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Death and the Maiden

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 PERSONAL ESSAYS
Love Motel

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Like most of New York, I shivered when I heard the news reports about the murder of Immette St. Guillen, the pretty twenty-four-year-old criminal-justice student who disappeared from a downtown bar. The next day, her brutally tortured body was found in a desolate area in Brooklyn. Media coverage has cast her as either an angel or as a belligerent, foolish drunk who shouldn’t have had so much to drink, shouldn’t have gone to a bar by herself, provoked the bouncer and should have known better. But I see her as just another twentysomething girl in New York, flirting with danger.
   The summer I was twenty, I woke up in the apartment of a bouncer who worked at a grungy Upper West Side bar. I came out of my alcohol-induced haze slowly: Shit, I’m late for work; shit, where am I; shit, what did I do? I had passed out on the bed, on top of the covers. He had climbed under the sheets and was snoring. His arm was splayed over me, almost pinning me down. All muscle, his forearm was thicker than my calf. He was far larger than any Columbia Division Three football player, my former standard for big men. I didn’t know where my clothes were. Once I found them forming a messy trail to the bedroom, he woke up and we awkwardly kissed. I took the elevator to the lobby of what I realized was a public housing project in the East Nineties. I blinked in the sunlight, my contacts sticking to my eyes. I hailed a cab but had it stop at 110th and Amsterdam when the meter went up to $8.00. I only had $10.00 in my pocket.
   I saw the bouncer again, many times, throughout college. He always patted my ass as I walked inside the bar and never checked any of my friends ID’s, which made me feel deliciously risqué. A few months later, at a bar on the Upper East Side, I started talking to a guy who said he was a writer. Under the influence of alcohol and boredom, I went back to his apartment with the affable pretense

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of looking at his book collection, which led to us tumbling on top of his bed.

“I could kill you right now,” he said.


   At one point, he turned toward me and began playing with my hair. His wrists seemed almost delicate. His whole body seemed streamlined. There were no noticeable muscles, just movement.
   “I could kill you right now,” he said.
   “Heh heh.” I laughed one of those laughs where the two syllables are actually pronounced. I do that when I don’t know what to say and am just hoping the conversation will be forgotten.
   “But I wouldn’t know what to do with the body,” he continued.
   I stayed the night. Somehow, even though my brain told me to just get out, I didn’t really feel afraid. Instead, the realization that he could do anything to me felt strangely erotic. Unlike spending the night in a cramped twin bed with a fellow Columbia student, this was gritty, authentic New York. I wanted him, and the city, to consume me. We fucked and fell asleep.

   Plenty of other potentially dangerous men followed. There was the investment banker the summer of my junior year who wanted me to wear a bullet-proof vest and nothing else, the Morningside Heights man who tried to fuck me with a beer bottle until I said a firm no, and the guy with an artificial hip who I had a drunken make-out session with on Ninth Avenue. Afterward, I ignored all his voice messages, but he sent me an e-mail that read: You should be careful where you swim. The waters may be deeper than you think.

 

     

  

 PERSONAL ESSAYS

  

     

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   Maybe that would have sounded like a threat to some people, but to me, sex had become a game. Danger did not seem real, or at least it seemed like something I could control. I was captivated by the unexpected. With each encounter, I felt prouder, like I was embedding myself into all of the dark corners of New York City just to prove that they didn’t scare me and that I belonged.
   At one point, I went to see a therapist as part of a debriefing for a crisis hotline I worked on. I saw her eyes widen when I told her about some of my adventures.
   “Is that it?” she said when I finished.
   “Yeah,” I said. “But I’m really just here for the debriefing. I’m fine,” I said defiantly. I was fine — not only that, I was thriving. I was on track to graduate magna cum laude. I had good friends. I was a crisis counselor, for god’s sake.
   The therapist didn’t seem convinced. “Okay, there are no experiences you didn’t mention, like an abortion you feel bad about?”
   There really wasn’t, and I resented her implication that there had to be something to blame for my flirtations with disaster. Besides, everyone I knew was doing the same thing. My friends and I thought anyone who wasn’t doing that was creating artificial boundaries, choosing not to act when there was a whole world of adventure just waiting.
   At the height of a drug flirtation near the end of my senior year, I placed an ad on Craigslist looking for coke in exchange for company. The man who answered it ushered me into his West Village loft. After I snorted some lines and went down on him, my bra askew and my jeans unzipped, he pulled me up.

Finally, I had done what no guy been able to: I had seriously freaked myself out.

   “You have to go,” he said. “I have another girl coming over.”
   He escorted me to the door. High and disoriented, I had a panic attack outside a bar on Lafayette Street. I collapsed on the sidewalk, heaving, as the bouncer gave me water and contemplated calling an ambulance. I pulled myself up and grabbed a cab, getting out to vomit a block away from my apartment. As I slowly turned the corner, I felt shaky and out of control. Finally, I had done what no guy been able to: I had seriously freaked myself out.
   These days, I go out in groups, buy a round of gin-and-tonics when it’s my turn, split a cab home, occasionally go on dates with friends of friends. But whenever I see a drunk girl dancing by herself at a bar near closing time, I never wonder how she could be so foolish. When I hear about a girl who disappeared late one night, I don’t see her as an angel destroyed by the city. I think: she knew she was in danger. That was the point.  

  

     

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Anna Davies has written for New York, Page Six, Jane, Seventeen and
others. She lives in New York. Check out her website at www.companyshekeeps.com

© 2006 Anna Davies & Nerve.com