“Stick your finger in my butt,” I whispered to my wife, Lisa. She obliged. I cringed when she penetrated me and later, in refraction, I said to her “That’s not for me. Why do people like that?
A thin film of scarlet floated atop toilet water. Each bowel movement caused discomfort and bleeding, so I saw a doctor. Inside the exam room, I donned the backwards gown, and lay on my side facing the wall. Soon, the doctor entered.
“How are we doing today, young man?” she said with a southern drawl. After lubing her finger she said, “You’re going to feel a little pressure.”
She placed her left hand on my hip and slipped her right hand under my gown. Her bedside manner would have been appreciated by a hunting party, searching for blood sport. From the feel of it, she was elbow-deep in my lower intestine.
“Sorry, I have to go deep to check for cancer,” Doc said. I blushed.
“Good news, my friend,” removing a latex glove. “It’s not cancer.”
Sitting up and adjusting myself, I said, “That’s a relief.”
“But I am referring you to a specialist.” And with that, she exited.
To prep myself, I was given a shopping list of laxatives to purchase and finish before the probing. I took the tablets, and everything was fine. I moved on to the liquid kind which I served over ice. Lemon-flavored like an afternoon beverage to take the edge off, or lemonade, sipped under the shade tree out back. After my second aperitif, my guts rumbled and gurgled. I thought I may turn inside out.
Early next morning, dew still glistening on tobacco leaves, my mom drove me to the office where the colonoscopy was to be performed. The attending nurse asked me to change into a hospital gown, with the backside open for easy access. Afterward, she quizzed me about recreational drug use. I admitted to being a drunk and reformed junkie. While she prepared paperwork and input data at the desk computer, I imagined I could fight the anesthesia, like years before I had fought an overdose of fentanyl-laced heroin.
Once the hypodermic was inserted, the nurse asked me to count backward from 100. Ninety-nine was as far as I made it. It hit harder than was controllable. My delusions of grandeur shattered. I had never experienced anesthesia before. No tonsillectomy. No appendectomy. This medical-grade cocktail was instantaneous. Its strength awed me. Darkness. Time that’ll never get back. Inexplicable.
Maybe I was dreaming of Lisa fingering my butthole. Maybe I was frightened. Maybe it was the stark, fluorescent lighting in the recovery room. Nevertheless, leaving chemical bliss startled me. My eyes opened, and I said, “Lisa!”
Afterward, the pastel-bowtie-adorned proctologist proclaimed I was in fine health. He said he removed a few pre-polyps and collderized an anal fissure that was likely the source of blood. Later at home, I received an email with eight photos of my shiny, red lower intestine. Naturally, I posted those pics to social media. Bottom became top. Inside became outside. Many disapproved. In the end, upon our separation six years later, Lisa reinserted her finger, ripping me open again.
“Let me introduce you to Fingers,” Lisa said.
His nickname was Fingers. Or his fingers were eclipsed by the size of his cock. He towered over me waiting for me to entertain him with mundane, drunk conversation.
“So, you’re with Lisa, now, huh?”
He was a member of the Dead Baby Bicycle Club, a west-coast boy band for degenerates and misfits who made love to cycology. He reportedly drank a quart of vodka before work, and that night he was gulping beer.
A handsome ginger kid, Fingers said, “What do you offer Lisa that we can’t?” My lack of bicycle messenger status didn’t fly here. Deep blue eyes sought a cyclist who wouldn’t de-saddle, Lisa, his betty. My new lover was a fuck-doll passed around between the clubs’ members. They liked it that way and did expect an unknown introvert to upset the cycle.
“I rode a century, once. In North Carolina,” I said, trying to match a bike messenger’s grueling daily ride. “Was blown over by a passing semi. Sand all in my gears, you know.”
I watched him run his fingers through my wife’s hair. When they walked through the door, I hardly recognized her. Yet her bow-legged stagger was unmistakable.
I said to the bartender, “I’ll take my check, now.”
I left knowing Lisa had left Holden alone and asleep. Since we moved to NYC, she found ultimate freedom: anonymous sex via Tinder. I knew she was fond of getting drunk and staying out for a few days, but this was visual confirmation of her infidelity.
The 7-Train racketed along the Queens Boulevard viaduct. Back at home I curled up with my 9-year-old son and reflected on my relationship with my wife.
Fingers fiddled with paper tickets, like a raffle, like an auction of humanity. At the church for supper wearing a tank top: And we were there for food. Long lines, chirping masses. We were saved. We queued on the sidewalk. Meals and seats were limited. First come, first served. If we didn’t arrive at least fifteen minutes early, then we might not get fed.
Because it was summer, Lisa enjoyed wearing skimpy tank tops. Some of these men had been without homes for years. Most women dressed in rags, assumedly to ward off the male gaze. Male preoccupation with sex was not a secret. And most of the men in the communal catholic kitchen were criminals, but, for the most part, everyone behaved themselves. Sobriety was mandatory and order was kept despite the lack of police. Not once did we see a fight or groping.
Fingers plunging in, fighting the cotton ball on top, Lisa found capsules to swallow. It was an economy-sized bottle of Benadryl, purchased at the big-box store one town over.
Too much wine shorted out the circuits in her noggin. Once in Seattle, after too much wine, I watched her eat foot powder to off herself. And another time after excessive drinking at a Christmas gathering at my grandmother’s, Lisa attempted to strangle herself with my leather belt.
“Fuck you, motherfucker!” Pills spilled out of the bottle and dribbled on the floor.
“If you’re going to do it, then do it,” I said, mistakenly. “I’m tired of this, Lisa.”
She continued to sit, crying for a moment. And then swallowed a handful of pills and chased them with wine. I thought about leaving her to die in peace. I thought about how I wanted to die once. I thought about what I’d say to her family. I thought about Holden, our three-year-old son.
And then, I called 9-1-1. Shepherded by a snooping cop who was preoccupied with asking questions about exactly how many pills Lisa had ingested, two paramedics stretchered her into an ambulance and whisked her to the local hospital. After pumping her stomach, the medical staff induced a coma to protect her, keeping her brain from swelling.
Suicide is a selfish ends. Holden and I depended on Lisa for emotional comfort. We needed her love, her companionship, her clownish humor. Devotion. Her abstract thoughts. Her quirky personality. Her unfailing beauty. Her unconventional reasoning. Her leadership. Why did she give up on us? We struggled not to wither in her lack of commitment to life and family.
Over the next week, Holden and I visited her in the hospital. Due to what was termed patient elopement, a guard, with whom I checked-in with daily, was stationed out Lisa’s ICU room. Nurses said I could stay as long as I liked, but sitting, looking at a motionless, intubated form was dreadful at best. But nevertheless, I spent afternoons with her daily until she was responsive again. Upon court order, Lisa spent another seventy-two hours in the hospital psychiatric ward, playing board games with other patients. Her doctor spoke of latent postpartum depression. And, finally, she was released. No further observation deemed necessary. She was prescribed antipsychotics and antidepressants. After a few sessions with a psychologist, she chose wine and whiskey over modern pharmacology.
I took control of our money. This kept Lisa out of liquor stores. I couldn’t trust her to stay sober if money was in her pocket.
I gave up expecting Lisa to work at the café and relied on hired help. While Lisa cared for Holden, I spent a lot of time by myself. Did Lisa still love me? Did I still love Lisa? Was our marriage over? To Lisa’s dismay and protest, I sought the friendship and conversation of ex-girlfriends. Daily trips to Walmart for vittles became ventures down a rabbit hole of southern charm. With the windows down, airing my mind, I drove all over town, all over Beaufort County, trying to make sense of life.
Thumbing through the local newspaper, Lisa discovered a cabin on a horse farm in unincorporated York County, SC. After renting it, we realized a lack of insulation in the walls. The winter of 2008/2009 was unusually cold along the border between North and South Carolina. During the evenings to stay warm, Lisa and I hunkered down on our second-hand sofa bed, night after night, until we conceived a child. His conception surprised us both. We spoke of abortion. We both decided to go for it and raise this child until 18 years of maturation.
Wanting a daughter instead of a son, because I could better raise a daughter. Didn’t know if I could raise a man. I wanted a girl. How could I, of questionable masculinity, be expected to show a boy how to be a man? I could raise a tom girl, let her know the pitfalls of dating teenage boys, full of piss and jizzum, insist she not fall in love with the first boy who is nice to her, but wait until she is thirty-years-old before starting a family. No longer were women expected to be baby-making machines. There’s so much to see and do out there, I’d tell her. Travel. Live. Make love. Sample life.
Alas, at the ultrasound screening, Lisa and I held our collective breath, and discovered we’d soon be parents to a baby boy. Since then, I have little skepticism or trepidation toward being the father of a boy. I grew acclimatized to fatherhood, accepted that I’m flawed—but that flawed-ness is perfectly human. What is in a name? We tossed around names in anticipation of his arrival. Lisa chose Random Francis as a name. I suggested Holden Francis after my grandmother Frances and Holden Caulfield after the Catcher in the Rye protagonist, in reference to both my literal family and my literary family.
Licking her fingers, the way cashiers and bankers did, Lisa thumbed through my wallet looking for cash to procure wine. To abate her thievery, I hid my wallet when I came home from work. Often I hid it so well I had to tear the apartment apart, because I couldn’t remember my hiding spot. Her drinking was insatiable. She spent every cent on hooch. Lisa worked hard for two weeks until payday, and then she cashed the paycheck, drank until falling down, and never returned to work. Getting a job for herself was easy—keeping a job was the problem. The pattern was unmistakable. Cringeworthy were the lengths I went to hold our family together. If I could keep her sober, then maybe she’d hold a job and remove some financial pressure from me, afford us a vacation on Long Island one day. A week-long, summertime retreat I had known as a boy. 1970s innocence. Bikini watching and familial communion. A fiery sunrise over the Atlantic. Salted skin from ocean bathing. The ideal I wanted to provide for Holden and Lisa, like my dad had.
As our marriage deteriorated, I met my neighbor in Queens for stoop beers.
When I was escorting my seven-year-old, I watched Gynine rush to embrace a tall Puerto Rican man. And then a quick acknowledgment of my presence. Afterward, in her afterglow, I sought solace in her friendly Sicilian grace. We drained beers while the apartment-dwellers above harangued our verbal outbursts. She crafted stories about fucking men with ten-inch dicks.
These men paid her rent and provided pleasure for her prolapsed rectum. Gynine boasted about men who paid her way. Men who earned $10 million and took care of her, made sure she was afloat, while their wives cared for their children and slept tight at apartments in Manhattan and houses in New Jersey. I toiled in bars and cafes.
“What do women need,” Gynine asked?
“Tug my hair and confidence. Deep kisses.”
Living through the 1990s, I recalled mechanical manhood. Now, I was married, with a kid, and couldn’t exude my youthful prowess.
Was she dropping hints about how to please her, or was it simply friendly stoop-talk? I was a-fumble. Soon she moved out, into Manhattan. Not before inviting me to her place for drinks, while she donned a kimono, not before exposing herself. I stumbled out of her apartment and into Queens morning light.
I was bound by a nuptial contract and anxiety. In a fret, I scurried, turgid and unfulfilled.
We had worn the clothes and had made the vows, often we had spoken words which couldn’t be taken back.
Fingers, digits pointing in the direction of separation, a direction I never wanted to go. Divorce. Where to put fingers now that she had no holes to ream? Wine necks of uncorked bottles. Legos bruises and blown-out condoms in the garbage chute, we were the ugliest husband and wife on Bliss Street.