Overall, I wasn’t doing so well. I was unemployed and almost catatonically depressed. My entire social life was conducted via the Internet, and I was just coming off of a binge of fairly indiscriminate cyber- and real sex with men I never would have never crossed paths with otherwise.
I’d lucked out, though, in that the first guy I met online — fourteen years my junior — was a sweetheart. He spent tens of hours tweaking and optimizing my computer, ftp-ing from shareware portals, hooking me up with porn passwords from the XXX hackz-n-crackz sites. While things downloaded, we filled the time with lots of sex.
An expert in metalwork and cake decorating, he was also an EMT. He told me about the tragically absurdist situations he’d witnessed: the lesbian couple who came to fisticuffs and whose body jewelry got so tangled that he had to cut them apart. The guy who decided to explore role switching, unfortunately with a curtain rod. When it snapped, his panicked girlfriend tried to fish it out with the expander piece, and by the time my young EMT was called, the rod had perforated the guy’s intestine.
I was disturbed by this — the way a private experiment had gone wrong, and then, despite attempts to make it right, had gone wrong again. The story was told in a faux world-weary, seen-it-all tone that failed to mask his voyeuristic zest.
The young guy presented me with a metalwork bracelet, binoculars and a large rubbery dildo “just his size” to remember him by. Then he joined the Navy. The dildo was floppy and smelled overwhelmingly of synthetic chemicals. I put it in my scarf-and-pantyhose drawer, where its reek defied any containment.
My next online obsession was a conceptual artist whose concept of art was his own absence. Everything was kept on a need-to-know basis. Basically, he didn’t think I needed to know. I alternated between begging him to meet me and composing frosty emails dismissing him from my life. Unfortunately, he had excellent timing. Amid my most righteous furies, fantastic packages would arrive. They smelled exotic, like frankincense and myrrh, and contained a variety of beautifully wrapped evocative objects. I would pore over the handwriting and postmarks for clues, and I would delay opening them, then allow myself only one item per day, photographing myself in process at each stage of the unveiling. Because of self-denial, I didn’t open his Halloween package until long after the party it was clearly meant to equip me for. It contained lengths of black laces and tulle, long black gloves, fishnet stockings and silver hairspray.
Then I didn’t hear from him for six weeks. He didn’t answer my emails; his unlisted number went straight to electronic voicemail; his address was a post-office box. I became increasingly frantic and filled with self-loathing for having been sucked in emotionally by someone I could not confront. I lay in bed reading mystery novels and weeping. It was in this state that I decided one evening to summon him to me with my erotic powers, using the silver hairspray canister as my ritual phallus.
The canister was cold and rigid, and far too large, but the pain was appropriate punishment for my weakness. For like three seconds. Then I thought, this totally sucks and pulled it out. There was a moment of strong resistance, then a sudden release and an odd hollow sensation. I set the can on the bedside table and noticed I could see the spray nozzle. It was not a screw-on, but a pop-top, and the cap was still inside me.
In the maybe seven-second window I had in which to retrieve it, a large black wall of total denial descended. I began reading, hoping for some sort of spontaneous ejection or automatic peristalsis to take over. Every ten minutes or so, I’d make a halfhearted effort to grab it but only succeeded in pushing it up past the length of my fingers and lodging it sideways so that its edges dug into the walls of my vagina. Anxiety made my muscles tighten around the object, holding it fast, burying it. In the bathroom, I tried to extend my reach with metal tweezers, using the handy posture recommended in tampon diagrams. After gouging myself a few times, I cried for a bit.
The phone rang. It was my charismatic and extremely strange neighbor. He wanted me to come over for his signature bulgar with a side of bitter greens dressed in vinaigrette. I told him I had a problem and might need his help.
In his bare, candlelit room, everything felt wrong. I’d entered a new phase, one of urgency and discomfort, but he was more interested in delineating boundaries of friendship and intimacy. I stood in the center of the room while he circled me with lit sage, chanting, “Relax and release, wide open, vagina, wide” after which I lay on his loft bed while he stood on a chair and probed me with his own rusty tweezers. We are totally not on the same
page, I thought. I was, deep in the core of my body, feeling a clenching ache and the sharp stab of foreign invasion. I began to long for sterile, shiny, stainless-steel surgical instruments, bright lights and clinical detachment. We attempted to normalize the situation by eating dinner. I listened politely while he psychoanalyzed his girlfriend’s defense mechanisms. We did not refer to my problem again, and he did not ask what I intended to do about it.
I walked up Avenue A like any other woman out on the town. I managed several blocks with increasingly acute cramps, then broke down and took a cab to the Beth Israel emergency room.
I thought I’d ache for hours in a corner while paramedics shouted vital stats of gunshot victims amid the gore and frenetic activity of a New York City Saturday night, but through the sliding doors and past a security guard, there was only an empty, dingy waiting area, rows of orange plastic seats bolted to metal rods. After I drew the diameter of the object for the intake nurse, she hurried away, and almost immediately a very young man in a white coat called my name from large double doors. “Let’s get this out of you and then do the paperwork, okay?” He sounded so practical and clear.
I was ushered around a corner into an empty examining room to a table with stirrups. The extraction procedure took more than an hour. I was ratcheted open with a gigantic, invasive speculum that pinched and stretched. There was a large black nurse with a Caribbean accent. The alarmingly young doctor would probe and twist with long forceps, and both he and the nurse would peer with intense concentration up into my core. Beads of sweat formed on the young doctor’s brow, and slow tears leaked from the sides of my eyes. At one point, the forceps seemed to edge around the object, and I felt an enormous sucking, ripping force. My whole body recoiled into a ball as I jerked away from the stirrups. They both shouted, “No! Hold still!” and I began wailing in earnest. “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done!”
The nurse gave me a stern gaze and a slight shake of her head. In her eyes, I saw cosmic acceptance. I felt then a kinship, in the plight of women, in the seriousness of the moment, in our shared project. This was, perhaps, as close to the pain of childbirth as I might ever come, and, although I was giving birth to a silver plastic hairspray cap, I felt the mystery of blood and the majesty of my ignominious plight. I held the nurse’s calming gaze and froze, and in one wrench, the cap pulled free.
The outtake form advised “complete pelvic rest.” I was given the bloody, mucusy cap in a Zip-Loc bag to take home. The doctor told me he had been ready to give up and take me to surgery. Only then could I sense that his neutral efficiency masked an embarrassment as acute as my neighbor’s.
I walked into the night with something akin to Zen enlightenment. I noticed the slight breeze. Sounds were distinct and formed urban music. I felt gratitude for the brisk practitioners of Western medicine. The horrible loud trendy children with cellphones, rushing from cab to club, suddenly looked so blissfully innocent, so unaware of their mortality and the precipitous tricks of fate. I blessed their hours of self-involvement. I felt calm and light, buoyant and released. I felt no shame at all.
My neighbor alluded only elliptically to my mishap when he showed up to borrow some coffee the next day. “You might take this as an opportunity to really think about what self-love means,” he lectured. “I’d like to see you in a place where you’re choosing to express your self-love in positive ways.” Benevolently, I heard him out from my transcendent plane of not-so-near-death-experience.
I’d joined the continuum of the tragically absurd, the absurdly tragic and the merely hapless, the standard-bearers of human frailty. We who stumble and fall so you don’t have to. The children with marbles up their noses or fishhooks in their thighs, the man with the curtain rod stuck up his ass, the guy who combined ammonia and Clorox to clean his tub, and the guy who tried to climb in his girlfriend’s window on a rope made of ties. The guy who took his mattress on the fire escape for some air and fell to his death, the flying Wallendas. The people caught on videotape scratching their crotches and the people caught on videotape holding up the convenience store. And me, an urban legend in the making, with my sex toy accident with a plastic bottle cap sent to me by a lover I had never met.
L.Divona is a writer in New York City.
This piece originally ran in Nerve’s True Stories.