by Jessica Dur
When I met him, Dennis was laughing.
I cracked a joke about older men hitting on younger women and he chuckled as though his own hair weren’t turning stringy and sparse. Like he wasn’t knocking on the door of forty, back pockets stuffed with regret. Then he offered to fix my headlight, and neatly wrote his phone number on the back of my hand.
The next morning I told my therapist: “Guys in their 20s just bore me. I need someone with wisdom, someone intriguing.” Then I went home and took a shower and sent his number down the drain anyway.
He called a week later. I never asked how he found my (unlisted) number. Would I like to go to that socialist meeting down in the Mission? “I’ll pick you up.”
I looked like an escapee from the Juniors section in the mall, too-tight jeans and too-shiny boots. “Wow, you look bitchin’ babe.” I liked that he said it, but not how. In the basement meeting, his eyes lingered over a porcelain red-headed socialist. Later he grinned, moved his folding chair closer to mine, let our knees knock.
Next morning I left his house on a cloud of embers. He said something about “the girls” coming over to soak in his redwood hot-tub. I fired up my Volvo with the new headlight and drove straight to A-1 Oil Change. I wasn’t going to let him do too much for me.
“I like the way he takes me seriously. He actually responds to what I say. And I guess I like that I have power over him, too,” I told my therapist, when she asked why I chose someone sixteen years my senior to start dating. “For the first time, it feels like I’m the one in control.”
I didn’t even notice his arms until he took me out for organic non-dairy pizza. “So did you get into some kind of knife fight?” I smirked, like violence was hot, like fighting was foreplay. I felt like a naughty kitten clawing at a calm retriever. His hurricane smile had a still eye. “I picked up a heroin problem a few years back.”
My head hissed.
“But don’t worry, that’s all over with now. That was another life-time.”
By our fourth date I noticed that his eyes were fluent and I translated sadness. “What are those pills you take?”
“I need them to sleep.” Also, his house hummed all night long.
I asked my therapist: “Isn’t that pretty common around here? Don’t lots of people grow pot?”
Saturday night trimming party at his house and I stupidly wore lip gloss and a silk tank top. The kitchen seethed wet and green. The usual soft pink lighting hijacked by mean fluorescents. The table crowded with scissor-wielding girls. They stared at me, flashed gun-point smiles, then went back to their sticky sculpting. Dennis patted my head and disappeared. His rabid energy confused me. I stood at the sink and filled a cup with water. Then I dumped it out and did it again.
Told my therapist: “These divas were not part of the bargain. It’s creepy, almost like a harem. He even dated one of them!”
She made eye contact. “Do you still feel powerful?”
I must admit: I tried.
When we went to parties, I pinky-fingered the Ecstasy like he showed me, sipped the hard stuff. I asked the girls about themselves. I learned how much they made (25 bucks an hour) for trimming. Dennis sat in the corner with one of them, usually giggling. I locked myself in the bathroom: water, cabinet, towel, magazine, mirror, pose, stretch, flush, (finally) unlock. They were happy to share their sugar daddy, as long as everyone got an equal lick. I knew they hated me for my bite marks.
“I blame them,” I told my therapist, when she asked why I felt trapped and unhappy.
In fact, right after it all went down, the severe head-aches, the MRI, the news (did he call me first?), the pre-surgery meetings, the unblinking anesthesiologist, the seizure, the blood, the coma, the plastic tubes, the rotting breath, the horror, after the doctor answered “Not in my career” to the only question that mattered, after the stream of visitors, the girls with their crystals and mantras, after the unplugging, the beeping, after the final breaths, after all of it, it was the girls I felt betrayed by, the girls who looked away, the girls who left me aching all alone.
Jessica Dur teaches English to sweet misfits at Nonesuch high school in Sebastopol, California. She also writes essays and reviews for the alternative weekly http://www.bohemian.com/. During the summers, she wanders and writes her way through places like Peru, Indonesia, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Cuba. Read her musings on traveling, teaching, and being newly married on her blog, http://www.gyrlwryter.blogspot.com.