What kind of anti-social dysfunctional asshole goes to a wedding with a book under her arm?
That's what the-mother-of-someone really wants to know.
She's taken a seat next to me outside of a secret bathroom for use only by the wedding party.
Dammit, just my luck.
I stumbled upon it by accident, looking for the most out-of-the-way place to which I could retreat from the menagerie in the main hall, all those nightmarishly looming faces, booming voices, and bared teeth.
Somewhere on the periphery, where the volume of the thought-pulverizing band is reduced to something approaching ignorable, something that could arguably be the bruising soundtrack of someone else’s life.
"What are you reading that's so interesting?" she asks, smiling, forcing herself to look semi-amused at my literary dedication.
Me, the backward, bookish, boorish wallflower at the ball.
The cutting of the cake, the tossing of the bouquet, the moving exchange of individually composed vows, the cocktail hour, the people you haven't seen in ten years, won't see again in another ten, and wish you wouldn't have to see ever again if you live to be two hundred.
That’s not enough for you?
That’s what she really wants to ask and who can blame her?
Instead, here you are, by the secret pissoir, reading?
And not your iPhone, but a freaking book?
What, pray tell?
I flash her a look at the cover, singularly unpleasant, illustrated with a grotesquely phallic pickle.
"I don’t think I ever heard of him," the mother-of-someone says. She's unconsciously picking imaginary cooties off her lap that she fears she's caught from such close proximity to yours truly."Is he any good?"
"He's a disquieting genius," I say, quoting the blurb from Vanity Fair that's featured across the pickle. “He’s Bret Easton Ellis before there was a Bret Easton Ellis,” I add my own imaginary blurb.
"So you like it?"
I should just say “yes” and leave it at that but instead I hear myself saying:
"Well all the gay sex doesn't do much for me. Personally I’m far from a prude when it comes to sex-stuff in general, but to tell you the truth, I can’t help but wonder is this representative of what gay men really do? It’s all so…so obsessively, monomaniacally anal. I mean, it isn’t the penetration and violation of that orifice for unnatural purposes that I find off-putting, lord only knows. It’s the unending descriptions of the licking, the sniffing, the tastes, the odors…asses are described like faces, with emotions and expressions, as if they were an entire cast of secondary characters in their own right. Correction, make that the main characters for which the people to which they are attached are little more than an Uber service ferrying them to various sodomistic rendezvous. That aside, though, I like the general idea of what he's trying to do. You know, the transgression and all."
Did I really say all of that or was I just thinking it?
How much did I say?
How much did I have to drink?
Was that vintage-age Xanax more powerful than I thought?
Have I become deranged?
"Is being gay really all that taboo nowadays?" she asks lightly, now plucking at her corsage. “I thought it was fairly mainstream by now.”
She's not fooling me.
The mother-of-someone is as republican and straight as the day is long, even if she votes democrat.
Or says she does.
"No, but I’d venture that all the casual killing still is. Half the people in this book get off on killing and the other half get off on being killed. I might be exaggerating the percentages a bit, but not by much. Necro-fetish. Yeah, I think that's probably still taboo."
"I see," she says, still smiling. “That is disturbing, isn't it?”
“The really disturbing thing was that I didn’t find it that disturbing at all.”
Her eyes dart off to the sides.
Is no one coming on whose behalf she can excuse herself from my dark gravitational pull?
You can almost hear her thinking, What the hell are they doing in that VIP toilet anyway?
She turns back, reluctantly, to me.
Social courtesy can be hell; it's like I'm punishing her with this fact, taking my revenge on a world of propriety and hypocritical politesse that I've always despised.
"Do you think real people actually have such a fetish?"
She asks the question as if she doesn’t really expect—or want—an answer.
This is where I should say that I have no idea.
This is where I should shut up.
Instead, I’m like the Ancient Mariner in the Coleridge poem of the same name.
I stoppeth my one of three.
I say, "Well, I don't fantasize about killing anyone. That wouldn't turn me on at all. But I can easily get turned on imagining being killed. But not by a gay guy. It would have to be a straight guy. Or guys. And it would have to be relatively painless for it to be sexy. But that's the problem. Even in fiction. It's just not realistic to stay sexually aroused while you're being beaten or stabbed or butchered. The characters who volunteer for death face that fact in the book and you'd face that in real life, too. The killers promise to make it as painless as possible but either they're lying to get the victim to go along with the fantasy or at some point they lose control and just start doing whatever they want, which is always pretty gruesome. You really can't blame them either, I suppose. I mean, they're taking all the risk by killing you. If they get caught, they're going to jail, even if you were a willing victim. Even if you sign papers, a contract, let's say. It’s not legally binding. You can’t legally give someone the right to kill you. Your life isn’t your own, when you come right down to it, sad as that is to say. So who can ultimately blame them? If they're going to put their own futures on the line by killing you is it really reasonable to suppose that they're going to let you dictate to them how they're going to do it? Don't you think they're going to go for their own peak experience and goddamn you? Are they really going to allow themselves to be topped from below? They'd have to really love you to allow that kind of extravagance and let's face it. What are the odds that someone who agrees to murder you really loves you? But that’s where the idea of sainthood comes in because the willing victims in the stories are sort of like saints, suffering for the ecstasy of others, and for their own ecstasy, or, at least, a kind of apotheosis through erotic agony. Think of that famous statue of St. Teresa of Avila, for instance. The one by Bernini.
Again, I wonder if I really said all this out loud. It seems hard to believe I did, even at my most inebriated.
The mother-of-someone sits there, jaw slightly unhinged.
I swear whatever corsage that is pinned to the front of her dress has shown considerable wiltage since she first parked herself beside me and no amount of fingering will revive it.
It looks like it suffered through one of those time-lapse photography things when summer turns to autumn in about three seconds flat.
"I should be getting downstairs," she says. "I think they're…well, I think they're doing something I should be in attendance for."
She looks vaguely worried.
“I thought I heard some kind of announcement.”
"Okay," I say brightly.
Later, I spot the mother-of-someone on the parquet floor in front of the melting ice sculpture—once a swan now a dwarf twisted with some kind of horrible degenerative bone condition—slow-dancing with her husband.
She presses her lips to his ear and whispers something to him and he cranes his head up over the crowd to get a better look at me.
He's never had much use for me up to now.
In fact, this may be the first time he's ever really noticed me.
Later still, as the die-hards hunker down for the long bitter end ahead and the band gets increasingly peevish and aggressive in the face of their inability to drive them home with the most terse and hostile renditions of “I Need a Hero” and "It's Raining Men," my boyfriend and I say our good-byes.
The mother-of-someone looks past me with an air-kiss that safely flies high above my cheek.
She says how good it was to see me while making eye contact with the next person in line.
Her husband gives me a hug.
I feel his knobby little fingers playing around on my butt as if they were exploring combinations of buttons on a game console, looking for shortcuts.
Forget it, you fat little sanctimonious toad, I'm thinking, I'd never let you kill me, not in a million years.
Then on the ride home, and again later in bed, I'm picturing random scenarios and there I am splayed on the buffet table and split down the middle, oozing warm stuffing, garnished with fruit, and the mother-of-someone's husband has his fist shoved halfway up my ass.
I'm shocked to find him standing there.
He smiles and winks.
Then he flexes his hand, knowing full well what it will do to me.
I guess it really is possible to learn something new about ourselves and each other, something that changes everything.
Life really is full of surprises.