I look around and everyone is obviously a lizard wearing human clothing. So many parties. So many lizards. I’m drinking. My girlfriend is in the other corner of the party, not drinking.
I am currently a part of a little congregation that is discussing gluten (I thought gluten was a thing of the past, that it was embarrassing to talk about gluten now, but perhaps gluten has been around for so long that it went out of style and came back. I have no idea).
My girlfriend walks up to us and wraps her arm around my waist. “I told Tommy to grow a moustache,” she says to a woman named Belle who hasn’t eaten gluten in four years. Belle smiles at my moustache.
“It’s porny but it makes him look younger, I think,” my girlfriend giggles.
“Frank won’t even grow a beard,” says Belle.
“We are going to the Forester-Munchausen wedding next Sunday. You guys are coming, right?”
Belle says, “No, no. It’s a shame. Frank has a thing.”
“Tommy hates weddings,” my girlfriend pats me on the back. Pat pat pat pat pat.
My girlfriend’s name is Karen. It is true that I hate weddings. I avoid them. But I had recently disappointed Karen by not showing up for her run. Karen runs for causes. Originally, I told her to RSVP for one, but after the missed cause-run, I told her I would go to the wedding, too.
So we’re going to the wedding.
“I’m going to get another soda,” Karen says.
Besides weddings, there are many other things that I had refused to do in the past but do now: brunches, Pilates, park games like as Frisbee. I now play Frisbee with Karen and another couple, Ryan and Lisa, who also often accompany us to brunch. At least twice a month, I stand in a lineup with childless, tattooed people sweating out alcohol vapours—all of us waiting for eggs. Karen’s favourite are eggs Benedict with Hollandaise sauce. Decaf latte. No bread because Karen also doesn’t eat gluten, although it’s only been a year or so. Karen also doesn’t drink. She has also beaten her anxiety disorder by engaging in various physical activities that require her to wear stretchy-sexy fabrics that make me want to go at her but I don’t go at her. She has slapped my hand away once and once she patted me on the back when I grabbed her ass: pat pat pat pat pat.
Karen is a reformed slut. She is preparing herself to become a good wife. And I am preparing myself to jump off a bridge. I will not leave a note. I will not leave a note that will read that I think of Sadie all the time now. Sadie will know why I jumped, if she ever finds out, wherever she is, the place from which she sent me an email telling me what it was like, shaming me into remembering what it was like before I had become a brunch-eater, a wedding-attender, a Frisbee-thrower, a man with moustache that makes him look younger.
She wrote that research shows that it takes between 90 seconds and four minutes to decide if you’re attracted to someone. It had been more than two minutes since I had approached her that night in the bar when we met and she knew right away that she wanted to be with me.
On Saturday that week, Sadie kept checking her phone. She wrote: like a girl in a movie waiting by the phone.
On Sunday, we kissed for the first time, on the sidewalk outside an Italian restaurant. I was wearing a leather jacket. The shiny surface of it was peeling; the jacket was ageing and she liked pressing herself against its roughness. She wrote that she was mad about my ex-girlfriend. I had said the ex-girlfriend had golden hair like hers. She was younger like Sadie was, I had said. I had said some other things about my ex-girlfriend and Sadie wrote that in that moment, she had wished she had an ex-boyfriend she could talk about to get back at me.
She wrote our first kiss was like a slap, like hate. It wasn’t a bad thing that she was still mad—filled the kiss with adrenaline. She was already starting to love me and she had this thought—she read somewhere later that it wasn’t so uncommon for women to have these thoughts—that I was the man she would like to have children with.
She didn’t tell me that she was a virgin. She didn’t tell me that she never really dated in high school—she told me the opposite, that she was promiscuous. Most of the stories she told me were Karen’s stories. She told me a Karen story about doing acid, sitting in bed with two naked guys—neither of whom was her boyfriend—and watching a science-fiction movie in which Brad Pitt was locked up in an insane asylum.
She wrote that sometimes she would get herself off after our chaste dates, picturing what it would be like when we would finally go to bed. She wondered how many women I had slept with, but she never asked. But she wondered: any students? She wasn’t jealous; she was hoping that the number was high because that would mean I was a real prize. Before she met me, it felt as if nothing important had ever happened to her, so taming an older, accomplished man like me would be an accomplishment itself.
She never found out that I wasn’t much of a playboy: there was one high-school sweetheart, three semi-long-term relationships before her, and a few one-night stands. No students other than her.
In any case, our dates had to be chaste because in the beginning, I was still a professor at her university and there were rules against that kind of thing. We played friends.
We hung out in dark bars, drank beers out of pitchers. There was always a notebook on the table, which we kept there the whole time in case somebody saw us together; with the notebook, we could say we were just discussing her thesis.
“I really want you,” I would say to her after a few beers. I really wanted her.
She wrote that she walked around lightheaded from being wanted like that. For the first time in her life, she was no longer invisible. She wrote that it was as if I had conjured her. She was like the velveteen rabbit from the book. The stuffed animal that becomes real by being loved by its owner.
But she was still a fantasy, even to herself. That was why she made up stories about dating in high school.
She wrote about a time when she bought a bra and panties set with a Mickey Mouse print and washed it over and over till it thinned and looked old.
She pulled the set out of her knapsack on one of our chaste dates when we went outside for a cigarette. She told me that’s what she was wearing when she lost her virginity to a drug dealer who lived in the hotel above a club where she partied on “Diaper Night”—a night for underage kids and the perverts who loved them.
In reality, she heard about “Diaper Night” and the drug dealer from Karen, who dated the drug dealer until he went to jail for assaulting the busboy at the club.
She wrote that I said that it was kind of hot and so weird that she would show me that, the set. I asked if I could keep the set.
I still have it, in the storage unit. I don’t care what happens to the unit after I jump off the bridge.
The night she gave me the set, she wrote, we made out for the first time, beside some dumpster, behind a bar, like teenagers. I slipped my finger inside her.
By the time we had sex, she tried to learn everything there was to know about sex. She found online porn too artificial to learn from, even though she’d get turned on and would often get herself off. But she read that sex was about pleasure, that it could be romantic but also filthy and the best combination was of both. She learned that you could lick someone’s ass and kiss them and then tell them you loved them. You could talk dirty. Who’s my little slut? That sort of thing appealed to her.
She thought briefly, she wrote, of asking me if I would slap her while we had sex. She didn’t want to be slapped, but Karen said guys were always shocked when she would ask them to do weird stuff and most of them did it and would seem impressed and scared. Sadie wanted to impress and scare me. She felt that asking to be slapped would give her power. She didn’t like that most of the time it seemed like I had all that power over her.
In the end, she didn’t ask me to slap her. She was overwhelmed by what was happening when we finally had sex. I went down on her and then I penetrated her and she wrote that it wasn’t painful at all. She was afraid of pain, but there was none. Just a little pressure inside and something gave in with a tiny sigh.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I supposedly said when we woke up.
In the sharp light of morning, the blood on the white sheets looked beautiful, like smeared flowers, she wrote. She forgot about this part. Blood. How could she have forgotten about this part?
“I didn’t know how to come clean. Not that this is clean,” she supposedly said.
“Why did you lie?” I said.
She didn’t say anything.
“Never mind,” I said and pulled her close and held her till her face stopped burning and till she relaxed in my arms.
“You love me,” I said.
“I love you,” she said.
“Good,” I said. She wrote that I sounded as if I had won something. “Yeah, I love you, too,” I said at exactly the same moment she was going to ask if I loved her.
“Now I have to take care of you,” I told her, she wrote, and pulled her close and squeezed her until she asked me to stop and I relaxed my arms but didn’t let her go.
She wrote me all of that but nothing else. No accusations, no blaming. By not accusing or blaming, she punished me perfectly. She didn’t have to write that it was clichéd how I ended up with her best friend.
The morning after the party, Karen is still in bed, foregoing her morning run. I look around our apartment. It is a beautiful apartment. Karen curated our apartment out of carefully chosen JPEGs of bourgeoise orgasms on Pinterest before bringing it to life.
The bed has a canopy, a net preventing non-existent mosquitoes from getting inside.
“Karen, come here,” I say. “Take off these stupid pajamas.”
“No,” she yawns and turns away. We are separated by the iceberg of a duvet.
“Okay then,” I reach for her to pull her closer and she lets me. I drag her across the iceberg.
I squeeze her, hard. So hard I hope she dies.
She says, “Monster,” and falls back asleep. I don’t fall asleep.
When I finally do fall asleep, it’s the same nightmare—or dream—that I often have. It’s of Sadie patting me on the back: pat pat pat pat pat.
Jowita Bydlowska was born in Warsaw, Poland and moved to Canada as a teenager. She has published two books: a bestselling memoir, Drunk Mom (2013), and a critically acclaimed novel, GUY (2016). She’s had more than 20 short stories published in various magazines and journals. Most recently, her story “Funny Hat” was chosen for Best Canadian Short Stories 2017. As a journalist, she writes about culture, social issues, and mental health, and has been published in many national and international publications. Bydlowska is also a photographer. She hates writing about herself in third person, but there you have it.