It's ten o'clock on a cold Sunday night
I sit at the desk inside my bedroom, eyes glued to a glowing laptop. Popping the cap on a bottle of beer, I reach out with my hands, settle them onto the laptop keyboard. I give myself over to the addiction: the incessant need to check my email (AOL and Yahoo), my Facebook updates, my Twitter followers, my Myspace comments…
This is the way I rise and fall with each and every day. By updating my life; by being updated by hundreds of other lives. It's also the way I spend a whole lot of hours in between morning and night. Emailing, updating, following, creating, recreating…by feeding the bitch.
What happens when I can't sleep?
I check my email.
I'm startled when my cell phone vibrates on the desktop.
I pick it up, glance at the caller ID. I recognize the name. It's a new name, freshly added to my contacts just 48 hours ago. Let's call her A because that's the first letter of her real name. We met online a week or so ago. Cupid.com I believe it was, although it could have been Plentyoffish.com or Match.com. I belong to them all. Keep on casting your profile into the cyber pond and eventually someone will take the bait. Someone beautiful, smart and employed. A woman who is between 5'0” and 5'8” and of average-to-athletic build. A non-smoker, a social drinker who decidedly does not want children. A woman who enjoys quiet dinners and travel and live bands. A woman between the ages of 34 and 44 who is divorced (not separated) or just plain single. A woman of good humor and free of neurosis.
The phone vibrates in my hand.
It feels sort of good vibrating against the skin on my hand.
For a split second I consider punching Ignore. I'm not much in the mood to talk. I'm not much in the mood to talk on the phone, ever.
I answer the phone.
“This a bad time?”
I sip my beer, sit back in my desk chair. On Facebook, my ex-girlfriend (we'll call her S), has tagged me in a picture snapped when we were still in college.
“Just getting ready for bed,” I say. In the Facebook photo, I'm sitting on a couch beside the lovely blond S. We look incredibly young and hopeful.
My new friend A breaks me out of my spell. She doesn't ask, but tells me to hang on while she heads up to her bedroom.
I obey. What choice do I have? I can either hang on or hang up. Over the phone I hear a half-hearted goodnight to A's live-in mother, then the sound of feet climbing the stair-treads, followed by a check on her six year old son in his bedroom.
“Go to sleep, baby. Nite nite.”
The phone pressed up against my ear, I hear bare feet shuffling on carpet. In my head I picture a narrow hallway inside a cookie-cutter split-level. I hear a door close, and a distinct metal against metal latching noise. I know without having to ask that A's now locked and loaded behind her bedroom door. I'm wondering why she just didn't lock herself in for the night and then call me. Maybe she had something to prove to her mother. Maybe she's acting on impulse. Maybe she's a bit crazy. Maybe it's me who's crazy. Maybe I shouldn't have answered the phone in the first place.
At the same time, I'm picturing the forty-something woman whose photo ID I've memorized from the computer. The dark short hair, the even darker eyes, the slightly crooked but attractive smile.
I wait for her to say something.
“How was your weekend?”
“This is Albany, remember?”
What I really want to tell her is that I tried to kill myself with an overdose of booze and painkillers. But that would be stretching the truth a teensy-weensy bit. The booze and painkillers part is all true. It's just that the actual act of suicide never entered into my head. Not once. Not really.
On Twitter, a Florida woman posts a story about an alligator that ate her puppy dog.
Some A and I back-story: after weeks of cat-and-mouse online conversation, we met face to face for the first time just a few days ago. We “got acquainted” by sharing a cocktail or two and a conversation that transpired more like a job interview. Where did you grow up? Where'd you go to school? How many kids you got? You like your work? Why'd you get divorced? We covered our combined 80 years in the span of a half hour. We covered all the high and low lights. Everything that is, but the truths we decided to leave out. That's the beauty of online dating. You get to edit your life at will.
She's not saying much. But I do hear the rustle of clothing and I know she's getting undressed.
I take another sip of beer. I get new mail on AOL. A note from my band-mate, Davey. Practice on Tuesday and a new show booked for a downtown club on March 13 th .
“What's happening?” I say.
“Getting more comfortable,” she says.
A drawer opens and closes. More rustling. The abrupt coil-like sound of a body lying back on a mattress; a bed board gently hitting the sheetrock wall. But now instead of background noise, I make out breathing. Heavy, rhythmic breathing gradually picking up speed.
“Uh huh,” I say. I ask what she's doing, even though by now it's pretty obvious.
“You gotta ask,” she says like a question
Oh goody, I think. I'm gonna rock out with my cock out.
But a surprising thing happens to me then. A wave of indifference washes over me. What the fuck? I should be honored. I should be into the spontaneity of it all. I'm lucky to have met such a nice woman. Nice, as in a woman who cares enough to share herself with me, even if it is over a cell phone, even if what she's doing is a little out-of-the-Betty-Crocker-norm.
“This is a nice surprise,” I say. But I'm not sure if I sound sincere enough. Just to make myself sound more sincere, I attempt to play along.
I begin to ask her all the standard questions. What kind of underwear she likes to wear; is she completely shaved; is she into threesomes…
“What would we do with another girl?” she muses.
I feel stupid.
I ain't rockin' out and my cock ain't out.
More moaning follows, which culminates with a cry and what is obviously a pillow pressed over her face.
You don't want to wake the kid.
The silence grows more awkward by the second.
Politely she asks me if I finished and I have no choice but to lie.
“Maybe we can have dinner this week,” she says, “and get some of the real thing.”
The real thing. I'm not sure I remember the real thing.
But A sounds satisfied and hopeful. Optimistic even. Welcome to the new world disorder. Facebook, Twitter, phone sex, email sex, text sex. Entire relationships conducted over cellular waves and cyberspace. Why even meet in person? Dig the new media love.
“Yeah,” I say, “I'll call you tomorrow.”
But it's a lie.
She says goodnight, hangs up. If we were sharing a bed, this would be the part where she rolls over onto her side and I roll over onto mine, our backs facing one another like the reconstruction of the Berlin Wall. In the middle, barbed wired no man's land.
The cell is still hot in my hand.
I make a decision then and there.
I punch contacts.
I find her name and number.
I thumb Options.
I punch Erase.
No more A.
I put the phone down, stare at the computer screen, at the AOL news.
Somewhere in New Orleans, a Muslim man has beheaded his wife.
I wonder what's gotten into me? But then I quickly realize that the problem is not what's gotten into me so much as what hasn't gotten out.
It's possible I'm still holding the torch for my wife.
No…allow me to rephrase for the sake of accuracy.
It's possible I still love my ex-wife, “ex” being the key prefix here, since I just can't get used to the concept. Even three and a half years after our official split. Or is it that I'm in love with the idea of my ex-wife; the romance we once shared; the good times; the adventure? Interesting how all the bad—and there was a lot of it—never enters the picture.
Christ, maybe I should just get the hell over it already.
I steal another sip of beer, check the clock.
I pick the phone back up, hit the speed-dial that will connect me to my Ex.
Let's call her L.
She answers wearily, if not groggily.
“I wake you up?”
“You have to ask?”
I feel a strange sensation just hearing her deep voice, knowing that her prone body is lying under the covers, the long smooth dark hair draping the pillow, big brown eyes half open, half closed, her thick lips touching the mouthpiece to the phone that connects to my own and my own lips.
Not so long ago I used to spoon into that body…that real human flesh body. I know how her skin smells after a shower. I know how her hair feels in my fingers. I remember how her lips feel against mine. I know the sound of her breathing when she slips into a deep sleep. I know about her laughter, her anger, her sense of wonder…I know about her tears. I've tasted her tears. I've tasted her.
I remember everything about L and I relive her often. Especially at night.
Only problem is, I'm no longer sure what's real and what's made up. Where does reality stop and fantasy take over?
I feel my heart skip a beat.
“Can I come over?”
She exhales, “Pleeeaaasseee…Vin.”
I feel my throat constrict, my pulse elevate. I feel the onslaught of panic. Why the hell did I have to go and ask her that?
“Sorry,” I say. “I'm sorry…Goodnight.”
I go to tell her I love her, but she's already hung up. The line is dead, all connections terminated. I know she wouldn't return the love anyway. Not at this point. But it still feels good to say it now and again.
I love you.
I love the idea of you.
I love the made up memory of you…of a past we never really shared.
I set the phone back down on the desk, get undressed, slip into bed.
I keep my eyes open, peer out at the darkness.
The infinite, absolute darkness.
I grow weak.
I close my eyes.
I see nothing.
I grow weaker.
I close my eyes, wait for sleep.