Once I brought the mild-mannered schoolteacher into my bedroom, things got weird.
“Help me out, Litz! I’m struggling!” Danny yelled, as if hanging from a fire escape or dodging sniper fire. He wasn't. He was inside of me for the first time, a fact that made me want to throw on my clothes and leave. That we were having sex in my house presented something of an obstacle.
“I need to adjust the angle!” he continued, maneuvering my legs in a way that would either give rise to a theorem or a fracture. Dear God, I thought. This is what I get for sleeping with a math teacher.
Danny was my brother’s colleague and he’d asked me out a month prior at a Fourth of July party. He was well-read, dedicated to his economically-disadvantaged students, button-down handsome, and a bit of a goofball. He said he liked how my red bra poked out from under my white tank top and overalls — this was Seattle, 1997 — and I was charmed. Danny and my brother shared adjacent classrooms and a poker night, though, so we took things slowly, trying not to complicate our lives should we get bored or vexed. But we looked forward to each new date, laughing easily and encouraging each other’s career pursuits. For weeks we only kissed and while the sky didn't ignite, neither did it cloud.
We were, however, giddily anticipating the next step. Late one Saturday, we strolled the waterfront after dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant, and he rested his hand on my thigh as we drove home. When he said I made him happier than he’ d been in years, I kissed him for the duration of the next red light.
But now, quite unexpectedly, I practically hovered out-of-body and hoped no appendage got lodged some place requiring an x-ray or prompting a documentary.
"Danny, it’s okay, sweetie. You don't have to finish," I said. He was focused on his subsiding erection and didn't notice my bemusement.
"Wait, I can do this," he responded, sweat dripping from his clenched jaw. He pulled out and furiously rubbed against my left thigh, like a Boy Scout coaxing fire from two sticks.
"Aaaarrrrgggggghhhh!" he yelled and arched his back. I looked down at my leg. He was done. I rolled out of bed to get a towel and some distance. He reached for my arm.
"Wait," Danny said. "I want to hold you."
Careful not to smear remnant on my nightstand, I crawled under the sheets. He wrapped his arms around me. Usually, I enjoy the post-coital wind-down, but this time I wanted trauma counseling. Or solitude and a microwave burrito.
"Did you climax?" he asked, sounding like an instructional video.
"When I did. Just now." There was something poignant to his cluelessness, and it kept me from laughing. Or kicking him.
"No, honey. I didn't."
"The little-kid-on-a-bike technique doesn't work for me." He looked puzzled.
"You know, 'Look, Ma! No hands!'”
“Next time I’ ll try a different solution,” he said earnestly before drifting into a motionless slumber. I stared at the ceiling and wished there’d been leftovers from the Thai restaurant. The next morning he kissed me good-bye and said he couldn’t wait to see me again. I replied in turn, feeling guilty for not meaning it.
Usually, that would have been that. I’ve been in deeply meaningful relationships and a few that were perfectly ridiculous, but never have I stayed just so I could have a partner. Those people who boast, “I’ve never been single?” I think they’re idiots. What are the odds they just happen to meet the love of their life, or at least someone who intrigues them, the second their previous relationship ends?
Yes, there’ s enormous societal pressure to couple but, you know, being single is not like facing the Gulag. I’ve traveled alone on countless jaunts, taken a book to dinner hundreds of times and endured some truly inane remarks from sundry relatives during the holidays. And, of course, I’ve been dumped, but I’m comfortable by myself and would rather be alone than in a relationship that’s obviously a front, a way to keep people from asking me, “ Why aren’t you in a relationship?”
Yet, I considered allowing Danny to become the exception to my rule. I had recently broken up with someone I loved because he wouldn’t commit, had an ill-begotten fling with an alcoholic actor, and had undergone yet another series of invasive medical tests. (I have CFIDS, an illness akin in many ways to MS.) It was an emotional perfect storm; I was worn out and I was lonely.
So I ignored the visceral response telling me dating Danny was as wise as gargling Drano, and listed the reasons I should: he had a Master’s degree from a prestigious university. Despite his parents’ millions, he’d opted to teach. He had a cyclist’s physique and eyes the color of blue raspberry Sno-cones. How many of our grandmothers spent their lives with men who gave them more children than orgasms? They might have been miserable, but economic reality and social mores forced them to stay put. Did I think I was better than our grandmothers? I could endure some horrific sex, at least until I taught Danny where the bits were and what they did. I would view it as a project, like the Panama Canal. Our grandmothers’ suffering wouldn’t be in vain.
On our next date, Danny and I saw Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book, which featured Ewan McGregor’s penis in a supporting role. For me, at least, the evening was off to a fine start. And I liked that Danny wasn’t threatened by the sight of a penis not his own. At dessert afterward, we cracked silly jokes over our Ephemere sundaes. I started to hope our first night in bed had been the sexual equivalent of the old theater adage, bad preview, good premiere. Maybe I should view the hapless ineptitude and misdirected ejaculation as the preview and tonight as opening night. I’d playfully direct him and our performance would merit a standing ovation. Or an “ O” of some kind.
Back at my place, Danny began hurriedly kissing me on the bed.
“Slow down,” I whispered and pulled my black scoop neck tee over my head.
“Hey, that’s the same red bra you wore at the Fourth of July party,” he said, his eyes flashing. He pays attention to detail, I thought. We can make this work. His kissing accelerated and still I tried to pace us. I wanted him to melt with me, not on me. He unbuttoned his Levi’s, practically swatting me away. When we were both naked, I guided his hand between my legs.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked with a trace of annoyance, the first he’d ever displayed toward me. I showed him and he opened and contracted his palm with mechanical rapidity. To Danny, the clitoris was not unlike a Rubik's Cube.
As my irritation grew, he said, “Now I want you to do something
Ignoring that he hadn’t done anything for me, I asked, “What?”
“I want to wear your red bra,” he replied urgently.
“But you’ ll stretch it!” I blurted. Cross-dressing had never aroused me, but it obviously did it for my new boyfriend. It was easy enough to try and, ultimately, harmless. If it fulfilled his need, I’d give it a shot. It was another thing entirely, though, to let him distend one of my favorite pieces of lingerie. I’m a DD but only 34” around, and my garnet lace underwire didn’t stand a chance against his 6’ 2” frame.
“Would you like to wear one of my skirts?” I asked, trying to accommodate him. “My favorite vintage has a wrap waistline so it’s adjustable.” His bulge grew; I felt I was back at my college retail job, describing the spring inventory.
Swathed in my cotton poplin A-line festooned with bumblebees and dahlias, Danny came with the intensity of a fire hose. I wondered if he’ d pay for my dry-cleaning bill.
As he again slumbered peacefully, I pondered my options. Irrefutably, Danny knew nothing of female anatomy, yet liked to pretend he bore his own. The former bothered me; the latter I could roll with. If cross-dressing was part of his sexuality, so be it. I once read about a couple who liked to pierce each other’s genitalia with chopsticks. Danny just wanted to share my wardrobe. But Danny’s lack of sexual skills and his unwillingness to accrue any belied a selfishness no amount of vertical compatibility would overcome. He asked if I had an orgasm as if crossing off items on a grocery list. He showed no interest in my sexual gratification yet took it for granted I would satisfy him. Perhaps he assumed sexual mastery would fall into his lap as easily as his wealth and good looks had. I wasn’t sure. I did know I would miss the guy who made me laugh over spring rolls. But, unfortunately, he was attached to someone who raided my closet while treating my ladyparts as an afterthought.
I broke up with him that week, explaining I liked him but we were incompatible. He said he understood. Then he elaborated, saying his other girlfriends had achieved orgasm without “all the extra work you need.” I knew I had made the right choice. Shortly thereafter, my mother called, disappointed by what she viewed as another mistake in my personal life.
“You’ve dated so many writers and actors. This one was a grown-up. He shook your father’s hand. He brought flowers when he came to dinner,” she continued, building steam. “He ironed his shirts and had a steady paycheck. Most importantly, he was good to you.”
“Yes, Mom. All those things are true. But it’ s not as simple as when you and Dad dated. You knew each other for, like, five seconds before you got engaged. Things are more complicated now.” My mother and I are close and I prefer not to lie to her. The truth, in this case, though, was untenable.
“Your generation makes everything complicated,” she retorted. Whenever she invoked my “generation,” I knew I was in for a lecture. Given the circumstances, I was in no mood for it.
“You’re right, Mom. We do make everything more complicated. Because fifty years ago I would have already been married to Danny when I found out he likes to wear women’s clothing in bed. I would have been stuck, with four kids and a mortgage, and I would have had to put up with it. So yeah, I’m sorry to break it to you, but Danny the preppy non-artist grown-up likes to wear my vintage wrap skirt in bed.”
Each end of the phone reverberated in stunned silence. She couldn’t quite believe what I’d said and I couldn’t quite believe I’d said it.
“Is this one of your jokes?” she asked, more calmly now.
“No, Mom, it’s not a joke. Danny is a cross-dresser.” I paused. “The big problem, though, is he’s really bad in bed.” I laughed tentatively. Then she joined in.
“Oh, honey,” she said. “You did the right thing. I’m sorry for interfering.” Then she added, somewhat needlessly, “Except whatever you do, don’t tell your father.”
Danny coached tennis, chided me when I used profanity and asked me not to take my medications in public because he was afraid someone would mistake them for drugs. In retrospect, his relentless normalcy should have tipped me off. That’s part of the glory and folly of being human; everyone is weird. Some people just keep that a secret until their clothes come off.
Which is why, much to my mother’s chagrin, I still prefer creative men. Sure, their moods are inconsistent and their ties second-hand. But I like my craziness as I used to like my bra strap: exposed where everyone can see it.