Once a week, Daily Intel takes a peek behind doors left slightly ajar. This week, the Grieving Feminist Contemplating Sex For the First Time After Her Partner’s Death: Female, 44, Seattle, writer, straight, single.
8 a.m. This morning, like all of them, is hard. The Climber and I were together on-and-off 21 years and were best friends. While I’ve mostly adjusted to his death, I still want to tell him everything. We trusted one another, cracked each other up and had phenomenal sex, regardless of our ups and downs. When we were on breaks, we each slept with other people but were open about it with each other. It was atypical, but worked for us. So each morning, I ask myself, “Do you want to do this one more day?” As more time lapses, it’s easier to answer yes.
9:15 a.m. I’ve showered, done my hair and makeup, and I take my dog for a walk. A professor-type smiles at me and I smile back, which is a big step. I’m usually perceived as attractive and, as a feminist, I know I shouldn’t care, but on a practical level, it’s feeling fun and useful again. As the grief keeps subsiding, I’ve resumed not looking like a hobo. For months after The Climber died, I swathed myself in hats, sunglasses and scarves and was the embodiment of asexuality. Briefly flirting with the Professor feels like a victory. When The Climber died, my life and sexuality were radically altered overnight. But I am regaining them in tiny increments, which is the unholy paradox of it all.
10:15 a.m. I head with my laptop to the coffee shop across the street and set up my computer. A guy who resembles a young Ben Harper sets up his laptop at the adjacent table. He smiles at me and, unlike with The Professor, not only do I return the smile, but I want to drag him to the nearby restroom and grind him against the wall. He is lovely and has that je ne sais quoi. Young Ben Harper and I continue to smile and make eye contact while we work and it’s one of those perfect three-hour relationships. Nothing can go awry because we don’t know each other. And that’s delightful right now.
3 p.m. I drop by a favorite pub for a late lunch/early dinner. Most of the straight guys are drunk, but a woman in her eighties at a nearby table asks what I’m reading. I show her and compliment her vintage brooch. We chat pleasantly as we wait for our meals and I admire her vitality. I want to ask if she once lost a partner, but I don’t, of course. It’s none of my business and, also, it’s probable that if she’s elderly and eating solo, she lost someone along the way. I genuinely enjoy our exchange and when she leaves, I wish her a good evening. She gives me hope.
5 p.m. I return home and make dinner for the pup. Then I set up my laptop in bed and resume writing until 11. Tonight, my vagina is an afterthought.
10 a.m. I return from walking the dog and dive back to my keyboard. A dozen writers are going out tonight and I’m looking forward to the evening. For most of the past couple of years, when I’ve socialized, it has been because I “should.” But lately, I go out because I want to and am swimming with the tide instead of against it.
7:15 p.m. I have CFIDS, a condition similar in many ways to M.S., and am often unable to drive. The cab driver who ferries me to tonight’s bar is likable and has driven me many times previously. He recently remarried at 57 and has been encouraging during the past two years. He says I look better and that my eyes are brighter than before. He didn’t think he’d fall in love again but he’s never been happier. He shares this in a way that makes both of us feel good. I tip him well and arrive at the bar in an upbeat mood.
11:45 p.m. I spend four hours laughing harder than I have in months. When I arrive, friends note how good I look and I take it as a compliment but also wonder how far gone I appeared over the past two years. By doing my hair, wearing mascara and not hiding my figure under burqa-like scarves, I’m engendering much praise. Part of me wonders if they’re thinking, “You don’t look like a sewer rat anymore. High five!” The men tonight are married, but it makes things simpler. I’m adjusting to talking to new men and married ones are easier because they’re off limits and safe. The bar’s back entryway has been converted to resemble female sex organs. The hall is the vagina, the curtains are draped to resemble labia and atop the doorjamb sits a white plaster clitoris. It’s ridiculous, but weirdly fitting.
7 a.m. The pup wakes me by traipsing from his side of the bed and placing his paws on my chest. I brought him home nearly a year after The Climber died, when I was feral with grief. Until then, I’d wrapped one of The Climber’s unwashed shirts in one of mine, kept it on his side of the bed and slept next to it most of the first year. After the dog moved in, I sheathed The Climber’s shirt in plastic and added it to the antique trunk where I store his things. When I began sleeping next to the dog, I began actually sleeping again. This morning he wakes with unusual urgency. I place him on the carpet and he races to his pads in the living room. Poor little guy is sick. After he has expelled everything but his lower intestine, I clean him thoroughly and he drags himself back to bed. He won’t leave my side. I stay in and work with him next to me. He saved my life once. He’s worth it.
11 p.m. Both wound up and exhausted after a long day, I attempt masturbating in bed after the dog falls asleep. The times I’ve tried this previously, he has woken up. But I’m too tired to get out of bed and commence things quietly while keeping still as possible. He wakes anyway. I head to the bathroom to finish. It’s just too weird otherwise. From the lower drawer, I retrieve my vibrator. Purchased on a recommendation from Babeland years ago, it is quite effective, but its purple color never ceases to amuse me. I suppose its hue circumvents all notions of race, but still: sometimes it feels like I’m having sex with an alien’s peen.
7:45 a.m. The dog wakes me and is his usual healthy self. I make him breakfast, walk him and when we return home, I grab some soy yogurt and dive back to work, with him curled at my side. I’m attending a colleague’s reading tonight.
4 p.m. A neighbor buzzes me from the downstairs front entrance. He just found out that a water main broke several blocks south. I thank him for the info. He asks me if the interrupted water service has inconvenienced me and I laugh and I say I might look grungier than I’d planned at my friend’s reading tonight. He stammers and asks if I want to attend a reading with him on Saturday. I’m caught off guard because we’ve never spent time together and I barely consider him an acquaintance. Still talking over the buzzer, Awkward Neighbor Guy keeps trying to convince me to join him. I politely decline. I know this will make future elevator encounters weirder. But I’ve now been asked out over a buzzer, which is charmingly retro and oddly flattering.
7 p.m. Colleague’s reading is hilarious and packed. As expected, several other colleagues and friends are here and afterward, some of us catch up. One asks me to emcee an upcoming event and I’m pleased. Unlike Tuesday night’s gathering, I’m the only woman in tonight’s group. We talk shop and there’s a playful energy. Again, all the guys are married, so it’s easy to relax because nothing hangs in the balance. While this isn’t useful for the longterm, at the moment, it’s fun.
7:30 a.m. The dog wakes me and I make him breakfast. I realize I’m paying for doing so much during recent weeks. I’m extremely symptomatic and ill. I’ve always been autonomous and after having said illness for 20 years, I’m used to taking care of myself and do so efficiently and without self-pity. I make myself breakfast and take my morning medications, but the pain, dizziness and near-paralytic fatigue are crushing. I lie down with the dog and fall back asleep. I dream about The Climber and can’t figure out why we haven’t talked today. I have this dream about once a week and when I wake, there’s that five-second lag where I still have to remind myself he’s dead. I’m moving forward and leading a much richer life, but I never stop missing him. I have to walk with crutches today and keep things low-key.
4 p.m. I hobble to the neighborhood sandwich shop. The Climber and I ate here all the time and, as with everywhere we frequented, I neither sidestep it nor hover. We were intertwined in some form for over two decades and our tastes overlapped. So even if I wanted to avoid places we went together, it would mean avoiding places I genuinely like, regardless of their association with him.
5:30 p.m. Back home and in bed with the dog curled on his side. Check my email and someone I had a crush on years ago has sent a pleasant missive. In the midst of some funny anecdotes, he mentions he’s single now. I don’t imbue the email with any deeper meaning. But in recent weeks, I’ve been letting friends know I’m ready to date again. Maybe he got word of this or maybe the timing is coincidental. I reply lightheartedly and enjoy a playfulness that had gone missing until recently.
8 a.m. The dog wakes me and we go through our morning routine. I’m still quite sick, but more ambulatory than yesterday.
9:45 a.m. I haul my laptop to the coffee shop across the street and get back to work. Young Ben Harper is here again. And — bonus! — I’m dressed like a sexual being. Despite feeling like a two-ton anvil has fallen on my head, I look vivacious. When he gets up to refill his water glass, he recognizes me from the other day and grins. My desire to grind him against a wall increases.
7:15 a.m. A close friend is having major surgery tomorrow and I’m worried. That’s all I think about as I make breakfast for the dog and for me. Even before The Climber died, I’d never been in denial of death. But this person is like a sibling and I’m terrified of losing another loved one so soon after The Climber.
Noon: I awake from a nap in which I told The Climber our friend is sick. I stay calm. I’ll handle the facts as they unfold. I don’t feel sexual today, but an electricity and giddiness have threaded most of the week. I’m becoming myself again, albeit a new version. For the first time in over two years, I want to be with someone. That’s got to be how it starts.
TOTALS: One exchanged smile with The Professor; two barely suppressed urges to grind Young Ben Harper against a wall; two nights of benign flirting; one dog-waking act of masturbation finished by an alien-penis vibrator; one rejected date offer; one email from Once and Possible Future Crush; two dreams of The Climber.