Category: Non-Fiction Essays by Katie Schwartz

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Vulvacabulary

Until I reached puberty, my vadgarincess wasn’t even on my radar. Unlike boys who stood up to hold their outdoor plumbing and pee, I sat down because I had indoor plumbing—this was the extent of my vadgeoledge. Though I liked boys at twelve, puberty officially courted me when I was sixteen. That was when I experienced how saucy and luxurious my blessed beav was, and I cherished her dearly for it.

I got my first kiss in 8th grade and thought I was disturbingly Vanilla-Ice cool, the shame of it. All year, I pined for a darling, chubby redhead covered in head-to-toe freckles. Michael was three inches shorter than I was and carried a backpack his weight and size. On the last day of school, everyone was gathered on a patch of grass celebrating our graduation. During the year, we passed notes to each other through our friends. It was very serious. Michael knew I wanted him. I was sitting with a small circle of friends; my eyes were fixed on him across the field playing catch with his friends. He was the sexiest boy alive, wearing his hallmark red and white striped rugby shirt over his slouchy posture and oversized Ross Dress for Less baggy jeans. God, I loved that man-boy. Mid-game, he stumbled over, tripping on a rock as he approached (my heart leapt out of my chest). The closer he got, I could smell the Old Spice after shave emitting from his pores. I sprang from the grass, so excited, I tripped over my shoelace and landed on his mud stained Adidas sneakers, covering his dingy white athletic socks. Popping up quickly, hoping to avoid a scene, unbeknownst to me, he’d already leaned over to assist me, my head walloped his chin. Michael clutched his face in agony as I consoled him, apologizing profusely. After a few minutes, he grabbed my ass, raised his head, stood on his tippy toes and kissed me. Not knowing what to do, I followed suit, reached for his ass and kneaded it like bread. He told me to open my mouth and rolled his tongue into mine, while we bruised each other’s asses. Everyone watched and laughed at us, I came to learn, not with us.

I made a hobby of tongue-jousting my freshman year, making out with as many boys as I could pack into a weekend, averaging 2-6 a month, some repeats. I kept a “make-out journal” of all of my conquests. Quality was insignificant, I was journaling for quantity, so I could tally how many boys I’d made out with by the end of the year (including summer—it counted).

As a teenager, my menses was highly un-festive. The vice-gripping cramps and torrential downpour warranted the acquisition of gargantuan maxi-pads. Being bowlegged three days a month due to menstruation, and not dick wasn’t even slightly hip.

My sophomore year, I took my sexuality out for a spin, deciding it was time to experiment. I still made-out a lot, but loved the new side dish– getting felt up, all the time. My junior year I graduated to hand jobs and became the queen and spokesperson for fingerbanging. My senior year, I kicked off the oral parade by sucking cock aplenty, but at the age of eighteen, I was still living on Cherry Lane, smack dab in the center of Virginville. It was time for me to pop my cork.

When I was a freshman in college, I was still a virgin, igniting my sexual awkwardness. I wanted to break-up with my hymen so badly, yet I was nervous about it. With men, I was either too aggressive and assertive or painfully shy and withdrawn. As a result, they were never ambivalent about their attraction. They either wanted to fuck me stupid, or saw me as the funny sidekick; you know, “wingman-with-vagina.”

That’s when I coined my fruit cup “Radar”. I’ve yet to find a man willing to call her Radar, of course; yet, I refuse to forego the nickname. Radar was and remains my dark side and the voice of reason. Radar’s back-story is that she’s sexually liberated with a ravenous appetite for cock. She drinks single malt scotch, smokes unfiltered cigarettes and speaks in a husky, monotone voice. She also has a zero tolerance policy for my low self-esteem peen choices. In those instances, she makes her presence known.

She’s a storm in the port, sending shameless missives when I need them the most. Pre and post-devirginization and, into my early twenties, I was attracted to peenies that made me feel as special as their sweaty ball sack grime. I allowed men to compartmentalize me and stop seeing me as a person beyond their needs. It was never subtle, it was always abrupt. I tried to change it, not too much, though, because that would require admitting to, and convincing myself that I was worth more than nothing. I lived on Self Loathing Lane intersecting How Can I Berate Myself Avenue. It made me sick to admit all of this; I didn’t want to lose what little I had with my peens. Shame. Shame. Shame. I clutched onto the idealized version of what spurned my initial attraction, ignoring that they were maelstroms of need and narcissism, straight up assholic pricks. Each time, what I wanted became irrelevant and I willingly accommodated and bypassed the backseat to dump my ass in the trunk.

Pursuing these peens for all the wrong reasons was my substance abuse of choice. They didn’t want to be with me, which made me want them even more. These men didn’t carve out a place for me in their lives no matter how much I might’ve wanted them to. They didn’t care about me and I allowed them not to care. I meant nothing to them because I meant nothing to myself. I had this atrocious inclination to romanticize men that weren’t right for me and Radar protested with a barrage of yeast infections, bladder infections and always as I was about to fuck a new man, menstruation. If I couldn’t assert myself and my needs, she damn well could and did. I just wasn’t listening.

My theory was that if Radar and I worked as a team, we’d lead me in the direction of a suitable hymen bandit. Pre-devirginization, when we were on the move, I would say, “Mama’s gotta pop. Work your mojo. Find me a man with a dash of deviance and eye popping where-do-you-want-my-ankles charisma, sharp wit and intelligence. Eh, maybe just the first two.”

I don’t remember my cherry jacker’s name and don’t know that I’d recognize him on the street. I do know that we met at a kegger. What the hell was I doing at a kegger; it’s the most un-Jewvent going. A BYOSC (bring your own sour cream), to a latke party, sure, but a kegger? Our eyes probably locked over a heated game of Quarters. I know he had dark hair and his own apartment—criterion enough. When we got back to his place, I ripped my clothes off and demanded that he fuck me senseless. He asked if I was a virgin. That shocked the hell out of me. I thought for sure my sluttiness and aggressiveness offset the V-stigma. Fuck. Fuck. Motherfuck. Fuck. I got defensive, folded my arms, tapped my foot and demanded he tell me what I did that was sooooo virginee. He laughed. Prick.

“Your friend’s, friend’s, friend told me.” He scoffed.

Here I was whoring myself in the most evolved manner I could and he was relying on third party information. How very high school. Fearing he wouldn’t fuck me, I confessed to my virginity while slooooowwwwwllly getting dressed, “I am a virgin, it’s true. I also don’t know you and have no burning desire to get to know you. You’re cute. You’re here and I’m mostly naked. What’s your plan?”

He offered me a drink. Frustrated, I plopped onto his Barcalounger, saturated in drunk-while-eating, beef-filled, Gordita Supremes and fake nacho cheese Chalupas. He handed me a Pina Colada wine cooler and said exactly what I didn’t want to hear, “I want your first time to be special.”

Oh. My. God. If I wanted my first time to be special, I wouldn’t have chosen him, a wailing, “Booyah! Fuck yeah. I’m the man” kinda guy and rabid Quarters fanatic, preening like a tomcat for “the ladies” every time he sank one in the cup. Please.

There was no way I was walking out of his apartment a virgin. If I had to plug Radar with his flaccid penis while he slept, I would (well, not really, but I was considering it). I needed to convince this man to deliver his package.

If memory serves, it took me two hours to get his pants off. He wanted scented blueberry drugstore candles. As long as his penis remained on site, candles were a non-ish. He wanted Journey playing softly in the background, to set the mood and to engage in pre-sex chatter, like an actual let’s-get-to-know-each-other conversation, complete with hair smoothing and long gazes. This was not on my “To Do” list or Radar’s. I kept telling myself, “Eye on the prize. You want to spin on this man’s pole, start spilling.”

Instead, I did the reflective listening thing to avoid discussion about myself and to give the illusion of being engaged. Every time he’d start a new topic, I’d flip my hair and flirtatiously run my fingers through his. Within an hour, I’d managed to toss one leg over one of his legs. Three beers and halfway through the second hour, I slid my half naked body onto his lap and propelled my tongue down his throat. I unabashedly ripped his t-shirt off. To make certain discussion was a thing of the past; I shoved my nipples in his mouth and my hands down his pants. Oh my, he did have quite the throbbing thrill hammer, didn’t he? Yes, indeedy he did.

“Wait!” he roared.

“Wait?!”  My mouth dropped—I know it did. I was inches away from popping my cork. I’d come so far. No. No. No. Hadn’t I done enough to earn his cocksicle?

He picked me up and carried me down the hall and past his Hootie and the Blowfish poster, onto his bed. He yanked his pants off. He manhandled me and he had his way with me.

Though I don’t remember whatever-we-called-him and I wasn’t looking for a memorable first time, I do remember it was over and over and over again. After I popped, I knew that Radar and I were an idyllic team.

In my late twenties, I hit bottom and became soft porn for the self-help community to feast on. A short lived Starter Marriage and many peenyfairs later, feeling miserable, dejected and thoroughly disgusted with myself, Radar’s sirens no longer fell on deaf ears. Overly yeasted and bladder infected, her lippy moxie finally paid off. She gave me the chutzpah to stop choosing men that fueled my low self-esteem, which became exhausting, by the by.

A humiliating discovery unearthing my cock-history, forced to recognize that I was the problem, not them. Was it my parents’ divorce? Being raised to become a self-reliant woman? Unresolved abandonment issues? Commitment issues? What the fuck quarantined my self-worth? I couldn’t figure it out. And, finally one day while eating one of my favorite comfort foods, an eggplant and Finnish cheese sandwich at Mario’s Cigar Shop in San Francisco, I got the message: though I felt like I loved no-strings, fuck-buddy, casual sex and knew that was never going to change, I needed to take a peenyatus, to regroup and resolve why I detested myself so much because that was the issue.

I knew I could fuck like an MBA student whoring to pay my tuition, but I couldn’t be vulnerable. Acquainting vulnerability with weakness, yet seeing it as strength in others. Susceptibility to needing someone felt like sacrificing my independence, a non-negotiable. I could orally engage the male pleasure plunger as notoriously as any glory hole queen, yet, I couldn’t be intimate. Intimacy? I would’ve preferred an outdoor, chemical skin peel during a heat wave while having my head shaved then lathered in Baby Oil. The idea of giving a fuckable carte blanche into my heart and soul paralleled choking. If I gave that to a man I was fucking, I would need him, his counsel, his tenderness, his strength, perhaps, thus diminishing my capacity to care for myself. I could talk sluttier and dirtier than any trollop whose idea of fun is fucking every male at her trailer park. I just couldn’t admit to a man, much less myself that I wanted more than the scraps I so willingly settled for. Castrating myself under the guise of saving myself, convinced I was honoring my independence, when actually, I was disrespecting it. I thought I’d outgrow it, evolve past it and eighty-six the luggage… But, I hadn’t yet.

While on peenyatus I also learned that buried somewhere inaccessibly there was something I wanted. It wasn’t “Mister Right” or “Mister Right Now.” I wanted to like myself and discover qualities within myself that I could be proud of. My friends and family saw me, whereas I only saw the distorted version.

I decided to backtrack. I was looking for commonalities between each man, anything to interlink them. It was a fascinating, mind-bending exercise.

And I didn’t learn shit.

Sexually, I was compatible with the majority of the men I hooked up with, which was a plus. Politically, they were painfully conservative, whereas I’ve always been a liberal. We had no common ground in that arena at all. Intellectually, they skewed scientific, mathematical or engineerish. None of those topics intrigued me from their perspective because none of it was rooted or presented in creativity. Emotionally, and this is where the ultimate connection was finally exposed, we were aloof, distant, lacked intimacy and fled from vulnerability. Instead of choosing men that challenged me to be the best person I could be by exploring those aspects of myself, they lit meth-lab size fires, to enable those issues.

Emotional intimacy with a penis consistently dwelling in my vagina scared the hell out of me. I thought, “He’s in my vagina, that’s not access enough for him?!”

If I wanted to be happy, I had to renegotiate my terms: Fear of intimacy and vulnerability, not rejection. Check—

Though Radar’s sluttiness can override our better judgment, only if it’s a one-night stand, what’s a girl to do? Say no? Maybe she should. I wasn’t committing to anything, not then anyway and not now. Sharing the deepest parts of myself with men I am fucking is just not something I enjoy doing. Though forcing myself to expose my emotional innards doesn’t come easily, it prevents me from categorizing men and dropping them into a dick buffet. I compromised so much of what I needed and wanted because I was too busy idolizing them on the pedestal I’d built, thus avoiding my heart, mind and soul from entering into the equation. It worked-ish for a while, anyway. 

Radar and I needed to act in each other’s best interest. All relationships take work, even my relationship with my vagina.

(If that fails, I can always knit her a v-string.)

 

The Mourning After

Death is not my genre. My relationship with death is acutely dysfunctional. I’m terrified of death for the people I love, and also for myself, because I can’t reconcile the finality. Provoked by the thought of never being able to connect with the people I love again when they die, having just peeled and all, I ache for evidence that we’ll be together in our next life. If I had that, I could be patient-ish. I need concrete proof that I’ll be with the people I love after I die, reassurance I’ll never get in this lifetime.

After a death, my mind often wanders about snippets of time I wasted doing inane things when I should’ve been focused on the person I love. Wishing I could take back those wasted moments. Adding them up, I realize they translate to hours and ultimately more time with who I’ve lost.

As a result, I love death humor and cracking jokes about it, “So-and-so’s had one foot on the peel for so long; she’s turned it into a sixteen-act drama” or “Oy, I wish she’d go into the light already. Doesn’t she know it’s free?” and “How should we dress for casket shopping today, Emilio Pucci loud or Anne Taylor bland?” and “Post burial, there is an after-party, right?” Essentially, I can do death if I make it funny.

I do believe in a heaven. I think. (The only hell I subscribe to is living under a republican administrations.) So, okay, maybe my fear isn’t about finality, but my need for communication. If I’m not IM’ng or text mesaging or emailing with my mother and my sister, we’re probably on the phone. Similarly, I am in perpetual contact with my brothers, my dad and my friends.

Or, perhaps it’s about pain-avoidance. I often recite the adage, “Time heals a broken heart”, hoping it will sink in, but that’s bullshit, it never does. The moment my heart was first broken by death it felt like glass chards in my veins, like a storm that slaughtered my bones and corroded my flesh. Dramatic, yes, and truly how I felt. My first experience with death changed the landscape of my heart and my outlook on life. Life was gone and life was interrupted.

I admire my parents’ ability to deal with death. My father does it with savagely dark humor. When he spun a yarn about casket shopping when his mother, my grandmother, passed, he went on and on, almost in a stream-of-consciousness way, “When we walked into the funeral pahlah, the mortician showed us ‘The Titan’. I nevah saw anything so fuckin’ awwstentatious in my life. Three different metals, hardwoord flooring, a featherbed, dust ruffles, shit, all that thing was missing was a latke fryer and a fuckin’ refrigerator. I says to the guy, ya got a plain box we can throw her in? What about a rental? He didn’t think that was funny—fuck em’. They just kept getting worse, from the ‘Silver Angel’ to the hot pink ‘Athena’, to my favorite, ‘The Ebony’! Stick ivory in an ebony box, funny, real funny, Mortimer. Hidden in a corner, I found a small pine box. Your grandmothah woulda hated one of those gaudy boxes anyway. She would’ve been pissed off that we spent so much money. We got the box for a hundred bucks. It was beautiful and simple with a Jewish star carved at the head. He asked if we wanted bedding. No. A pillow? No. A blanket? No. Not even a vault to put the box in? No, just the fuckin’ box.”

My mother’s approach is equally beautiful; allowing the waves of heartache to break, traversing each one, head on. She doesn’t avoid feeling it, regardless of when it hits. She knows that absorbing it is as important as knowing it will pass.

As for me, when someone I love dies, the world feels too muted. I want to hear the voices I’ve lost, to smell their scent and lose myself in their happiness. I know all the clichés, “We live. We Love. We lose. That’s life.” “You can’t appreciate life without death.” Blah, blah, blah. I GOT IT—it’s been drilled into my head. It’s  just never resonated. The harmony between my heart and mind is grossly impaired, defying the natural order I need. So, consumed by loss, there is no mourning after for me. The pain swells, growing in strength and I never know how to make peace with it.

The two most profound deaths in my life were both sudden and unexpected. My grandmother died when I was a teenager, “fine” until she committed suicide. My canine kid was healthy until he wasn’t on the day before he died.

As these deaths occurred, it seemed that my menses was the only adept expression of my feelings, uncharacteristically a vigorous flood that charged through my vaginal canal. Usually, it began as a trickle before making a grand appearance. But, cycles following death were the tears I couldn’t shed and the anger I couldn’t speak. Menses worked out the pain within the recesses of my sorrowful, aching core, pulling each drop of anguish and solitude from the lining and resolutely driving it through my tunnel. If I was to learn anything, it was that at the very least, my heart and womb were interconnected, evidence that acceptance did, or could, exist somewhere inside of me even when I feared it did not.

The Canine Kid was nestled in his mother’s womb with five brothers and sisters until he was born. When I first saw him, he was woven into his siblings, huddled against his mama’s belly. I was at the breeders every week to watch him putz around his new digs and find his way. I fell madly, desperately and passionately in love with this child, when, at just three weeks, he separated himself from the pack. He sauntered a few yards away to observe his siblings play and I was in love with his moxie. Here was this kid fresh out of the womb and already he had such a strong sense of self and a desire for independence. All of that meant he had a plan for his life and that’s when I knew unmistakably this was my first-born son.

I was born in one of the worst blizzards New York had seen in almost twenty years. My grandma, Helen, was there that day and the first thing she said was, “This kid’s got great gams.” Everything about Helen felt like making a wish before you blow out your birthday candles. Her creativity, love and joy were bewitching, her strength and sense of self were beguiling and her scent was sacred. To this day, when someone passes me on the street wearing her perfume, I feel her, her love, I remember her tchotchkes, the cozy smell of her kitchen, her handbags, her closets, her jewelry, her hats and her warm hands, and every memory I have of her floods my brain.

The Kid was a hundred and thirty-five pounds of robust personality. He was Lon Chaney, the man of a thousand faces, a face for every mood and occasion. He was busy with himself all the time and perpetually on the move. When we were in the car, he loved to stealthily slip his head out the window and try to bite cars that raced by. He schlepped his toys throughout the house, hiding them from himself between cabinets, underneath furniture and in every corner he could find, he hocked to go to the park every five minutes and negotiated his way into extra treats. He was me—pushy and busy with himself.

My grandmother’s closets were filled with costume jewelry she’d collected throughout the years from Alexander’s Department Store. She organized everything in small perfume boxes and labeled them according to outfit. She loved haute couture Joan Crawford suits from the 40s, but couldn’t afford them so, an expert seamstress, she created patterns and scrimped for materials to produce enviable duplicates, preserved in garment bags and carefully draped on sturdy wooden hangers. Her shoes were in boxes, also labeled by outfit. She was radiant, tall and lean with short, curly red hair and big brown eyes—beacons of hope and history that expressed an inner life when she vocally could not. She had this animated, broad smile that delivered wise-ass smirks, subtle smiles, and gregarious laughter. Her voice was husky and soothing. She had bags under her eyes. She joked they were her luggage.

The Kid had a million nicknames: Dori, LouieJew, Juice, Shagaboobie, Shagaboombas, Shagamuffin, Super Bug, Buglette Wugglette, Schmuck, Putz, Prick, Doreenie, Shagalicious, Shagarincess, Schwartzy, The Kid and Elliot Gould, but, officially, he was Shagadore Louie Vincenzo Schwartz. He vivaciously responded to every single name by widening his effusive, hypnotic chocolate eyes and cocking his head to the side, to listen attentively to everything I had to say, regardless of how frivolous or asinine. Though he was a Bouvier des Flandres, a Belgian herding dog, to me he was a little person in a dog’s costume. He had a furry black coat and sweet floppy ears and when he wagged his docked tail, his boundless enthusiasm for life made his entire tushie and lower back shake. He was spirited, kind and gentle. He felt like an old soul.

I know one person who had a happy childhood and it wasn’t me. Looking back, I’ve never been well versed in the art of self-esteem. It feigns more than it flows. It’s something I’ve always wished was bottled, so I could buy a lifetime supply. When I was a kid, my Grandma Helen eased that by sharing her imagination and the idea that possibilities existed. She loved writing, knitting, cooking, sewing and exploring and she shared those loves with me. Living in Brooklyn, she was a subway ride away from Manhattan, the city she extolled. She made me laugh– she made everyone laugh. She loved to curse– fuck, and every fuckwith-pronoun made her top five. Schmuck, and putz were her favorites.  She managed to be a renaissance dame at heart, though a part of her felt bound by archaic values about a woman’s role in the home. The depth of love in Helen’s eyes reflected who I was at heart, at an age I when I was too disjointed to realize. She didn’t want to be a wife. However, she loved being a mother and a grandmother. Her husband wasn’t the love of her life; he was her ball and chain, her albatross. My grandmother could’ve left him, walked out the door and made a life for herself, by her own design. Yet, obligation seemed sewn onto her ring finger, consummating her fate as an adulterous to her beloved self. Still. The depth of love in Helen’s eyes reflected who I was at heart as an adolescent, a gullible age, too disconnected to realize that if I looked hard enough, I might’ve seen the positive qualities she saw, perhaps.

The world through Shag’s eyes was magnificent. He appreciated how bountiful the earth was and ran wild in every patch of grass he happened upon. He raced outside to feel the wind and rain whipping through his fur and showering his coat. My greatest pleasure was watching him experience it, all of it—nothing made me happier. Life always made sense through his eyes. It was simple to him, really. Love and be loved. Be kind to others. Share your toys. Laugh (or wag your tail, as the case may be) as often as possible. Find joy. Push for extra treats. Live out loud—let the world know you’re there and what it is you want.

When I went through the most difficult and challenging period of my adult life, Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease that ravaged my body after annihilating my mind, I didn’t think I would survive. Shag was my extension of sense and sanity, but more than that, his daily requirements anchored me to life. He innately knew how sick I was. When I was vulnerable, he was cuddly. When I couldn’t drag my ass out of the house, Shag would sit across from me watching over me. Glancing my way, the twinkle in his eyes served as a reminder that I was strong enough to get through my misery. His love of life foreshadowed happiness that I wasn’t feeling within myself, but one day would.

I felt lucky to love and be loved by such healing, altruistic souls.

One of my first memories of Helen is riding on a subway from Brooklyn speeding towards Manhattan. Before we boarded, we stopped at a newsstand. She bought me my first Archie comic book. I immediately flipped through it and smelled it. The newspapery pages and ink was such a comforting scent, I now have a collection of two thousand to huff at my discretion and when I do, it transplants me to that day. She gave me carte blanche to her assortment of fine baubles to embellish my imaginary characters with. Though she adored her costume jewelry, nothing was off limits. My joy superseded any concern she might’ve had about breaking her jewels. She taught me how to make latkes, blintzes, kugel and other Yiddish dishes passed down from her mother’s, mother’s mother. The traditional Jewish dishes that Helen made were savory and fried or sweet and baked. Her house was so fragrant; like passing a homemade knish shop and 30-year-old deli.  I spent hours watching her recline in her sturdy wood rocker that creaked ever so slightly on the third “rock”, the sound a handful of quarters make when they simultaneously land on Berber carpeting. She would sew, embroider and knit vests, sweaters, scarves, hats, mittens, and elegant and casual outfits. Whenever I was with her, creativity flourished; and I felt like a normal kid with an opportunity to explore my own imagination. When I’ve felt out of sorts, recalling those times brought me unprecedented comfort. Even now.

I got The Kid a few months before I ended my Starter Marriage. The night my ex moved out, I sat on the kitchen counter and asked Shag to sit across from me. He inquiringly tilted his head to the side, instinctively knowing I was going to say something important. “Okay, kid, listen. It’s just you and me now. I’ve never had a dog. You’re the first, so there’s a really good chance I could fuck this up, but I’m gonna do my best not to. I want us to get to know each other. I feel a responsibility to provide you with your own life and your own friends. Your happiness means everything to me and I want you to know that I am committed to safeguarding that. I love you. Be patient with me and I’ll be patient with you and we’ll find our way. Cool?” He sighed and smiled. He heard me.

The night before we drove to New York, we sat on the floor of our empty apartment in Los Angeles. He was eating a cheeseburger and French fries and I was eating a veggie burger and potato salad. There we were, mother and son noshing, and it was the best ever.

And, so our adventure began. I schlepped that kid across the country three times. We lived in six different apartments. I became his continuity, and he became mine. We went to the park, to run and play catch every day for hours at a time. I sent him to day school to socialize with other dogs. When I was out of town, he vacationed at a Shangri-la for canines in Malibu Canyon. He wanted for nothing, which was exactly what I hoped to achieve. When I got sick with Graves’ disease, I didn’t take my own life because this little person needed me. I didn’t overreact when I was boiling inside; ready to burst, because I couldn’t risk losing him.

When I was fifteen, my mother answered the phone and cried. Having just tried to commit suicide, my grandmother, Helen, was in a coma.

One night, for three nights consecutively, my dog vomited, because he had a sensitive stomach and we’d been down this road many times, I thought nothing of it. However, on the fourth night, I knew something was wrong, so we went to the ER.

Within a few hours of learning Helen was in a coma, my mother and I boarded a plane to be with her.

Shag’s vet said his blood work was normal and The Kid just had a stomachache. The clinic sent us home with anti-nausea medication. That night, as he tried to sleep, he was miserable. He couldn’t get comfortable and I massaged his back and tried to put him at ease.

Before entering Helen’s hospital room, my father said, “She’s hooked up to a lot of machines. But, it’s still Helen. The nurse is turning her.”

After a long, sleepless night, Shag was wrecked. He vomited, and didn’t want to move. He tried so hard to find comfort and could not. My sister and I coaxed him to the car and to the vet again. Overnight, Shag’s situation turned dire. Now, with fluid and bacteria in his abdomen, we took him to an urgent care facility. As we left, my vet said that if Shag made the trip to urgent care, he had a 50/50 shot at survival.

Helen was in the ICU. Her room was filled with flowers, aunts, uncles and grandparents. She was in the center, lying in a hospital bed, underneath a soft grey blanket.

The traffic en route to the urgent veterinary care center was impenetrable and Shag kept slumping further into his seat and onto the floor. My sister held his face. I held his face and cried, “You can make it, Shaggy, hold on.” I cried, “Hold on, baby. Please hold on.”

Helen was intubated and hooked up to machines, as my father warned. I sat beside her. I held her hand, massaging it—it was warm and familiar and I begged her not to die.

My sister and I spoke with Shag’s veterinarian. Shag had abdominal sepsis precipitated by an obstruction in his bowels, now pouring bacteria into his stomach. He had a slim chance for survival and even if he did survive, he would need multiple surgeries. The quality of his life, something I was emphatic about preserving, would’ve been grossly compromised.

Helen looked so angry in her hospital bed, a foreign expression on her. She didn’t want to be there. She was desperate to go, as being in a coma was not her choice but a consequence of her actions.

My sister called my mother to come quickly to the veterinary office. Not wanting him to be alone, I went into the ER to be with Shag. He was lying on a table, wrapped in a grey blanket, hooked up to machines and looking thoroughly exhausted. Shag was done. He didn’t want to be there.

Helen was in the room at the beginning of my life and I was in the room the last week of hers. I was there at the beginning of Shag’s life and I was there at the end.

My dad wouldn’t allow me to be in the room when he turned off the machines. He wanted to do it alone. I wanted to be there with Helen to say good-bye. I couldn’t make the decision to end Helen’s suffering. But, I could for Shag. When my son was euthanized, I held him close and tight. My face was buried in his and all I could say was, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” Though I had so much more I wanted to say. My sister massaged his legs and his belly. My mother stroked his chest and held my head, until he exhaled for the last time.

I miss their scent, their smile and how safe I felt in their presence. I miss the responsibility of preserving the sacredness of Shag’s life and his joy. I wish that and the love I had for Shag and Helen was enough sustenance for them both to survive. I found and still find happiness in our history, gratitude for what they each gave me and how much I learned from them.

I knew Helen suffered from depression and had attempted suicide three times previously. I understand she felt her only option was suicide and I can guess what that feels like, but I will never really know why my grandmother committed suicide. I don’t know how Shag’s bowels were obstructed, but I know that he was born with stomach and intestinal issues. What they struggled with the most in life was the cause of their deaths. Memories won’t resurrect the dead, I get that. To vanquish my heartache, I needed to honor the best of who they were or risk minimizing what I willfully sought to preserve, their quality of life and happiness.

 

Fallujahtini Anyone?

When I menstruate it’s a war zone between my thighs, Baghdad in my vagina, with clots the size of a king’s ransom. My ovaries feel like marine boot camp, soldiers marching and punching my womb with all of their might to a Marine Corps Cadence,

 

We love the double time.

We do it all the time.

Up in the morning with bloodshot eyes.

Now, it looks like another tequila sunrise.

Look in the mirror cause’ I think I’m dead.

Stumbled and staggered into the head.

Look in the mirror cause’ I think I’m dead.

Stumbled and staggered into the commode.

I bend at the waist to puke my load.”

 

Villages of busted, rusty pipes gush down my canal and steamroll my meaty Jewlips with the propulsion of a sewer explosion. Hostages MIA since the 1940s colonize my breeding bowl, and scurry like refugees battling for their lives for a get-out-of-womb-pass-with-a-pulse card. Not even rolling out the tank (heating pad), or a quarter of any painkiller I can get my hands on, or a shot of fruity schnapps can quell the monstrous cramps. My body swells ten to fifteen pounds like a Dam release trip on the Pocono Whitewaters. My head throbs harder than a drill rupturing concrete and I’m exhausted to the bone. Salted top Premium Crackers and Schweppes Ginger Ale, my cure-all for everything that ails, can’t even preempt extreme Olympian sport hormonal nausea. I feel like I could rehydrate a third world country because I retain that much water. 

The morning of my inaugural menstruation, I woke up on a Saturday at dawn feeling juicy between my legs. Ambling to the bathroom wondering what I was going to find, I thought, are vaginas like gardening sprinklers set on a timer, age twelve being the magic number? Do labia’s need watering to keep them growing? Would I have dwarfish lips otherwise? I walked into the bathroom and locked the door behind me. I pulled down my pajama bottoms and saw brownish smudges. Uh-oh, I thought, do I really want to see my undies right now? I didn’t… I squeezed my eyes shut, pulled my Ms. Pacman Underoos (they were campy) down, and sat on the toilet. Through squinty eyes, I saw Ms. Pacman’s mouth stained with droplets of blood. My vagina attacked my heroine in the middle of the night, bitch. After peeing, I wiped myself and saw more blood on the toilet paper. Wait a minute—hold the phone, what the fuck? Am I menstruating?! I’m only twelve, I thought, this can’t be happening. None of my friends are menstruating. They would’ve told me… right?

I ran into my mother’s bedroom, still asleep, not that it mattered, I had a vaginamergency and I needed her. I shook her, whining, “Ma, ma, ma, wake up, ma, ma, I need to talk to you, ma, ma, ma.” As she stumbled out of bed, I dragged her into the bathroom, shutting and locking the door behind us. I sat her down on the toilet and leaned against the wall. I burst into tears (my first official surge of hormones?) Her face lost color. She was nervous. “What? What’s wrong? Tell me right now.” Embarrassed and still juicy, I pointed to my down there and said, “It’s bleeding.” Tears streamed down her face as she opened the bathroom door with the gusto of a woman about to serenade the world in measured bursts of, Halleluiah! Halleluiah! Halleluiah! She woke my father up, shouting, “Katie got her period! Our daughter is menstruating.” Groggy and half-asleep, my dad jumped out of bed, exclaiming pride and congratulations.

My vagina was bleeding. My parents were dancing. I wanted to die.

The shouting woke my younger brother and sister now traipsing into my parent’s bedroom. In harmonized Barbara-Streisand-Neil-Diamond synchronicity, my parents divulged my menses, “Your sister got her period.” Though only aware of the grammatical period, obviously assuming I’d punctuated something accurately; my parents infectious happiness was scarcely pause for concern. In lieu of asking questions, they danced alongside them while I stood on the sidelines murdering Ms. Pacman.

Moments later, my mother took me into the bathroom with my father and lovingly said, “Honey, I need to slap you across the face.” Confused, scared and crying, I asked, “Why? Did my down there do something wrong?” Teeming with pride, “On the contrary, it’s a Jewish tradition.” She said, and tenderly slapped me across the face with the palm of her hand.

Every generation of women in my family were slapped. Rabbis have said that the slapping custom isn’t part of Jewish Law, though it remains a centuries old tradition, perhaps rooted in superstition. It’s not in the Torah—it’s just what you do. A bitch slap wards off the evil eye. I asked my mother what evil eye she was referring to and she just kept reiterating, “The Evil Eye! The Evil Eye! The Evil Eye!”

As if that was explanation enough. Sure. I couldn’t imagine what all this was and conjured up my own line of questioning. Bad luck? Hassidic hymen shoplifters? Ovum stealing goyum? What?!

I still have no clue what this evil eye is, but I do know that my parents never made us feel badly about menstruating. They didn’t teach me or my sister to feel like our period was a dirty, unfertilized bastard, speeding towards its final resting place, a plug or a pad betwixt our legs. Our menstrosity was a perfectly normal and healthy and beautiful part of womanhood. In our house, menstrual cycles weren’t cloaked in publicly appetizing nicknames like “Aunt Flo is in town” or “It’s that time of the month” or “I’m on the rag” and my personal shame-fave, “the curse”. In our house, if you had your fucking period, you said, “I have my fucking period”.

When I joined the menses club as a tweener, at first I was uncomfortable, it was a small club—okay, I was the only menstruator. Not one of my friends had joined that I knew of. I had nobody to commiserate with or compare notes to, about my monthly emotional upheaval and discomfort from pads and plugs. I hadn’t even experienced a finger or a penis inside my vagina, yet I was expected to, what, enjoy my new (once a month) 7-day trusty companion?! It was weird! I was terrified of staining, praying for the heaviest flows on weekends so I wouldn’t be in school. My vadge felt mushy and my body felt foreign. I started developing breasts at 10, pubes and underarm hair at 11, now at 12 I was bleeding. I wasn’t prepared for all of these womanly side-effects that tweenerdom brought.

During my third month as a woman I bled through my jeans. It was so humiliating. I was having lunch with some girlfriends on a patch of grass, gossiping about boys and Mr. Potts, our insanely hot English teacher with a massively protruding penis, and brainstorming about ways to get out of P.E., when I stood up and realized that my ass felt a bit wet. I casually reached around and felt the spot. It was so wwwwwet; I took my sweatshirt off and wrapped it around my waist. Outside, it was 40 degrees and overcast, prompting a round of, “Are you nuts, it’s cold out here”. Though I declared I wasn’t the slightest bit chilly, my nipples were telling another story. I collected my things and raced to the bathroom. Once in a private stall, it was time for damage control. My jeans sustained a grapefruit sized smudge. I had nothing to change into and no decent excuse to get out of P.E. With fresh accessories between my legs and a sweatshirt around my waist, I made my way to class. In the gymnasium everyone was doing calisthenics. Hoping to blend in by scurrying to the back of the class, Mr. Weathersbee caught me, furious about my tardiness; he insisted that I put my sweatshirt on because we were heading out of the gym and to the track to run a mile. “Put that sweatshirt on now!” He couldn’t pull me to the side?! I meekly said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Weathersbee, I really can’t. I won’t be cold, honest. I’ll be fine.” “If that sweatshirt isn’t on in 5-minutes, you’ll be serving detention after school.” Oh, that’s just fabulous, more time in blood stained jeans at school, what a gift. Neither of us budged. If I had to stitch that sweatshirt to my ass, I would have. No amount of badgering could’ve made me take it off. He continued his rant in front of 35 students, “Now, Schwartz. Right now! You’re holding up my class. I’m counting to ten. 1… 2… 3… 4…” Flustered, I screamed, “I have my fucking period and I bled through my pants. Happy?!?” The entire class darted their eyes my way as Mr. Weathersbee weaved through the student body towards me, his face flushed with rage, “You just said the f-word and bought yourself detention for the week.” No mention of my period—fucker. “This is menstrual discrimination and you are not getting away with it. I’m marching myself into the principal’s office to set the record straight.” I assertively responded. Our principal was so uncomfortable with sex and down there’s, a bucket of tears and a blood stained tuchas would’ve gotten me a pass to go home and out of detention for a week. Weathersbee knew it, too, and promptly excused me for the day with a hushed apology.

By thirteen, with one-year of menses under my belt, I was an expert menstruator and my friends finally started bleeding, too, or so they said. I became Ask Menstruleena: Dispensing advice, plugs and pads to my eighth grade class, discreetly. Nobody wanted to share their menstrual woes with the group. Each friend pulled me aside to ask questions and though nobody was around, they spoke quietly, holding their heads down. If burqas were in, they would’ve adorned them before approaching, to hide themselves. I couldn’t figure out why my friends were so ashamed. We were all egg-droppers. Originally, as the sole E.D., I was embarrassed. Had I not been alone, I wouldn’t have been.

As I got older, I noticed that menstruation still wasn’t a topic of discussion. I had to make a concerted effort to drag it out of the closet kicking and screaming. We talked about everything else: money, dating, marriage, divorce, sex, parents, kids, moving, all except bleeding. In my experience, women respond to the topic squeamishly, rushing through the conversation, wishing it would end and that it was never tabled to begin with.

In my thirties, I became even more vocal. If a friend or a stranger asks me how I am, I say, “I’m menstruating.” Though my sister, Kerri is more conservative about her menses than I am, she bears no shame. Kerri only shares her menstruation with her inner circle. Thank God I’m in the circle. If she begins menses without telling me, admittedly I overreact by saying something to the effect of, “Yesterday, we dished throughout the entire day via text message, instant message, email and phone about how we were doing, yet you conveniently omitted that menses commenced. How could you?!?” We cycle similarly. I have a right to know what to expect, i.e., is Niagara missing a fall or is this leaky faucet that’s so benign, it doesn’t even require pliers?! Things I need to know.

Mensversation has become one of my favorite pastimes, and a mammoth part of my vulvacabulary. I have no shame, even if it is overcompensating for my fellow menstrualettes that do. I want my period out of the closet and in the limelight. Not the stains, the discussion.

When I open an Always menstrual product, each pad or plug says “Have a happy period … from Always”. Ok, that’s annoying. Ideally, messages would read, “How relieved you must be that you aren’t knocked up… Love, Always.” Or, “Congratulations that your ovaries have dropped an egg, a sign that things are working properly. Best, Always”. I could even live with, “We hope this menstruation is an easy one… Sincerely, Always.” Regardless, at least they’re not perpetuating shame because Moses is parting my lippy seas on a monthly basis. From my vantage point, that’s a bonus.

Another positive repercussion of menstruation is those deep menstrualgasms. When I was twenty, I went all the way with my then meat-of-the-week. His junk was saturated in unfertilized oveye. He reacted like a petulant brat, flailing his arms and bemoaning about not being adequately prepared. I sent him in with a miner’s cap and a compass. He found his way out of my vagina. What damages? Though, introducing first timers to the Gaza Strip can backfire—wildly. One of my first dates finger-fucked me in the backseat of his Mazda RX7. There I was basking in post orgasmic bliss while he was hyperventilating at the sight of his fingers covered in blood. He passed out after viewing his freshly-tinted beige seats. (They were in dire need of a splash of color, anyway.) He couldn’t thank me for the jhush?!

Admittedly, menses props don’t always top my “To Do” list. There are times when being Taco Grand Rapids isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Feeling like there’s drunken holiday traffic speeding through my womb can be a chore, particularly if it’s a new dick month or if I’m scheduled for a flangezam (gynecological exam). Or, if I bought a fabulous pair of white trousers to wear. Inevitably, menses will commence on those days because that’s how I roll. Because, God forbid, my ovum take my needs into consideration for five fucking minutes. I shouldn’t have to be on hurricane menses watch every month. I just am.

Wikipedia says that each menstrual cycle produces a half a cup of blood. On my fourth day of my cycle, yeah a half a cup of blood, but on the first, second and third days I bleed enough to fill a Coleman ice chest. I know I’m not the only gusher, there are legions of us spending twenty plus dollars a month terrified of bleeding out. At times, I want to throw down with my ovum and say, “Listen, bitches, I call the shots, not you. You are my minions and you will do as I say.”

I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. I’m their bottom, their bitch, they own me, and they know it.

Despite ovum running amuck each month, behaving like mini-cuntsteinowitzs, I love my menses. I do. I wish it wasn’t so stigmatized. My ovum reminds me to pause and to ponder, to reflect and decompress, to celebrate the organic order of my mind, body and spirit every month. Hempy as that sounds, it’s one of the things I love most about being a woman. Menstrual blood is the blood without deserved recognition. The blood we don’t discuss. The centuries-old blood that women have been chastised ridiculed and shamed for. I think of it as an unsung badge of honor and something to be proud of. In essence, it’s the ultimate red carpet. Sharp shooting-ass pains and menstrual cramps I could live without, sure. And, of course leakage, and those please-don’t-shove-your-hand-in-my-flange moments. Hollow leg syndrome, unnerving emotional reactions—crying at Hallmark commercials, Viagra ads and promos for Lifetime semicolon herstory movies, I could skip.

Once, just once, I would love it if, instead of snickering at my blood stained pants, or laughing at me for stockpiling a six-month supply of menstrual products, a few comfort food items thrown in for a decent menses binge, a bottle of Peach Schnapps to ease the pain and a few candles to light for a good cry, would it kill us to smile? Any missive that reminds me we’re not alone or that either sex isn’t deathly afraid of The Curse? That would really make this girl’s day.

 

 

My Legs are Closed for Business

My preliminary dating experience on Who-The-Fuck-Cares-You-Need-A-Man mainstream dating site was as pleasant as having a yeast infection while menstruating, topped off by a sneeze-n-wheeze allergy attack (with no tissues or inhalers to be found) while changing a blown tire on a freeway shoulder during rush hour traffic and getting a ticket for having an expired registration.

When I joined, I hoped to meet someone I could engage in a friend-fuck-ship with. I didn’t want a man to make me feel complete, just an accompaniment to my already full-life. I quickly learned that every personal ad offers up a tall glass of zero personality flaws with a twist of utopian companionship.

My first dateable was a twelve-stepper who said, “If you want to date me, you need to be in Al-Anon.” That was before asking me my name.

What if I had a fat, guttural name, like Sally? Or a four legged, barn-dwelling name, like Henrietta? Or worse, what if I was named after a street? La Cienega, which means swamp or marsh in Spanish, for example. What then? There are certain names I won’t date. Craigs, Gregs, Earls, Berles, Lesters or Chesters. They have a molesteree ring to them. Didn’t he have un-dateable names?

All Mr. Work Your Program cared about was my willingness to schlep up steps for him. I’m sorry, to demand I learn how not to be co-dependent to a recovering addict just wasn’t gift enough. I was looking for something far more substantial then behavior modification.

Hot on his heels was a disturbed OB/GYN whose idea of foreplay was to refer to his job as, “Ewww, disgusting, right?” As if that wasn’t creepy enough, Ol’ Gynolicious spent the next few minutes on instant messenger regaling me with his intentions, “Oh, sweetness and honey, when are we having a baby? Sweetness and honey, you are my new lady. Do you love me yet, sweetness and honey? I love you.”

I blocked his ass faster than Bush started wars.

I was desperate to delete my dating profile and be done with it, but decided to give it one more go, assuming it couldn’t get worse. I got an introductory email paraphrasing one of Superman’s many mottos and a photo of him in a scarlet, homespun sateen superhero costume with a giant, poorly stitched silver emblem of the letters “C” and “T” (all he was missing was the intro, “I’m A and a “U” and an “N”).

“It’s a bird, it’s a plan, no, it is hetero Captain Thunder, able to leap tall buildings in my supersonic stilettos (purchased on sale at Payless– mockuman’s frugality was supposed to be a selling point?), seeking a woman who will strap-on a cock and ass fuck me faster than a speeding bullet and more powerfully than a locomotive. I didn’t list myself on Fetish-Fucking-A-Hero.com, nor did I mention my proclivities. I kept thinking whatever happened to “Hi” and wasn’t his first email more of a third or fourth email?

The pièce de résistance was Vinnie. He introduced himself by listing his hobbies in bullet points: smelling his own feet at the end of a hard day gutting fish, chewing on his dirty, seafood stained fingernails, eating cherries jubilee on Sundays, not killing the mother of his child, or as he referred to her, “the pariah”, playing X-Box on his day off and seeing how many hours he could log consecutively on AIM with his T-Mobile Side Kick. He was up to 18 by the time our paths crossed. Impressive … right?! A few months later I decided to place an ad on Craigslist. My inbox was quickly filled with all sorts of promising e-mail. “The Yellow Lion,” an Asian chap whose snappy prose promised to take me to the candy shop with his pimp, thug-life tongue. Blake, the ex-con, now gainfully employed at Quizno’s, put his cards right on the table, “Been ten-years since I got me some. Need a lady friend. Stop by Quizno’s and say hi. There’s a free meal in it for you. I’ll even throw in our soup’o-the-day in a bread bowl if we click.”

Yeah, no.

The most intriguing of this brood I affectionately nicknamed “The Little Stem Cell That Could.” He bore a striking resemblance to that generic sci-fi image of a clone gone awry. He promised weekends filled with shopping sprees to “IKEA and romantic dinners at the Olive Garden, all in his hometown of West Covina conveniently located at the Fashion Exit off the 10.” Wow. He pulled out all the stops for his lady friends.

Could this get any more futile? I started to think this dating site was incapable of manifesting someone teetering even slightly in the stratosphere of normal. Granted, when it comes to relationships, I’m hardly a theme park. Most of my ex’s were only too happy to return their annual passes. Maybe that was why I kept attracting such fringe cock.

Because my self-esteem was merely wallowing, I logged back onto Like-It-Really-Fucking-Matters.com, so the remnants of my self-esteem could plummet and burn. And it super did.

Let me just preface all of this by saying, I am well aware of my shortcomings and freely discuss them. The twin triple D’s , the silicon free lips, the flat Jew ass, the chubby body and the painfully obsessive-neurotic-aloof-push-pull mentality whose favorite exercise is jumping to conclusions. That’s only when I’m not second guessing or berating myself. I know. Please.

But.

There are three types of men online.

SuperfluousStudMuffin opens with, “Not your typical LA-guy.” He fancies himself to be a thinking artisan, massage therapist, painter, sculptor, computer parts salesman, screenwriter, director and, finally, holistic healer. But, his real passion is music. He’s got a ditty to spin for his new sugar bear and a black and white photo of his pensive self strumming his acoustic guitar to prove he’s just waiting tables until his big self-titled album-demo-CD-compilation-whatever debuts.

Then there’s the angry man-child, who pledges to his princess through his bullshit emo lyrics, and only through his bullshit emo lyrics and never an actual conversation, that she will be loved for who she is at heart, pampered by masseurs and spa handlers, and spoiled rotten. In his ad, just as in his songs, he’ll italicize his thirst for soul-connecting walks along the beach at sunset in their coordinated off-white, slightly wrinkled linen ensembles, carrying their shoes, holding hands and blah blah blah. He takes his time to spell out his long list of attributes: pragmatic, entrepreneurial, financially secure, businessman and homeowner, honest to a fault, generous, passionate about his passion, ready to share his life, caring lover, caring in general, not religious but spiritual, adventurous, kind and soul-searching, 55, VGL, 5’8”, 250 lbs. Nice. Yet, written in bold, he’ll add “You: super tall or super petite, Pamela Anderson busty, Asiany shaped piercing light eyes, great ass, hourglass figure, slim, underweight preferred (“slightly” overweight need not respond), classy, sexy attire only, stilettos and fine lingerie, 19-24, over 25s don’t bother. Must be available on-call, or LTR, live-in preferred.” God forbid his woman’s pussy grow one follicle of hair or worse, lose it’s pretty in pink elasticity.

The third type of man is a wolf in sheep’s clothing because I’m interested enough to respond to his fucking ad. This type of guy uses his blinding charisma to camouflage his fear of intimacy and extreme dysfunction. Allowing these things to leap out in short, measured gasps, juicy enough for me to latch onto. His intelligence and arrogance vie for supremacy over his cockiness; an aphrodisiac that begs the question, “Where do you want my ankles?” His compulsion for independence and his inability to commit, fused with a strong sense of self-importance, packaged in a chubbyish body, hemorrhages eccentricities and quirks, coupled with his excessive enthusiasm for flossing, well it’s usually enough to make me fall harder than a pious republican. 

Things trucked along with Wolf #1, a casual guy, easy to chat with, funny and clever. He traveled extensively in search of the perfect flan, which he found in Caracas. He was 36, with trim, sable locks, engrossing brown eyes, a long, tapered nose and a manly beard with a sexy paunch. I was fascinated by the fact that he worked at the same job for seventeen-years with plans to retire there. Who says that? Someone who thought that far ahead commits without reservation and without an exit strategy. To think that far ahead was a bit unnerving, like planning a continental breakfast for two on a Sunday morning at an Express Holiday Inn.

I was obsessed with his big corporate pride. Not cock—actual pride. We agreed to meet in a well-lit restaurant. I looked forward to it. Our conversations were effortless and entertaining. The pictures he sent was adorable, one of him playing volleyball on the beach (great legs) and another at a party laughing with friends. A face-to-face seemed like the next logical step.

As I approached the restaurant, this tall, nine months pregnant-looking man bounded over to me, sporting a layered tooth grin and wearing an inappropriately massive gold and onyx mall ring on his right finger. Surprise! That was him. He was actually fifty-something with a Tourette’s eye twitch and a corn-fed face. He thought sending me those fabulous photos of himself when he was thirty-five would be funny.

Anyway, next.

Wolf #2 was an authority on and devout fan of Bukowski and born and raised in Savannah. My wonderful friend, Joy, found him for me. His moody charcoal clothing, big nose, scraggly black hair and soft round lips, with his pensive sensibility, overall disenchantment and irritation with the world and sardonic humor were a cry for help. Interpretation: I was smitten. He talked about how he loved to dine at the Y and fuck like an Olympian on a box of Total Cereal. Within a week, the chemistry was so hot; my vulva lips were twitching like two sticks being mightily rubbed together to ignite a fire.

As week two fast approached, with hundreds of emails and phone calls exchanged, he asked me to meet him for coffee. I was convinced this wolf could ravage the flames of my body and leave me limp as a willow on a humid summer day. I couldn’t wait to meet him and saw no reason to delay this get-together. He said he’d be the one pacing with a limp. Not wanting my new potential cocktail to think I was being insensitive to his needs, I said, “If you’re injured, we can always hook up another time. No problem.”

He says to me, “Oh, no, I’m not injured. I’m missing a leg and my prosthesis makes me limp.”

Funny, he told me without issue that he, too, was in recovery for some rehab-centric addiction (PS, when did I become the poster child for twelve-step dating?).He didn’t even flinch when he told me about being molested by his father’s brother’s dentists, cousin’s step-father’s gym teacher when he was ten, or about his dysfunctional relationship with his down-syndrome sister-turned-brother. Yet somehow he forgot to tell me that he was without an entire limb? Not a digit. Not half a member, but a full and complete leg from groin to toe.

Of course I overreacted. Please, who wouldn’t? I thought my overreaction was justified considering he failed to mention he was limbless. Limbboy could’ve worked it into one of our many conversations, “I read my first Bukowski book Women, when I was sixteen. My sister/brother only eats marmite and pineapple sandwiches. I haven’t been hiking in years, I used to love it. The last time we went, it was pouring rain and, man, it was so windy—I thought it was gonna throw me over the mountain. Oh, wait, it did. I slid down some pretty hairy terrain and lost my leg.”

Sure, that route might lead to some questions, “You mean lost your footing? Or, lost feeling in your leg because you broke it?” Those would be fair and valid questions. He was well humored. He might have responded sarcastically and said, “No, as in, I could see my leg dangling from a tree a few feet from my body. The damn thing never grew back, ha ha!” I would’ve gone out with him.

Anyway. Done and done.

If I was going to become a “we” on my terms, it wasn’t going to happen on You-Complete-Me.com and every other Don’t-Die-Alone-Act-Now dating website. To do that, I had to get off my ass and out of the house. Open myself up enough to get to know a man in the flesh, not behind my screen or over the phone. It meant I had to put myself out there for real and remind myself of the rush of excitement I felt when I fortuitously met someone. The best relationships I had were with men I met while I was out in the world living my life, not window cock shopping at Who-The-Fuck-Cares.com.

 

Performed at Sit-n-Spin, Winner of the Farmhouse Magazine 2009 Best Essay Award

 

See Mary Run

My maternal grandmother, Mary, was a precocious and austere woman. Fastidious and tolerant, presumptuous and nonchalant, and ballsy yet perceptive; I marveled at the clarity of her moods and the frequency of their intersection throughout each day. Mary was adorable, petite and campy. Proper lady outfits informed her wardrobe, pastel, and floral poly-cotton blend sets with an elastic waistband and a tank with a boat-neck, never a “turtle” or a “V”. Mary had demonstrative brown eyes, high cheekbones and a permafrown, something we often joked about.

Every Monday, she schlepped to the beauuuty pahlah to have her short, brown hair “set” for the week. Mary never left the house without a ladylike “do” and make-up. She rose at the crack of dawn every day, blaring vintage crooner tunes that she’d hum along to in la-dee-dee (pause) la-dee-da, fashion, while cleaning, tending to the laundry, straightening up and baking sugar-free Mandel bread with one chocolate chip per cookie.

My sister, Kerri, started baking with her when she was nine. Once she added a dozen chips to one of the cookies, declaring it a more delicious variation. My grandmother softly reprimanded her, “Stop getting crazy with the chips. My mother’s mother did the one chip. My mother did the one chip. I do the one chip. Now, you’ll do the one chip.” “What does Ma do?” Kerri asked. My grandmother paused, “She doesn’t bake.” Kerri darted her eyes around the counter, “So, I’m the next Mandel bread generation?” she quipped. “Technically, yes,” Mary responded. It was a quintessential Grandma Mary moment. She never tried to be funny, she just was.

Mary instructed Kerri to put the cookie down and said, “When I was your age, your great grandmother taught me how to make Mandel bread. Mind you, I wasn’t rebellious enough to add as many chips as you did– I added two chips. My mother took the second chip out of the cookie and put the cookie back on the baking sheet. She asked me to share some of the things we discussed while baking. Sure, I thought it was an odd question, but what was I gonna do, say no?  So, I said, ‘Your mother grew up poor in Russia. She worked as a seamstress. She met my grandfather tripping over a squash at the Farmer’s Market.’

Continuity, Kerri—Making Mandel bread is when we pass down our family history. I’m not sayin’ change isn’t good, but there are some things that must stay the same. If I started adding two chips and you added buckets of chips to individual cookies and your kids tossed those chips into the batter, we might forget where we came from.” With tears in her eyes, Kerri hugged our grandmother and removed all but one chip from her cookie before carefully placing it onto the baking sheet.

Mary was an ardent reader of romance novels, and took respites throughout the day to squeeze in a hundred pages while watching her favorite programs, The Price is Right, Let’s Make a Deal and Wheel of Fortune. Oy, old ladies and their wild crushes on game show hosts, noting first how their manicured coifs made them swoon.

Late mornings I helped Mary run errands. When I was 15 and had a driver’s permit, she allowed me to drive.

Mary: What are you racing out of the driveway for?! (I was going 5 MPH) Slowly. (3) Slower! (1/2) Fine. We’re out. Keep your hands at 10 and 2. I see 3 and 12, 6 and 1—you’re all over the place! I want 10 and 2. The stop sign is coming (halfway down the block). Slow down! (I was going 12, tops) Oy vey. Slooooow down! (This was as I approached the sign and slowed back down to 5) Stop. Wait. Wait. (7 minutes at the stop sign) Signal right. Wait. (3 more minutes) Now, turn right. Stop running like a dawg. (I accelerated to, what, 7?!) At the time, it made me crazy and left me feeling incompetent. In hindsight, I miss the hocking. Now realizing that was her way of saying, I love you.

My mother always says, “One phone call can change your life.” That’s true, but so can a vagina. Something I never anticipated, especially when it’s not my own and happens to be my grandmother’s. It all started when I innocently agreed to take my grandmother to the gynecologist as part of our late-morning errands. Three hours later, I’d read Highlights For Kids from cover to cover so many times, I thought a scope up my ass, a speculum inside my vagina and my breast smashed into a mammography machine all simultaneously would’ve been far more entertaining. I mean for chrissakes, three-hours? It’s one vagina. As the fourth hour fast approached, I was so disgusted I threw the magazine onto the floor and blazed past the nurse’s station in search of my grandmother. 

Fortunately, she was easy to find; she was the one screaming. I pulled open the curtain and saw my grandmother spread-eagle as two orderlies tried to restrain her, a gynecologist between her legs and her vagina on the table. Not in her vagiynal place, where vaginas usually live. I mean to say I saw her vagina actually on the table just lying there and she was trying to push her vagina back inside herself.

In what Andy-Warhol-meets-Billie-Holiday-meets-Jack-Kerouac universe does a granddaughter have to deal with her grandmother’s vagina? Failing to hit the nearby wastebasket, I vomited and gave myself a fast, silent pep talk, trying to convince myself I could face my grandmother’s vagina. “Woman up, child. Your grandmother’s vagina is now literally on the table, and you need to know why.” I also wondered how I was going to approach being supportive. Was I going to say, “Grams, I’m so sorry that you’re vagina fell out. Do you want to talk about how that makes you feel?” Or, “I’m so sorry God rearranged your vaginal equipment. What was he thinking that you wanted to be a contestant in a reality show?” She loved a good laugh, so maybe that was the right approach. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. My grandmother used to refer to her vagina as “her business”. Vadgeversation was never appealing to her and I didn’t want to make her more uncomfortable, all things considered.

Dr. Hillsdale was annoyingly perky with a super nasal, strong Wisconsin accent, in an lavender, crepe suit and her “Congratulations on not flunking out of medical school” pearl necklace, coordinated to match her button pearl earrings flawlessly. In her happiest sing-song voice, she condescendingly whispered, “Dear, your grandmother has what we call a prolaaaapsed uuuuterus. That’s what you saw on the table.” She heartily laughed and continued, “Women’s wombs fall out every day and their ovaries, like your grandmother’s, hitch along for the ride. Oh, did I mention that her vaginal canal also collapsed? Anyhoodle-doodle-do, it did and it’s super common.”        

Defending my own crotch, freaked out that I was contestant #2, I remained in the keggel squeeze position and pushed my legs together so forcefully, I’m sure I stopped circulating blood to my down there. I held my breath, too, for good measure.

“I think your grandma’s also got short-term memory loss. She’s suuuuuper repetitive.” Dr. Hillsdale said.

I had to interject. “No, she’s Jewish.”

She looked confused and continued, “I’m serious. She shows classic signs of mental illness. Verbal abuse…”

I said, “No, wait, listen if she called you a crazy bitch, that’s not abuse. That’s love.”

And, that’s when it got ugly, “Listen to me. Your grandmother needs to see a neurologist immediately. She scratches, bites, kicks and screams–” I lost it, “Hey! She’s not Cujo. She’s a tiny, 90-year-old broad from Queens with a vagina gone awry. Cut her some fuckin’ slack.”

She was pissed, pursing her pink lips and snapping. “Your grandmother needs a hysterectomy and vaginal reconstruction.  Immediately.”

That part, I couldn’t argue with. Though, I had a question, “Why vaginal reconstruction? It’s not like she uses it, so what’s the point of rebuilding it? What are you thinking? If you build it they will come? She’s 90.”

Her face flushed and she clutched her desk, draining blood from her knuckles. Dr. Hillsdale had no sense of humor. That was my cue to leave.

I felt like I was in a Roman Polanski revision of “Deep Throat”. My mind was drowning in neurosis. I was terrified uterine prolapse was hereditary. I kept wondering if it was my destiny to schlep to Katz’s deli on a Sunday for a grilled tomato and cheese on rye with my vagina in one hand and my pocketbook in the other. Eclipsing that fear, I wondered how I was supposed to tell my mother that her mother’s vagina was now an accessory.

I practiced this phone call several times, realizing that as much as I wanted to say nothing, my options were limited. This wasn’t a let’s-take-it-to-the-grave item. I needed to loop my Ma and fast; we were on the precipice of a hostile vaginal takeover.

Initially, I thought I would ease into it by explaining that Dr. Hillsdale thought grandma was senile-ish, thinking the ish diminished the blow. When I said that, my mother asked, “Because she’s repetitive?”

I reservedly explained that I thought it might be because grandma was kind of, sort of, maybe being aggressive-ish with the orderlies. She deflected that like a superhero; bouncing off of her and right out the door, saying, “Can you blame her? I hate the gyno.”

Mincing words into digestible sentences wasn’t even bordering my point. I decided on the band-aid approach and swiftly said, “Ma, Grandma’s vagina fell out and she’s biting people.”

My mother handled it curiously. “Child, I am your mother. I know you better than you know yourself. Spinning a yarn is one thing; this is your grandmother’s mental status we’re talking about. Now, I’m going to pick up my cell phone this instant to call the doctor, and if I find out that you’re lying to me, I will be very, very angry with you.”

After speaking with Dr. Hillsdale, my story was confirmed. My mother was worried and insisted my grandmother see a neurologist. After a thorough examination, Dr. Bush, an insolent prick, dismissively told us Mary was in the first stage of Alzheimer’s, squashing my mother’s hope that maybe, just maybe, it was a just mild form of dementia.

Ma asked all the questions we’re supposed to ask in these situations, “Are you sure it’s Alzheimer’s? Is it hereditary? How did she get it?” He provided no insight, choosing instead to belittle her inquiries and behave like a foolish bastard, “Beats me. Nobody knows where it stems from. Bunch of different theories running around.  It isn’t just an aging disease anymore, either. People your age are getting it. It’s too bad really.” He paused. “Well, you should probably start thinking about an Alzheimer’s ward for her long-term care.”

My mother unhesitatingly assailed him, “Maybe you can throw your parents away like trash, but I can’t and I won’t. We’re getting a second opinion—go fuck yourself.” The second and third opinions were delivered with more tact and care, but they were the same.

Later that week, my grandmother had a hysterectomy and vaginal reconstructive surgery. The procedure was a complete success, so much so, that within a few short hours of her five-hour procedure, she barricaded herself in her room. After all, she was done and wanted to leave. It took a hospital variation on SWAT to get the door open, followed by two doctors, three orderlies, a straightjacket, wrist restraints and a round the clock Valium drip to sedate her.

Six months, four heart attacks, five bladder infections, two bouts of pneumonia and fifteen personalities later, we knew we had to place her in a home. Sunday visits went from afternoons at Cedars, or if my grandmother was well, schlepping her to the movies and for a nosh, to Alzy ward shopping day. If we liked it, Medicare wouldn’t cover it.  If we hated the nursing home, Medicare would. The only commonality these convalescent homes shared was a noxious stench of grandparents marinating in urine and heavy duty cleaning solvent. It was unforgettable, infiltrating our taste buds and making us gag.  Finding a place that didn’t leave us heartbroken and guilt ridden became impossible… But we had to, so we did.

Once we lured my grandmother to her new digs, The Senior Fun House, under the false pretense of a matinee, Sundays became known as, “Let’s See Mary Run Day” because she was so busy with herself.  She couldn’t stop obsessing, or rearranging things, or restacking papers, or repeating herself even for five minutes.

“Where’s my pocketbook?”

“I have it, Grandma.”

“Lemme pish and we’ll go. Where’s my pocketbook?”

“I have it, Grandma.”

“Lemme pish and we’ll go. Where’s my pocketbook?”

“I have it, Grandma. Lemme pish and we’ll go.”

Oy. We didn’t know if we were on spin or rinse. We always ended the evening at Shanghai Grill. I would tell myself, “Just make it through a little Mu Shu. Take Mary to lockdown and you’re home free.”

Oh, but, it was never that simple: Too hot. Too cold. Nah.  No good. No ice. More ice. Where’s my pocketbook? I can’t eat this. Who are you? Gimmie your rice.  I hate this rice. They can’t give a crispy noodle?  Pass the salt. These are soft. I want crispy. Coffee’s cold. Too hot. Give a lil cream. Water. No ice. More ice. Who are you? The cookie’s stale. More coffee. Too hot. Too cold.  Help! The Chinaman stole my pocketbook.

After Alzheimer’s ransacked my grandmother’s mind, rendering it a bleak wasteland, incapable of uttering words, it demolished her vital organs, draining the soul from every fiber of her being. Warm eyes that once reflected familial history and strength were absconded by disease.

The night before my grandmother died, she looked as limp and lifeless and gray as the blanket keeping her warm. It was all so sad and tragic. Very deathy. I was relieved and felt guilty because I was relieved. I felt like we could finally bury the disease and mourn the loss of a woman we loved, who really, was gone long before this. Nevertheless, I found myself missing those days at Shanghai Grill, chaotic and maddening as they were. Bits and pieces of my grandma would surface, occasionally wading in shallow waters, reminding us that she was still there.

My mother and grandmother were best friends, as close as my sister and I are to Ma now. We wanted the physical suffering to end for my grandmother and my mother’s emotional agony to end. When it finally did, my mother was devoured by grief. There were no more near-deathversations to be had. All that was left was inconsolable sadness. The day of her death, the three of us sat by the fire drinking wine, sharing our “Best of Mary” yarns. My mother went through every photo album, imparting the memories her mother left her with on us.

To bear witness to Mary’s deconstruction was impossible to rationalize—it was surreal. One day this person we loved so much, who drove us crazy in a way we wouldn’t have traded for all the bagels in Brooklyn; stopped. She just stopped.

There is no upside to death unless it is that death subdues what ails. This was that.

 

— Performed at Sit-n-Spin – Based on my play – Feature Film Forthcoming (WGA#  1034204)

This is the Stock I come from

I am plagued by so much guilt and shame that people can feel it in the air around me. Born three days late, I thought I felt guilty enough until I learned my mother spent seven hours delivering me. And then, I felt ashamed for not feeling guilty enough.

Jewish guilt, person-to-person guilt, wasn’t guilt enough; I started committing religious adultery years ago when my DNA was infused with Catholic guilt, person-to-deity guilt, complete with an imagined sin wheel for my spinning pleasure.

I spent my junior year abroad, at a school in Durham, England and took religious studies. Admittedly, my original impetus for this was that one afternoon a week we’d be field tripping.

Our first visit was to a 300-year-old Catholic Church with hand-carved stones that seemed a beacon of religious composition that radiated benevolent confidence. As I walked through the heavy wood door with large, etched pewter handles, I felt overwhelmed by a certain sense of intimacy. Faded red glass candle holders with flickering chubby white candles and a dozen narrow pews made of swirly marble faced an altar of traditions I knew little about.

What intrigued me the most were the confessionals; two tiny closets, side-by-side with velvet burgundy robes, a wooden bench for kneeling and a mesh opening to reveal sins in exchange for redemption. Being raised a Jew; I atoned only annually, on Yom Kippur. By the end of each year, my list of things to atone for is twice the size of the Dead Sea Scrolls. If I went Catholic, I’d only need a post-it since I could atone weekly, if I needed. As a guilt addict, I was susceptible to a medley of new options and only too pleased to do so. Nonetheless, I managed to exaggerate my guilt in the eyes of God and ensure my chronic affliction.

Aside from the debacle of being born, I have an impressive list of guilt and shame.

While apologizing to my grandmother for not calling her the previous week, I walked into a stationary bike, sober, and broke two toes. Not that sobriety factored into it that much, being an accomplished klutz and all.

At ten, I felt myself up and asked a friend to do the same, to confirm what I suspected, that I had lumps instead of simply nipples. I alerted my parents, who took me to a doctor; they were convinced I had breast cancer. I didn’t. I was just developing— a slutty act in all 10-year-old circles. Forced to wear a bra to avoid putting boys at risk of head trauma, they really preferred to watch me jiggle my way through tetherball.

I believed my father when he said we were descendents of Dewey Decimal until I was fourteen.

When I was sixteen, I peed on myself (and, worse, I admitted it) when my father put plastic wrap on the toilet seat six months after April Fools Day.

I rear-ended the Los Angeles district attorney in a rental car, totaling it, because I was so preoccupied with staring at a fireman’s ass that I forgot to brake. Across the street, moviegoers poured out of the painfully-cliché-even-in-that-moment summer blockbuster “Titanic”. After the district attorney handed me his card, I, Queen of Shame, stood begging for mercy, crying my eyes out. And when he said, “Don’t you worry your pretty little head, sweetheart.” I did not drop to my knees to use his testicles as a punching bag. Rather, I gratefully nodded, and waited on the curb for a tow truck.

At eighteen, I overcompensated for my virginity by blowing three different men on a Saturday night. On the hood of a Cougar on a lively street, I sucked on the rod of an Alaskan sea fisherman. Later, sitting on a park bench, I provided the city’s homeless community with a live show by consuming a gun-toting, flannel shirt-wearing, trucker named… Glynn with a y! Finally, I raced into a bathroom during a party with a Yugoslavian and welcomed him to the states by oralizing him. Provided I was a decent cocksucker, my low self-esteem choice was another person’s good fortune.

I’m ashamed to admit my phobia of anything -legic (quad or para) and blindness to the point I believed my blind neighbor was a sign of my blindness to come and actually said once to my sister, “I can’t believe the nerve of that blind boy flaunting his blindness in my face with his fucking blind accessories.”

Each time someone mentions an illness, I feel so anxious I could hyperventilate. I’m not a hypochondriac, I fear death. There is a difference. I don’t even bother with learning the symptoms—the name of the disease is enough for me to extrapolate what I need to convince myself this is a disease I have. Who the fuck cares what the symptoms are? I know I fucking have it.

In my free time, instead of gratifying my dairy addiction vicariously by salivating over macaroni and cheese recipes online, I diagnose myself with my Physician’s Desk Reference. I create names of diseases I am sure to acquire if I have not done so already, only with the convenience of acquiring them in groups, like, Lukabetes: Leukemia and Diabetes. It, I reason, will surely turn my marrow into taffy. Glawner: Glaucoma, Cancer and Yaws– the tumorettes growing behind my eyeballs that’ll turn my vision into an opalescent mood ring accompanied by a head-to-toe bumpy rash so abrasive that I’ll become a walking book of brail. Nickimsons is the diseaseapalooza: Pneumonia, MS and Parkinson’s disease– I’ll be forced to wear my lungs as an accessory strapped to my chest and without warning, my body will jump into “Thriller” dance moves, catapulting me from my (I’m sure) wheelchair. On a good day.

I stole salt and pepper shakers, place settings and ashtrays from a restaurant, by way of my own cleavage because I could. My late grandmother, my dad’s mother, used to lift the set-ups on tables at coffee shops. During one of our many outings, I followed suit and quietly lifted a bag of M&Ms, stuffing them into my pocket. When I proudly showed her, she dragged my ass back into that store and paid the man for my candy. I asked her why. She said, “Because that’s stealing and stealing is wrong.” I asked, “Aren’t you stealing when you take place settings from restaurants?” She paused, and then exclaimed, “That’s not stealing, that’s lifting.” It didn’t make sense then or now, but the occasional lift reminds me of her. I assuage my guilt by adding an extra twenty bucks to the check.

While in stirrups, I asked my gynecologist if my vagina was too “lippy” and then accused him of lying when he said, “No. All vaginas have labia majora and labia minora”. My vagina and I felt so marginalized by his canned response, I barked, “Minora? Did you just declare my vagina a Hanukah accessory?” He yanked the speculum out of my box and asked me to find another gynecologist. I sent apology flowers the next day and received a thank you voicemail with three referrals from his secretary. What bug crawled up his ass and killed his sense of humor?, I thought.

My neighbor, green-with-envy because I happened to be dating someone at the time, instigated an argument with me about dogs. She rescued a mongrel in a wheelchair with a collapsed lung, mange, tumors in its mouth and arthritis, and then had the nerve to call me a bad humanitarian for owning a pure breed dog. I went too far, and I knew it, when I said, “If you’re so fucking philanthropic, shouldn’t your personal ad say, SWF seeks deaf hypertensive male with a harelip and one testicle. Those with sleep apnea, conspicuous neurosis and adjunct disorders preferred…?”

At twenty-three, while inhaling my way through San Francisco’s finest dick, I suddenly found myself at the pinnacle of shame, stranded in a marriage I didn’t want any part of and drowning in guilt as a result. My ridiculously low self-esteem preempted reason and deferred to matrimony. At twenty-three, I didn’t know myself, so how could I possibly know what I needed?

My ex-husband was a pleasant person with an affable demeanor, a good heart, and was a community activist, not to make him sound beige. On the contrary, he had many fine qualities worth appreciating. He was a quirky guy who loved women, cooking, eating, playing music and spending time with his family and friends. We just never quite got each other enough to create or sustain a friendship.

It was as if we were continuously three beats apart, never measuring up to the other’s expectations. He wanted intimacy while I didn’t know what that was or what it meant, or why I would need such a thing and wanted autonomy instead. Like everyone, he deserved a partner who understood and fulfilled his needs. Unconsciously, I made him feel badly for having needs at all.

Pre-matrimony, or at least, pre-him, I loved my multi-orgasmic jingle bell, bundled in the folds of my labia. Once we were married, our inability to find common ground sent it, and my sex drive, into hibernation, along with every orgasm I, ahem, sacrificed during our Starter Marriage. I watched my sex drive croak; something I didn’t know could happen, especially to me. This pulverized my self-esteem. I felt stuck and trapped and like I would suffocate, yet shackled by fear from an antiquated idea that if I left him I would be viewed as damaged goods.

I am a child of divorce, the daughter of a divorce attorney who put herself through undergrad and law school, a feminist with irrepressible drive, a role model and an inspiration for what it means to be a woman in every sense of the word. And, despite that sensibility ingrained in my head, I couldn’t shake the idea of this “damaged goods” stamp if I ended the marriage. My Jewish mother often says to me, “Get off the Cross. Trust me a wayward Catholic needs the wood.” Does my Ma know me, or what?

My mother planned and paid for a spectacular wedding for me, an event that so many broads dream of having— I was proud of my Ma for planning such an affair and miserable because I was a wife. I didn’t want to get married. Period. My parents assured me that my hesitation was completely natural and normal before a wedding, which, let’s face it, is the right thing to say. So, on my wedding day, after my parents reasoned with me, as any good parent would, I was, quite literally, dragged down the aisle. I stood there and wished I had the moxie to say “I don’t”. Instead, I said, “I do.”

For reasons all routed in the aforementioned low self-esteem, I kept all of these feelings a secret from my then-husband, my family and everyone else. That is, until the day, so distracted emotionally and psychologically, that upon leaving a coffee shop, I tripped over a curb and splashed coffee all over SuperPeen.

They, whoever the hell they are, say that signs are everywhere, if we only choose to look for them. My sign was SuperPeen. Something as subtle as the chemistry of the moment with him was all the impetus I needed to remind me of who I was before becoming Starter Husband’s wife. Go figure my sign had a penis attached to it. I plead with him to take me home and fuck me stupid. SuperPeen, naturally found my request not only not-hot but downright insane. But, that I made the request, nay demand, at all was an eye-opener. I never thought I was capable of saying such a thing. Up until this moment, I was convinced I was the type of woman who would speak up about my unhappiness or desire to be with another man before acting upon it.

My rejuvenated awareness after meeting SuperPeen commissioned me to build a bridge and schlep my damaged ass right over it, and the fuck out of that marriage. I realized on my way home from my moment with SuperPeen that I only felt like damaged goods for not loving my husband the way his life partner should.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple. As the dust cleared, thoughts, feelings and (surprise) guilt arose. Anxious to negate my guilt, I indulged in many appetizer soirées for party of one. My motto was: If you can feel something, eat something.

And food guilt is a whole other story.

The enormity of my guilt due to my relationship with food was larger than life and most surely genetic. My great grandfather, Louie, who moved from Romania to grow up poor in the slums of Brooklyn, lost an eye while inhaling a lobster. My father, the son of a baker, was so overcome with titillation that on three separate occasions while eating steak, he forgot to chew and choked. My Aunt Jubilee was married for forty years yet had a passionate, long-time affair with food. So devoted, she swelled to five hundred pounds by the time she was fifty, resulting in the necessity of a round’ the clock respirator. Fatapnea was the diagnosis. My Aunt Ariella ate herself out of three toes and into a diabetic coma. My cousin, Hadassah is an anorectic lesbian. Me? I could’ve graduated with honors in binge eating and minored in purge archery.

When my grandmother died, my Ma asked me to deliver the eulogy. She was too grief-stricken to do it herself. As I stood at the podium in eulogy mode, surrounded by family and friends, Hadassah, anorectic lesbian, raced over and smugly said, “I’m a lesbian”.

How could I take that seriously? Hadassah communicates with aliens by riding her bicycle through the city in handmade two-feet high aluminum hats. Hello. Shame salad. And, oh, I don’t know, how about an iota of respect for the newly departed and deeply distraught?

To avoid a scene, I whispered, “If you wanted to kill her, you’re a day late and a lesbian short. Seeing you with a lover might’ve thrown her for a curve, but only for a minute because she had Alzy’s. Anyway, that’s not the kind of news that would’ve killed her. Can I get back to my eulogy now? Please?”

My Aunt Gili turned to my cousin and said, “You don’t call. You don’t write. You don’t visit for 10-years. What, a lesbian can’t wait 5-minutes?”

Aaaaand action! “I prefer being called a dyke,” Hadassah said. I couldn’t hold my tongue any longer. “You’re debating the semantics of lesbian etiquette with an 80-year old?! She doesn’t know what a lesbian or a dyke is, or what it does.”

The befuddled grieving masses sat crying, anxiously waiting for the funeral to resume. My grandmother genially waited to be buried while Hadassah took the family on a 30-minute cultural tour of dykeism.

Anyway.

I turned the dirty business of closet eating into a refined art form, perfected by creativity and gumption. I’m the broad who places pick-up and delivery orders by creating a party like atmosphere, replete with a blaring television and a radio talk show in the background and talking over “everyone” by saying “We would like” and, “Hold on, let me double check with the others to make sure I got the order right.”

To diffuse my paranoia of being under constant surveillance and ridicule by the check-out clerks, since most people shop weekly and I shop daily, I justify my fattening purchases by saying things like, “Have you ever seen so much food?! I got stuck cooking for the holidays.” Even if there is no holiday, I will confidently make one up. My reigning favorite is Hannum. It’s like Friday night Sabbath, except that it pops up at my discretion.

I learned how to champion a successful binge from my father and feel a culmination of victorious fullness and tormenting emptiness. My cousins taught me the hollow acquiescence of self-starvation.

When I was a tweener, it was Ina Polzwowski, the neighbor that I shared a brick of Parmesan cheese with one afternoon in the woods on Long Island, who taught me how to exorcise the worthlessness I felt and gain control by vomiting. On that day, I was inducted into a secret society and became a 12-year-old consumed by unstoppable power. Regardless of how much pain I stuffed away, I could easily purge it with a finger and a toilet. Fat chick vomits. Cliché, I know.  This was different. I felt whole and complete and totally in control each time I emptied the rancor from my belly. It was invigorating and glorious, sophisticated and romanticized, until a year later when I saw some Semicolon Her Story movie and learned my teeth would rot right out of my head. Being an inappropriate floss freak, I knew I had to forego my yen for vomiting. I was so forlorn I binged and immediately felt guilty for wanting to vomit, and ashamed because I did.

My father once said to me, “Katie, what’s with you and all of this guilt, huh? Where the hell is it comin’ from?” I was dumbfounded. “Are you new?!”, I wailed. Imagine, the man who invented sport eating, to perhaps abscond from his own childhood pain, asking me about the origins of my guilt.

My grandparents and great-aunts invented The Art of Guilt: Eat. Don’t eat. I slaved over a hot stove all day so you could drop dead from starvation? If you don’t stop eating, you’ll wind up alone. You want to wind up alone? Keep eating. You’re not gonna eat the last one are you! I didn’t want it anyway. You have it. You had to eat the last one? No, really, don’t bother, I’ll get it. Sit. Relax. You’ve had a hard day. You can’t help an old woman schlep a few bags up the stairs! You give him sex and pay half the rent? Fine. Don’t expect a ring. With all of the baked goodies he’s getting, why should he buy the bakery? That hair cut makes you look like you need a mop and a pail. Did I say I didn’t like you’re new hair don’t? Would it kill you to wear a little lipstick and eye shadow? My granddaughter is not walking out of this house looking like a hooker.

Oy—

My gene pool was a road map to forge pristine dysfunctional relationships with food, with guilt and with myself. Somewhere along the way, I was also given an itinerary to redemption from enough guilt and shame, to manage it instead of it managing me…Theoretically, that is.

 

— Performed at Sit-n-Spin

Born to Fuck

There I was just sitting in Urth Cafe in Los Angeles finishing up an essay called, “Forgive Me Father for I have Sinned—Oy”, chronicling yet another humiliating sexcapade in my life, and drinking a non-fat cappuccino, feeling smartish, funnyish, and not as hard on the eyesish as I usually doish, when I looked up and saw the archetypal plastic-surgery-honey-blonde-diva, broadcasting a contagious amount of silicon. Imagine my fear, faced with the reality that one day my God-given triple-D breasts will become anklets. I digress… Her entrance caused a shockwave of erections throughout the room. As she sashayed through the coffee shop in her pink sequin tank top blaring entitlement, the wood began to throb until she leaned over in her excessively priced jeans, revealing her fire engine red V-string annunciating volumes about her intentions, “Got Platinum? For unlimited usage, you get the perfect LA-specimen that is me, on your arm whenever and wherever you want it,” because the wood got wind and exploded.

That afternoon, no longer blooming in positiveish delicacies, I thought that there are some men and women who exude I-was-put-on-this-earth-to-fuck-and-do-fuck-like-things-until-my-head-explodes. I’m not meant to read, to talk, to work, to do anything, but fuck, period, the end. They fuck as if they don’t need fetishes or the perfect him-her lingerie, or overpriced lubes to sustain an erection to fuck or get someone off. Breezing through life’s general population, their perfection wafts from person to person like smoke signals, comparable to the close-ups of Bella Lugosi in the original Count Dracula films. So perceivable, I am besotted, itching for their sexual infallibility to magically attach itself to my loins.

These people don’t sweat, they glow. Even when they masturbate, they don’t need slow jam or R&B in the background. There’s enough Barry White ejaculating from their pores to make him rise from the dead. And when she, whoever what’s-her-tits may be, orgasms, little cherubs frolic like a halo around her head.

Then there’s me… It’s not a weight thing, or a confidence thing, it’s a reality thing.

When I was in college, I was living in a flat in San Francisco that had an old radiator next to my bed, like most old flats in SF. One day I came home and heard this earsplitting rat-tat-tat. As I followed the sound back to my room it got louder. Once beside the radiator, the noise was so deafening, I called my apartment manager in a state, “Al, ya gotta hear what’s coming from the radiator!” A proud, self proclaimed mellowest afflicted by “tranquility” bordering catatonic, shockingly reacted normally, screeching, “Oh my God, it’s gonna blow. Get out of the house. I’ll evacuate the other tenants and call the fire department.”

I didn’t know what to grab first. I heard the fire trucks racing down my block as frenzied neighbors scurried through the halls. I took my: Cuisinart, spatulas, rock collection, an egg timer, and a dozen pair of underwear, eyeliner, lipstick and a fan. An egg timer?! I dove underneath my bed for my suitcase to throw everything in and flee and found my vibrator doing the jig underneath the radiator.

Oh shit.

I grabbed it. Of course, this action made the radiator rat-tat-tat stop. Seconds later, I heard my name echoing through a megaphone on the street, “KATIE SCHWARTZ in Apartment 11, LEAVE THE BUILDING NOW. I REPEAT, KATIE SCHWARTZ, EVACUATE THE BUILDING IMMEDIATELY.”

There I was, in my room, with a now dulcet radiator, a throbbing vibrator in my hand, suddenly confronted by a breathless fireman who busted through my front door, eager to save me and my Cuisinart.

Instead of asking him for his address to mail him a Thank You for Saving My Vibrator’s Life, no, Sorry I Wasted Your Time, no, Fireman Appreciation card, I fucked him.

I thought it was a more environmentally conscientious choice, plus it was a bit more personal than a Hallmark.

That was my first vibrator and introduction to the reality that I wasn’t born to fuck or do fuck-like things with the grace and primitiveness that others were. Sure, masturbating with my hand was never a problem. But, all my girlfriends had upgraded to vibrators, and I wanted an appendage extension, too.

One sunny premenstrual Saturday afternoon, my puppy was taking a nap on the floor, so I decided to get into bed and get my swirl on with Juan, a new swashbuckling, vibrating number I picked up earlier that week. All was going famously. I had my fantasy down. The speed was just right. Everything was pointing in an orgasmic direction, until, like a schmuck, I inadvertently twisted the base and it popped off and woke my puppy up. All he saw was a shiny, bright round thing coming at him and eager to play catch, he caught, and almost choked. I flailed braless to his rescue. Terrified that I emotionally and physically scarred him, I took him to the vet.

“What happened?”, the vet asked.

I said, “He almost choked.”

He asked how.. I fumbled, but managed to say, “You know, on a thing.”

Vetboy stood there agitated, tapping his soft-shoe-leather-man-flat. He folded his arms in his starched white, over-degreed, couldn’t-make-the-MD-cut coat, and in his most voracious bitter bottom tone wailed, “Listen missy, if I’m gonna help your dog, I need some hard and fast answers.”

I said, “Listen, Sissy, the only hard and fast you’re getting out of me is my neighbor Oliver’s number. The dog almost choked on a thing with a spring. Now just tell me if the God Damned canine is damaged or not.”

Luckily my dog suffered no injuries and I made a friend.

Feeling hopeless, but still committed to becoming a successful fuck and fuck-like thing, I thought maybe it was the types of vibrators I was choosing. As a last stitch effort to try something new, I went into a sex store determined to find a vibrator that would achieve my objectives without causing bodily injury to others and chaos in my apartment building. I approached a quirky, pierced, tattooed employee, percolating fuck-centric confidence with her spiky blonde do and leather ensemble, and said, “I’m looking for a vibrator. It has to be safe, stylish, somewhat butch and capable of staying off when I leave it alone.” She whipped out the Cadillac of vibrators, a five-speed, remote-controlled, ribbed, veiny, olive skinned, suction cup cock with a bountiful mushroom head, like I’d never seen in my life. The fuckdiva positioned him on the table, steadily cradling his sack. With a devilish smile, she delicately hushed, “Watch”. Fuckdiva flicked the switch to speed-one, observing peenyboy’s semi-firm shaft do the Polka reminded me of my grandparents on Saturday nights at the Clubhouse, scarcely an erotic visual aid. Gifted with extreme facial responses, she knew I wasn’t impressed and clicked speed-two. I gawked at Henry (interim vibrator nickname), lightly flutter and spin enough to illicit a reaction, “Hmm, seems doable, can we shift gears”? She licked her lips and rolled her tongue, judiciously aware that speed-three was the inimitable closing tool. Henry’s flexibility was resourceful, to be sure, preening like a famous Swing dance instructor, breaking out in front-to-back Charleston Steps, looping into The Shag and finishing off with the Jitterbug Stroll, demanding fuckdiva clutch his balls tighter. I wasn’t about to become a cliché like my predecessors, no way, no how. I wanted to see speed-four in all its strapping, jockstrap glory. Oh. My. God. Henry looked like a1950’s twenty-something performing a steroid induced Hand Jive on American Bandstand. I didn’t need to see speed-five, this baby was on fire and for fifty-bucks he was mine.

I took my eager beaver home and felt like a Botox junky at a plastics seminar offering unlimited free shots. I didn’t know where to slam that thing first. I tried every wall in each room of my house. It didn’t stick, duh. I even tried the refrigerator. It stuck, but fucking a Sears and Roebuck appliance just isn’t hot. Then it occurred to me, the shower door! I ripped my clothes off, locked my dog outside of the bathroom, made sure all my windows were locked and shrouded in sheets with extra strength electrical tape and flew Charlie (has a more macho ring to it than Henry) onto the door. I double checked to make sure it was secure and then I prayed. Honestly. “God, how are you? I’m doing okay. Sorry to bother you. This won’t take but a minute. Here’s the deal, this is my third vibrator. I gotta make this work. I have to be able to achieve an orgasm with one of these things. Other people do it. You probably do it… right? That’s gotta be a perk when you’re God, no? For once in my life, I really want to be a fuck-like thing without damaging anyone, or thing. Is that so much to ask?”

After I prayed, I wantonly fucked that vibrator, grunting, groaning and moaning, twisting my neck from side-to-side as wet strands of long hair pelted my face—I even slapped my own ass and pinched a nipple along the way. And as I lost myself in orgasmic bliss, I also lost the shower door and the cock attached to it. I whipped around and found that my new, macho, fifty-dollar vibrator’s head had been decapitated by shards of shower door glass. Charlie, previously a domineering force of the vibrating world was now dead.

It was devastating. But, I came, wondering what the vibrating world had in store for a short-bus masturbator like me. Unflinching in my commitment to continue enhancing my methods of reaching orgasm, I kept doing it, you know, masturbating.

A few years later I decided to try another tool and picked a lean, seven-inch Hawaiian themed Starter Vibrator. After each use, I cleaned him and replaced his batteries (every few months). It was a lovely, low maintenance relationship.

Early on a Saturday morning, a new neighbor I’d spoken with in passing dropped by for a chat. She was my age, a single dame, too, and had a sister, enough similarities that encouraged me to give her the grand tour of my 700 square foot apartment. Passing my vintage furniture in the living room, jadeite and bread-sugar-coffee tin collection in the kitchen, she suggested we go antiquing together, emphasizing that I simply had to stop by her apartment because we shared the same taste in antique tchoch. When we got to the bedroom, my gold plated baroque end-table, home to an Eames era fiberglass lamp, also sat “Hawaii” minding his own business waiting for me to put him away. So disgusted, she pointed to it and guffawed, stuttering “b-b-b-b-bye” before hastily leaving my apartment and slamming the door behind her. I sat on my bed and picked Hawaii up. I turned his bottom on, listening to him quietly hum, aware of his pleasant disposition and thinking he was just a vibrator. Who cares if I had a clumsy, rumbling past with these accessories?! Instead of focusing on how they’ve shamed me, I should appreciate the many orgasms they’ve bestowed me, albeit tenuous, sure, but they’ve become characters in my masturbating life, as has everything else. I turned him off and tucked him away carefully in my drawer hoping that one day soon we’d reach another orgasm together regardless of the consequences.

 

— Performed at Sit-n-Spin

 

*Image courtesy of Monday Meanderings

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