Actions have consequences

            I think that I detect a coolness where none was there before.
            If my intuition is right, I should know by the end of the day.
            Actions have consequences.  I understood when I started posting bits and pieces of my journals on here that I was assuming some risk.  The repercussions of my decision, however unfortunate, are entirely predictable. 

Dipping a toe into the terrifying shark-infested waters of intimacy

At his invitation, I spent most of the weekend with Jeff, the Machinist, at his home in New Jersey. 
            The prospect made me a little anxious.  It’s been well over a year since I spent that much time, uninterrupted, with a man.  I’ve been on lots of trips, been to lots of places, but in those situations, I saw my companion chiefly during the evening, and kept my own company during the day.   But dinner, a movie, sex, sleeping together in the same bed, waking up together, breakfast, spending the whole day together, another evening together, going to bed together, and waking up together and eating breakfast together again?  I must admit that I found the prospect mildly daunting.  All those meals together.  All those conversations—would I be able to sustain them?  The unrelenting physical proximity. 
            As I packed a change of clothes and my toiletries into my knapsack, I definitely had the jitters.  The fact that I knew it was abnormal to feel anxiety over such a minor, casual activity increased my discomfort.  I mean, when you get right down to it, what are the natures of my fears?  I fear that I will be inadequate for the task at hand.  And what is the task?  Intimacy.  Emotional intimacy.  The kind that runs both ways.  Letting someone get to know me. 
            You are unfit, the voice barks, like a small yappy dog, in the back of my head.  You are unfit for this. Accept it and spare yourself and this man the inevitable result of this “relationship.”
            The other voice in my head—whether it is the voice of sanity and positive mental health or the voice of denial and rationalization, I do not know—counters: You are freaking out for no reason!  Quit it right now!  You are sabotaging yourself and reading into this way too much!  All that you are doing is spending a few days with this nice, regular guy!  It’s not neurosurgery!  Just try to have a nice time and be yourself!
            Be myself.  Wow, what a concept!
            In the end, I rallied myself and set off for the PATH station, overnight bag in hand.
            And in the end, the weekend went well.  I tried to be good company and a good houseguest.  To be kind, gracious, courteous and receptive to courtesy.  And I tried to keep my heart open to him, and to be as authentic as I could.

Good Girls get Gifts

          The Surgeon told me that he had a gift for me.  Something special that he picked up at Bloomingdale’s.  His voice changed as the words came out, becoming thick with desire. 

           I was perched on the edge of the sofa. He stood in front of me, over me. The position made me feel like a young girl. He asked me if I was ready for my present. 
           I nodded.
           It’s this belt, he said, looking down at me.  This belt I’m wearing.  I bought it just for you.  He raised his hand and caressed my cheek.  My mouth opened.  I made a low moaning sound.
          Why don’t you take it off for me? He asked.  His voice had fallen to a whisper.  Take off the belt and look up at me while you do it.
          I raised my hands to the elegant gold buckle.  The metal had a little heft to it.  The leather was brown.  The small whispering sound that it made as it glided through the belt loops on his trousers.  I remember it so clearly.  I was spellbound. 
         He beat me with it from the top of my shoulders to the bottom of my thighs.  The buckle left a clear impression on my ass that lasted for two weeks. 
         Good girls get gifts.   

African Gray

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I went to Petland pet store the other day to buy food for my fish.  While I was there, I stopped, as I always do, to view the birds for sale.  I can stand in front of their cages, rapt, for many minutes.  The birds are so beautiful to me that I can hardly stand it.  Even the commonest finch or parakeet enchants me. 
            In one cage was an African Gray.  I could tell it was an adolescent by its size and the fact that its tail wasn’t fully red.  I crouched in front of the cage and held still.  The gray fluffed the feathers on its nape and took me in with its eyes.  Contact.  Now we were experiencing each other.  I looked at the individual feathers on its face, the magnificent and sensitive beak, the reptilian feet, covered in scales.  I could see it breathing, watched its breast rise and fall.
            “Hello, sweetling,” I whispered.  “How are you, precious?”
            The gray cocked its head.  It seemed to be considering.  Then, after a minute, it started to walk on its perch to the front of the cage.  As I sat there, frozen, it grabbed the cage bars with its feet and started to climb towards me.  Then it stopped,  directly in front of my face.
            “Hello,” I said.  “You are wonderful.” 
            We looked at each other.
            “Would you like to be touched?”  I held my hand in front of her face so that she could see it.  Then I slowly stuck a finger through the bars.
            The gray lowered its head for a scratch. 
            My heart melted.
            Its feathers were soft and slippery.  There is nothing like the feeling of feathers.  They feel magical. I scratched the parrot’s head behind its ear. 
            A shop employee, a teenaged boy, walked behind me and paused.  “Uh, miss, you might want to be careful with that!  That bird is mean!”
            Mean?  There is practically no such thing as a mean animal.  I asked the boy if he knew anything about the bird.  He told me that it was female and had lived at the store for nine months.  I winced.  The pet store was an awful environment for a bird.  Especially an impressionable adolescent.  I was seized by a burning desire to rescue her.  
            I looked at the price tag on the cage.  She cost eleven hundred dollars.  I had the money…but the cost of a new cage…vet bills…and an African Gray was a huge commitment—the bird could live for fifty years…
            I apologized to her and withdrew my hand.  When I turned my back on her, she was still hanging on her cage bars, looking at me. 
            I don’t go to that pet shop anymore.  I’m worried that she’ll still be there.  I’m also worried that she won’t be.  It’s funny, the strong emotional reaction I had.  I’m embarrassed to tell anyone about it.  But I will tell you.

Let Me Help To Distract You

            Finally, I am supporting my body weight on the ball of one foot.  I won’t be able to hold it long—my 
foot is starting to cramp, and the tendons on the inside of my thigh are taut as piano wire and starting to twitch.  I won’t be able to hold it long, but then, I’m not expected to. 

            Heinrich bends one knee to the floor and loops the jute twine three times around my right ankle.  He turns his countenance up to me, makes eye contact.  Because I am already bent at the waist, my torso almost parallel with the floor and my other leg raised behind and above me, there is not much distance between our faces.  I am already flushed, feeling the first drops of sweat forming underneath my arms and the hair at my temples.  Heinrich looks sleek and unruffled in contrast, but I have been around him enough—observed him enough—to know that he isn’t as composed as an outside observer might take him for.  He is hyper-alert, there is a sense of urgency in him, kinetic energy.  He is very present. He is starting to get excited. 
          “Ready?” He asks me.
           I close my eyes and nod affirmatively, steeling myself for what is about to come.
           He’s on his feet in an instant, throwing the ends of the rope around my ankle through the steel ring attached to his ceiling.  Then he pulls the rope, lifting my foot off the ground, above the rest of my body.  It takes three, four seconds.  The weight of my body is suddenly transferred to the rope harness around my chest, especially the knots in between my breasts.  The scratchy twine bites deeply.  There is the illusion of suffocation; it feels too tight to catch a deep breath.  My heart—an organ I seldom ever notice at all—is suddenly a pounding engine, a piston, close to the skin, right behind my breastbone.  I hear it beating in my ears. 
            Heinrich pauses, gives me a few seconds for me to assess my body.  “Are you all right?”  His voice is above me and to the side; I can only see his trousers and shoes. 
            I nod.
           “Is this position tenable for now?”
            I nod again and exhale the deep breath I’ve been holding in.  As I do, the rope bites in tighter, eating more of me.  I have a flash of memory from my childhood, something I haven’t thought of for many years. When I was taught how to saddle a horse, my teacher showed me how the cinch went under the barrel of the animal, like a belt.  He said that it had to be drawn as tight as I could pull it, because when being saddled the horse would frequently hold its breath and puff out its chest, and later—once it relaxed—the cinch would be loose.
          The discomfort is tremendous. The blood rush to my head and upper torso, due to the partial inversion of my body, makes it worse. I want to breathe in deep, refreshing mouthfuls of air, I feel the need to catch my breath. I have to remind myself that this cannot be done.  Shallow breaths are all I can do, the best I can do.  But they will suffice–I won’t suffocate or pass out. I know that.

          Hanging there, I make a deliberate effort to reverse the focus of my concentration, taking it from the borders of my body back inward to my mind. This ability to “check out” is a special talent of mine, but I know that I won’t be able to do it for long—bodily pain and distress always triumph, obliterating everything else.  How long do I have…?  Two, three minutes of rationality…?  Perhaps as many as five. 

          But we reckon time differently here, I think, and it’s true.  In these situations, there is only the present moment.  Time and space stop; we are suspended in a pure vacuum. 
            My eyes are still open, but I’m not looking at anything.  I know that in order to do this, I have to relax.  The trick is to embrace the rope, the pain, the fact that I am vulnerable and compromised.  The instinct is to fight against it, struggle, resist, panic—to try to get away. The thing to do, to cope, is to move toward it.  

          I need to relax my body in order to alleviate some of the pressure.  This is difficult because it’s tricky to discern which parts of me are tight and tense because they are contorted and bound in rope, and which parts of me are tight because I am clenching my whole body in distress.  It takes a little investigation, a little round-the-world tour of this body I inhabit.
          I try to imagine myself as a bag of sand or a beanbag, collapsing around the rope.  It takes a minute or two to soften myself.  I lower myself as if I were settling into a hammock.  It still hurts, of course, but because I accept it, I am not overwhelmed.  No panic.  No fear.  For now, just for now.   

         Like a kaleidoscope, my perception changes.  I feel lucid and drugged at the same time.  My breathing becomes even more shallow; suddenly I am looking through my eyes again.  I know that this stage is ephemeral.  It’s only been two or three minutes, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what it felt like to not be in this….this what, exactly? This pain?  This situation?  This state of mind?  My memory, my ability to apply comparison and perspective, has been totally lost.  The jute that sinks into my flesh hurts and scratches terribly, but at the same time, it feels very secure.  It is, after all, holding me aloft.  Like an embrace that won’t let go.  I cannot drop.  I cannot fall. 
         I can see around me.  The quality of the light is marvelous.  The Goldberg Variations on the stereo, turned down low.  Heinrich always play the same music—usually Bach—when we do this together.  It’s a powerful trick I appropriated for my own use with others—the music becomes part of the memory, and can trigger it in the future. Months, years later, quite by accident, you hear it on a movie soundtrack or in a restaurant, and the memory of your experience comes rushing back, vivid and visceral. 

       Something was deliberately left in your head, by another person, that you didn’t even realize was there.  That is intimate. 

          We are in the living room of Heinrich’s apartment.  On the far wall were two tall windows that let in lots of sunshine.  They’d been treated for privacy, as hotel windows sometimes are.  The wall to my left is full of books, written in both German and English.  I have spent a lot of time admiring his library.  Heinrich is a book collector.  He owns books that he touches only with white cotton gloves.  He often wears gloves of one sort or another whenever the weather is not too warm.  They compliment his aesthetic.  He is meticulous and formal, careful in his handling of things.  His houseplants are manicured and he rotates them so that they grow in magical-looking symmetry.  The furniture is old and made of hardwoods which are probably endangered.  Besides the electronics, nothing in the room looks obviously contemporary, including his clothing.  He is partial to cotton, wool, leather—natural fabrics, usually in neutral colors.  When I arrived, he was wearing khaki trousers tucked neatly into the top of dark brown riding boots.  On the street, it would look strange to see these boots on a city dweller who was not in some sort of paramilitary uniform, but here, now, in this room, they are perfect.  They are beautiful.  His white shirt is rolled up at the sleeves.  Our complexions are similar and he has a high, wide forehead like my own.
          Suddenly Heinrich approaches from behind me and grabs a fistful of my hair at the roots, raising my head.  He is out of the range of my vision, but I can feel his body close by.
          “It is time to come back now.  I gave you four minutes to yourself because you’ve been so deprived, but now you must come back to me.”  He gives my head a little shake. I momentarily picture a terrier shaking a rat.  I hear the snap of a rubber band, then he is gathering all my hair and tying it back.  “I want to see you better.  That glassy, thousand-mile stare.  You did not think I was going to let you check out the entire time, did you?”
            I whisper no. 
           “How much longer until you start to pass?”  Pass out of this stage and into the next, he means.  That’s when things start getting really interesting.  That’s when the real suffering starts, and anything can happen.  

          In truth, I can already feel it starting.  My brain is making lots of chemicals, all sorts of chemicals, chemicals for every contingency.   

           “A few minutes.  Three or four, maybe less.” I murmur.
          “You’re going to have to speak more loudly so that I can hear you, my dear.  Where does it hurt?”
           “Everywhere.  Especially my chest.”
           “Mmmm.”  He sounds pleased.  My skin breaks out in gooseflesh all over my body.  I shudder with anticipation and desire. “Let me help to distract you from it.”

Meeting the Machinist

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        I met Jeff, the machinist, about a month ago.  It was completely spontaneous—we happened to be in the same place at the same time, and he caught my eye.  After studying him for a few minutes, I approached him and introduced myself.  He was receptive, and seemed to be a little surprised at my initiative, which I found endearing.  Men almost always look startled when I ask them out, which amuses me—they look as if I’d suggested something bizarre and random, like “Hi there, can I spill my hot coffee on your lap?” or “Do you have any idea where I could buy an autographed photo of Vladimir Putin?”  It takes a few seconds to compute.
            We shared a meal together and I liked him right away.  I talked quite a bit, which is unusual for me on the first date—I usually encourage the other person to do most of the talking, so that I can learn about them.  Jeff was very easy to talk to.  I felt comfortable with him. Warmth came naturally.  He was polite, unaffected, knowledgeable.  He made sense to me.  I felt like I understood his disposition, his temperament.  I enjoyed watching him—his gestures, the way he ate his food, the way he carried himself.  And I liked the way he treated me.  Present and engaging, without radiating expectation.  After we left the restaurant, I told him that I found him attractive and I would like to see him again (again, that look of pleased surprise!).  I was confident that he would like to meet me again; I knew intuitively that I had charmed him. 
            “I’m very frank,” I explained, standing in the bright winter sunshine.
             “I see that,” he said.  Long pause.  Then: “I’m glad to know that you had a good time.  I did, too.”
             I assured him that if I did not like him, I would already have excused myself and beaten a hasty retreat.  It’s true, too—I’ve done enough dating over the last five years to know that there is nothing to be gained by enduring bad, or even mediocre company.        
            A few days later, I took the train to visit him in New Jersey.  

            I’ve seen him about twice a week for four weeks now.  It’s been nice.  Jeff is definitely relationship material.  I appreciate the way he’s put together—he’s serious-minded, logical, patient, and calm.  He’s fastidious and detail-oriented.  He has moral values that he does not talk about but which are expressed through his choices and behavior—he hardly eats meat, he builds furniture, and when his toaster broke, he took it apart and fixed it himself instead of throwing it out and buying a new one.  He has not said one bad thing about his ex.  His apartment is clean and organized (although, like a typical male, he has fancy electronics and zero decoration—why o why do men never hang pictures on the wall or have houseplants?  WHY?).  He has a gigantic cabinet full of tools and machines, and he knows how they work and uses them.  I had a million questions about them, and he could answer them all.
            And he’s kind and affectionate.  He likes to cuddle and hold hands.  Basically, he is an emotionally evolved human being.  In fact, I think that he is probably way more evolved than I am.  I could learn and thing or two from him. 
            Which brings me to my current dilemma: I cannot have my life the way it is now just add Jeff to it.  At this time, there is not a Jeff-sized hole in my life.  In order to make a Jeff-sized hole, I’ve have make room by getting rid of some other stuff.  The last time I tried to just add a healthy, normal adult male homo sapian to my life was a year and a half ago.  His name was Steven.  It didn’t work out.  I confused the shit out of him and he dumped me—he never gave me an clear reason why, probably because he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but that’s all right.  I knew the reason why Steven had to get out, even if he didn’t. 
            We didn’t have a falling out, or any sort of conflict or character clash.  He didn’t leave because he felt taken for granted, or because I was unkind or hostile to him.  He was impressed with my beauty and education.  He thought I was funny.  The problem was…I just wasn’t there, not entirely.  I wouldn’t let him get too close.  I never shared my problems, even the trivial ones, the daily frustrations of life.  I supported him through the death of a relative and a cancer scare, but he never saw me angry, or scared, or sad.  I never asked him for a favor.  And he never knew what was really going on with me—the entire picture of my life.  I only gave him pieces.  Pieces of Margo.
            I will not repeat that dynamic in a relationship.  It’s just not right.
            It’s still early with Jeff—I have a little more time before I have to make any big decisions.
            Part of me is furious, just furious with myself for meeting this man.  How dare I subject this decent individual to myself, knowing myself as I do?

Making an Escape

A weekend mixer with dancing in SoHo.  I came at the request of some female friends.  Well, they aren’t friends yet—more like friendly acquaintances—but they could be my friends if I put in the effort.  If I spend time with them.  If I let them be. 
            The event itself was ghastly.  I don’t like loud noise and I would rather cut off my own arm with a chainsaw than attempt to dance.  I’m too uptight.  As you might expect, this can make socializing with my peers more awkward…but one of the true pleasures of being a grownup, in my opinion, is the freedom to be as strict as one likes with one’s preferences. 
            I found the other girls in the crowded space.  They all looked great.  The Swede was wearing a particularly impressive pair of black-sequined stilettos.  Standing in a circle of other women, I realized suddenly how tall I really am—the others only came up to my shoulders.  In my head, I made a conscious effort to shake off the rust.  Compliments all around.  Questions about wardrobe acquisitions.  Discreet comparisons of desirable men. 
            Eventually one of them, who was volunteering at the refreshments booth, asked me to stand in for her while she went outside for a cigarette break.  I ended up working there for most of the evening.  It gave me something to do with myself and freed me from the exhausting obligation of socializing with strangers.  And I really did enjoy helping out.  I like to feel useful. 
            At midnight, I excused myself and said goodnight to my company.  I said that I’d had a great time, which was mostly true, and that I had to get up and go to work early in the morning, which wasn’t. 
            I collapsed into the back of a yellow cab.  Instead of telling the driver to head east, towards my home, I told him to take me far uptown.  I relaxed against the leather seat, felt the tension leaving my body.  I felt like I was escaping.  Escaping what?  Who?  To go where?
            In a hotel room in Midtown East, a twenty-three year old Engineering school graduate was waiting for me.  I called him David.  The name was a gift I’d recently given to him.  Prior to that, he’d been No. 29.  He was visiting from Washington, D.C.  I’d left him alone in the hotel room earlier in the day.  I’d taken his cell phone and every stitch of his clothing in a brown paper bag.  His wallet and keys were locked in the hotel room’s safe. 
            I fished my cell phone out of my purse and called the hotel; requested the room. 
            He picked up on the first ring.   

Pictures on my wall…(Part I)

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Art fascinates me and I enjoy studying it recreationally.  I try to draw every now and then when the urge takes me, but I have no talent for it.  I love to watch capable artists work, though.  Sometimes I stop and stare at the street artists around Times Square and Central Park who sketch portraits for a fee, or the art students practicing in the Met.  Like playing music, drawing looks almost magical to me because I can’t do it.  My father had the knack, though, and as a child I loved to see his doodles. 
  Anyway, I keep a lot of art around.  I like to fill up my walls with it.  I pick it up here and there—from art books, thrift stores, sidewalk vendors.  Sometimes I buy prints from the internet or the museums I’ve visited.  I joke that my apartment is full of worthless reproductions of priceless works of art.  My collection changes slowly as I discover new artists and movements that I like. 
  There are a few pictures that I’ve had for many years, however.  They are perennial favorites.  I keep them on my bedroom wall, in close proximity to one another.  I see them all the time and I never get tired of looking at them. 
   I mentioned this to my psychologist, who asked if she could see them.  I wrapped them up in towels and brought them in a bag.  She asked me what I liked about them, and then pointed out a glaring similarity in all of the pictures that I had been bafflingly blind to.  I mean, I’m looking at these things all the time, and it never occurred to me that they all have the same qualities! 
    Let’s take a look.  I almost never allow other people into my bedroom, but I will share this with you:
  First, we have Sybille of Cleves as a Bride, painted by Lucas The Elder Cranach, 1526:
 I love the vivid colors of her hair and her dress.  The garland on her head and the feather attached to it are amazingly delicate.  The way he captured the volume and structure of her garment and the texture of the fabric…the depth and wave of her hair.  I like the informal way she holds her hands together in front of her body.  Her head is tilted down slightly, and her gaze is directed not at the painter (viewer), but at someone or something out of the frame, off to the side…or perhaps she is just thinking about something, alone with her thoughts.  She seems to have a slight smile on her face.  She is poised, composed, contained.  She looks sly to me—she looks like she has a secret.  Like she knows something that she isn’t meant to know.  Something that gives her understanding, or power.   
            Next, Lady with an Ermine, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, 1498-1490:
            I had the pleasure of seeing this painting in person when it was appearing briefly at the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco.  What fascinates me here is the duality between the two characters, the woman and the ermine. The woman is calm, serene, composed.  Her shoulders are relaxed; there is no tension in her body or her face.  In contrast, the ermine is muscular and coiled, alert. See the claws on its paws, the suggestion of a snarl.  Its gaze is intense.  It looks ferocious.  It looks like it would bite the hell out of you.  And yet, the woman holds it as gently and casually as if it was a docile, harmless pet.  Her touch is almost a caress.  I’m fascinated by her hand, which seems exaggeratedly long but also perfectly proportioned and lifelike.  The animal and the woman are both looking in the same direction; they are both raising one of their hands.  Her pale skin is almost as light as the ermine’s fur. 
    What is the symbolism here?  The woman is thought to be Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of a wealthy and powerful man.  Perhaps the ermine is a metaphor for him, and the power and protection he represents.  She has seduced this fearful creature. 
     I am more inclined to believe that the ermine is, in fact, the woman.  That the ermine represents a hidden side of her personality—what lays behind her smooth and languid beauty. In my opinion, Leonardo, the artist, understood this of her very well.   You would not cross this woman.  Not if you knew what was good for you.

      It was pointed out to me: the woman looks like she could be my sister.  In fact, she could almost be my twin.  

      And yet, I never would have realized it in a million years.