When #ShelterInPlace Devolves Into Sexting Exes

All rights © Kristina Tripkovic

Let me just say that the loneliness is acute.

And to be clear, fuck your loneliness. Fuck mine too. It is nothing — nothing but Lenten ashes and petty indulgence compared to the last gasps of people dying alone in droves all around us, the ice-skating rinks turned into morgues because we’ve exceeded the capacity of almost every infrastructure.

Two weeks ago feels like a different world, doesn’t it? I know this. And it is not about that. It is not about the nurses and doctors wearing garbage bags and contaminated masks who know they will die and they serve anyway.

Soldiers all of them. May God bless you and keep you.

Jesus. Their spectacular selflessness is not humbling so much as it is just fucking rage-inducing tragic. And not the kind of tragic we like to romanticize, the soft-core inspiration porn we mentally jerk off to in order to create resolve in our own uninspired lives whose orbits have gone flat and oval — lazy and meaningless and wobbly around the edges. These current and oh-so-preventable tragedies blooming like algae all around us are the kind of tragic that turns your heart into a train hurtling off the tracks that just won’t stop.

I have the luxury of sheltering in place. Fuck you if you don’t realize what a privilege that is and that the only thing you’re really sacrificing is creature comfort. Christ on the cross, how chosen are we, the meek and talentless who don’t deserve any of this.

I am alone, again, listening to Nights in White Satin on repeat, finding out I don’t love the live versions and chuckling at a spontaneous memory that resurfaces — when I was a kid I thought Robert Redford was the lead singer. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Robert Redford but he is not the lead singer of the Moody Blues. Turned out he was just an actor. And a director. Who knew.

This gratuitously cinematic song was long before my time, and its laser-Floyd sci-fi melodrama is almost before its own time. Is that a Vincent Price outro? Who knew there was an operatic Italian cover of it? I don’t remember when I first heard it, Letters I’ve written, never meaning to send … but I loved it. A new acquaintance in Salon-de-Provence randomly posted the video and I instantly realize it, and another beer is exactly what I need tonight.

Happy Saturday night from the quarantine, my friends.

I am drinking alone. Which is suddenly as it should be and no longer a socially awkward indicator of a drinking problem or an apparently inevitable alcoholism. Now it is the unequivocally citizenly thing to do. I drink for mankind. Because, in theory, were it not for the modern quarantine I could otherwise be drinking with friends. But really, let’s be Saturday-night honest, I would still be here alone at my messy desk, the song rosining the cello bow, texting my pseudo-ex and drinking like Prohibition was back en vogue and I owned the only speakeasy. I’d still be sitting here researching what Fitzgerald really wrote during the Spanish influenza pandemic. And wondering if calling it “Spanish influenza” is as regressive and racist as calling Covid-19 “the Chinese virus.”

An Italian virologist working in the UK pointed out that the virus and the disease are two separate and distinct entities. The scientists aren’t trying to fuck with us or cause confusion for fun with the nomenclature. The virus is actually named SARS Coronavirus 2 — they seem to write it as “SARS-CoV-2”.

The disease it causes is called COVID-19. Scientists say it takes a 60% infection rate to create herd immunity. She then laughs uncomfortably and emphasizes that they are not encouraging people to go out and try to get infected in order to create herd immunity. This is not the chickenpox.

I’d drink brandy eight days a week before sherry or absinthe but regardless of global pandemics, current or charmingly ensconced in domestic literature, I would be drinking alone anyway. Because everyone else, the ones I try not to nomenclature, (sure, it can be a verb), The Lucky Ones, because love and life are infinitely more complex than that and I know it but still, the lucky ones are #shelteringinplace in the warmth of their homes and their lovers, posting pictures of themselves doing puzzles and playing Scrabble and trying new recipes. I don’t know what your newsfeed looks like but that kind of cozy makes my heart feel like the CAD renderings of the virus itself. I am prickly and spiky and 2D. They are soft and warm and 3D.

Just what I’m going through/They can’t understand

I am so happy to see their faces. The ones with love in their lives. I need to know that they’re ok, that they’re safe and healthy and soldiering on. But it is not without the involuntary cold wash of pain and longing and the very bodily terror that I will die alone without ever raking my fingernails down another man’s back while he drives deep inside me.

So I text my ex back.

And he’s not even really an ex. He was a friend from a dance class I invited over for mojitos to watch a meteor shower almost twenty years ago. I plucked some mint from my garden. He didn’t realize I wanted to date him so I rolled over on the blanket I’d spread out in my backyard. We were lying next to each other under the stars and I thought that was obvious enough but no. So I kissed him. It was awkward. He kissed me back but he was too delicate for me. And now, 15 years later, 16? I am crying, imagining the shock and the joy of his head in my lap, stroking his hair — a man I don’t even love, a man who whimpers when he comes — and I hate that I know that — but he is flesh and blood and asking me to come over. Two weeks ago we were curled up on his couch. I hadn’t expected him to touch my thigh but he reached over and slid his hand between my crossed legs. It felt natural and absentminded even though I’m certain he’d been sweating it the whole time he’d been inching closer to me. I looped my arm through his and put my head on his shoulder. He kissed the top of my head and we kept watching stand-up. It was easy and sweet.

We are now at least an eight-hour drive apart but we have taken to “inviting” each other over to fabricate a sense of connectedness and normalcy and pretend like we’re not both alone during the quarantine. Like we have plans. Something to look forward to.

“Your place or mine tonight?”

“Yours. Red or white tonight?”

“Red. Are you cold? I’ve got blankets on the couch. Come curl up with me.”

I’ll be honest. I mostly hate giving blowjobs. But tonight I think I would savor that slender uncircumcised dick of his in my mouth because my chest feels like one sharp pain and the miracle of touching another human body is impossible right now. What I wouldn’t give to be two pileated woodpeckers beak-ing rotten wood for carpenter ants together. It seems more likely we would survive if we tried together.

Now intimacy seems so abstract, like a Cubist pile of shit I’m trying to call art. I’m cobbling together scrap metal, mismatched pieces of what little I have — fragments of conversations with men as lonely as I am, witty Bumble banter, sexts about finger-banging, patchy memories of that unexpectedly well-hung stranger in California, the way his whole body contorted when I French-kissed his ear, my hands tangled in his long beautiful hair, God, it was like obsidian — I’m trying to make it all feel whole, real. If I have to macrame intimacy out of disparate components I will.

Just what the truth is/I can’t say anymore

Yes, I’ll love you, I’ll love you …

I wanted his hands inside me. Show me how hard you’d fuck me, I whispered. Not to the pseudo-ex. To another man I’m not in love with. I want to show you with my dick. The new one from California. Let me feel your skin, he had murmured, almost pleaded the night before, rubbing his five o’clock shadow across my chest — above my breasts where my low-cut blouse hung, his hands digging into my hips. He had picked me up and carried me to the kitchen counter. He was so much stronger than I would’ve expected. I felt weightless and impossibly sexy. It’s the perfect height, I exhaled. Yes. He grabbed my hips harder, thrust against me to prove I was right. It is.

I like it rough, I told him even though I knew I wouldn’t fuck him.

That was the night he took me to Napa. One minute we were learning about hybridization and Cabernet Francs, the next he’s in my kitchen and we’re listening to 90s R&B. Suddenly he’s holding my hands and stroking my wrists with his thumbs like we’ve been together for ages. It felt familiar, affectionate. I felt how shy my smile was. I hadn’t known if this was a date, platonic or quasi-professional. And then in an instant he pulls me toward him, up and out of my chair and I’m standing between his legs. Somehow he straddles my legs over his lap just by running his hands up my thighs and it is astonishingly fucking perfect. My body was made for this. Take me.

But I don’t love him either. I love that he’s aggressive. Skillful without seeming slutty. He’s hung like a battering ram. I love that he can carry me, effortlessly, from one room to the next. Before he carried me to the living room he stood in the kitchen with my legs wrapped around his waist. I locked my feet at the small of his back and leaned back till I was hanging upside down from him. I want to believe I looked like a spool of ribbon unrolling but it might have just looked weird. Whatever. I wanted to surprise him. To show him how strong I am. I wanted to impress him. I did a hanging sit-up to come back up to him, wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him again. I wanted to lick his lips but I thought he might think that was too reptilian so I didn’t. Now I wish I had.

I spend the night with him the next night. He is clearly displeased I won’t fuck him.

My flight home is uneventful. I text him a picture from the first winery he took me too. He hearted it but I don’t hear anything else from him. I start texting with someone else. God, his voice is beautiful — tangible. He is otherwise not my type. Short. Barely taller than I am. Breitbart conservative even though he is a Mexican landscaper working in 2020 America. He likes Trump. We fight about politics. But, fuck. There’s something about that man at 2 am admitting that he doesn’t want to be alone anymore that makes me want to tell him everything. I don’t love him either. We talk about the five love languages. He tells me how much he likes touching and caressing, not just sex. His voice changes when he says it. I can hear the longing. Or maybe I’m just imagining it as he stretches his vowels out for emphasis. My body lights up like an electric grid just hearing him say the words ‘touching’ and ‘caressing’. I want to ask him what he likes, how he likes it. I want to flirt. I want to push the boundaries of our “friendship” and take us deep into desire and fantasy just so I can listen to his voice while he talks about sex. Why else are we really on the phone in the middle of night. We hang up after 3:30 am. For once I make the right choice and decide not to use a man I don’t love to meet my momentary needs. His voice is soft when he tells me how much he likes talking to me. We’d been talking for four hours and he says we should talk again tomorrow but he doesn’t call the next day.

These men aren’t the only ones.

My friends. What is it all worth if there is no one to deeply love us and fuck us harder than we thought we could ever bear. Life is so, so short. Does he lace his fingers in yours and hold you down hard? Does he stroke your hair and hold your gaze?

In these uncertain times, I will not judge anyone who clings to the familiar, anyone who returns to a known port for safety. For now, I’m going to admit to these men that I am lonely and that I just want them to keep me company. I will not give them false hope, these fantasies won’t come to fruition when the quarantine is over. But if after this unsexy full disclosure, if they are still inclined to provide shelter during the storm I will take it. We can share shelter this way, distract each other, care for each other’s troubled souls and color each other’s minds with wild lurid sex.

I am optimistic. This too shall pass. But I’m weak enough to indulge some salve while we wait.

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