4.12 / December 2009

Men at Work

Not using protection, that’s why I first noticed him. From upstairs where I was working out. He was in the street. The street is always getting dug up.

I brought him around to the patio to show him the scat. He said it was ravens. I said I’d never seen ravens on the patio.

I didn’t use to look at guys that way before, comparing, not until I started working out. Working out was all I could manage in the afternoons. Mornings were tolerable, but in the afternoons I got the jitters. I was detoxing. Jittery and cold all the time. I worked out in my insulating layers all afternoon and didn’t break a sweat.

I saw it as an opportunity: he was off by himself. His bosses conferred. He sat on the curb and ate a sandwich. I went downstairs, my plan to stop and say one sentence, no sound.

Outside, I looked at myself in the door. I’d been detoxing for sixteen weeks and hadn’t bulked up at all. My arms hung loose in the sleeves of my tee.

First, though, I practiced. I paced around the apartment speaking without a sound coming out of my mouth. Saying, This is what your future will be if you don’t use protection. I tried it in front of the bathroom mirror. This is what your future will be… it was convincing.

Inside the apartment I kept the a.c. off and still I shivered though I wore two insulating layers, expedition weight, plus two heavy wool sweaters, frayed from the heavy usage of the last sixteen weeks.

On my mattress on the floor I held my left arm straight up toward the ceiling. He lay on top of the down quilt. I held my arm tight and still and asked him if he was impressed. My hand shook. I commanded my hand to be still and it shook impressively. I told him that my detox physician wasn’t impressed.

He took my hand and put it on his cock and asked me if I was impressed.

I answered him without a sound coming out of my mouth. This had become our little running joke. It was getting old.

He wanted to try a sample of what I was getting myself off of. Just to know what I’d gone through. I told him that if he wanted to know what I’d gone through he would have to ruin himself first. I said, I take the risk of hitting on you in the middle of the street, and you want to turn around and ruin yourself? He was already ruining himself by not using protection. He still wasn’t using protection. For the last time I said, without making a sound, this is what your future will be if you don’t use protection.

The pharmacy that packaged the goods was sloppy. One time they didn’t have enough blue so they filled the vial with as much blue as they had and put cotton on top. On top of the cotton they crammed in the rest, yellow. When I opened the top with my shaky hand, yellow went flying everywhere. I was down on my knees picking yellow out of the dust, sweeping with a wooden spoon under the refrigerator for yellow.

After a few weeks I lost interest, short attention span, the usual. He kept stopping by to check up on me. He brought me insulating layers that he couldn’t fit into because he’d bulked up so much.

I was careful, I counted every two weeks when the sloppy pharmacy refilled. I made sure that the number inside matched the number on the outside.

I got a little sloppy myself as I neared the starting line. This was what they warned you about, the last weeks, when you’re stoked about the detox coming to an end, or just after, post-detox. You get sloppy. I doubled up. I made a bad call. I had someone over and when he left I looked up someone I knew I shouldn’t be looking up.

When I awoke the first thing I did was count.

I opened the vial and spread out the blue on a sheet of paper towel. I made days. I could tell I was short before I counted but I counted and recounted. Then I reconfigured the days to see what I was up against, what I would have to do without. I was at the stage where I couldn’t go to an appointment and give some lame excuse. I hurt, I was cold, and now I’d shorted myself just when I needed all the help I could get.

I spoke to the mirror without making a sound: You’ve made your bed and now you have to lie in it. In my insulating layers and two sweaters I looked gaunt, my face shrunken, deep hollows around my eyes.

I stretch out on the bathmat with my arms as far as they’ll reach, shaking just the way I did as a little girl.