Swimming (2013)

Martha and the Muffins had a song in 1982 called Swimming, whose refrain was “We’re afraid to call it love, Let’s call it swimming…”. It makes me think of you, and I think about what we called love. I think about what love was like after you, and how I never called it love anymore. And then I think about how by the time Swimming came out it was all boys in Martha and the Muffins; I want to hear Martha singing “Another fight on the street below, They’ve got things to prove. Highly strung like nervous guitars. My fingers make waves in you. ”, and I don’t. All I hear is some whiney sensitive Canadian new wave dude, and I’m gypped. You, fucker.

I don’t know whether I decided to never fall in love again the moment you died, or if it was the moment we broke up. I wanted a girl. Just like Dangerous Diane, I wanted a girl from the start. Is everything some obscure punk song reference? And I told my boyfriend I wanted a girl; maybe I could learn how to fuck the way I fucked with Patti when I was eleven. Maybe I’d remember my body again if I had a girl. That is what I thought. I asked if he knew any slutty dykes, and he recommended you. He offered to introduce us. No, he didn’t want to watch. He just loved me and wanted me to be happy. He and I are still friends, and you are dead. And it is true that you were slutty, but I never really remembered my body the way I wanted to, because I was too drunk.

I didn’t fall in love with you at first. I wanted to fuck so I burrowed my way into your panties like a rodent, all sharp yellow teeth and furry ears and whiskers. Something you can trust even if it tickles and you might be a little afraid. We had a date to listen to records at my place. I plied you with Little King ale, and played the Ramones and Iggy Pop and Blondie, then at 11pm said coyly, “Ooops! The last bus has already left. I guess you’ll have to stay here. You can sleep on the sofa, or come upstairs with me.” I was suave like a rat. You came upstairs and we stripped and humped, pelvis to pelvis and breast to breast. You went down on me. No pissing. No fingers shoved inside my cunt until I was screaming. It was all very lesbian, although I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t know that what I really wanted was a girl who would boss me around, hurting and fucking me until I cried. The only part I had right was the girl part.

And love? Like the Professor in Nightwood says, “What of love?” Was it love when you moved in with me two months later? Your family had kicked you out of their suburban home for setting it on fire. I could believe that. They dropped you off with your knapsack of belongings. You stood on the other side of the four lane street in front of my house in a tight luminous yellow tank top, and blue jean cut-offs. Everything glowed in the summer heat; the road shimmering, your teeth gleaming, and your hair frizzed around your face like a halo. You had just turned 18, and I was 24. We fell for each other’s pasts, our pants tangled around our ankles and our lips mashed together like worms squished on just rained upon sidewalks. Soft and crunchy; we were ready for ruin.

You were difficult and stupid. I was distant and lonely. I asked you to leave after three months, but you said you were in love and you had nowhere to go. At 18 you’d already burned more bridges than most people crossed in their lifetime. I let you stay with me until one perfect sticky evening when I came home, after having a beer at Jack’s, the local dyke bar, to find bloody handprints up and down the hallways from the first floor up to my bedroom, and my friend Nancy in evening drag frantically calling the police. She had come over with surprise tickets to the ballet. You’d answered the door, and told her that I’d left after dinner to kill myself, and you’d cut your arms in solidarity. Long shallow slashes ran their way up and down your arm like a ladder to home. We had the emergency squad pick you up and take you to Ohio State University’s Upham Hall psychiatric unit.

I was free now. You stayed for three days, calling me every night to relate whatever antics were happening with Merv Griffith on late night television. I doodled on notepads while you talked. I didn’t care. We couldn’t talk about books. We couldn’t talk about art. We couldn’t talk about our shared friends. We didn’t know how to talk about fucking. They let you out and you moved in with a friend. We still saw one another, but it was casual. You know, casual like summer rain.

I’d dropped out of art school and was working in a downtown porn store, handing out quarters to businessmen on their lunch hour and directing them to the most fortuitous booths for their tastes. I’d open up the store each morning, pop into the bar next door for a double white Russian to go, call WCOL and request Bruce Springsteen’s Fire, then start sealing porn magazines. I was doing a lot of wig drag, and my favorite was a white blond Dolly Parton bouffant. After work, I liked to cage drinks at the nearby gay hillbilly dive; I’d sit daintily on a bar stool seat covered in cracked dirty red glitter vinyl, cross my legs modestly, and glancing at my crotch, tell any admirers that I was saving all my money to get that nasty thing chopped off. I’d blush, then admit that I just hated that 9” reminder of my manhood. I’d shudder and flip my hair. They’d look down greedily at my soon to be removed cock, wipe their greasy worker’s mitts on their dungarees, buy me a drink or two, and try and sweet talk me into the alley. I never went. I wanted a girl.

One morning, I woke up to find you crawling into my bedroom window at 5am, carefully cradling a bottle of red wine in your arms. You knew I liked red, and thought you’d surprise me. It was imported. You’d been up all night, and stolen the bottle from some chick you’d gone home with, creeping out of her bed before she woke up, and surreptitiously absconding with a bottle. I was touched at your romanticism. You were still brashly in love with me. I called off work that morning, and stayed in bed with you. It was this moment that I fell in love. With you. It was always with you.

About Avery Cassell

Avery Cassell is a queer butch San Francisco writer, poet, cartoonist, and artist who grew up in Iran.
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