by David Mitchell
Editor’s note: this is the fourth in a series of planned installments from David Mitchell’s Fulfillment. You can read part one here, part two here, and part three here.
The Bible only seems to describe Heaven negatively. Paul specifically says, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” When asked why he couldn’t bring himself to finish the Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas replied, “Compared to what I have seen, all that I have written is straw.” When we think of Dante, we usually just think of his Inferno. Perhaps the reason we forget Dante’s Paradiso is because he makes a similar switch to negative description. His vision of Hell still retains its power to disturb and fascinate us, because, in our feeble imaginations, infinite love and joy can’t compete with finite horror and despair. Much of the language in the Paradiso describes the bittersweet experience of not being able to describe Heaven, only the sweetness that has been distilled in the heart of the pilgrim.
I doubt anything I write here will do justice to the one who calls herself Losang. Never within the dimness of my weak imagination could I have conceived a universe in which she existed at all, let alone one where she would willingly come skipping into my gloomy little world long enough to rub some of her stardust off on me. She made me think my pessimism was silly. She was a little like the Oracle in that respect, except younger, shorter, goofier, and I have no idea how their sex drives would compare. Many to whom I’ve told this story have little sympathy for her. That means that either I’m missing something obvious or I’ve failed to communicate what she meant to me.
Thursday morning of March 20th, 2008, I was having breakfast in the kitchen. I had to leave soon, because I had a train to catch. I was wearing a Manowar t-shirt. Specifically, it was for the Hell on Earth IV tour of 2005, during which I saw them with Serissa and some of my friends at the Worcestor Palladium. This was easily the cheesiest and most sexist t-shirt I owned. It had the leering, cartoonish image of a scaly devil raising high his pitch fork, and four naked succubi at his feet. My mother always hated it.
“Are you sure you want to wear that?” she grimaced, “She might not like that.”
“She’s a metal head, mom. Like me.”
“Well, I’m just telling you if I saw you wearing that, I’d have a bad impression.”
“Well good then!”
As if I were looking to date my mother!
“From what you told me about her she sounds . . . immature for her age. And vulgar.”
I only grinned. Of course, there was a limit as to how much I could tell my mother and sister about Losang. They were both a little protective of me, and sometimes I got the impression that being the youngest member of the family, they subconsciously wanted to keep me mired in some sort of asexual pre-pubescent hinterland. Neither seemed comfortable with the notion that the little brother or youngest child was a ravenous satyr. “Be sure you marry a virtuous woman,” my mother warned me, as if her oblique didacticisms had bearing on anything that happened to me.
Some part of me would always remain incomprehensible to my father, but at least he left me alone most of the time. He only gave me one vaguely embarrassed warning that a woman in her 30’s was likely to be more experienced and looking for something different. I didn’t know what he thought my tastes in women were. Come to think of it, I’m not entirely sure if he thought I slept on the floor during the nights I spent at Serissa’s apartment.
I had little taste for girly girls anyway, and after Serissa, I certainly had no taste for younger and inexperienced girls. I loved sexually aggressive women, if only because they put me at ease by making their desire known. I disliked being the aggressor. And of course I had my prejudices, too. I was certain a church-going ingénue saving herself for marriage would have her feet on the ground, her eyes on the horizon, and be looking for a more conventional man. She would probably have a height requirement too. Or else she would be pleasant, but so naïve that dating her would make me feel guilty. What if she looked around my room and saw the fanciful, semi-erotic, tongue-in-cheek tip-in plates from Heavy Metal magazine above my closet, which both my mother and sister detested, and said, “Eww! What kind of a creepy, nerdy, pervert is he?” Anyone so girlishly shallow obviously wouldn’t be worth the effort. I may have worshipped the same god as the people at my church, but that didn’t mean I had much in common with them.
My mother and sister Monica warned me to be cautious, because as all sensible people know, the Internet is primarily inhabited by perverts and serial killers. I didn’t really “know” Losang, you see, so I was not to enter her house or bring her into Monica’s apartment while I was cat-sitting for her. She was extremely skeptical that any woman her age could be interested in me given that I still needed to live at home and was struggling to find out what I wanted to do with my life.
I did tell them a few things, though. I told them Losang was a good person, deeply spiritual, and that she cared about me. I told them that the chemistry between us was powerful and immediate. I told them that each of us admired the faith in the other, and when the two of us spoke about religion, it was as if we were completing each other’s sentences in different languages. I told them that I loved hearing her talk about her religion, even if I didn’t understand or agree with what she was saying, and that I disagreed a lot less than I thought I would. I told them that I would rather date a pious Buddhist than a cynical twice-a-year Christian. All of those things were completely true. I just left out the part about how when I asked Losang what she wanted to do on Thursday, she replied with only one word: “You.”
Of course, some part of me was nervous. I had to take everything Losang said with a grain of salt since I had yet to meet her, even though she told me that karma can sometimes accelerate the progress of relationships. I’d already had a few sour experiences of meeting unusually forward girls online and then being disappointed in person. The first told me that I was too nice and that she would have felt guilty taking my virginity away from me (as if that were something my 21-year-old self would have valued), the second was unlikely to have been a good match for me anyway, but I was too naïve to have known that.
The night before, I felt my excitement turn to anxiety. This was a force Losang would later tell me was called attachment. Out of habit, I found myself shuffling the cards of my Tarot deck. I didn’t claim to be a diviner, and I was extremely skeptical about Tarot cards to begin with. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by the powerful web of symbolism within them, so before I knew it I found myself poring over the quaint, colored pencil illustrations of the Hansen-Roberts deck on the floor of my bedroom whenever I was concerned about something. The more agitated I was, the more negative the spread. Sometimes the spread laid my thoughts out rather clearly. Other times, it was of no help. Occasionally, the deck itself even seemed to mock me or suggest that I was wasting my time consulting it. But somehow, the more I did it the better I became at understanding the strange dream logic of Tarot symbolism.
A Tarot spread is the ultimate Rorschach test. I found that I made fairly accurate readings about other people, and infuriatingly vague readings about myself. I successfully predicted, for example, that my ex would find herself in another relationship about a month before I heard the news from a friend. The spreads I made later were unclear and contradictory. One suggested the relationship would be short, another that she would end up marrying him (the most recent spread has strongly suggested the former). I had no idea what sort of person Serissa’s new boyfriend was, but I didn’t want to know, and I pitied the poor fool. Every time I asked a question about Serissa, the Queen of Swords showed up somewhere in the spread. This card denoted an intelligent, witty, and cold woman. If reversed (and she frequently was), it accentuated her worst qualities.
This time, I asked about my future meeting with Losang, using the Celtic cross spread. The last card I drew, the most important card of the spread, was the Fool. I blinked for a moment. I was hoping for something more obvious, like the Empress or the Lovers. The Fool is the first card in the Major Arcana, and he represents a new beginning. He is infinite potential, fearlessly heading out into the unknown, and having faith in the future. He is innocent, but in the best possible way. He is child-like, but adult. He tells you to take a chance. I closed my eyes and smiled, feeling my anxiety turn back into excitement.
I was standing outside of the Red Line station in Somerville, at Davis Square, when I met her. I’d only seen one picture of Losang on the net, and the quality wasn’t very good, so I didn’t know what to expect. She stood barely five feet tall, and the blonde dye in her hair I’d seen from her photo had all but faded to a few streaks in a nest of brown. She peered out at me from under a hoodie. Her face looked vaguely Jewish to me, though she told me later that she was French and Italian, not that any of it made a difference to me in the slightest. Her eyes were dark and hypnotic, her nose and mouth were large, her chin was dimpled, and there was a certain insouciance about her which made me smile almost immediately. In person she also giggled as randomly as she did over the phone. She even stuck her tongue out randomly. And she talked nearly nonstop.
It was too cold and windy to go anywhere in Somerville, so we headed inside, to her house, where I quickly learned that she happened to live only one street away from my sister, beyond the bike trail that I normally walked on. It was around 1:30 PM and she told me her mother would be coming home at 5:00, but that she also would likely not approve of bringing me into the house for the same reasons my mother and sister didn’t want her to enter theirs.
The house itself was as cozy and beautiful as the rest of the homes I’d seen in Somerville. Losang had her own room upstairs, which could only be accessed by a single narrow staircase. This place was another realm entirely, completely separate from the sensibilities of the rest of the house. There was something interesting in every corner, and along every inch of the wall, whether it was a drawing of a multi-armed bodhisattva, a cloth Slayer poster, a picture of the Dalai Lama, or smaller posters for Blind Guardian, Iced Earth, Iron Maiden, or Dimmu Borgir. There were unlit candles, small statues of Buddha, and in one corner, a beautiful altar. Books of all varieties were stacked about as high as the ceiling in another. I could have stared for hours. Before I had a chance to do that, Losang showed me the ring her ex gave her from where it was on her dresser. It was a platinum ring with three diamonds in the center. Then I noticed the ring she wore on her finger. It was silver, with three tiny skulls in lieu of diamonds.
“I got a ring for my ex two Christmases ago,” I said, “but not an engagement ring, just something she asked for.”
Since I didn’t know or care about jewelry myself, Serissa needed to be very specific about the sort of ring she wanted. In this case, it was silver and onyx. One of the inlays chipped off a few months before the breakup, perhaps an evil omen.
“You don’t have to worry about anything like that with me,” Losang said, “I’ve got enough rings.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I don’t like weddings. They’re expensive, stressful, and tedious.”
“Yeah, no kidding.”
“Well, there was this one wedding I went to that wasn’t so bad,” I said, “Most of the guests left early, so we had the hall and a single DJ to ourselves. I got them to play Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood.’ It was unconventional anyway; one of my ex’s friends was getting married, and she wore a red wedding dress.”
“I’d wear jeans.”
I laughed. Then I reached into my backpack and pulled out a copy of The Bridge volume 4 and handed it Losang.
“This is the journal I said I was published in. My piece is up front, and I have another somewhere else. Be sure you read Tara’s memoir first, though. Well, everything in here is worth reading, but if you’re pressed for time . . .”
‘Great,” she said, placing the journal on her dresser, “So what was it you wanted to do, watch a movie?”
“Sure, if you want,” I said, “I brought El Topo.”
El Topo is one of my favorite films, but certainly not a movie for all tastes. It’s a cult acid western; a bizarre, powerful, surrealistic religious allegory of sorts, unique and utterly impossible to classify. It’s like a kaleidoscope of eastern and western religious images and exceedingly brutal violence. Come to think of it, I would say this movie is like Christianity and Buddhism having sex.
There was nowhere to sit except her bed, so we sat there and watched. Before the opening credits, we saw the eponymous hero onto the screen. He was a black-clad gunslinger riding out of the desert, a naked child in tow and a black umbrella shielding both of them. Instinctively, I was about to put my right arm around Losang, who by now looked much better without the hoodie, but I stopped myself.
“Uh . . . is it alright if I touch you?”
Just as I’d mentioned that El Topo’s son in the film was also Alejandro Jodorowsky’s son in real life, Losang leaned her head against my shoulder and nuzzled me slightly.
“What are you trying to do?” I grinned.
“Dunno, maybe . . . kiss you?”
So our lips met, hers more voraciously than mine, and I quickly discovered that Losang had a long and versatile tongue, massive suction power, and apparently didn’t need to breathe very often. After a few minutes, I said:
“You know that friend of mine I mentioned earlier, Tara? On that day when I hung out with her we eventually started making out—”
“—and at the time, I could have said that of the four women who kissed me, she’d put the previous three to shame. Now I can say that of the five women—”
She just laughed and kissed me again, reminding me that perhaps she was the person she said she’d be over the net and the phone, and in that case, we had a very specific itinerary we needed to get out of the way as soon as possible. No force in Heaven, on Earth, or in the Pure Lands was going to prevent it from happening, not even El Topo.
Instinctively, I laid Losang down and kissed her again, nibbling her neck lightly, and every portion of her that was exposed, caressing it with my lips. I slipped my hands into her tight black shirt, trying to find a way under her bra. I was grinding against her the whole time, slowly and rhythmically. Then I backed away.
“Sorry,” I said, “I don’t really know what I’m doing. It’s been—”
“Oh, you know what you’re doing, alright!” said Losang, her face flushed, “You’re in the right place.”
After a beat, she said, “Ugh, I’m so tired. I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night.”
“Well if you’re too tired, I don’t want to—”
“No no no no no, I’m not too tired!” Losang giggled as she grabbed my shoulders and pulled me closer to her.
I can scare myself so easily. I knew the number of notches in Losang’s bedpost exceeded her age in years, but a number shouldn’t matter. It wasn’t jealousy or the sexist double standard that troubled me. I just didn’t think 23 years of involuntary celibacy, followed by a two year period of having sex with an anorgasmic Serissa less than 120 times made for a very impressive sexual resume. What I was about to learn was that my number didn’t matter either.
“Why do I get the impression you’re going to be a natural born fantastic lay?” Losang asked me via IM a few days earlier.
“I don’t know,” I replied, “Why do you?”
“I’m very intuitive about these things,” she said.
Nine months earlier, I was lying on the bed in Serissa’s old apartment, waiting for her. We’d made it a habit of shutting the door carefully and blocking it with the vacuum cleaner to keep the cat from joining us. It was part of Serissa’s routine. Having me visit her was routine as well. Doing so was “maintenance” for the relationship, she would say, and maintenance was work. Serissa was always eager to get work out of the way first, no matter how indignant it might be.
Pathologically cynical though she was, Serissa had her two feet grounded firmly in reality and never had any doubt as to what she wanted to do. I was the Mittyesque boyfriend whom she was growing to resent because I was not able to do for her what, at the time, she was still unable to do for herself. Her physiology was so altered by her old medication that with her recent switch, this was the first time she ever felt any sort of sensation or had any awareness of her body’s yearnings at all. Nearly every source I’d read on the subject told me the same thing: For a pre-orgasmic partner, you can certainly help her along the way, but you can’t be expected to do it for her. My attempts to pleasure her were as futile as trying to reboot a defenestrated computer. Nonetheless, I was still willing to try, and confident that she’d get there eventually. But being as goal-oriented as Serissa was, didn’t matter to her. If I truly cared, she reasoned, I would have found a way to make her climax by now, and she could prove this point to herself by providing a hundred examples of me paying intense detail to something I cared passionately about.
I watched with delight as Serissa stood before me and unceremoniously slipped off her thong while keeping her bra and socks on. I was completely naked, but she never was. That was our relationship. When she lay down next to me, I smiled, turned and began to caress her, but she pushed me away.
“You don’t want me to massage you first?” I asked, “Or go d—”
“Look, I just want to fuck, alright?!” she said, her voice flat and tense.
“You look hard enough. Now lube up and get in.”
I did as instructed. The cat wasn’t whining outside the door, so there was no sound to be heard except the bedsprings. Whilst keeping rhythm I lost myself in staring at her face, neck, and shoulders, noting the beautiful manner in which her hair fell back against the bed and exposed her face. I loved everything I saw, every imperfect square inch of her skin. A minute or two later, I said:
“Heh. I still have that stupid song st—”
“Quiet, you’re distracting yourself.”
“Are you al—”
I tried to kiss her, but she violently turned her head to the side, not changing her stony expression. I was dismayed. Having had enough, I tried to pull out of her, but her legs were locked around my waist, and she wasn’t letting me go anywhere. I managed to finish much more quickly than usual this time, not breaking a sweat, after which Serissa went off to shower. I didn’t join her as I normally did. Instead, I stayed there in silence, so disturbed I didn’t think to get dressed again. I sat on the floor and wondered what had just happened. When Serissa came back into the room, fully dressed, she folded her arms and said angrily, “How long did it take for you to write that anti-Islam post you made on the Net?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “I wasn’t keeping track of the time.”
“By the looks of it, I would say that it took you about two hours.”
I had no idea what she thought this had to do with anything, but it didn’t matter what I thought anymore. Actions spoke louder than words, and that was Serissa’s motto. William of Ockham could have supplied her with another: “Plurality is not to be assumed without necessity.” It was certainly a principle she knew how to apply to her life.
The Ghost of Serissa drifted slowly but steadily through the streets of Somerville, having followed me a few cars away on the train, into the subway, through the bike path, and outside Losang’s house. She did not follow us inside. I paid no particular attention to her, but I knew she was there. Her steely face never changed. In front of her she held her basket-hilted sword, the blade pointed toward the sky. It divided her face if you looked directly at her, but she didn’t appear to be looking at the weapon at all.
Gabriel’s horn sounded from far above, summoning the dead before God, while the rest of the angels chanted Dies Irae at a thousand decibels. In the sky a bright light could be seen, the holy strength of Christ and Buddha restoring karma and invoking divine justice. This light intensified into a pinpoint, then fell down toward the Earth, toward America, toward Massachusetts, and toward a little house in Somerville. As it neared the narrow street with blinding speed and intensity, its shape began to solidify. It was a winged being, clad in heavy robes with flowing sleeves. He had the head of a ram, and held a huge sword, his left hand on the hilt, his right on the ricasso. He spread his wings as he neared the ground, their span stretching from sidewalk to sidewalk, brushing trees, power lines, and the hoods of cars as he descended. When his feet lightly touched the yellow lines on the asphalt, the Angel lifted his blade into the air. Twirling the sword, he released a terrifying holy light that shamed the sun. Serissa’s ghost staggered backwards as she floated in the air, raising her sword to parry in defense. Her feet touched the ground, and she found herself rigid. Her body became flesh once again.
“Deus vult!” the Angel roared.
Hesitating no further, he swung his sword overhead, and lopped her head off.
“Just like I said!” Losang gasped. “A natural born fantastic lay!”
Now I’ll spare you most of the details this time, except I am quite pleased to report that I found Losang to be a thousand times more responsive than Serissa, and with at least a hundred times the endurance and flexibility. I enjoyed myself immensely, but not as much as she did. She said things to me that until this point, I’d only heard women say in porn, and watching her changing expressions was fascinating.
“Are you gonna come for me . . . ?” Losang asked eagerly, knowing that I was at the point of no return. Having been satiated long ago, she was now hanging on for the rest of the ride, and enjoying every second of it. She locked her eyes with mine as I held myself up with my straining arms and worked steadily on her. A few minutes later we were finished. I sat back, though I was still inside her, my legs folded beneath me. She was lying back on the bed, propping herself up with her elbows, grinning, a beautiful kalachakra seed syllable necklace around her neck. The end credits to El Topo rolled behind me. We were busily discussing Jesus, Buddha, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Jon Schaffer, the recent death of E. Gary Gygax, the films of Martin Scorsese, the Catholic church, Blind Guardian, Iced Earth, Dimmu Borgir, and Slayer.
“I like how your hair’s messed up now,” she said. “It’s so cute.”
I was sweating profusely, but she wasn’t.
“I really ought to shower,” I said. “Are you going to join me? My ex and I used to—ah, never mind.”
“’Cause you like showering with girls,” she chuckled. “I’m all good. I showered this morning.”
When I stepped off of the bed, painfully unfolding myself from the position I’d assumed for some time, I wobbled around for a few seconds like a newborn lamb. I wasn’t inhabiting the same body anymore. This newly born incarnation needed to be baptized, so I awkwardly picked up my clothes from the floor, shambled down the stairs, found the bathroom, and showered. By the time I came up, Losang was reclining back on the bed smoking a joint and drinking from an open can of beer. It was like a parody of one of those post-coital cigarette scenes in the movies.
“Sorry, if it bothers you I’ll stop,” she said. “I’m just so tired from yesterday. Didn’t get much sleep. I was thirsty too, and too lazy to go downstairs. This was the only thing I had in here.”
“Eh, I don’t drink too often . . .”
“Me neither. I mostly just drink with friends. I got this from a friend I was just hanging out with the other day, and he drinks a lot.”
“What are you watching now?”
“Kundun. I watch it every day, it’s pathetic.”
As I sat by Losang and caressed her, and we continued our conversation about the things that had influenced us the most. Our conversations had no beginning or end, and we always had something to talk about. While we talked, Losang placed her beer on the nightstand and nonchalantly put her hand on my crotch instead. The world needed more women like this.
I somehow found myself saying, “And here I was thinking women like you only existed in porn, anime, and Heavy Metal comics.”
It pains me considerably to think I said this at all. Even expressing my delighted incredulity, I had too few frames of reference. This is exactly the sort of thing Serissa would have remembered and then thrown back in my face later when she was pissed off about something else, long after I’d forgotten it, and even after I would have cried when I realized how awful it sounded. But Losang, thank the bodhisattvas, was able to hear the music of my speech and not just my words.
“Love that movie!” she said.
“I have quite a few stacks of the magazine in my closet.”
“I have some of the tip-in plates hanging on the walls in my room, too. My mom just thinks it’s ugly and juvenile, and it’ll drive women away.”
Losang rolled her eyes.
“Well, maybe I could have conceived someone like you existing,” I said again, “but not that you would have actually been interested in me.”
“Why?” she said laughing, “Don’t be silly! Sorry I’m not looking your way. If I look at you I’ll just want to kiss you, and it’ll taste kinda gross. I really shouldn’t have gone for the beer.”
“I guess we missed all of El Topo.”
“It was a good ice breaker. There’ll be plenty of time to watch it again.”
We talked for about a half hour, and as I started to explain a little about what she’d missed, we both stopped when we heard the sound of a car pulling into the driveway.
“My mom came home early,” she said. “Just be quiet.”
I froze. Then I heard a door opening downstairs.
“Losang? You there?” I heard her mother say from downstairs.
“Yeah, I’m here,” she called back.
I whispered anxiously, asking her what we were going to do now. She just shrugged and giggled. So far as I remembered, my things were in Losang’s room, but I’d left my jacket downstairs on the coat rack. About an hour earlier I could hear my cell phone ringing from where it was in the jacket pocket. Losang, bouncing merrily astride me at the time, shouted, “Sorry, he can’t talk now! He’s being fucked!” Now it was probably time to get my jacket on, and see who called me.
“I have to pee,” Losang said, “but I’m so tired.”
“Uh, you are above pissing yourself, I hope.”
She laughed hysterically.
“Good one!” she said, “Yep, definitely above that. Alright, wait just a little bit.”
As she left the room, I began put my shoes on, and made sure everything was back in my bags. When Losang returned, she said to me, “I told her you’re here, and she’s alright with that, but she doesn’t want to meet you right now. She says she looks like shit now.”
“Who did you tell her I was?”
“Well, I told her a little about you already. I just said that I’d known you for about a month and we’d hung out before. Anyway, you can step out without a problem. She’s waiting in her room.”
“Okay,” I said, “I’m probably going to be in Somerville tomorrow most of the day. Do you want to hang out then?”
“Yeah!” Losang said. “I want to have sex again already. Ugh. I’m such a hornball.”
I produced some Tic Tacs from my pocket and generously poured them into her hands so she could kiss me before I left. I then walked a block, turned right, crossed the street, and found myself at Monica’s apartment. I found the keys in the mailbox where she told me they’d be, and with plenty of time left in the day for me to tend to her cat. The poor guy didn’t mind being alone for long periods of time, but if left alone overnight, he’d feel abandoned and become physically ill. He was once a stray, but was rather tame now.
The huge yellow tabby greeted me as soon as I opened the door at the top of the stairs, and just as quickly I needed to shut it before he could attempt to flee. The Angel was sitting on the couch in Monica’s apartment, his bloody sword resting against the wall. He was reading a newspaper.
“Hmm . . . the Dalai Lama is threatening to resign if the violence in China continues,” he said. “Not good . . .”
Then he looked up at me.
“Congratulations, David,” he said, sounding both laudatory and sarcastic at the time, “You got laid for the first time in nine months. And there you were fearing it would be more than a year, or that it would never happen again. So now what?”
I checked the message I’d received while I was with Losang, and found it was my sister, telling me that she was on her way out then. So I called her back. The first thing she asked me was, “So how did your meeting with Losang go? I want to know everything.”
“Trust me, Monica, you don’t. But I will say that it went very well.”
“Well good then! Just be careful. Just because someone is a good person, and is cool, doesn’t necessarily mean that she is for you. There are many attractive interesting people who may not be compatible in the long term. It’s all good.”
“One piece of very important advice when you are talking to a woman: Don’t talk about your ex very much—say very minimal things, just say that ‘It just didn’t work out.’ When you talk about an ex, it’s usually an indication that you’re not interested in the party that you’re talking to, that you’re still wounded or desperate. I’ve been on both ends of this conversation.”
Of course, I’d told Losang all about my ex, long before I ever met her in person, and she told me all about hers as well. Losang told me that she didn’t hate anyone, not even her ex, who dragged out their breakup for one last miserable year. She was working two jobs then to support him while he claimed unemployment, but apparently that wasn’t enough.
Monica just reminded me of things I had to do for the cat, thanked me for watching him, and said goodbye.
As the Brain reached for Losang’s file, so that he could make note of some important updates, he noticed a few tiny pieces of colored paper scattered on the top of the file cabinet. As he reached his manual extensors to examine them, he noticed they were different colors, and so tiny it would be hard to remove all of them without theaid of a broom or vacuum cleaner. The whole chamber was in need of one, anyway, but this would not do.
“What is this?” said the Brain, “Confetti?”
Then he looked up, and noticed longer strips of colored paper draped around the chamber, hung from the various instruments attached to the ceiling. He reached up, and ripped the first down, but quickly noticed another, and another . . . more than what his eyes could focus on without becoming lost. Then he saw something truly strange.
The Heart and the Penis were waltzing together in the center of the chamber. The Heart was barely recognizable. His skin had actually regenerated several layers, and even more remarkably, it was no longer a ghastly pallor. When the Heart turned to face the Brain, he faced him with open eyes that sparkled. Some of his hair had grown back, too. It was blonde and curly. His limbs looked pudgier than normal, and he stood on his feet. His energy barely contained, he skipped in place and ran around the cabinets, vaulting up onto each one.
“Look at me!” he said.
“You ought to get some clothes on,” said the Penis.
“You’re standing!” said the Brain. “And walking!”
“And I can see you! I love the tie!”
“I . . . do my best,” said the Brain.
Self-consciously, the Brain, brushed his tie, worrying that bits of confetti stuck to it. There were none, but specs of rust from his manual extensors rubbed off instead. The Heart jumped down from the tallest cabinet and skipped around the Brain, giggling randomly. He even stuck his tongue out randomly.
“What are you two doing?” the Brain asked.
“We’re celebrating,” said the Penis, “Wanna join us?”
“Celebrating what, exactly?”
“What do you think, silly?” said the Heart.
“We haven’t won yet!” said the Brain, “What transpired was good, but this is not a victory. We need to remain vigilant and—”
“I sure know a victory when I score it,” said the Penis, “The fuck of a lifetime!”
“Oh really?” said the Brain, “You look . . . bruised.”
“I’ve been through worse,” the Penis grinned, “but never better!”
“I see,” said the Brain. Then, as he looked down as the Heart darted around him, and gripped him by the wrist.
“Ow!” said the Heart, “What are you–?!”
“What’s in your hand?”
It was an empty syringe.
“Losang gave it to me,” the Heart grinned, “It’s so much better than the ones Serissa used to give me. And it’s so powerful. I can’t believe how—”
“We haven’t even sterilized this yet.”
“It’s alright,” said the Heart, “I’m not addicted, I just—”
“You have the final say, but it’s me who relinquishes it to you, and I have not yet made up my mind.”
“B-but . . . y-you . . . I’m not addicted! I . . . I . . .”
“Aw, c’mon,” said the Penis, “He can have some fun every now and then.”
“Again, spoken like a true altruist,” said the Brain.
“Who are you to tell him what to do, anyway?”
“But I’m not addicted!” giggled the Heart, “I can get off it at any time and I’ll be just fine. I healed all by myself. Honest!”
He slipped his wrist out from the Brain’s grasp, then he vaulted up onto the largest cabinet before the Brain could grab him.
“Wanna see me back flip off this thing?”
“Get down. Now.”
“Come on. Not even once?”
“You have not healed. Your condition has momentarily improved. That’s all. Now get down from there.”
The Heart sighed dejectedly, rolled his eyes, and did as ordered. The Brain ripped down the remaining paper strips in front of him, activating a switch which caused the Monitor to spring back to life. There they saw me, reclining on Monica’s bed, my eyes closed. The cat, Gordie, was somewhere near my feet. The Heart was jumping around giddily, but stopped himself when he saw the sight.
“What’s he doing if he’s not asleep?” asked the Heart.
“Praying to his god,” answered the Brain, “Giving thanks for this day, which he considers to be a good one. Something like that.”
“What do you think of God?” asked the Heart.
“Not my area.”
“Why not? Should it be mine? Or his?”
“Never been a fan of that religion,” sighed the Penis, “I’ve got my own goddess, and my own temple. I’m just here with you guys so I can find a way in every once in a while.”
“Too many people make the mistake of ignoring me when they don’t like what I have to say,” said the Brain, “or only listening to me when my area of expertise is limited. What matters on the intellectual battlefield isn’t so much what position you occupy, but why. I can be re-programmed to defend whatever side you join, but I am not the final arbiter.”
“When we finally knew of re-packaged versions of the evolutionary software which advertised full compatibility with monotheistic systems, they were user-friendly, redundant, and far less flexible than our own. I had hacked the software from the old versions to approximate them years ago, and in some cases they worked better. Our old systems have worked with it from the start. There are occasional bugs and crashes, but I’m confident I’ll be able to fix them in time.”
After a few minutes of silence, the Brain asked the Heart, “What about you? What’s your opinion of God?”
“I don’t know,” said the Heart. “I love him sometimes, and other times I hate him. I wish he made me different. Bigger, stronger, maybe. More complete. Maybe if he put you in charge of everything instead.”
The Penis snorted.
“Then I suppose you aren’t a very reliable authority on God, either,” said the Brain.
“Well who is, then?” said the Heart, “The Soul?”
“From what I gather.”
“Why don’t we hear from him more?”
“We don’t even know if our soul is a ‘him.’ Together we are male and heterosexual, make no mistake, but as for what our soul is, I can’t be certain. All I know is that our Soul is very, very old, much older than the rest of us, and it isn’t going out of its way to help. It did send me one email the other day, telling me it approved if we all agreed about Losang, but that was all. She might have an old soul too.”
“He must have a lot of things to say about her,” said the Heart, “Why doesn’t he . . . or she . . . show up here and tell us more?”
“It’s not interested in our concerns,” said the Brain, “It has another agenda to deal with.”
“Not my area.”
“Doesn’t that make things harder for us?”
“Yes. It does.”
They turned back toward the monitor, watching my progress and gathering data.
The next day I’d met up with Losang in mid afternoon. She was waiting to hear from a friend on some important matter for half the day, and this person took forever to respond. This time, we went on a walk through Somerville, though it was so windy going back inside would have been preferable, if her mother wasn’t home. We found ourselves in a cozy tea shop somewhere downtown, where Losang, reading a free local paper, began to complain about the state of the world (or more specifically, the situation in Tibet and China), and ranted slightly about her ex. None of this surprised me in the slightest, though she quickly stated, “Sorry, I’m at my worst today. I’m so judgmental, and I really shouldn’t be. Didn’t get much sleep last night either; just cat napped and smoked.”
“Heh, you say you’re at your worst, and I’m still enjoying the company. When my ex was at her worst I didn’t even want to be alive, let alone in the same building as her. I guess when I’m at my worst, I just want to be left alone, but I don’t take it out on other people.”
“Yeah. I don’t either.”
At some point, and I can’t remember exactly how, Losang brought up OKCupid once more, and I knew I had to ask her a question that troubled me slightly.
I said, “What are we going to do regarding status now? Do we change it?”
“What is it on now, anyway?” she said, “Single? Why don’t we just keep it like that, for now at least. I don’t want to get too serious too soon. I don’t want to hurt you. Or anyone.”
I was confused. Of course I took relationships seriously. I didn’t date casually, and I especially didn’t have casual sex.
“What do you mean? What’s ‘serious’?”
“I—I don’t know,” she said. “Well I knew this was coming. I’m hanging out with someone else, nothing too serious, but it’s an open arrangement. It’s not you, it’s me. I have problems with attachment, so I don’t want to rush anything.”
I’d completely forgotten I was even waiting for the other shoe to drop. I supposed this was it.
“‘Hanging out’?” I said, “We fucked for two hours yesterday.”
“Not so loud!” Losang giggled.
“Oh, uh, sorry. You referred to the time we spent together as ‘hanging out’. You often talk about ‘hanging out’ with your friends, too, most of whom are male. If half of ‘hanging out’ with me consisted of fucking me, then . . .”
She was laughing before I finished.
“Oh, no, no, no, no, no. You and him are the only people I hang out with in the fucking sense. He was burned badly by his ex. He really likes me, but doesn’t want a serious relationship, which is fine, because I didn’t either.”
Perhaps the ghost of this fellow’s ex required more exorcisms to be dispelled.
“You do seem to be tending to the wounded and dispossessed, my dear,” I said.
“Yeah,” she said laughing, “I try to be all things to all people.”
“What do you intend to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well . . .” I said, not knowing where to begin, “you do realize that I’m no longer chatting with the cougar lady because of this, and she was pretty understanding about it. It was an easy calculation to decide that if she wasn’t looking for a long-term relationship with anyone, it would be more worthwhile to spend time with someone with whom I could plausibly have a relationship with.”
I indicated Losang.
“Oh, definitely,” she said.
“And I also remember Tara telling me that she was like a ‘guy’ and that sex didn’t need to have any real emotional connection in order for her to enjoy it. I think I also told you about how I probably couldn’t have a one-night stand without getting attached.”
“Definitely. I could, but I prefer not to.”
“She’d told me that she wasn’t looking to be in a relationship, and after that night when we shared a kiss, I was confused and anxious for about a month, since I didn’t know if that meant she’d reconsidered and I had my foot in the door after all. I was fine either way, but that gray area of ambiguity is frustrating as hell.”
“But I was the Knight of Cups. I was prepared to dive in head first if she’d given me the word.”
“Of course. I definitely know what you mean.”
“I drove forth to meet her on Valentine’s Day, as if I were riding on my hippocamp, offering her a cup, and keeping my lance hidden, though it was still hers to direct if she wanted it.”
Losang laughed hard, enjoying the innuendo.
“But ultimately,” I said, “if she isn’t looking to be in a relationship now and doesn’t know when she will be, that means I shouldn’t be waiting for her.”
“So . . .” I said, raising my hands, “what should I be doing now?”
“I don’t know,” Losang said. By now, her smile had faded.
“You even said before, when I was trying to make sure we were on the same page, that you didn’t want a one-night stand with me . . .”
She looked alarmed for a second when I said this.
“It didn’t mean nothing. It wasn’t just a ‘whatever’ thing. I really, really, like you. I love spending time with you. Oh, god. I’m being stupid. I know, I know, I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re admitting to that. I guess I’m not sure what I should do because I don’t want to cross a line by investing too much. I may have done that already . . .”
“You haven’t. Don’t worry about it.”
“I meant in my heart, Losang.”
“I know. Me too.”
“I mean, I don’t even have to utter that dreaded three-word incantation in order for it to be in effect.”
“I KNOW. Me too.”
Losang was still paralyzed no matter how I tried to dissect the issue, but honest about it. I wasn’t hurt, just confused. I didn’t consider myself a jealous type, especially with someone I’d only known for a week and a day, and whose last name I’d heard once and forgotten. What were they saying in the Council chamber?
“Works for me!” said the Penis.
“But not for me!” said the Heart.
“I told you so!” said the Brain.
And now what? I didn’t want to impose a timeframe for a decision on her. We were intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and now that we had the chance to find out, sexually compatible. Honestly, what else was there? Deciding I wanted to attempt a serious relationship with her was the easiest choice I could have possibly made. But I decided to cast aside the issue and enjoy the time we still had. If it were possible to be with her in earnest, I supposed, this was the way to do it.
Unfortunately, the weather outside was still windy, so we walked back, and this time, when we passed Monica’s apartment, I let her in. I knew we didn’t have much time (Losang had a class at the Dharma center she wanted to attend), so I thought it would be good to get out from the windy cold for at least a moment.
I introduced Losang to Gordie the cat, who was comfortably assuming the meatloaf position on the recliner. She stroked him while lovingly reciting a Tibetan prayer, which sounded like baby talk to me given the tone of her delivery, but she told me it was said to animals to help them ascend into the next incarnation. I said little while she fawned over the cat from where he sat, in his high throne. Losang was sitting on the floor, stroking him, and I reclined against her. Neither of us said anything for a while.
In the opening scene of Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice remarks that she would rather hear her dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves her. I have not known a single woman for whom this line wouldn’t apply. Women seem to have more important things to consider when selecting a mate, such as height and income. For selfless, unconditional love and affection, there are dogs.
God knows I’ve uttered the dreaded three-word incantation numerous times. To this day I am not convinced any good ever comes from doing so. I never knew what any of the women were thinking when I did. Did any of them actually love me back? Were they moved? Amused? Uncomfortable? Chagrined? Grateful? Embarrassed for me? Did their hearts just bleed for me? Or did they think I was creepy? I still can’t tell you.
I’m sure you could tell me that what I felt for Losang was not actual love, whatever ineffable definition should be attached to that word (because deciding whether you love someone is apparently like obtaining gnosis or enlightenment) but joy, hope, infatuation, affection, attachment, and lust instead. I won’t attempt to refute you, but I should at least raise the question as to why this doesn’t also apply to Serissa. She would be the first to argue that it does. She could easily work herself into an endless loop of logical nihilism to deconstruct my love for her as joy, hope, infatuation, affection, attachment, and lust as well. If she actually admitted that the love was genuine, either hers or mine, she would then proceed to vitiate love itself. The end result is the same: If the man means nothing to you, neither does his love or the love you once felt for him.
To my understanding, there were only four beings in the universe willing to love Serissa unconditionally, in the truest agape sense. They were, in descending order of importance:
- her mother
- the cat
“Of course the cat loves me,” Serissawould say, “It’s because I feed him kibble.”
I happen to think that dry kibble and tap water are perfectly valid reasons to love someone, but even if they aren’t, that in no way vitiates the experience of a cat’s love. Serissa seemed to think, probably to this day, that I only ever sought her out of desperation. This insults both of us, which is fine for Serissa, because she will also admit that she is a different person now. Maturation was a process of replacement for her. For me, it was a process of accretion. I was a lot like that cat, I think, except I was bigger, vastly more intelligent, and I hadn’t been entirely neutered.
In her more mischievous moments, when Serissa wiggled my glasses for purposes of annoying me, I might often move my head back just barely out of the range of her ministrations. Without intending to, this made her laugh.
“You really are like that cat!” she’d say.
And of course, I did my little things to annoy her and make her laugh at the same time, like putting two of my fingers into her thong while she reclined on her side, happily announcing that I was a Renaissance crossbowman loading my arbalest, pulling the elastic, and letting loose at the enemy. Rarely could I contain myself long enough to keep my hands off of her.
“You are so affectionate!” she would say, with something that sounded like astonishment or scorn.
The cat could seldom keep away either. I admit that a good portion of our relationship consisted of making fun of that cat. He had the personality of a dog. Serissa got him when he was a kitten, but even grown up he was utterly infatuated with her. It didn’t matter if she yelled at him to go away when he annoyed her with his meowing, or if she teased him into chasing a laser pointer dot that led him into a wall. She was pretty good at doing a cat impression, too, so whenever the cat meowed, she would reply in the cat tongue. He would meow back obsequiously, apparently unaware that Serissa was mocking him. It was the tone of her speech he reacted to, not the content. I was a bit like that too. It was a scary sight when the cat actually angered her. I remember one morning in which Serissa burst into the room, waking me up (she got up much earlier than I did), water sprayer in her hand.
“WHERE IS HE?!”
I had no idea what was happening. It turned out the cat vomited on the floor of the bathroom the night before, and Serissa stepped in it on her way into the shower, ruining her perfect routine. If there was one thing Serissa hated more than herself or the scale she stood on every day (she could tell you how many calories you would gain from a single Tic Tac or from licking a postage stamp), it was any change to her clockwork universe that she didn’t personally mandate.
The cat was hiding under the bed, and when Serissa found him, she dragged him out by the nape of the neck and administered three water sprays to his face. When he fled once more, Serissa was choking in panic, screaming that she needed to kill herself. If I tried to physically calm or restrain her, she would push me away. Even greeting her at the door when she came home from grocery shopping was too overwhelming for her, so I had to wait in the living room instead. Seeing me out of bed, out of her way, and on my knees, as it was all I could manage, she asked me what I was doing.
“Um . . . praying,” I said.
“Don’t ask God to help me! He hates me!”
This was a cry of despair and not cynicism. Her adoptive father was a Protestant minister, and quite fond of corporal punishment. Somehow, she’d gotten the idea burned into her head long ago that she was destined for Hell, and absolutely deserved it. But that’s only half of Christian theology.
The God I believed in died a cruel and lingering death, and on her behalf. My view of religious faith was pragmatic, and I didn’t believe in negative reinforcement. Believe because our beliefs in this life matter. Beliefs precede action, so believe well. Believe because it’s worth believing in, not out of fear of Hell.
Intellectually, I was closer to agnosticism than she was. I doubted, but believed because I knew that my nature was so suited to my faith that losing it would be pointless. Serissa never doubted the existence of God, but she was effectively an atheist. Her conditioning was as such that any thought of God made her physically sick. She couldn’t sit through a mass with my mother and me without tearing up. When she approached a nun some time before she met me to express her concerns, the nun told her exactly what I would have told her: The only thing likely to send her to Hell was her certainty that she would end up there in the first place. Was Judas’ bigger sin betraying Jesus, or believing that God wouldn’t forgive him? Ultimately, the nun had to tell Serissa that if her experience of God was that negative, it would be best for her to avoid religion altogether until she was able to sort it out.
I suppose if it were possible to prove that God didn’t exist, most believers would be devastated (and then go back to worshipping in whatever manner suits them best). Serissa told me she would be relieved. It would give her freedom to kill herself and not to fear Hell. This was the only reason she had not killed herself thus far. That, and the knowledge that most methods at her disposal would more than likely fail, and disable her in the process.
If she couldn’t accept God’s love for her, why should it follow that she could accept mine? She’d already seen her mother, acting more like an older sister than a mother, move from one idiotic and horrible relationship to the next. Serissa’s mother believed in unconditional love, and Serissa could accept that, but she had no desire to emulate her.
Serissa was the more prudent of the two of us, so she was well aware of the power the three-word incantation held. She usually said it in a hushed and awkward tone, if she said it at all. But she was also the more rational of the two of us, often telling me, not as an insult, but as an observation, that I was sappy, sentimental, and a “chick.” She was a gender abolitionist. Her theory was that masculinity and femininity weren’t opposite ends of a spectrum, but two different continuums. Most people are high at one end and low at the other, independent of sexual orientation. I was apparently high at both ends while she was low at both. Her gender, she once said, was like wearing a sock for a glove: It didn’t feel right, but it worked, and it was better than nothing. She told me on a few occasions that the times she knew she loved me most were when she doubted I should even be with her at all, and worried that she was screwing me over. Once hysterically over the phone, and once sadly as I lay next to her.
“What are you getting out of this?” she asked in her most fatalistic voice. She was lying on her left side on the bed as she normally did, while I playfully spooned her.
“I love you, I love being with you, and I love having sex with you,” I chuckled.
“Why, why, and obviously.”
“I love you.”
“I’ve never met such a gentle cat!” Losang said.
“My ex’s cat is even gentler. I’m glad she still has him.”
“I’m glad she does too.”
Play with Gordie for too long, and he might swipe at you with one of his paws, but he wasn’t about to subject Losang to such brutal treatment. When he tired of her attention, he got up and left, leaving us on the floor leaning against each other. When Losang and I were in close proximity, things tended to happen. I placed my hands on her back and made small circles with my thumbs, traveling down from her shoulders to her lower back. She tilted her head in my direction and gazed at me intently.
“You’re too nice, and I mean that in a good way!” Losang giggled. “You can do it harder than that, I can take it.”
She was echoing words she’d spoken the day before, only in her bedroom and some time after El Topo discovered the massacred village and before he tricked the fourth master into committing suicide. We said little to each other, but rubbed, nuzzled and kissed for the next half hour or so. My hands sometimes went into her shirt, down her back, or into her jeans.
It soon became time for her to leave, but just as when we said goodbye either on the phone or via IM, it took forever. We were standing somewhere at the bottom of the staircase and near the front door (we had to shut the door to keep the cat from trying to escape), though we’d found ourselves in each other’s arms on the way down. I was in the process of explaining something complicated to her, involving my ex and the memoir I’d published in The Bridge. I only said, “I’d explain more, but it’s in the memoir in that journal I gave you. I shouldn’t reveal anything.”
“Don’t. I’ll have to read it.”
“Heh. It’s just kind of odd how I talk about my writing and you haven’t really had the chance to read any.”
“I know, isn’t that retarded? I just like hearing you talk about your ideas and your writing. I like how you’re so smart and yet you don’t make me feel like an idiot for listening to you.”
“I wasn’t always this way. I didn’t have too many friends in middle or high school.”
“I like you even more today than I did yesterday.”
“Oh. Glad you do.”
“I’m glad I do too!”
And what did this all mean, I wondered? Would we end up together? I wanted to know, but I didn’t want the moment to end.
“And why is that three-word incantation coming back to me all of the sudden . . .” I said, fumbling my lips near her neck and face.
“No,” she said laughing tenderly, “don’t say that . . .”
A few kisses later, and she was on her way out. I had only to clean up, and re-arrange some things, and then I’d be on my way back home, through the red line, then boarding the train. I wasn’t at all troubled. I felt good. Even as I came back to my house late that night, past 11:00. My mother was already reclining in bed, but she wanted to talk to me anyway, and ask me how my day was and how things went with Losang (“I love how you have a close relationship with your mom,” Losang said to me, “It’s so sweet.”). She didn’t have me fettered to an iron ball, but it was difficult to keep too many secrets from my mother. As I entered her room, she told me that I seemed to have an aura of peace and calm about me.
“Well . . .” I said, searching for the right words, “Let’s just say it feels like a whole burden has been lifted from my shoulders.”
“Because you feel more confident around girls now?”
“Something like that.”
That was as far as I wanted to go. It wasn’t a lie, and my mother didn’t wish to intrude in on my privacies. She knew that I didn’t lie very well. Losang instinctively knew this too, though she said it had something to do with how readily I changed my facial expressions, even if she wasn’t sure what every expression meant at this point. I was excited, of course. She’d surprised me by actually being the person she said she’d be. I apparently didn’t disappoint her either, in any aspect.
But where were we going now? I had no idea, and I knew too well that nothing could sicken a heart like hope deferred, just as in Proverbs 13:12. “Hon, just don’t become attached,” Losang said in an IM less than a week ago. And how would I tell if I was attached or not? For that matter, was it possible to become attached to not being attached?
My parents made it an unspoken tradition to watch The Passion of the Christ nearly every Good Friday, but they decided to try for Saturday this year, since I got back late the night before, and Easter came early anyway. Nothing about this movie shocked me so much as the vociferous reactions it garnered. I’d known for many years that what Christ endured on the way to Golgotha was much worse than what I saw in the Bas-reliefs depicting the Stations of the Cross at my church, or in any other movie about Jesus. A year earlier, I’d received Serissa’s ultimatum, and was struggling to find another job and a way out of my parent’s house in order to live up to her expectations of me. Watching it then felt like I was watching my own passion, death, and rebirth.
I was born Holy Saturday of 1982. To date, my birthday has sometimes fallen on Good Friday, sometimes on Holy Saturday again, and sometimes a day or two after Easter, but it hasn’t fallen on Easter Sunday since 1977, and will not again until 2039. Clearly, I have a long ways to go. I was still talking with Losang, and I’d hoped to see her again that day. We’d agreed in advance for some time, but I had to leave soon that morning, and didn’t check any of my messages. There was one in particular I should have read: hey hey. happy birthday guy!!! i want to see you but i can’t do it today i am sorry i just need to talk and well i don’t know if i can about this today. i want you to be happy…can we get together on another day and talk, seriously??? ok well i will ttyl tashi delek and namaste
I saw her standing on the front porch of her house as I approached, looking uncertainly across the street.
“There you are,” she said. “I was wondering if you were going to come or not.”
She held out her arms as I headed toward the front steps.
I was well on my way already.
I threw my arms around her and kissed her lightly on the forehead.
“Did you get my message?” Losang asked.
“No, I didn’t have time to check.”
“Oh. Um . . . I just got up, so I’m going to shower now. Why don’t you, um, play on the computer or something?”
The computer was a laptop that looked like it was in the process of reformatting something, so I left it alone. I waited patiently in the living room for about an hour as Losang showered while playing the radio loudly. I ate the lunch I’d packed and a few chapters in my copy of Deus Irae. I also made note of some of the pictures hanging in the living room, hallway, and dining room, which seemed to show a younger Losang who wore dresses, styled her hair differently, and didn’t have any tattoos.
When Losang was out of the shower, I sat with her at the kitchen table. She prepared her own food while talking to me, talking on the phone, replying to Instant Messages, and consulting her Tibetan-English dictionary, all at the same time. I was amused, but remained patient and continued reading. Eventually, I found myself sitting behind her, gently massaging her back and shoulders, running my hands across the tattoos on her upper arms, down to the bear paw on her right forearm, and finally reaching the blood donor bracelet around her wrist. At no point did she resist, but she did not reciprocate. Losang continued for some time, then led me onto the back porch, and I sat there with my left arm around her. When no one thought to catch her on the phone, she spoke to me.
“You know,” she said with a dreamy and enamored gaze, “I’ve been spending a lot of time with the other guy I’m seeing, and I’m really starting to like him a lot. He’s almost like a male version of me.”
Ah yes, the other guy. I didn’t want to even bring him up. My only strategy for dealing with him was to ignore him, but at this point, it was futile.
“I wasn’t going to bring that up . . .” I sighed.
“I don’t want you to think you can’t date other girls.”
The statement rang strangely in my ears. I didn’t know which implication was more bizarre: the notion that I would have been interested in dating anyone else, or that there were actually other girls who would want to date me. All other women bored me at this point, and I was certain there weren’t any I was disappointing. I was nearly speechless, but my arm was still around her. She continued.
“I don’t really think I believe in monogamy anymore, y’know? I don’t want to be involved in something serious. It’s like what Lama Thubten Yeshe said . . . ‘If people’s relationships start off extreme, how can they last?’”
“We, ah, we started off pretty extreme, didn’t we?”
She nodded sadly. I didn’t know which was considered more extreme at this point, in the world we live in: fucking on the first date, or desiring an exclusive relationship? Most people probably sorted this stuff out in high school, and now dated many people at once. Is that how it was done? Losang studied me with a mixture of concern and curiosity. She looked a little awed.
“Are you alright? I can’t tell. You’re so quiet . . . and so intense.”
“I . . . I don’t know.”
I knew this would not work for me. It had nothing to do with jealously or any pretense that I was on the moral high ground, only that I sought depth over breadth, and knew myself well enough to know how I loved. At this moment, there was only person in the world I wanted to love, consequences be damned, and she was sitting on the porch right next to me, telling me about how awesome someone else was. I gripped her tightly for a moment and looked away, feeling a burning sensation in the back of my eyes.
“I used to get attachment just like this when I was 25,” Losang said. “Oh, that’s right, you’re turning 26 today.”
“Oh god!” she continued, “Someone did this to me a while back, and now I’m doing it. I really didn’t want to talk about this now. I wanted to talk to you about it in person, but not today. Drewy’s coming over in a while, and I’m going to have to look after Moose soon.”
Moose was the name of her neighbor’s pit bull puppy, which Losang insisted, she took better care of than his owner. Drewy, or so I will call him, was one of Losang’s friends. I heard a little about him, but we’d never met. So we soon got up off the back porch and headed out to the front hall. I saw a tall young man with glasses approaching us. He must have been in his early twenties. He came up the stairs, through the threshold, and into the hall.
“There he comes!” Losang said. “Drewy, this is my friend Dave.”
“Hi!” he said to me, and shook my hand. I said ‘hi’ back, but I was barely able to focus myself long enough to do so. I was taken a little aback by his appearance. My expression must have been grim and detached. Maybe stunned.
“Drewy, why don’t you give us a minute, OK? Why don’t you, um, play on the computer or something?”
I think the computer was off at this point, but Drewy took his cue and went into the back somewhere. Losang and I sat on the front porch instead, where she was to my right this time. She was nervously kicking the front steps, and chipping away layers of paint.
“You said I was what you wanted,” I said sadly.
“You are,” said Losang. “I mean you were . . . no, you are.”
Christianity is a religion in a rush. You could be saved or a damned in a moment’s decision, and find yourself in heaven or hell only a few minutes after your death. Serissa and I both preferred the version with Purgatory, but regardless, sin was still conquered in a half-day, and permanently.
“You’re going to have to choose . . .” I said.
In the Eastern religions, karma could take thousands of years to run its course and redeem itself, depending on what state you’re at. As an impermanent stage of a massive, ongoing process, what do the desires of your current incarnation truly matter? No need to rage against the inevitable and cause more suffering.
“I don’t want to choose,” said Losang. “Everything that’s happened is what’s supposed to have happened. I try to be all things to all people . . .”
“You’re juggling many things at once. Eventually, you’re going to have to drop something and disappoint someone.”
“Well if I had to choose, I suppose it would be him . . . no, no I don’t want to choose. I know, I’m probably screwing myself over either way. So I guess . . . the question is, what do you want?”
“I already told you,” I said, “I want you.”
“I know, but I meant what do you want out of this? Do you just want to be friends? Do you just want to wait and see what happens?”
Friendship seemed an odd proposal for me. At least now I knew the line I’d written in Half-Born about friendship being the means by which men were castrated without the use of sharp objects didn’t always apply, but I didn’t want a “friend” I also had sex with. That would have been too confusing. I also knew that if I were to spend time with her as a platonic friend, I probably wouldn’t be able to stop myself from fantasizing about heading upstairs with her and making love to her again, looking to the passenger’s seat in my car and seeing her there, inviting her to my house during the few weeks in July when my parents would be gone, to Bridgewater to see the unveiling of The Bridge volume 5 and perhaps introducing her to Tara, Dr. Walker, and anyone else who was remotely part of my social network. Maybe introduce her to my mom, too. I wondered if she would have had a different impression of Losang if she’d actually met her in person. I would proudly introduce her as if to say, “Look everyone, here’s my new girlfriend and I love her. I couldn’t be happier!” Of course, I wouldn’t say much of anything. And if I didn’t spend any time with her at all, regardless of the status of our relationship, I would miss her terribly. I honestly didn’t know which was worse.
“I don’t know if I could do either without some indication of where we’re headed. Otherwise, I’m stuck in that agonizing gray area, that limbo . . .”
“I can’t tell you where we’re headed,” Losang said, “I don’t even know what I’m going to be doing next week. I’m so not thinking that far ahead right now. I don’t want to be tied down to anything. Did you know that the anniversary to my break-up was just a few weeks ago—on the 1st? When I lost both my jobs, he said, ‘You’re not making any money, I don’t love you anymore.’”
I also knew what it felt like when the most important person in your world says something unspeakably cruel after you’ve lost your job. Come to think of it, we were both going through this at around the same time. Losang blurred in my vision, then her reflection ran down either side of my face.
“I’m . . . sorry that’s where he was coming from,” I said softly. “I’d never do that.”
“Wh—I know you wouldn’t,” she said.
“Remember what I said about cutting open one’s sternum to offer the heart out as if it were the body of Christ and all that? As if to say to the world, ‘Here! This is what I’m made of! See that I have no barriers! See the wounds that I carry and see that I’m still not afraid to love as if I’ve never been hurt!”
“Good,” she said. “You and all beings should be that way.”
“It’s yours if you want it, Losang. I said I equated myself with the Knight of Cups, didn’t I? Tara could have had a place at his side if she actually wanted it, and now you have a place there. Hell, Serissa might even still be there if she hadn’t broken up with me . . .”
“Why?” Losang asked. “She was treating you like shit.”
“The answer is so obvious I’m surprised you’d ask. Because I loved her.”
“I understand,” she said, “I still love Andy unconditionally, but I’m glad he’s not with me anymore. I don’t need his abuse.”
Now I was losing myself in my analogies, speaking of the Knight of Cups, and removing one’s own heart. I even went so far as to mention the Attraction Council, which I don’t think I’d mentioned before. It was the truth as I knew it, but all I succeeded in doing was obfuscating the matter more. I think my Brain blew a fuse. Or the Heart ripped a chord out from the back of his head and took over.
“ . . . and—and the Penis and the Brain are always yelling at each other, except the Penis keeps telling the Heart to stay out of everything until it’s a sure deal . . .”
Losang was laughing at first, then she stopped when she saw how serious I actually was.
“It’s never a sure deal,” she said softly.
From somewhere across the street, I could hear a dog barking.
“That’s Moose,” Losang said, “I’ve gotta take care of him today. I’m like that dog’s friggin’ mother, you have no idea.”
“Well, I’ll let you do what you need to, then.”
“I’m sorry. We’ll continue this conversation tonight. Are you going to be online?”
“Yeah, I should be. Did you get to read Half-Born yet?”
“No. I’ve been busy.”
“Well, when you get the chance, it might give you a little bit of insight as to where I’ve come from.”
“I will read it! Tonight!”
I knew that she intended to. I also knew that she wouldn’t, but it’s the thought that counts. I grabbed my jacket from the hanger. I wondered if Moose was barking at a crow.
“I’ve come a long way from where I was at the time it took place, but still.”
“I need to take care of that dog.”
“Right. I’ll be on my way.”
Losang glanced worriedly across the street. I glanced back at her as I walked away, but only once. I supposed I was free to be scourged and crucified, and she was free to immolate herself in protest of the situation in China. Whatever it would take for either of us to cope with the cruelties of this world. I continued toward Davis Square, vowing that the next time I came across anyone who said that men are afraid of commitment and just want sex, I would punch that person in the face, hard, and multiple times.
David Mitchell welcomes your comments on “The Attraction Council” at barlowe2003[at]yahoo.com.
photo by Zyllan