10 Live to Tell
After writing Thursday’s Magnum Opus Lauren feels depleted. The arrival of a new young writer makes her wonder whether there are other ways to be an artist. Other than to work yourself into exhaustion.
“I dare you read a book this weekend!”
Madonna, Friday April 11
A home bound notebook, made from the pile of paper I used for the drafts: that’s all that remains from the 7 hours of writing and editing I did last Thursday. Seven! I brought a print to the evening classes with me, and found all kinds of little errors. I came home and sat behind the computer, without making tea, without a bite to eat. Even the cats had to throw a tantrum and I still ignored them till an hour past their feeding time before I managed to get away from the screen.
Friday morning. After a restless and very short night (I slept with my Gruffalo mouse, Max the cat and a 1 a.m. print of the story), I made the last modifications. And then I knew it was done. The world gained color, I could smile again, and suddenly I looked forward to both my crowded morning class as well as my peaceful quiet weekend.
I retrieved Thursday’s blog prints from my old paper tray. We Dutchies recycle everything: glass, plastic, potato peels. It is all disposed of separately, as if we live as Aeon Flux, Tank Girl, or in some other science fiction society with scarce resources. I made a notebook out of the prints. This way, every night when I made my to do list for the next day, I would be reminded of what I was capable of. A masterpiece. Eight pages of fluent storytelling in English, by no means my native language. I had passed the test.
Today I had a day out with a friend. Meeting point: a book store at a station. She was late, I was early and by the time she arrived I had spent € 30 on The Gruffalo (about a mouse who avoids being eaten by lying, bragging, and casting a shadow holding twigs in the moon light, making him look like a ferocious monster) and a debut novel from writer X (let’s call him Dani) in who I had no interest. Dani was not my type and he was linked to someone who is, one of my love interests Y. I will get back to a recent development with Y later.
First why Dani was a no go.
Let me get one thing out of the way: it had nothing to do with his writing skill. I don’t give a fuck about writing skill and am a sucker for coming of age debut novels from young men, so as far as content goes, Dani had everything I looked for in a writer. But it was how he was presented, and everything that happened before the book was there. For over a year the women’s magazines, tv programs, literary festivals and writer’s nights had been annoyingly fanatic in writing about him, inviting him, interviewing him, photographing him.
Now I don’t mind a little acknowledgement of how attractive someone is, but Dani was not my taste. Yes, I could see why he had been a model. But he was no match for Sam’s powerful presence nor for Rafael’s social skills. I felt a need to distance myself from the common held opinion that Dani was attractive. He was banned to my Never To Be Read pile. Deported to the Avoided At All Times list. And his connection to love interest Y (here in this blog under a different name) blew the last chance of ever reading him. Dani and his book were to be ignored.
But I had overestimated myself. I thought my resistance, made out of all magazines I didn’t buy, videos I didn’t watch, and events I didn’t visit, was strong enough to hold. I could pick the book up and just hold it, right?
I held my breath as I weighed the book, and touched the butt ugly cover with my fingertips as if I was expecting a violently allergic reaction to it. I inspected the back cover, the sleazy header and the tormented hipster photo. A pleasant haze of superiority tingled along my spine. The feeling of being unique. Parties, drugs, women. The first paragraph of text on the back cover was just as predictable as everything else about Dani. But then:
And there I went.
In the blink of two ill-fonted, poorly lay-out sentences, I suddenly sympathized with this man that I had banished. And aside from man-whoring Amsterdam, Dani had never done anything to deserve my disdain. He didn’t even know I existed, nor did he realize our connection through Y. And he had that one quality….. the one Sam has. Rafael has. Henry. Michael. And all the other writers that I may or may not have told you about:
The one thing I always fall for. Regardless of looks and despite a man being praised by women’s magazines that I despise.
Meanwhile the earlier mentioned love interest Y had cut me off. I stumbled upon circumstantial evidence of this, but it proved to be true. Reason being: his girlfriend felt threatened.
His girlfriend! The only contact Y and me have is distant and respectful, with a mutual understanding of where we’re at. And then his girlfriend still finds me threatening? My ego grew instantly. I think one of the reasons I was able to marathon write that extensive piece of prose Thursday was because of her larger than life vision of me. Apparently I was so powerful and irresistible that just reading my tweets could bring a man to ruin. I was the Queen bee, the evil witch, the siren that enchanted with sensual writing and then went for the kill with eight pages of nearly native English no Dutch writer would ever be able to match.
There is no need to hold up twigs in the moonlight to cast a monstrous shadow. Because no owl, no snake, no fox, is ever going to eat me. This week I realized, that after all those years of writing, I have become a predator myself. And people fear even the shadow of my pen.
Sunday April 13
1991. Madonna and Michael Jackson were equally famous. Together with Prince they were the Big Three, the first Superstars since Elvis Presley. After nearly a decade of admiring each other from a distance, Madonna and Michael Jackson planned to cooperate, and started making public appearances together. After one of these events they ended up at Michael’s home. They watched movies. Ate popcorn. Jumped on the beds. They undressed and the two adults investigated each other’s bodies with a curiosity usually reserved for those playing in the sand box or a tree hut. Madonna and Michael Jackson were in awe of meeting their mirror image. And within a few weeks they were at each other’s throats and never spoke again.
So me and all those writers? All the ones I referred to yesterday? It struck me that I never had sex with any of them. Flirting, yes. Kissing; if I was lucky. Feeding each other’s most secret, sleazy fantasies? Yes, yes, yes! And maybe if we would be alone we would undress each other and play doctor (oh, I know we would). But I think there is a natural resistance to take it any further. Maybe it’s because you’re too familiar. You know the kiss, the sex, the relationship will be written about, one could say penetrated, from two sides. And under that pressure both parties will end up with half. Being in a relationship with a fellow writer is like having to divide a plate of food, when you’re used to having it all to yourself. I always order my own basket of naan bread. An extra bowl of French fries. Having to share a plate of relationship with another writer would be highly unsatisfactory.
There is however one thing that would intrigue me. Aside from the general irresistible pull that men with self-reflection have on me. Aside from the timeless Anais Nin and Henry Miller association, which never fails to drive me green with envy. Aside from all those things. What would appeal to me is the idea of learning how to create a work rhythm. Of sharing my living space with someone who would know when to get up, when to write, when to shower. When to see sunlight and get some much needed physical exercise. I would like to learn from someone, by example, how to balance going with the flow, with being presentable and part of this world.
Because the word flow sounds romantic, an idealized version of living a creative life. Flow is the holy grail, something you work for, something you invoke. And when the wave comes you ride it.
I know this.
I had flow.
And there is nothing romantic about riding that wave behind your computer in a bathing robe at 4 p.m. With your 5th coffee, on your fifth page, and with an Inbox full of messages that you should have answered yesterday. Flow is sleep deprivation. Poorly prepared classes. Flow is being cranky because something or someone wants attention, needs your help, and you don’t feel like breaking up your precious flow. Flow is the most self-centered, anti-social way of writing that I know. But flow it is also a very efficient way of writing. And it is the only one I know.
Sunday’s post explained why Lauren insists to never date a writer. Just like she swore to never buy Dani’s book. Naturally, within 48 hours she’s sucked in, over her ears, hopelessly entangled in something that can only lead to heartbreak, drama, and a juicy new blog.
You asked me if your email compensated for not writing for so long. Honey, any story involving you, a gay Go-go dancer, and a parking lot would suffice to make up for anything. From forgetting my birthday to stealing my credit card. So yes! I loved reading it. And the fact that you were still a minor makes it a guilty pleasure read.
Was this story told to me to illustrate why leaving this muscular steel blue eyes drop dead gorgeous Go-go boy was a good thing? For that, it did not suffice I’m afraid. Because right now I would have you jump in your car, speed towards him, kneel, bow, undress, and offer any services required to indicate you’re all his, you’re really sorry, and he can have his way with you. So I may need an extra story to illustrate why staying away from Matthew is a good idea and throwing yourself at his feet in full submission, is not.
Make it count.
Meanwhile I’m dealing with my own weak spots here. It’s about Dani. Remember? The writer who I don’t fancy based on his looks (as opposed to the rest of Holland-with-ovaries, who appear to be savagely taken with him) but whose book I bought despite my resistance towards him as a person, or rather towards him as a phenomenon. The topic intrigued me. Young male, living in Amsterdam, has it all, but blows it all. And in the process breaks a million women’s hearts. He is the kind of man you wish only bad things will happen to for the rest of his life. And they probably will. So far as to why I read the book. But there is more. Because why else would I contact him?
Not directly, no.
But I poked the tip of my pen in the right direction for him to notice me almost immediately. It was before I even realized what I had done. Or why I wanted it. The desire to speak to him was so strong that I had acted out of impulse, undetected by my poorly tuned common sense radar. And as opposed to Sam (whose messages contain two sentences max), Rafael (who never contacts me in private), or Henry (whose wife and children seem to be waving from between the lines), this writer had it. Dani had it. His words had that emotion to it, that charm. That thing that melts, wins you over, and that before you know it, would have you wild with desire to be savagely taken.
Why am I doing this?
Why am I exposing myself to someone whose moral compass is even looser than that of a gay Go-go dancer with a criminal record. What the fuck is wrong with me? And while I was eagerly waiting for his reply, scratching the inside of my elbow like a relapsing heroin addict, I realized I already knew the answer. And it starts with one question: How much have I told you about 2010?
Late 2010. I was new to Twitter. And through a combination of factors (one of them me being vulnerable when it comes to young men) I started emailing with a journalist who was physically attractive by all standards. All, except mine. And there must be all kinds of eloquent ways to describe this, but right now I can’t think of any so I’ll resort to the limited vocabulary that is still available when thinking about this painful time.
We wrote and I fell in love.
I just let it happen, not too worried. It wouldn’t last if I saw him in person. But then he made me cry. In a good way. Something in his email (I lost all of them when Hotmail changed to Outlook) moved me so much I had tears running down my face. Same way it happens when I listen to Pharrell’s Happy. You can’t explain it. It the operative word. The same it I was referring to in Dani. It’s that way the words tap into your brain. As if they first dance alongside your thoughts, and then they take your hand, and you trust them, and he takes you somewhere of outstanding beauty. And he says he understands. And that he’s there. And that one day he’ll be there with you in person. And about that time he hooks up with a girl, they do drugs, they have sex. He mentions it casually. Like you’re not supposed to care.
And you break.
Dani’s message came quickly. It was cheerful, and I could feel his pink wiggling to my hand.
“Listen, lets meet okay?” I said, as I pulled away.
“I know how this ends. Your messages will move me to tears before I know it. ”
We couldn’t set a date this week. Maybe later. But at least the stream of words has stopped. And no one is crying. So when I made that decision yesterday, to contact him, I think I wanted to see what would happen. Would I let myself be sucked in, like I did in 2010? Would I see him in real life, unlike 2010? And if I did, then what would happen?
Was there now, or had there ever been, a possible outcome, that did not involve getting emotionally savaged?
Elliot wrote me a long email from Vegas titled Dry and Omnipresent Desert Air, explaining every detail about why he made the painful choice in his love life. Naturally I responded in my own unique supportive, understanding way: with a day long email assault about me-me-me.
Thursday April 17, 2014
I’m very sorry, but it happened again. Flow. Not once like on Sunday when I wrote Live to Tell, introducing Dani and why I never want to date a writer. Not twice, like Tuesday when I wrote Happy explaining how Dani was my last chance to make amends with 2010’s Journalist.
I still believed that as long as I emptied my head immediately, let the thoughts pour into the blog, I could contain it. Not so. After Tuesday’s should-have-been-the-last-post, I started preparing today’s newsletter yesterday morning. Nothing wrong with starting early right? I posted a teaser. The newsletter was going to be about Rafael, Sam and Dani, and if people wanted to read it they had 24 hours to sign up.
Dani saw the teaser and signed up. And not just that. With Dani, I hit the bull’s eye of young male writers. The one who writes back. Who communicates. And who fearlessly poked Rafael and Sam out of their safety zone.
* knock knock *
Rafael look! She’s writing about us!
* slap slap *
Sam wake the fuck up! This is awesome!
Within 15 minutes of posting the teaser, a triangle of texting buzzed through Amsterdam. And the triangle did not want to wait for Thursday’s newsletter. Was it finished already? Dani was so curious. And Sam was curious too. And he had talked to Rafael and Rafael wanted to know a link I promised to share.
All three of them were pulling me out of my safety zone and I willingly let them. I wrote.
I wrote the whole day and the newsletter (named Secrets 2014, so it really is a no holds barred thing) contained positive reviews of their work, even better reviews on the writers, but next to all the praise, which was sufficient to keep their egos up for at least the rest of spring, it was also brutally honest. It held all the stuff that you and I talk freely of, but that I don’t publish in a public blog post. Needless to say I didn’t hear from any of them again.
You asked me about Dani – yes, I agree. There is a connection. I wonder if I too, am a part of his puzzle? Can he redeem himself, learn something, improve or heal, the way I can relate to him as to that Journalist?
A friend suspects Dani and the Journalist together “cover” (this is called a euphemism) Amsterdam’s entire 20-something female population. With severe overlap. And I fear they vouch for 50% of its recreational drug use. But who am I to judge when apparently I am addicted to “flow”, to writing. With equally devastating results. Responsibilities were neglected, I dropped my daily fitness and yoga habit, and I wrote a newsletter that probably did more harm than good.
Hours spent at publishing my books past two weeks: zero.
It’s daytime now. Way after noon. It took me a whole morning to write this entry, based on two pages of notes I scribbled down in the middle of the night. And still I didn’t respond to anything you told me, didn’t help you out in any way.
Can I blame it one more time on Flow?
ps: we had unexpected night frost killing all the blossom on the fruit trees. No joke.
This will be a short note. My email to you, written just a few hours ago, probably hasn’t even reached you yet and I don’t want to burden you with my thoughts. And yet, I am worried. Something is wrong. And it’s not in the category “that small children have died over this” but it is in the category “that big girls are slowly losing their sanity”.
I know where I’m at.
It’s that point where you’re so sick of yourself you can’t stand your own company. And you look for justification of who you are outside yourself, only to find that it is never enough. That even if Sam, Rafael and Dani would now all write me letters of appreciation, if Benjamin rang my doorbell (newly divorced and recently migrated back to NL. He brought flowers) If Valentino sent me one of those carefree notes inquiring about my yoga schedule, even then it wouldn’t take the real pain away of what it’s like NOT TO PUBLISH.
I received mail from tax services today and some kind of reminder from my pension plan. No idea what’s in it. But getting behind my desk to thoroughly go through my finance, as opposed to merely paying bills, is just as daunting as finishing my three self-publishing projects.
There is good news too. I know this will end. I know that this downfall (no yoga, no fitness, no publishing, and only writing, writing, writing), that started April 6:
April 6 – the day after Rafael’s show;
the day after my 100 day fitness and yoga challenge ended;
the day I received news my aunt died.
That downfall will lead to an all-time low in moral and when it hits rock bottom a new plan will arise. One that works. Not the no email and social media till 1 p.m. Not the Trinity Challenge, as in working on three books for three months. Not the Trinity Challenge as in writing/ physical exercise and publishing. Not the countless, fruitless other plans that sprouted from my tormented brain the past weeks, and that all came to nothing.
The greater the suffering, the stronger the motivation to alleviate pain, to do something about it. This feast of self-hatred will lead to a new plan. And then one that works, just like the 100 day yoga and fitness challenge worked.
The only problem is that with publishing I have zero experience with plans that work and can only rely on 4 years of failure.
I have no idea where to start.
after teaching/ night
It seemed to come within minutes of hitting send. And even though it isn’t a clear plan (yet) it immediately gave me so much confidence that I kind of regretted sending you the email. Of asking attention for something that (apparently) had a solution. Or maybe the solution came because I wrote you, that is also possible. So what are the ingredients?
Remember you once asked me;
“What would Sam do”?
You were camping, it was cold, there was stress within your party of friends. My solution is kind of the same, only that it includes the What would who do of three writers. With Dani, the latest addition, definitely being the most important one. And the most unlikely one. Because Dani represents a side of me I don’t like, I can’t deal with. A side I would gladly surgically remove if I only knew how. And today I realized that my battle with the Dani-side of me is what costing me so much energy.
I am angry at myself for wasting all those years. For being a failure (by my own standards). For loving that high of blogging, needing that fix, and having neglected tasks that would bring me long term gratification.
Have I ever told you I went without sex for a long time? From the eight years I’ve been single, two of them were Panda years. It made me feel superior, like I was in control of my lower needs. Twitter fasting, sex fasting, no sugar challenges, 100 days of fitness and yoga. I’ve done them all the past couple of years. Extensively and repeatedly. And I was actually at the point where I was I considering blog-fasting AND social media fasting for three months to get that frickin publishing on the road. And Nubian Prince is coming over this weekend and I considered cancelling.
My superior dark lover, who always surprises me, satisfies me, who I trust and with who I’ve been having the best solution-to-single-sex a cougar with a love for dark can wish for (I still wonder what the fuck those girls at Uni are doing, that we keep getting a chance to reunite): I was on the verge of cancelling THAT. Because I didn’t deserve it. Sex was a reward for living a good life, and I hated mine.
In other words: whenever my self-hatred peaks, as a response I starve my inner Dani. A year if I must. Or I beat him up with yoga. Take away his blog-fix. I may not be able to remove him, but I can sure as hell torture him, scold him, degrade him. I didn’t know I had an inner Dani. And I HOPED I had an inner Rafael, an inner Sam. And I probably have those too! But as long as I keep taking it out on the Dani-side of me that desires fun, oblivion, booze, frivolity -as long as I keep doing that, I will never succeed.
The correct answer to my problem was never less fun, and more discipline.
Unless I find a way to cut myself some slack, be irresponsible, waste time, throw away money, get laid, unless I find a way to keep that side of me happy the inner Rafael is not going to get up at 7 a.m. to help me write. The inner Sam is not going to pull me through the hard times when you’re lonely and things are not working out.
I need to give these archetypes, my novel characters, equal space, equal time to develop, and to help me. I can learn from all three of them. And I must stop picking favorites.
videos from Dani!
Almost forgot! I’m sure you like a visual. This is Dani in a drinking game, answering questions about sex. This is a video stream of a radio show. Less clear on imagery.
Re: videos from Dani!
Dani is beautiful! Just thought that shouldn’t be overlooked!
13 Something to Remember
Three weeks after her last blogpost and Lauren collects what she has said. She shares everything; from a warning to fact-check your fiction to her sexual preferences, from the introduction of Bill the Snake Charmer to being redeemed by Rafael’s kiss. From the black book of 2011 to juicy stories from the Antwerp Zoo. Because what else would be the point of existing?
“Why would you say something if it’s off-camera?
What point is there of existing?”
Warren Beatty mocking Madonna.
Saturday 19 April 2014
This could have been a catastrophe. Does encourages spying and fact-checking, before you publish your fiction! So here’s what happened.
In 2010 I “hacked” Benjamin’s sealed-off Fb profile. Not that I stole his password or anything, but I was able to get info from it, that must not have been his intention to share. I don’t know why I did it. I was probably just curious, or rewarding myself after a bad day or something. Either way, until an hour ago I was still ashamed of this.
But turns out, it was probably the best choice of my entire muse-writer relationship with Benjamin. Because I just printed the original manuscript of Mango. The file was dated 2009 9a year before the hack). Benjamin’s wife is in it. Just her name, once. I made up something that I thought would suit her. It was a name that symbolized perfection. The ideal wife, of the idealized Benjamin, my 1991 love interest. I made it up, and then I forgot.
But now I saw it again, and with the information from the hack I knew;
“Oh my God! That’s her real name!”
Think of the consequences if I had published using the name of his real wife! He would have thought it was some sick joke. Good luck explaining that one. And I haven’t just been feeling guilty for the hack, but also for letting the Mango manuscript end up in the drawer.
When in retrospect it would have been a disaster if I had pushed it through at the time. The frail connection Benjamin and me have, would have been destroyed.
Hooray for being a spying slacker!
Wednesday 23 April
I was already toying with the thought of dropping you a line. After writing three newsletters (two for my regular work as a yoga teacher) and blogging Dutch erotic story Miguel, I finally have my writing impulses under control. The flow has stopped, it’s very peaceful here. The only downside is that I do need to plan to write you every now and then.
But I already intended to, when I read you’re in your rural hometown! It was such a throw-back to 2009. And you were still a sweet little 14 year old who got me to read the most unlikely American Classic: The Bridges of Madison County. Unlikely as in: it’s about two middle aged people! And the strangest thing happened: I liked it. It wasn’t until the next book, On the Road, that I couldn’t keep up with you anymore.
This all reminds me of a sexy anecdote (my words!) when somewhere in 2012 or 2013 I think, I asked you about your preferences. Not that you were gay, I knew that. I still wonder if there ever was a time during our friendship when your sexuality was still a question mark because I only remember you as being gay. Either way, years and boyfriends later, I suddenly bothered you with something my gay best friend was talking about: top or bottom. Or versatile. And that in gay land these roles determine if two men hit it off or not. In straight relationships this is never discussed upfront. I think mainly because most men are either omnivorous or tops, and most women either frigid or bottoms, so it really doesn’t matter.
Oh, I didn’t say that last part out loud.
Either way, me and my gay best friend were talking about our common “position” as bottoms, and it was the first time I actually felt understood in my sexuality.
Because no woman (I thought) is going to truly ”get” what it means to want to submit, surrender, give up, give in. Not without immediately being part of a SM scene and walking around gagged in a rubber dress. Those women would understand. But in general I think there must still be this myth that not wanting to be responsible, or in control, during sex, is a sign of an underdeveloped sexual identity. And that’s before they judge it to be degrading. Especially for our mothers and sisters who have fought, or are fighting for, their right to not be raped, enslaved, possessed or in any way compromised in their physical integrity. It is a bit ungrateful if at the same time there are women to whom that is the stuff that wet dreams are made of.
Maybe I never bothered to tell other women, that is also possible. But I remember the exact place me and Damian were when we discussed this, and it was the third common ground we found in our friendship. The first two had been Madonna and a shared lack of interest in having children. Our instinctual reaction is a deep sigh, a goodbye hug and a farewell greeting somewhere the lines of:
“Bye bye. It was fun huh?”
Although we have both been trained to convincingly lie socially acceptable responses.
Still in awe that my sexuality was completely accepted an understood by my gay best friend, I went home and found you on chat. And then I asked you, and I remember this because I had no idea if it wasn’t an inappropriate question (rephrase- I knew it was inappropriate, I just didn’t know if you would answer those). But I was so curious, I had to know!
So after a lot of disclaimers, reassurances that you didn’t need to answer, and a fair warning, I asked you:
“Elliot. Are you top, bottom or versatile?”
And you laughed, you thought it was a hilarious question.
“That’s a no-brainer Lauren. Bottom of course.”
Thursday 24 April
Just thought you should know: I’ve tightened my relationship to ****** (your cue to Facebook spy on his picture) We’ve been flirting as the main characters from Kill Bill. For about two years. And he always jokes about wanting to film my book Dutch American Diary.
Yesterday, we had a misunderstanding and nearly blocked each other. Then we made up with an outburst of sweet talking containing the words snake charmer. I invited him to meet in real life. He was surprised but accepted.
I have the impression he is very comfortable with women. They usually are if in two years of flirting they never consider to ask me out. Comfortable or married with four kids. But he responded quick and lighthearted (so he’s not married with kids), which leaves only one explanation: he’s been living in the land of female plenty. He wrote me a cute email reviewing him, me, our on-and-off online relationship. Oh dear! When will my weakness for words ever toughen up? A man could write me to bed, I swear.
From what he told so far: he’s 30-ish, yes single, married to movie making, and frustrated when it comes to relationships because he just can’t make a woman happy now. Just like I’m married to blogging, only I don’t give a rat’s ass about making men happy. And he’s not too eager on one night stands.
We set a date in two weeks.
I plan to go on a holiday tomorrow so I will drop out of communication. I intend to return Friday May 2 and can already see myself investing hours and hours typing my new post. If you have a chance of conquering a computer in the next 26 hours I’d love to hear how you’re doing!
Antwerp, Friday 25 April
I wonder how much I told you. How much is in the emails already sent? Right here, in a small bed in Antwerp, writing a diary and cut off from the world, there is no way of finding out.
Bill. Bill. Bill.
The Snake Charmer.
But let me start with something I know I didn’t tell: my doubts about Nubian Prince.
It would be easy to conclude Bill’s intimate correspondence opened my eyes. And naturally: it did! The moment I started sleeping with Bill’s emails next to me, I stopped longing for Nubian Prince. And I started to realize that I’ve used sex with Nubian Prince not as a substitute for the sex of a relationship, but as a substitute for the intimacy of a relationship. And Bill’s four page email is a lot more satisfactory in the field of intimacy, then Nubian Prince giving me four orgasms.
But my doubts actually began much earlier.
At Cinderella night, when Rafael kissed me. It went by so quickly but afterwards I simply radiated. It was like I was literally kissed by an angel. Blessed. And washed clean from all my sins.
“So that’s when I realized I didn’t want to be with Nubian Prince anymore,” I confessed to my mother today, on our way to Antwerp.
But she suggested to just let things with Nubian Prince run their course.
“You could always see Rafael again. And be redeemed again.”
To take a room for myself is already the best decision of this holiday. My mother is in the room next to me. That room is an artist’s inspiration. The interior is a mixture of antiques, curiosa, literature. The ceilings are so high you can build an extra floor, something they did in the room I’m in now.
It’s a tiny children’s room and I’m on the raised level where they made a bed. My bed is surrounded by children’s books, my duvet cover a Dutch 70’s comic (Belgium is bi-lingual, one language being Dutch) and I can touch the ceiling by extending my hand when lying here in the bed. No idea why I woke up. Maybe because Max wakes me up at home around this time, because he wants food. I’m used to broken nights at home but I always fall back to sleep easily. As opposed to now. Maybe it’s the pizza Napolitana after-thirst. And maybe I am still awake, now writing you apparently, because I checked my email on my 2009 phone and found Bill’s 1.30 am letter. I wrote back using that silly little screen. As much sentences as I was prepared to lose should my phone eat them all, instead of sending them. It sent.
Bill’s letter was raw. Sometimes the intimacy was broken by paragraphs where I lost him and his thoughts seemed to run off with him. Something I only know from a boyfriend I never wrote about. But who now, in the dead of night, somehow seems pressing to share. It’s something I never told you either, since it was in the years you and me hardly corresponded. 2011. My attempt to have a relationship with someone I was not completely in love with. In the light of today, I would even say completely not in love with. He was a genius and made the amount of money most of us will never do. But I didn’t feel any connection. I also didn’t feel he was in love with me, even though he said he was. The reason we were together was that he wanted us to be a couple. And I? I didn’t mind. It was 1,5 year after Valentino and I was as far removed from forgetting him as ever. Celibacy – Snow White’s brother – celibacy – more celibacy- Samuel Samuel Samuel Samuel. This last bit was within 15 hours. And then back to celibacy and a freshly broken heart. I was running out of options. And that’s when this relationship became as good an option as any.
Not an idea I was proud of but more a process of steps that in itself all seemed logical. Until in the wee hours of the night a little voice inside your head starts to shriek what the f*** you’re doing. Luckily for me, he apparently had a similar voice and broke up with me because I was too old. No one understood I couldn’t be bothered finding that offensive.
With help of Bill’s questions, I analyzed I have a success recipe: to never give my whole body to the one who already has my heart. The more I like you, the slimmer the chance we’ll have real sex. And even if we do? I have never been timid about sex but I do have secret fantasies. Likes and lusts and fetishes. They’re deep inside a secret closet, a mental cabinet where no one looks for them. Not even my partners.
But for those who I am affectionate to, it’s not just a forbidden closet, that whole room is a no go zone. I don’t want them near! And the entire house, with that room, with that closet, is off limits to the ones I am in love with. The worshiped ones. Valentino. Rafael. I need them to stay away from it as far as possible. But with this partner I fearlessly emptied out the secret cupboard with merciless enthusiasm. Judging from what I shared with him, my love for him must have been dangerously low.
Stop the clock! It’s nearly 5.30 a.m and I just solved the riddle of why I am wide awake. I’m writing with a complete stranger who I fear knows all about my secret closet. And Bill seems to have his own set of keys.
Antwerp, Sunday 27 April
I’m making coffee in one of those on-the-stove percolators. Do you know them? Jacqueline used them when she lived in the Netherlands. I estimate I ve seen her making us coffee a hundred times. But now that I have to put it together (it was still in pieces, in the drying rack), measure the water and the grounded coffee, I am not sure how it was done. It’s simmering now. I’ll let you know.
Did I tell I use a French press? It’s a pot that allows you to filter without a paper filter. It was one of the things I picked up on after a tip from Rafael. The others were highly acclaimed political series. Less fond of those.
Coffee turned out great.
My second night in my boy’s bed was far better. Fell asleep immediately and slept like a baby. Just like my mom, my brother in-law doesn’t understand my vivid resistance to sleeping between the tweenie’s books and the raised floor under the comic duvet.
“I thought you liked young men?”
The exact same joke my mom had made. And one I came up with myself but ditched it for being too lame.
“And a Sjors and Sjimmie duvet cover? One of them is even brown!”
Ironically my tiny room turned out to be a topic of quarrel with my niece and nephew. They actually suspected me of taking advantage of being there a day early by claiming the best room. When in reality, I thought I was doing them a favor by giving them the grandiose attic, instead of stacking the two of them away, Ikea style.
I’ll make pictures of the attic and my mother’s bohemian room. The statues on the mantelpiece reminded me of the twin statues of the Yoruba at Antwerp’s biggest museum. They’re from where I used to live in Africa. The Buddha lives in the attic. With my niece and nephew. African art and Asian enlightenment versus Sjors and Sjimmie. I may turn infantile over the course of this week.
Saturday 3 May
The first thing I did when I got home was take a nap and masturbate: two beloved activities I refrained from for a week. But other than those? I didn’t miss a thing.
Marieke had been a sleep-over baby sit, taking excellent care of my cats. And I didn’t miss writing, teaching, flirting. I was perfectly happy being the silly, irresponsible aunty.
In all fairness, that image is easily obtained since my sister and brother in-law are just the perfect, environmentally friendly, psychologically sound parents. They’re vegetarians, but encourage their children to eat some meat every now and then, so that they grow up as normal kids. My brother in-law is a successful children’s book author. He got up every morning at 5 to write for two hours. My sister kept their 6 year old entertained upstairs until 7, by doing funny yoga poses. By the time I came down for breakfast, my brother in-law had been playing the computer game Zoo Tycoon with his kids for an hour.
My mother is always a bit nervous when we’re with so many and me indulging in sugar, expensive trips, and non-fair trade shoes. Her attitude is not quite coherent with her own behavior, since she was the one who went to Antwerp with my nephew a few years ago, returning with coke which he (then 11 years old) had found in a restaurant. Instead of throwing it away she had brought it back over the border! So you’d expect her to be resilient to stress.
I on the other hand did not bring coke, but sweet buns (chocolate croissants and the like) and she panicked:
“Oh no! I think you bought way too many!”
“No, not really,” I answered.
“I counted how many of us there were.”
“Exactly,” my brother in-law agreed with me.
“And then did it times two,” I nodded. “Plus one. But that was accidentally.”
Our house was next to a peculiar shopping ally. Chinese, African, and Indian shops all mixed together. We had a hard time finding milk, but you could easily buy three outfits for the price of one pair of Kuyichi jeans. My sister wondered if I didn’t feel bad for the laborers, when I took advantage of our unique location and bought flat shoes and a large handbag for the outlet-with-sale price.
In different formations, we visited the MAS and other museums, walked through the nearly ancient pedestrian tunnel under The Schelde, made home cooked meals, and everybody over 6 watched Lord of the Rings extended editions every night and went to bed half past 10. And aside from that first night I slept great.
And I threw money at my little niece only once! I was going to take her to a Dino show which turned out to be closed. Everybody else was doing something cool. The tourist office was on strike. I had to come up with something, and the only thing that I knew nearby was the Zoo. She was very excited that we went there, for the second time in a few days.
“I would have preferred the dino show to have live dinos anyway,” she explained.
We visited the animals that we had missed the first time, including the reptile house where she pointed out two turtles that were playing. We also went to the small monkey house where I took a close up of my new favorite monkey as my niece was admiring a baby monkey that only ate the soft parts of all the carrots.
So now I’m home. Yesterday I went to bed after midnight. I dreamed of Benjamin, and of Arwen from Lord of the Rings, who I confused with Rafael’s girlfriend. In my dream they were the same person. Today I spent seven hours writing this blogpost. Life is back to normal.
14 What it feels like with a girl
What do you mean, an introduction? All Bedtime Stories can be read separately! And this is about me hooking up with a girl.
Start reading you silly!
I promised to never start my letters with an apology. Not even now, when I haven’t written in weeks, and still wouldn’t write if my life had not taken such an unexpected turn.
I rationalized not writing about my dates with two film makers (one was Bill the Snake Charmer!), not about what Rafael was up to these days, or Sam. I didn’t tell you how Project Trinity, the making of three books, had turned into a union. The Dutch Market will get one book, my collected works. I rationalized my silence by reminding myself that I did not have to write, shouldn’t write, unless emotions were involved. Until feelings of love, or despair, or happiness, just made it impossible not to share an event. Only then, would my writing be memorable.
Too bad I am bound to secrecy! I went on a girl date, with a young woman who promised to (warning: pornographic phrase coming up) “single-handedly stretch the boundaries of my sexuality”. But before she set foot into my life I had to promise her I would not write about who she is in love with, who she sleeps with, who she betrayed, whose heart she broke. The little seductress even tried to keep her history with Rafael out, our common demeanor, but I told her that was not open for negotiation. That would go on record. So let’s start there.
Juli is one of my followers on Twitter. She is a subscriber to my newsletter and faithful RT-er of all-my-tweets-Rafael. We never spoke directly until a few weeks ago, and we hit it off like lightning, licking each other in our timeline. And after that token of affection, we discovered we had two mutual friends and a shared obsession with Rafael. She knew him. Better than I did. A Nestor in the world of art had introduced them to each other years ago. And although Juli is a strong player in the field of “dating” (mind the euphemism!) stunning men, preferably older than she are, it didn’t work out at all. Maybe it was because the Nestor never made it clear what the hierarchy was. In the case of wild jungle sex their roles would have come naturally, but Rafael had a far less satisfying approach to bossing her around.
Whenever Juli and Rafael talked about their writing, he would condescend her. An attitude she found unacceptable. And whenever they would set a date in a more lighthearted setting, he would reschedule.
Until Juli was done with it.
She didn’t question he had the best intentions, but nevertheless informed him she would only follow his work from now on. Other things were apparently not meant to be. And she kept word. For the past four years, she leaves immediately after shows and never goes to parties where he might be. She has limited her role to that of a fan.
The story of Rafael en Juli becomes even more unsettling if you consider her beauty. She has a feminine body of perfect proportions. Firm from workouts but not muscular. And with insanely soft alabaster skin, a tone I only know from Victorian paintings. Her face is heart shaped, she has long black hair. Her bangs tickle her giant emerald eyes. She has a small nose, and civilized lips, as if her sexuality is hidden.
You have to conquer it.
I remember a rough Moroccan man telling me this story, about a girl who had a very small mouth. And how he and his friend were immediately aroused by her, even though the girl made no inviting gestures or remarks. When they later discovered both of them had felt this strong desire towards her, they analyzed where it came from: it had been her mouth. They had associated it with her pussy being small, not fully ready yet. Something for them to conquer. Or to take. Although that last part may have been my own perverted interpretation.
He had turned me on with his story, stirred my imagination. I always wanted to write an erotic story about it, but never did.
Juli’s subdued mouth was made even smaller by the heart shaped face which tried to divert attention up to more neutral eyes and cheekbones. It triggered the same thing in me, as with the men. The enticement of immaturity and inexperience. So four years ago, when her presumed innocence must have been even more mind-blowing, Rafael had her within reach. And he fucked it up.
I knew his I’m not popular with girls-act which made it to his current show, had been just an act. Something from a very distant past. But to hear from Juli what things were like four years ago, made it even more annoying he had kept playing the pity card for so long (even when it was just for show). Because either Rafael had been in some cruel phase for where Nina Ricci look-alikes were meant to suffer. Or he had had age-related issues with her. Which would have been stupid because his current girlfriend is exact same age.
Or maybe he just didn’t know what to do with introvert women, the ones that require conquering. But I’m positive he didn’t have that violently erotic response to her mouth as I did. Or he would have taken her. As he should have, of course.
Juli and I had already set a date when she told me she was bisexual. It was not something she expected me to pick up on, but I liked it. Sleepless nights. Restless thoughts about my own sexuality. Because was I straight, the way I always assumed? Or was I in denial? When I was 17 I had a girlfriend. I was broken hearted at the time. From a boyfriend. And she was experimenting if she liked boys or girls.
I also fell in love with a girl once, long black hair, and extremely cool. It never worked out, but to claim I was fully straight was rigid.
And I like female genitalia. I’ve known that ever since I found my father’s men’s magazines. (fair warning: next paragraph may be too much for a gay man like yourself) The sight of open labia is unquestionably horny. Especially when combined with penetration by let’s say, a finger.
The sight of a penis cannot arouse me, not ever. Okay once. Before the end of this blogpost I will get back to it. But in general, a penis is a utility, something you can do stuff with. Providing it’s hard of course. I’m pretty intolerable towards soft penises, which is one of the many reasons I’m happy to date younger men. But a vagina is always arousing. Whether it’s open, wet, and willing. Or dry, reluctant and shy. It’s always inviting to be admired, touched, and to be pleased. A vagina is 24/7 an erotic thing. Now this bit, I did not tell Juli. Especially since I still consider myself straight, and didn’t want to put myself under pressure or raise expectations.
Our date started at the station. She was 30 minutes before her ETA, and already waiting for me. I had planned a bite to eat, anticipated to be alone for a while, so when she was there I simply suggested what I had planned to eat: a sausage from HEMA.
This surprised me because she sported an alternative look. I had already made peace with the fact that she would be a vegetarian, going on vegan. So I think the fearless sausage eating was the point when she already had me. We rented bicycles, and got terribly lost, even though I had a map and got solid directions from three different people. But this did not lead to frustration nor were we too late for the concert.
There was one song, where Juli had teased me she would kiss me. And how she would go about it. I wasn’t familiar enough with the music to recognize the song by intro, but with every ballad, as soon as I was almost certain the song was not the one, I would ask:
“Is this it? Will I be kissed already?”
And Juli would sigh and complain it was a real turn off to her that I knew so little about music.
“It’s a good thing you’re so pretty.”
I liked that, to be teased by her. Another song had a more pragmatic view on our relationship. The chorus was: Shall we take care of each other? Till we get there, till we get better. And that was when she took my hand. Hers was so small in mine, so gracious. Not just compared to a man’s hand but also for a woman. I simply had to look.
Her ringed hands were indeed small, and not with those female pointy long fingers I always envy. She had brightly manicured nails, and the fingers had a disarming bluntness. Like mine but like I said, smaller. And her hands are less powerful. Out of courtesy I will save you the details as to what sexual fantasies the small hands triggered.
After the concert we stayed at the same venue, and I collected some notes for my blog. About the horror scenarios we had confessed to each other, worst case scenarios for the date. Mine was that she had lied about her age and was actually 16 years old with an eating disorder and borderline syndrome. Hers had been that I in turn had lied about my age, and was actually 50 “but still felt like 40”.
“I think your blog needs something extra,” Juli said, as she took my hands, her bar stool close to mine. The green eyes smiled at me, before she kissed me. Exactly as sweet and perfect as you’d expect. The type of kiss no man will give. What was most remarkable was that I stayed whole. The kiss didn’t tap into hurt, like a man’s kiss. The kiss did not remind me of, nor amplified, the pain I had carried with me for years and that was working its way up to a crescendo in these months of finalizing my books.
Mango, my fictionalized life from Africa to 2007;
Dutch American Diary including LS Diary, that covered 08- 13;
and 2013’s Dutch diary De Candystop.
I was working on those three books, my graphic designer was making covers, Jacqueline was editing the English. The publicity party would be 30 August, the day I had met Benjamin all those years ago. And as I was working on these books, I realized I wanted to bind them. For the Dutch market anyway. The story they told together was more powerful than what they could convey separately. So it was decided. For the Dutch market all books together in one bind, in chronological order. I started looking for a title, and I tried to deny what I already knew.
I knew what the title should be. Just not if I would finally be that honest. There was one character consistently present in all the books. A character that was mirrored in Rafael’s hands, in his silken brown skin, and brought back to life in ’08 by my 19 year old student. And that character was Benjamin.
Oh and by the way, if you’re still waiting for that one thing? For me to tell you who was able to arouse me with just the sight of … ? There you have your answer as well.
After 8 years of writing, of being candid but never completely honest, I figured I had two choices.
Either to stay dishonest, especially to myself, about the inconvenient feelings I had for Benjamin. Or come forth, embrace them, and maybe, just maybe, finally find a way to deal with them. If I wanted a chance to let go, I would have to call it The Book of Benjamin.
And just like that I decided.
And I knew that in that process of finalizing The Book of Benjamin, I would have to stop seeing Nubian Prince. I would have to lock myself up, both physically and mentally. I would have to be exclusive.
But Juli’s kiss was different.
It didn’t have anything to do with being kissed by a man. It was tender and free from any conflicting emotions. Kissing men had been like the same old wound was scratched open, over and over again. Kissing Juli was like having my injuries properly attended to. It wasn’t just harmless. It was healing.
The bar was closing and we left. On our trip to the station we stopped to get a last snog and something to nourish and warm us. The café had conveniently dark corners.
“Did you hear that line in that song?” I asked, as we were waiting for our order.
“Shall we take care of each other, until we get there?”
“Yeah. But where is there?”
We bickered where her there was. Or who. And once that was settled she turned the question around:
“And yours? Who is your there?”
“Ben or Raf right? Unless you see another way around it?”
“Raf already is your way around it. You would be getting off lightly! And I wonder if it would suffice. Rafael doesn’t have the same qualities as Benjamin.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Not to say she wasn’t right. But with the little I had revealed about Benjamin, I was surprised she had been able to draw a picture.
“Well, Rafael is handsome. He’s got it. But he doesn’t know it, let alone uses it. Is that Benjamin?”
Metrosexual, brown, successful Benjamin. I had once seen a school picture of him, he could have been as young as 8, and he was already brazenly looking straight into the camera. His arrogance had even been the topic of discussion between us, when I said to him:
“I feel completely at ease with you. So that must mean other people probably think you’re arrogant.”
And he had answered;
“I feel the same with you. And I’m sure most men are intimidated by you.”
Benjamin had known exactly what he had. And had no trouble cashing in on it.
“I even kept a clipping from some glossy from the nineties,” I said.
It was a piece on women sharing their most intimate sex experiences. A photo model halfway in her twenties told hers. His name was Benjamin. And their first night had been in a small bed, with a landlady in the room nearby. They had kissed and been together naked the whole night, rubbing skin to skin. Falling asleep in between, only to pick it up every time they woke up. It had taken weeks before they had full sex, with every cell in her body screaming for that final boundary to be breached. For him to take her.
“I am like her,” I said.
“The kissing, the intimacy. Being together without going all the way. Of course, that hardly ever pans out.”
Our sexual experience with men had been unsatisfying, although I thought she was tougher than me. Better equipped to deal with being a hidden mistress, a home wrecker. Or with barely receiving enough attention and foreplay for the sex to be satisfying on all levels.
“You are so cool with men. Much better than me,” I said, probably still hurt by the notion that my sex life was so very far away from skin-to-skin lovemaking to the man I loved.
“Oh trust me, I’m not,” she said.
“I’m not looking for a relationship, yet I’m hopelessly romantic. It’s a recipe for frustration.”
We had similar experiences “resorting” to fucking, because the man had been unable to make fondling and kissing engaging enough. It was like they remained unavailable emotionally, at which we decided we would fuck. Maybe that would help. But that never resolved the issue we had with men being incapable of bearing the mental intimacy we longed for.
“And I so love oral sex,” I confessed.
“I don’t particularly like fucking. Fucking is for amateurs. It’s just something that will do the trick.”
“Or not,” she objected.
“But I don’t think I’m as eager for oral as you are.”
She lingered, was staring in mid-air, as she mindlessly stirred her spoon through her hot chocolate.
“Oral sex is so much more intimate. He just sees so much more.”
Her voice was softer, as if she was shivering at the thought of letting someone do that. Meanwhile I was shivering for completely different reasons.
“Or she sees more of course…”
There was still no smile, or remark to downsize the difficulty she had with it. I shared her self-consciousness on the matter, as I think any woman would. Unless maybe a porn-star. And my embarrassment had increased as I got older. But at that moment it felt like it was just her and me, and that if it would ever come up, it would be okay. We’d deal with it.
When we get there.
15 Sooner or Later
Lauren is all geared up to FINALLY finish her books. This time, it’s going to be different. But she’ll soon find out that different is not better. And that not having a book might have been the better deal.
God whispers but if you don’t listen he’ll throw bricks at you.
I thought things were working out with my book, I really did. This time, it was going to be different. It wasn’t going to be like 2012 when I picked up on the energy of an approaching deadline too late, ending up with a great party, but no book to show for. It wasn’t going to be like 2013, when I only had a low key b-day party and didn’t even speak of the book for a whole year. Didn’t write newsletters that year either. It was like I had given up on it.
No! 2014 was going to be different.
I had a party date planned. August 30 just like in 2012. We would celebrate my 42nd B-day and the launch of my books. Smartened up by 2012 events, I knew delivery could take up to 3 weeks. With test copies being revised and ordered again, I figured I would need to test print the first copy June 15 latest. The whole thing got me stressed out since April. Yes, things were different. But it wasn’t before God threw three bricks in my face before I realized I was on the wrong track. Or somebody else’s track. It wasn’t me.
Let me first illustrate what kind of person I had become.
There is a lot of stuff I have kept from you. Nothing passionate, dramatic, criminal or otherwise interesting. But I didn’t share my changing eating habits, new bedtime rituals, watertight internet rules or the extent to which I register my hours. I judged it to be either too boring, or way too revealing. But it is in there that I think it went wrong. And that God suddenly started throwing bricks.
As I have said in an earlier post inspired on the super-organized (oh, and highly gorgeous) escort Avery Moore, I like registering my hours. Untold part of the story is that I also like to register what I eat. Both habits I practice on and off. The biggest changes in my life and health, occur when I note those things down, hours or food. I started registering my hours and meals at the beginning of Project Trinity, the 119 days to my book launch. On day 19 I added something new: Intuitive Eating. I can eat whatever I want, as long as I don’t watch tv or read a book or so. Loved it. Really did. Started losing weight and in the peace and quiet of my meals a new desire arose: to get control over my internet behavior. Because that was out of control. I’m a raving internet junkie.
Things could have been worse of course: I am very susceptible to addiction. Could have been cigarettes. Or alcohol. Or crack. In the modern day world few people will even recognize an internet addiction, not even in a yoga teacher, but I knew it was wrong. And that it had to be dealt with at some point in my life. Just like I had always known I couldn’t keep smoking forever. And my mindful meals gave me the courage to give it a go. To experiment with it.
I came up with the 12 hour rule: every night, I would have 12 internet-free hours. I usually stayed behind the computer till bedtime, checked Twitter last thing in bed, and turned on the computer before I had even fed the cats. Hopefully the 12 hour rule would help me ditch all three toxic habits.
And yes…it did.
I went to bed early, wrote in my gratitude journal, did some yoga before bedtime. Occasionally leaving the cats downstairs because I allowed myself a full night sleep without being woken by Max.
Nighttime had become an oasis of peace.
Mealtime a moment to contemplate.
My internet addiction had vaporized.
And that was when I got the first brick.
It was Tuesday May 27.
I woke up with a sharp pain behind my shoulder blade, and it was working its way up to my neck. I went to the GP to get it checked. As a yoga teacher I can’t be too careful with my body, and insist on leading by example. Ignoring the signals of my body is in all ways a professional no-no. It wasn’t anything serious and together with the GP I discovered I have this about once every 5 to 10 years. It would heal, like it always had. I went home, worked the whole afternoon on my yoga newsletter. On the computer. Without breaks.
Wednesday I did something remarkable.
I defrosted my fridge. I have an incredibly wet little fridge, and the tiny freezer inside is more often than not, entirely filled with solid ice. Defrosting the fridge is The Mother Of All Chores, only topped by cleaning the oven, which is definitely out of my league. I did it once, somewhere in the 90s, and ended up with all my dishes smelling like Vim for half a year.
Thursday I wrote my writer’s newsletter.
A candid, funny tale ending in the announcement of my sabbatical. I would refrain from blogging and newsletters for 4-6 weeks, to finish my book. Basically what I desired was to refrain from life. But without any men, and Juli my girl date barely available, refraining from life seemed to be taken care of. I was heading for the most boring weeks of my life, and I wasn’t going to bother anyone with them. I also had a tweet which got me 90 favorites and 40 retweets from all around the globe. It was a good day.
Friday we had our usual morning yoga class, the post-yoga lunch at the manly café with the cat. At nighttime Marieke came over for our weekly high-quality fries, mayonnaise and snack. We finished with our favorite police series during which I ironed my clothes. Avery Moore hour registration said: 1/2 hour clear out desk, 1 hour housekeeping, 1,25 hour ironing. My gratitude journal: Cleared desk, house, life. Feel great.
Twelve hours later God threw the second brick.
It was around lunch when I found myself at the hospital. I had called beforehand, after cooling my burns in the shower for 20 minutes. After a little Q&A they insisted on seeing me asap and advised to let someone drive me. I ignored the warnings and went by myself on bicycle after briefly trying to find a friend who could drive me. They ignored their own caution too and left me waiting with a now violently burning wrist, leg and foot, in the emergency waiting room, for half an hour. I ended up peddling back and forth to the rest rooms where I first started cooling off my wrist, then started soaking my jeans. Eventually the pain on my foot became unbearable as well, and I took my whole foot under the tap. The floor under the sink got all wet, I walked a trail from my chair to the restrooms, and there was a puddle under my chair. Finally I was seen by a doctor who didn’t know the difference between my burns and my birthmark. Back home I stacked my freshly defrosted fridge with frozen peas and tied them in sandwich bags to the bandages.
In the evening the foot bandage fell off despite me not making it wet, and I took the other two off as well. There were still no blisters, and I was healing rapidly. A family sized bag of peas helped me get through the night. I didn’t take any of the prescribed pain killers.
“There is so much I want to ask you,” I told Benjamin, writing him through my diary. Something he would never read of course.
“Do you take drugs? Medicinal or otherwise? Are you ever ill tempered? Have you ever verbally lashed out, like I did with that doctor today, and do you feel as bad about it as I do?”
Sunday I reached the final milestone. The one thing that I knew I had to get into, but that I had been postponing for weeks: The Pink Box. The Pink Box is where I keep my finance, all envelopes, notes, things to do, that kind of thing. I pay all my bills the moment they come in, but tax envelops, insurance and other complicated things are moved unopened to The Pink Box. Before my holiday to Antwerp I had done some damage control with regard to 2013′s bookkeeping and taxes, but it was in desperate need of a follow up. 15 Minutes every day, that was feasible right? I was reclaiming my financial power.
Then the third brick hit.
Tonight’s classes are cancelled. My tooth ache had already made me shaky, and I had no idea what the treatment at my 5.30 pm dental appointment would be like. Cancelling the yoga classes seemed like the only sensible thing to do. My dentist had a look, made a detailed photo, she inquired about my complaints and ran a series of tests on my nerves.
“Are you still rinsing with coconut oil?”
In January, I had my regular check and photos, and had confessed I did this exotic thing called oil pulling, every morning.
“No, I quit,” I answered.
“Probably because my teeth and gums were looking great last time. I got audacious.”
At my request we made an appointment to get all fillings of that tooth replaced. She thinks only the gums are infected.
“The nerve has drawn back, but only minimal. Good chance the pain will go away by itself.”
Provided I go back to oil pulling, which has gone from the obscure to standard dental care.
So that was today. The third brick in the most productive week ever: a yoga newsletter, yoga blogpost, writer newsletter, Monday’s eight page post about Juli. I did editing on my books and wrote a preface for the book of Benjamin. I had finally nailed it. I had found my rhythm. No more lost hours on Twitter, Facebook or checking messages. No more lost calories to mindless eating. No more lost life. Every minute of my life was getting accounted for, every task executed. And that was exactly the kind of attitude that I needed to get my book done.
The Book of Benjamin, my collected work Dutch and English?
I would get it this time.
Dutch American Diary, the two diaries especially printed for the English market?
Consider it done.
Project Trinity, my 119 days to the book presentation?
It would succeed.
At least that is what I thought before God started throwing bricks. And trust me, it really took all three of them to get through to me.
Because this whole life I created: it isn’t me.
The stress of a book printing deadline. The pressure of having to do it right. The necessity to use your life to the last hour: it’s not the kind of life I want to live. It reminded me of something Ivy said to me last night. She is a new friend, one of my students. We had the intention of seeing each other outside of class, but had left the date open.
“I think neither one of us needs more friends who you need to book three weeks in advance,” I explained.
“Exactly,” she agreed.
“I need more spontaneity.”
After a quick text we hooked up for Sunday night Chardonnay and bitterballen. At glass number three we had no more secrets for each other. She already knew my blog, and I filled in the last blanks. I asked her advice on some things. Mainly on Benjamin. Professional, successful Benjamin. Married, lives far away. The muse in my work.
She said a lot of smart things, but one thing struck me. I had always assumed Benjamin would stop working soon. After all: who would want that kind of life? And after what he must have earned by now: who would still choose that life?
“No, he won’t quit,” Ivy said.
“That type of man needs to score, it is what he lives for. It is what makes him good at what he does. He wouldn’t know any other way to live.”
Benjamin lives of deadlines, of pressure, of making every day and every hour count, from a business perspective. If Benjamin was me, he would get that book done. He would carve out time, hire help, plan ahead. It would be a flawless presentation, and the book would be acknowledged by the press, the author invited to shows and giving interviews in all media that mattered. But the only problem is: Benjamin could never have written that book. Not even a page, not even a sentence. That book could only be written by me.
And I am not at all like Benjamin. I live of emotions, of going with the flow, of making every love and every friend count. I live a life! Not a series of to do lists, goals, or targets. I am a writer; feeling, self-reflecting, writing. And it makes me good at what I do. And even if that weakness, that limitation, that refusal to any longer force myself to publish, means that The Book of Benjamin will never be printed, that is okay. Today I realized I don’t want to live a life that is not my own, or be a person that is not me.
And I’m done with getting bricks to remind me of that.
16 Time Stood Still
Lauren consults an established author and her pen pal Elliot asks her opinion on how to write a novel. This is her highly personal answer.
You asked me about writing a novel. A direct question about the use of present tense and then a general one;
Yes, thoughts. Many. Although it feels presumptuous to be giving advice since I have made unorthodox choices. My view on the literary arts is no how-to, nor does it necessarily lead to prizes, groupies or any other signs of success. And yet, it is the only advice I will stand by, and the only I am qualified to give since this is based on my own experience.
Let me start with a meeting I had with a writer earlier this week. I had been introduced to her as a yoga teacher, and had later asked if she was willing to give me some advice on writing. She agreed to meet and we had a wonderful afternoon together. She was impressed not just with my writing (always nice) but also with me. With my confidence. She trains both new and experienced writers, and told me most published authors are haunted by anxiety and self-doubt.
Now why is that?
And how is it possible that in all those years I have doubted many things except one: my ability to write. I think the answer is quite simple: I wrote because I had to. The alternative was to write way too long emails to love interests (overbearing! hello!) or to stick with handwritten diaries, which are limited in their capacity to shape your thoughts since you can’t delete or rephrase. Handwritten diaries are like self-reflection in a make-up mirror; a limited view. So I chose writing.
How it began. 2006. I went on a date with Jonathan, an ex from when I was 16. My partner and me were struggling through the last months of our 14 year long relationship. I wasn’t sure what it was Jonathan stirred in me, aside green envy towards his girlfriend, but he seemed to offer me a glimpse of the girl I once was and the woman I could become.
I started my journey of self-reflection in the attic, collecting old diaries. I entered them into the computer and from there I started to write scenes, chapters. It was written in the first person, present tense, with a chronological timeline and minimal use of flashbacks or explanatory thoughts. The title became Mango.
My relationship ended.
Then I searched for Benjamin, who had already become a character in this novel. A supporting role, that was self- expanding. Benjamin wrote back. In the exchange of our life’s stories one thing moved me: He had been available, or at least single, until a few years before. And he married the month I had broken up with my boyfriend. It was a Thursday at my autumn break from teaching. My green envy teleported from Jonathan’s girlfriend to Benjamin’s wife. And Benjamin’s role took on a life of its own, flooding into the second half of the book.
In 2007 I got a lover at last. I was able to let go of the anger towards Jonathan, and to recover from the first scare that I had missed out on Benjamin. The new lover provided an ending for the book but it was the companionship of Mango that pulled me through this tough time of my life.
2012. I had never written a diary online. I had blogged Dutch American Diary but that was written off-line and not posted until nine months after it’s grand finale. All my other posts were stories or columns, only loosely related to each other. But on encountering Rafael’s work, I needed to give it a go and write a diary online. Every entry opened with a quote from Rafael’s novel. His novel is written in past tense first person, rich in flashbacks and with more twists in chronology than a Quentin Tarantino movie. Rafael physically resembles Benjamin, and wrote a novel flash-forwarding himself to a 40-ish successful man in peak physical condition, looking back on his life and on his great love. He lost her for the same reason I lost Benjamin: because turning away seemed like the wisest thing to do. She marries another when they’re in their thirties.
To me Rafael reflected Benjamin, one who didn’t marry. He was a Benjamin that was left behind. Ouch. That hurt. It hurt so much that it still brings me to tears just thinking about it, and of course the only way I could deal with it, is to write about it.
Writing is what you do when you have no other choice. It is either that or getting married.
I am rereading Rafael’s book, regrouping in a post-Juli vacuum. I intended to keep dating her, but we didn’t. Most logical and most desirable explanation is that she is drawn towards the man she is in love with. But I also know of two areas in her life, which have been taxing her lately. But whatever it was, I wasn’t part of it. Which is okay. She knew I was here, ready for whatever it was she had planned or needed. It was offered freely, and for her to turn down if no longer desired.
But my brief time with her did color my image of Rafael.
Juli’s Rafael and my Rafael blended to a more complete picture. I want my own Rafael back, as limited and two dimensional as he might have been. And that’s why I buried myself with the book this weekend. I’m returning to 2012′s default settings, including the emotions his book draws out. At twenty-one the main character finally loses his virginity, in a short but intense love affair with a woman older and more experienced than he is. I started counting and to my dislike I realized that if this part was true, then Rafael had lost his virginity in that vulnerable and painful period between my long-term break up and my first lover. Wouldn’t surprise me if Rafael nailed it at that inauspicious week in October, same week I lost Benjamin.
Despite its leap into the future, Rafael’s novel is a typical autobiographical debut. As is Sam’s. As were Henry’s first books. Later on authors usually “progress”, choosing topics that are further away from them and they become skilled writers. Hooray. Except those well written, well researched books they will from now on produce will most likely miss that one driving force their debut had: the need to be written.
Rafael needed to envision a great future for himself, to recover from being an overweight penniless performing artist.
Sam needed to retell the story of his troubled adolescence to understand who he was. Through writing they shaped their new identities.
Henry’s debut released the guilt he was carrying, after being with a suicidal girl. His second book reflected the friendships he had ruined. His third the death of his mother. His fourth was fiction. That’s where I lost him.
A book that needs to be written, is not always autobiographical. Harry Potter was JK Rowling fighting her way back from depression, poverty and the 10 year sickbed and death of her mother. Tolkien created his own universe after his mother died when he was young, leaving him and his brother orphans.
Bas, a successful filmmaker, close friend to Rafael and published at the same company, has repeatedly praised himself for writing fiction: “I am the only one whose debut novel is not about a young author living in Amsterdam.”
But it backfired. His book was largely ignored by press, public and groupies. The publisher has now instructed Bas to write about the death of his mother, concluding the first book “lacked heart and soul”. There was no personal story behind the fiction.
So Elliot, my advice will not be as to what you write, it is in why and how you write. Write with your heart and your soul. Write to heal, to regroup, to self-reflect. And it’s okay to feel sorry for yourself. Sam started when he was 19, just like you. And he was unhappy until the last half year when a publishing house helped him to complete it and he knew he would be published. Writing a book may look like the loneliest path in the world, but that is just on the surface. In reality you have your book keeping you company, reflecting your deepest Self. Something most marriages can only dream of.
17 Like a Virgin
After eight years of writing and seven years of dating Lauren cleanses her life until she feels shiny and new. But not before she reveals her entire sexual history.
No sexual transmitted disease, checked inside and out (avoiding the word orifice here). My euphoria gives away how worried I was. Even though I planned these tests (last time was 2010!) in a week where I would be too preoccupied with Benjamin (last email 2010!) to take much notice. But let me break this down, instead of throwing it at you all at once without making any sense and using too many brackets.
First; my personal battle with preventive screening and STD checks.
The Netherlands have a pretty laissez faire attitude towards screening for viruses and cancers, which suits me well. I have a dangerously high level of fear, and my mental health deteriorates rapidly if I am “helped” by fear based doctors or when I am exposed to a fearful culture. The Netherlands is not utopia but compared to the US our screening programs are limited, there are no intimidating one-sided infomercials and not participating is fully respected. No one will ever question my choices on the matter. It does mean that screening for STD’s is uncommon, you have to bargain to get the exotic ones checked, and will pay for it yourself. So I bargained and got everything checked, including throat.
Learned about throat STDs only recently!
No one ever told me about those, had to hear about it from a young gay man. You seem to be the only group who gets smothered with this information and pampered with free tests on every street corner Oh well, for me € 200,- is still a small price to pay for not having the media bombard me with fear-based health politics.
How completely different things were in the 80s.
Prince. Madonna. Reagan. Thatcher. Live Aid (that’s a concert Sweetie). Michael Jackson. Unemployment. Doom and gloom. Lauren’s first period. Aids.
We had World Aids day in December, where MTV would broadcast horror stories and even more warning, blaming, indoctrinating commercials to “be safe” and use a condom. In America even abstinence became an acceptable means to “be safe”.
But in the Netherlands the strangest thing occurred. We had the same MTV, Dutch mixed message infomercials, and a disgusting aids logo drawn in capital letters made of spatters of blood, but nobody got the message.
At least not among my below-20, mainly-straight, high-school peers. They all threw out the condoms when going steady, or had already thrown them out on their first night of passion, or simply never let them in because condoms pinched their dicks, or because they were apparently deaf, dumb and blind. And this is talking penetration. This is penis going into vagina and filling it up with sperm and possibly with a deadly virus that would (past tense!) have you walking around like a skeleton before you reached the US drinking age.
Yet no heterosexual teenager saw any reason for concern.
All except one: me.
And at the sight of those people who could not even be bothered putting on a condom before sticking it in or taking it in, I felt alone, and sexually unequipped. I liked oral sex but was afraid of it because you can get sperm into your mouth, and using a condom for oral, between all those friends who lived like it was 1967, felt awkward. I had an intense longing to be normal.
I was like that boy in the 6th Sense. I saw dead people. And they were everywhere.
Adults couldn’t help me. They were scared themselves and too busy distributing blood stained brochures to the masses who were taking unnecessary high risks. Nobody took notice of the girl who already got the message, and who had anxiety attacks from as young as 15. Sex education was aimed at my Neanderthal peers, and there wasn’t any room for fine tuning.
After a few years of virgin boyfriends and a taxing year of being single, I was exhausted. Any reference to aids, any reminder of the dangers lead to panic attacks. Nobody knew what was going on, and I just couldn’t take the loneliness anymore nor that type of existential fear. There was a way to cope with what I “had”: to settle for a monogamous relationship, with someone who had only been moderately sexually active and who would comply with my needs for condoms and my inability to give oral sex.
So I gave up the dream; a life where I could explore my sexuality.
And settled for what I could bear; a life where I had an understanding boyfriend. I succumbed for three years.
It was during these three years that I met Benjamin. He had brown skin, strong Western features, and an elegant tall build. All that and brains too. He radiated sexual confidence and inner-peace. Next to him I felt even more deficient. And with the excuse of being involved I let him go. I stayed with my boyfriend.
I, “we”, were in some sort of pre-marital state. The only thing missing was a wish for children, my wish for children, something my boyfriend did not fail to notice. I broke up with him and thought I would live a single life, but immediately caught up with someone who fit my safety profile. We stayed together for 14 years. Not because I was so afraid of the single sex life, but because we were very much in love, and made an excellent couple. We had a lovely time together, until at age 34, I broke up with him.
Two months later I tracked Benjamin, and contacted him. He told me he had gotten married. Same month me and my boyfriend had split up.
“I had my share of lovers before I met my wife,” he wrote me, after reading my life’s story.
“I think it’s your turn to get a long series of lovers now.”
And his words were comforting and prophetic.
Early March 2007. My first lover kissed me. March 2014. My last lover did the same. Seven years of dating for dummies and other sexually confused. In chronological order, and focusing on sex, leaving out all the unconsumed crushes, usually on Benjamin look-a-likes, this is my 7 year black book:
A fresh start 2007, first STD test ever: all clear
Nathan, the American.
Who cheated on his girlfriend. Oh, let’s never do that again.
Luca, the Italian.
Who didn’t cheat on anybody but was a Buddhist. Lesson learned.
M50, British according to his passport, Israeli according to the officials.
50 year old Mossad spy according to me, after half a dozen of fishy incidents.
STD test 2008 – all clear
Email contact with Benjamin about a 19 y.o. look-a-like from his birth village, who entered my classes. Started writing Dutch American Diary.
Single now, which turned out to be even more of an ordeal.
STD test 2009 – just the minor ones. Clear.
Salvatore, South American.
This was good, but painful because I was in love. But he was the first one I never regretted.
Nubian Prince Age 20.
Getting the hang of this! Did not regret him at all, although I had a tough time not offending him, and he had a tough time not making me cry.
STD test 2010 – all clear
Snow White’s brother
Another virgin. Although I didn’t know it at the time. When I think of intimacy, I think of him. Wow.
Last email conversations Benjamin. I contacted him to inform him I now had my own website and was posting Dutch American Diary online.
Panda year. 12 months no sex
One night stand. Great sex (and ooohhh that dark skin), terrible aftermath. In hindsight, I think he lied about being single. That would explain his hostility afterwards. Don’t worry, he got his share of Karma. Just like that dreadful Nathan. The Universe has a way of evening the score on my behalf.
No comment here. Suffice to say after a relationship of four months X is the most likely candidate to be the stalker who bothered me for 18 months. Everything pointed towards him. We did have adventurous sex though. Maybe the stalking was a fair price to pay.
Nubian Prince Age 22 now.
This was even better than the first time around. No one got angry, no one cried. And although he was smart, educated and kind (this was a new feature), a combination few of my lovers had, it was our contrasting skin colors that made him irresistible. And the pleasure appeared to be entirely mutual.
Panda year again. 11 months no sex
Sturdy body in expensive clothing, light brown Buddha face. He was a business man, a caring boyfriend, and just like Samuel and Nubian Prince, uncomplicated in bed. We had a normal relationship, and a good split too.
Nubian Prince Age 24 now.
Still wonderful but this was the point where I started to realize I had been sleeping with him, as well as most of the others, for the wrong reasons. I wanted intimacy, but I was settling for sex instead.
The last time with Nubian Prince was March, and now my seven years are over. I’m not turning a page, my Black Book is full. Ten men in 7 years will have to do.
Because what I long for, and what even explains my preference for oral sex, is intimacy. Oral sex is the man-friendly version, but real intimacy is also about eye contact, meaningful conversation, whispering, endless kissing, naked cuddling, sleeping in each other’s arms, a text that he’s still thinking of you. This has been missing entirely or missing partially. And the two men who were the most intimate lovers, Samuel and Nathan, turned out to be the biggest jerks and are probably still getting their asses whipped by King Karma.
As these ideas about sex and intimacy were developing, I also realized I should be getting my STD test again. My last had been in 2010, five partners back. In my still recovering aids phobic mind, I was becoming irresponsible. I still always use condoms when fucking, but with oral sex (giving and getting) I am a risk, or take a risk.
But when? What was a good time?
I had asked Nubian Prince how he felt about me getting tested but it wasn’t something that worried him. Nor did he offer to do the same thing, so that we would both have a fresh start. So it made no sense to get tested as long as I was seeing him. We naturally drifted apart, three months went by, the time necessary for a reliable hiv test. I wanted to take into account something else: the week long waiting period for the test results.
In America they’re much quicker, but here it’s painfully slow. A whole week of waiting. And although I didn’t have a proper panic attack in over ten years, it might still happen. I may flip out over Nubian Prince’s sperm in my mouth, Jax’s sperm. Neither one of them were promiscuous, but they were not exactly virgin clean either. Both of them had taken the condoms out when in a relationship. And that was just what I knew. Having a week to brood on the risks of happy ending blowjobs, was not an appealing thought.
Still chewing over what to do, things took an unexpected turn. I was offered the perfect opportunity to see Benjamin. Or at least: a good reason to send him an email, tell him I would be nearby, and ask him if he would agree to see me. I needed to close a lot of things off, stuff I had been struggling with for years.
The Benjamin-look-a-likes that kept popping up in my life.
The books I wrote about them.
My struggles publishing.
Just like I had never been able to let go of Benjamin, I was now unable to publish the books that I wrote about him. I needed a reunion, a good date, or a compassionate hug, but frankly I would even settle for a cold-hearted rejection. It would all help to find closure.
Long before I had acknowledged that I needed something from Benjamin in order to finish my books, I knew a hypothetical situation in which I would have to bother him. Before I could fully commit to a new man, I would need to know what Benjamin and me still had. If I failed to do that, if I would lie to a partner and to myself that Benjamin was merely a muse, a fictional emotion, then I would always keep this big what if.
What if Benjamin got divorced?
What if I saw him accidentally?
What if I was in love with Benjamin, more than I had with a new man?
Ironically, in the case of a new, serious boyfriend, I would have felt free to contact Benjamin, explain the situation, and ask to meet him. But that man never came. I didn’t have that alibi.
And since he was married, I judged it to be inappropriate to ask just for me. Still do. But when this opportunity fell into my lap, I wanted to ask regardless. And I knew that in the anticipation, the time that I waited before I asked him, I wouldn’t be able to have a panic attack over my test results. I would be high on adrenaline and dopamine. You could knock me on the head with a hammer and I wouldn’t feel it. This was the perfect time for a normally nerve wrecking STD test.
By the time you read this Elliot, I will have booked a hotel, a flight, the event. I will have had the STD test, and will still have a numb cheek because of that appointment to get that big filling replaced, remember? I extended my dopamine week until after the dentist chair. And when I get home and the anesthetics are slowly wearing off, I will send two emails.
This one, to you. And the other one to Benjamin.
Wish me luck, Sweetie.
18 Crazy for you
Lauren has quit dating, sex and younger men, after realizing what she really wants is skin-to-skin love making, intimacy and largest-name-in-tag-cloud Benjamin. One week after her last blog post, Lauren meets a legendary love interest. And this time around she nails it.
I’m not stupid. Of course I knew writing that manifesto was important. From the years my aids phobia ruled my life, to the seven years of dating where I conquered my fear. That was an important step.
As was sending Benjamin that email and asking him to see me.
But I had no idea my life would change this quickly. It’s been four days since he left, and I haven’t been able to write because I just choke up, and my ability to write blocks. I literally can’t find the words to describe the chapter that will undoubtedly be the watershed of my life. The beginning of a new era. Because I found love in the arms of a man on who I had a crush since 1991: Rutger.
Let me answer two important questions which will arise with you very soon.
1. Who’s Rutger?!
2. Why the fck did you wait this long?!
Answer 1: Rutger is a friend from college, later on he migrated to the US. We stayed in touch through Facebook, and caught up in real life when he started taking his kids to The Netherlands every summer. This was 2011. In 2012 he had to pass, and then I saw him again on their holiday in 2013.
Which brings me to the second question: why we waited.
These were the two summers I was going steady. In 2011 with X (see previous blog) in 2013 with Jax (see previous blog). Rutger had chosen exactly the two summers where I wasn’t free to explore what we had, and even felt guilty writing about him. I could point out some posts that are indirectly about him, but naturally I wasn’t going to write about old times and our always present sexual attraction. I wasn’t going to confess we always flirted and that despite my relationship with our classmate Jeroen, I had been disappointed every time Rutger left one relationship and immediately entered another. I couldn’t write about all that! I had told Jax and X that they need not worry about Rutger. I was lying through my teeth. Most of all to myself, in my defense.
Rutger was in The Netherlands, and we were scheduled to see each other last weekend.
“Can we pick Sunday?” I wrote.
“I hope my cats will have recovered and I can leave them for the day.”
After a week of testing and unsuccessful treatments, Willem had finally been diagnosed with a parasite. Which was a relief: I thought it was the last stage of his kidney failure. And my other cat had a fever. Also a relief because I thought he had mental stress issues that kept him from eating.
My days were filled with twice a day meds for both of them, cleaning up spills, washing their dishes, providing soft meat around the clock and trying not to freak out every time I found the most horrifying diarrhea that looked as if someone would be losing his intestines soon. The VET predicted a full recovery for both, and I had hopes I was still able to make it to the date with Rutger. Sunday, I requested.
“And how about I come to your place on Friday?” he responded.
I stared at the screen insanely happy.
I met him at the station and had beforehand excused myself for my dirty clothes.
“I’ll shower after I pick you up,” I texted.
“Taught classes, emergency VET visit and last-minute cleaning.”
After ten days of sick cats both my house and me looked and smelled like I had given birth to twins and was in over my head. I saw him coming up from the escalators: my height, but muscular and with even longer arms and more roundness in the shoulders.
“You remind me of a little monkey,” I had said, early 90s.
We had gone to his place after class, and were waiting for the water to boil.
“You’re so playful and you have such tall limbs and large hands.”
And he had cheerfully looked at me through small spectacles.
“Tall limbs and large hands? Are you going to finish that equation, or would you like to leave it at that?”
He came up to me and gave me a hug, and every cell in my body registered that he was single, I was single and that he was wearing a jacket in support of our team at the World Cup.
“You’re wearing an orange jacket,” I blurted out, still coming down from dating metrosexual half-models.
“I left my cap on the train,” he ruffled his gray blond hair, regretting his incomplete outfit.
“Can’t believe I lost it.”
Suddenly he noticed the bicycle I brought him, a bright blue and yellow bike from the public transportation company.
The iPhone clicked the first picture of the day. The second series was me cycling next to him, wind in my hair, the city in the background. We entered my domain: a small house with a wild garden and two cats that were hanging out on a freshly made double bed.
“This is where you sleep,” I said.
“You can take the fleece off. I covered the bed so the cats are not sleeping on the pillows.”
“Or else?” he looked at me puzzled.
“It’s not like I’m allergic or anything.”
He put his phone in a charger and left it upstairs until we went to the beach after dinner. During his stay he only used his phone once, to say goodnight to his children.
It is a sultry summer evening, and I take him to a festival. He takes photos of the river, the crowds and selfies of the two of us; the last hours of 23 years when we’re still neutral. Where I don’t know he’ll be the best lover I ever had. And he doesn’t know that I will drag him up under the bushes (in my defense: it started to rain!) and that after talking through our entire shared history with my head resting on his chest, and our gaze up to the stars, I will turn around and kiss him. And it will feel like the most natural thing in the world. A selfie of the last time the sun set, and we had no worry thoughts how we would manage the US and Netherlands, the separated expatriate and the stay-at-home cat mom. On the picture we were still just friends, Rutger and Lauren. Although our smiles give away we both had our hopes up.
My head is resting on his black T-shirt, I’m looking at the sky. We shared a wood oven pizza together, vegetarian. Rutger turned two years ago.
“Just like my dad. He was around 40 when he became a vegetarian.”
I had known his dad from Rutger’s graduation party. A small, goodlooking man. Esotheric, yet he lacked the weakness I associated with astrologers or the food-conscious. He died a few years after mine.
“Was this the first time Benjamin realized you’re in love with him?”
Rutger’s voice behind me asks. The chest resonates with the warm, undertone of his voice. The feeble American accent, just enough to twist a Dutch word every now and then in an uncommon direction, makes it even more appealing. It reminds me of Rutger Hauer, like many things about him remind me of this actor.
“Could be,” I answer.
My muse Benjamin still hasn’t responded to my request to see him. “But I’ve written about him for years. This was merely the first time I said it directly.”
The story had come out easily. Rutger had asked the right questions, not shying away from painful answers. Painful for either him or me, or both. I lift my head up, turn sideways, leaning onto one arm.
“But this was the story about Benjamin and Lauren,” I conclude.
“There is another story. About Rutger and Lauren. And it is equally interesting I think!”
We look at each other for the first time unapologetically interested, relieved even. That finally nothing will stand in the way of being honest.
“You tell me,” he says. “What is the story of Rutger and Lauren?”
I hesitate. I’m curious about his side of the story, but agree to be the one telling it. I feel I owe him, having made him listen to the Benjamin one.
“Okay, it started in 1991.”
And I cuddle up on his stomach again, looking at the stars, catching an occasional drop of rain. The bushes an excellent umbrella. I explain how I always felt this sexual tension between us, right from the beginning of our freshman year. And that he was always going steady and talked about a girlfriend in full admiration about the cute, sexy, surprising things she did. And that after a year or two, he would finalize the relationship, or behave so badly she ended it, and was now totally in love and happy with someone else.
“I always missed your transfer, and that annoyed me,” I confess.
Ultimately I ran into him on a sunny afternoon in 2001 at the local supermarket and he was radiating as he told me he was moving to the US because:
“I have found the love of my life.”
And I had sneered:
“You were with Jeroen,” Rutger says.
“He was my friend too. I would never have made a pass at you.”
Which was true. And I had been afraid of my reputation, if I would sleep with another man from our year.
“And then there was that thing with the condoms,” I say.
I had always known Rutger didn’t used them.
“Did I tell you at the time I was scared of aids?” I can’t remember the details, just that I had been ashamed of it and told few.
“No, not really,” Rutger says.
“Just that you were not what you appeared to be. That you were not free, sexually.”
I rise up on my elbow again, wide smile, and I lean over to kiss him. Five minutes later I throw my leg over him to sit on him, while kissing him.
“Your head is on a rock!” I whisper.
The voices of all the other people under the same bushes are suddenly louder now that we have stopped talking and only snuggle.
“Lean into my hand.”
His hair is incredibly soft. His kisses incredibly perfect. And our physical connection shoots its roots immediately, deep down into 23 years of history. Although at that moment I still thought we would merely kiss and cuddle, that anything sexual would die out with me getting angry with him for wanting to fuck me without a condom. But just like the rest of my assumptions about his sexuality, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Because Rutger was the man I had been waiting for all along. It was intimacy with a capital I. And not the intimacy of Nathan and Samuel, who just play intimate, a skill they can use with a variety of women. Not Snow White’s brother intimate – which was inherent to the fact that he was a virgin.
Rutger’s intimacy was the longing to hold me, far more than to undress me. The desire to explore me, not to conquer me. It was in the boundaries he respected when he confirmed he still didn’t use condoms.
“I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
And he used his fingers and tongue, time and time again. And this was when I realized I myself had always insisted on being fucked, something I usually ended up regretting because they always fucked me way too long and after the male orgasm sex was over. Or it was over until a new predictable series of foreplay-fucking-cuddling began. A menu I resented, and that had been one of the main reasons I had given up on sex. With Rutger the menu was an ongoing smorgasbord of cuddling and fondling, with new dishes arriving at unexpected moments.
Like most men, he played with my mind when he used his physical strength to turn me on, fed my fantasies with a single word or a sexual act that took my breath away, but he kept the connection. I wasn’t tempted to drift off into fantasies. It was always about him and me. Naturally I can’t share his fantasies, but I will say that as he told more I thought I had entered sex goddess heaven.
He talks in bed! Not the predictable dirty talk, but sharing his feelings on moments that the sexual energy is more gentle. A man talking about his feelings must be the biggest aphrodisiac of all. I always inquire about a partner’s fantasies, turn-ons; about his secrets and the things he has difficulty with. But nothing interesting ever comes up. They like the rapey thing, which is nice because so do I (probably to make the fucking after the first two minutes at least somewhat engaging), but that’s it.
Aside from one lover, who I will not name, their sexuality was what I usually call uncomplicated. What I had meant was shallow.
When Rutger told me more about himself I realized I had gotten so used to the simplistic version of male sexuality, that I had forgotten my aspiration level, and my curiosity level, had once been much higher. Like the things Rutger was bringing up. In awe I looked at him, still in denial about being far beyond the point-of-return in love, and said:
“It has always been my dream to have a lover like you. This would take a year, not a night.”
And then the final part of intimacy, the one that would have won me over all by itself: he was okay with tears. The grief that I feel after being touched on the inside, he welcomed it. It was rewarded with a silent long embrace, heart to heart. And after it had happened a few times he offered to massage me on the inside. If I still had any doubt Rutger was completely different from anyone else, it melted away right then. Naturally I said yes. And naturally it was entirely scary, and overwhelming, and it would have been devastating if after that a man failed to reassure me and to love me for the rest of my life.
But I don’t think that is going to be a problem.
19 Justify my Love
After being single for seven years, writing three English diaries and bedding ten men, Lauren travels to finally see her number one muse Benjamin. He inspired her best writing and his ethereal presence shielded her from harm. But that doesn’t mean he’ll buy her coffee in real life.
I didn’t take any notes after You and Me ended, leaving me petrified between rush hour commuters and tourists; an impersonal, faceless sea of human traffic.
I didn’t write after I came home, arriving at Schiphol an hour after MH17 had been shot down. The blazing heat, that seemed to have followed me back, blended with news of the catastrophe. An alienated home coming.
I let the weeks pass, this blog unattended, and did what I always do: teach classes. Worry about cats. I even celebrated my 42nd birthday.
All without writing.
And it took me a while to figure out why I wasn’t writing about the most important week of the year, probably the most significant week of the past ten years: I was waiting.
Waiting for the truth to sink in that you and I had ended, so that I could write this final chapter. The last episode of Bedtime Stories. But also the closing chapter of three English Diaries that have all been about you. Dutch American Diary, LS Diary, Bedtime Stories.
The trilogy is complete, you closed it this summer. Even though I didn’t realize I was writing this series, nor could I figure out why I failed year after year to publish. Because it wasn’t complete.
The story was finally finished. That was something I understood right away. Right there, between all the foreign faces. Blank, not making any contact except for the beggars, the vendors of newspapers and souvenirs; muggers with tricks and false truths.
I shook my head and said No, thank you. Which felt harsh words to someone clearly in need. But after hearing them from you, they were all I had left. And yet they failed to sink in.
And it’s been nearly a month.
For many years you were my companion and there it was, weeks after I had announced I would be in the neighborhood, requesting to see you; your answer.
Your answer was not an impulsive, aggressive attack. You could obviously still handle being my muse, although you didn’t refer to the peace offering I sent you – the original Mango manuscript.
The email was well thought through. And although you were unyielding, you were compassionate. You had deserved my love. All doom scenarios that I had been idolizing a narcissist, a merciless professional, or a cold-hearted man who had banned all empathy; they were all untrue.
You referred to your wife, to your children. To yourself, to me, to us. Your email was your peace offering. Yet you left no opening to ever meet again.
Then why won’t you leave my head? Why did I wait in vain, for your words to sink in, so I could feel that pain of break-up and loss? The writer robbed of her muse. A woman losing love. It’s not getting through. Instead I feel your presence stronger than ever.
Because, beloved Benjamin, there is the other. When my emails to you were still unanswered, and my trip was drawing nearer, the climax of our storyline, Rutger came into my life. I met him in 1991 just like you. And there were the fireworks of two people hitting it off like magic, and the circumstances that got in the way. It wasn’t the right time then. And we drifted apart when he migrated, married and had kids. You two are the same age, born exactly two weeks apart. You’re the same sign, enjoyed a similar education, migrated, married, and you both always wanted to have children. Even your sexuality is similar, although with you I could more easily tap into the ambiguity, the fluidity. With Rutger it was a pleasurable surprise.
“How can this story end?” Rutger asked me.
“No matter what happens with Benjamin, it has to be an antithesis. There is no way he can live up to what you made of him.”
And that was what you wrote:
“I am no longer the 19 year old you remember.”
In the days that Rutger was here this summer, he used a word to describe himself: old. Your email: middle-aged. Even the unflattering image you have of yourselves is identical. And that’s when I realized why Rutger was the love of my life: you may be different in looks, but on the inside you’re alike. Rutger and you are alike.
His words had become your words, his enchanting voice had become yours.
When I asked: “Shall we shower?” marking the moment we took our clothes off, that must have sounded familiar.
His hands, his kisses, the love making that drove me mad with desire. It was what you and I should have done. It was a union with him, but also with you. He even forgot his bottle of shower gel. You blended to one memory, and into a box that said 1991. When I was with you this summer, the same city, and the possibility of seeing you was still there, I had to keep reminding myself that if anything would happen between you and me I would have a problem. That I would have deceived Rutger. A rational thought yet it contradicted with every instinct I had. It even contradicted with the absence of jealousy, in you as well as in Rutger. My instincts told me that Rutger could not be betrayed like that. In my mind you had become one person, and I would choose you either way.
And I will cry for you Benjamin, I will. If Rutger no longer wants me, the life line to 1991 will break. And our history will end with it. I will cry. And no peace offerings, no compassionate emails, and no empathy will be able to save me.
The next book Mirage (book 7) will be posted Sunday February 26 latest. Check the overview for all my books that are currently online for a limited time.