Reading Out Loud
by Tippy Rex
It is my first time reading out loud in nearly twenty years, and my mouth is so dry that my lips stick to my teeth. I look around and catch the eye of each person in the bookstore, enunciating: I am a sex addict. It’s like I am trying to fuck every single person in this room.
Sketch, the man I am addicted to, is not here. When I submitted work for this reading series, we weren’t on speaking terms. Now he calls me before to wish me good luck, and it seems strange that something so important to me should be about him but not include him. We make a date for the next night to go buy various sex toys, and one of them will be a ball-gag. If I read a story about a girl trying to find her voice while also supporting the ball-gag industry, I would have said the symbolism was overdone, but there you have it. That’s what happened.
Just down the street from the Astoria bookstore, where I stand and read, “I can’t help myself. I’m a sex addict,” is the strip-club Mermaids, where I once tipped over a man in wheelchair giving him a lapdance. According to some d-bag on Yelp, here’s the situation over there these days: “Girls are okay. Some are ugly. Most of them are average, and one or two spend the extra time to have their outfit look nice, colors match, nails done, hair done well, and act sexy. The rest look like they just want you to give them your money so they can go home already.” I’m offended, even though it is nearly two decades too late for him to be talking about me personally. But he was right; my nails were not done and all I wanted back then was to go home already.
Writing again is like coming home. For twenty years, I did not write, and the days were long while the years ran short. Sometimes somebody who had known me for a long time would ask if I was writing anything, and I would change the subject, setting fire to myself if necessary. The closest I came to writing was fluffing articles out of press releases for a tech magazine in the early aughts, right around the time of the World Trade Center collapse. I was on a sky-rocketing dose of methadone, and I spent my afternoons nodding out at my desk, trying to come up with new adjectives for palm pilots, perking up just enough to flirt with this South African guy who worked there who liked to wear women’s underwear. I was fascinated by the fact that he called stoplights robots and q-tips earbuds.
I never managed to totally forget that I used to write about things I cared about, but I drank until it didn’t matter as much. In the very mean while, people I went to Columbia with got published. A couple got famous. Reviews of their books ran with words like “cult status” written in them, paired with flattering pictures. In response, I sent congratulatory Facebook messages with one too many exclamation marks.
It was easier to open a bottle than to deal with what felt like inevitable failure. I’ve heard it said that only alcoholics regret the future.
Sometimes while I was drinking I would think of something I wanted to say, or some metaphor would come nudging like a stranger’s persistently friendly dog. I wrote teeny, tiny, wasted little notes to myself on the blank pages at the end of books. If handwriting could whisper, that is what these superscripted letters were doing.
Sketch and I held that yester-artist thing in common; just as I had stopped writing, he had stopped drawing. I had seen work he had done while he was in prison, and I fantasized that I might actually write if someone would only lock me in a cell and leave me nothing but my own reflection for entertainment (I also fantasized a lot about being locked in a cell with him—the whole prison thing was a huge turn-on when I met him, him all biceps and boots and shaved head). I owned a lot of stained and tattered moleskine notebooks that only had writing on one or two pages.
From time to time, a friend would ask for feedback on something she had written, and I would recoil, shaken. Neither Sketch nor I were doing the things we most wanted to do, and thinking about my wasted life made me break out all over in flop-sweat. And then Sketch started to draw again. He just started doing it. His sketchbooks filled up with haunted faces from the 7 train. He registered for classes at a school with live models, and he invited me to come and draw, furnishing me with a drawing board, a pencil, and a clear view of some guy’s dick. This was an entirely new and terrifying context for nudity; I hid behind my drawing board, afraid someone would come over and laugh at my drawing. I gave the models banana fingers, unable to figure out knuckles, their eye sockets misshapen, ears mismatched.
Twenty years, not writing. That’s almost the length of the prison sentence you would do for murder. I have done bad things, but not that bad. Now I read out loud, my voice pitched for the back walls, telling everyone these things I have done, and it’s like I’m standing in front of the parole board. I can’t help myself, I tell them. I can’t help myself. I wonder, not for the first time, if maybe I am lying.
Tippy Rex writes about sex, about addiction, and about being a crazy person. Her work has been featured in xoJane, The New York Press, Lunch Ticket, and Vol.1 Brooklyn. She is the author of the blog When You Stop Digging.
Photo: Zedlik via Creative Commons.