Queer Issue 2012
My friend Merced, who is now in what could be called an open marriage, though I would call it an unclassifiable one, is a Science Center employee who collects exotic cacti. I have never met anyone who so loves to make a spectacle of sexuality. While we were dating, she forbid her roommates to wear clothing while she was in the apartment, and her fiancé—a different boy than the one she ended up marrying—cheerfully paraded around naked for her while we had dinner and did laundry.
I have seen too many marriages chronicled by objects thrown across living rooms, ending in stacks of paperwork and awkward custody battles for dogs and books, to ever have seriously considered marriage. As I know the tradition of agreeing to be with someone until death began when people lived to be 30, I've come to think of marriage as an outdated institution. I can recall one occasion, though, a party I had at my apartment, when I realized that for some people, marriage can completely make sense—and when I realized that Merced is such a person.
The concept of the Infinite Doughnut Party was simple: My girlfriend Vanessa and I decided to invite everyone we found attractive to my apartment and serve every imaginable kind of doughnut. The doughnuts were intended to make the party more exciting for me, as I enjoy watching people eat to excess in a way that would require a significant digression to explain. They were Vanessa's idea. A 21-year-old culinary student, she was one of the most sexually accommodating people I have ever dated.
She was in the process of terminating a domestic partnership with a woman in her 30s that had lasted only three months. It was always hard for me to imagine Vanessa willingly entering a monogamous relationship that was legally bound to be indefinite because of how she savored her freedom. Once over dinner at Taste of India, for example, she gleefully told me she had just been fisted by a symphony cellist in a Ferrari.
We decided absinthe would go well with doughnuts, and if we were going to get absinthe, we might as well get a case of nitrous oxide. Obviously, a make-out room was necessary. We chose a 1960s tent I'd acquired, with images of fishing and duck hunting printed on it, for this purpose. When our friend Megan jokingly announced she was going to wear only gold latex body paint at the party, we ordered a gallon of it. And when I sent the invitations by mass text, Merced wrote back to ask if it was going to be a sex party.
During the first hour of the party, my best friend Will, who had recently freed himself from a disastrous seven-year marriage, projected Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? on the ceiling of my living room for a quiet handful of guests. When more people arrived, we turned the sound off and put on David Bowie. A rapidly thinning layer of doughnuts carpeted every surface. We were pulling boxes of nitrous cartridges out of a suitcase when Merced arrived with several friends. After introducing herself to the crowd, she put a pill in my mouth and proceeded to make out with everyone in my increasingly crowded apartment. Soon, the entire party was engaged in a bottleless game of Spin the Bottle.
I was vacuumed out of the room by a text from Frances, a recent ex who wanted to know what Will and I were doing. I wanted to invite her to the party, but Vanessa didn't like her, correctly sensing I still loved her. Frances's characteristic misspelling of the word "you're" in the text made me miss her terribly. I told her we were eating doughnuts.
The feeling of the pill coming on, some kind of painkiller, was like wading into a neck-deep pile of warm, clean towels. Vanessa called me from the other room. The only light was from the movie playing on the ceiling. Merced was curled around Vanessa in the tent, her hand down the front of Vanessa's tights. Merced took a big hit of nitrous and breathed it into my mouth. I watched Merced and Vanessa for a moment through a patterned curtain of hallucinations, their similarly delicate bodies moving against each other. I was somehow unable to believe that people I knew inhabited these bodies; the sight of them fucking seemed as eerie and inexplicable as a freeway of driverless cars. When I finally touched them, it was partly to prove to myself that they were really there.
Seconds after we disentangled from each other, I got another text from Frances, which I didn't read. Merced and Will sat in the tent, talking about their marriages, Merced idly resting her hand on Vanessa's thigh. Listening to their conversation, I felt much the same way I do when people talk about football. Marriage sounded like a complicated, pointless waste of energy that necessitates strange clothing and tremendous expense. Yet Merced was so content. Though I knew she loved her husband and wanted to celebrate that, it seemed that marriage held a similar appeal to her as a house full of naked roommates. It makes a spectacle of the sexual relationship it celebrates and can make an even bigger spectacle of any sex that happens outside that relationship. This thought delighted me.
Megan arrived with two pumpkin pies and two girls who told us they met her on Craigslist. She locked herself in the bathroom with the girls and the tub of gold latex. Merced had a lighthearted, very explicit phone conversation with her husband about the events of the evening. After what seemed like a long time, Megan emerged wearing only a coating of elastic gold that smelled like wet house paint and stuck to itself like Saran wrap. It was 5 a.m. now. Vanessa and I zipped ourselves into the tent to sleep.
I thought of Frances. I could remember exactly how it felt to sleep next to her. The memory seemed more real than the girl I was actually in bed—well, tent—with. I remembered how she pulled me close to her when I drifted across the bed, how she slept with her hand between my legs, the sound she made with her mouth in her sleep. When I told her I liked that sound, she said she was grinding her teeth and that she wore a dorky mouth guard when she wasn't with me. I felt privileged. Lying there with someone else, the memory of that sound made me think of an Edmund White novel in which a man cries while giving a stranger a blowjob in the park because he has a crooked dick like the man who broke his heart.
People like Frances—who make the memory of a bed more real than the one I'm lying in, even when it's in a room full of doughnuts and drugs and naked people—make the idea of an officially committed relationship seem redundant to me. I have always belonged to people, whether they wanted me or not. But if I felt the same way about making a spectacle of my relationships as I do about the consumption of hundreds of doughnuts, I would probably have five or six wives.