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Whether these were those people or not, I knew that in this moment neither of them was asking that question. If they had tasted the nausea of not knowing why we are here or who we are, or if they had not, now they were willfully and successfully ignoring it. Or maybe they were just stupid. Oh, the sweet gift of stupidity. I envied them.
But really, I knew that everything came down to her shorts. All of the answers were in that ass line—the reduction of all fear, all unknown, all nothingness, eclipsed by the ass line. It was holding its own in all of this. It was just existing as though living was easy. The ass line didn’t really have to do anything, but it was running the whole show. All dialogue began and ended at that ass line. The direction of their evening, their conversation, and in a way, the universe ended there. I hated them.
I hated their ease with everything. I hated their lack of loneliness, their sense of time stretching out languidly like something to be toyed with, as though it were never going to get too late tonight or in their lives. I didn’t know who I resented more: the man or the woman.
I have always felt that it would be good to be a man. Not only have I always wanted to have my own dick—just to walk around feeling that weight between my legs, that power—but I have longed to escape the time pressures that my body has put on me. I hated the German man on Abbot Kinney for having that, no time pressure. I hated the woman too, for being so young, for having so much time left to be hot and maybe someday have a baby.
I had never wanted a baby. I never felt the desire so many women describe that suddenly hits them. Having just turned thirty-eight, I had been waiting and waiting for that desire to overtake me, but it didn’t. So I always looked on it casually, like something mildly distasteful: a piece of onion I would prefer not to put on my plate.
But I loved having the option of having a baby if I still wanted one. I liked having the future ahead of me. People say that youth is wasted on the young, and I agree in so many respects that it was wasted on me, but in one way I had appreciated it. I always had a sense of my privilege with time. Part of my casualness with the question of having children was that I sensed how lucky I was that I could one day have the choice if I wanted. I liked that that day was very far off. The distance felt luxurious.
I had secretly judged women who regretted never having children and were now no longer of the age at which they could have them. I judged them, perhaps, because I feared becoming one of them. But now at thirty-eight, my time was beginning to run out. I still didn’t want a child. I didn’t know what I would do with a child if I had one. But I missed having that open space before me in which to decide. And if the ass-cheeks woman had been paying attention to me, I knew she would have judged me as I had judged others my age.
She might have also judged me for being unmarried. When Jamie and I first met, I told him that marriage was an archaic declaration of ownership and it wasn’t for me. He said “good,” because it wasn’t his thing either. But four years into the relationship I wanted desperately for Jamie to ask me to marry him, if only because he wouldn’t. I’d never been a jewelry person, but something inside me longed for that ring. Outwardly I shit-talked blood diamonds, while quietly I studied other women’s rings, learning the names of the various diamond cuts: cushion, emerald, princess. I swore that married women used their left hands more than their right when they spoke, gestured, or wiped a stray hair out of their eyes, just to rub it in. They seemed to be saying, Look, someone wants me this much. I have safely made it to the other shore.
But what would I have even done as a married person? What would I have done with Jamie in my space or me in his? Choosing Jamie to love for so many years was perhaps more of a symbol of my own fear of intimacy than it was of his. He was intoxicating when we first met: a geologist, 6'2", handsome in an L.L.Bean travel vest sort of way, golden brown and unshaven, with sandy-brown hair, ten years my senior. He made me feel like a special little pea. Through his work in the desert with the university, he had received a grant from the American Geological Fund to make documentaries on the national parks. He always directed and edited the docs himself, and the grant gave him the power to travel, be free, and always be producing. Even though the documentaries aired at two a.m. on limited cable channels, he could never be accused of failing. “I’m more with the scientists than the artists,” he said. But he had the allure of an artist.
In our earlier years together I traveled to see him on location often. I spent my holiday breaks in an Airstream at Acadia National Park, Glacier, Yosemite. He would go on shoots all day and I would go out exploring, bringing back little souvenirs. He loved hearing what I had seen, correcting my landscape terminology. My favorites were the lakes and oceans, the rivers and waterfalls, like nothing we had in the desert. The rushing water, and traveling in general, made me feel like my life was moving forward, in spite of my flagging thesis. I identified myself with his work. It felt adventurous.
But later on, he began covering more desert locations: Death Valley, Arches. I would stay in the Airstream all day and wait for him to return. Why did I need to explore another desert when I had a desert right at home? And why had I come to see this man who was the same here as he was at home? Same face, same dick. Same ennui of a long relationship but with no desire to commit. I told him I was staying in the Airstream to work on the thesis. But when people asked me what I did for a living, I glossed over my Sappho and the library, and quickly brought up Jamie’s work. I pretended it was still exciting. But the only real excitement left was the challenge of roping him into our imaginary future.
On the day of our breakup, I had blown a tire on Camelback Road and called him for help. When he arrived he looked in my trunk and said, “But you don’t have a spare.” “No,” I said. It was late in the evening on a Sunday and the auto-body shops in town would be closed, so we called AAA. While we waited I felt hot and fussy and angry. I wasn’t sure exactly why. He looked silly to me, dough-bellied and chinless. Everything had rounded out. He was making little sucking noises with his front teeth, alternating with small whistling noises. It was one of those moments when you look at the person you have loved for a long time and everything is wrong with them. There is absolutely nothing right. You cannot believe you were ever captivated by them in the first place.
“I don’t feel happy,” I said.
“There are other places I’d rather be too,” he said.
“I’m serious,” I said. “I think we need to talk. About us.”
I watched him so at ease with himself, the fat in the middle, the various layers of padding around the chin, the chin disappearing into a soufflé of neck meat. His chin area looked like it was a second mouth and I imagined it talking. What was it saying?
Feed me, it said. I don’t give a fuck if I’m attractive or not. I don’t need to. I have options.