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Anatomy of an Oyster / Who’s buying my dinner tonight?



Dripping sweat from scalp to white lace panty line, it’s barely June and I’m wondering who’s buying my dinner tonight. The summers of my early twenties were bystanding ketamine races on Driggs and revenge bedtime procrastination. Mid 20s were feeding boys and men cherry Italian ice from Wawa in pickup trucks outside Philly, listening to Funkadelic tapes, red bile vomit on Jersey beaches. My financial bloodletting return to the city in the spring brought euro collision and wondrous amazement in chance encounters and their timing; see: I couldn’t pay for my own dinner if I tried.


I spent a week watching Survivor reruns, in no particular order, vapidly convincing myself I could outwit and outplay with my looming unemployment. It’d been a year of anti-romance, an unholy shift from anxious to avoidant. I happened to move into an apartment three blocks away from my longterm ex (The Dog). I’d left the city the summer before to escape our lease together, to lick my wounds and gain ten pounds in the hidden peace of the Midwest — and suddenly, it was as though I’d never left. The wondrous amazement in chance encounters became inevitable and ever-present. A day at the laundromat was no longer a hideaway, a pocket-change day, but assurance I’d drop my dirty panties at the door and he’d find them.


I haven’t felt entirely ready to date again. While mopping up the bar with a coworker at the end of the night, I expressed this indifference, arguing that first dates were a sure-fire way to boost your self worth and so on. He handed me a gold-foiled chocolate coin from Peter Luger and I housed it while considering if I still believed anything I told myself.


I haven’t been a free agent since I was nineteen. Back then, sex and dating were extraordinarily luxurious acts I’d indulge in — the malnourished model from Kosovo who lived on Mott, the green-haired psychopath who begged to walk me on a leash in Washington Square Park, the thirty-something drug dealer who introduced me to anal sex. The pleasure was not with the nightly hosts, but what I could learn about myself by consistently, horrendously, saying ‘That works for me.” This teenage mindset was usurped by the love I held for The Dog, the domestic life we aimed to build, the consistency and tranquility. So when I became single again in my mid 20s, I felt left in the lurch. I’m out of practice. For better and for worse, I’ve wisened enough to know when someone is wasting my time, enough to avoid what cannot be proven real.


The kicker, though, is this: I do not, at this time, believe in true intimacy. This, as you may already know, is a strong gust at the reformed romantics. I was gracious enough to spend half a year in the Western suburbs of Paris before college, working as an au pair, where I met my first true love — an Australian piano tuner studying at the American University. I was eighteen and bleeding estrogen, barely eating and taking bird bath showers from the kitchen faucet. We had no money (I was living off €75 a week, him somehow less) and yet my meals, my booze, my hashish and my drugstore panties were paid for by him. I grew up with a million brothers and no sisters, so chivalry was foreign to me — my childhood had primed me to being ‘big daddy,’ in that I was responsible for paying my own way. But with the Australian, it wasn’t a question. I was taken care of. I paid him back in lapping kisses and public restroom blowjobs.


When I returned to the states, I carried this attitude with me. I was the bulging, pearled oyster ready for shucking. University’s Intro to Feminist Thought scratched at my fringes, but left the mantle and most importantly, the belly, in tact. The pandemic hit my third year of university, about six months into my relationship with The Dog, and we moved in together as the city emptied out. Stimulus checks on top of unemployment meant we were swimming in Monopoly money; nothing was real, dates no longer existed, and for a brief period of time, I was seemingly the richest woman in South Williamsburg. But then the flocks returned to the city, the stimulus stopped stimulating, and my relationship hit its first roadblock. The Dog had found warmth in other women’s beds, DMs, and bodies. When confessing his infidelities, he whipped out his cell phone and took a photo of me, painted in tears and curled into the corner of my bed. He justified it as a personal reminder to never bring my face back to this again.


We separated for a few months, in which I dropped out of school and was once again working full-time in service and sex work. It was then that I met The Writer, a triple-Capricorn with a massive American trad tattoo of a dirty martini. We met on the rooftop at Night of Joy, bonding over shared taste in Midwestern Dad music; The Bottle Rockets, Wilco, Ryan Adams. He covered the initial tab, and again at the next bar, the next, and the next. At a certain point, I began the math in my head — what would I have to do to make up for the $150 in booze? A strip tease? A naked handstand? Backshots? I had nearly gnawed my lower lip off by the time we hit OMG Pizza, when he looked down and kissed me. As though he were grasping around the lobes of my brain, he declared, “This one can be on you. Fair?” I was thrilled to hand over $7 in cash and quarters for our slices, eating in the pouring rain, scrunching my nose to block the wetness from entering and feeling the warmth of my pearl suctioned back to my gills.


This continued with The Writer for a few more dates. $250 at Cervo’s, $140 at The Flower Shop, $100 at The Narrows. Despite his assurance it was a timeless pleasure to pay, I couldn’t help but wonder when his gratitude would taper off and I’d have to birth my black pearl in repayment. That day never came. Our transitory romance fizzled, and I returned to my sex work with loath. There was one guy I’d see, some sort of conductor who lived above the Campbell Apartment at Grand Central. He was nice enough, which he learned to be given his micropenis, alopecia and status as a eunuch. The rate was $500 for a ‘handjob’ (two fingers coiled around his shaft) and a motorboat. I saw him every Wednesday at eight o’clock, and after a few months, he offered to take me to dinner. This was an area of the job I wasn’t too familiar with or particularly keen on — I was more of an in-and-out job kind of girl. Different strokes. I did, however, agree to the date and we walked down to the neighborhood Pret a Manger. After a spiced lentil wrap and iced tea, he walked me to the train station and handed over my weekly allowance. When flitting through the bills on the platform, I noticed he docked me $25 for the meal. That was the last time I saw him.


My expectations in the dating world began to plummet around this time. I reunited with The Dog, we

moved in together. I spent so much time and energy establishing my independence as a Woman in New York, so when beginning to combine finances with The Dog, he was proud to take a step back and allow me to pay my way. We split our rent evenly (despite his larger studio in the basement), shared utilities and pet insurance. I’d buy him food from work, and he’d give me free drinks at the bar he tended. I remember eyeing a ceramic olive oil bottle at an art market out of state — we split the cost, and on my twenty-third birthday, it reappeared as my gift. Nothing in this life comes for free, I reminded myself.


I was perplexed by my spiritlessness in the finances of romance. Was the bill-wooing capped at I love you? Or was it when I gave it up and fucked them? It couldn’t be the status of their bank account, that was evident, so could it have been the status of my own? At what point may a financially independent woman stop offering to split the tab and allow the date a moment of pride? Where did my pride escape to when theirs took reign?


After licking my fingers clean of the Peter Luger chocolate, I rested my head on the bar and watched my coworker tie up the last of the trash bags. I told him I’d planned on meeting someone new for dinner in a few days, that he’d booked a table at the illustrious — and multi-dollar icon — Rule of Thirds.


“Do you like this guy?” My coworker asked.

“How am I supposed to know?” I replied, and then with feigned assurance, “He’s buying my dinner.”



He sighed, shaking his head. He knew, more than I did, that my reentrance into the dating world after a 12-month hiatus might’ve been for the wrong reasons. But what are the right ones? I wondered.


“Don’t you feel you know yourself best, anew, on a first date?” I asked him. “It feels good. You’re all

shiny and new to this person. You’re a byline to an empty link, and you’re getting paid to fill in the content block.”

“Getting paid?”

“In coursed meals. Yeah.”


It’d been years since my sex work, but as I heard the words come out of my mouth, I felt its blackened

pulse run through my wrists again. “Well. Maybe I’ll cancel.” I felt a tickle in my throat, anyway.


And cancel I did. A raincheck is harmless. A date with the wrong person for the wrong reasons is not. I

ended up spending my tips from the night on a hot sandwich at the deli, a Coors tallboy, and a Prime

rental of Gone Girl. Somewhere in the last six or seven years, I let my self worth slip into the ether,

allowing suitors to decide based on how hot of a date I could be. I’ve acted a plethora of roles, from the underage drinker to the hotshot pixie to the scorned lover in need of a real man or woman.


And so, as the wrinkles of my smile lines deepen and my libido plateaus, I settle deeper into the hinges of my umbo and breathe life back into myself before jumping into the arms and wallets of another. I’d rather buy my own dinner and sleep with crumbs in the bed than wonder as to who cares enough to brush them aside and hold me as-is, unconditionally.



1 comentário


Hailo
Hailo
15 de jun.

I'm floored this is so raw and real and wonderfully beautifully written. Obsessed Mar.... wow

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