These Things Are All the Same

Leslie is pregnant. She’s huge. You haven’t seen her since January. Was she pregnant in January? You couldn’t see it then but she must have been because it’s July now and her belly, it looks like you could fit a toddler in there. She and her belly drove all the way from Sherwood for this party or function or whatever it is, this thing you had a put a dress on for, and now you’re here talking to her about names when a pretty girl walks up. Or is the word sexy? Or is the word hot? You’re talking to Leslie about the possibility of Justice or Indira or Poe when this girl walks up wearing a white sleeveless dress with long, white-blond hair and half-sleeve tattoos. She’s with a boy. She says sorry to Leslie she’s late. She doesn’t introduce herself but she does keep looking at you like maybe you should know her. She says she’s been to a wrestling match in a giggly way that says she wants to say more about it but she’s not going to volunteer the information. She wants you to ask. It’s part of the game. She wants to seem like an enigma and not a showoff. “Like WWF?” Leslie says. The girl giggles again. “Was it chocolate pudding wrestling?” you say, but no one hears you. “No. Like . . . sexy wrestling,” the girl says to Leslie. “Erotic wrestling,” the boy says in an ironic hipster tone. This time you try it louder: “Were there food products involved?” “No,” he says. “No, they were just naked,” the girl says, and that’s when you figure out where you know her from, and that there’s definitely no way she knows you.

You know in your heart there’s nothing wrong with liking porn. Or with acknowledging that it exists. Even if you’re a girl. This is post-third wave here, it’s the twenty-first century, you’re allowed to meet your own needs however you want to meet them. But you also know that it’s probably best not to say out loud to someone who doesn’t know you from Mary, in front of her date, and in front of your friend who appears to be her friend, too, your friend who uses her wedding picture for her Facebook avatar and whose husband is building a deck in the backyard while she cooks the baby, your friend who has probably never said “fuck me harder” or even “fuck me,” although what do you know, it isn’t fair to assume like that—yes, even you know it’s best not to say out loud to this girl, “Oh hey I’ve seen you in porn.” Instead you stick your hand out and say, “Hi, I’m Audrey.” “Jennifer,” she says, which is not the name you know her by. “Marcus,” says her date, and then they’re off. You look at Leslie and consider asking if she knows that girl is in porn. Instead you say, “How do you know her?” “Anarchist book club.” “You’re an anarchist?” “No, but I want to be.” You nod. Maybe you don’t know her as well as you thought. Actually, you don’t know her that well at all, but you liked to think you had her pegged. “What does she do?” you ask. Leslie looks at her Dixie plate, fingering a cucumber sandwich. “I’m not sure, actually.” You’re pretty sure she’s lying.

A lot of people are dancing but Jennifer is sitting alone at a table drinking what might be plain orange juice. You sit down next to her and say, “Are you having a good time?” “Yeah,” she says, “sure. These things are all the same, aren't they?” “I don't know, I don't go to a lot of them.” You tell her you volunteer at the center, that’s why you got in free. That you can't really shell out 75 bucks for charity. You wonder how many hours a week someone has to work to make a living in porn. “What do you do?” she asks. “I'm a freelancer. A journalist.” “Who do you write for?” “No one, really. That's what it feels like lately. The weekly. Trade papers. I just finished a piece on a hairdresser named Stefanos. I thought maybe I’d get a free cut, for the publicity, but nothing.” You’re trying to be funny but you probably just sound like a bum. You touch your hair, which actually you did just get cut, at the Supercuts on Powell. You like it there, fifteen minutes and eighteen bucks, but right now you feel ugly. Jennifer is glowing. What’s the opposite of glowing? You’re invisible. No, you’re a black hole. “That's funny,” she says. “I always wanted to be a writer. Do you write other stuff, too?” “What do you mean?” “Like, poetry? Screenplays?” “Oh. No. Well, I'm writing a memoir. But it's really like a diary.” This is true. Every day, you write about sex. Or, about its absence. About how you don’t have sex anymore, not since you realized you were only doing it to make people like you. “Maybe I’ll try to publish it some day, but I doubt anyone will want to read it,” you say. This is a lie. Well, the first part is a lie. You’re not sure about the second part. “You don't know that,” she says. “What do you do?” you ask, wondering what she’ll come up with, but then, she probably doesn’t need to come up with anything because probably people ask her that all the time and she just uses the same lie over and over again. “I’m an adult film actress,” she says. You don’t choke on your drink but you probably would have if you’d been taking a sip right them. You’re pretty sure you don’t look surprised, but you try. “What kind of stuff?” “Bondage, mostly. Some lighter stuff, lesbian scenes.” She nods that nod that means you’re supposed to nod along with her. Does she think you’re a lesbian? Is your hair too short? Does she want to have sex with you? A few times you’ve wondered if you might be gay because of the way when you watch porn it’s the girls you watch, but for one you’ve only ever fucked men and only ever imagine fucking men, and for two you never get off on porn with just girls in it, and for three if you were really a lesbian there would probably be other signs. And anyway, eventually you figured out that what you like about the porn you like is the way the girls get used, or appear to be getting used, and the reason you watch them so closely is so that later, when you masturbate, you can imagine you are just like them. Jennifer has turned away to look at the dance floor. What are you supposed to ask her now? You test out questions in your head, like “Do you ever get sick of it?” and “Is it true the women have the power?” and “What do you think about when you come? After all that, what’s left to fetishize? Do you imagine a knife to your throat, a gun to your head? Do you imagine living happily ever after, maybe in Sherwood, maybe with a baby on the way?”  

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