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Grudge Match

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 PERSONAL ESSAYS

Of the six months we were together, I can remember doing it only four times: Once in the front seat of his friend’s BMW in the parking lot of a military building in Germany. Once on the roof deck of a bathhouse. Once on a jagged rock in the middle of — what was it, a lake or a marsh? — something you wouldn’t want to swim in unless your sole purpose was to paddle out to the sharp rock in the middle of it to fuck. And once on the bare floor of an abandoned stone cottage in the middle of the French countryside. We had sex countless other times, but only four times were worth recounting, if not reliving.
   Antoine and I met when I was nineteen and studying for a semester abroad in Strasbourg, France. At that point, I had slept with only two people and proudly possessed the moral fortitude of an eighty-year-old nun. I didn’t believe in sex without love, or without a panoply of blood work, for that matter. I was my own walking, talking health-class filmstrip. My experience with sex had always been beautiful and enriching, the kind that inspires people to write songs for Celine Dion.

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    Upon arriving in Strasbourg, I was assigned to a host family of four. A single mother, her two teenage daughters — one slightly older than I, one slightly younger — and her son, Antoine, who was in his early twenties. All the kids had different last names, and I heard random stories about them growing up naked in the woods, eating bark and making their own clothes. The mother slept on the couch in the living room, while the three kids shared a room; they used the empty bedroom to house foreign students for income.
   The girls were of little interest to me; mostly they dressed up in my clothes and wore their own funny scarves around the house. But there was something about Antoine. He woke up some mornings and, for no reason, put on a three-piece pinstriped suit with wingtips and a fedora, then went about his day, which consisted of smoking three packs of cigarettes and being a feckless loser.
   Antoine was just shy of six feet tall and thin with a classically Alsacian complexion: light eyes, medium-brown hair that insinuated blondeness, ruddy cheeks that made him look like he’d just come in from the cold. He was beautiful in the way I always thought the young gay lover of an old French painter would be: his delicate features were vaguely feminine and his ass could have been chiseled out of stone. I’m certain he was aware of how handsome he was, although he took advantage of his beauty by completely dismissing it. One night I came home after midnight to find him in the bathroom with the door ajar, shaving his head to the skin on a whim. Antoine didn’t make a particularly attractive bald guy – in fact, his hair was lovely. But he amplified his physical appeal by rejecting its trappings.

He sniffed out a sexual lassitude in her that mirrored his, like how two blind people find each other.

    Antoine came and went very much at his leisure — sometimes he would be gone for days without explanation, although I suspected he was shacking up with some dirty Française — and had trouble holding onto a job. His mother, Marie, worked day and night at the health-food store below the apartment for minimum wage and insisted that Antoine, being twenty-three, had to pay rent if he wanted to continue living there. For this, he swore at her, then ignored her, treating her like his sisters and all other women: charming them only for what he needed; for all else, they were an afterthought.
   I was no exception. Antoine paid me little mind, except to regard me as a novelty (how entertaining it must have been for him to have someone around whose French was poorer than his own!). He often made a point of telling a joke to his friends in my presence: “What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Tri-lingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bi-lingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? Americain.” (The real punch line? Antoine didn’t know a single word outside of his mother tongue.)
   Away from the apartment, I studied French at the university. There, I befriended a woman named Ariel. She was a student of my home college in the states, but it took a 6,000-mile trip across the world for us to meet. Ariel came to the apartment a few times to hang out or pick me up, and I soon discovered that she was stealing away to give Antoine blowjobs in the bathroom. I could only guess that he had sniffed out a certain sexual lassitude in her that mirrored his, like how two blind people or two drug addicts find each other.
   This rattled me, although I was loath to admit it. I did, however, appreciate all the information Ariel provided me about him: huge cock, uncircumcised, never made a peep when he came. She got sick of him after about the third mouthful and silently ended the affair. He never mentioned her to me, or pried me for information: I got the distinct feeling that in his mind, she never even existed.
   This made Antoine an alluring challenge. If Ariel couldn’t leave an impression on him with a blowjob, could I do it by attracting, then rejecting him? I certainly didn’t need — and didn’t want — to have sex with Antoine. I had a moral high ground to uphold, not to mention a boyfriend waiting back home. Plus, Antoine was my host brother, was bound to have hepatitis, and had deposited DNA into a friend of mine. And I hated him.
   But it soon became apparent that ignoring him was having no effect. Against my better judgment, I started seeking out his company. On a whim, I took Antoine to my favorite café, the one with the chick bartender who smoked a pipe and kept a parrot behind the bar that whistled French music slightly off tune. We sat at a booth in the back corner, the one I considered to be “mine,” in the way only a teenager could possibly claim something in a place she’d only been to a handful of times. After two or five beers and several hundred shared cigarettes, he politely asked me for a kiss. So that was his strategy, I thought. To be respectful and charming, the prick. So I kissed him. A few minutes later, I discovered that public dry humping is not looked down upon in France.
   The dashing Frenchman, with the tongue that invented kissing, seducing the innocent Americaine: it was just too trite and offensive, like something out of the teenage remake of Dangerous Liaisons. Unfortunately, I played my part of the young Selma Blair all too well.
    Every time I sucked Antoine’s dick, I thought only of Ariel and the innumerable others who had, doubtless, been there before me. His penis stank from lack of bathing and excess of foreskin; I had to give him a thorough handjob in the bathtub before I could put it near my mouth. Ariel was right; he gave no indication of climax other than his musky ejaculate.When, eventually, Antoine stopped coming outside of me and started coming inside of me, there were many times I had absolutely no awareness that he had come at all. This struck me as being slightly pathological: what circumstances would cause someone to consistently suppress his orgasm? Maybe he started having sex in a room next to his mother’s and didn’t want to give himself away. Or perhaps it was a European thing — a measure of restraint in the most hedonistic moment. I liked to think, though, that he just didn’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of knowing they had played a small part in his pleasure.


I kept sleeping with him, all the while disliking us both more and more.

   Two weeks from the night he mounted me at the café, I let him fuck me in his mother’s house. The kissing wore me down, if you must know; his tongue in my mouth made all the bones in my body go slack. I thought that if his oral skills were any indication, the sex would be unparalleled.
   As it turns out, it was very much paralleled. The passion leading up to the act belied the act itself, which seemed rote, as if each thrust had been factory-installed. We usually did it with him impersonally poised on top of me, except for the time in the car (driver’s seat, physical impossibility) and the time at the bathhouse. I’d had sex in a car once before, in the back seat, parked by a lake with my high school sweetheart. It was a little cramped, but rather charming. The BMW in the German military parking lot with Antoine was slightly less so. The next day, I had bruises on my shin and back from the emergency brake and steering column. I’m no stranger to rough sex, but this seemed more desperate than hot. I wasn’t getting banged up because it was part of the desired vibe; Antoine didn’t care about my comfort, and I didn’t want to readjust my position for fear of prolonging sex more than necessary.
   The bathhouse was particularly novel, if only because everyone else was naked. It occurred to Antoine that fucking on the roof deck would be totally sympa: if anyone walked by, we could just pretend I was sitting on his lap. The physical act was just as unfulfilling on that roof as it was everywhere else with Antoine, but I got off on the fact that I was nailing a French guy in a public place. Antoine and I never talked while we were doing it, never gazed longingly into each other’s eyes. I usually just tried to get him to come as efficiently as possible while taking in the scenery. The location was always a consolation prize.
   Now, I realize there was no chance I’d ever enjoy sex with Antoine. But at the time, I continued our relationship, determined to prove to myself that I had done the right thing. In the past, my feelings for lovers had always grown stronger the more intimate we became — I thought the same would hold true for Antoine.
   He started telling me that he loved me, which I can only assume was a lie. I told him I loved him too, which was definitely a lie, but also an attempt to make myself feel better about the affair. I’m not having unsatisfying sex with someone I hate because I’m too afraid to admit I made a mistake . . . no, we’re in love!
   So in love, in fact, that Antoine felt entitled to read my journal and scream at me about a passage that featured his name alongside those of three other men. Mind you, Antoine couldn’t read a word of English and was indicting me solely on the presence of his name in a paragraph. Then he became indignant when I brought up the issue of my privacy: wasn’t it his right to investigate a disloyal salope?
   I told myself that I was leaving France in a month and should just keep up appearances so things wouldn’t get uglier. I could fly home and never speak to him again. So I kept sleeping with him, all the while disliking both of us more and more.
   At the airport, we both cried; he because he was losing someone to yell at and fuck, and I because my relief just happened to come out in liquid form. However, my escape was brief. Antoine decided to visit me in America a couple of months later. I could not, if my life depended on it, explain why I agreed to receive him. We fought the entire time; the visit culminated with him breaking my apartment window. Not even then, when I actually had some concerns for my physical well-being, was I able to tell him to go to hell. It was as if he had taken from me the ability to do anything in character. I hardly recognized myself.
   It wasn’t until Antoine was safely back in France that I managed to break it off with him. Even then, it was a pussy’s farewell. I just stopped answering his phone calls. Actually, I stopped answering the phone altogether for about a month.
  Antoine was the first and last person I’ve had sex with whom I didn’t care for. In retrospect, I don’t believe those four memories I keep of him are arbitrary: they all feature me being driven into hard, unforgiving surfaces, wishing I had listened a little harder to my inner health-class filmstrip. It’s the one in which something wretched happens when you give up what’s true about yourself in pursuit of something you don’t really want in the first place.  

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©2004 Jennifer Rabin and Nerve.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

J.B. Rabin lives in Oregon where she writes
lying down in her cowboy pajamas.