David asked me last night what I wanted, and I didn’t know how to answer him. I don’t even know what I want. I don’t know what I like.
But I can tell you that I’m going to figure it out. And I’m going to learn to ask for it.
If you come home, if we make this work, sex has to be about me, too. It has to. Because I remember what it’s like, now, to be touched as if your pleasure is the only thing that matters. And I’m not going to let anyone make me forget again.
My grandmother calls me from her hotel room later that day.
I pick up the phone. “Hey, Grams,” I say. “What’s up?”
“I had a thought.”
“About your problem, you and Ryan.”
“OK . . .”
“Have you ever read Ask Allie?”
“What is that?” Good Lord, is she about to recommend an advice column?
“It’s an advice column.” Yep, she is.
“Oh, OK,” I say. “Not sure about that.”
“It’s a really good one! This woman has the best advice. Last week, a lady wrote in about how she doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that her son wants to become a Mormon.”
“Uh-huh,” I say.
“And Allie said that it’s not about what religion he chooses but that the lady should be proud of having a son who thinks for himself and takes an active role in his spirituality. But she just said it so beautifully! Oh, it was beautiful.”
“It sounds like it,” I say. I don’t know. I guess it sounds like it.
“Well, I think you should write to her!”
“Oh, no, no, no. Sorry, Grandma. I don’t think that’s for me.”
“Are you kidding? I’m sure Allie would have something to say about it.”
“Well, yeah, but—”
“Don’t decide now. I’ll send you some of her columns. You’ll see.”
“I can just Google it.”
“No, I’ll send them.”
“OK, sounds good.”
“You are going to be impressed with her, though. And maybe she could really shed some light on what you guys are going through. You might even be able to help people going through the same thing. I’m sure there are plenty of people your age dealing with the same challenges.” She pauses for a moment. “I guess what I’m saying is that maybe she could offer some insight.”
“Thanks, Grandma,” I say to her. There is a small lump in my throat, but I swallow it down.
“Of course, sweetheart,” she says. “Of course.” She sounds as if she might be swallowing the lump in her throat, too.
I think we should throw Natalie a baby shower,” Rachel says as we’re hiking through Runyon Canyon the next Saturday morning. Thumper is, as always, leading the charge.
“Yeah, that would be nice,” I say. “We should do everything we can to make sure she feels welcome. We sort of botched it the other day.”
“Right,” Rachel says. “We blew that one. But I do really like her. She seems awesome.”
“I hope their baby has her skin tone. Can you imagine? What a gorgeous baby that will be.”
Thumper has stopped to smell something, and Rachel and I stop with him. We’re standing off to the side waiting for him as we talk.
“You knew, right?” Rachel says. “He told you ahead of time?”
I can’t look directly at Rachel until I decide what I’m going to say. I pretend to look at whatever Thumper is smelling, and in pretending, I actually notice that he’s about to step in mud. I yank his collar, but he steps right in it anyway. Now both his front paws are covered in it. I should just come clean.
“Yeah,” I say. “I did. He told me a bit before.” I really feel like shit about this. Our family always spills the beans about everything, and this time, I kept the beans.
I watch as Rachel’s face starts to lose resolve. She doesn’t look me in the eye for a few moments. She stares at the gravel path beneath our feet.
“You OK?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says, her voice cracking and her eyes looking forward. She starts walking ahead, and so I follow her, dragging Thumper along.
“You don’t sound OK,” I say.
“Why didn’t he tell me?” she asks. “Did he say why he didn’t want me to know ahead of time?”
What do I do? Do I tell her the truth and possibly hurt her feelings? Or do I keep yet another secret from her? I opt to split the difference. “I think he was afraid that you wouldn’t take the news well.”
“But why? I love Charlie! I’m always happy for Charlie. I’m always happy for everybody.”
“I think sometimes we worry that you can’t handle some of the love talk. We all have some sort of love life to discuss, for better or worse, in my case.” I shrug. “But you know, you haven’t been able to find a relationship, and I think . . . maybe . . . it’s hard to . . .”
“I seem bitter,” Rachel says.
“Yeah, a little.”
“You know, it’s funny. I swear, I don’t even think about being single that much.”
I look at Rachel as if she’s trying to sell me the Brooklyn Bridge.
“No, I’m serious!” she says. “I really like my life. I have a perfectly fine job. I can afford to live on my own. I have the best sister in the world.” She vaguely gestures to me, but it’s clear she’s not saying it to flatter me. She’s saying it because she thinks it’s true, and it’s one of the things in her life that she’s happy about. Ironically, that’s even more flattering. “My mom is doing well. I get to spend my nights and weekends with people I love. I have plenty of friends. And the best part of my week is every Sunday morning when I wake up around seven thirty, go into the kitchen, and bake something completely new from scratch while listening to This American Life.”
“I didn’t know you did that,” I say. We have stopped moving again. Our feet just sort of gave up on moving forward and instead planted themselves firmly in their places.
“Yeah,” she says. “And to be honest, I don’t really feel like anything is missing.”
“Well, isn’t that—” I start to say, but Rachel isn’t done.
“But that’s not how the rest of you all live,” she says.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, Mom always has someone. Even if we don’t meet him and it’s not as serious as she’s been with Bill, she’s always talking about meeting some guy.”
“Right,” I say.
“And Charlie is always dating someone. Or impregnating them, as the case may be.”
“Right,” I say, laughing.
“And you,” she says. She doesn’t need to extrapolate further. I know what she means.
“That was part of why I was so excited for you to have time away from Ryan, you know?”
“It just seemed like maybe you could have my kind of life, too.”
“Living alone and being on your own and finding your Sunday morning hobby. I was excited about the idea that I’d have someone to talk to and it wasn’t always about boyfriends or husbands or girlfriends.”
“Right.” Even separated from my husband, I am still preoccupied with the opposite sex. Maybe not all the time. But still. On some level, my love life is a defining factor in my life. I’ve never been a person who had a career passion, really. I like my job at Occidental in part because it affords me a life outside of work that I really enjoy. I make enough money to have the things I need and want. I have time to spend with my family and, in the past, with Ryan. Love is a big part of who I am. Is that OK? I wonder. Is it supposed to be that way?
Rachel is quiet for a moment. “I just . . . I don’t feel like I’m missing out on love, really.”
“No,” she says. “Honestly, the problem is that I just feel like I don’t fit in.”