Nightstand condom: faint red on latex. Dogman is peeing. I contemplate my residue. Nothing violent about it, just a swift move at an awkward angle. Only now I realize there must be a tear. Wasn’t it Julia Kristeva who talked about abjection: horror at inside becoming outside? Something about the panic that sets in when there is no boundary between self and other. I am me but also nightstand condom. Dogman has stopped peeing—maybe he’s flossing his teeth or fixing his hair or clipping his toenails very quietly.
Dogman comes in my mouth because I let him. I really need to stop asking dudes where they want to come. I know I only want them to come in condoms. Too much mixing of matter otherwise. Dogman can’t come with condoms, a fact he lets drop early on in our partially clothed fumblings and returns to with insistence mid-act. He pauses to lay still and yarn in depth about his struggles in this arena as he strips himself of the inhibiting object and places it somewhere in the half-dark haloing my bed. His white chest sprawls across my lavender bedspread, and any heat generated between us cools. I lay still too and look at his face in profile. I decide that this is my preferred angle.
Dogman and I watch a David Attenborough documentary. I’m so caught off guard by this suggestion that I can’t think of any alternatives, so I let it wash over me. It’s impossible to follow along as there is no plot. Really, it’s just a series of images. Dogman narrates it to me, though, the elements of apparent interest. Like, look at that lizard with the amazing colors. Look at how that butterfly interacts with its mate. At this point, I should make a dive for safety. The points simply do not connect. Dogman insists on holding both of my hands at once, informs me that he is a very affectionate person. Intermittently, he places his lips on my shoulder and rapid-fire kisses it, his mouth like that of a fish. I consider telling him that this is rather irritating, but every time I assume he won’t possibly repeat this ridiculous motion. I am wrong.
At night, Dogman confides, making too much eye contact, she crawls right up next to me in the space below my arm and I tell her about my day. His dog sits nestled between us now, and I rub her ears, thinking of Dogman stroking her pale coat every night. Soft-voiced murmurings. Gentle. He relates all of this to me without even a whiff of shame. No apologies for his gleaming aloneness. I almost wish for a little bit of deflection, if only so that I can take a break from the fullness of his exposure. This is just another thing in the list of things he’s told me about himself. Most of which have been about past trauma. And now he is telling me about how he self-soothes. I float on this wave of his history and pet his dog to moor myself, remember I am sitting on a bench in a park on the earth on a Tuesday and I am the fullness of myself no matter where I am and who I am with.
Dogman sends me pictures of his accomplishments. The plants he has grown. The class assignments he has completed. The sketches he has drawn. I try to be open, accepting. Take what I am given and turn it into a mode of connection, a dialogue. But mostly he seems interested in sending me a series of statements, one after the other. So as I receive them all, I can’t help but evaluate what he’s presenting. The sketches, for instance, are technically proficient, but I struggle to feel into them. There is not one line out of place. The movement from light to dark is militantly blended. And they are copies of what he sees. To be an artist is to tear something open. Find the cracks and point to them. His sketches feel like masks of other works, castings.
I approach Dogman in the dog park. The back of his head upsets me. It’s not quite the right shape for the rest of his body, and for a second I consider scampering away. When he turns and sees me his face doesn’t change, and I wonder if he’s forgotten the outline of me but soon I have slid into an embrace and he is already talking as if he began the conversation in his head before I arrived. With his arm around me, he turns the mass of us to face his dog as she gallops with abandon through the grass. There is a lightness in me as I watch her move and consider how different her affect is from that of her owner. Look at my daughter, says Dogman and the lightness leaves me and I am trapped in the frame of some family portrait I did not sign up for.
I cradle my phone like it’s a nest of unborn birds. Full of eggs waiting to hatch. I keep checking and checking it. Tapping on the shells. What will emerge? I try to imagine a self all feathered and maternal, hard-beaked. The simplicity of engaging in bird being. The confidence of laying eggs that will hatch into more birds. This soothes me as I sink into my sofa abyss and contemplate the messages I could be receiving but am not receiving and the reasons behind the lack. I circle each reason until I am dizzy and have to lie down but realize I am already lying down and there is no way to undizzy myself until that sweet ping of message stabilizes me. It is Dogman, reporting on his day in blocks of text with poor punctuation. Ahhhhh yes, I sigh: renewed contact with the person I have been in contact with. He asks to see me again, and my fingers type in yes then type his name into a block on my calendar and I rest easy having him slotted there, safe.
I have been told that I need to be more open. I have also been told that I need to be more closed. I am trying to find the balance between these two things, or the right moments to activate each state. And sometimes I feel that I am just a doorway and who cares which way I swing.
I spot him down the block, leash in hand. A pair of grey sweatpants. Average build. Manufactured ease of being. I allow myself an up and down behind my sunglasses, think about my next moves. I could unhinge my jaw like a cobra and swallow him whole. That’s what dudes like him want. Or I could talk to him for a while about what he hopes for and what he likes and what he’s done and maybe he will ask me a question about myself at some point midway through. His Labrador tugs at her leash, jerking his body to face me. I get closer. The dog sniffs a pile of leaves and the man tentatively waves. Dog + man = Dogman. I’m within a few feet. I stretch my face into a smile, say my name.
All of the options are in my palm. Yum. Let me grab my spoon and feast. Except not really. Why does it seem like every Bumble profile betrays some fatal character flaw? Do people not understand how naked they are when they ramble through prompts, when they upload their faces and bodies and backgrounds. My hard noes: a group shot with messy black scribbles to hide the faces of the other people in the photo—that person will surely kill me and toss my body into the sea, pockets filled with rocks. Six pack abs + boats + Ibiza/Ibiza-like locations—too much douche in one dose. Actors—just ugh. I swipe swipe swipe, searching for the non-awful, non-lethal. And I happen upon one that seems to fit those categories. The first few shots are a little posed, self-conscious within frame. Eyebrow placement coy, come hither. But as I scroll down, there are a couple of shots featuring him and his dog, genuine smile splayed across his face. He can’t be all that bad if he can take care of a being outside of himself.