She cared about me in the way that she could, which was not the way I wanted because I did not know what I wanted from her. I remember now that she cared about me because when I told her I was in constant physical pain, she gave me a bottle of painkillers.
As I left her apartment complex in Los Feliz, she rushed out of the door and down the steps to hand me the bottle. “Here,” she said, and I loved her then, the way she handed the bottle to me, out of breath, in her cut-off shorts and black boots. “Here,” she said, rushing to me, and I extended my arm. She placed the bottle in my open palm and this is the way in which I received her love.
That was when we texted each other multiple times a day. I once texted: “My tarot card reader says we have a past life connection.” She replied: We have a this life connection.
That was over a year ago. I still have the bottle of pills. I usually stay away from painkillers unless the physical pain is devastating and debilitating. These pills are from Mexico, they are small and yellow and round. I call them My Mexican Pain Pills. Although rare, there are still days when the physical pain is devastating, and, on those days, if I tell my friend V., she says, “It sounds like it may be Mexican Pain Pill time,” and I laugh.
One day I won’t have the pills anymore and it will be one less reminder of the time when we were close, when I spent nights in her bed, when I awoke beside her. When I cooked her bacon and made her coffee in the morning. When I drove to a corner store at 3 a.m. because her cough was so bad and bought her honey. For days, I spoon-fed her honey and lemon and made her hot toddies. It had been a long time since I was that intimate with someone. It was the first time in a long time I wanted to care for someone again. Maybe that is what I wanted from her and that is what she gave me.
This Thursday I swallowed one of the pills and then drove to buy take-out at a restaurant on York Boulevard in Highland Park. As I waited for the veggie burger, I could feel the pill starting to take effect. I felt lucid and calm and sexy, like how I feel after an afternoon at the beach.
I went home, ate my veggie burger, and then passed out. When I awoke it was an hour before I had to meet writers at a bar and then host a reading. I dressed quickly and grabbed necessary items, like my phone to read their bios, baskets for donations, and my purse. At the bar, since I had not eaten dinner and the painkiller was still in my system, I got drunk fast. Before the reading, I downed a cup of coffee to help me feel alert.
During the reading and then at home, I felt an emptiness. I realized I had outgrown the reading series that I curate, organize, and host. The reading was happening right in front of me but I felt like it was a something of my past. The words that came to mind were: empty shell. The empty feeling was exacerbated by the painkiller and beer and coffee and lack of food in my body, but still, even now, I know it’s true. I have outgrown this series I once very much loved. I am outgrowing many things in my life and doing so very fast. It’s hard to keep up.
At home, when I was feeling overwhelmed with this emptiness, I emailed J. photos that a dominatrix took of me during my most recent session in December. The photos are of me suspended in the air with red rope. In the photo I am horizontal, high above the floor. My arms are tied behind my back, my feet are tied and pointed to the ceiling. In the photo, I am smiling. I am happy.
J. is the only man I’ve shown my dominatrix photos to. J. is also the only man I’ve taken to a pole-dancing club/strip club with me. This Sunday was the first time I went to a dance club/strip club. The place where I went isn’t technically what you think of when you think strip club. The women pick their own songs from a jukebox and wear lingerie but are never nude. Each woman is a different age and has a different body type. I like to watch them dance. I think it’s beautiful the way they infuse desire, physical strength, and balance with one song. The way these women dance, I could watch them all night and I do. I spend my Sunday night and then my Monday night doing just that.
On Monday afternoon, during my therapy session, I tell my therapist that I’m acting out, that I’m running away from my feelings. I tell him that I’m going out too much, I’m going to a dance club, and I’ve been buying too many pretty things for my room. My therapist listens to me and asks me more questions. Then he asks: “Do you think when you have fun, you label it as acting out?” I pause. “That’s interesting,” I say.
After my therapy session on Monday, I decide I need more fun in my life and decide to go the dance club again that night. Twice. First I go with my friend. I make a joke that my therapist told me I needed to go to a strip club for my emotional well-being and growth. She laughs. She says, “How can I say no?” And then: “What have you roped me into?” I promise her there will be no rope.
At the dance club, my friend shows me her most recent sonogram photos. There is a brain in her belly, there is a very tiny human being inside her. I lean my head on her shoulder. I love my friend as a friend and also as the mother of her child. We sit at a table. I drink whiskey, she drinks a club soda, and we have a stack of dollar bills at the table. We watch the women dance and she is surprised by herself. She is having fun, too. She says, “We can do this is anytime.” When she has to leave, I drop her off. Then pick up J. and take him to the dance club.
J. and I watch the women dance. We talk, mostly about sex. And then it’s last call and then the lights turn on. I drop him off and return home. I sit down at my desk and edit a column for a magazine. I answer emails and then sleep for three hours before work in the morning.
In the morning, an editor calls me and we talk about writing and then we talk as friends. He asks, “How are things going?” I answer, “I’m hanging in there.” He says, “Hanging in there is good.” This causes me to pause. I always thought “hanging in there” was not good because it meant that things were obviously not going well. But maybe hanging in there is a way of riding the storm.
I think of a Zora Neale Hurston quote I read in the Adrienne Rich essay, “Disloyal to Civilization.” The quote is: “I want to walk with the storm and hold my power, and get my answers to life and things in storms. The symbol of lightning was painted on my back. This was to be mine forever.”
Here I am riding the storm, here I am hanging in there, holding my power. There are answers to my life and they are unfolding.
On Tuesday night, I drive to a bar on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles to meet a poet. We are going to discuss poetry and what he will read on Thursday evening. As I drive through the tunnel on Second Street, I have a vision of me as a butterfly. In this vision, I wear a black shirt and black leggings, and attached to my back are gigantic wings. They are bright, translucent, and orange.
Zoë Ruiz is the managing editor of The Rumpus. She studied creative writing at UC Santa Cruz. She curates READINGS, a reading series in Los Angeles.