The parking violations officer bangs on the steamed up window before slapping a ticket under our windshield wiper. I have my head in Grizzly’s lap; he is sitting in the driver seat with his pants unzipped. His penis smells like a butter cookie. His hair, too, is long and butter-colored. He is one of the sweetest guys I know, only a friend. I don’t know how I ended up here. He cracks his window and here’s the game: he talks to the parking lady while I shut the world out and suck. Don’t Break My Rhythm, Don’t Break My Rhythm. The violations officer has cracked fuschia lip liner, particularly unattractive in light of the job I am currently undertaking, and her blouse gives her the ruffled look of an ostrich.
“We’re sitting right here, lady!” Grizz yells, tapping the window with his finger. His hard-on gets huge after he shouts. She snarls a retort, the voice of a sex-starved woman. Ticketing people is the closest she comes to the thrill of getting a driver’s-seat blowjob.
I am neither an unfaithful wife nor a hooker. What am I? I feel old wondering this. I am neutral, still a woman who aims to please. Tapping into my nasty girl. Someone could host a talk show about this compulsion. A chain gang of middle-aged women stomps out on stage looking whorish with tussled hair. We all look like the ostrich meter maid, rugged. We went haywire after dry spells. I suck dicks when and where ever, says the lady with no bra, showing off a gap between her two front teeth. I don’t suck many but I relish the same few repeatedly, the sultry librarian says. The audience looks to me, but I don’t know what distinguishes me from anyone, including Lucy, the primitive cave woman who probably enjoyed this satisfying sexual act in caves with her hirsute male peers.
Another hardcore penis dream! These started over a year ago, when I started thinking more about babies. I struggle to arise from this Ambien-induced slumber. This one ranks up there in oddity with my husband’s notorious Ambien hallucination, in which he was flown on airborne serapes into the opened top point of a pyramid. It’s already hazy, but what I take from my dream as I wake up is: I will never touch Grizzly, and Don’t Break My Rhythm. My trusty motto. I dress down my repulsion with a straight girl outfit—jeans and a tee shirt—and drag myself into the kitchen for coffee.
My loyal husband prepares toast, awaiting news from the Dream Time. I feel conflicted about confessing I repeatedly dream of Grizzly’s sexual organ, because in life I’m not even attracted to most men. But there’s no point in lying because Taylor can read my mind. The next time Taylor and I do it, and I vigorously employ a new technique practiced in my subconscious with someone else, he’ll suspect something. It’s a free country, dreaming. There’s no such thing as cheating in your sleep. I explain my dream over breakfast.
“Do you want to date other people?” Taylor asks, taking it as an insult to his own cock.
“That has nothing to do with it,” I say. “It doesn’t even have to do with men.”
“So, Claire, do you want to do it right now?” Taylor asks, smiling wryly, still thinking it is about men.
I like his suggestion, even if that means we drop what it does have to do with. I love my husband tremendously, and morning sex is the best. If it weren’t for morning sex I could stay dreaming all day.
It has been a month since we lived together. Today, I wake up alone in my rented room at a girlfriend’s house. I live with her and her kid. Now I arise daily to a little guy playing pirate. “Hang in there, sister!” my girlfriend tells me on the roughest days.
I can’t email Taylor, because I started fantasizing about checking his messages to spy on him, which I’m totally against. I start wondering if he’s off in search of a girl who doesn’t want babies, and imagining their flirt letters makes it worse. If I don’t get an email from Taylor soon, I’ll know he finally hates me. I cry for thirty minutes over half a box of tissues, try to get up, pull yesterday’s clothes on, brush my teeth. These tasks seem vague and pointless. I pry the curtains open and feel burned, like a vampire. I’m hideous, missing the man who used to ask me about my dreams, which, even though they often include other people, are still ultimately about him.
Today, I realize more than ever my deep connection with beasts. I was never ruled by reproduction as a means to procreate, animal-like. Now that my body is telling me that it is time to bear a child, I feel unsafe making love, as if my primitive inner-motivation is potent enough to will myself pregnant. It doesn’t matter because Taylor won’t touch me. He’s in Hawaii now, surfing amongst those lucky surf babes who don’t demand anything of him but a co-ride on the next good wave. My feelings remain, so I’m left with my dreams and zero motivation to attempt meeting new guys who may not find me so abominable.
I know why I have these dreams: blowjobs are foolproof. Open wide. The virgin birth, in which Mary supposedly conceived baby Jesus with no male partnership, is a baby fever fantasy. The virgin birth is like a horror movie to me. Some of my girlfriends over the years, the ones Taylor and I least expected to become mothers, were suddenly hit with baby fever, and bam. There they were, standing big-bellied beside the men they’d found to father their children. Better than virgin births, and such cute babies. But still, I wish I could have a baby with the man I dedicated my life to.
To Taylor, sex is strictly a performance in which the more eloquently expressed the person’s desires are, the better the results. It’s theater, full of costume. Ideally, sex is his safe spot, where judgment is suspended so we can be free to try new things. Taylor deserves someone experimental and brave, I tell myself while he’s out having fun, without me.
Last winter, I tried hard to change my predictably female ways. I had a crush on our friend, Rita, because she believes that thinking things through is the most backward way to live. She acts purely on instinct. For example, one blustery day—five months ago now—the sun made a rare, hot appearance in our temporary, high-elevation mountain town. Rita was staying with us for two weeks. Our log cabin looked good, buried in snowdrifts, but I had cabin fever. Rita and I dropped everything, put our bikinis on, laid beach towels on the living room floor under a rainbow umbrella, and made spritzy soda drinks to have a beach party. We eventually got too hot to leave our bikinis on. It was the first day Taylor saw us lying together nude. “Cute,” he said, heading out for a walk. I trusted that he meant that.
A week later, light snow fell through sunshine. Storm clouds rolled across a blue sky and the flurries generated these perfectly star-shaped snow crystals. I finished snowflake hunting in the backyard with my magnifying glass, velvet and camera, and came in to prepare a pot of Nepalese chai, Rita’s favorite. I took it into her guest room, to show her my snowflake photos. She had hung a pair of underwear, with the crotch burned out, on the wall.
Rita was painting blood drips down her chin. We’d been practicing death metal make-up, and she was really nailing it this time. She already had newly-dyed black hair, and was planning a photo shoot. We took a tea break, and I couldn’t resist her looking so bloody.
“Geisha, will you give me a massage?” she asked.
I put my tea down and gave her a shoulder rub, then did the rest of her back. I envisioned myself in white face powder, pale enough to pick up other peoples’ colors, chameleon-like. I know real geishas are far from promiscuous, but for this I embraced the prostitute geisha cliché. I owned the caricature; I needed that license.
“I feel like a businessman,” Rita said.
“Yes master,” I said, bowing.
Thirty minutes later, we were both naked and massaging each other, over giant almond oil stains on Rita’s bed sheets. I did my job; making Rita come made me proud. Rita is a sexpot who doesn’t get emotionally hung-up, so I felt at ease that we could resume our friendship. I’d loved up my sister, familial-like, and I was glad we had shared that. I love Rita and still do, and I thought Taylor would have been impressed. There was no competition. Not wanting my husband to feel left out, I gave him full geisha service directly after Rita’s, one room over. The balance was restored, or so I thought. I was a pimp. I put Snoop Dogg on and felt like a bad-ass. I dressed like a man for the next few days because my macho levels were through the roof.
“You did what?” Taylor asked, after asking why my new look was Gangster. Taylor stirred the bean stew with maniacal strength. His reaction was a surprise. He’d done the same a few times, with guys. Rita was in her room, listening to John Cage before she flew out the next day. I’d already resolved this with her, agreeing to keep it tamer from now on. She didn’t want to be a girlfriend casualty, and I agreed completely.
“I slept with Rita,” I said. “I’m trying to not be shy any more. Do what I want, like you said.”
“Don’t pin this on me,” Taylor said, looking away. Minutes passed while we watched the stew boil. “Are you in love with her?”
“I love you both,” I said. “Why do I have to choose? I have too much love to give. It’s overflowing. I always end up loving you. Don’t break my rhythm.”
“Too much love,” Taylor said, marching out onto the cabin’s porch. I followed him out.
“I hope this is temporary,” he said.
“I don’t understand why,” I said. “You’ve always wanted me to figure out what I wanted in sex and do it. There are no secrets.”
“Do what you need to do,” he said, heading back in. Each time in the past when he came back to me after being with guys, I’d felt that those were our greatest reunions. Maybe this time there would be no reunion and Taylor’s double standard would rear its ugly head.
That geisha role cracked me open. I meant her to be sheer sexual exploration. I meant her to improve my understanding of intimacy. But once I unleashed her love, I sensed it bundled up and denied, lying dormant in my body like a hibernating bear. I’ve loved everyone too much since then. I have multiple crushes. My geisha is not devoted exclusively to one person. She is an artisan skilled at pleasing others, who longs for a family. She is even more than pimp love. The geisha’s love, I realized, is motherly. The geisha wants a baby.
When I met Taylor, I knew I loved him because I saw us growing old together. Those unknown life stages that would unfold between us came to me compressed, in Taylor, as a lodestone. To Taylor, sex never equaled babies. I was fine with that. I assumed since I’d met the right person that we could face the kid issue, in the future. That future is now.
Last week, I talked to Rita on the phone about this urgent future that has pounced upon me like a predatory animal.
“Welcome to your biological clock,” Rita said.
“I don’t want to think about any of this,” I said. “But I had this core realization that sex makes babies and that I have this magical power. Making love is something more instinctual now.”
Talking to her about this wasn’t awkward, despite our geisha day two months ago. I already miss her and like talking to her whenever I can.
“Its uncertain outcome is its main source of attraction,” Rita said. She really talks like this, like a fortune-teller. “You’re preparing for the uncertainty of the independent soul you’ll give birth to.”
As if the birth is already fated. Fate, the set motion, versus the uncertainty of controlling who we create. Rita is so insightful—I remembered why I love her.
“I can’t stand this sadness,” I said. “I’m afraid of sex now because the ritual is charged. It can’t be a simple pleasure anymore. I hate that my body is telling me to do something I don’t want to do—to think about my self and what I’m capable of producing. Sex is more selfish now. Am I still the geisha?”
“You’re a baby geisha,” Rita said.
Where will I land? Too much mystery, this sinking ship.
Then, there’s Natalie. Natalie has been like a sister to me for twelve years, she’s a powerfully maternal figure with an excess of love to share. She always wanted kids. She used to be obsessed with menstruation and kept a jar of bloody rags to soak in our bathroom when we were college roommates. This was part good luck charm and part environmental effort. At that time, it was all I could do not to ask why my mother had kids with a man who couldn’t commit to a family. I had stepparents, too, who struggled to muster up kid joy. Shaking off depressed parents encouraged me to discover nature’s ecstatic life cycle. Watching vines crawl towards sunlight up tree trunks, or observing chipmunks growing from inch-long, pink squirmy things into pert, striped rodents. Imagining ancient redwoods surviving the centuries. Birth was not necessarily a curse. Growth could be a positive experience. I tattooed the chipmunks on my inner wrist to symbolize my Fear of Babies cure, though I hadn’t set my mind in any concrete way on one day having my own.
Six weeks ago, between when Rita left and when I moved in with my friend who has the pirate kid, Natalie and I took a road trip across the southwest. She had no trouble understanding that I like both Rita and Taylor. She’s not one to shy away; she digs deep into some female things that still make me squeamish, like vaginal mucus. Mucus: the worst word ever. For years before this road trip, she lectured me for not checking mine and keeping charts of how it looks and smells.
“Stop it!” I yelled over the phone. “That’s disgusting!”
“Since when is your body disgusting?” Natalie asks.
You can’t argue with women like this.
Now, she is thirty-three and announcing the good news on our drive.
“It’s not that the rhythm method stopped working,” Natalie said from behind the wheel. “I just let go, so nature could come.”
I thought of another girlfriend back east, home raising chicks to practice childrearing. She’s charting her months too. I recently enjoyed learning about ovulation from her, a process that I previously thought as alchemically mysterious as transforming shit into gold.
“I can’t believe the rhythm method worked until now,” I said. “I thought for sure you would have got pregnant years ago.”
Natalie explained the elaborate fertility calendar she keeps, how she knows to the hour when she’s ovulating and ready to conceive. Women are not geese, I think. But we make eggs.
“Ovulation is like the Mayan calendar to me,” I said. “Thank god for the pill.”
“So, when are you having one?” Natalie asked.
My head rested sideways on the seatbelt strapped across my chest. Hopiland’s flat-topped, tan mesas speeding by out the window looked like baby heartbeats on a cardiac machine.
“My life is not set up for that,” I said, feeling a little dead. “Taylor doesn’t want one.” Those sandy, eroded hills can’t control having their tops lopped off by weather. I am not as powerless as a mesa, but I was acting like it. Just like the people who enliven the desert’s desolation, like the Hopi who grow corn on dry land, I am full of life. This road trip was what gave me the guts to tell Taylor I’d like a kid. It won’t go well. It will be a stalemate. I didn’t say any of this aloud, but Natalie knew. All my loved ones are psychic.
“You can do it, mama,” she said.
We arrived at the Painted Desert, where pastel rainbows stripe the sandstone. We pulled off the highway into the park, and drove along the two-lane road that shows off canyons marring the vast expanse. To ignore certain desires would be ridiculous, like putting lotion on one arm at the expense of your torso and legs. My neglected layers aren’t dissolving; they’re just drying up. Where’s my wisdom? Why won’t Taylor have a kid with me? Why can’t I have girlfriends? I pictured my torso shriveled into a raisin.
A long time ago, I got a second tattoo: a rainbow over my belly button. The tattoo artist warned me that the rainbow would stretch way out when I got pregnant, swelling like an image on a blown-up balloon. I saw the bigger rainbow in my future as a bonus. I should have been brave enough when I met Taylor to admit that maybe I’d like a baby in the future, even if he didn’t want to hear it.
In the Painted Desert, I decided it was time for me to take up praying. I don’t know how to pray and never knew what to pray to. But I obviously haven’t been listening to my body. There are pieces of me that demand excavation. Newness, a kind of birth, often comes from nothing new: that which is returned and reclaimed.
“Pull a Wicker Man,” Natalie said as we passed some petroglyphs. “Take the flame inside you, burn and burn below, fire seed and fire feed, to make the baby grow…” she sang with an Irish accent. She has the film’s soundtrack memorized and this was not the first time she’d sung the song from the scene when women jump over a bonfire to bring fertility to their pagan village.
“Spring’s here,” I said to Natalie, alluding to The Wicker Man’s older meaning. Bright green sprouts budded on the cottonwoods in a nearby wash. I thought of geishas, twirling parasols under cherry blossom trees to honor winter’s end.
“We need more ceremony in our lives,” I said to Natalie. That’s what I want: rituals and a family to practice them with.
The tender leaves matched the pale, green sandy striation beneath the pink, orange, and yellow bands crossing the mesa like bars on sheet music. This land is a symphony, I thought. Its composition is small compared to challenges I am about to face. Will I listen to them all or will I let them fly by silently out the car window, as untranslatable vistas?