingly. I glanced around at
the seven other tables in the section, grimacing at her as she lengthily perused the stained menu.
“Do I want more grits?” she thought aloud. I slid the untouched plate of grit cakes in her direction. It clanked loudly as it collided with her other saucer of grits.
“Sure. Whatever you want.”
“I do, I think I do. Wait no. Do you?” “Just get them.”
“You sound annoyed with me.”
I sat farther back in my seat, the raw cotton of my shirt irritating the inflamed scabs on my back. I would’ve rather been eating cold grits from the table adjacent us then sitting across from her. Maybe that would have been a good time to tell her I had fallen out of love. But I didn’t. There’s nothing sadder than cold grits, not even break-ups.
We spent the last few weeks of our relationship arguing in restaurants. When we ordered she filled the silence by desperately reading aloud all the items from the menu. We — she — always needed multiple appetizers. Mussels in garlic tomato broth.
Salmon tartare with extra capers. Bruschetta. Then of course, another order of bruschetta. That boiled my blood. She never finished the appetizers either. She fingered picked onions and sprigs of rosemary around the plate to the point that the waiter could no longer identify the dish. I watched the table and her hands as I tried to predict our next point of conflict and form a sound argument. I eventually lost track of whether she’d eaten the meal or chipped away at the exterior and messed over the gooey inside like she’d done with my patience.
Cold stares over Grand Lux all-you-can-eat pasta at three o’ clock in the afternoon on a weekday. Stilted conversation over squid ink pasta at an empty bar in Logan Square twenty minutes before closing time. Now that I think about it, we would always argue over pasta. You can swirl it around, stab it with your fork, or wrap it around the serving spoon an infinite amount of times before your partner notices and asks what’s wrong.
Our waiters and bartenders could smell the tension on us. It was always a hassle capturing their attention after we’d ordered. I always insisted on ordering all of our courses together to protect our servers from her tendency for revisions.
When she had a new cocktail idea, despite not having finished her first, or yet another appetizer request, our servers were always refilling glasses of wine at a neighboring table or discussing a chit with the host. In retrospect, I think most of them knew there’s an art to refilling glasses while the couple at your table cries and argues. The art: don’t.
By the end, I hated the way she slurped noodles into her perfect lips. By the end, I despised how she plucked the garlic and onion swimming in residual oil on the plate with her index finger and thumb.
Now that’s it over I miss watching her deconstruct a perfectly good sandwich or plate of pasta, placing the fragments directly on her tongue as it rests deliciously on her bottom lip.
Fifteen missed calls as I drank Hennessy in the club at 2 p.m on the Sabbath with my ex. The melodrama. I watched the bottle girls rush hastily through the room, glow sticks on their hips. The lights reminded me of her on the balcony, overlooking Bourbon street with a cigar in hand and green beads glistening around her neck.
I bit my own lip until it bled in memory of her kisses.