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Brokenhearted by Michelle Tea

My girlfriend Lorrie drove up one day with Rae riding bitch. Front passenger, my seat, but it was all right. Rae was my Valentine’s Day present. Lorrie had brought me a girl, a toy.

We’d spied Rae at a party weeks before. We’d never seen her before, and we both thought we’d seen everyone already, so this excited us. We liked how young she looked, how sulky, brooding with a brown bottle of beer beneath a curtain of indigo hairdo. Alone in a corner, the girls around her in a drunken waltz of jabber and laughing, cigarette smoke pouring from their mouths, and Rae, a quiet, moody smudge upon the wall. Like the one weird girl at the school dance, the one I always wanted to make my friend, someone as mysterious as I was obvious.

“She drives a Range Rover,” someone whispered cattily. In our crowd, it’s what you don’t have that sparkles: a work ethic, new clothes, parents who love you. The prospect of Rae being a trust fund baby curled her edges, and made her a real disappointment. I don’t like to fuck rich girls, I’m too resentful of all they have and will continue to receive that I don’t like to give them anything more, not even a fleeting zing of pleasure, not even the implied compliment of my teeth on the back of their neck. I like girls who are dirty and tough, girls who’ve been through hell without a safety net dangling in the sulfurous breeze beneath them.

I learned later that Rae was a millionaire, but it was complicated. She had died before. A car full of druggies had plowed into her and her father on a snowy Massachusetts road. She was fourteen, hadn’t seen him in ten years. It was Xmas eve. Everyone died, except the doctors brought Rae back. They brought her back twice, her scrawny chest pried open, her bloody heart beating in a crystal wreath of ice. The scar that ran down her body shamed her, but I loved to run my fingers over it, loved her for surviving. I was falling in love with Rae but she was so difficult, such a brat. Her moods created a rough geography, with peaks and drops I had to hike over to reach her. Little Rae, twenty years old and worth millions. Her hipbones were in her knees now, or her knees were the bony butterflies that framed her concave stomach — I can’t remember which.

Rae didn’t eat. Neither did I, we were both Aquarians. Lorrie would bring us morning plates of eggs and cheese and greasy sausage, sour kiwis. We’d just drink the coffee, always feeling slightly ill. It was a sickening situation, the two of us sewing this thin patch of girl into the quilt of our relationship. No one knew how to act. Lorrie was hardy, bursting and jovial; she wanted to be Dad, frying up our food; she wanted to mentor the budding butchness of Rae. She’d tease her, kid with her — their fucks were wrestles inevitably won by Lorrie who would gloat atop the pale gleam of Rae’s shattered chest, king of the hill. But Rae would not let us have her easily. She was the immediate loser in this situation, made lonely by Lorrie and my connection even as we held her down, slid the sheath of her jeans from her legs, cooed over her like an artifact we’d wrenched from the earth, kissed her. Fucking Rae made me think of a praying mantis — some sort of violent, angular insect sex. She would pout and growl the whole time. I had to keep checking in, like a teenage boy afraid he was bullying his date. These pauses irritated Rae. “Come on,” she’d direct.

Rae had never told anyone how much money she had, except me, as we drove in her bomb shelter on wheels, her battle-proof hulk. The only thing she’d bought with her money, aside from a house for her Mom and college educations for a scattering of distant cousins put off by her queerness, was this vehicle. The oil light was always on. It glowed like the cherry of a cigarette on the dash, the engine teetering on a final crack and shudder. It made Lorrie crazy and she would nag her to dump a quart of muck into it, which in turn drove Rae crazy. We were dysfunctional, incestuous. Lorrie/Dad incessantly attempting to teach and parent the impatient and rebellious Rae/Son, and Me/Mom, doing damage control, sliding soothing tongues between their lips. You Know, She’s So Young And Nervous, It’s All Bravado, She Really Likes Us, I explained to Lorrie. You Know That Lorrie And I Really Like You, I broke gently into the awkward silence between me and my young mistress. We Want To Keep Hanging Out With You.

Every morning Rae would sit propped up in bed with me while Lorrie assembled breakfasts. She’d talk about all the things she was going to do. Start a small press and put her authors on tour, start a magazine, buy a warehouse for performances. It made Lorrie and I nuts —these were things we wanted to do, but we were so poor that year. I had an awful job bribing people into switching their long distance carriers with free pints of ice cream. I was disturbingly good at it. Lorrie had an arts fellowship, taught photography to undergrads and cooked meals for people going bonkers from AIDS. Rae was rich, and she would never do any of it. For Rae’s birthday, I scraped together dollars to buy her Chelsea Girls. Rae was a writer, and it was my favorite book. I inscribed it. She didn’t get me anything for mine. Rae, so full of complaint. Her heart had been broken, frozen by the doctors, stitched back together, sent out into adolescence traumatized, rolling through the wasteland of high school in a wheelchair, having to do her homework when she’d known death.





    Once Rae took me to dinner with her Uncle and his girlfriend. We were at a place called Caffe Sport in North Beach, garish Italian arts and crafts everywhere, big steaming plates of wet food. I was Rae’s girlfriend. The Uncle was so cool about it. Then he found out I was twenty-eight to Rae’s twenty. Suddenly my hair, my tattoos, the holes in my clothes were not cute. It was about sex, obviously, immediately. The gap between our ages was filled with fucking. He looked at me more. I was an adult, closer to his age than his niece’s. I guzzled my wine. We brought the leftovers back to Lorrie.


The lesbian cafe in Rae’s town was having a dance to raise money for a disco ball. Lorrie and I were Rae’s dates, and we took it incredibly seriously. Got all dressed up, drove out along the ocean in Lorrie’s imitation SUV that would have been instantly shredded in the event of a brutal accident. I sucked on the silicone cock jutting out of Lorrie’s pants, crouched low in the dark beneath the dash, until Lorrie took a wrong turn. The trip continued in a frustrated rage until we finally reached Rae’s obscure beach apartment over an hour late. Rae was wasted. She’d drained a whole bottle of wine waiting for us, and was shockingly amorous. She stuck her head in Lorrie’s window. “What took you so long?” she demanded. “Kiss me.” She swirled her purple tongue in Lorrie’s face, then came around to my window and did the same to me. “I like you guys so much,” she gushed from the back seat.


At the dance I sat against the wall with Lorrie, depressingly sober. We counted the girls Rae made out with. The place was filled with young dykes, college students. Rae’s age. She ignored us. We were like the cool thing she brought along to impress all the potential real girlfriends she was normally too intimidated to talk to. At one point she pulled me up to dance with her to “Justify My Love” and it was mortifying.


That night, back at her house, was even worse. Lorrie unbuckled the harness from her hips and leashed it onto Rae. She wanted to teach Rae how to use a strap-on. “I know how,” Rae slurred petulantly. The dildo bobbed absurdly between her wobbly legs, one of those cutesy toys that look like a dog or a dolphin. Rae passed out on her futon, flanked by Lorrie and me. When I woke up and saw Rae, pulverized with a hangover, and silicone smiling out from her crotch, I knew our arrangement was doomed.


We stopped calling her slowly, without discussing it. She didn’t call us either, and the whole affair sort of melted away. I felt relieved. It couldn’t have been a good situation for Rae, who needed a real girlfriend, not these half-available swingers nearly ten years older than her. I felt irresponsible, maybe even sleazy. Thoughts of Rae brought me tiny seizures of guilt, so I stopped thinking about her. Lorrie thought I was taking it too seriously. Rae was probably hooked up with one of the young girls she’d kissed at that dance, and bore no grudges toward us. We hardly ever saw her, since she spent most of her time in her seaside town hours away, riding roller coasters on the boardwalk, eating fake meat sandwiches at the lesbian cafe.


Then we saw her reading her poetry in the deep, liquid red of a SOMA speakeasy, the place filled with dykes sipping cocktails, tilting their heads to receive the poetry coming off the stage. Of course she had written about us, I expected her to, and had planned on writing about her as well. Fellow writers should expect it, maybe even demand it, from each other. But oh, Rae’s poems about us were vicious. So mean that Lorrie shuddered in the bathroom afterwards, wiping tears from her eyes with paper towels like sandpaper, wailing, “How could she?” They were excellent poems, triumphant with fury. The audience around us exploded with applause as she walked off the stage. They were a howling ring around me and Lorrie, clutched at our table. We clapped and smiled like actresses. Probably nobody knew the poems were about us, but we knew. The words stayed inside our bellies, leaden. Rae was a genius of discontent. She was a passionate complainer, and complaint translates beautifully to spoken word. People patted her back, girls came up to her flirtatiously, dropping shy compliments around her like flower petals. Lorrie pushed past her, up the clanging metal staircase to outside, lighting a cigarette, sucking in the smoke, choking it out. I nodded to Rae as I slid past her throng of admirers. That Was Great, I said to her, and she looked confused and small. Thanks, she said. I followed my girlfriend outside.



Michelle Tea and