Sunday, January 24, 2016


"Mommy, read me a story."
"How about the werewolf one?"

There was a baby jack-o-lantern on Britt's windowsill. Teresa had taken Britt to the pumpkin patch. They had picked out a big pumpkin for the family room and a little pumpkin for Britt's room. "A mommy and a baby pumpkin," Britt had said. They'd carved a scary face into the big one with a knife, and had drawn a silly face onto the little one with a magic marker. Teresa and Britt turned off the overhead light and left the nite-lite on. Reading in this dim lighting would strain Teresa's eyes, but it was a short book, only a children's picture book, and a book like this required a spooky setting. Britt clutched a stuffed rabbit. Its fur was spiky where she'd drooled on it as a baby.


"When the moon is full, if you listen very carefully, you just might hear a particularly sad howl coming from the woods. This won't sound the same as a regular dog's howl. It will be mournful and full of longing."

- Mommy, what's '"mournful"?
- It means "sad."

"Daddy, I've read more books than anyone in my class!"

"That's great, sugar!"
"Do you want to read one with me?"
"Sometime, honey. Not tonight. Daddy's had a long day at work. Can't Mommy read it with you?"

Teresa had a full-time job, too. In March, Andy did their taxes. Teresa laughed bitterly at the gap between what he made and what she did.

"I might as well quit my job and set up a lemonade stand. I'd make about as much money as I do now. And Britt could help me."
Andy smirked, not looking up from the forms. "You help out. The way I look at it, I pay for the essentials, and you pay for the fun stuff, like movies and Disney World."
Teresa wasn't one of those women whose dreams had been thwarted by her early marriage and motherhood. She'd had no specific dreams to be thwarted. At the time she'd married Andy, all she'd wanted was to be loved.
They used to joke about how different they were. He said her views were "bleeding-heart liberal;" they’d argued when he'd said he didn't believe in medical marijuana for cancer patients. She'd wanted to go to New Orleans for their honeymoon, thinking of ancient iron-filigree railings and spicy food and live blues and steamy air, but he'd thought of it as a debauched and louche city. He'd wanted to go to a touristy beach in their state in the off-season, because it would be cheap. They went to the beach in their state.

"Sweetie, it's just some bimbo I met online. She might not even match her picture--she could be a fat hairy man for all I know."

"Don't touch me."

"The howl will sound almost like a human's cry. There's a reason for this. It's because the animal that you hear howling was once a person."

"Teresa? She works at a gift shop. What do they sell there? Middle-aged-lady stuff. Porcelain dolls and music boxes and purses. Stuff for women with nothing better to spend their money on. I try not to go within a five-mile radius of the place."

He was the one who had wooed her. She'd been the one out of his league. Then the power had shifted, and she'd dropped out to live in an apartment with him in the town where he went to college. She'd gotten a job as a waitress at a vegan cafe--to his chagrin, proud meat-eater that he was--and she made him coffee to keep him going when he stayed up late with textbooks.

"This story is about a werewolf who wasn't born this way. He was made into one by another werewolf. No one knows how the first werewolf was made, centuries ago. But the creature in this story used to be different. Everything changed for him on a night when there was a full moon."

Britt had been using the Internet to look up information for a school project when an IM had popped up from WetCherry69, addressing Andy by name and using the word "again." After dinner, Britt watched Nickelodeon in the other room.
"What the fuck, Andy?"
"Honey, don't swear. That's vulgar."
"That's vulgar? Today our 7-year-old daughter asked me what 'wet cherry' and ‘69’ means."
Somehow the blame had shifted. There were things that Teresa wouldn't do in bed, he said--not that he'd ever asked for them.
He'd sighed. "It's more than that. It's more than a checklist of what you will or won't do."
Teresa had stormed outside. It was snowing, and she wasn't wearing a coat. Her conservative husband had implied that she was a prude. What did he know? The moon was bright as she walked along the box-shaped houses on their street, breathing frigid air. These houses were medium-sized boxes. Andy was still working his way up at his firm. The plan was to move up to a bigger box-shaped house.
He didn't know that she only had an orgasm when she got off alone, and that she did that a lot when he wasn't around.
He didn't know that she sometimes slipped out of bed to watch softcore porn on cable TV in the family room with the volume turned way down.
He didn't know that she flipped through volumes of erotica in the "Romance" aisle at the bookstore. Her favorites were the stories about men who ravaged the women like hungry beasts.

"On that night, the man went walking under that full, bright moon. He wandered into the woods. He didn't know why. A darkness within the woods pulled him in like a magnetic force."

Back at the house, Andy and Britt were doing the dishes.
"Mommy! Where's your coat?"
"Honey, aren't you cold?"
"I'm not cold."

When Andy's snores grew deep and rhythmic, Teresa inched out of bed and crept to the family room. "Softly from Paris" was on--good raunchy, corny softcore. It was stupid, but it reliably made her wet. Tonight it wasn't enough. She snatched her keys from the hook by the door. She no longer cared if they jangled and woke Andy up.

"You might wonder, How does someone become a werewolf? There are many different legends from many different lands. Some people say that you become one willingly – they say that you become a werewolf by making a deal with the Devil. Others say that it happens on accident, when you drink water from the footprint of a werewolf. But most people these days say that you make the transformation when you're bitten by another werewolf."

- What's "transformation"?

- It means "change."

As she drove, Teresa's knee bounced.

Andy chastised her when she did something that he considered to be "skanky." When she wore a skirt with a hem that hit above the knee, he eyed the bare expanse of thigh, mentally calculating the inches of flesh that were revealed.
"Why are you wearing that? Do you want men to look at you? You should only care about what I think, and I already know what your body looks like."
He had conveniently forgotten this when he'd talked about her being boring in bed, but in the early days, she had suggested new things--she'd longed for him to give her oral sex; she'd read about "reverse cowgirl" position in Cosmopolitan magazine.
"Where did you hear about that?” he used to say in those long-ago days. “You really want to do that? What's wrong with the way we've always done it?"

"The creature in this story was bitten. When he walked into the woods that fateful night, he'd sensed that something dreadful might happen. But he'd walked into the woods anyway, almost as if he had no choice. Or as if he'd wanted something dreadful to happen."

- Mommy, why would he want something bad to happen?
- I don't know, honey. Maybe he was lonely, and he thought he might find a friend in the woods. Maybe it didn't matter to him if the friend was bad.

Where could she go, someplace that would piss Andy off if he knew? The first place she thought of was the truck stop by the Interstate. The local paper had done stories about the prostitutes and the truckers who sometimes got busted there. At the breakfast table, Andy read each story with relish and outrage. Later, when Britt wasn't around, he would recount any lewd details he'd read, shaking his head in apparent disgust.

Teresa drove toward that wash of white light in the darkness, the truck stop with the gas station, diner, and the motel where many of the trysts allegedly took place, the ones that didn't take place in the trucks' sleeping quarters. She drove past the minivans parked while families used the restrooms and bought snacks for the road. She drove on to where the trucks were parked. Outside, it was quiet and frosty. No leering truckers hanging around, no girls in thigh-high boots--not the way Teresa had imagined it at all. She walked into the diner.

"It was as if he'd wanted something dreadful to happen."

- Mommy, you already read that part.

A row of truckers sat at the counter drinking black coffee. Several of them looked up when she walked in. Ordinarily she would have ducked her head and blushed. Tonight she met their gazes. She walked to the counter to sit with them. The man to her left said his name was Russ, and he asked her what she was doing out so late. As she looked at him, unable to think of how to respond, his gaze crawled down to her lips, down her neck, down to where her breasts were hidden inside her zipped-up coat. Human speech was lost to her. Her heart beat, adrenaline flowed, blood rushed to her cheeks. She unzipped her coat. Russ summoned his waitress and said, "Could I get my check, please?"

"In the woods, in the darkness, the man felt something watching him, circling, stalking. He couldn't see the thing, but he felt it. He could have run out of the woods, but he didn't. He stayed there and let the thing come to him."

Strange, the way he led her to the front of the motel and told her to wait 10 minutes before meeting him by the ice machine so the clerk wouldn’t suspect anything and call the cops--all as if this were something that the two of them had done before. And strange, the way she gave him instructions after entering the room.
"Don't be gentle. I want you to ravage me. Destroy me." The last word came out cottony, her throat constricted with emotion.
He had looked at her with a quality of understanding that she'd never felt from anyone before. It was primal.
She was naked in this room at the Econo Lodge off the Interstate, in this motel, the very one that Andy had read about in the newspaper. Now Russ was pushing her back onto the bed, spreading her legs, here in this place that Andy had railed against.
Andy would say, "Why do you feel sorry for them? They're whores. You and your bleeding heart."

"After the creature had bitten him, this man-who-was-no-longer-a- man discovered that he had a deep hunger. It was a new kind of hunger that he'd never felt before. It was a hunger for dark things. This hunger scared him. Werewolves are not like vampires. For vampires, who must sleep in thick coffins during the day to avoid sunlight, night is a safe time. But for werewolves, when there's a full moon, night is when the craving becomes desperate. They transform. They grow beastly and wild. They grow fangs. They howl with longing."

At the playground, Britt scrambled up the jungle gym with her friends. Teresa prowled along the perimeter of the blacktop, in the dry grass. The sun beat down strongly, and Teresa looked right at it. It was only for a couple of seconds, because then Britt had yelled, "Mom, push me on the swings!" Alone in the car, Teresa drove on long stretches of road and watched the needle on the speedometer rise to 80, rise to 90, rise to 100, and keep going. She would do this for a few seconds and then drop back to the posted speed limit.
She began to eat meat. She went to a bakery and gorged on rich, sugary, fatty foods. She wanted to taste everything: red meat, the hottest spices, hard liquor, hard drugs.
On her evening fitness walks, she would veer off her regular route, leaving the medium-sized boxes that were inhabited by people who longed for bigger boxes. She would walk into the woods, listening to snow and fallen branches crunch under her boots.

"One night when the moon was full, the man-who-was-no-longer-a- man felt a hunger so strong that he didn't think he could stand it. He ran into the woods, tearing at his human clothes, fur bursting from his skin, veins throbbing with bloodlust. He could feel fangs slithering through his gums to fill his mouth, and he ran his tongue over them. This feeling overpowered him--hunger, joy and terror at being alive. In a clearing in the woods, the moon emerged from behind a cloud, showering him with soft silver light. It was too much for him. He lifted his face to the sky and screamed a deep-throated, bone-chilling scream. He was crying out to everyone and no one."

She itched with unfocused lust. She wanted to be touched--no, manhandled. She longed to stare into the brightest thing in the universe, to move at death-defying speed. Life throbbed in her veins. One snowy night, as Andy and Britt slept, she left the house without her coat on again. She ran into the woods, into a clearing filled with moonlight, and tore off her clothes. In the sharp coldness, she panted, her breath steaming, her naked skin going pink as blood rose to the surface. She lifted her face to the crystal-clear black sky. She didn't make a sound.

"The next day, that scream was the talk of the village where the werewolf lived. Because he looked like a man during the day, his neighbors didn't know that he was the werewolf they'd heard howling in the woods. People talked about how scared their children had been. The werewolf made a decision.  

He had a family, a wife and son, who didn't know his secret. One day soon after the scream, the werewolf pulled his son aside and told him the secret. He gave his son a gun and a silver bullet. He said to his son, 'If I ever become dangerous, please kill me.'"

- I'm sorry, honey; is this story too scary for you? We can stop reading it.
- No, it's okay. I want to hear it.

"When the next full moon came, the werewolf writhed in the woods, far from civilization, tormented by an unfocused desire. The longing had grown stronger with each full moon. Now, he salivated with hunger for flesh and blood. It had to be sated, even if it meant that someone had to get hurt. He turned toward the village, his home, where his family and neighbors lived. He began to charge at it. He was almost out of the woods when a silver bullet pierced his heart. Because of his son, the village would be safe. The werewolf lay on the snowy ground. In his open eyes were two full moons."

In the woods, a cloud slid over the moon. Teresa looked around her, her panting slowed. Her clothes lay in heaps, and she shivered. A cold breeze blew through the brittle branches. Britt was asleep at home, and Teresa was here, naked in the woods. Teresa dressed and returned home.


Britt sat up and let go of her drool-spiked rabbit. In the dim light, she now saw that there were no words on the pages.

"Mom, is that story true?"
"It could be."

Friday, January 1, 2016

VIDEOS: Night sky

On New Year's Eve 2015, I recorded a series of short videos of me reading my short story "Night sky" aloud, with props (sparkle dress, red lipstick, music... vodka). Below are the videos; each is followed by the section of the story that I was reading aloud in the video. Why did I do this? Mostly for fun, to make the story come alive. Please don't expect some high-quality production here; I'm a writer, not a videographer or anything visual or technical. I simply hit "Record" on the webcam, and then it was "go time." I'm not even sure how to edit these, and I left a bunch of "bloopers" in. Oh, I also don't always enunciate so well, which is part of the reason I'm including the actual story here along with the videos, so you can know what I'm saying if you aren't sure.

Night sky

Video 1: "
Maybe on New Year's Eve I will collide with someone, and it will be just what I need."
You will invite me to something on New Year’s Eve. Something that you and your fiancĂ© are attending, or a party you are having. You know me from work, or maybe you’re a friend of a friend, someone I know through Facebook who saw my status update about having no plans. It will be a charitable gesture on your part. Because as you know, I’m single. But not the liberated, independent, self-assured, happy-with-my-life, “You go, girl!” kind of single. I’m the other kind. The self-help-book-buying kind who reads Cosmo for guidance on topics like "9 Moves No Other Girl Has Dared To Try On Him In Bed!"

I also have social-anxiety disorder (self-diagnosed; I never got around to getting a prescription for life-of-the-party pills) and lately I have flat-out bombed when trying to meet people in the usual, real-world ways -- the hip city bars, the salsa class, the singles kayaking trip. (How does everyone else find somebody? How’d I miss that memo?) I tried, their free 30-day deal. And another match-making site. It didn’t work out, and I don’t want to talk about it.

But I think of how life is like that commercial with the glass tank full of ping-pong balls whizzing around in it; each ball has a number, and a lady pulls a few of them out and lines them up to display the winning numbers. It’s for some kind of lottery or something. I’m not trying to make the obvious “luck” analogy. But I think the world might be like how it is inside that glass tank: people swirl around and madly collide, and go spinning away from one another. It's better than a bunch of lonely ping-pong balls in separate glass tanks.

So after I accept your invite (it’s the only one I’ll get), I will start thinking that maybe on New Year's Eve I will collide with someone, and that maybe it will be just what I need. And if not, I guess I could do worse than getting blitzed in a glittery outfit with Kanye West bursting my eardrums, swapping spit with a stranger at midnight. After all, the alternative is sparkling apple cider with my teetotaler parents, watching the ball drop on TV in the family room, Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, and then my folks rousing themselves up slowly from recliners at 12:01 and saying, “Welp, time to hit the ol’ hay!” I mean, they’ll probably be wearing Snuggies and everything.

I will spend much of the evening getting ready at my apartment, where I live without even so much as a cat. I will have gone to the local mega-mall, into Forever 21 or someplace like that where you can get a dress for $19.99 because it was made in a Third World sweatshop. I’ll tell myself that I still have the body for the clothing, 10 years past the age limit implied by that godforsaken brand name, even though, OK, young men at cash registers always call me “ma’am” and I hate it every time.

At the store, I will have hunted for something short and clingy, something that shimmers for NYE. I will be the lovechild of a stripper and a disco ball. The plan is simply to get drunk and dance, to get very drunk and dance a lot. I will think that somehow this will fill the empty pit in me, although past experience has tried to tell me that a night like that only digs the pit deeper.

It’s going to be another one of these, is it? Another night like this, another story like this?

I will have taken an armful of sparkle-spangled skankwear back into one of the store's cramped and fluorescent-lit dressing rooms, with the door that allows shoppers to see you from the knees down, because the door is absurdly short and high, like those swinging doors in a Wild West saloon.

I will try on this and that, ho hum—and then one of the dresses will slip over my body and fit me like my destiny.

Video 2: God and His archangels

My reflection will be ridiculous, because there I’ll stand in the subatomic-sized glitter dress and socks, and I need to shave, and my jeans and sneakers are in a pile on a small bench nearby, a tomboy cocoon from which I have metamorphosed. I will overlook the incongruity of the socks with the dress, and the hospital-waiting-room lighting, and the sandpaper stubble of my winter-pale legs.

I will behold this $19.99 raspberry-colored (like a Prince song!), Lycra-blend dress with the paillettes sewn on by the little bleeding hands of sweatshop children. The dress will make itself apparent to me as the apotheosis of sartorial sublimity, as the… my 98th-percentile-verbal-SAT-score vocabulary is insufficient; there are no words for how good this is. God Himself and all the archangels in the highest ranks of the celestial pantheon -- they all want to look down from Heaven and see me wearing this dress on New Year's Eve.

I will put it on my Visa debit card, and I will later learn that this small charge caused me to incur a $35 overdraft fee. I will decide that it was worth it. I mean, hello, God and his archangels.

Video 3: Pomegranate Promises
And so on New Year's Eve, several hours before the *big fun event*, I will first prepare my body, make it worthy of shimmying into The Dress. I will shower with a special bath gel and matching loofah spongie from Bath & Body Works. The gel will be in the scent of some exotic-to-Americans fruit, such as pomegranate. The name of the product will be maudlin and alliterative: Pomegranate Passion or Pomegranate Promises or somesuch. Like if a soap opera were a fruit. There will be a matching lotion, too, and it will have all come in a shrink-wrapped gift basket on Christmas from the aunt I am the least close to.

Do you really think we care about all these details? What relevance does it have to our lives, those of us whose lives are not like this? Those of us who have moved on from the Freudian “nightclub” stage if we were ever in it in the first place, those of us who now care about real things like our careers and our homes and our families?

So there I am, having showered and shaved all of those places that I customarily shave when I’m feeling sassy.

Now I'm painting my nails some trendy, edgy shade--gunmetal blue, let's say; or a blood-red from Urban Decay that's saucily titled "Cutter.” I’ll take a lot of time to arrange my hair in some sort of "special occasion" shape. Oh, let's go with "effortless updo." With little tendrils spilling down around my neck in a manner that's meant to call attention to this more vulnerable area of an animal's body, meant to cause men to think that by exposing this part of myself, I’m letting them in, they’re privileged, make them want both to protect me and to ravage me--I saw a thing about it on the Discovery Channel. I will use a mental picture of [actress/singer/model]'s hairdo at the [Oscars/Cannes/Ice Capades/whatever] as my guide. Because yes, I have such images taking space in my brain.

You go to the gym and there are screens everywhere with flawless actresses on them, in the shows, even in the commercials, and you want to resist it, the compulsion to look more like them, but you want to be loved. And looking like that might make you loved.

Video 4: "Red lipstick is for girls who make things happen!"

Next comes make-up. I must decide who I will be for tonight. I'll tell myself it'll just be a brighter, sparklier, snazzier version of myself, but really I will be my more tarted-up and Halloweenish twin. I will inevitably overdo it, especially the "smoky" eye make-up. Instead of smoldering, I will wind up looking like an emo clown panda bear.

"Red lipstick is for girls who make things happen! Red lipstick is for rebels and vixens! Red lipstick is for girls who lead, not follow!” I will cake on the crimson pigment that bleeds onto my teeth each time I fake a smile.

On the treadmill at the gym, under all those screens with the pretty actresses on them, you listen to a song by Mission of Burma called “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver.” It helps you take it. You’re not violent or crazy, but the song helps you take life; music helps, dancing helps. There will be dancing at the party tonight, and you're hoping it will help you transcend.

There are all the little dumb things that you want to transcend. At Christmas supper at your granny’s house, your racist Uncle Charlie had held someone’s new baby. Uncle Charlie wants a grandchild, wants one of his grown sons to have him a grandchild. Uncle Charlie had held up the baby to one of his grown sons, and the baby was blonde and blue-eyed enough to tickle Hitler, and Uncle Charlie had said, “I want one in this color.” You had bitten your tongue hard, to keep peace in the family, as you always do.

There’s more. The former love of your life just e-mailed you to say that he and his new wife are expecting a baby. So now you have this new thing, this new tic when you see a pregnant woman at the mall or pass the baby-clothes section in a department store or see a diaper commercial, when you had held your cousin's baby on your lap. That stuff was always irrelevant to you; you felt sorry for the friends your age who had children and weren't free to, say, go trek in Kyrgyzstan or dance till sunrise with mysterious strangers. Their lives were all planned out, and yours was open. Now it hits you, what it means to have a family and what it means to not have one. You don't want to be alone, but it's more than that. You sense that there's a kind of love you have always wanted that you're missing out on.

Video 5: "I will have skipped dinner, because that makes the alcohol more effective, duh."

At 10 p.m., I'm all ready! I've got on The Dress, and the effortless updo that took two hours and 10 minutes of anguish and swearing to create, and the ghoul eyes and the hooker lipstick. I'm wearing shoes that should be X-Rated, that are meant to make men think of sex, and to think that I'm good at it, that I must know things, because I knew enough to choose these scandalous shoes, had the audacity to wear them out, so what else would I have the audacity to do?

I’ll put on some dressy new coat, maybe a fake-fur one, that isn't warm enough. As I stand on the curb waiting for my taxi, I'll long for my real coat, that ugly puffy one I've had since freshman year of college, that I wore in snowball fights on the quad, the one that I'd wear to Antarctica, the one that feels like a hug from my mom. I'd smoke, if I did that, because somehow that would seem right for the scene. But I don't smoke, so I'll shiver on the curb and exhale frost instead.

I will look at the moon.

Soon there will be a little life, and it will be part of him and part of her.

I will have skipped dinner, because that makes the alcohol more effective, duh.

The cab driver will arrive, and I will fish the slip of paper out of my tiny, crystal-studded party handbag, a stupid thing that’s barely big enough for a Tic Tac. I will recite the address to the driver, who will be foreign, and the whole way there I will feel bad about the silence, feel that a better person would be asking the driver about life in his homeland, about his journey to here and his life in this crazy new place, maybe even about his language and native cuisine, but not me, I just say the address and then sit back for the ride.

Video 6: "I'm like a Girl Scout of getting wasted."

The scene of the *big fun event* will be a nightclub. Or maybe a party, a big party full of people I don't know and who I will assume are all somehow smarter, cooler, more cultured, more educated, more accomplished, more "with it," more everything and more, than I am. This perceived inferiority will lead me straight to the first bar I see and have me ordering something strong. My go-to drink for nerves has a coarse name and is something that only college girls at a frat party should order. But it does the trick, maybe better than a life-of-the-party pill would, with minimal to no barfing, and really, isn’t that more important than a drink that’s sophisticated?

I will sigh when I see the hot bartender girl being stingy with the vodka, pouring just the faintest nip into the glass. She will do this with a flourish, a twist of the wrist that she seems to have been born knowing how to do, holding the bottle way up high and not wasting a drop on the counter. (She must be good at sex, because she knows things; she knows how to do this, so what else does she know how to do?)

You do it to yourself, you know. You look at people but you don’t really see them. You think that everyone is so much better—that they all got the memo you missed—but you’re wrong. Some of them are just as insecure as you are. Some of them feel just as alone as you do. But that makes the story less dramatic, doesn’t it? You’re selfish, and you have to be the star of your own sad tale, a tale that wouldn’t seem sad at all if you were to think more about all the misery of the world, the real misery. The saddest thing about your life is that you think it’s sad.

I will down it fast and order another. I will just drink it right down as I'm standing there, my other hand waving a $10, a little crumpled greenish flag amid the throng of hands waving bills and credit cards. I will wonder why there are never, ever enough bartenders. They should have self-serve bars, like gas stations and those “U-Scan” aisles at the grocery store.

Only with my second drink in hand will I look for you and greet you. "Hey!” We will gingerly hug, a finicky little thing for show that we will each hope doesn’t mess up our hair or smudge our self-tanner. “Oh my god, look at you! You look so cute! Yep, already found the bar, as you can see. Oh, he is? Cool, I'll have to say hello. Awesome! Well, see ya around!”

You will move on to greet others you’ve invited. I will not know anyone else, although you will have thought I knew that one guy, you know that guy that always posts that stuff on your Facebook profile that guy? you know?

I will order another. I brought cash. Cash for the cab I always take when I plan to drink, and cash to eliminate all that time it takes to wait in the throng at the bar for the bartender to process my debit card, have me sign the receipt, blah blah blah. I'm prepared for such things. I’m like a Girl Scout of getting wasted. They should give me a sew-on badge. Ha. My thoughts are getting silly; this is a good sign.

I will walk a slow lap of the place, slinking up and down stairs with an unnecessary and exaggerated sway of my hips. I’ll be hoping guys are checking me out in my willing-sex-kitten get-up. After three drinks, I will still be too cowardly to look any of them in the eye, let alone talk to anyone. Instead, I will just try to walk like someone who is good at sex.

At some point, you realized you had something that guys wanted. Not all guys, but enough of them. The ones who didn’t care so much about a pretty face, or witty conversation, or a pie-baking Martha Stewart-Etsy type to take home to mom. The other guys, the ones at the clubs, or just random guys in surprising places—at a networking event your boss made you go to; in a Starbucks; walking along some downtown street at two o'clock in the morning after you've burst out of a club for 7-Eleven sober-up food. They wanted it.

You became sexually active later than most girls—another missed memo—and after that your walk had changed, your demeanor had changed, your brainwaves had probably changed, and you had started to dance at places where other people were dancing (after years of sitting out so many wedding receptions, standing still at concerts). After you learned you could do it, you thought that dancing was mostly just simulated sex, but more than that—a sort of consummation with the universe, as Shirley MacLaine as that sounds.

It’s not mere skankiness, the trying to walk like someone who’s good at sex. It’s your path to love, your only path you know of.

After the fifth or sixth slow lap, I will start to feel awkward. I will pretend I’m trying to find the bathroom. Or perhaps looking for a friend. I will hold my glass in one hand and the stupid Lilliputian purse in the other, my faux-wildcat coat draped over a forearm. I will catch a glimpse of myself in a reflective surface and think that I look less sexy than I'd hoped during all that strutting around—my tummy pooching out from the tight dress and the padded bra unconvincing, my make-up aging me, sad shadows under my eyes.

I will order another.
Someday there might be someone.

And finally, like a revelation—the drinks kick in.

Video 7: " 'Sweetie, you can't just sit there.' "

I find what appears to be the cool-people room, maybe in a basement or on the rooftop with space heaters. There's a DJ, and he's playing supremely danceable stuff -- newer crowd-pleasing electronic music and sexy hip-hop -- and people are dancing, praise Jesus, they're dancing!

And now I am, too. The club, or the apartment or the house, or the whatever, is all warm throbbing red light, and I'm part of it, rubbery and loose. Why was I so nervous before? I don't know, but now I'm free. I love everybody right now, all these strangers, and I'm showing it. My from-a-distance, simulated-sex dance gestures are showing it.

I put down my gnat-sized purse and somehow have the wherewithal to chuck the wildcat coat over it so it stands slightly less of a chance of getting stolen. I take my drink with me out into the very center of the people dancing, because I'm brave, I'm a girl who wears red lipstick! I'm a leader, not a follower! So I dance alone while everyone else is couples. I even dance when the DJ tells folks where to get their glasses of complimentary champagne for the midnight toast. I laugh when I see this, that I'm dancing alone, and then I go all dorky and try to sing that ‘80s song that goes "A-dancin' a-with my-se-elf, oh-oh-oh-ow." I'm out of breath, I'm laughing so much! I am an ephemeral spark of life in the vast expanse of time and space, and I am making it count!

A friend! This guy comes up and wants to get me another drink. "Whhhhyyy certainly, sir!" I laugh, and then I drape myself around him and we move to the bar as if we’re one jellyfish. He is my new best friend I love him so much. "Screwdriverohfuckitjustgivemethevodka! Ha ha ha ha!"

The guy laughs, but politely; he's sober. "What?" Maybe he’s a nice guy, but I’ve met him like this; he’s seen me in this state, so forget it. And maybe he’s not nice, and who cares tonight.

"Um, vodka?" I say like a thirsty person begging for water in a foreign country. "Just some vodka? Is that, like, allowed?"

Another! I let him pay—how gallant of him! He’s my knight in shining armor! I try to shout this into his ear but the music’s too loud. I mime sword-fighting, and he laughs and looks confused.

I'm spinning, the party or the club, the planet is spinning, but I'm not alone, this random dude is twirling me around and laughing and saying, "Don't throw up!" and I imagine throwing up as he's spinning me, sort of like a throw-up sprinkler, and that image is so funny that I outright collapse onto the dancefloor. Ha ha ha oh my god!

"Sweetie, you can't just sit there." I'm trying to walk in these stupid sex shoes but they were not exactly made for staying vertical for long if you know what I mean.

Someday there might be someone.

Video 8: "An ache is the main thing."

What happens next, and where, and with whom, you won't want to know about, and I couldn't really remember the details even if you did want to know. I guess I will count the guy in my overall tally. You know, my magic number or whatever. There are indications the next morning that yes, I should add him. An ache is the main thing. I will wake up on your couch; you felt bad, having been the one who invited me. You had put a glass of sober-up water on an end table for me. You had apologized to everyone at the end of the night; you'd had no idea.

It's not your fault. How could you have known?

I mean, that one time, two years ago -- geez, I don't count that as a suicide attempt; it was more just a cry for help. I simply overdid it, knowing the consequences. I only wanted to not think or feel for a little while; I didn’t want to die. How could you possibly know about that?

Or that my ancestors were found drunk in ditches in Appalachia, sometimes moonshine -- go ahead and sing "Dueling Banjos," yeah I know -- but mostly just dirt-cheap wine? (Were their faces turned up to the stars or burrowed into the ground as they lay drunk in the ditches? I care about such things, probably too much, and I know you’d think it was corny if I told you.) You couldn’t have known about all that—what, were you supposed to ask for my medical record and my family tree?

And last year with the men and the emptiness, the crying jags after and the awkwardness of them not holding me during the crying jags because we were still virtually strangers, even after that?

Someday you will look up.

You will look up at the sky and see the solitary moon, but also stars, and blinking lights of planes, and debris from space colliding with the atmosphere in brilliant fiery streaks, and whole galaxies beyond yourself.