Numb

Sheila Metzner, The Passion of Rome (1986)

My hands wind through his hair in the 5th hour of oral sex, as he works diligently to push me over an edge that seems forever higher as the cocaine pulls my orgasm like Icarus towards the sun.

He goads me in to doing another bump as he then pulls my legs open and buries his face in me again, the coke on his nostrils and upper lip numbing me wherever it touches. The feeling of edging towards orgasm while doing cocaine is intense, even as it is protracted.

We have spent all day in David’s high rise luxury apartment, him pleasing me as I stare out his floor to ceiling windows out at the city below. My mind races between the feeling of his heartbeat in his lips, hammering against my flesh, a feeling that is so delicate that it betrays the residual powder now robbing my genitals of few other sensations. It’s why I came here of course, to feel as little as possible, inside and out.

When I was with David I didn’t have to think, didn’t have to care. The car would pick me up and take me to his apartment, a too-large loft overlooking the Bay from one of the city’s more affluent hilltops. I don’t know what he did for a living, something in architecture, but he would supply the drugs and the view. As soon as I entered, he would strip for me to reveal a lean frame with his sleeves of brightly colored tattoos, and nearly immediately plant his mouth on me, eager to serve his purpose. “Yes Miss,” was all he would ever say from the moment I entered his apartment to the moment I would leave.

I could come back to him, or maybe it felt more like leaving the rest of the world, anytime what was real became too much to bear, in this case another man who came and went before I was ready. I remember the earnestness of Lucas’s Fetlife message, messages that usually come on this fetish dating and networking platform from pictures of disembodied dicks and thick plugs jammed in to tutu-rimmed asses. These anonymous avatars call and beg for my attention with the same trite, horny disregard. In a sea of “hey beautiful,” his real photo and kind words about my writing called to me.

“From the 10 minutes of stalking I did, I find you to be very intriguing,” he wrote, “beautiful, highly intelligent, possessing of a pretty good sense of humor, did I say beautiful, a dirty mind that appears to coincide quite well with mine.”

Flattery of course, will get you everywhere, especially when the recipient is starving for any positive attention. Months of false starts, flakes, and misfires in dating other people’s poly partners had left me feeling small and invisible. This man had courted me with sweet words and handwritten notes, spinning tales of how he would submit to me, be my pet, my slut and my slave. In my small bedroom in my large drafty victorian, showed me he could see me, and could live up to even his most elaborate sexual promises.

I remember how he shook the first time he kneeled on the floor in front of me, how he nearly ripped my bedframe in two with his strong grip as I straddled his stocky body like that of a retired athlete, bound by the wrists to its posts. I stroked his cock up and down with my labia pressed on one side, my hand on the other. Soaked in sweat, his cries loud and desperate, I teased him and made him beg me for what felt like hours, tell me how he was unworthy for me to touch him, fuck him, make him beg to let him cum.

“I could only have ever dreamed of meeting a girl like you,” he said after as my fingers traced around an old military tattoo on his upper arm. I crawled inside his words, and slept there in his admiration with the same familiar calm of coming home to your own soft bed after a long trip away.

Lucas brought me all the way out to the university town where he was a PhD student, and I was so happy to have someone so eager to spend time with me that I didn’t mind his threadbare apartment, his horrible cardboard mattress, his bachelor fridge full of cold takeout and beer. I stayed in his apartment for weeks, waiting every day for him to come home from the lab to spend these snippets of time with me. I didn’t mind leaving my bustling city to spend my days working remotely from a small apartment whose occupant I scarcely knew, because those days would be punctuated with him doing something as rare and intoxicating as holding my hand in public like I was a real girl.

Remembering my vulnerability, so naked and naive, pulls me back in the room with David and away from my drifting high. My entire body cringes and I slap my hand over my eyes as remembering all of it pulls me by a sharp hook back in to the shame I felt, yanking me down out of the wide white void.

Wrested from my euphoria, the memory presses inward on me. I remember seeing him smile to himself as he surprised me by taking me by the hand after our 4th date, seeing something in his eyes that for the first time in a long time made me feel normal. That he wasn’t ashamed of me, that he submitted so gladly to me, that I was and could be real to him was so irresistible. It’s why I accepted all of the increasingly strange parameters, the asterisks attached to our public dating life.

It’s why I accepted the strange way in which he talked about his PhD advisor, the way he explained to me that she had a crush on him, or maybe it was more than a crush. It’s why I accepted that we didn’t meet his friends, because they knew her and would tell her, because she didn’t like it when he dated other women.

“‘Other women,’ are you… are you dating her?”

“No.”

“Well then you slept with her?” I puzzled.

“Not exactly.”

Exactly what had happened, I refused to inquire, trying so hard to hold on to the thought that maybe now with me around it wouldn’t matter anymore. It wouldn’t matter because now I hung out with him at the lab at the university at night, clawing at my scraps of extra time with a man who wouldn’t run from me. I would sit tucked in to the couch reading my books and stroking his arm with my fingernails as he pored over the measurements streaming out of the humming devices in the next room. It was a strange but comfortable space with him, one that filled me with misplaced optimism.

It’s why it had taken me so by surprise when one of those nights I was hustled out the door of his office and forced to hide around the corner, behind some bushes as his suspicious advisor decided to make a late night visit. Standing in the cold night air, the wind biting in to my arms and face outside in the dark, the hot tears leaking down my face seemed to instantly freeze. I tried to let the frigid wind wash me out, dampen the nauseous feelings of humiliation creeping up from my stomach to my chest.

“You know that’s the textbook definition of sexual harassment right, threatening to end your academic career because she wants to fuck and/or date you?” I sniped at him as we sat in his car afterwards, my face puffy and red from crying. “And now it’s my problem, affecting my life because you won’t deal with it like an adult.”

“It’s none of your business how I handle it, you don’t understand. And besides,” he said, “I’m the best thing you’ve got going, you said that.”

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah I’ve read your writing, I know you’ve dealt with a lot of assholes, I think compared to people who just straight up bail on you, having this one little thing is not so bad.”

“One little thing? Not so bad? What part of you thinks you’re so great that any woman should have to put up with being your secret?”

“I would have thought, you know, with this whole domme thing that you would be used to that.”

My insides are on fire. I bang open the door to David’s bathroom and retch, the dissonance of being back there, in that infuriating moment, and being half here in this sterile, modern space is making my head spin.

David crouches on the floor next to me and smooths my hair out of my distant face, his touch bringing me back in the room. He kisses my forehead before pulling me up by my wrists, and leads me back in to the bedroom with his hand pressing and rubbing in to my lower back. He massages my wrists, my leg, my ankle with one hand as he sorts out the small bag of powder again with the other. The continuous touch keeps me present as my head swims, as if to remind me where my body is as my brain tries so hard to let go. I’m glad at least one of us is keeping track.

He serves me another bump of coke, and I lay back and resume my glazed enjoyment as he dips back between my thighs, this time with one hand reaching up to hold mine as he eats me for several more hours. The unwelcome memory of my time with Lucas and secondhand embarrassment clinging to it finally melts back away.

I hadn’t seen it until that moment in the bathroom, as I slumped on the cold tile against the wall, how David looked at me the same way he looked before we got high. It was the same way his eyes lingered on his phone when it buzzed, when the screen lit, scanning back and forth on the message window, the heavy exhale from his lips. He had looked at me in that bathroom with the recognition of that same thousand yard stare, because he was escaping someone too.

“Who was she?” I asked him, dragging my fingernails across his scalp through his dirty blonde hair as I lay on the bed, arm extended off the edge of the mattress to stroke his head as he lay in his place on the floor. A chain snakes from his neck to the leg of the bed, and occasionally I pause to wind it around my fingers, the cold singing against their tips as a fresh dose of substances courses through my body.

“I loved her,” he murmured, “She wanted to get married, I was stupid… I am stupid. I feel stupid…” I can feel his pulse in his scalp rise through the tips of my fingers.

“Shhh. You’re not stupid, you just feel that way right now,” I dozily reply.

“Feeling ways is overrated,” he replies, scrunching up his face. I flatten my hand, and cover his eyes to block out the light. He sighs a welcome sigh at the darkness, and his face relaxes again.

People often think the opposite of happiness must be sadness, but in actuality the opposite is numbness. Even upset, surprise, anger are something akin to joy, elevated states where we verify we exist, when we define our own consciousness in relation to world around us and to the people we live with in it. The drugs David pulled from his cabinets, with their ability to deaden my senses and dilate time kept me from having to examine my relationship to anything. They put me in suspended animation, so I could float overhead and stare down at this defective sack of meat that hurt so much to be in love, to be alive.

I step over David where he sleeps on the floor, the collar and chain still fixed to his neck. My head hammers with cocaine’s infamous hangover, and my face where it felt nothing before now feels raw like a sunburn, the bleach-like smell lingering in my sinuses. In this moment the absence I craved so much feels so far away, the scenes of the last few days of our drug-fueled haze like watching a movie I had seen 100 times from the end of a white tunnel. I hear the chain stir as I step back out of the shower.

David is kneeling on the floor as I walk back in, presenting me with the pile of my clothes that he has folded neatly. I pull the underwear off the top of the pile and slide it up over my hips. I feel the corner of my mouth turn upward with pleasure as he then turns with the back of the collar and chain to me so I can remove it before I go home.

All this without a sound. The way we never said anything, never had to was in its own way an escape.

The car he called for me arrives. On my way out the door this man who had never said no to me, who has never expressed anything counter to my will, never pushed my hands away, who has even barely ever spoken more than 100 separate words to me in person grabs my wrist and pulls my hand insistently from my pocket. He rubs it with his thumb and tugs gently to gesture for me to match his gaze.

“Fuck that guy,” he says. My eyebrows go up. He has seen my hand fiddling in my sweater, hunting for a buzzing phone.

“Ava, he isn’t real,” he says, “You’re real. Real people don’t do that.”

What was real anymore? Real girls hold a man’s hand, real girls don’t hide in bushes, real girls hurt because they deserve to love, because they are someone to someone. I am no one to anyone.

“I don’t want to be real,” I reply in a small voice.

“I know, but you’re too good to not be.”

He kisses me again on the forehead, squeezes my hand hard and lets it go as I slide out and close the door. The shame and nausea creep up the inside of my chest again as soon as I get in the elevator, as the emptiness rapidly fills again with the sharp humiliation of my breakup the week before.

But it feels today, that humiliation, maybe a bit farther away than it was yesterday, which felt farther away than the day before. Tomorrow maybe the hurt, the rage, the shame would dull just a little bit more. Knowing that was a possibility could even in my now sober state, feel like enough.