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Adventures in Bellybuttons

 Esparanza, Vieques Puerto RicoI dealt with the grief of my divorce with a three pronged approach: caffeine, booze and bed-hopping. I spent my weekdays priming myself for a teaching career and the weekends as a cocktail waitress at my parents’ sports bar. I had a plethora of willing accomplices in my quest for self-destruction. I claimed that I had denied my bellybutton its opportunity to meet as many other bellybuttons in those critical early 20s; I owed it to the girl to let her sow some oats. And sow she did.

I tolerated mediocre sex with a fellow student teacher because my bellybutton liked how he cuddled afterward. Things didn’t work out. I can’t remember why, but I’m sure it was related to my repeated pattern of wanting to feel connected to someone through bellybuttons and ever present fear of anything that resembled commitment. I wanted the respect and sexual gratification of a relationship without the obligation. The nature of that beast watched as my Number increased like the turning digits of a car odometer, one one night stand at a time.

There are several nights whose faces cannot be remembered, much less their names, but the biggest shit storms I created at my lowest were those I would have to face on a weekly basis. There was one particular night when I had been cut early at work, I sat at the bar between one of the bartenders, also granted an early night, and the bouncer. Our manager served us from behind the bar and made jokes with us as the night wound down. I looked at each of my friends in this conversation and realized that I had slept with each one of them. I knew what kind of underwear they liked and which one liked to fuck from behind, which one preferred to push my ankles to my ears and which one liked to eat pussy.

I swallowed this realization with half of my beer and resolved it was best not to shit where I ate. Instead of screwing fellow employees, I tried a few customers. One offered to take me out for drinks, only for me to meet him out with a bunch of his friends before driving him back to his apartment and violating my vageen in unpleasant and inhumane ways. I stopped him in the middle of his battle against my lady parts and scolded my bellybutton as I walked down his stairs to my car.

I made an attempt to date another customer, Danny, who was an old friend of mine from high school. Frankly, I’d always had a crush on his twin brother, but gave up that hope when he joined the Navy and married is pregnant girlfriend. Danny was kinder than I had remembered and that romantic comedy shtick that says it was the old friend all along made a compelling argument, so I tried it out. The sex was good and I loved how comfortable it was for us to spend time together, so it was especially difficult to break things off with him when I started feeling trapped. I felt terrible for hurting him. The pain was obvious in his face when I told him it wasn’t him, it was me. He’s married now to his high school sweet heart, they have a baby and he’s a commissioned officer in the Army, I think. Turns out those rom-coms are right sometimes, just not in my story.

When work and school both failed to provide me with what I was looking for, I cast a wider net. There was a night remembered only in photographic evidence when I got all done up to go work at the bar, only to find out they didn’t need me for the evening. I promptly called an old college roommate, Erin, and agreed our afternoon would be better spent at the pool bar in her apartment complex. There is one picture of me from the beginning of the night, cocktail in hand, hairs all did up in a scarf, a la 1944. We met another resident of the complex, whose name completely eludes me, but I do remember that the was cute, worked as a groundskeeper at a golf course – which lent itself to many a Caddyshack joke – and his bed sat on the floor, frameless. After Erin picked me up mid-Walk o’ Shame, we examined my digital camera for clues that might explain the bloody gash in her hip. There were several focused on the fresh parking lot rash, but not much leading up to it. Then a few of the cute groundskeeper, and finally, a picture of me in the role of That Girl. You know, the one who has probably lost her shoes and her make-up is a little smeared, she’s laughing, hair in her face, because she can barely hold her head up. Mama would be so proud.

By July, I had been beaten and tortured by the desires and subsequent actions of my bellybutton. She just couldn’t seem to get enough, never mind the cost to my heart. I decided to take my bellybutton’s keys and grounded her. Which of course meant that I would meet Sailor Jerry. He actually was a sailor in the Navy, and yes, his name was Jerry. Our friends introduced us at a Fourth of July BBQ, where by the end of the night, with fireworks exploding overhead, the two of us had made our way to the ninth hole on the neighborhood golf course, and rolled around in the grass like teenagers. Too drunk to drive home, we stayed in the guest bedroom and fell asleep after a healthy make-out session. He was respectful and only spooned me that night. I thought he might really like me, which totally confused me when he kept blowing me off.

During the next 72 hours, I had an out of body experience. Part of me separated from my body and stood behind me, screaming out “NOOOOO!!!” as the needy part of me threw more gas on a crazy fire. I sent text after text, intermittently leaving a voice mail, and finally sending the over-reactionary email. It really was some of my finest work. I wasn’t at all surprised when he said he was all stocked up on nuts. Turns out my heart could cause as much trouble as my bellybutton.

I attempted a few more set-ups before I decided that my friends who had arranged those blind dates must fucking hate me. My bellybutton was more than capable of putting me in painfully awkward situations without the help of these so-called friends.

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