How To Get Crabs
There are things you must learn before you can fall in love.
How To Get Crabs
There are things you must learn before you can fall in love.
By Snowden Wright
It will take years of mistakes with women — not returning phone calls, forgetting their names, not wearing a condom — before you finally learn a valuable lesson: you have to get crabs before you can truly fall in love.
Over the spring semester of your sophomore year, you and a friend, Rick, live at your family's vacation home in Florida. The night it happens you are twenty years old. At a beachside bar that, given your age, will remain anonymous, the bartender gives you a beer. Your friend Jessica stands beside you, sipping one of her own. Tonight is her idea. Earlier, on the phone, after you claimed to be too tired to go out, she said you and Rick were turning into such babies. So you told her you'd be here.
Near the bar, waiting on the arrival of Rick, whose shift ends in an hour, you notice a woman giving you a look. She's in her mid-forties.
The first person you ever masturbated to was the White Witch in the animated version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Perhaps the event has something to do with your attraction to older women. Not everyone produces their first come stain to the thought of a thousand-year-old cartoon queen.
On the roof of a restaurant, the beachside bar overlooks the Gulf of Mexico, nothing separating it from the thick gulf breeze. A metronomic thrashing of waves on the shore competes with the band playing blues in the corner. You and Jessica talk about your work schedules while going seven beers deep. On your way to the restroom, the older woman grabs your arms and says, "How does it feel to be the best-looking guy in this bar?"
You tell her, "It feels great," but you feel nothing.
Come back from the restroom and ask the woman to dance. She is as drunk as you. Wonder for a second who is seducing whom. You will remember that her name is Sharon because MTV's The Osbournes is popular this year and she bears a passing resemblance to Ozzy's wife. On the dance floor, Sharon gets explicit about herself, including the fact she has a husband and two children, ages six and eight. She also gets explicit about what she wants to do to you. While attempting to hide an erection, you notice Rick talking with Jessica, both of them pointing in your direction. Rick finds the band's lead singer, whispers into his ear, and walks back to Jessica.
Cue the music. Those guitar chords stumbling over each other, that harmonizing of one man's voice with another's: The opening of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" is unmistakable. You find this hilarious. Oh, Rick! You laugh all the way back to Sharon's place, where the two of you make out by the pool.
"Do you want a fuck," she says, "or do you want a suck?"
"Both would be nice." Only later will you realize why she insists the two of you do it in the swimming pool. Must be tough to get old. Sure is tough to be naïve.
Hours later, back at the house, you creep into Rick's room, jump into bed with him, ignore his moans to be left alone, and say, "Guess what I did tonight!"
"Had sex with a woman twice your age."
"Please get your nasty ass out of my bed."
Dry-hump Rick for a bit, lift up his shirt, and give him a raspberry before going to your room, turning out the light, and falling asleep. Your dreams are tinged with chlorine.
Over the following days, you and Rick begin to notice small, itchy, red bumps on your bodies. They're no worse than razor burn. Although most are confined to your arms and legs, some of them appear dangerously close to your bathing-suit areas. That weekend, your parents arrive for a short visit, at which time you mention the predicament. You go to your mom first.
It is your dad who skips the innocent answer of bedbugs and jumps right to the conclusion of one who knows the guilty ways of men. His voice has a touch of Foghorn Leghorn to it as he yells something like, "The boys, I say, the boys got crabs." You and Rick deny his claim, both knowing he's probably right. "Both y'all look awful tired," your dad says that night. "Is something bugging you?" In the morning, you and Rick walk befuddled through the aisles of a drug store, arguing who will be the one to ask the pharmacist for crab medicine.
Your dad skips the innocent answer of bedbugs and jumps right to the conclusion of one who knows the guilty ways of men.
"I'm not the one who slept with that woman," Rick says. "I'm not the one who infested my bed afterwards."
Correct though he is, Rick eventually loses two out of three games of Rock, Paper, Scissors. He asks at the back desk, but the clerk hasn't a clue. (You would have thought a drug store located in such a popular spring-break destination would have an entire shelf dedicated to sexually transmitted pests.) At Wal-Mart, Rick discovers the solution to your venereal conundrum.
"Look right here on the back of the bottle," he says, holding treatment for lice of the head. "‘Also effective for the eradication of pubic lice.'"
"Guy at the drug store. What a fucking moron."
"Pot," he says to you, "kettle."
On the way to the checkout counter, Rick pauses at a rack of candy and picks up a Snickers bar. You ask about his diet. "When you've got crabs," Rick says, "weight just doesn't matter."
The two of you return to an empty house. Earlier that day, the appearance of a silverfish on the loveseat sent both your parents into a madcap frenzy to leave early. Rick volunteers to try the medicine first. Minutes later, you hear a horrific scream rise from a bathroom on the first floor, and minutes after that, you listen as Rick calmly tells you that the treatment didn't hurt much at all. Sweat covers his brow. You take the bottle downstairs, reading the steps of application. In the bathroom, you pull down your pants, straddle the toilet, and rub the foam into your crotch. You are supposed to leave it there for at least five minutes. The foam causes a very peculiar sensation, as though your cock has taken a sojourn in hell. You can almost hear a sizzle.
"How'd it go?" Rick says afterwards. The devil himself should take notes on Rick's chuckle. "You son of bitch."
Here's the real bitch of the story. Neither of you ever actually had pubic lice. Next week, an exterminator will come to check the house and say it is infested with spider mites, most likely the result of you and Rick leaving out food on the kitchen counter.
During orientation at graduate school, you sweat through your undershirt while listening to presenters, a couple faculty and a couple students, explain how they will make you a better writer. Not only will you become a better writer, you've decided, but you will also become a better person. There will be no more flings. All of it seems entirely within your grasp, even when a friend asks if there are any attractive women in the program and you respond, "Well, there was this one girl with intense eyebrows."
Her name is Tatum. In the weeks to come, you will learn that she is from California but went to college in New York, takes her coffee with real sugar, speaks fluent Spanish from living in Ecuador for a year, writes nonfiction, and has a mind as compassionate as it is intelligent. Her ass is the most gorgeous thing you have ever seen.
Early in your relationship with Tatum, you come to rely not only on the embrace of her lissome and yogic appendages but also on her estimation of you as considerate, flawed, and reparable. She does not tolerate when you speak to her as though you were the leading man in a film of your life. She does not reveal herself to just anyone enough for them to perceive the fragility of her psyche. You fall in love with her.
Years earlier, at such a moment, you would have selfishly thought, "I am being selfless."
On a February evening, Tatum arrives at your apartment trying to hide a face covered with tears. You at first think they are what is left of snow. Instead of asking what's wrong, you take her in your arms and say, "It's going to be okay." She tells you what happened through her sobs. It recently came as news that her ex-boyfriend, whom she dated for five years, has started a relationship with someone new. That she is so upset, one might say, should upset you more.
Years earlier, at such a moment, you would have selfishly thought, "I am being selfless," but now, holding a woman you love, all that comes to mind is the thought, "I am holding a woman I love." Suggest the two of you watch a movie together. Dry her face with your sleeve. Make her laugh with your mimicry of baby talk.
It might be the night you watch Junebug and she loves it, or it might be the night you watch Days of Thunder and she hates it. You won't remember because it doesn't matter. Distinctions blur in hindsight. Assembly is always required when remembering what has happened to you.
The sex later that evening is indicative of your new self. Even though you will one day long to describe each detail, the neckties used as handcuffs, the scarves used as blindfolds, you know, fully aware of the irony that Tatum is halfway through writing a memoir, she would be mortified to have such a personal experience revealed to the world. One thing must be said: the person you used to be never would have done so much to help someone else get theirs.
The next morning, you wake up before Tatum and look out the window, where the interior courtyard of your apartment building has been transformed into a brilliant white replica of itself. You imagine for a moment that the tears from last night have reverted to what you thought was their original form. Once Tatum wakes, you say, "Let's make snow ice cream," motioning towards the window. The making of snow ice cream, you explain to her, is a tradition from your childhood. On the rare days it would snow in Mississippi, your mother would send you and your siblings outside to collect giant bowls full of fresh snow, which she would then let all of you help stir as she mixed with sweetened condensed milk. The result was snow ice cream.
"Sure," Tatum says, "okay."
Outside, after buying the varieties of milk from the bodega on the corner, you shave the top few inches of snow off car hoods and collect all of it in a large Tupperware container. You go back inside and mix the ingredients. Voila! You go back to the bedroom and give Tatum a spoonful. At that moment, you notice a look on her face that you realize is the result of, first, someone so reticent about revealing herself having someone else reveal himself so openly and, second, a woman coming to learn that her boyfriend feels something for her that she does not feel for him.
She does not love you.
Across the room, the radiator bangs to life with fresh steam, and out the window, snowflakes cease to flutter through the air. That specific look on your girlfriend's face is something you've been expecting for a while. Ignoring your thoughts of karma, you are fine with the fact Tatum does not love you because of another meaning to her look, namely that the emotion inside you is genuine. She only could have gotten so distraught if the situation made her realize your love is for real. Understand it doesn't matter that she doesn't reciprocate your feelings. All that matters is that you have them.
You set aside the bowl of snow ice cream, kiss her eyelids, and pull the covers over the two of you. On that chilly winter morning, you snuggle with Tatum, who will later prove further you have a heart by shattering it to bits but who has for now mended your conscience by allowing you to feel again, and say, "Have I told you the story of how I got crabs?"
Photography by Barrett Kowalsky.