by Ruth Christopher
It was a shitty motel off Harbor Blvd. in Sacramento run by an Indian family—the pretty daughter-in-law at reception, an older couple at the front desk, an uncle acting as handyman, etc. The only motel that would let us keep Louie with us. He liked the room well enough, lots of flies to catch and two beds to hide under. I took my sleeping pill around midnight and watched as one, two, three came and went on the alarm clock. I popped out my earplugs.
“You still awake?” I knew he was because there was no snoring.
“Come sleep with me and Louie.” I moved some pillows and scooted carefully so as not to disturb the moushikhjoon. One ought never to disturb a sleeping cat, if possible.
“You know what I was just thinking about?” I asked him.
“Constipation indignation?! How about prestidigitation conflagration?”
“Too many syllables! I’ve got it: balcony alchemy.”
“Yes! Trash hipster band name. How ’bout asinine leonine?”
“Oh my god, Russian brushmen.”
“You go too far! Machination assassination.”
“I see your machination and I raise you a predication depredation.”
We rhymed stupid rhymes until the sun came up and I finally fell asleep in his arms for the first time in months. I don’t like sleeping with anyone else. It’s too vulnerable, too private. Too embarrassing. I’ve always resented the need for sleep, felt like I wasn’t getting my money’s worth on life. In the heady days of youth, sleeping wrapped in arms seemed romantic and exciting, but now I value my space.
Cyrus and I sleep in separate rooms. I suppose that’s not quite common for couples who aren’t separated or separating. But I get night terrors and we both snore. It’s not practical to our respective functioning to share a room. Though sometimes we do when compelled by circumstance—hotels and such.
We found ourselves in the motel for ten days out of the sheer assholery of the universe. We had a flat in Whitelandia (i.e., Davis), but we were so sick of our neighbors trying to talk to us that we opted not to renew our lease when management sent around the forms forty billion times all spring. Figured we’d move to Sacramento where there are a few more signs of life: socials, readings, and such. And then we got COVID-19 in August, the month before our lease was up, the month I had scheduled apartment viewings which I then had to cancel. Maybe it’s shitty inbred genetics, maybe it’s the weed, but we both had it bad. I’d walk from my bedroom to the kitchen and have to sit down to catch my breath. I told my doctor that we’d only go to the ER if it was absolutely life threatening because Cyrus didn’t have health insurance, so she had me get a pulse oximeter and told me if our blood-oxygen level dropped below 95 to go to the ER. For most of August both of our readings hovered between 94 and 96. We had groceries and Tylenol left on the doorstep because apparently NSAIDS make the ’rona worse. Texted our next-door neighbor Billie to let her know we tested positive and she took her kids and left.
And then it was the 31st of August and our lease was up, so we rented a U-Haul and moved our stuff into storage and checked in to Motel 6 with two suitcases, two backpacks, a bag of food, a litter box, and an irate Louie. “Thus must I from the smoke into the smother.”** I’m still not quite sure how we made it ten days without killing each other. Cyrus worked that whole time as lead copywriter for Papa & Barkley, the largest manufacturer of cannabis in the state of California, and as a free-lance web developer. I wrote every day, cried, hotboxed, and went for lots of drives. We were the only people in the hotel who seemed to give a fuck about wearing a mask. After a couple of days one of the local slingers offered me some Xanies, $5 a pop. I told him I was chilling but, in my head, I thought, “Never trust a Xanax that costs you less than $10 each.” It was then that I realized I was in a foreign place, that Sacramento was not L.A. and I did not know what the street value of Xanax was.
I told Cyrus and he said that we would explore the city together and Sacramento could also become familiar. After that he conveniently also needed a smoke break every time I wanted to step out to the car. Certainly, one of the perks of being with Cyrus is that he’s just sort of de facto personal security. You must really be sure you want to approach me when I’m with him. It’s one of my favorite things about having him as a partner. He’s six feet, two inches of I’ll-fucking-break-your-arms-if-you-look-at-her-the-wrong-way. Of course, he’s actually a total goonie, forever an Ohio kid at heart, but at first glance he’s certainly imposing. And he doesn’t mind playing that up if ever I’m feeling uncertain. Cyrus is the best partner I’ve ever had. And the longest lasting.
We are not just partners, lovers, whatever bullshit designations the heteros insist on. We are co-creators. We recognize the artistic sanctity of having one’s own space while simultaneously valuing the energy of our union. These days I find myself asking, why would I want to sully something so pristine with a marital contract based on a patriarchal system of jurisprudence that didn’t even recognize my gender’s personhood until the last century or so? And why the fuck would I want to engage in any sort of chauvinistic ceremony that views me as a property transfer from father to husband?
Anyway, we’re probably going to get married next year, misogyny notwithstanding. The ceremony will be performed by a woman and I will wear red, the color of blood, symbolic of the martyrdom of selfhood that is marriage and also because white will make me look washed out in the photos. We want Cy’s grandma Sori to be there, and I don’t know how many years she’s got left. And it’s an excellent opportunity to insult my godforsaken fundamentalist Christian, anti-vax, Trump-supporting relatives by not inviting them. Plus, taxes will be easier as married, filing jointly. And it won’t change us; I won’t let it. It’s not so much a wedding as a ceremonial observation of the love that exists, has existed, and will exist between myself and one Cyrus Timothy Sepahbodi. The goddamn Christians aren’t ruining this for me.
Cy says I can never leave him because I’ve given him two incurable diseases and it wouldn’t be just of me. And I say he can never leave me because his life would be too boring and because I’d either die of a broken heart or start fucking everything that dances until I died of syphilis. He can’t stand the thought of me with anyone else which I find utterly stereotypical but also deeply sexy. A little jealousy means it’s real. Not a lot, mind you. Just a dash. Anyway, I’m stereotypical too, I guess. I love me a macho man who treats me like a goddess.
I like Cyrus; he suits me well. A leftist with a traumatic backstory and addiction issues, just like me. Crazy enmeshed, expansive, old-world tribal family system, just like mine. Eating disorder, mental illness, and an abiding commitment to therapy. Prone to brief yet rigorous courses of self-improvement. We’re both bilingual; him Farsi, me Spanish. We both have complicated relationships to music and a deep love of theatre, as well as of live opera/dance/poetry/ burlesque, etc. Plus, we’re both Libras.
But I love him because he is kind and sexy and so damn cute when he blushes. He believes me and hears me when I share my experience of the world with him. If I ever tell him I need to leave an event, we leave immediately, no questions asked. He values my work and is my most trusted proofreader. I have faith in his judgment on the page. Nor is it all give and no take. I’ve proofread policy statements he’s written for Papa & Barkley. I’m generally first eyes on his poems. Even his writing partner (I call her his work wife) sends me stuff to look over at times.
Love at first sight is bullshit. Desire at first sight is, however, a total thing. I knew in 3.5 seconds that I wanted to fuck him. But I didn’t know I loved him until months later. I had finally dumped AC and realized that Jake was an (intensely sexy) emotionally unavailable pipe dream. AC was a poet/mentalist from Little Ethiopia that I dumped because he performed a love poem putting all our shit on blast in front of about 50 poets and artists that I saw on a regular basis. Jake was the side piece. I stopped talking to both in July and started dating Cyrus in September.
I asked him over Facebook Messenger in my most businesslike tone to have brunch with me. He said yes and we met at Old Susannah Café in east Simi Valley for Sunday brunch at ten-thirty a.m. We were both hungover. I might have still been drunk. I spent all my Saturday nights dancing at the Grenada with Frankie and Mango back then and usually didn’t get to my couch until about four a.m. I wanted him to come to Old Susannah so that Marie could vet him. I arranged for us to be seated in her section. She was and is my mother-figure, and at the time I lived in her sitting room. Cyrus passed with flying colors.
Our second date was my disastrous house party at 640 Hampshire Ave. in Westlake Village. Dan Huynh puked all over my kitchen cabinets then passed out in my bed and Cyrus cleaned with David Gale while I distracted the rest of my guests who were pretty sloshed themselves. My first wife, Austen Scott, still the best composer I know personally, offered my friend Michelle, a transgender samba dancer, $100 to see her tits. I had to stop her from breaking his neck and explain that he was both a virgin and an imbecile. Cyrus is an excellent person to have at a house party. He could out-drink anybody I knew, including me. And he’s musically inclined, especially the more shots you give him. As it happened, me, Cyrus, and Chris Bolton (celebrity make up artist and fellow fundamentalist Christian fuck up) were the last men standing. I fell asleep on Cy’s shoulder around five a.m., all three of us on the couch watching How I Met Your Mother on the telly.
Eventually Cy told his Dad about me. Dadzilla, with his old-world belief system about wooing women, was deeply offended by our dating history. “Cyrus, you must put on a suit and buy some flowers. Pick her up in your car; take her somewhere nice! Take her to eat kabob! Show her how nice it is to be with a Persian man.” I howled when Cy told me about it and said absolutely, it must be so, and I simply would not go out with him again unless it was so. He showed up in his black suit and pork pie hat, a pocket watch on a chain around his neck (“I stole it from a railroad conductor,” he told me, when I asked), and at least ten bracelets around his wrists. He picked me up in his red Mini Cooper, me nervous in coral linen trousers and some off-the-shoulders frill from Forever 21. Drove me to Shirin in Woodland Hills, blasting Googoosh, windows down, car dancing and cracking jokes about “my people.”
We got there and I told him I sucked at eating dinner. He said he did too, but I found this hard to believe. He was so self-assured and so many people respected him! Surely, he could not suck at eating dinner as well. We ordered everything—ghormeh sabzi, chraimeh with tadig, koobideh and saffron rice with sumac, more shit I’ve still no idea how to say or spell. And of course, being me, I sawed into my koobideh like a heathen and launched rice all over the table. I turned brick red, like the oven they have for the flat bread. Utterly nonplussed, Cy picked up the serving spoon and dumped a heaping mound of rice all over the tablecloth just as the server walked up with our chai. And that was it. It was over for me. I knew I loved him, and I’d never stop. This ridiculous human being with his soft-boiled button downs and his long lashes, his belly that I wanted to kiss and a hopeless penchant for poetry of all sorts except the trash that gets shoved down your throat in school (DWEM model English education). He took me home and I took him to bed, and we stayed there until late the next day and I knew that he was mine and I forever wanted to be his. The next time he slept over he deliberately brought an armful of shirts to hang in my closet, said he had to “mark his territory.”
He fell in love with me much earlier. Dan “the Pukinator” Huynh had invited me to Lamplight, this poetry reading in the San Fernando Valley. The real selling point for me was that you could smoke cigarettes—I had not yet abandoned that habit, still finding it the easiest and most glamorous way to meet people. I got to the White Harte Pub excited, nervous, poems at the ready. The reading was in the back room and I stopped in the doorway to get the lay of the land (one gets in the habit of this when one is a dancer with a lot of people one is avoiding). I saw Cyrus behind the small bar that he and David Gale called “the Muppet Booth” when they were hosting. I took in how tall he was, how long his dark seductive lashes were, the energy of his stance, the crookedness of his fingers, and the twinkle in his eye. No sooner looking than wanting, but I was seeing AC at the time, the beautiful, impoverished poet from deep L.A. who loved me like a puppy.
Still, I thought to myself, “I’d tap that.”
To hear Cy tell it, the entire space-time continuum stopped in a vortex of who-the-fuck-is-that the moment I stepped in the doorway. We made eye contact. I blushed and hurried into the room, hoping my thoughts were not made obvious in my face the way they so often are. He made his way to me—it seemed like everyone in the room wanted to say hi to him or hug him or shake his hand—and asked me if I’d like to read. I said yes, very much, I’ve prepared my poems. He was delighted and had me add my name to the list on his typewriter.
I sat with Dan who talked about how shitty everyone was and how much he despised bad live music. It was my habit never to buy my own drinks in those days, so Dan bought me a gin and tonic (my favorite because it was at the top of the get-drunk-not-fat list). My turn to read came and my hands shook but I found my way up to the mic and I read my poems—one about being broke and one about being in love with Jake and Jake not being in love with me. Cyrus and David went ballistic, shaking their heads and sighing and thumping on the Muppet Booth. I sat down again, and Dan lit me a cigarette. Pretty soon it was intermission and Cyrus came to my table and told me how wonderfully I had read and asked me to accept a napkin he had in his hand. I thanked him and took it. It read:
I think that if I crushed
all beautiful things into my
palms what would be left is
Perhaps adding the moon would
be appropriate. Or maybe
if we swallow an ocean,
carry the last time you
got lost and weren’t really afraid,
I think I’d be ready to get
lost in your warbling beauty,
convincing the sky you are
more lovely will be easy.
Maybe you were a dream
collided with an empire,
I only wish I could be a mountain
you carry in your pocket.
I’ll chisel your secrets
into my fingerprints so
when I write I’m
being honest about
you, and nothing else.
C.T.S. Jan. 24 2016
As soon as I got back to the trailer park, I stowed Thelma, my weather-beaten VW bug, in the RV parking and hoofed it back into headquarters in 10 minutes flat. I immediately brought out the napkin and showed it to Hailey and Marie who screamed and said, “Girl, he’s already in LOVE with you!!!” and I said, “No, no, I’m sure he gives these to girls all the time,” and they said, “Don’t be an idiot.” I still have that napkin. I keep it in my car journal, a small leather-bound notebook that I kept in my car and made people write in whenever they rode with me.
Of course, I eventually wrote back. I couldn’t always come to the readings because by then I was performing almost every Sunday night at the Bicycle Casino in Bell Garden with JK Dance Co. Call time of nine p.m., and an hour commute meant Lamplight was long over by the time my night at the casino was through. And I was still seeing AC. But I wrote back anyway. I couldn’t help myself. At first, I told myself it was purely a matter of craft. I tried to consider Cyrus in a professional light, as a practitioner of the written word. I told him he had a natural feeling for stanza breaks. At one point I handed him a drink coaster with a few lines about his lips and he chuckled and said, “We’re still doing this?” and I got away as quickly as possible and lit a cigarette, kicking myself and blushing, afraid I’d taken the game one step too far. But the next reading he gave me another napkin, this time with a rose drawn on it as well as a 4″ x 4 ″ anaphora.
I was smitten. One day after American Literature Class my friend Vahid and I were smoking illegal cigarettes in the parking lot. I told him my predicament. His first question: “Have you thought about him while masturbating yet?” I said yes. “Oh, it’s all over then. Dump AC and go out with Cy! You know he likes you. Hasn’t he been writing you all summer?” Vahid went to Lamplight too. “Besides, you’re always telling me about the manifold benefits of older guys. AC’s too young for you.” He had a point. AC was 26 to my 22, but I’ve always preferred a decade or two older. Better odds of them being able to keep up. Cyrus is, in fact, eight years older than I am.
This year Cyrus turned thirty-five. He was rather glum about it. I told him, “Thirty-five is a perfectly respectable age; in fact, I’ve known plenty of women in the highest ranks of London society who have been thirty-five for years!”*** He cussed me out in Farsi. Will we last as a couple? Fuck knows. I’d say our odds are 50/50. His parents divorced when he was six. Mine are still together out of unadulterated stubbornness. I’m gonna marry the shit out of him anyway. Next year, COVID permitting. It’ll be a large party in L.A. with an open bar and lots of dancing. We lasted so far, damnit. Lasted through living with his Mom, mid-city L.A., Davis, now Sacramento. I’d say our chances are as good as anyone’s.
My biggest fear has always been that I’ll insert my head firmly into my own ass and cheat. I know if I cheated it would be over. Cyrus told me that’s the only reason he’d ever break up with me. Get fat? No problem. Lose your job? Totally fixable. But have sex with someone else and it all comes tumbling down. I don’t want to cheat on Cyrus. On the other hand, this is the only relationship in which I’ve ever been faithful. It’s a lot of pressure to not fuck up this one thing. No accidentally falling on someone else’s dick or face-first into someone else’s twat. No eensie weensie car sex or backstage sex or theater sex. I’ve had so many conversations with my therapist about this.
“You only want to do it because he told you that’s the only reason he’d break up with you, and you being you, you have to test the limits of his love.”
“But I don’t want to cheat on him!”
“So don’t cheat on him!”
“But what if I do!”
“Well, then we’ll have a session about it. But you’d have to tell him. You know you’d have to tell him.”
“Chrissake, when did I ever get so monogamous?”
“Cyrus is different. You and Cyrus were always meant to be together. I can see it. So just don’t cheat on him. And I’ll see you next week.”
*Boos Bedeh means “Kiss me” in Farsi. It is the first phrase Cyrus taught me.
** Billy Shakes, As You Like It Act I, Scene II. “From tyrant duke to tyrant brother!”
***The Importance of Being Earnest. I don’t have a line number, but Aunt Augusta says it to Ernest Worthing when she interviews him for the position of Gwendolyn’s husband.