Nice Try: a new Socratic dialog

“More wine?” she asks.

“No, no thanks, I probably shouldn’t.” I swish around the nonexistent liquid for a second and then put the glass down on the coffee table.

She laughs. “Had enough?”

“Oh yeah.” I am feigning more of a buzz than I actually have. This is so I do not get tricked into drinking more than I should, which is less than it would be in most cases.

“Oh, come on, just a half a glass. There’s only like a glass left in the bottle, we wouldn’t want to waste it now would we?” She takes our glasses to the counter.

She’s good. “Can’t you just drink the rest?” I say to her back.

“Trying to get me drunk?”

“Ha! I could accuse you of the same thing.”

She doesn’t answer. She has tendency to do that, or rather, to not do that. She has a tendency to let silences hang for much longer than normal people can tolerate them.

She turns to come back to the living room and I look away. I can’t really look at her right now. In the split second before I looked away, I noticed she was carrying two half-glasses of wine.

She puts the slightly-more-full one in front of me. I switch the glasses’ places.

“Uh-uh.” She returns the glasses to their original places.

I concede. I always do. I take a sip, a small one, still trying to keep my promise to myself. It’s difficult enough maintaining self-control around this woman. The outlook is grim, I know, but still I must have hope.

I put the glass down. She follows its path and looks disappointed, but then she looks back up and sees that I saw that, and her frown lifts and her eyebrows stay raised. “What where we talking about?”

“Emptiness,” I say, grateful for the return to a topic of conversation I can focus on.

“Right.”

“I was saying how Lacan’s theory—as I understand it—is that we can never achieve completeness, that we’ll always be looking in the wrong place because completeness existed before our awareness of a self—and more importantly, of an other—and that’s a place we can never get back to, so we’re doomed to be constantly searching for something we can never attain. Basically.”

“However.”

“Hm?”

“There was a however; you were on a however.”

“Oh right. However, that knowledge is not always helpful. It can help to some degree, if you believe it and not get your hopes up that every new thing in your life will somehow complete it, but it doesn’t make the emptiness go away. It might make you feel like less of a freak, less isolated, but it doesn’t negate it. On the contrary. It acknowledges it as a real condition of humanness that will always be there, in some form, to some degree or another. So you still feel it. And your instinct is still to try to satiate it. You just know you can’t, not really.”

“So what do you do with that?”

…I consider my next sentence. For once the silence hangs off me and it is she that is in anticipation. I like the feeling. I hang onto it for a moment longer than I should.

“Personally, I use it as a validation for fleeting distraction,” I say.

She takes her own pause and marinates for a moment in my wonderfully-constructed sentence. “Could you elaborate on that?”

“Sure, I—” It is at this moment that she tosses her arm slowly and rather deliberately over the back of the couch. It is also at this moment that I realize when she sat down to bring the last wine refill, she sat closer to me.

I try not to think anything of it. It is both easy and hard. Easy because she does shit like this all the time. If this were an isolated incident I’d think it meant something, but she’s never followed through on any of these little teasy things she does, so why would she start now? Hard because I can always make excuses for why she hasn’t followed through, and why she might this time, because I kind of really want her to.

But I decided I wasn’t going to let this happen anymore. I shift my shoulder away from where her fingers landed touching it ever-so-slightly. But I do it in a way that opens my body up to her more, and by the time I catch it it’s too late to move again. I don’t want to be totally obvious. I want to finish this conversation—I need to, I need it. A wave of panicked awkwardness rushes over me for a minute, and I curse myself. It must be the wine. Damnit.

I continue talking in order to obliterate the awkwardness. “Well, it’s like, simple pleasures, right? We’re taught that at best they’re bad substitutions for the loftier goal of finding completeness and at worst, a sin. But if we can’t find completeness anyway, what’s the problem? Why not temporarily satiate that desire, that emptiness? Why not rush to do that?”

“Simple pleasures?” She turns toward me, her other hand falling across her body onto the other side of her lap, landing about three quarters of an inch from me. Oh great. I can’t move at all now. I just hope this is the last of it.

And perhaps this is not the best topic of discussion to be harping on right now. But then maybe just talking about it will sate, well, whichever one of us has the problem.

And she’s letting me talk way more than usual. “Well yeah, you know… just every-day comforts and stuff. Contemporary social psychology even says that what we call ‘distraction’ is a necessary way to maintain mental health. It lifts burdens which have no solution—like emptiness. I don’t want to say hedonism, but… Well there’s this movement I heard about call ethnical hedonism.”

“Ethical hedonism? Does that mean exactly what it sounds like it means?”

“Yeah.”

“I think that’s a totally valid way of dealing with emptiness. I struggle with that a lot, and nothing really seems to help. It is comforting to know you can stop the relentless searching at any time.”

My brain is sending me a message. It seems slow but wary: There is movement by my lap.

She continues: “I like the idea of looking for fleeting pleasures. It makes me think of some forms of enlightenment which teach you to find everything you need in this moment—” Her hand is definitely on my lap now. Her fingers are beginning to curl around my leg. “—And just go for it.” She’s closing in on me now. It takes a while to realize that this is so much more than just my overactive imagination. The first hand is back by my shoulder now.

She concludes: “What do you think?” She’s holding the silence now, the whore, her stare taking up the entire realm of my vision.

I try to talk but I can’t. I can’t move apparently either. My attempts to obviate the trauma these next few crucial moments will incur are fruitless.

Oddly enough, it’s when she goes to kiss me that the spell is broken. Maybe the surreality is just too much. I tip away from her and nearly fall out of the couch when I go to get out of it. “I think I gotta go.” I shake out the head-rush I get from standing up too quickly and haphazardly gather my things, my bag, my hat, on the table that is a few wonderful steps closer to the door.

“Wait.” She gets up and follows me. I narrowly miss physical contact as I scamper to the door. “Don’t go.”

Shit, my shoes. She has a no-shoe policy, so they’re here, at my feet, by the door. She’s approaching fast, I’ll never have time to lace them. I pick them up and reach for the doorknob.

“Don’t go.” She sounds upset. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her sound upset before. It freezes me for a second, in spite of myself.

I decide to be more cordial than she’s been. “It was good to talk to you again. But I should go now. I have to go.”

“But why?”

“Because I just do.”

“I’ll behave.”

“No you won’t.”

“Please?”

I turn and eyeball her. “I’m not going to let you do this to me.”

“Do what?”

I give up. “I give up.” I open the door. Cool nighttime air clears my head a little. Almost there; almost out.

“Wait!” she says. I try not to, but I stop again. But she doesn’t say anything so I take a step toward freedom.

She takes in a ragged breath before she speaks again, this time quickly, not calculating like usual. “I drugged you. I spiked your wine. It could kick in at any time, so for your own safety you might want to let it wear off here instead of on the way home, this late, that long ride, in this weather, no one around, especially with that old bike of yours.”

…This freeze takes my brain with it. I try to process. My first thought is, So that’s what the funny taste in my mouth is. I take my time, I stay staring out the door, hand getting clammy and tight on the doorknob.

Finally I speak. “I don’t believe you.”

“Why would I lie?”

“To keep me here.”

She laughs like we’re discussing the latest quirky current event. “I’m not that crazy.”

“But crazy enough to drug me?” I try to sound unconvinced.

It works. “I can prove it,” she says.

The night out there, the outside, looks so comforting, so inviting. It holds so much potential, so many answers; but not enough. What if she’s right? What if halfway home I just fell, incoherent, unconscious, or worse? Would that be better than staying here?

I step back inside and close the door, slowly, watching every second of freedom wash away, before I can do more than taste it.

As the door clicks I hear her sigh of relief.

I drop my things. I regard my companion. I thought I knew her. What kind of company am I in? Evil, crazy, sick, lonely? I should tell her this is no way to appease the emptiness.

But I don’t. Instead I say, “Okay, prove it,” trying to muster what’s left of my assertive alpha-ness.

“Come here,” and I follow her to where the empty wine bottle rests on the counter. Beneath it is a drawer, which she opens. She pulls out a prescription bottle and a small dish dusted with white powder.

I take the pill bottle from her. The surreality has returned and made me calm. I feel like I am residing about six inches in front of and above my head.

It is a prescription, in her name, for Trazodone.

…“How many did you give me?”

“Four.”

I close my eyes.

“Not enough to kill you, obviously,” she adds quickly. “In fact you’ll be woozy and slightly incapacitated for longer than actually knocked out, especially with the wine as a mixer.”

“Mixer?”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“You’re apologizing for making a stupid joke, but not for drugging me?”

“I’m sorry about that, too.”

“Why do you have Trazodone?”

“To help me sleep.”

“Why do you need help sleeping?”

“Oh, you know…”

I’m putting some pieces together. “Borderline?”

…“How did you know?”

“You crazy bitch.”

“But how did you know?”

“Fuck this. I’m leaving while I still can.” I do feel some clarity. I turn to leave. She grabs my arm. “How did you know?

She’s never going to let me leave is all I can think as I whip around and grab her throat with my free hand. Drugged or not I am still stronger than her, and I pin her up against the wall. She’s still got hold of my arm and as my grip tightens, so does hers. Her expression is strangely blank. I feel my face get flushed and know I am doomed even before the blood rushes to my head, a thick fog that sends me reeling. I let go, she doesn’t, instead grabs my other arm as well and holds me up as I wobble. My head falls, my hand hits the wall behind her as I exhale sharply. My head does not clear, damnit. I am falling into her, which is probably the last place I want to be, and yet I am finding a certain inviting comfort in her arms. She is soft, warm, nicer than the wall, nicer than the chill which has come over me.

I inhale from the skin of her neck as she supports my body against her, and exhale again as she says, “It’s okay, I know your impulse control is just off right now.”

This angers me. “I didn’t apologize.” I pry myself from her, still with heavy bones—she lets me—and stagger to the chair on the other side of the room, hoping it will provide me with not only soft warmth but sane stability as well. She follows me and stands over me.

“How did you know?” she repeats, softly.

“How do you think I know?”

She sits in my lap. “Two peas in a pod, aren’t we?”

I groan, and roll my head away from her. I look at the door, so far away. She kisses my exposed neck, once, twice. Beneath my ear, once. My temple, once. So soft, almost loving. Her weight rests against me, trusting. Not that she has much left to fear from me.

“Why did you drug me?”

“Because I wanted you to stay and I knew you wouldn’t,” she says into my ear.

“I probably would have.”

“You were about to leave.”

I laugh, kind of bitterly. “It would not have taken much coercion to get me to stay.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“So instead of asking you drugged me?”

“I tried to make a move. That’s what made you get up to leave.”

“Jesus,” I say. “The first day you decide to follow through is the first day I decide to show some restraint, and this is what I get. I was trying not to make a fool out of myself again, don’t you see? I hate the vulnerability… Wait a minute! You made the move after you drugged me! Your reasoning is full of holes, woman.” I feel like I’m talking funny, like I’m trying to keep up with myself. I make a valiant and successful attempt to regain control, all the while thinking, How much longer will I be able to do this?

“I’ve felt you pulling away and I just wanted to make sure. I wasn’t even going to tell you. That’s why I didn’t give you that much. At that amount you could have easily blamed it on the wine.”

I do not retort. Her hand trails down my arm and onto my stomach, where it unbuttons my bottom shirt button. Cool flesh meets hot flesh as it travels beneath my shirt and around my side. As it continues its upward path she says, “Look at it this way. You know you really want this. So now you have an excuse if you regret it tomorrow. So just go with it.”

I muster some energy and push her off me. But that’s all I can do except just fall onto the ground right along with her. I’m whining something, something that feels like a vehement claim that this is not how it’s going to go down, I am not going to participate in my own assault, I will not be complicit in my own sexual abuse, but something that probably sounds like, “Not okay, not okay, not okay,” if that intelligible.

I am curled up on my side, trying to go fetal, the hardwood floor a cool comfort after the stifling coziness of the chair and this crazy bitch. But now I am being moved, shifted, and I’m whining about this too. Damnit, life can be so unfair.

I am on my back, legs stretched out. I try to pull them up, but something is holding them down. I open eyes I didn’t know were closed and she’s straddling me.

She leans in over me menacingly, pinning my weakly struggling hands above my head. “Okay, we don’t have to do it that way if you don’t want. I was just trying to make it nice for you. But how about this: You might as well just stop resisting, because no matter what, I’ll do what I want, and the effects of the drugs will only get worse, and the more you fight it, the faster you’ll pass out. And I’m assuming you’ll want as many details as you can get when you file the police report.”

I mutter a “puh” with a question mark at the end.

“Yes, I’m not going to patronize you by telling you not to go to the cops.”

She gets up, back into sitting position, letting go of my hands, which just stay here.

“Stop trying to pretend that you don’t want me.” I close my eyes. There’s so much I cannot think, let alone say right now. The reeling pendulum in my head, ignited chaotically by the struggle, is finally beginning to try to attempt to come to rest. She continues. “You talk about all these simple pleasures, this so-called ‘ethical hedonism,’ but you never went for me, even though I know you wanted to.”

She’s got a point.

“What, you’d rather just want than have?” she asks.

I really don’t think she wants me to answer, but she whacks my side. She hits me pretty hard but still I barely feel it. It’s more like a vibration; it echoes into my stomach. “Well?

To speak is difficult, but I try. I find that lying is out of the question—I’ve never been able to do it effortlessly enough, even when volition was a resource.

“Sometimes it’s easier. To want and not have,” I say.

“What do you mean, easier?”

This next bit takes me ten thousand years to say. She does not interrupt or move. “Sometimes having is more painful. When you have, you know it’s not enough, but when you only want, there’s still room for hope—hope in the unknown, or something. And plus, unrequited want lets you channel that energy into other things, but when you have, all your energy is in that, there’s no room for anything else.”

“Is that how it was with me?”

“No. With you, I just didn’t want to get fucked over.”

“That’s not fair.”

I look away. She is silent for a moment, mostly still. She plays absent-mindedly with the zipper on my jeans. I feel myself fade.

…She’s taking off her shirt. She pulls it above her head, her torso stretching with the movement. She tosses it on the ground to reveal a body smaller than I’d imagined. Beneath narrow shoulders lie small breasts, high on a narrow rib cage that is nearly visible in its shell, a small stomach above hips widened by their place above the legs straddling my own larger physique. It is becoming more clear to me just how much this would not be happening had I not been drugged. But then, am I just making excuses?

She takes my hands from their cozy place above my head and brings them to her side. The sudden movement sends pins and needles through me as she puts my hands on her waist. Her skin is comforting enough to make me aware of the discomfort in my stomach. My hands are traveling on their own—with neither her help nor mine, I assure you—around her, to the small of her back, and then up, along her spine, my thumbs still wrapped round her side. Upward, I’m beginning to feel her heartbeat pounding in my fingertips, she’s staring at me smiling, the feeling in my stomach is rising to my head.

“Are you okay?” she breaks the spell by asking. I shake my head. “Nauseous?” I nod. “Yeah, I should have seen that coming. Sorry.” Her voice is calm, calming, resonant—a good bedside manner, I think. “Come on.” She pulls me up gently, first by my arms, then my back, and props herself up on her knees as she shifts my mostly-limp body to a sitting position against the wall. She resumes her own position on my lap, her hands roaming the sides of my body.

“Better?” she asks. I nod. “Do you think you’ll be sick?” she asks. I shake my head. I neglect to inform her that it’s her skin and her smell, mostly, I think, now so much closer to the hub of my senses, that are clearing the nausea.

She returns my hands to her waist and slips her own arms around my neck. She holds me tight and her bareness against me is bringing me back to that place, just above and in front of my head, floating a little. She kisses my neck again, then my head, my cheek, my lips, my eyelid, my lips, my temple, my lips. The stimulation is giving me a bit of energy when I thought I’d had none left.

I don’t have time to consider where to channel it. I push her down and fall on top of her, my hips in between her splayed legs, keeping her grounded, my hands wrapping around her tiny shoulders from underneath, my head nestling in the curve of her neck.

She is tense for a moment but lets all this happen without a word or a movement of her own, and I feel her loosen as the energy, the lust, the sensate compulsion, the attempt at filling the void flows out of me, as slowly as it came on fast. My head lolls and I move it down to a nicer place. I kiss the salty spot in between her breasts and rest my head here, my ear hearing her chest rise and pound with each beat.

She’s muttering something muffled, something like, “See, this isn’t so bad, is it?”

…A tear falls onto her chest, my salt mingling with hers. I am turning into exactly what I told myself I wouldn’t turn into. And it’s all her fault. She’s dragging me down with her.

I lift up my heavy head. I move down her body, kissing it every few steps. I get to her belly and veer off to the side, where the tiny curve of her waist meets her hip. Her body reacts to my touch, more and more.

One more try. I bite down as hard as I can. She shrieks, one small, strong outburst, and she knocks the side of my head with a reactive force that bounces it off the ground. I’m falling back up onto her stomach, limp again, as spots swarm my vision. I close my eyes—they’re still here.

“Nice try,” she whispers in that bedside manner, ninety miles away. I am fading so fast I think I am sinking through her and through the floor and into the ground. I don’t think I can move at all now.

She picks my head up in her hands and I can’t even cringe. As it turns out I don’t need to. She’s calling my name. “Are you still awake?”

I manage to nod, slowly, slightly. It’s my last real action. She puts my head back down and we lie here like this for a while, I don’t know how long, I might be fading in and out of consciousness. I become more aware, however, when she moves me off her and onto the floor. She’s leaning over me, talking to me, asking me if I’m still awake again, but I cannot tell her that I am, so she must assume that I am not.

Then she pulls at my arms, she’s pulling me across the floor, she’s pulling me into another room. The air thickens and the light darkens, and my arm is falling across my chest.

*

“Really hurt me baby, really hurt me baby; how can you have a day without a night?”
“Like a soul without a mind, in a body without a heart, I’m missing every part.”
—Massive Attack, “Unfinished Sympathy”

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