“See Me” it read, once it was finished. I hated how it looked aesthetically so it later went in the garbage. The process had been the important part ….
It was a mixed media piece that I created Christmas Eve 2011, naked in the loft, candles burning a circle around me, canvas stretched out underneath my feet. Paint dripped down my leg and glue bits dotted my bangs. The cat pushed paws around ripped up pieces of printed photos – muted memories clinging to tomorrow.
I conjured up this particular desire, the desire to be seen as I worked on the painting. Not as a woman whose marriage was failing, whose Christmas Eve was the first she’d spent alone. Not as a blogger who had for years sought attention from whomever might pay it by divulging intimacies generally reserved for close friends. I wanted not to be seen for what a google search would turn up or a rushed conversation after a BedPost show might indicate about who I am … or who I am not. Perception is a squirrely area, a place within whose walls we hover with calculated trepidation. Social media asks us to present ourselves. And we do, while continuing to hide who we really are. We want to control those perceptions.
And as a woman who writes about sex, speaks about sex, produces a storytelling show about sex and sexuality, I understand that assumptions and perceptions don’t always match the person being perceived. And I have come to terms with this. Mostly. Until that Christmas Eve when the craving was white-hot and the need to be understood was deep as black night. It was so intense a desire that I mistook the advance of a lover the very next night as witness of the Sadie who is. I was certain that the many hours of sheet-swimming that had ensued meant my asking to be affirmed, seen, had been answered – and so quickly! But I was too mired in denial to be astonished at such a serendipitous Universal turnaround.
Because, in truth, he hadn’t really seen me. No, not at all. He didn’t see the Sadie who feels so deeply that the pain often transcends the physical, leaving a cold quiet nothing in its place. Or the Sadie who cries often – because she has to – the release of it bordering on orgasmic. Or the Sadie who is still capable of feeling the sting of rejection just as she did when she was 13 and every last one of her friends ostracized her the entire summer. Or the Sadie who likes nothing more than to curl up on a comfy couch and watch really bad television with someone she loves, who likes to nap there, nuzzled in sweaty cotton and warmth. Or the Sadie who is quite afraid to go on a roller coaster but will do it anyway, just because her kid wants to. He didn’t see these pieces of me.
Because he wasn’t supposed to.
And, it seems, I didn’t know how to be seen. Until now.
Now …. I am being seen, bit by bit, piece by piece, by someone entirely new. By someone entirely different from (yet strikingly similar to) me.
By someone entirely awesome.
And even more importantly, I am seeing. Seeing him for who he is, seeing me for who I am, and seeing how we can fit together while remaining separate, individual pieces.
Because that is ultimately how we see people, isn’t it?
When we are just far enough apart to be able to look their way.
So, dear reader … what turns you off?
I am discovering that my own ON/OFF switch operates much differently than it once did. Nowadays it takes a little more to turn me on – more eye contact, more philosophical conversation, more authenticity, more everything actually…. but it takes much less to turn me off than it once did. Meaning my switch flips rather quickly these days. And it doesn’t just go OFF, finishing with a gracious “Thankyouverymuchforbeinghere” but instead it goes OFF, and then exits the building, announcing tersely,
The thing that turns me off the most is the expectation of sex.
I can be attracted, enchanted and/or crushing hard on someone I don’t know very well and if that person lets me know, overtly or subtly, that they have an expectation that I will get naked with them, an expectation that I will happily consent to shedding my regal robes, providing them with direct and ample access to my own personal crown jewels, an expectation that we will fuck, either straight away or in the future … I will freeze right the hell up. Yep, if they let me know that screwing me is their expectation I turn into a block of ice. You might as well wrap me in cling film and throw me in the walk-in.
Actually, that sounds like it could be fun.
Am I becoming less sexual in my older age? I don’t think so. I just want someone to be with me because they like me as a person, not simply because I might be decent in bed. Who doesn’t, right? It’s that whole I want to be loved for me, not my ability to make you come thing. Is this me growing up or is it me growing into myself? I think it might be both, and my body flipping switches is simply its newly natural response to … sexpectation. And it’s annoyed, I suppose, my body. Because with that expectation comes a sense of entitlement. And that? That is the turn off.
I used to wonder if the expectation of sex exists because of what I do. I am a sex writer and a producer of a sex storytelling show after all. I am all about sex, aren’t I? I recently tested this in conversations with a potential FWB I had met online (and yes, I get that it sounds like there is expectation in that sentence itself, but the thing is that I never expect anything to work out a certain way, I only lay the foundation for the possibility of it.)
Anyway …. I didn’t tell him anything about what I did. All he knew is that I was 44 years old and that I had a “progressive attitude” about sex. It wasn’t long until he was asking me to provide him with masturbatory material in the form of pics and texts and dialogue about what we might do together once we met on person. I had yet to actually meet him and therefore I wasn’t really a person to him yet. Perhaps I was just an ethereal vagina. Am I surprised by this? Of course not
But I was definitely turned off.
And I should be clear that I am not simply requiring this … respect. I am also reciprocating as well. I am all about taking it slow these days. I have certainly done plenty of objectifying of others in the past. The “he is hot and I want to fuck him … tonight” conversation is not one that is foreign to me, by any stretch. But what I am finding, I guess, is that I am just not in that space any longer. Being single has softened me a little bit I think. And I guess that is because I know now –perhaps because I was married for so long and learned what works and what doesn’t– exactly what I want in (and from) my next long or short term partner(s).
And really? I have had enough casual sex to last a lifetime.
I guess what I am saying is that if am going to get turned on, it will be for (and with) someone without expectations, entitlements, or the need for it to happen.
Because neediness? Yeah. Another big ‘ol turn off.
So, what turns you off?
I know better than to make rules for myself, rules such as: No more men for a while, Sadie, while you figure out not only what you have to give, but what you need in return.
I know better than to create such restrictions. Why? Because doing so only invites a test.
And I suck at tests.
It wasn’t an hour, perhaps two at the most, that I had agreed to commit to this No More Men resolution before such a test had indeed presented itself. The test subject was cute in that approachable way, although I likely would not have even noticed him had he not noticed me. I had quietly erected blinders in order to keep any possibility at bay – effectively cock-blocking my own self. My mind had decided on going on this man-diet and my body was following dutifully along. But wouldn’t you know? It was only moments before I had begun the ardent task of removing them. All it took was a smiling voice from behind me, asking what I was drinking.
See? I really suck at tests.
But how could I resist his interest, especially given the timing? How could I resist the enthusiasm of a sweet stranger wanting to know the stories of me? How could I resist quiet contemplation? What about compliments and long stares and shared philosophies? How could I resist a lack of pretense and an eager curiosity? Or the beautiful vulnerability of really being heard?
I could not resist. So I did not resist, even though I tried. Okay, I lied. I did not try very hard; just enough to assuage any future guilt. Just enough to reconcile my desire against my need to be true to my own word.
But, ultimately I failed the test.
Two naked bodies, one bed and zero expectations. We failed that test together, happily. Easily. Without care of the outcome. We were two people, strangers no more, pursuing the simple pleasures of the self while soothing the crooked, jagged lines of loneliness.
And since I was capable of giving that to him, and he to me, needs were met… all the way around.
Which means that maybe I passed the test after all.
A life-long blessing for children is to fill them with warm memories of times together. Happy memories become treasures in the heart to pull out on the tough days of adulthood ~ Charlotte Davis Kasl
I sat down to take a brief respite from the over-stimulation of the museum. Apart from one other guest, I was the only one in there, slowly shuffling through the galleries filled with Mexican masks, European ceramics and mid-century beaded couture. I must either walk through museums slowly – taking my time to stop and digest – or quickly, ramming it down like one might a sandwich on a quick shift break; without really thinking, without really caring.
I was on a leather bench, back straight, legs crossed, coat and scarf in my lap. I stared toward the vase that was directly in front of me, the vase that was encased in glass, the vase that was being illuminated by 100 watts of white incandescent light. What the fuck am I doing here, I thought to myself and the vase… and perhaps out loud. Not at the museum. I knew why I was there – I was there because I had learned that it was their monthly “free night” and who can say no to free art while on vacation? No, I had been in Charlotte for approximately 24 hours and I still didn’t understand why I was there. What the fuck was I doing in Charlotte, North Carolina?
What are you doing? A voice asked me then. It was the voice of the one other guest in the museum that night, the voice of a guy. His question was an appropriate and timely punctuation of my own. I told him the truth, I am wondering what I am doing here … in Charlotte, I said. He accepted my answer without hesitation. Nodded. We all consider what the fuck we are doing, even as we are doing them, don’t we? Even if it seems as if we are doing nothing at all.
I spent only five years in this town as a child, from ages 5- 10, and that was more years ago than I care to consider. Yet despite the fact that this very brief interlude (in the scheme of my life thus far) was so very long ago, I have been inexplicably pulled back here ever since. But why? I did not know. Not then.
It wasn’t until the next day, as I drove silently up the winding and tranquil roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains that I understood. Or at least decided that I understood. Charlotte (and in fact the entire North Carolina region, where my family camped and hiked and day-tripped every spring, summer and fall during that time) holds the bulk of my unspoiled and idealized memories. It is the place where the word idyllic might aptly apply. And so much that occurred in my life after that time (and perhaps even before it) is tinged with chaos and tumult; as life is. Before I traveled here to N.C. from my home in Texas, I had thought that perhaps it was here where the chaos had originated. I had thought that there might be memories locked tight, in search of discovery. And maybe there are. Probably there are. But perhaps, just perhaps … they don’t want to be revealed. Perhaps this short sliver of time cares to remain protected, pastoral … perfect.
And so it is.
I remained seated on the bench while the guy and I chatted for a few more moments, before he walked slowly away from me toward the exit of the museum. I looked past the vase and up at the ceiling and I wondered where memories go once they’ve served their purpose of reminding us where we came from. Of reminding us that at least once upon a time everything was just fine. At the exit, he turned to say that he bar-tended at a place Uptown, I really hope you will come and see me there, he said.
And then, just like everything before, he was gone.
I lie in the tub, the cool air teases my nipples as they peek out of the water. The grey tabby sits on the edge, batting at the surface, lavender-scented drops move from paw to tongue. My daughter appears, sits next to me, softly recites poetry she wrote in class. I relax further into the tub. I am steeped in slippery warmth and closeness, and boundless gratitude for the simplicity I had craved for so very long.
These beautiful, stark moments of quiet I relish completely. Short days filled with tasks of my choosing, organized so that it is I who presides over its delegation. Long nights of documentaries and hot tea, an over-sized bed, alone but for the whiskered beasts that laze beside me – purring reminders that such decadence is necessary; ensures vitality. Occasional evenings with friends, where conversations are dwellings of understanding, where I discover who I am.
Today at least.
Morning workouts with no agenda.
Afternoon strolls along the blue water, remembering my youth.
A midnight guest, come for a moonlight swim in the crisp white sheets of my bed.
Reveling in the ordinary. Because I am tethered only to my own ordinary. It is mine to make.
As is everything else.
It was day three of Burning Man – it was a typically hot, desert day, the sense of anticipation about what might happen next hung in the afternoon air as intently as playa dust clung to our bodies. Several of my campmates and I had spent a good chunk of the afternoon lounging around doing mostly nothing, or at least I had done mostly nothing. That was until Ben, my beloved Australian buddy, presented me with a gift.
I thought you needed this Sadie, he said to me with a smile, and with that he placed a small, rectangular piece of silver steel in my hand. I pulled this off an old fan that I found in my attic he told me. I looked at it, it had – etched into it – the word “Climax”.
Ben knows me very well.
I squealed and hugged him and remembered I’d seen a length of gold chain in the costume yurt the day before. (We have a very pretty camp, with amenities such as a shipping container that, when it’s not storing all of our stuff between burns, acts as a full functional kitchen. We have an oven, where we bake bread for the hungry masses each morning, we have a shower – which is pretty much a fucking necessity – a public lounge area where people who are passing by can rest their weary bodies, and a huge yurt full of costumes where we all get dressed to go out to play). In that yurt I found the gold chain under a stack of bright green eyelashes, grabbed it, and sat down with a pair of needle nosed pliers; a few minutes later I had a necklace.
The necklace gave me a power I didn’t have just a few minutes before. It propelled me to get my lazy ass off the cushions that I’d been lounging on all day and get out and see what was happening in our beautiful Black Rock city. So, with this newfound energy, I gathered my stuff and headed towards my bike, which was parked in front of the camp. But I never actually made it there. I got derailed from my mission, because standing in front of my bike was a man – a beautiful man with a very short mohawk and tattoos, the likes of which might rival that of Jenn Motherfucking Tran’s – and he looked like he might pass right the fuck out.
I am so hungry, he said to me desperately. Do you have anything to eat?
Yes, yes I do. I have lots to eat, I told him. He followed me back through the camp to the kitchen and I pulled out some things for him to munch on – chips and hummus, some slices of cheese, an orange. I peeled the orange and handed him a few slices; he devoured them. I found some granola bars and stuffed them into the satchel he had slung across his back, and as I did I took a moment to admire his bare back imbued with ink. I joined him in hummus. We chatted. He looked at my boobs. Or at least I thought it was my boobs. I think, now, in retrospect, that he saw my necklace.
Do you want to take a walk with me? He said. I can show you my camp, it’s really cool, it’s a yoga camp, we’ve got 150 members over there. Its a great set up.
Sure, why not?
We walked the several blocks to the camp, which was dotted with lots of small tents, large silver yurts and geodesic domes. He showed me the covered dance floor where they practiced yoga in the mornings and held workshops in the evenings. There was no one in sight. They were all out doing their thing – whatever that was. At Burning Man, just about anything can happen, and does. He pointed towards a huge dome in the center of their camp , That’s what we call “the sensual dome” he said. Wanna check it out?
Sure, why not?
The dome was pretty, swathed in flowy fabrics of bright pinks and purples and muted reds. Futons and air mattresses covered in colored sheets lined the perimeter while an alter sat in the back, an homage to the erotic, with granite dildos, candles, incense and a native statue of a princess straddling her king.
We sat down on the futon and began to kiss. It was fumbly, but nice. After a few minutes, we became more comfortable with each other as hands began to explore landscapes, breaths quickened, eyes shut, boots came off. He pulled back and peered at me through anxious, aroused eyes. I think I’m going to get a condom, he announced.
With my agreement to his proposal, his excitement escalated exponentially. Really? I mean really? Really? Okay. It was the surprise of a child who gets the rare treat of chocolate chip cookies right before dinner.
Yes, I said. Go get it.
He was stupefied. OhMY GOD, oh my god, this is really happening, this, um… okay, OKAY. He quickly pulled on his boots and I think he might have done a happy dance. He looked at me. Are you sure, I mean, are we really going to do this? He asked.
Stop talking and go get the condom, I replied, attempting not to sound too terribly terse.
He stumbled quickly out of the dome – a giddy schoolboy preparing for a field trip.
While he was gone I looked around the room. I spotted a bowl of condoms on the alter. I was relieved . What self-respecting sensual dome would be without one, really? He had obviously not spent enough time in there to know that its creators had the concept of safer sex covered. I leaned back on the futon, pulled off my panties and laid them next to my things. I considered taking off my dress but then decided fuck it, that’s just too much effort. It was so hot outside that it was sticking to me. Leaving it on seemed the path of least resistance.
Upon his return he was even more excited. We are really going to do this! Ohmygod! How exciting! This is great!
How old are you? I asked. I’m 26, he told me. How old are you?
It doesn’t matter.
He pulled off his pants, rolled on the condom and clamored into me. We were off to an accelerated start, he had thrust maybe five perhaps six times before he came, and very hard… at which point he offered, “Oh, yeah, I always blow my load early when I’m excited like this. But don’t worry, I can keep going!”
Alrighty. Let’s keep going then. He pulled off the used condom, put on a fresh one and climbed back into me… he was right, he could definitely keep going. But it was hot, and I was still mostly clothed, so me with my dress hiked up, sprawled out on a futon with a big dusty dude on top of me just wasn’t working for me. I was horny, yes. The sweat, the dust, the heat, the dildo-laden alter, the sheer excitement of this cute guy whose eyes were smiling blissfully and whose name I didn’t know – it was all extremely erotic to me – and I was surprised by that. I had never before had anonymous sex with someone I had just met. I was accustomed to vetting my partners beforehand, to sharing things about ourselves on the pretense of getting at least somewhat acquainted before getting at least somewhat naked. I always knew their name, the vicinity in which they lived, how they paid their bills. All I knew about this dude was that he was at Burning Man, just like I was. In any other context, he would be a stranger, but something about Burning Man bonds people; an implicit kinship forms simply by virtue of being there. Of sharing a simple moment over hummus.
Let’s move over there, I pointed towards a large cushion in the middle of the room. I want to be on top.
He laid down, cock still erect, smile still sitting sweetly on his face. I sat down on him … hard. It felt so good, and in that moment I lost myself. I was everywhere and nowhere at once. The heat, the dust, the sweat, the thumping dubstep from a nearby camp, it all faded into quiet corners of erotic oblivion. I began to move, my hips thrust rhythmically towards him. I leaned down to kiss his parched lips, and that movement, I realized in my salacious stupor, situated my clit on his pelvis in such the perfect way, I knew that staying right there, with my face a little above his, was going to work really, really well for me. So I did. I rocked on him, back and forth. And as I rocked, the necklace, the one that read CLIMAX, began to sway back and forth with me, and each forward motion of mine sent the necklace swinging right into his face.
It was as if the necklace was instructing me. Get off, Sadie. That’s why we’re here, after all. CLIMAX. NOW.
And I did.
It was one of the most forceful, elongated, evangelical orgasms I had had in a very long time. It was one of those orgasms in which the word RELEASE is actually an understatement. Where you really come to understand that your body has its own mind, and can and will take initiative. Where you learn something important about yourself, and where you give yourself permission to access that liberation, not only because you wanted to -and yes you wanted to- but because you needed to.
Yeah, It lasted what seemed like forever, that orgasm. And when I’d come back down to earth, I looked at this man, whose name I didn’t know, whose temporary Burning Man residence was the only one I was privy to, and said, That was great!
And now it is time for me to go.
He would have liked to have kept going, but I didn’t. We both got what we came for, after all.
And so I put my panties and boots back on and he got dressed. We sat chatting for a few minutes and then I gathered my things. He invited me to stop back by any time during the week but I never did. I don’t like to make plans while I am at Burning Man, I prefer to see where the dusty wind blows me.
And I was content and certainly satisfied to have been blown that hot afternoon towards a massive climax with a dusty stranger in the sensual dome.
Because, really? Why not?
I saw him, briefly; wings flapping, nose diving towards, it seemed, the cold blue steel of the hood. His intention was not clear. What was clear was the weight of my little car crushing his bones as I drove over him, before I even really understood what was happening. I gasped, covered my mouth. Issued a silent apology.
Had he done that on purpose? Do birds commit suicide? I asked these questions of no one.
It wasn’t until my rear-view mirror framed a somber vision of sentimentality that my eyes began to fill – the two winged friends my melancholy bird had been flying gracefully along with had circled back and stopped in front of his lifeless little body. They were watching him. Poking at him with their beaks. Exchanging glances, as if to ask of no one – What happened?
Part of me wanted to join them, to ask the same, it felt so very familiar. Grief grasped tight of my insides.
It is a question I have asked of myself and no one a thousand times in the last year – What happened? The death of my marriage and the life that accompanied it lay in bloody ruins right there in the middle of the street before me. I have no answers. Only more questions. I could analyze, certainly. And I do. But what good does that do after all is said and done? Processing the past keeps one stuck in the past. Accept and move on, I respond when the question arises for the 1001′th time. It doesn’t matter, it is over and you are alive.
And I am, after all. My grief will eventually plummet and, when the sun shines just right and my chemistry accepts the change, it will turn into gratitude. Until then I just have to wait out the weight.
Because I know that once I’m stabilized, my wings will be healed. Clipped no more.
I walked into the apartment, looked around for a minute, maybe a trifle longer, and then announced - This’ll do.
I’d never, ever. Ever. EVER. In my life, in my 43-almost-44 years of living … ever made a decision about where I was going to live without consulting/consorting/conferring with someone else. And yes, by someone else I mean the Ex. And before him it was roommates. I’ve always had someone else to consider, and still do of course, because I have a daughter. But this decision? This was my decision to make.
All fucking mine.
Two bedrooms? Check.
Clean? Uh huh.
Washer and dryer? Yep.
A pool to beat this insufferable Texas heat? Yessir.
Fitness center? You betcha.
A place that I can call my own, a place that I won’t share with anyone (‘cept the kid of course, half the time) and in which I can run around naked and scream loudly like a blood-lusty vampire IT’s ALL MIIIIIIIIINNNEEE?
Checkity Fucking Check.
One night I actually did exactly that, sort of. Ran round my house at 2:00 am proclaiming to absolutely no one in particular, except for maybe myself and my cats, that it was finally ME time! Time to do whatever I wanted! My time! Time to do whatever my little Vampira heart desired. So ya know what I did? I ate cheetos in bed and watched the Tudors until my Tylenol PM kicked in, whereby I proceeded to slumber, wholly uninterrupted, until almost 1:00 the next day. Yes … decadence often comes wrapped in packages that may appear rather humdrum to the casual observer. Cheetos and sleep as the definition of decadence? Really? Yes!
Sometimes sticky orange fingers and non-bleary eyeballs are the stuff of which personal victory is determined.
The need to find an apartment appeared on the heels of this announcement by the Ex – We must sell the house.
Well, fuck, was my first thought. Then it quickly turned into acceptance – Okay.
He’s right of course. It’s too much house for just me, the kid and the cats. But it was my house and dammit, I’ve enjoyed living here. But divorce means division of assets (and Cheetos in bed, apparently) and the time has come that we split this one into two remnants and leave the memories that accompany it where they belong – in the past. I will miss it here. There has been a lot of history made in the 3.5 years I have inhabited this home. This is where I quit drinking, where I finished writing my book, and where our daughter has grown so into her own that she is barely recognizable to me (who are you, kid?)
It’s where I have entertained a few lovers. Where my ex did did, too.
This house is where I said, “I will love you forever” as well as, “I want a divorce.”
Yep, inside of these walls is where all began to delicately dissolve between us – where we witnessed the beginning of the end, where we followed its path with purposeful yet frightened fingers until we reached its crucial and inevitable pivot point. We’ve gone as far as we could go – this house bearing witness all the way.
So, we will sell and then I will move – break free from the confines of the past and eliminate the burden of this 2,300 square feet enslavement to it which also continues to connect me to the Ex. I shall soon have my very own place, where I will swim in the pool, run around naked and perhaps even create new relationships – while relishing my independence and freedom.
And yes … how it will play out remains to be seen. But one thing’s for certain -
It will be mine.