Mangoes

Last week I ate a mango like an apple, forgoing the cutlery. The juice dripped down my chin and stuck between my fingers. I had no shame about the loud squelching and appreciated the fleshy eroticism of it. Why not? It was a Friday afternoon, and there were three people working who sit on the opposite side of the office from me. No one walked in on the carnal act, and I don’t think I would be so devastated if they did. Point is it was the most delicious mango I’ve ever sunk my teeth into.

And it was a steal too. Got a box of mangoes last week from Valli for 7 bucks. Say what? Did you know that mangoes are super heroes? They are cancer preventers, immune system boosters, cholesterol-lowering wildebeests, just to name a few of the street cred names they’ve obtained. They are also good for your eyes, skin, digestive tracts. Sweet deal.

Hey, did you also know the plural form of mango is both “mangoes” and “mangos”? Either or is fine as long as you’re consistent. English will never make up its mind. I’m going with “mangoes.” Why the hell not?

Today I started my morning with mangoes in cottage cheese with a piece of toast. I ate this while I finally did my taxes. I think I might go to the library and feed my brain with something packed with nutrients and life-enhancers. Gonna go feed my brain some mangoes.

 

Garden of two goddesses

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Just us girls. Camping in the wilderness without the Seans. Two Seans. I have a Sean, and Alexa has a Sean. It just ended up that way. I told her when she was single that she didn’t necessarily need, but could use a Sean to keep her warm at night. It wasn’t hard to look. We all grew up in the same town a few miles away from each other on blocks named after trees. We’re good people. Or at least I like to think so.

But back to camping and rocking out in nature with our vags out. Not really. I mean, our vags are in our pants, but they’re as swampy as a bowl of French onion soup after hiking all day.

I built a fire for the first time ever, and we roasted seasoned vegetables over it. Mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, red peppers. Alexa used lemon and garlic powder to season the vegetables and slapped them down into a homemade tin foil bowl. She wrapped them up tight. She calls these things “hobo pockets,” which as a word is mildly offensive, but quite wonderful as a meal.

I feel full and toasted around the edges. My center is as mushy as the potatoes we gobbled up. We weren’t sure the potatoes were ever going to cook. But they turned out to be worth the wait.

I’m thinking about that phrase “having a friend at the end of the world.” I know there’s a movie with a similar title. But I’m not talking about the movie. I’m talking about Alexa and me. We’re two friends, and it’s not the end of the world, but if it was, I think I’d be okay on this melded, moss-freckled rock in the heart of the Shawnee National Forest.

Alexa came up with the idea to go camping without our doting, lovely boyfriends, so we hopped in her car and drove the five hours, just to say we set up camp and lived. And lived we did.

At first the ground was hard and refused our stakes. We forgot to bring a hammer. We used our hands, grunted with our entire bodies. Alexa used her car’s window scraper. And I used a wine bottle, which wasn’t the brightest idea. We dragged the tent farther into the campsite, and eventually we landed on a spot that would take.

Unfortunately, the only camp site that was available when we arrived was the one next to the outhouses. This is our luck. And so, the wind wafted the worst smell known to man, his own excrement, of course. Nothing hangs on the nose more than our own shit. It’s kind of funny, actually. Alexa and I like to think of ourselves as regular older poopers, and the campsite fits. And the thing about bad smells, as Alexa reminded me, is that you get used to them the longer you’re around them.

Alexa packed up a real feast: pita chips and hummus, buns, vegan sausages, and loads of vegetables. She bundled everything together in a basket like it was a Christmas package for us to unravel together. Complete the scene with an open fire.

I am overcome with gratitude and s’mores-layered love for my friend who always thinks ahead and crosses items off lists. This is a very true characteristic about her. She’s punctual, prepared, and sometimes a little anxious about how the future will play out.

As a whole, Alexa is one of those people who has a feeling but can’t quite put her finger on how genuinely beautiful of a person she is. She has had to grow up very fast in household with a single mother with severe untreated depression. In the beginning of our friendship, I recall a cynical, but loving Alexa who doted on her mother and her every whim.

Eventually, she loosened the string around such a tightly bound tangle. She, as an only child, did this much later than some. But like all of us, there comes a time when we have to let go of our parents’ hands for their sake and our own. I know this from Alexa and myself, and well, a lot of people.

I realize as we roam the Garden of the Gods wilderness — dry, dusty, and laundered in long, thick brush —  that I’m proud of my friend and myself for getting along in world we define as our own.

Last night, we ventured down the gravel road leading away from our campsite. We let our heavy heads sag from our necks as we surveyed the stars that were so close to our faces they could stick to our flesh. We were standing on the inside of a purple marble. The stars blinked. And some of the blinking stars turned out to be planes.

I peered into the pitch black road. I was suddenly cold and hyperaware of the darkness, but held onto the lantern, the stars and planes, and the length of time it took for me to realize that I couldn’t possibly die alone in that moment standing next to Alexa. She would be there to help testify the life I lived and the life she played a significant role in.

(Alexa. Wearing a checkered hoodie and green rain boots, about to walk her her golden retriever in the rain. It’s the image I’ve come to associate with her more than anything else.)

But this trip has given me so many more images to preserve like jam. There was a moment last night when we were talking. We had a bit of wine, and all of a sudden Alexa broke out in a sweat and laid her head on the picnic table. She told me she was scared she would pass out. I was overcome with a sick, frozen fear, and my mind raced. We were after all in the middle of nowhere and without cell phone service. How smart of us, I criticized in my head.

I ratcheted back and forth to conclusions. Food poisoning. Altitude sickness. Some wild bacteria. I finally reached the conclusion where I would be no where and nothing without her. I asked her if she needed me to run for help. But she assured me she just needed to rest her head for a while.

I thought maybe it had been my fault. I had been telling her about my family and struggles. Maybe it was too much to hear. That noise makes me dizzy too. Sometimes I feel I say too much and the weight of words fall on Alexa, who takes the brunt of my conscious fears and levels of distrust. I said nothing and wondered if I was too heavy of a friend, and then Alexa lifted her head, and said, “WHOO, I think I just needed a good sweat. I feel better.”

She felt better, and I felt drunken relief and sober joy.

In the morning, we finagled out of our tent and drank cold coffee. We decided to drive down to a gas station where we’d have service and could call our boyfriends to tell them we were alive. Alexa drove, and we kept cracking jokes to cover up the wrong turns. But soon enough, we both admitted to each other we were lost.

“I don’t remember that barn, do you?” we asked each other. We drove alongside rows and rows of Illinois’ finest fucking corn that started to look like a blurry sea.

Alexa and I have a habit of getting lost together. One time, we almost got locked in a forest preserve, another one in rural Illinois, past dark. We saw a deer on our wrong way back to the car. And Alexa couldn’t getting over me calling it “a total deer.” In most cases, our wrong turns tend to be worth it.

As suburb folk, so much of Illinois is beyond our reach. Barrels of hay, windmills, and busted down barns. Driveways that run deep into low hanging greenery. Dusty, desolate towns. Men on tractors and underneath cars, covered in the grime of work. Women sitting in lawn chairs, smoking. Kids waddling around in diapers. We drove through one town that was completely dedicated to something called “Mule Days.” Signs with mules are displayed on lawns across the town of Enfield, Illinois.

Alexa, a vegan, made quick, painful eye contact with the cows we passed in trucks. I could tell she was also getting nervous about being lost, and told her that we always find our way.

2 and a half hours later, we eventually found our way back. We didn’t waste any time on our embarrassment as we threw water and snacks into Alexa’s back pack. She let me carry the camera, and I let it dangle on its strap from my shoulder.

We climbed jagged steps and grabbed hold of tree trunks to help us along the trails. Our calves began to scream, and perspiration clung to our lower backs. The stones, which were formed millions of years ago, have lizard skin. The red and silver patterns swirl and twist and shine like molten lava. Some stones reminded me of layered paper flowers. The largest boulders could each be their own landmark. They sit on top of each other in clumsy, yet sturdy ways. Leaning, bowing, bending, rolling stones piled and piled one on top of the next.

I didn’t know what I was doing, really, but I snapped picture after picture. We ran into a group of people who were resting next to their horses. I asked to take a picture of this man and his horse. Alexa laughed and told me it was like I had never seen a horse before. I’m pretty much this way in every new setting. It’s all context.

A small creek kept us company while we ate lunch — peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I paced back and forth to prevent the flies from getting too cosy on me.

By the time we arrived to the campsite, we were stumbling underneath the weight of our exhaustion.

Right now we’re sitting next to each other on rocks and writing. I’m sipping wine from a coffee mug, drinking away my body’s aches. It’s getting darker, and after the taste of the stars last night, I’m hungry for more. They could be dessert.

This is the land of the gods, and we’re two awkward, but strong goddesses keeping a close eye on our steps.

Believe in baths

If God is water, then Sundays
are reserved for soaking in the tub.

The bath salts fizzle and crack,
I hear the snap of the candle —
this one’s called cashmere plum.

I pump my legs like riding a bike
against a lukewarm tidal wave,
hoping the words will come.

I guess I’m thinking too hard,
so I focus on the follicles,
proud and stubborn,
protruding from my sweating flesh,

and the candle wax drips.

I swipe my razor,
but the soap is misleading.
it’s not enough
it’s never enough

paving the way to a perfect shave.
(I still feel the sharp parts.)

And then it occurs to me
that every bath is baptism.

There’s so much left on
this earth, in this tub
for me to accept.

No one is ever loved enough.

After the great plunge,
I sit up, drenched
and heart-quenched.

I latch onto my elbows,
hug my knees,
these knobs
are not smooth or soft;
but they’re something to hold onto.

I bend my spine crane-like
follow my folds,
trace the watered down lines.

Total body stretch

Alexa and I stretched today.
She laid out a blanket on the floor
in her room.

Her room is blue.

It’s covered in photographic memories,
discolored thrift finds
worn by use and age
and someone else’s hands
that handled these finds
from time to time,
in coming and going.

We grew up a little in this room

and stretched alongside a woman
on a screen.
She wore tube socks
that covered her entire calves
and grazed her thighs.

When she pulled her limbs,
we pulled ours.
When she rolled her head,
we rolled ours.

Before sleep

Where’s the depth, baby
oh, there it is
we fucked a hole in
the bedspread.

I’m not even mad.

face to face
on pillows.
on separate islands.
I asked what you dreamed
as a kid

you don’t remember.

can we play hooky
can we go camping
can we screw some holes
in the time it takes to grow old?

can we wear each other’s faces?

It’s been a long time
since you shaved
your beard
but today you did
because you accidentally
trimmed too far.

I can’t stop touching
your childhood.
you made plumbing
out of sticks
to assist the ants.
oh, and one time
in Boy Scouts
you saw innards
of a deer draped
like red scarves over a tree.

I asked if the bits scared you
and shook your bank for more.

I feel like a memory grubber.

Before sleep, you let me
play with unexplored
parts of you.
your earlobes
are trampolines,
your nose
is a sturdy bridge.

Maybe I’m asking
wrong questions

like if I teach you
how to dream,
will you teach me how
to sleep soundly?

TGIF

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Fridays are holy days for Alexa and me. I’ve never written about our Fridays. My guess is that I can’t paint them just right. I’ll smudge em up too much. Or maybe there’s something untouchable about them, something that’s reserved for us only. But lately we’re all about being brave and sharing what is most important to us — and that includes each other.

This Friday we went rollerblading through Busse Woods. Though it was a fairly mild winter, we still couldn’t help but seize the first spring-ish day. Alexa didn’t have work, and I was released into the wild early. We hopped into my little red Mazada, which desperately needs a car wash. We parked and feverishly laced up our blades. Alexa wobbled on her feet, asking, “I’m stable, are you stable?”

The pathway was mostly ours. Our muscles remembered the zigzag movement, the loud breeze blasting in our ears. Busse Lake was calm and stretching out in the sun. The trees protruded their nakedness. As soon as we began sweat clung to the middles of our backs.

Alexa and I talked about our plans. She told me how she wanted to be more spontaneous with her workouts, instead of stuffing them into a strict regimen. I told her I wanted to pick up running again, since this time of year is my favorite time to run. We talked about writing. She told me about her blog’s new look and setup, that she wants to work on a new challenge. Her last challenge was not to eat out in order to save money, and she rocked it. I told her about a recent blog I wrote about Trump that wasn’t very good, just something I needed to get off my chest, and also about this book of poems I’ve been putting together that I’d like her help in organizing.

We trucked through the eight-mile trail. We barreled up hills, rounded sharp corners, forgoing the treacherous sticks and patches of tar on the pavement. There was a point where Alexa was trying “too hard to be cool” and almost fell backwards. My heart skipped a beat as she flapped her arms like a crazed bird. We laughed at the close call, and she reminded me of the time last summer we went rollerblading, and I almost ate shit. I had instinctively reached for her arm. “So you want to take me down with you, huh?” she had asked.

We spotted a few of the famous elk lazing around in the grass. It’s amazing how the enchantment of seeing them in a town we’ve lived in most of our lives hasn’t worn off yet.

At the end of the trail, we both sighed our contentment. Even though the blades were off, it felt like they were on. It’s weird how certain movements imprint themselves into your limbs, how they stay with your body for a while afterward.

Before going to Alexa’s, we stopped at the Tensuke Market and picked up some plum wine and seaweed wraps for the sushi we were to make for dinner. I was distracted by all the adorable dishware to eat sushi from. I made a mental note to explore this store on my own, as I never had before. The young man who checked us out bowed each time he received and returned our money, which took us both aback.

Alexa showed me how to assemble sushi. You lay out the wrap, slap some sticky rice on the paper, line up the vegetables, wet the end of the wrap, and roll it nice and tight. The end product awkwardly enough feels like an erect penis. How adult of us to notice this. Anyway, then you slice the log into individual rolls. I think Alexa might have cut more rolls than me because I was talking a lot. I can’t exactly remember everything I said, but I do remember talking and talking. Poor Alexa. That shit has to get exhausting. I get really close to her face when I talk, a pesky habit of mine, which I think used to make her kind of wary. Hopefully by now she’s gotten over my bubble-popping invasiveness.

Her dog Bubba was licking his beautiful, big chops, waiting for us to drop food on the floor in the kitchen. Alexa caved into his demands, giving him a meatball for rolling over. Gale was in the living room, focusing on this new sketch she’s working on of a German Shepherd. She was precise, using a ruler to measure out the face’s dimensions. She showed me the sketch of a friend’s backyard that she had been working on. It’s as inviting as the real thing. The koi fish, the grass, the knick-knacks, Stanley the cat’s tail flickering around the shed. Gale has a way of capturing real life and then some. In my room is a framed sketch that she drew of me. It’s so beautiful I was intimidated to put it up when I first received it. It was like she tapped into something that I sometimes have difficulty seeing and believing myself.

Alexa and I went into her room. We wolfed down our sushi rolls and sipped the plum wine. We scrolled through social media, and read about the Bernie rally that some of our friends had attended. And then it suddenly occurred to us: why didn’t we go?

It dawned on both of us that it would have been really something to be a part of the history we were watching before our very eyes. There was Sanders in his element and glowing, waving his conductor hands, hitting on all the big ones — healthcare, college loans, Wall Street, women’s rights, the lead-poisoned residents in Flint, and the U.S.’s dwindling infrastructure, etc. People of all colors, ages, genders, and ethnicities cheered behind and around him, armed with their “A Future to Believe in” signs. Muse’s Uprising began to play. “They will not control us… We will be victorious…”

Here is a man who has dedicated his whole life to people’s rights, who flies down escalators, who talks with his hands. At 74, he’s awakening a tired and angry America looking for more long-term change. Sanders represents all of them. And he represents Alexa and me. We could have been there, standing shoulder to shoulder with all the others.

In any case, I was happy that I was watching the rally with Alexa. When she got up to go to the kitchen for some more sushi, I gave her hug. I told her, “Man I can’t believe we’re alive right now.”

This was also the same night that Chicago protestors shut down the Trump rally. UIC, one of the most diverse campuses in a melting pot city. This had to have been planned? A publicity stunt. But in any case, the protestors had the place surrounded. They shut. it. down. I’m proud of their efforts, but I’m anxious to learn about the next city to replicate the maneuver — next time with people getting seriously hurt. The truth is I’m scared about the chaos, just like a lot of people I know. The Nazi incitements, the violent Trump rallies, the amount of blatant hatred being tossed about the streets in large hoards of people, which is nothing new, exactly.

I mean everyone seems to be calling this a revolution, and the thing about revolutions if I can remember right from the textbooks and people who are alive to talk about living through one, is that it goes beyond the breaches of electing a president. This is something that needs to be system-wide, population-wide. And I feel we still have miles to go if we want this to happen.

Here’s what I know about organized chaos, since I’ve been somewhat versed in it on a micro level — right now is a chance for great opportunity for those who want to help. During this very alarming time in our country my gut tells me that now is the time to start showing extra strength and kindness. Now is the time for the ones who care to start thinking outside the box to finally get outside the box. I don’t know what that means for me just yet, but I’m willing to be open about it and find out.

I petted the extra soft parts on Bubba’s paws, between the pads. I tried to move him so I could have more room on Alexa’s bed, but failed. He’s such a large animal. His humans keep him safe and happy. And he spends the majority of his day just loving people.

***Alexa and I challenged each other to write about this Friday together. Check out hers here! http://alexawynne.com/2016/03/14/the-politics-of-rollerblading/

 

My quest for porn that doesn’t make me feel like shit

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I’m pretty selective when it comes to watching porn. First of all, the timing has to be just right. I usually wait until I can’t take it anymore, and I just want to get it over with — watch it and relieve myself, that is. The feeling usually swims inside me when I’m alone, and my femininity is pounding at the floodgates.

I guess I wait because masturbation is not at the top of my priorities. It was at one point, but then I started coming up with excuses not to enjoy my body, and instead wear it down with despair and worry. Plus, I have a boyfriend. (“Isn’t that, like, his job?” I’ll internally complain.)

Anyway, it’s always a light bulb reaction. Like watching porn is the smartest idea I’ve ever come up with. And I skip around my room, brimming with excitement. I check to see if the coast is clear, then open up the laptop and type “porn” into Google quickly and secretly, like it’s my social security number. I click on the first link that pops up, which I’m sure a good majority of people know is Pornhub. I scan the first page or two, check the percentages of enjoyment and hover my mouse over anything that especially catches my attention, which is usually nothing.

I go to my default category — gangbang or orgy — because I like a lot of people and parts in my porn. Or at least that’s what I thought I like.

I browse for a good 15 minutes. My eyes catch the featured video clip in the sidebar, some light speed fuck fest or something else. (Today, it was a giggly blonde woman wriggling out of a frilly thong.) I scroll through no more than two pages, trying to stay clear of things that say, “Dirty whore takes two cocks…” and instead looking for titles like “Two friends share…” as if the more gentle of wording makes a difference.

I can get nitpicky. I check to see if a woman is wearing any sort of oversized jewelry or distracting platform shoes. If she is sweating her eyeliner. If there’s a questionable looking mole or formation on a dude’s ball sack. If the faces are scrunched up too tightly, I’m gone. If the moaning is distracting, NEXT. If it looks like the woman is in any amount of physical pain, forget it. If the guy bellows dumb shit like “aw, yeah take it, you bitch,” consider me a ghost.

When I finally land on something, I skip to the penetration. I usually mow right through the oral sex. The choking sounds and gagging make me uncomfortable. I watch for a couple of minutes just to make sure that there’s a good amount of fucking going on. Because the worst thing of all is climaxing while they’re adjusting or swapping out ponies in the show.

Once I come, I don’t want anything to do with what I’m watching. I can’t stomach to think about watching any of this stuff without being remotely turned on. I slam the computer shut and pretend that it never happened.

If you can tell by now, I don’t like to really like the porn I watch, or the tacky, poorly scripted, not-true-to life fucking the Internet calls real sex. I just read David Foster Wallace’s “Big Red Son” for the first time, which is a true account of the adult film industry, and it’s pretty spot-on how put-on everything is. The essay pokes fun at the grubbiness of it all, the money it generates, and its denigration of real life sex. It is one of the funniest and most heavily researched essays I’ve ever read. If you haven’t gotten the chance to read it, please do.

I bring up Wallace’s essay because it confirms the shiver I get every time I watch porn on the Internet, or on rare occasions, splurge and purchase one on Comcast. And it points  to the need for real time sex and love and hunger and humanity and all that inside the relationship and beyond. Because let’s face it, humans like to watch each other have sex. And I’m not above that.

I guess I’m just complaining that there’s no real artistic version of porn. Or at least I haven’t been brave enough to go looking for it. Until today.

So let’s talk about today. I go through the motions. Shut the blinds. Hit up Pornhub. Scroll and scroll. And then I stop. I backtrack. I type into Google: “porn for women.”

The first thing that pops up is a Refinery29 article, “Porn that’s Good for Women,” and I roll my eyes because I’m not interested in reading. Where da porn at, I think. But I read through the article. It gives a shout out to progressive adult filmmaker Erika Lust and her take on adult entertainment for women.

I read on. Lust has made 10 films so far. Her ultimate goal is to create porn that illustrates “all the intimacy, beauty, and joy of sex,” featuring people who “truly enjoy themselves.” Lust goes on in the article to say that the enjoyment will not be “at the expense of women.”

Lust captures some of the same thoughts and modes of shame I’ve had about porn since I started watching it when I was 13. “Part of me was like, ‘Yeah, it’s somewhat of a turn-on,’ but another side of me thought, ‘What the hell is this sexist bullshit?’” says Lust in the Refinery29 article.

Needless to say, I’m more than a little intrigued looking into Lust’s films. The one I choose to watch is “Female Fantasy,” which looks and feels like an Indie flick.

It’s about a woman masturbating to her own fantasy. The first thing I think about doing is skipping to the part with all the dicks. But I don’t because no part like that exists in the film.

The film starts out with a man at a bus stop. He’s sitting alone and smoking a cigarette. He has an angular jaw and a pair of icicle blues. He musses his shaggy hair. A woman walks by. She sits down next to the man. She smiles, but not directly at him. Their legs touch for a couple of seconds. Before she gets on the bus, she squeezes his bare leg.

On the bus, the woman begins touching herself over her clothes. She puts her leg up on her seat to conceal what she’s doing. She looks around.

This woman arrives home and slinks into her bed. Her hair is tangled, and she’s braless. She rolls off her socks and peels off her skirt, throwing them to the floor. She begins pleasuring herself. She’s wearing gray underwear, and her pubic hair leaks from the sides. She has a small bruise on her left thigh and a gap between her teeth. The filming is different from anything I’ve ever seen. Instead of focusing on solely the vagina and breasts, it captures other things. Like the woman’s throat. You can visibly see the rotations, the pulsating knots of pleasure moving around in her throat. And you can hear her. She’s breathing in uneven breaths.

It switches to her fantasy. The woman is straddling the man on the bus stop bench. She grabs his hips and lifts his shorts. They kiss each other deeply.

And this is how it continues, toggling between the fantasizer and the fantasy. And the fantasy escalates. The man licks the woman over her underwear, which forms a dark spot from his saliva. He doesn’t go underneath with his tongue. He’s gentle and focused. She runs her hands through his hair. The couple begins to fuck at the bus stop in broad daylight — faded passersby in the background. The sounds are amazing. There’s no talking. You can hear the slapping of skin, the wetness. Faint, airy strings play. The sound of a heartbeat fades in and out. And then they come. No screams. No contrived moans. Only quick breathing, anticipant and then resolved.

I’ve never watched any porn the whole way through before this. At the end, the girl is alone at the bus stop. She is panting, and she has this look on her face like she can’t fucking believe what just happened. She smiles. Then she looks directly into the camera with a smoldering stare. Pure contentment.

I shut my computer. I lift up my shirt and pull off my pants. I grab for my vibrator, my purple best friend. Outside my window, the wind sputters and the sun pours into my room, warming my face. I smile at the sunshine, and feel myself loosen. I begin to create this scene in my head about being alone and naked underneath the willows outside my house.

 

 

 

 

Sitting in my car

I do this thing where I sit in my car in the winter. Sometimes I read the last bit of something. Sometimes I let the lastest song on repeat fill me. Sometimes I do nothing except let the day’s unresolved extraness leak from my skin and settle into my seat.

I wait until all the heat leaves my car, until my toes are numb from the cold. When I can’t take it anymore I go inside to my warm home that I am lucky to have, even if its ceilings are stained in the blood of dead flies, and it’s on the third floor.

I don’t really know when I started doing this. But I killed my battery doing it the other day. I left my lights on. Sean helped me jumpstart my car.

I’m sitting in my car right now. I can see Sean in the window. It took me a while to figure out what he was doing. My eyes aren’t the best in the dark, but I think I figured it out. He’s holding two ends of a Christmas tree in his hands.

He probably wants to surprise me. I’m surprised alright. Why does he continue to choose me? That’s a legitimate question. Not for him, but for me. It’s my song on repeat.

I snap pictures of him with my eyes. I add more to his living eulogy I’ve been writing inside my head for over a third of my life and go inside.

Inside, Sean smiles and strings lights.

Spike, the badass flower

Titan Arum

He has name. His name is Spike. I saw him with my own two eyes, and he is a massive, glorious beast. Spike is the name of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s goliath “corpse flower,” or the Titan Arum. It took 12 years for this flower, which is actually a collection of flowers, to reach the height 68’’. Let me just say, it’s simply humbling when you realize that one of those dainty flower things can be taller, wider, heavier — not to mention smarter — than a human being.

One Friday, my sister, friend, and I stumbled upon the idea of going to the Chicago Botanic Garden. We weren’t even aware of the hype, or Godzilla-like specimen that awaited us. Once we arrived, it was clear though, the people had come for Spike. His ribbed, purple face was plastered all over the gift shop. He was on shirts and bags. On cooking aprons and postcards. He was the star of the show. Little kids were tugging on sleeves and whining, “Mom, I want to smell the stink.”

What stink? We wanted to smell the stink, too.

Then, there he was. In the center of the Semitropical Greenhouse, reaching toward the glassed in heavens. People were crowding around him, snapping selfies with the monster.

My sister, friend, and I stood with our mouths agape, taking in the near six foot “corpse flower.” The Titan Arum, native to Indonesia, has a rotting flesh smell that attracts pollinators. And not cute little bees, butterflies, or hummingbirds. No, this flower with its nightmare bloom has its heart set on dung beetles and flies. The tall center part of the bloom, the spadix, heats up to help disperse the odor far distances. The spadix heats up to 98F, the same temperature as the human body. Since the flower’s natural habitat is the rainforest, the greenhouse had to be kept to humid temperatures of 75 to 90 percent saturation at all times.

The time of our visit was important. The flower was set to bloom any night (it blooms at night), possibly the evening of our visit. Once we got our fill, we wandered over to the other botanic displays, all lovely and presentable in their own right. But our thoughts lingered on Spike. We stayed until closing. Though the rest of the grounds were hard for us to scope out, the lights were still on Spike when we returned. We took one last whiff and crept to my car in the darkness.

Over the next week, my sister alerted me that there was a Kardashian-like cam on Spike at all times. “Still hasn’t bloomed,” my sister informed me at the end of each day. Then on August 24, Spike stopped working overtime.

When the botanists were asked why the flower did not bloom, they responded, “We’re not entirely sure. In nature, plants have the choice of reproducing or surviving. Spike ‘chose’ to survive, having run out of energy to complete reproduction.”

The botanists talk about plants as if they have actual “choices” to make, and this by far sticks with me beyond anything. Maybe there’s something inside me that is still cheering Spike on; that is grateful Spike ‘chose’ to save his energy for himself rather than relinquish his true power in front of the cameras and hungry people eager to see him perform — to emit a smell so foul that eyes would water, grandmothers would dry heave. “Summon the flies!” we all cheered.

“Nah,” said Spike, and then he fucking quit.

When botanists learned that Spike would not bloom, they opened him up. They tried their best to harvest the pollen, or perform in front of viewers “the delicate procedure of removing the spathe by cutting around the base of the flower just above where it attaches to the stalk of the plant.” (This sounds to me like performing an autopsy on the still living, but what do I know? Apparently, there is a slight risk to the procedure, but it’s not entirely harmful to the plant.)

Gardens typically divvy up pollen so that other plants may thrive. It turns out Spike had very little pollen to offer. And his female flowers weren’t ready to receive pollen. And guess what: there was no rotting meat smell. Instead, a “slight smell” only if you held it up very close to your nose.

The Botanic Garden was simply floored that people, 75,000 to be exact, would come from miles around just to see Spike bloom in person and from their computers and phones. My sister and I were among the many texting each other updates on the flower’s progress. Spike is a natural born conversation starter.

Spike would have been the first Titan Arum to bloom in Chicagoland, but he didn’t. And it’s a crying shame because he raked in a lot of attention. Can you see where this is going?

The garden has seven other flowers just like Spike. “Spike, who?” read the Chicago Tribune headline on September 29. Now, in comes Alice, who debuts today at 7 p.m. The extremely rare sibling of Spike is now powdering up and getting ready for her big show.

These flowers are entirely unpredictable. In nature they only flower once in 1000 days, and the bloom only lasts for three days. Very few people have ever seen them flower. There is fairly little research on them though they were officially discovered in 1878 by the Italian natural scientist Odoardo Beccari. I think one was featured in a Simpson’s episode.

Spike in the meantime, lies dormant in a freezer, ready to bloom another day (or not). To which I say, that’s okay Spike, you do what you gotta do.

Sources:

chicagobotanic.org/titan/spike_titan_arum

bioscigreenhouse.osu.edu/titan-arum-faqs

nbcchicago.com/news/local/Why-Chicago-Botanic-Gardens-Corpse-Flower-Didnt-Bloom-323375051.html

chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/home/ct-titan-arum-corpse-flower-blooming-botanic-garden-20150929-story.html

bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Titan_arum#p004gx80

I need tampons: A true list of things

Ready, set, being productive on my lunch break. Yeah!

•My eyebrows were officially touching in the middle, so I decided to throw in the towel and get them waxed so my boss doesn’t stare at them when she addresses me anymore.

•Coffee. Dunkin Donuts. Duh. Sarah lives on Dunkin. Not Starbucks. Starbucks can be quiet now.

•Call Sean. Complain about how fun it is to ask people direct questions and not receive answers. Oh who knows? People in business don’t want to admit when they don’t know things or they don’t care to know things. It’s unprofessional, so let’s keep everyone guessing and questioning themselves.

It’s like that game… where the fuck is Waldo? Waldo’s not here. Waldo is on vacation (again). Can I transfer you to Waldo’s voicemail?

Sean’s wiring a water purification trailer that will be shipped off to an oil field in Nebraska, or wherever this one is going. His job is monotonous and draining, but he’s doing okay today. Most days, he has this gift of mental separation when he works. I’m envious. I need like 10 Ted Talks to even get me moving in the morning. Okay, 10 is a little obscene. TED Talks are good, but they can feel a little like organized religion if you consume too many at once.

I tell Sean there’s this delicious melon that I cut up and put into the fridge. I can’t remember the name of the melon. But if cantaloupe and honeydew had sex, this melon would be its baby. Sean’s excited to taste. I’m excited he’s excited to taste.

Whoever gets home first is making the Tilapia tonight. I hope it’s Sean. He’s a better cook, and I can’t follow basic instructions. I stick metal forks into toasters. Not always, but sometimes.

•Box of tampons from Jewel. And why yes, as a matter of a fact, I will take two. What a delightful little sale. Even though how expensive tampons are makes me die a little inside whenever I’m forced to purchase them. If it was up to me I would bleed all over the place. Women’s rights? Too soon?

Get up to the counter and the two boxes go flying in opposite directions. The guy wearing dark sunglasses in front of me hands me a box. The cashier snorts into her shoulder. I basically threw the other one at her. I apologize and tell her that I go all Hulk on my period sometimes. She says she does too. I chortle. The sunglasses guy laughs nervously to amuse us, and then he stops. He looks out the window like he has somewhere to be. I feel like giving him a nudge in the ribs. Some guys are afraid to get in on period humor.

Last night I told Sean that he better cuddle with me or I would slit his throat. See? Hilarious. Or at least I remember him laughing.