The day I found out my husband cheated, I tried to drive to the market but cried until my eyes blurred and I had to pull over into a Tobacco Shoppe parking lot. I sucked my index finger and stuck it into my eye to fix my contact lens, just as a mud-crusted Jeep pulled into the parking spot beside me. The cute guy with dreads driving the Jeep saw me as I imagined I looked—hair wild, eyes red and wet, body a pathetic, cheat-on-able mess—and laughed. I gave him the finger, snot dripping from my nose—which I wiped with a crumbled Kleenex, then cried harder.
The day after I found out my husband cheated, I licked a stripper’s titties.
That day was a Friday. I skipped work, figuring I wouldn’t be much good at selling radio advertisement on a day I’d barely managed to brush my teeth without crying. I offered my Sales Manager a vague excuse about “the kids” and “germs” knowing that he wouldn’t ask any further questions. Uninterested to begin with, his attention span miraculously shortened at any mention of my children. “They’re cool kids,” he’d say, “I just don’t like any of ‘em!” And then he’d nudge me and wink, laughing loudly as if the joke wasn’t on me.
“Bianca! BJ! Let’s go!” I yelled up the stairs, juggling two lunches in one hand and a vibrating cell phone in the other. I ignored the call, handing over the pink princess pail to Bianca—first down the stairs, young enough to still love school—and then a plain brown paper bag to BJ, my oldest, who had recently decided that themed lunchboxes—in addition to a million other things, like nonbrand name clothes, books, and moms—were uncool.
“Bus is outside, let’s go!”
“Bye mom!” Bianca kissed my face and danced out the door.
“See ya.” BJ didn’t even look back to see the tiny wave I was hoping he’d return. The door slammed shut, and I was alone in the immaculately decorated 2,000 square foot home of my dreams.
Bruce had left early this morning. I’d watched his bald head shining in the sun all the way to his car, as he juggled his briefcase to find the car keys, which would of course be in his left pants pocket. From our second-floor bedroom window, he almost looked handsome. He always dressed spiffy for work, because apparently Ad Exec means wowing people with your charm and good looks. Plus, he’d been hitting it hard at the gym lately, probably for the pleasure of his girlfriend. Over the years he’d only gotten better looking, most likely because I was the one who had to do all the hard things like cook and clean and bear children.
Bruce had backed out of our driveway and I fought the urge to first laugh, then scream. I’d wanted him to leave the night before, but he refused, instead clipping his toenails down in the basement so that I could hear each one through the heat vent, clip clip clip—controlling the situation, and me, like always.
“It’s best for the kids if I stay, Cori.” He used the nickname he’d given me when we were still babies in college. A nickname I hated from anyone’s mouth but his.
“Don’t call me that.” The kids were already asleep and wouldn’t know the difference. “And you’re sleeping in the basement.” We had all grown so used to Daddy’s late nights and early mornings at “work” that honestly, his presence would’ve been more suspicious than his absence.
But I let him win, as always. I trudged up the stairs to bed with my head high, fully aware that he was watching and noticing the giant stain on the back of my pants from when I’d run out to the backyard in the middle of the fight, daring him to follow me, and then sitting down stubbornly in the rain-soaked grass after he didn’t.
“Goodnight,” he called up the stairs. I didn’t respond. I also didn’t sleep and was still awake when he crept upstairs in the morning, dressed quietly in our closet, and carried his toothbrush with him back downstairs. I guess the inconsiderate asshole didn’t wanna wake me.
I managed to get the kids fed, clothed, and out the door before the tears started back up. Sitting on the foyer floor, ignoring Bruce’s fifth call of the morning, I finally sent him a text that said, Not working today. To which he responded, OK. It’ll be good for you to take your mind off things, as if I was trying to forget about a shitty day at the office. The crazy thing: I never even knew we had a bad marriage. Sure, we fought sometimes like I’m guessing all married couples do, but we were also really sweet to each other. We still had regular date nights and text conversations all day at work and semi-regular sex…
I picked up my phone and started scrolling through my contacts. A few years after our wedding, Bruce had forced me to delete half of the contacts in my phone—the male half—with intentions of “being upfront and honest with each other right from the start.” Which was apparently code for: you be upfront and honest, but I get to do whatever the fuck I want.
The timer on the coffee pot chimed, but for once I was in no hurry for my daily cup. Overnight, everything in my house had gone from something ordinary to something that reminded me of Bruce. Like the accent wall we painted in the dining room when we first bought the house ten years ago—only one year after getting married, and one month before BJ was born—which we fought over before finally painting burgundy because it was a compromise between my idea (red) and his idea (brown). When we bought the cans of burgundy paint, in fact a hideous color for a dining room, I knew for sure we’d be in love forever.
Struggling to my feet with cell phone still in hand, I sauntered over to the kitchen, sneering at the accent wall along the way. The burgundy paint was only the first in a long string of gifts from my husband to me. As far as husbands went, I thought I’d hit the jackpot. He was thoughtful, kind, a giver. We went from college sweethearts, to husband and wife, to parents, with ease, mostly because Bruce was always there meeting needs. That’s what he was: a needs-meeter.
I reached in the cabinet and grabbed the mug that Bruce chipped about a year ago when he used it to capture a spider; filled it with coffee from the coffeepot Bruce bought me for Christmas the year after he bought me the other coffeepot that I didn’t like. Fucking needs-meeter.
Coffee in one hand and phone in the other, I retreated to my spot on the floor, squeezing my eyes shut as if the memories lived only there, as if closing my eyes was the answer all along. After two deep breaths—in through my nose, count to three, out through my mouth, count to two—I opened my eyes again, took a sip of too-hot coffee, and unlocked my phone.
My girlfriends were out of the question: half were equally loyal to Bruce, since we’d all met in college, and the other half were probably secretly having or wanting to have sex with him. Bruce wasn’t all-that in my opinion, but he just had that thing, that indescribable thing that made people love him and respect him before really getting to know him. Even my momma worshipped Bruce like a god. That only left my dudes: the men in my life Bruce couldn’t find a good reason to get rid of, because we’d either grown up together or Bruce thought we’d never had sex.
Like Aaron. Of all my dudes, Aaron was my favorite. He and I dated a million years ago in college, but not the same college. Mine was prestigious and massive and internationally respected. And his was right down the street. We met at a party on his campus my freshmen year, pre-Bruce, when I loved to party harder than I cared to do around people who might see me in class the next day. I came to the party that night with friends who I lost within the first ten minutes of arrival, so that when I found Aaron hiding out in the back stairwell of an otherwise overpopulated house party, I joined him. Within ten minutes of conversation about fake friends and the greatness of (drunk) Taco Bell, I knew we’d be cool forever. We kind-of dated briefly, but once I met Bruce sophomore year, I lost sight of the rest of the world.
“Aaron,” I started as soon as he picked up the call, “where you at?”
“At work, but where you need me to be?” Aaron was a real estate agent, a career he once told me he specifically picked for the flexibility. Well, that and the loads of money.
I started to ask him if he was even free to meet, but I decided not to. “Meet me at our spot in half an hour.” I rarely called, so when I did, Aaron dropped everything without asking questions.
I took a quick look at my reflection in the mirror—baseball cap pulled tight to hide my fuzzy braids, no makeup (I usually wore bronzer to turn my high-yellow into at least a warm beige), and a baggy t-shirt with faded writing on the front—before shrugging and heading out the door.
Aaron was already there when I arrived. Our spot was a bench at an apartment complex on the opposite side of town. After college, during the first of two “breaks” that Bruce and I enjoyed in our relationship (the first his idea, and the second mine—only to prove that I could), Aaron had found me there, sitting on a bench watching ducks on the water and crying. He lived across the street at the time, and apparently shared my enthusiasm for watching ducks on water when life gets shitty. We hadn’t spoken in years—mostly because I was trying to prove that I could be a good and honest partner—so seeing him there felt like more than a coincidence. Crying and hiccuping and wiping my snot on the back of my sleeve, I told Aaron about the drama with Bruce, and he didn’t laugh at me or ask me to stop crying or try to hold my hand; he just sat beside me, quiet. After that day, I’d remembered the bench as the spot where I first knew my favorite kind of love.
“What’s going on?” Aaron asked as I approached the old bench, now rusted and sagging in the middle.
“Thanks for coming,” I fell into his arms for a hug. “I just needed to see a familiar face.” The truth was, Aaron was more than just a familiar face. He was the one person I could always count on, and he knew more of my secrets than anyone. Aaron was comfortable, reliable. Home.
“Well you know I’d never object to that!” Aaron smiled, and I couldn’t help but smile back.
“Hey, what are you doing tonight?” I asked.
“I have to bartend. Why, what’s up?”
“Just didn’t want to be alone…”
“And you shouldn’t be. Come with me tonight.” Aaron grabbed my hand, and I don’t know if it was because he didn’t ask any questions about why I would be alone, or because the ducks had spontaneously arrived and were floating on the water, but I felt more peaceful than I had since I first found out about Bruce and the barely legal coworker he’d fucked.
“I’d love to,” I whispered into Aaron’s ear, letting the years between us make up for all the things I couldn’t say.
“Good.” Aaron squeezed my hand as we both faced away from each other to stare at the rippling water. “There’s just one thing, though.”
“Well,” Aaron started, turning to face me again, “I told you I bartend tonight, but I didn’t say where.” He winked, just as one of the ducks dipped her head beneath the water and disappeared.
Before that night, I hadn’t been to a strip club in years. Back when me and Bruce lived in Houston—a city I despised for the fast pace and my husband loved for the same reason—we used to go to the strip club for date nights. He loved going, and I loved pretending to like the same things he did. The truth was, pre-Bruce, I loved going to the strip club. I liked having the freedom to stare at the girls, watch their bodies bend and stretch and move without having to look away when they noticed me watching. But I hated going with Bruce. With him, the strip club became a place for me to prove I was freaky enough, down enough, and chill enough to watch him lusting after the same kind of girls he ended up cheating with.
I looked up from my seat at the end of the bar to find Aaron inches from my face, mixing a drink on the other side. “Yeah, I’m good.” I inched back and sipped the drink he placed in front of me. Jameson and ginger ale with two ice cubes. I smiled. After all this time, he still knew me so well. For a little while, I had thought that me and Aaron would end up together in the end. But at some point, I realized he knew too many of my secrets, including the ones I never told Bruce. It was better that me and Aaron were just friends. This way, I knew I’d always have him around.
“Okay, I’ll be back.” As Aaron headed down to the other end of the bar, I scoped the scene. It was a small place, with the bar against one wall, booths lining the other, and a stage in between. Despite being small, the place was filled with noise: loud music booming from the surround sound, laughter and yelled conversations. I was the only woman in the club alone. The other few women were there with men, but the majority of the clubgoers were men: men in huddles, men in twos, men alone. I wondered how I looked to them, the single woman alone in the strip club on a Friday night.
Like most Detroit businesses, the place was run-down, with a couple stools missing from the curved bar, and wood peeling from the floor. There were neon lights flashing from each corner of the cramped space, and a thick fog of smoke filling the air. I took in the smell of chicken wings cooking in the back, mixed with the distinctive odor of sweaty bodies in cheap perfume. It was still early in the night, so the strippers were still arriving and hanging out up front with their regulars. In this pre-show show, the girls giggled and talked too loud and danced like no one was watching.
“You bored?” The voice came from behind me, but it instantly surrounded me in its soothing lilt.
A dark-skinned woman with long, pressed hair took the seat beside me. She was a dancer, but with a face sweet enough to be an angel. She was even dressed in all white: white shorts that barely covered the tops of her thighs, a white bra with frayed edges, and white lacy stilettos with see-through heels and tiny slits revealing white-tipped toenails.
“I peeped you over here yawning, don’t front!” She smiled, wide, showing off a set of braces that were neon green on top and blue on the bottom.
“Oh, did you see that?” I smiled, attempting to casually turn in her direction. But the bar stool was old and rusty, so it turned out more like an awkward lurch.
“Yeah, I did.” Her eyes traced my figure from bottom to top, before resting on my eyes. I was suddenly very aware of my outfit—a pair of loose-fitting jeans and a once-sexy-now-stretched tank top that was almost completely hidden by a gold-colored cardigan—the same outfit I’d worn to Bianca’s second grade winter choir concert the week before.
“Long day,” I said, attempting to open my cardigan without seeming too obvious. Another awkward fail, as I ended up fumbling with the top button. “But I’m awake now. What’s your name?”
“Levi,” she replied with a giggle. I wasn’t sure what was funny, but I giggled too. Something about her laugh, her entire aura, felt contagious. “What’s yours?”
“Corrine.” Staring into her eyes was intense, like staring into the sun. “But you can call me Cori.” I wasn’t sure why I said it, but it felt right once I did.
“Cori.” In her mouth, the nickname my husband had soured turned sweet again. “I like that.” Levi reached out her hand to shake mine, and I took it nervously. Her skin was soft, and when she gave my hand a tiny squeeze, it felt like being wrapped tight in a fuzzy blanket.
“Shots?” Aaron was suddenly there and staring at us as we stared at each other. I broke from Levi’s gaze long enough to shoot Aaron a look that I hoped he’d understand. “Two shots of Patrón, coming right up.” He gave me a sly smile, disappeared, then returned with the shots before I could think of anything to say to Levi that wouldn’t make me seem too old, too lonely, or too weird.
“Can I get some ice cubes?” Levi asked, as Aaron set down three glasses, one for each of us.
“For what?” Aaron asked.
“Just bring her the ice.” I had just met her, but I was immensely anxious to be alone with Levi again. Her vibe made me feel almost reckless, and I was thirsty for more.
Aaron reached down into the bin and came back up with a cupful of ice, which he placed in front of her. “Madam,” he offered sarcastically. Levi didn’t seem to notice, reaching into the cup happily and pulling out the first ice cube, which she began to suck and melt between her thick lips.
“What are you doing?” I asked. Instead of responding, Levi stuck out her tongue, showing me the diminished ice cube resting on it. Then, she stuck her tongue into her tiny shot glass, where the ice now fit perfectly.
“Wait, you waterin’ down shots?” Aaron yelled, getting hype on purpose so everyone could hear. But the music was so loud, I don’t think anybody heard except us, and maybe the creepy old dude sitting two seats down. I rolled my eyes at Aaron, even though I had the same question.
“Whatever,” she said, which shut Aaron up, and we watched as she sucked and melted and watered her shot down. “Ready?” Levi finally asked, holding up her glass.
“Ready.” I raised my glass and grabbed a lime from the bowl Aaron had set out.
“Who wants to make the toast?” Aaron asked. He never took shots without a toast, one of his many virtues. “A shot without a toast is like sex without foreplay,” he used to say, and then he’d toast, we’d take shots, and then move on to the foreplay and sex.
“I will,” Levi answered, lifting her overflowing glass, “and I’ll keep it short and sweet.” She cleared her throat and sat up straight on the bar stool, which made my eyes land immediately on her cleavage. “While we live,” she paused to melt me with her stare, “let’s live.” Aaron and Levi took their shots, with me a full second behind just trying to remember how to breathe. Still, I took the shot fast, and slammed my glass down on the bar in perfect time with them.
“More shots?” In the almost two decades we’d known each other, I’d puked from shots— specifically, Patrón shots—on several occasions, so Aaron already knew the answer.
“Yes, please.” Levi responded before I could, then grabbed a straw to finish off the last of her first watery drink. Something about the ridiculous effort made me want to reach out and stroke her hair, humid and thick in the steamy club, which she tucked behind her ears whenever she spoke.
“Aaron, no,” I started, but the matching glasses were already lined on the bar, and soon filled with clear liquid. Levi picked up two shots, mine and hers.
“Come on,” she whispered through pouted lips, and I knew right then I would do anything she asked. I hadn’t always been open to fooling around with girls. Before Levi, I had only spontaneously kissed one girl in college. Well, I’d also had a month-long sort-of relationship with another girl, but that didn’t really count. She was my sorority sister, and for a while, one of my closest friends. We did everything together—partied, drank, kissed boys. One night at her apartment, she caught me watching her with some guy we’d met at the club. Before things could go any further she’d made him leave, and then kissed me all night instead. For the next month we kissed and groped every night and then pretended during the day that nothing had happened. We were still best friends, but even more. Being with her was the closest I’d ever come to feeling like the me in the mirror matched the me in the world. A feeling that, at the time, was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. One night at a party she got too drunk and held my hand in front of two guys, and so I ended things the next night by sleeping with her ex.
I took the cold glass from Levi’s hand and sucked it into my mouth in one quick motion. I was a long way away from yesterday. From Bruce’s forced confession and the Tobacco Shoppe parking lot. I giggled. Levi giggled.
“Damn!” Aaron laughed from his side of the bar, impressed by my drinking or my slurping, I wasn’t sure. That is, until he mouthed the next part: “You should lick her titties.”
I wasn’t sure how he’d gotten from Point A to Point B so quickly, but suddenly it was all I could think about, my tongue on her breasts, my mouth on her body. I looked around quickly, wondering if something like that was even allowed. And everywhere I looked, there was touching. Lots of touching. More than I thought was allowed at the strip club, but then again, we were in Detroit. There was a whole different set of rules in Detroit.
“Would you mind?” I asked her, because it seemed like the right thing to say.
“No,” she answered easily, pulling down on the tiny piece of fabric that once covered her, but now left her exposed. In a room filled with implants, her breasts were perfectly palm-sized. I traced the outline of each one with my finger before cupping the softness in my hand. I pinched her nipple, soft, between my thumb and pointer finger. Then dipped my head and replaced the pinch with one tiny lick, then a longer one, and a suck, and a nibble.
“Damn!” Aaron was there again, finding his way through my haze, and the song was over, and we were back at the bar. Me teetering on the edge of my bar stool and leaning into Levi, who was now replacing her bra. I tried to catch her eye, but she was busy mouthing the words to the song that had just come on, fiddling with the straw in her empty glass.
“Levi, next up.” The DJ’s announcement caused her to stand too quickly, knocking a pile of napkins to the floor. I rushed and picked them up to avoid looking at Aaron, who I knew would be watching me. Sure enough, when I stood back up Aaron was staring at me and Levi was gone.
“What?” I asked, discarding the dirty napkins at the edge of the bar.
Aaron threw his hands up in the air and shook his head with a laugh creeping onto his face. “Not my business,” he mouthed, then turned to a couple who had just sat down. One of the things I’d always loved about Aaron was his ability to be either completely hands-on or completely hands-off, depending on which I needed. And I think he knew this was a moment to be hands-off, based on a time years ago when I told him about hooking up with the girl in college, and he called me “Kinda-bi-Rie” a few times, before realizing it wasn’t something I wanted to joke about. Later, his jokes made me ask myself too many questions, and after spending a few weeks trying to figure out if I was indeed bisexual, I decided I probably wasn’t since I could never see myself bringing a girl home to my momma. Even though there were lots of other things I could see myself doing to her…
I settled back into my seat, suddenly wishing I had another shot of tequila. I pulled my phone out from my back pocket and checked my notifications. Three texts, all from Bruce, who had eagerly volunteered to pick up the kids from school when I said I had plans.
Got the kids. How was your day?
Are you coming home tonight?
I miss you.
I slammed the phone onto the bar, facedown, caught Aaron’s eye, picked up my empty shot glass, and shook it to let him know I needed another. He nodded, then went back to pouring a drink for the smiling-too-big woman in front of him. I spun my stool around to face the stage, where two dancers—one tall and skinny with a tattoo that went from her right thigh all the way up her back; the other shorter with the kind of butt you only see in twerk videos—worked their separate poles, then met in the middle and switched sides. By the end they were both topless, sweaty, and wading through one-dollar bills.
Finally, I spotted Levi in a new outfit. She’d traded white for black—skintight black leather pants, a black laced-up bustier, black lipstick painted on her full lips—but kept the white stilettos from before. She looked like a sexy skunk. The female Pepé Le Pew. I laughed quietly to myself at the image, a small snort escaping from my nose. Or maybe not as small as I thought, because Aaron shook his head from down the bar. He knew better than anyone that once I started snorting, it was over. I lay my head against the cold bar and gave him a tiny smile that I hoped said, You already know.
Levi climbed the stage steps slowly, as if afraid to fall. Even once she reached the top, she held on to the rail with hands that even from the bar, I could see were shaky. But then the song changed. This one—a slow and sexy hip-hop joint—was Levi’s song, I knew, because as soon as the bass dropped, her whole demeanor changed. She wrapped her body around the pole and climbed, slow, to the top, only spinning down after flipping upside down in midair, with her legs pointed out in a perfect V. I was drooling all over myself, seriously impressed as she slid back down the pole, even slower now, with her body hugging tight against the metal. Her hips moved in perfect rhythm with the music, rolling and popping and grinding against the pole. Then, when I thought it couldn’t get any better, she began to undress. She slid off one thing at a time until all that was left were the white heels. Her dark brown skin was covered in a sparkly shimmer that was both mesmerizing and hypnotizing. For the rest of the song, I didn’t move. Everything in the room disappeared. There was only beautiful, sweet, need-meeting Levi.
“Here you go.”
I don’t know how long he’d been standing there, but Aaron was in front of me with the shot I requested. “Thanks,” I think I said. Levi’s dance was over. I watched as she pulled her bustier on and scooped up the last handful of singles from the stage, before heading my way.
Onstage, she was a stripper. No doubt. But as she walked back over to me, wobbling and sticking her tongue into the crevices of her braces, she was just a girl. A girl who, for some reason, came back to me, grabbed my hand, and whispered in my ear: “Wait for me.” She walked away without looking back, because she already knew that I would.
The club looked different with the lights on. And the dancers looked different, too. They came out in leggings and stretchy tees and boots, laughing and talking and listening to music in their earbuds. I felt like a tourist and had to keep reminding myself not to stare. I looked back down at my phone, where Bruce’s messages were still waiting.
Got the kids. How was your day?
Are you coming home tonight?
I miss you.
. . .
Everything I wrote, I deleted. There was so much to say, and nothing to say. Hell, I didn’t even know if I wanted to stay married to Bruce. I’d started a pros and cons list the night before when I couldn’t sleep but got annoyed when there were way more “pros” for staying with my loving adulterer than “cons.” I frowned one last time at the text screen, then flipped over to Facebook instead, and typed “Levi” into the search bar. I changed the filters to search for friends of friends, and then people in my city, but the only “Levi”s who came up were men, and one white woman with two kids and a giant dog in her profile. Not my Levi.
“You waitin’ on somebody?” I looked up and found myself face-to-face with a large woman who had locs down to her shoulders and muscles that showed even in her too-big security shirt.
“Yeah, I’m friends with the bartender.” I tried to sound casual as I craned my neck in one direction and then the other, wondering where Aaron had gone. I became suddenly aware of exactly how many tequila shots I’d had, as the room started to spin in slow motion.
“Okay.” The security guard was still watching me suspiciously. I smiled, then went back to my phone before she could ask me anything else. I opened my Contacts and found Bruce’s listing under “Hubby.” That needed to change. I deleted letter by letter, starting with H, as I tried to think of something to replace it with. The security guard gave up on me and headed toward the door where a group of guys was still hanging around, trying to flirt with all the dancers as they walked by.
“Wait a minute,” I heard one of the girls yell, “where my girl Levi at? She’ll tell you.” She was short, so short that if we weren’t in the strip club, I would bet money she was a high schooler. She even wore her hair in two braided pigtails, but with enough weave that the braids hung down past her butt. Her eyes were low and slitted, perfect crescent moons that flashed green contact lenses and long fake eyelashes. And her mouth looked soft, even from here. I wondered how well she knew Levi.
“Here she come!” Before she even finished her announcement, I was already spun around in my seat and looking for Levi. She had just come through the bead curtain that separated the dancer’s room at the back of the club. In one hand she held her stilettos, and in the other she carried a light blue gym bag with the word “happy” plastered on front.
“What’s up,” she said with a smirk, walking towards the crowd. As she passed me I sat up straighter, poking my chest out and licking my already wet lips, but she didn’t even look my way.
“You ready to go?” Aaron was back, behind me, whispering in my ear.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. I’m ready.” I glanced over at Levi, fully engrossed in a conversation with the guys now, her little pinky interlocked with the short girl’s little pinky.
“Cool, let’s go.” Aaron grabbed my hand and pulled me from my seat. I tried to think of an excuse to wait a little longer, but Aaron was already headed to the door. I followed, looking down at my feet, whispering “excuse me” as we worked our way through the crowd.
“You not gon’ say bye?” I looked up and Levi was there again, in my face and smirking.
“I thought you were busy,” I said, “with your girl.” I nodded at the short dancer, who had her finger in the face of a guy with twisted hair and a cigarette hanging off his lips.
“Aisha? Nah, that’s my best friend.” She was so close now our lips were almost touching. Her eyes, when she looked at me, were two lined-up shots of Patrón.
“Okay.” I looked around for Aaron. “So, is Levi your real name?” As soon as it was out of my mouth, I knew it was a bad question. The last time I asked a woman that question, it didn’t end so well. I was in New York for a work conference and met her at a reading for one of my favorite poets, who was one of her favorite poets, too. I watched her snap her fingers and vibe to the rhythm of smooth spoken word as I pretended to do the same, but really, I was too consumed with watching her. She wore thick braids in a high ponytail atop her head, showing off a low buzz cut at the nape of her neck. When she smiled, I noticed the creases inside her lips where the red lipstick hadn’t reached, leaving soft, pink skin exposed, the color of her tongue.
“What’s your name?” I had asked later, as we waited in line for the poet to sign our books. She’d started the conversation, complimenting my twists and offering me a sweet smile.
“Dani,” she replied, tucking a braid behind her ear so that her ears poked out, just a little.
“Corinne,” I said, though she never asked. When she reached the front of the line, I pulled up Facebook and searched for Dani + New York, but by the time she was done, I hadn’t found any promising results. I sped through my turn at the front of the line, and then near-chased her to the front door where she was preparing to leave.
“Hey, is Dani your real name? Because I can’t find you.” I waved my phone in front of her face, with the search still open and all the wrong “Dani”s lined up for her to see.
“Umm, I don’t have Facebook.” I never found out if it was true or not, because she left before I could even ask for one last sweet smile.
Levi popped her gum loudly, pulling me back into the present. “What do you mean,” she asked. “You think Levi sounds like a stripper name or somethin’?”
“No,” I answered, speaking fast, “I think it’s a beautiful name.” I smiled. “For a beautiful girl.” I frowned. I sounded like a creep.
But Levi didn’t seem to notice, because she smiled back. “Give me your phone.” I handed it to her without hesitation, only remembering once it was in her hands that the last screen I was on was Bruce’s contact, where I’d just deleted the “H,” leaving only “UBBY.” She chuckled as she began to type. I watched my screen mirrored in her eyes, as she went from Contacts to Home to Messages.
“What are you doing?” I finally asked, just as Aaron’s head poked back into the doorway. He saw me and gestured for me to come on, but I pretended not to see.
“I sent me a message,” Levi said, handing me the phone. “From you.” She winked, and then grabbed the waiting hand of her short friend before prancing out the door. I opened my texts and found one new message sent at the top.
You better not forget about me.
I read it five times before locking my screen and heading outside to meet Aaron. As if I could.
Twenty minutes later I was in Aaron’s bed, alone, with my cell phone and a chicken quesadilla combo from Taco Bell. He’d offered to sleep on the couch, even though he and I had shared a bed many times, with and without sex. But I was happy for the space. I pulled up Levi’s text and took a giant bite of my hard-shell chicken taco as I tried to think of a response. My phone vibrated. I sat up quickly, thinking it was her, but instead I had another message from Bruce, except Levi had updated his name in my phone. I burst out laughing at her hilarious update and had to take a minute to get myself back together before finally reading the message.
Please just let me know you’re safe.
Now my laugh turned quickly to a frown. This was Classic Bruce. When all else fails, play the role of loving husband and protector, the fastest way back into your wife’s good graces. But not tonight. Tonight, Bruce would not get the comfort of knowing whether his wife would forgive him or not. Tonight, Bruce would be the one worrying. I flipped back over to the screen where Levi’s message, from me to her, waited. Although since the message was technically from me, it was really on her to respond. With that in mind, I switched over to Snapchat. With her phone number, I was able to find her easily, and I added her right away. Then I frowned, again. Because again, I was being a creep.
I was always this way with women. With men, I could do a cool combination of goofy and awkward that caught and held their attention easily. But with women, I turned into this alternate version of myself. It was as if regular Corrine couldn’t just be herself with women, so some other creepy version had to come out whenever the time arose. Creepy Corinne. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I remembered the name I had secretly given myself back then.
The first time I met Creepy Corinne I was still in middle school. My best friend Porsha had long, thick hair that she wore curled with bows every single day, even when it rained. We met in band—I played the flute, she played the clarinet—and were inseparable. Then we went to band camp. One night in our cabin, I asked Porsha if I could touch her hair. She didn’t respond right away, so I took it in my hands and held it, stroking it between my fingers. After camp, Porsha never spoke to me again, but I didn’t regret what I did. I lost a friend, but I got to keep forever the smell of coconut oil and pink lotion with the softness of her curls twisted in my hands.
My phone vibrated. A notification from Snapchat. Levi added you! I went back to her text message and typed with fast fingers, taking nervous bites of my taco as I waited for her response.
I see you made it home safe. It was great meeting you tonight.
It was good meeting you too!
I hope you come back to see me
I definitely will. Good night.
Then, for good measure, I sent one last text.
Please just let me know you’re safe.
New phone, who dis?
It wasn’t exactly me—hell, I had just learned the phrase a week ago from the recent college grads at my job—but it felt right. Felt good. Tonight, for once, I wasn’t going to be Cori, the loving wife and mother. I wasn’t even going to be Creepy Corinne, or any other exhausting version of myself. Tonight, I was just going to be alone. I balled up my Taco Bell trash and tossed it in the bag beside the bed. Then cuddled up in Aaron’s sheets and fell asleep to the sweet hum of my vibrating phone.