FROM STORYTELLING UNDER THE STARS: "Pussy of Steel" by WWW founder ANGELA ORLANDO


"Age of Victim" by Karen Boissonneault-Gauthier

I found my husband quivering, naked, in the empty upstairs bathtub of his urbane Texas condo. He was holding his knees to his hairy chest. It smelled like he had thrown up.

“Angie!” he moaned, lowly, almost inaudibly. He had a gravely baritone voice; he grew up in Fort Worth singing in Baptist church choirs. He had fallen away sometime in his late teens.


“What? I’m right here.” I was irritated. Hung over. We had fought the previous night in the bar, as usual, yelling over the music. But we had sex when we got back to his place, also as usual. Now why the hell was he sitting in the empty tub at 2 in the afternoon? Asshole.


He reached out of the bath, snatching at my arms like a desperate giant infant wanting to be lifted up. I thought he had the flu. I hadn’t seen him sick in at least four years, when he was just starting his master’s in Las Cruces, and I was still living in Tucson, finishing the last semester of my undergrad degree. He had some kind of super immunity.


He began to sort of claw his way out of the tub, trying to stand up, using me for support because he couldn’t gain a foothold. “I’ve got you, I’ve got you, slow down.” I was stressing out now. My mama/wifey instincts kicked in. I didn’t have him. He is 6’1, totally built, and I’m … smaller.


He’s got that sexpot drawl. He’s a half Greek, part indigenous North American, dark-complected, rockabilly cowboy. Hot. When he had a bad haircut and those tacky sideburns were in style, he looked significantly like Mister Spock, but generally, he was fucking gorgeous. At that moment, though, he absolutely was not. He was not present in his body. He was pale, and scaring the hell out of me. I loved him after all, though our fighting was so out of hand that it was better that we lived in different cities. We had been together for about six-and-a-half years. Our sex was like shooting stars, but we weren’t real fond of one another a lot of the time.


Then his knees buckled and he crumpled over the tub onto the bathroom floor like he had no bones. The dog stuck her nose in, worried about her dad. I went out into the bedroom to get one of our phones to call 911.


“Wait.”


“No! I’m going to …”


“I don’t need an ambulance. Angie. I have to tell you something,” he stammered. “I have to say it now.” I remember there was no emphasis on the “now” – he made the statement with flat resignation.


My turn to collapse, that son of a bitch.


******

In Texas that afternoon, it was hot. No, cold. Rainy? Snowy. Does it snow in Austin? I remember standing on his condo’s joke of a front porch having put a leash on the dog. Taking the dog for a walk through his ugly gated community in Barton Creek. That walk was shock made manifest. It was my response to the news, news that has shaped me more than anything anyone has ever told me before or since.


The comprehension wasn’t firm or immediate. It was like when you first take acid and it starts to hit. Little chem trails, you know? Wisps of dew, blue-violet swirling. Watching the Challenger explode on the TV in your school auditorium assembly. Learning that the Towers were going down, and watching the footage over and over and over again, but knowing no one in New York.


I did some foggy math on that walk. We had met the month before I turned 21, in July 1998.


He had started paying for sex in 1991. And he never even took a week off.


*****

Time passes, not much. Driving with him and his mother to Planned Parenthood to see if I have HIV. I’m petrified of needles, so I make him take me to the only clinic in the county that does the cheek swab test. This is the errand that trumps all other errands: find out if it’s fatal news. He had shared needles with prostitutes and certainly didn’t use many condoms. He would put his wedding ring in the center console of his truck when he went in to their apartment or massage parlors or horse stalls in Nogales or Juárez.


He has to pull over on the highway to the clinic because he’s shaking so hard, he can’t drive. He has a good heart. His mother takes over the few remaining miles. Not sure which is worse. I don’t remember when she drove up from four hours away. But she had, and she stayed six months, sleeping with her son on a pullout sofa in his room. Monitoring him, she said.


Back then, the nurse had to fill out a detailed form when a patient got an HIV test.


“Reason for taking test?” she asked.


“Husband fucked hundreds of prostitutes.”


The nurse looked at me and looked back down, real fast. I go out to sit in the waiting room.


He waits, still shaking, looking at his feet. His mother plays a mindless game on her flip phone.


I’m so alone.


****

The test comes out negative, which is, you know, good. I actually came out of this with zero STDs. My sister once said I have a pussy of steel.


****


Another scene, still in Texas. A day later or maybe earlier than the clinic visit. I had to go back to L.A. soon. I was in my first quarter at UCLA, starting my doctorate.


Me, yelling: “Where in this house did you not fuck a prostitute? Where can I sleep where you didn’t come all over some hoe? The couch?”


“No.”


“The bed? The floor?”


“No.”


“Get me a hotel.”


“Ok.”


****


I was going to “Tammy Wynette” it. I was going to stand by my man. My husband was very, very sick. He did not want to be a sex addict, of course. He wanted his sanity back, and he wanted his marriage, his health, and he was so desperately ashamed. Like heroin, getting the next fix was all he could think about since he was 17. He was then 32.


We saw his psychiatrist that week, the man who had told him that it was time to tell his wife. Together we learned what it was going to take for him to get better. His addiction was truly severe. Porn was always there, but by then he needed a human to facilitate his orgasms, or he would not be satisfied. By then, porn was like a smoker only scrounging up half a menthol, the doctor explained, or drinking a wine cooler when your venom of choice is house whiskey, neat.


My husband said he needed me. He asked me to please consider staying with him as he found an elusive non-Christian rehabilitation clinic. He had spent his inheritance, more than a million dollars already, and was about to borrow money to go deeper into this addiction. So he had hit rock bottom.


****

Los Angeles, six months later.


Our rehab center was next door to Dr. Phil’s office on Robertson, across from an expensive Parisian patisserie where the guys were allowed to get coffee and bear claws, supervised, once a day for 15 minutes.


It turned out to be a great gift that the $40,000 outpatient center rehabilitated not only the addict, but the spouse. Well, not really “rehabilitated the spouse” in a negative connotation sort of way, but built us spouses back up from deconstructed, weightless shells to fragile tangible things that could at least sit in chairs. Spouses went weekly, on Saturdays, never ever having contact with the addicts. This was a six-week class, during which we learned the nature of addiction, then sex addiction specifically. We prepared for what is called “disclosure.”


The men, too, were preparing for disclosure.


Disclosure is when we would learn what really happened during the course of our relationships. All of it. Where our money went, what our guys were sticking their dicks into. Open mouths of young men in holey T-shirts, and glory holes in the bathroom walls of sex shops near airports. It’s almost always those places you see near airports, in case you wondered. You can buy anything in those.


By the time I had the honor of learning every little thing that he had done, it was the summer between my first and second years at UCLA. That first year I had turned in gibberish instead of competent analyses of Marxist theory. I had had panic attacks in public. But thanks to that rehab center, I learned a neat concept called “personal boundaries.” I decided that if he acted out again – which in his case meant used porn, went to a bar alone, or, god forbid had sex or used drugs outside of our marriage - I would file. Or technically, I’d make him file, because I certainly wasn’t paying any legal fees.


He went home to Texas to sell the condo. But in October, when he called me on the phone to tell me that he had fucked a Hooters busgirl, I fell onto the base of the big tree outside my building at UCLA where I was standing. The tree was covered in fire ants, come to find out.


I hung up the phone. I had my answer. Probably not much in the way of sanity, but an answer. I went to the third floor bathroom, and peeled off all my clothes right in the middle of the room, starting with my flip flops and my jeans. Ants just everywhere. Why was I never good enough? Even though he had told me during disclosure that he had paid for sex with women as young as my baby sister and as old as my mother, and Russian sex slaves held in Tijuana against their will, young skinny boys in vinyl on the streets of Houston, and high-priced prostitutes in what was once our bed here in Tucson, I felt insecure. I stood naked in the grey marble bathroom, just flicking ants onto the floor as they bit me. None of my students or professors walked in, thank God. I just might have died.


Numb and bitten, I walked to the parking garage, past the regal brick archaeology museum. I got in my car and drove four hours straight to Yosemite for some reason, and checked in to a bed and breakfast with a wine bar to drink myself lucid. I got in my Hyundai Accent – the only thing I got out of the divorce except a .357 Magnum and some Mexican furniture that we had commissioned near Juárez. A Hyundai and a handgun. Now I know what he was doing in Mexico while I was working with those furniture craftsmen. Now I know why it took so long for him to go get lunch on our honeymoon in Peru. Now I know.


What I don’t know is where he is now. What I don’t know is if he is doing this to other women. I don’t know if he’s HIV positive. The chances are 50-50. I’d like to believe he sequestered himself in a cabin in the woods to protect the world from his broken self. That would be in his nature too. He has a good heart.


As for me, it’s been 14 years since we spoke since the divorce was finalized. I do forgive him. He makes for a great story. That chapter has been closed for quite some time. I don’t want protection, I don’t want sympathy, and I don’t want to be taken care of. I have a pussy of steel.

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©2020 by Angela Orlando and Wandering Writers Workshops, LLC