Maybe three months before my divorce, I started wearing real deodorant. The kind with chemical antiperspirant and a refrigerator-fresh, fruity fragrance. Sterile and appetizing as factory cupcakes. It was a concession. The last and biggest.
Deodorant is out of the question. For both of us. We live in his vision, and deodorant is censorship. We have too much to offer in the smell department, way too much to shout to the world about Truth and Self and Body Hair and the Military Industrial Complex and Clothes-Pressing as Oppression. We live by the Pacific ocean. We are all the way out west. We are backed beautifully up against the wall of the western frontier. We’re very young. We’re the youngest, and our wisdom is unpolluted and undiluted by time or duty. No bras! No belts! No shaving, except heads, and then only for girls. If you can’t safely make love in the hallway of your apartment building then it’s not worth living in.
More than that, though. We’re compulsively in love, and have no choice. We huff each other’s scents like overwhelmed teenagers, gulp them like sacramental wine, these two amateur monks. My nose is a place I take him into me, fill up on intimacy. He smells like crayons, like pencil shavings, like popcorn. Like a child’s desk. To me, anyway. To other people he smells like body odor, and horribly so. He’s just Dan, and insistently himself, and not a bather. No one holds it against him. It’s part of his oeuvre.
He doesn’t tell me what I smell like, except in abstract similes, emailed after an absence. I receive press releases through Yahoo: your mouth smells like Holy Water. Which is presumably a compliment, even coming from an atheist. He walks in the door after two straight days of filming, walks over to wherever I’m standing, and unbuttons the front of my shirt to bury his nose in the space between my breasts. Inhales deeply, says “I needed that,” and then he can kiss me hello. It is customary, this smelling of a patch of warm closeted skin, as a greeting.
Wearing deodorant…it’d be like wearing oven mitts during sex. He just races about notorious as a skunk, and I measure out my scent: shower every two days or so, occasionally using all natural deodorants whose hippie frankincense don’t so much cover my smell as put reigns on it. Just for work, you know. Or meeting people’s parents. But I never feel so sure of the rightness of my life and ways as when I smell myself or him on a cotton T-shirt. Those smells have a through-line to my brain, quiet anxiety instantly, are safe from questioning.
We, both of us, earned this safety of self, this warm bed. We waited, we preserved. I had always suspected that I smelled wonderful. In bed, as a twelve year old girl, I had pulled my legs up against my chest and smelled the bare skin of my knees. Had thought of minerals, bread baking, earth, clay. This smell gives my mind permission to be quiet. I had, even, a crush on the smell of my cotton underwear: like copper and water and, unbelievably, cut flowers. But you never know whether what’s wonderful to you will be wonderful to anyone else. You have to wait, and hope, and try not to throw it away.
We lie in my bed, which has become our bed, and we can hear and smell the ocean. Our eyes are adjusted to the gray-blue light from outside: the city lights that get trapped in the night-time marine layer and enter through the window. We manage minutes of unbroken eye-contact. We spill over with laughter from the headiness of shared headspace, but even laughing we have to discipline ourselves to keep our heads still enough not to break eye contact. Our gazes swerve slightly to stay on the road as we pave it and drive it all at once.
There is the possibility, here, for all of it to come out. Every pheromone, every word, every orgasm, every buried thing. I believe he buries nothing. It’s all there, in the massive oeuvre. We all see it. I’m on a sharp learning curve, but if I’m brave I’ll bury less every day.
Still, I’m the one who doubts myself. I’m still usually the one who loses arguments, like the one about whether artistic expression can be a form of tyranny. But here and there, he’s been losing arguments. This either means I’m getting stronger or he’s getting weaker.
We drive to his best friend’s mother’s house in the mountains. The three of us drive there together, in my car, at night on the freeway. We argue about whether pot can ever be harmless. Dustin and I believe so, within reason. Dan doesn’t. Dan has a fierce mistrust of drugs. “Thinking on drugs isn’t thinking,” he says. With Dustin there, it’s easy for us both to say to Dan that he sounds phobic, that this is an overstatement, must be emotional. Which is the worst thing you can say to Dan. That he’s afraid, that his vision is clouded. He stops talking. I’m driving. Dustin and I try to talk over his silence for the rest of the ride.
We pull up into the lookout driveway, and all mechanically unload backpacks and the cookies I baked for Dustin’s mother. Her huge gentle dog greets us. Inside this glass house she’s hospitable and bubbly, commands the kitchen, makes argument ridiculous. Dan still doesn’t talk. It’s late, and she sends us to bed in the familiar guest room. I love it here. It’s big and white, the bed is immaculate and downy with a sturdy wooden frame. I’m sorry Dan won’t talk. I want to screw in this beautiful room. I want him to tell me he trusts me with my own thinking. That my vision is not something he sees as so easily winked out. I wonder what to do if he’s wrong about more than this. We’re lying there and I’m getting sleepy, resigning myself to an unresolved evening. I’m half asleep when he apologizes.
“I hate drugs,” he says. “It scares the shit out of me.”
I breathe funny. “Noone wants to be told they’re not thinking,” I say.
His face is against my shoulder. “I’m not good,” he says.
The sleepiness drains out of me. I’m so relieved and so scared, that he would say this. He sounds like he’s nine years old. His face is small. His voice is small and he says it to my shoulder in the dark.
I’m the grown-up. I’m the oeuvre. I put my hand on the side of his face to steady it for looking into: “’I’m not good?’” He doesn’t respond. “What is that? Cut it out. Fucking sad Pikachu.” He smiles a little and I kiss him.
Sometimes, in safe sterile places, alone in closed cars, I think maybe this had to happen. He was too big and I was too small. If this is going to work, I have to get bigger and he has to get smaller, and we both have to be able to stomach the change. I never say this to him. You don’t say to someone, “Get smaller, and like it.”
He tells me, naked in bed one morning, that I smell different lately. He says he’s noticed I smell like fear, like stress. Maybe, he thinks, that this is why he is depressed. He is playing detective, solving the mystery of his rattling mind, and I’m a suspect. He says it quietly, like writing down a list of parolees for questioning. I listen quietly. I am suspect to myself. I always suspected my smell was dangerous. My growth has been dangerous, cancerous. I’m overgrowing the oeuvre.
In the afternoon, after work, I go to the drugstore. No more kidding around.
Lady Secret Pom-Berry Invisible Solid
The tube is turquoise and pearlescent. My brain gets quiet when I smell it, but not like peace so much as that I smell exactly like Invisible Solid. I carry it in my purse. I keep a closer eye on myself.
The problem is, the oeuvre. It’s already cracked. Everybody sees it but there’s a Humpty Dumpty thing going on and so I just wait and hope this will pass and take responsibility for as much as I can, for more than I can. I soothe myself. I make new friends, and take on sophisticated baking challenges: chemistry in a muffin tin goes into the oven, and something whole and fragrant or strange and burnt comes out, done. I share them with friends; he’s not plugged in here.
Going out is like gulping air, coming home is like climbing into a car trunk. We’re going nowhere. We’re burning gas. We’re huffing fumes I’m spinning and I’ve made promises I can’t keep. I’m slowing, shuddering like something cheap, I’m keeping promises that don’t keep. It’s months after I’ve asked him, gently, to move out, before it occurs to me that I can stop using the turquoise tube. It was his, my gift to him, and I’m the only one here. I don’t see him, and I don’t smell him. I have a suspicion that if I caught his scent now, it would smell good, but good in an outdated way. Like a childhood home, not somewhere I can stay and stay.
Like you, I sometimes text myself when I’m sad.
Like you, I consider myself to be unusually good at the electric slide.
Like you, I don’t know where all this hair came from.
Like you, I feel judged when very small children look witheringly in my direction.
Like you, I’m not looking for any trouble.
Like you, I find it hard to remember the very poor.
Like you, I’m not sure what Christ was talking about.
Like you, I like to think I’ve “still got it.”
Just kidding. I know what Christ was talking about.
It turns out that climbing up behind the movie screen in an empty Arclight theater in a fit of Dharma-from-Dharma-and-Greg-ish whimsy results in alot of weird itchy scratches more reminiscent of Jenna Elfman’s body after breaking into a paparazzi’s car trying to get them to notice her. that is all.
1. Give Myself a Haircut. Or, you know, a few of them.
The take-home: Pssh. Time hasn’t Stopped! At all. If time has stopped, then where did I get these new bangs? (Or, 2 hours later, these? and so forth.)
2. Learn a Trade! This time it was canning. Yesterday I made red onion marmalade…for 6 hours. Today I’m making apple butter. The trick is to keep the botulism out!
The take-home: Just cause Mom’s been half-asleep on her “Chaise Longue” all day doesn’t mean Time has Stopped. Nay, the Wheels of Industry lumber on tirelessly in the Young, and in the Pre-pre-diabetic. (That’s you! Keep it up.)
3. Become an Agent of Social Change! I take a half-hour around 3:30 ante meridiem to send an email to UCLA’s English Dept Chair, stating my opposition to the layoffs of lecturers of small seminars. Like that guy who teaches classes comparing every existing piece of literature for twelve-hundred years to Blade Runner (I’m the hero he needs, not the one he deserves).
The take-home: This tableau of cloying childhood memories is pale and unreal beside my function protecting UCLA from phony money-grubbing replicants.
4. Keep my Snarky Opinions to Myself. If the lady of the house wants to eat a heaping dinner plate of only turkey dressing, with a tiny crab-fork, well, that’s her God-given right, isn’t it?
The take-home: What is she humming all the goddamn time? It’s too quiet to sound like anything and too loud to sound like nothing. Goddamn it.
5. My hair’s still crooked.
The take-home: Pull yourself together. It’s only been 3 days.
Young man, I like you for rising when you see the bus coming, watching it expectantly, with familiarity, like it is your girlfriend. and you know exactly how she carries her purse, and you’ve been holding up your end of things, and now you’ll go home, together
Bones. Sick with rage on the morning I took him to be neutered. It’ll be a quiet life after this, a lot of looking at girl cats and trying to remember what he’s supposed to want.
This is the story of the first time I was engaged to be married. When I say “first,” I am not counting my tenuous engagement to Leslie Hammer from my class at Steven’s Crossing preschool, or the time when I was nineteen when I, stoned and having just finished a Tom Robbins novel about women’s lib, considered getting a tattoo symbolizing my marriage to myself. I am only counting those occasions when another consenting adult was involved. That means the the short list is merely three entries long; three engagements formed over a span of four years. But I reckon that’s a pretty respectable rate.
And at 22, I was the first of my sisters to be engaged. I remember calling my dad from work to give him the news.
"I wanted to tell you that me and D are getting married," I said.
Now, to represent myself honestly, I should admit how long I’d been with D at this point. If you think it was probably longer than 3 months, you are mistaken, and have underestimated my capacity for Romance.
We had been together for three months. And here’s my dad’s response to this news:
"I was thinking you might do that," he said.
*(An aside— Hey you, future parents: You do not get to pick who your children turn out to be. As an outspoken pretend-bisexual pothead with a non-specific Artist’s Temperament and a moral-political agenda condemning traditional grooming practices, I had already conditioned my father with respect to what he could expect from me. That said, I was disappointed that he wasn’t more surprised.)
"We know what we want to do for our ceremony," I added.
"We’re going to hunt and kill a deer. As our ceremony. And then we want to roast it for our family and friends, as our reception." Yup.
My dad: “Uh huh.” And, “I take it your remaining grandmother is invited to this?”
I’d considered this. I wasn’t sure. My fiance, as I’ll call him for the sake of simplicity (with the possible side-effect of creating a blur around the meaning of a nice useful term), definitely thought she should come. What was the point of killing a deer at your wedding, he reasoned, if you don’t force your square relatives to participate, presumably blowing their minds? But the fact was, I like my grandmother. She was and is a totally neat, sarcastic old lady who for 40 years owned and ran a hardware store, and I wasn’t sure I needed to teach her a grand lesson.
"I’m not sure she’d like it," I answered my dad. "I’d like her to come. I’ll think about it. I mean, this is all a ways off still. I’m not even sure when hunting season starts.”
"Hunting Season. Yes." my dad said. My dad is an excellent sport.
To rewind a bit, let me tell you: the idea of getting married had sprung up very innocently. About a month earlier, ol’ what’s his name had teared up over appetizers at an Indian restaurant.
It was sweet. “I can’t imagine ever wanting to be with anyone else,” he’d said, voice cracking with sincerity. “I feel like I need a ceremony. Could we have a ceremony?”
And listen. I was just a 22 year old pretend-bisexual with hairy legs and a head full of Tom Robbins and weed and free love. And if I was not quite ready to get married, you better believe that I was even less ready to ruin this moment. Besides, I was head-under-water over this thing too, so maybe he was right, and just being brave. Scared, but drunk on love and excitement, I managed a “We can do that.” We shared a tearful handshake over the table.
To my credit, I think I waited until the entrees had arrived before inquiring about whether our ceremony would mean that I could never have sex with girls. I hadn’t gotten around to it yet, and it seemed hasty to sign away my chance to prove my bisexuality to myself and the world. The two of us negotiated that point for a few minutes and decided that, if by the time I was thirty I still felt the need, we’d surely figure out an arrangement that was agreeable to both of us. We also agreed that we’d think about what sort of ceremony would be suitable, and that we shouldn’t settle for any plan that was less than a Revelation.
And after a few weeks I (yes, I) gave birth to the deer hunting idea, and we were off. It was inspired. Neither of us had ever killed anything before, and we knew we’d be preternaturally bonded by such an extreme experience. You try and show me a City-Haller who had to chase down their marriage certificate with a borrowed rifle! We’d be the married-est.
I figured I’d probably cry for the deer; D didn’t think he would. This was a good, good idea. There was probably something Native American about it, right? This deer’s sacrifice would really mean something. Meanwhile, the plan was grizzly enough to fly in the face of convention, even if that face suspiciously resembled my grandmother’s. Well, so be it. We were meat-eaters in love.
(end part 1 of 2)
Laid out below me, I can see this model town
And I don’t remember building it
I remember flailing, and sidling from
doorway to doorway
and retching a bit
and maybe I threw up on a bush
here’s this town
and the little trees and buildings