“Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way
If we keep on the sunny side of life.”
We order the same thing at Bob Evans: the stuffed French toast. What it’s stuffed with is cream cheese. Each bite fills us with rapture: warm eggy bread, tart blueberry, sweet maple syrup, gooey cream cheese. We can’t have sex. Not real sex, where the couple’s bodies are joined. He’s too fat. I’ve strained my brain before, trying to figure out how we could fit, coming up with mental diagrams. But we do other things. You can probably imagine. Sex isn’t our thing anyway. The first time I came with him — on his parents’ hand-me-down couch in his windowless basement apartment, where we both live now — I cried out in ecstasy, because it felt good to reach that height of emotional clarity with someone after being alone for so long. But I was wrong, because sex isn’t his thing. He seemed embarrassed after I came. He said, “And that’s that,” just to say something. He got up off the couch and went to the bathroom to wash his hands. I have learned to find sensuality in other places; food, mostly. Come springtime he arrives home from work with giant handfuls of Cadbury creme eggs for me. We sleep back-to-back but I make sure we’re touching. I have never been happier.
If you can’t sing something nice
The moment I realized I sing badly: I was 7, in my family’s mauve-upholstered recliner that was also a rocking chair. I was playing a CD — the “Top Gun” or “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack, probably. I would rock and sing, the lyrics booklet in my hands, sometimes using the jewel case as a sort of mini amplifier to hear my voice better. My mom came in to dust or something. “I’m thinking of becoming a singer,” I had said, with a hopeful upward lilt, the unblinking confidence of a kid who’s been told that yes she’s the prettiest little girl in the world, yes she can be a ballerina if she wants, yes she can be president. I guess I had hit an age where my mom figured she’d start being realistic. She hadn’t said anything in response. Her silence told me: No, you can’t.
In that instant I doubted myself, for maybe the first time ever. I thought about my singing voice and decided it was nasal and flat and not pretty. I kept it to myself.
As a teenager and a grown-up, I only ever sang in my car alone.
Until one time when I sang around my boyfriend when he was in my car. I was feeling loved and free. I was singing along to Tori Amos, and although I knew my voice strained to hit the high notes, I kept going, trying to feel out a way to get up there.
My boyfriend’s not one to verbally criticize. He’s of the “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything” school of thought. So I finished singing, and he said nothing, and we got out of the car. I didn’t sing around him again.
But sometimes when I’m alone on the road, singing within my natural range, I hit this note. I took band but I forget most of what I learned, so I don’t know what note it is, if it’s a C sharp or what. But I hit this note and hold it, and it sounds so sweet and warm.
Hang in there, toots
The letter was written to “Ask Auntie E.,” the MILF-like advice columnist for Elle magazine (“the thinking woman’s Cosmo”). Auntie E. is whippet-thin and strawberry blonde, wears leopard print and calls her readers “doll.” She tells it to you straight.
The letter was from an Indian woman whose parents had arranged her marriage. The woman was pretty sure her husband was gay, and he was also terribly immature. In bed, he would demand that his wife go down on him — and not only did he never reciprocate, but they never had intercourse either. And he told her to keep her underwear on during it — one time she removed her bra, and he asked why her breasts looked so weird.
Auntie E. said in her reply that her gut instinct was to tell the Indian woman to “kick him to the curb!” But, being a diligent journalist, Auntie E. had consulted with a scholar, an authority on Indian culture. The expert said life could be hard for the Indian woman if she left him; she might be ostracized by her loved ones. She might be happier to just stay there. Hey, maybe he’d grow up; people can change! Hang in there, toots.
Sometime when I was in junior high I heard about this thing and my perverted little pre-teen, just-learned-masturbation brain fixated on it and filed it away.
It was a thing, back in ancient Greece, or maybe Rome, where there was this temple with a dildo in it. I forget who the temple was for; some god or hotshot. Some virile dude. Young girls — virgins; priestesses, maybe — would go into the temple and situate themselves on the dildo and have sex with it.
They would go in and worship the marble likeness of an invisible (nonexistent, for all they knew) guy. They would take his cold hardness into them, and if they felt rapture, through some trick of evolutionary biology or endorphins, if they felt a kind of knee-jerk love, they would look up and see eyes of stone not seeing them back. I used to think about that when I masturbated sometimes.
Not in real life
“Good night!” I chime as I flick off the constellation of twinkle lights strung around the top of our canopy bed. I’ve found domestic bliss with a steady man after years of one-night stands and nightclubs and alcohol poisoning. I am finally safe, but I don’t feel that I deserve his love.
So as I fall asleep at night, I imagine scenarios in which bad things happen to me. Usually gang rape, but sometimes I mix it up a little and think of something else instead. I won’t bore you with the details.
After the bad things happen, I come to him, crying, my sins erased through punishment. He takes me in his arms and loves me. All of this happens in my fantasies, not in real life.
I do this every night as he sleeps. Someday I will deserve him.
Limbs like pipe
I built myself a robot boyfriend! I am some kind of genius. I always won the Science Fair at school.
“You go, girl!” my teachers would say to me.
I am ugly and no boys like me.
So I built myself a robot boyfriend!
He looks like the Tin Man. He’s silver, with a boxy body and limbs like pipe. Look, I am a scientist, not an artist. Aesthetics is not my domain.
I cuddle up to him at night, but the metal is cold. Duh.
As I fall asleep under the blankets, I sing, “If you only had a heart…”
Maybe I’ll build him one!