The Resolution Phase

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The Resolution Phase  


I feared for the worst. But it seemed Dick wanted me more than ever, now that I

was dead. Back when I still burned the Shavian flame that’s always burning

itself out, my sex drive was spirited and lively, even — especially — in the throes of moribund relationships. Sayonara sex. Last gasp sex. Don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out sex. In earlier affairs, impending departure was always vivifying. I cleaved this way, hungry, detaching and adhering simultaneously to my beloved’s body. With Peter, Willie and Rod, sex was the first thing to start and the last thing to go. That was before, back when I was a breathing, locomoting, warm- and red-blooded female American organism. Being dead, I assumed things would taper off. I mean, how sexy can a girl feel after dying, when the maggots begin to lay eggs, when the pockets of liquid collect inside, when the lips start to drift?


Still, Dick couldn’t keep his hot hands off me. The fact that I had joined

the great majority apparently didn’t matter. He’d come home, find me lying

supine in bed and interpret my horizontal pose as an invitation to fuck. “You

want me, eh?” he’d say, unzipping his fly. I was flattered, at first, by his

continued sexual interest. How romantic! In life, I’d been so fearful that a

single misstep, even a missed bikini-line waxing, would turn him off and away. How I’d underestimated his desire! Even death wasn’t sufficient to make him stop wanting me. In hushed, heartfelt tones, he kept declaring undying lust and then proceeding accordingly, his passion and loins overcoming our unfortunate obstacle.


It kind of went like this: He’d separate my thighs to try to get in, but

then they’d snap shut, bouncing a bit on the sheets before settling into a tight clench. When he’d finally get my legs apart, he’d hold them in a V and rub and thump his body up and down like a pile-driver, but it wouldn’t be long before he lost his grip and my legs would push inward, squeezing, then crushing, his balls. Undeterred, he’d hoist one of my legs on each of his shoulders like a

swashbuckler donning a cape. My feet would turn out into second position, my ankles would slide precariously down the slope of his shoulders, but before my legs crashed to the bed like timber, he’d grab each ankle and hold on tight.


Afterward, he’d give me a chaste kiss. “You look so peaceful. Your lips

are so nice and cool and dry. Your skin, too. A little pale maybe. Are you

anemic? Doctor Cummings sells a great chelated iron supplement. It’ll give you energy, put color in your cheeks. And you know, your hair looks good when you don’t wash it. It’s growing so fast. Don’t cut it. But maybe we should trim your toenails. They’re getting a little long.”


This technique worked until my body lost its stiffness. Everywhere my

muscles slackened, lost their tone. Unable to grab and resist, my vaginal walls provided insufficient friction, then none. Dick couldn’t come. “I see you’ve stopped doing your Kegels,” he harrumphed. “This is pointless. How about a tit-fuck?” I didn’t respond. “Cool.”


But eventually, my lack of enthusiasm started to turn him off.


“What’s up? You won’t touch me. You won’t talk to me. You just lie

there, not moving, not saying anything.”


I had no response.


“I see you have nothing to say to that either. Don’t you know that your

passive-aggressive silence is sabotaging any chance we have of reviving this?”


Again, no comment.


To him, it was all a symptom of a larger, underlying problem. He’d been

in analysis for six years. He knew about these things. Analysis had given him back his life and it could give me back mine, if I wasn’t so passive, so

lifeless, so stubbornly still. Dick was an American optimist. Although death is the universal complaint of the species, Dick believed that all problems could be “worked through.” Every complaint had a corresponding therapeutic intervention. When the overt symptoms were properly controlled the core issues could be exhumed. My inertia, my lack of “proactive, help-seeking motivation,” my empty stare into space with open but unseeing eyes, my “depressive,

delusional” conviction that my existence could not be resurrected from its

present state of decay — all these, Dick said, were things that skilled

professionals could heal.


Finally he demanded, “Come with me to see Dr. Buttram or I move out and

leave you here to rot by yourself.” Couples counseling was a shared

investment, he said, so I’d have to pay half of Dr. Buttram’s fee. I don’t know

how Dick expected me to generate the money. He knew I wasn’t working, but I didn’t protest. Pleased, his posture softened, and he cuddled up next to me in bed. “Sweetheart, please, don’t freeze up on me.” He breathed hotly into my ear, then moved his foot toward mine. Before recent events — that is, before I paid the debt that cancels all others — I had liked for our feet to touch. He had delicate, sensitive feet, with smooth soles and toes aligned in perfect size order. Now, just before his toes curled around mine he gasped. “You’ve got some wicked cold feet.” I didn’t move. He pulled the quilt over both of us. “Let’s get your tootsies roasty-toasty. You’ve got to relax.” He rubbed my neck, my shoulders. “You should go see Hyman, my massage therapist.” His fingers moved down the bones that were becoming prominent in my neck, chest, arms. “You’ll feel so alive afterward. You’ve lost touch with your body. You act so stiff.” He rolled on top of me so that the warm tip of his nose touched the cold tip of mine. “I’m stiff, too.” He chuckled. “In all the right places. I haven’t lost touch with your body. Or mine.” I remained silent. “Don’t worry, baby, I’m a well-oiled machine. I’ll do all the work. It’ll relax you. Warm you up. Thaw you out. If you want me to stop, just say so . . . I’ll take that as a yes.”

Before our visit with Dr. Buttram, Dick discovered a new sexual domain — a

horny, deviant purgatory ruled by demonic experimentation. I couldn’t ask what

accounted for the shift. Instead of wooing me with reassurances that nothing

could part us sexually — that he wanted me despite my immobility — he

seemed to want me because of it. I wasn’t moving, but he didn’t seem to

notice that I was dead. Of course, at the outset I figured he had to have

noticed, but was enjoying his chance to mine the romantic potential of my

paralysis. But then I became less and less sure, as Dick used the occasion to

tap his deepest, strangest proclivities. The Sex for Dummies’

make-the-best-of-what-you’ve-got message inspired him. “Let’s view this not as a

problem, but as a challenge. An opportunity,” he said, hard-on in hand, “for

enormous growth. Enormous. Heh-heh. Call it an adventure.”


“All along it’s been so obvious that I couldn’t even see it. In your

silence, you’ve been crying out loud for something new. Lady that you are,

you’d never ask directly, or complain or demand anything. I understand now.

Please, princess, chained in your lonely tower by the moat, if it excites you to

feign indifference, to be cold and still and silent, to pretend that you don’t

want me to ravish and ravage you, that you don’t love it when I take you against

your will — go for it! Two can play. I’m comfortable in my masculinity.

Really. I am. I’m confident enough not to need my desirability validated all

the time. You want a good game of cat-and-mouse? Of hard-to-get? We’re both

adults. We can be creative.”


I said nothing.


“You want cold?” He jangled a pair of steel handcuffs. “You want still?”

He tossed four black bungee cords onto the bed. “You want silent?” He moved

toward me, like a Looney Tunes kidnapper, with his gag-rag and duct tape. With a

knee against each of my ears, Dick cranked apart my jaw with his penis until we

fit like a ball-and-socket joint. “That’s it. Close it up tight. To the hilt.

No bitching. No moaning. No choking or gagging reflexes allowed. Even if it

kills you.”


As if.

Doctor Buttram nattered about the age-old sex-drive differential in the

opposite sexes, recommended

Mars and Venus in the Bedroom, pontificated

— with emphasis provided by a wagging, erect index finger — on the universal

female laments of never being heard, of being seen only as a sexual object, of

compulsory participation in deadening, male-identified heterosexual patterns.


“Things are coming to a head,” Dick fumed. “I’m about to blow my stack.

I had to literally drag her out of bed this morning. She was lying there like

always. Like a dead weight.”


“Resistance to treatment, in the beginning, is to be expected, to be

honored but not indulged. Tell me” — he turned to me — “Do you find talking

about sex difficult?”


I slumped in my chair.


“Is it hard for you to talk to Dick about sexual feelings?”


Dick spat. “She doesn’t have sexual feelings.”


Doctor Buttram’s expression turned grave. “How does it make you feel to

hear Dick speak that way?” He steepled his thumbs and index fingers, and looked

above their apex at my face. “How do you feel right now, talking to me, a

stranger, albeit one trusted by your beloved, about sex?”


I made no reply.


He suggested hearing from Dick while I took the time I needed “to warm up

to the process.” I didn’t object to the idea. Doctor Buttram flipped to a new

page of his legal pad, switched pens. “Dick, why don’t you tell me what your

perceptions are of what happens when you initiate sex.”


“I’ve told you a million times. She’s like a corpse.”


“You might have told me in individual sessions, but your life-partner

needs to hear you give voice to your concerns out loud, in her presence. At

precisely what phase of the arousal process — the desire, excitement, orgasm,

or resolution phase — do you see your sexual exchanges breaking down?”


Dick laughed. “Let’s go for the short list and say where it doesn’t break

down. She never starts me up. When I initiate, she’s reluctant and stiff, like

she can’t be bothered. She doesn’t seem to miss it. I can’t sleep I’m so

horny. She sleeps all night. All day, too. Doesn’t even notice I’m shaking

the bed with my pud-pulling. I’ve never seen someone sleep so much.”


“A diminished sex drive can be a problem unto itself: hypoactive sexual

desire disorder: HSDD,” droned Dr. Buttram. Dick smiled. He loved the

bureaucratic officialdom of initials, abbreviations, acronyms. He loved the

booming voices of experts, like narrators of nature documentaries, like Dr.

Buttram, who continued, “Hypersomnia points to a clinical picture including, but

not limited to, a major depressive disorder. Besides the presenting loss of

libido and excessive sleep, social withdrawal, loss of interest in conversation

or previously pleasurable activities, food apathy, hunched body posture and

absent zest for life all suggest major depression. I’m not ruling out HSDD,

but what I see right before my eyes is a patient who presents six out of seven

diagnostic criteria for major depression.”


“Does that mean we aren’t going to talk about sex?”


“Worry not, Dick. Sex is a central component of the human experience,

carrying the symbolic cargo of the gestalt of the human dilemma.” Dick loved

jargon. Dick loved German. “Another question worth exploring is whether the

desire reduction is global, encompassing all sexual expressions, or limited to

one particular activity. Some HSDD patients I treat have no desire for

intercourse, but enjoy masturbation, mutual or solo, enhanced by pornography or

marital aids, or driven simply by our wonderful, prehensile hands, our fingers

like ten little lovers who know exactly what we enjoy.”


“I doubt that she masturbates, but she won’t say. Don’t bother asking



“Masturbation is difficult for any of us to talk about, even when we’re

feeling our best. Before we push such matters, Dick, we also have to consider

this.” Doctor Buttram’s voice dropped, turned avuncular, unctuous, soft: an

I’m-going-to-level-with-you man-to-man voice. “Sometimes one partner’s low

desire actually reflects an excessive need for sexual activity — a compulsion!

an addiction! — in the other partner. Usually, the clinical picture isn’t that

extreme. Or simple. More often, both partners have levels of desire within the

normal range, but at different ends of a healthy continuum. In that case, we

need to work on compromise. And communication.”


“The silence is killing me. It’s got to be killing her, too.” Dick

blubbered unattractively. “All this passive-aggressive shit. Covert



“Dick, why don’t you try to avoid abstraction and intellectualization.

Let me be the doctor. That’s my job. Yours is to describe what you feel.”


They carried on, absorbing themselves in each other’s polysyllabic lingo.

Who would use the biggest, longest words? Eventually Dr. Buttram broke off. “We

have to stop. We’re not going to resolve this overnight. There’s a great deal

to talk about, and it’s all quite rich. Before we jump to any conclusions, we

need to eliminate all possible physiological etiologies of hypoactive desire. I

want to send you to some specialists. Run some tests. You’ll need a pelvic, to

check for atrophic vaginitis. I can refer you to someone for that, too.” He

smiled a knowing smile, as if he’d had a pelvic. “Or do you have your own



I didn’t reply.


Doctor Buttram nodded gently, his sympathy as plastic as a speculum. “I

understand. Internal exams aren’t fun, I know, but it’s crucial. In case we’re

dealing with dyspareunia or other sexual pain disorders. We might even be seeing

a vaginal numbing syndrome.”


“I hope she can rouse herself to take a shower before anyone looks too

close,” Dick said.


“I sense that you’re feeling some hostility, Dick. You’ll have to try to

contain that until our next session.”


“You know, Doctor, I don’t feel like a man anymore. I used to feel good

about my sexuality. I was virile. I could make a dead woman come.”


“Our time is up. We’ll start next time by exploring those feelings.

Here’s your bill for this month.”


Then he asked if I wanted to offer any last words before departing.


But it was too late. I had done all that already.



Ellen Miller is the author of the novel Like Being Killed. She has an M.F.A. from New York University and was the recipient of a residency at the MacDowell Colony. She lives in New York City.


Ellen Miller