In the end, there is just me: a twenty-nine year old Minnesota Man careening along the interstate, heading back east to Saint Paul on a humid August Friday three weeks before 9/11, sloshing around the car in guilt and shame and nauseous self-loathing, cracking the window, pulling out the unused condoms in their strings of six and holding them up to the noisy gap to be sucked out like the smoke from my shaky cigarette, then the empty Trojan box, then the second chain-smoked cigarette butt, all tumbling out of view in the black hole of the midnight highway at eighty miles per hour.
Before that there is the awkward goodbye: shirt haphazardly buttoned, shorts on, reaching down to the boom-box to press stop, to bring a merciful end to the AC/DC Live and the lie of the heavy-metal fantasy, feet slipped into unbuckled sandals, slinking out the hotel door, silence except for the sound of the voiceover stuck on my record’s skip-groove; sorry, I have to go, sorry, I have to go.
Before that there is hiding half my face in the thin Holiday Inn Express pillow, wishing myself gone already, no longer here in the dim glow of the room – parking lot lights leaking through the blinds, the metallic whirr of the air-conditioner, the antiseptic smell of hotel transience, her hand idling on my tense spine, her eyes on the back of my head, trying to coax me out of silence.
Before that there is the second premature ejaculation, barely thirty seconds inside her before the unwelcome unwanted explosion, this time accompanied by a little screech, a yeeaargh of frustration and admonishment, as I am suddenly seventeen again and bursting forth with semen at the slightest provocation, and now an air of resignation on her face – real or imagined – in the dark of the room as I once again turn my planned marathon into a fifty-yard dash.
Before that is the massage – which I offer after the first half-minute sex-sprint, what I offer as appeasement and also selfishly in the knowledge that it will re-ignite the passions below, these hands on body, this rubbing will lead to the resurrection, the re-erection, my south will rise again, the backrub offered in the false certainty that round two will last much longer than round one.
Before that is the first penetration: I’m in, barely, and she clenches – a warm, wet heated embrace and I try to clench myself but it is too late and we’ve barely set a tempo, barely adjusted, barely gotten to know each other, barely made it past six thrusts when I seize up with an oh god – a small “g” god, because it is insignificant, anticlimax, an exclamation uttered more with shock and dismay than pleasure.
Before that is the tap out: I’m flailing away down there with my tongue – “A for Effort” at least – but I’m really just slapping on paint like some ignorant white-washer, as amenably clueless as I was at seventeen, her reaction muted, her thighs tensely bored between my hands while in the boom-box background soundtrack the audience roars to life, surging with howled joy as Angus Young fingers the epic opening guitar licks of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck – but oh how she is not.
Before that is going limp in her mouth: an unfortunate unintentional ego-bruising, embarrassing deflation, retreat, not her fault, no critique of her technique, but rather the horrible realization that unlike my early twenties – which were littered with sex I was never really that into – that now my tortured mind exists in direct correlation to the confusion amongst the troops down below, as the big-head general tries to get in the game and banish the guilt and doubt, the penile brigade under his command wavers in uncertainty, looking for a Stonewall Jackson to stand tall and stiffen the line, a hero who unfortunately does not arrive to save the day.
Before that is a fumbling disrobe: her tight sleeveless low v-cut sweater-top comes off easily enough, as does the super push-up front-snap bra – supah-sexy! Snap and go! – but my t-shirt snags an earring on the way off, leaving me with blind groping shirt-head for the seven eternal seconds it takes us to disentangle metal from cotton, then I make a quick introduction to each nipple before kissing my way down her belly, but the removal of her jeans and my shorts is much less sexy than advertised, as we blindly fumble with each other’s snaps and zippers while kissing distractedly – I am trying, goddammit to be in the moment, to forget the lime-less Coronita Lights and the AC/DC and my lethargic response to her well-intentioned attempt at being the Metalhead Fantasy Chick – until we finally break our embrace to each tend to our own achievement of nakedness.
Before that is the kiss: the moment of first contact, the end of the build-up, the beginning of the consummation, the melding of our electric currents, finally face-to-face, now lips-to-lips, tongue-to-probing-tongue but the shock is muted, low voltage, where I expected a heat-blast is instead a pleasurable tingle – I am aware of the physics of our faces pressed and bodies mashed, but the buzz of anticipation was obviously overhyped; I’ve come this far, but the thrill is gone.
Before that is the brief, haphazard warm up: I enter the hotel room and take stock – she’s brought a six-pack of Coronita Lights – those little mini-bottle Coronas – but no lime, and as we crack open a pair and take long nervous gulps hoping for instant liquid courage, liquor lubricant, I remember that Corona – regardless of what size the bottle – is a shit skunk-tasting beer without the lime, the lime makes the Corona, and I see also that she’s brought a boom-box and two compact discs – Def Leppard’s The Vault: Greatest Hits and AC/DC Live, and I put in the AC/DC because sure, Def Leppard has some good sleaze, but there’s also Bringin’ on the Heartbreak and Foolin’ and Too Late for Love, and a host of other potential musical minefields that I don’t want to wander through in my shaky infidelity shoes.
Before that is meeting up in the parking lot of the Bayfield Suites: car window to car window like undercover agents, we roll them down to begin the consummation and I want to say I’m sorry, I don’t think I can do this after all – that’s what I’ve been thinking all day, that’s what I’ve been planning on saying, what’s been ricocheting in my head for the duration of the twenty minute drive from my Saint Paul apartment to this loop-freeway chain hotel, one of a hundred possible choices for cheap lodging along this stretch of Interstate 494, beacon light for weary travelers, for cheap-minded corporate execs who won’t pony up for their employees to stay at the sheik downtown hotels, cheap beds for cheat-minded boyfriends and girlfriends planning illicit meet-ups, but I’m mute as she says this place was all booked up, so I got a reservation at the Holiday Inn on the other side of the freeway – room 228, and I just nod and say okay, see you there.
Before that is the D-Day panic: I sleep poorly, wake up with a sour stomach even though I imbibed no alcohol the night before, feel guilty all day, advance-guilt, shame and lame, looking around the new apartment my girlfriend and I have been living in for only a couple weeks, thinking about the fact that now that I’m out of the depressing lonely hole of my half-year of suburban existence, merged back into the dense chatter of the city, out of the girlfriend’s parent’s basement, out of the crappy suburban temp-job, I now recognize that I only started the chain of events leading to this infidelity because I was so bored, because I hated my life at that moment and sought whatever distraction I could find to escape from that spirit-crushing reality and that the final consummation of this workplace flirtation – which had been epically important during those dreary days of suburban winter – now seems unnecessary.
Before that is the official planning meeting: the first time that we, the conspirators, congregate outside the office, outside the confines of secret notes passed through the official paper-file workflow of the temp job, the first time we actually speak the words, the first time we make eye contact and discuss actual logistics, in the hot July black-asphalt suburban parking lot of a Panera Bread corner just after the close of my last day on the job, a week before my girlfriend is leaving town, two weeks before her boyfriend is coming to town, seven days of overlapping opportunity for the morally challenged but she is genuinely torn and offers up the last-ditch escape clause, the opportunity to turn back from the open hatch of the skydiving plane, she says we could just walk away, but I’ve only had sex with one woman – my girlfriend –for almost two years, smashing my previous record for monogamy by sixteen months, and I want this, I’ve put so much time and effort into this seduction – that I can’t, even though I should, even though I kind of want to – walk away now.
Before that is the grand pornographic tome: a serial novel, given in daily installments, an epic literary festival of carnal imaginings, back and forth, her pool scene wherein we are swimming naked and she gives me head – which I read during a long morning bathroom break – then my return of serve, my offering for her lunch hour leisure, a play by play third-person sexscapade, a litany of then he, then he, then he – a big, bold swagger on notebook paper, a sheet-twisting orgasmic-shrieking promissory note that I foolishly believe – as I scrawl feverish fantasy – I will be able to fulfill.
Before that is the Crossing of the Rubicon: moving past the flirtation, past the you’re sexy note and the I noticed you TOO on that first day note, moving into life story, current situation, told in pre-Twitter bursts of paper scraps and post-it notes passed back and forth, passing the hours of the day, passing time making passes, the breaching of the possibility, but more importantly the kicking down of the gate of impossibility; we both notice each other’s engagement-finger ornaments, and simultaneously, agreeably admit that we’re no longer certain we want to cash in on those precious-metal promises.
Before that is her seemingly innocuous decision, upon receiving my first bit of post-it note prose, the little chicken-scratch scrap, my smiley-faced lure, a little flash flourish, she faces a moment of choice, she could quash this improper personal foray on professional paper, kill it with a sternly-worded assertion of authority, an I’m your supervisor, knock it off admonishment, or she could reply with one of those blatant brush-off notes – a yep, I noticed that too, thus ego-pricking me into not trying that move again – or she could just ignore the signal and allow silence to blare her refusal to engage, or she could, unfortunately, be fighting the same suburban demons, she could in fact respond with a similarly flirtatious scribble, her own smiley-faced entreaty.
In the beginning there is just this: my seemingly innocuous decision, goaded by the self-delusional assurance that just a little won’t in fact lead to more unwise sex, just as those seemingly innocuous decisions of the preceding decade lead inexorably to those infidelities, this moment when my pen hovers over the post-it note, the ink un-spilled, the story not yet certain, when I could leave those first words unwritten, could tuck that notion into the crevice, could take a moment to take pride in my two years of diligent noble fidelity, when I could suck it up and take the pain of my non-optimal temporary suburban life situation with grace, a moment when I might fight back against my lifelong self-defeating propaganda of fear in the heart, but which instead becomes that moment when I blink, plunging back into my depths for one last swig from my cocktail of lubricating delusions, that moment when the hand twitches and the pen strikes tinder to paper, seeking conflagration.