“Ah, but the pain is exquisite…” says your look when I ask why you bother with her — that woman, who fucks other women in your own bed, who quit pretending in ’04, the last motel receipt tucked in her wallet’s worn and not-so-secret compartment (you found it in ’03) dated months before, the sheets on the guest room bed no longer ending up inexplicably in the wash once a month (you only have guests a few times a year, and they never sweat when they sleep), the sheets on your own bed smelling of strangers and lust your girlfriend says she doesn’t have time for when you beg.
Her lies are so poorly concealed, they’ve ceased to be lies.
So why bother? I wonder, regarding your metal-studded flesh — you put a hole in your body each time you find out about her and them. Sometimes you do it on purpose. Sometimes you go out drinking with friends, get drunk, fall into rough company and end up the next day home (heaven only knows how) with another ring in the cartilage of your already heavy ears, a small knot of hypoallergenic stainless steel wedged into your navel. She doesn’t seem to notice. She doesn’t seem to care. And weren’t both she and you surprised when she proved the warmth beneath your wiry patch and found your clit sore and shining, that memorable morning after…
You said you rolled over to face her, your pillow smelling like someone new, and told her you never thought she’d find it so fast.
You never thought she’d find it at all.
But find it she did, and she remembered where that aching part of you lived. Whether finger fucking you out of guilt or comfort or retribution or distraction, you admitted —
“That morning, she was still good.”
And you made her promise before you let her come, that no matter what, she would never bring a man into your bed.
She agreed, gritting her teeth at the brink of her pleasure, but her look afterward suggested she already had.
At least you never found birth control in her wallet.
“That’s some comfort,” you say, slugging back two fingers of JD.
Ah, but the pain is exquisite, says your smile, as you stick out your tongue and show me the silver balls protruding from top and bottom of your tongue.
“Maybe this will get her back,” you say, declining coffee and snacks from the waitress who brings my brunch. “Nothing like a little hard ball on the tip of your tongue to drive women wild.”
The girl standing ready with her pad and pen, ready to take your order, admires the stud implanted in your muscle and shows you her latest eyebrow ring. It’s almost healed, and the red bead on its wire sets off her green eyes.
“Did it hurt?” you ask.
“Like hell,” she grimaces.
“Cool,” you say, and she leaves with a smile.
I just look at you, and you meet my gaze evenly. “It’s the price you pay,” you say, and when I ask pay for what?, you shrug and suggest that if I’d be able to sustain a relationship longer than three years, myself, I’d know what you mean. What kind of relationship? I wonder aloud, skeptical and pissed off that you’re going to ruin my brunch with some kind of martyr’s monologue on the sacrifices you make for love, a love that’s one-sided as an interrogation room’s mirror, where you’re looking in-in-in all the time at your lover’s transgressions, and she fools herself into thinking that her inability to see beyond the smoky, faded mirror that boxes her in, makes her as invisible to you, as your suffering is to her.
“Pain is all part of the pleasure,” you shrug, peeling away the label of my orange juice bottle. “My dad went through it, in the years he was with my ma, and I guess I’m no different,” you say gingerly, your words a little slurred by your disabled tongue. “In all the years they were together, my dad took a lot of shit from mom. That’s what happens when you get with a woman and you find out you want to spend the rest of your life with her.”
“I thought you couldn’t stand your pop,” I said, sawing at the sausage on my plate.
“He had his points,” you say, scraping the label off in strips. “I just couldn’t always see them before.”
I met your father once. He was as covered in tattoos as you were pierced — at least three of his tattoos had your ma’s name on them. I couldn’t understand his devotion to his mate, either, for even in the close-mouthed parts of town, it was rumored that each of you kids had a different dad. Your pop was a merchant marine who sailed around the world twice a year to put food on the table, while your ma warmed her buns in many beds. The best thing I’d ever heard you say about him before that morning, was that he’d been a good provider. Your pop got killed on the docks a couple years ago, while unloading cargo, or something like that. You never told me the exact details — just that he and your ma were together for thirty-some years. Right after he died, you told me you hated the sea. When I reminded you he died on dry land, you said you hated dry land, too.
Ah, but your pain is exquisite. I’m home alone, on the phone with you for the third time this week. She hasn’t been home much for the last month, and you’re killing time till the sun rises, this hazy Saturday morning. You’re out of body parts to pierce, and you’re discussion your options in tattoos. I try to steer you away from any more physical alterations for this bitch. You’ve changed enough already.
“Leave her, ditch her, come away with me,” I say. “What good is she to you, anyway?”
You struggle under the blanket of your all-night drinking and say again and again and again, you made a commitment to her. In the forest, in the glen you’d both been led to, wearing your ceremonial garb, with vows in hand and only the Goddess and Mother Earth for witnesses. You took a vow. You made a promise. The only thing worse than this, would be breaking your promise. No matter what she does to you, you won’t do that to her.
“Fuck her,” I say, “she hasn’t kept her side of the bargain. Make a promise to me. I’ll make one to you, and you know I’ll keep it.”
But you’re not listening to what’s been in front of you for months, now. You’re keeping to the high road and not listening to me urge you that things will be better somewhere else. With someone else.
“Why should I?” you ask. “What’s wrong with the way things are now?”
If only my pain were so exquisite.