Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York
We arrived at the house upstate, just as Marie's friend and his three house guests were about to sit down to dinner, just as the night took over and the surrounding woods came alive with sound.
My head ached the dull constant ache that to me was the pounding incessant vacuousness of New York City as we all sat around the table on the back porch at the bottom of a wide stretch of grass. A lone candle flickered in the midst of the food and a bottle of wine, and the conversation began weaving its way around the unfamiliar faces. Someone mentioned the Chelsea Hotel. "Oh, we were just talking about this last night," Marie said perking up, glancing quickly at me and then at the others. "I've slept with three people at the Chelsea Hotel." She was beaming, proud of herself, and I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, something withering inside of me. "Four," I injected as my ears rang and the others stared blankly ahead or looked meekly toward me. "Depending on what you consider sex," her friend said to no one in particular. And Marie smiled into the prolonged silence that followed.
A couple of hours later I found Marie in the upstairs bathroom taking a bath. The house was silent except for the distant sound of crickets and someone working in the wood shop out back. It was late. I was tired. And I could feel the long shadowy tentacles of New York City reluctantly letting go of their psychic grasp on me. I sat on the toilet reading Bukowski, decompressing, trying to let go of what she'd said earlier at dinner, trying to see it clearly, trying to see why it bothered me so much. I looked out the window at the night then back to Marie. Her opal blue eyes searched my face as she sat up in the tub, her head protruding from above the bubbles of the deep white tub. "You alright?" she asked me. "Yeah," I said, lying. "Do you want to clean off?" she asked. I nodded and put my book down on the wooden windowsill as I stood up, slowly taking off my clothes as she stepped out of the tub, picking up a folded towel that lay on the tiled floor. I watched the gentle cushioned curve of her ass as she dried herself then climbed into the deep warm water of the tub. I leaned back, fading into relaxation, my mind searching for peace and calm as I watched her in the periphery as she brushed her teeth with her finger, in front of the mirror, wrapped in the clean white towel. And I pictured a scene not so unlike this one with another man in the Chelsea Hotel. She had mentioned sleeping with someone at the Chelsea a couple of times before over the course of our relationship, each time seemingly pleased with herself. She had mentioned sleeping with someone at The Chelsea the night before, catching me off guard as we walked home together, after dinner out in the Lower East Side, as it was in relation to someone who I'd never heard her mention before. I'd stopped briefly, bracing myself on the stained sidewalk in the dark asking her how many men she'd slept with at the Chelsea. Three, maybe four? One of the stories had changed. "I shouldn't be telling you this. Right?" she'd asked, almost caustically, searching my eyes, as though if I had a problem with it, it was simply my problem. "No, it's fine," I said calmly, asking her to recount the encounters as we walked along the dirty streets in the gloom of the run down buildings.
As we lay in bed together before drifting off to sleep, I realized that I was a masochist at heart, asking her to tell me again of her encounters. There was a cheapness and trashiness to it all that slightly turned me on, reminded me of the first time that we'd slept together, drunkenly, in the tarp next to the dumpster on the job in Texas.
And now, nearly two years later, sober, after the way that she'd so cavalierly flaunted her tacky sexual exploits in front of me - as though throwing it at me for having had the slightest reaction to it the night before - to a group of people who I didn't know, and a few who she didn't, I realized that I'd lied to myself about what I wanted in a woman. I realized that I was attracted to one thing and wanted another, and that those two disparate things were generally not found in the same woman. I wanted stability. I wanted trust. But our differing values about what was okay and what was not continually left me feeling off balance and unable to emotionally have faith in her as a partner, in us as a couple. What she had said in front of those people over dinner had simply left me feeling violated, feeling that what we had together was cheap and easy, nothing more. What she had said had left me feeling like she had no respect for me, or us.
I toweled off and walked into the room across the hall where she lay reading in bed, the hardwood floor creaking. I slid slowly across the sheets, lay down next to her and tried to read, the fan in the corner blowing warm stale air over us. "Are you okay?" she asked me, turning from her book. I stared up at the geometric designs that had been painted on the walls and ceiling trying to decide what to say, if anything at all. I didn't want to argue anymore. I was tired of voicing my problems then continually having to defend my positions. But I couldn't hold my tongue and the way that I felt. And I realized as the heat suffocated the room that this was the draining story of our relationship: she would say or do something provocative or inflammatory, completely oblivious to its effect on me, finding it upsetting, then needing clarification or understanding or an apology, which would only annoy and upset her, making her feel accused and judged, causing her to become defensive and attacking, making me feel disregarded and angry. And then we would fight, all of it sucking the life out of us both and the relationship in the process. This was our downward spiral.
I stared up at the red of the room that was intersected by sharp white, black and yellow lines and I thought back to the first fight that we'd had in that Las Vegas hotel room a year and a half before where I'd foreseen this dynamic as being our doom, and I realized that I should have just ended it then, like I'd wanted to at the time. People don't change who they are, and we couldn't seem to change the way that we related to one another. And I realized that I'd had enough, that I was done with us, and that it was time for me to move on.