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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life

Love Sick
by Eugenio Volpe ||
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By most standards, I am good at everything I do. I can truthfully say this because I have yet to participate in something in which I did not excel. Golf, I hate it, but can shoot an eight under par; without ever having set foot on one, I sailed a boat from Boston to Boothbay Maine, free of incident; always one for the stars, I cultivated an interest for astronomy into a part-time profession, teaching college one night a week, and occasionally publishing an article. The list of accomplishments goes on, but I am not here to brag. As you can see, it makes no difference whether intellectual or physical, the schema of things usually unravel before me upon first experience. It is important to stress that I am not cocky, for my one insecurity prohibits that type of disposition. I am a quiet man, but not out of certitude; rather out of fear that if I say too much, one might discover my destructive flaw. I am not trying to hide the problem behind vague language or a Post-Modern (ouch!) meta-narrative. I will give it to you straight, just the way it is, without any exhausted psychoanalytic terms. Give me a minute. This is hard to say. It's the first time I've said it out loud. Well here it goes: I AM PETRIFIED OF WOMEN. I lust for them. I dream of them. But I cannot talk to, touch, or very much look them in the eyes. Sexually, I have never been with one. When I was thirteen, on a dare, I did feel a breast with a sweaty, pubescent palm, over the bra, in a dark closet. I have convinced my friends that I am shy, old school. They hardly ask anymore.
      Growing up, my brother and I shared the bedroom across from the kitchen. My sister, now happily married with three kids, slept upstairs. Luckily for him, my brother was always a heavy sleeper. Friday and Saturday nights, while my father was out cheating on my mother, she stayed home and complained over the telephone to her closest sister, Aunt Debbie. At first, I enjoyed spying on her conversations. How else could an eight year old boy learn about hysterectomies, or that all the women in his family shared synchronous menstrual cycles, or about his cousin Tina's abortion?
      "Let me tell you," my mother would insist to the person on the other end of the line, "things are changing for the worse in this family." Like most childhood sins, punishment is always inevitable and often accompanied by excessive sentencing. My mother caught me "invading her privacy" numerous times. Looking back, perhaps what she told Aunt Debbie--on a night when she had earlier in the day spanked me for eavesdropping--was purposely intended for my ears to teach me a final lesson. I must note that it was my brother, not me, who insisted on sleeping with the door open. And I dare say that it was my mother's responsibility to have had enough parental wisdom to shut the door after he fell asleep. She would dim the kitchen light as if darkness somehow muted sound. All it really did was conceal my wide-awake face staring through the doorway. She sat at the kitchen table and tinkered with her fingernails using one of those sandpaper sticks. She wore nothing but a red silk bathrobe; her long legs were fully exposed and crossed just before her crotch. Softly, she smoked Merits amidst the shadow of the subdued light bulb. I wondered if she was not setting some type of seductive mood. She dialed the phone and whispered into it, hardly lowering her voice.
      "Where do you think he is? Well you should know. Don't act stupid Deb, I know you went through the same thing with John. What do mean who told me? Who do you think, Cathy. Well, what were you thinking telling her? You know she told Ma. Of course she did! That's why Ma doesn't like John. Anyway, I don't know who he thinks he is, sleeping with all of them. Obviously, he's got nothing left for me when he gets home. Wait! What? Who told you that? Cathy? How would she know? I've never told her anything. Well obviously, she hasn't, because if she did, she'd know it's not big, it's actually pretty damn small. What does it matter how small? It's small. If it's small it's small. What else can I say? Yeah well, I'm sorry too. It's not like he even tries to compensate for it either. Give me a break! He can't even get it up he's such a drunk. What do mean who? Cathy told me!" Every Friday night, for the next few years, my mother would put us to bed, take a bath, put on her robe, dim the kitchen light, and continue ridiculing my father with Aunt Deb. It soon became an amusing topic: an endless source for shared one-liners between dissatisfied sisters. I quickly became sorry that I had ever listened to my mother's "private" conversations. Inevitably, I became obsessed with the size of my penis. Constantly measuring, I kept records of growth. Mysteriously, I would gain a quarter inch one-day, only to lose half an inch two days later. The thing never has, and never will make sense. Between the ages of eight and twelve, barely any detectable difference emerged. It was at the age of eleven that a second event took place, further damaging my already fragile ego.
      A friend had stolen a pornographic movie from his father. The next day, after his mother went grocery shopping (so many adolescent adventures seem to occur when mothers are at the grocery store), we nervously watched the film with one eye, keeping the other outside the window overlooking the driveway. Butterflies pounded their wings on the insides of my stomach. As the music of the opening credits twanged and rumbled in oddly fingered bass chords, I felt the sudden urge to shit. My nerves trembled and I had no idea why. I had never seen a porno before, how did my bowels know? The music? I find that hard to believe. Without warning, the first image magnified my existing vulnerability, coupling it with a new, more visual one. Lengthwise, it took up the entire screen. Gawking in disbelief, my zombie eyes resembled the dazed pupils of the lady's kneeling before the thick hairy man. To a young boy, she looked so pleased, so eager to indulge herself. Her glazed-over stare and the fluttering in my bowels told me that I could never make a woman feel the way she looked. The butterflies turned into moths and began to eat away at the inner lining of my intestines. I held it too long. I could no longer wait. I jumped from the couch headed for the bathroom, but it was too late. I shit my pants in my friend's hallway.
      As I grew older, I avoided the smiles and glances of women, and let me tell you, it was difficult. As I said, the urge is there, and I am not a bad looking man. To this day, there are always offers. High school was easy to get through. I had convinced my father to send me to an all-boys prep school (we could get anything out of him once his affairs became public). College was an entirely different matter. During this period, while spending lots of time alone locked in my dorm, I did become slightly obsessed with my body. The recordings had not yet ceased. Certainly not after senior year of high school when a three inch differential manifested itself on the pages of my charts. "I'm not going to stop now," I insisted to myself. "I've been waiting too long for this type of progress!" Unfortunately, soon after, it stopped growing again. This couldn't have happened at a worse time. We all know the kind of business that goes on in college. During that period, more than ever, I needed confidence. Experimentation saturated campus: girls with girls; boys and boys; girl, girl, boy; girl, girl, girl; and perhaps the most powerful combination of all, boy, boy, girl. Within a month, my roommate began to bring girls back to our dorm room. Just a few feet away, in total darkness, the giggling moans of college girls crossed lines with the memory of my mother's telephone conversations. It was as if the voices spoke over each other, like in a bad tape recording. After a semester of this, I finally concluded that I could never adequately please a woman. Consequently, I promised myself to not partake in the activity at all. Nobody could say that I was not good at it if I never tried.
      Well, that was twenty years ago. Due to a certain fantasy that I have recently conceived, I manage to remain active and avoid loneliness. When I am not hanging with the guys on the weekends, I spend my free time alone, renting movies or surfing the web. I enjoy a safe means of entertainment, where I dictate the outcome. She likes it that way, the one who visits on my terms. Some men like to include a multiplicity of gorgeous faces, usually involving women they have seen on the pages and screens of various media. I find that a bit unrealistic. All those models and actresses, it's just so unbelievable that it makes me laugh. No, not me, I am a one-woman man.
      I met her at an astronomy seminar. As I gave a presentation, she sat in the front row staring at me. Afterwards, she told me that she enjoyed my work and invited me out for a bite to eat.
      Uncharacteristically, I agreed. Over dinner, the conversation flowed freely. The connection that occurred, and there was no denying the vibes, was purely intellectual. Don't get me wrong, she was a beautiful woman. However, besides a couple of sweeping glances, I still lacked the courage to look her in the eyes. Everything was going perfectly, and at one point, I miraculously drew the strength to touch her hand across the table. For a couple of hours, I foolishly believed that maybe it could work. She insisted on paying for dinner, and as we waited for separate taxis, hers pulling up to the curb first, the butterflies in my stomach returned as she placed the gentlest of all kisses on my cheek. "I'll call you," she said. The burning in my stomach intensified. I could hardly wait for her cab to drive away before I ran back into the restaurant to flush the nervous energy from my system. While sitting on the toilet, tears ran down my face. I realized that it was impossible. She loved me, and as I looked down between my bent knees, I knew that I would only disappoint her. I never saw the real her again.
      In another way, I still see her every night, but she doesn't know it. During intercourse, she never looks me in the eyes. It's not a domination thing. I never had to ask. She prefers it that way. I cannot truly say if she has eyes. I have never seen them, or much of her face for that matter. After making love, we take long walks together. It is good to get off the couch, and enter the city while it sleeps. Strolling through narrow back alleys, we talk about what else, the stars. We only talk about them because one never sees stars in a city. Downtown Providence consists of labyrinthine streets inhabited by druggies, the homeless, gypsies, and pushers; doorways stink of urine; a potential crime lurks around every corner; she clutches my arm with hers as we weave in and out of the granite footpaths along the river. Once the orange tint of dawn stains the nighttime air, we head back home and sleep until noon. I know everything about her, and she knows all about my little idiosyncrasy. She doesn't mind if I watch a film to enhance our sex life. As long as she gets hers, she is content. Work is never an issue; I am a self-employed marketing consultant. Besides, I'm not the type of guy who lets a job interfere with romance. We make love three or four times a day, depending on how much work I have. When work demands that I travel, she always comes. We both love to stalk the streets of a new city. It's really not a bad life.
      Sometimes, I think she gets remorseful when I leave her at home to go visit my brother and sister. But I know that bringing her there in front of all my nieces and nephews might make her feel odd. When I come home, I lie to her, saying how bratty the kids were and she smiles and says, "It's a good thing we're not strapped down like that." As she takes off her blouse, I stroke her hair in agreement and smile back.
      "Yeah, it's a good thing we only need each other."

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