not all of the following makes sense, really, but I’m publishing it anyway. call it “writing practice” and read at your own risk.
“The meaning of literature” is something I think about often, especially after fucking, when my boyfriend has rolled away to stare at a book and I stare at the wall. I know he is only pretending to read because I have looked at the books stacked on the iron table next to our mattress and it is always the the same books, the bookmarks in the same places, and no attempt made at underlining the good parts or even reading them. He likes thrillers, philosophy, and “high-class” literature, which he defines as books which have won a prize of some sort. I think, mentally, he considers everything in these terms, so if I fuck well he sees a golden Man Booker Prize sticker shoved up my ass and taped capriciously over my vagina; and if I’ve had a bad day, a bad bit of personal life, he sees me as only the short list or worse the long list. In a neutral sense, I am a combination of all these ratings: I have watery eyes and a sort of glassy fuck-me look, or so I once told by the foreign exchange student who lived with my family for seven years. He could barely speak English but he was quite capable of squeezing and biting my nipples and then telling me, to my glassy fuck-me face, exactly what kind of person I was.
I have a large collection of similar anecdotes and I keep them mentally present and use them often as conversation-starters; or, if we’re going to be realistic about it, conversation-enders. People are generally somewhat interested in the variety of ways I’ve allowed myself to be sexually abused or emotionally violated, but are often uncertain of how to respond. When it is a bad sort of day, I will typically be desperate to continue the conversation (even if the other party is already inching away with a half-pained look), and will turn from sex to after-sex thoughts: the meaning of literature, the meaning of life, Ezra Pound was a fascist, Debussy hated Jews. Do things transcend? Does art? Do people? Sometimes, if I’m talking to an academic type, a man with conventionally blighted eyes and floppy upper-arms, or a woman who has staved off her primary school days of isolation and social failure by investing far too much in her hair but far too little in her personality, then I’m able to continue the discussion, at least for a bit. Well, they might say, according to so-and-so, life means this. Or, if you want to go by this school of thought, which I dabbled quite a bit in during my undergrad days or during my tenure in Wales, then life doesn’t mean this but possibly this. What do you think? Oh, nothing, I always say, because this is true. I don’t have an opinion. When I say I think about the “meaning of literature” it means I turn that same phrase over and over in my mind and look at the words and then the individual letters and then consider serif or cursive or whatever font or style of writing, and possibly fantasize about having sex in old book stores — “cumming on top of e.e. cummings,” my girlfriends and I used to call it. It was rather high on all of our bucket lists, because we were pretentious little shits who enjoyed provocation. Now I’m barely in touch with any of those girlfriends, but I know from Christmas cards that some of them are successful and some have moved to the city and taken up heroine as a hobby and others live in the suburbs, in calm houses that look like all the other calm houses and probably have the same problems. I feel selfishly happy to note that most have married absolute fops and my boyfriend is by far the best looking. He works at a law firm. He reads things involving copyright law and possibly wrinkles his forehead and highlights the important parts, but that’s all speculation on my part. For all I know, he goes to work and sits in the lavatory for ten hours and slowly shits and still makes over one hundred thousand dollars a year. Maybe he reads books while he is shitting and is actually shitting me, because he knows the answers to the old “what is life” “what is literature” dilemma but prefers staring at a page to talking with the glassy-eyed, fuck-me-face girlfriend.
My mother often warned I was destined for a life like this and that at best I would end up vaguely successful and deeply unhappy. I would consider the current outcome a success, especially as it comes with expensive holidays and the boutique dresses my boyfriend grudgingly buys me, making half eye-contact at Christmas and handing over a store-wrapped gift and then asking can we fuck can we fuck please I hate this fucking holiday just fuck me. I sometimes think, at slow moments when the bus is late or a plate has slipped from my hands and the idea of mopping up glass is unequivocally exhausting, that it would helpful to know why my boyfriend hates Christmas. He isn’t the type to be still be dealing with the unconscious carry-over of a teenage punk stage, in that he just can’t stand this capitalistic hellscape and the fucking-awful carols played in the department stores, etc. And although I considered that he may just be frigid or at least deeply repressed, and thus hates any occasion on which emotional expression is socially expected, I have a deeper feeling that the problem is with me. I am not saying this to be narcissistic or over-dramatic or self-hating. I am going from intuition. I am good at intuition; if I lived in a tribal society instead of an under-dressed flat in midtown, and painted my face in archaic stripes, I would probably be a successful medicine woman, the type who sits cross-legged in grass huts and gives out cures for flabby erections or unfertilized eggs. I don’t say this to be culturally insensitive, only to be vaguely provocative and to make some attempt at an interesting retelling at my life. I, unlike my boyfriend, am still feeling the after-effects of my anti-establishment phase, which consisted of a lot of bad wine and bad bands and worse cosmetic choices. I know the words to a lot of songs which might surprise you. And, thanks to the dark self-awareness of certain overplayed radio hits, I have kept the intense talent of knowing thyself, a talent which typically peaks between fifteen and nineteen, despite the narcissism of the adult world. But it all goes to shit from there, or so various syllabus-required novels assured me. At least I can have the alcohol and nice smile (I’m only twenty-seven, for God’s sake, and only half British) and the awareness to be certain that my boyfriend probably hates me, and by extension, all major holidays.
I met this current boyfriend about two years ago, after a horrific car accident in which neither of us were the victims or the perpetrators but only bored onlookers, who were sick of sitting in our cars and watching bleeding teenagers stagger around. He leaned out his half rolled-down window and smiled at me. The air was cold and bright and there were neon lights and some snowfall. He had dark eyes and Oxford-styled hair and thin pinched lips. “Do you want to fuck?” he yelled at me. And then, to really seal it: “You’re absolutely gorgeous, you know.”
You can probably guess what I said because I was also bored and this is just the way we live now. We did it twice in his trunk and I climaxed right when the police sirens started and then we ran, laughing and holding hands and somehow drunk, into the nearest cheap hotel and fucked three more times. The last time, he whispered “you’re a fucking pulizer prize, darling” in my ear and that’s when I knew.