Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sleeping With the Enemy

I have a confession to make.

Something has bothered me immensely since the days of my youth. Something that I had once thought had been conquered with age, experience and a jaundiced eye. Something that I thought another life in a foreign country might serve to quell. Something so totally incongruous to my character, ethos and core of personal beliefs that it needs immediate and instantaneous purging through the confessional process, followed by immediate absolution. (No one ever escapes the inculcations of a Catholic upbringing, and so this single guilt has ridden, like the proverbial moral monkey, on my back until I can bear the weight no longer, and the shame must needs be revealed).

As George W Bush once remarked as an excuse for his not being able to admit a youthful cocaine addiction, ‘When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish.’

And this is my excuse, the difference between Dubya and me being that I have enough moral fibre to confess my sin. I was, indeed, very young, but my sin had nothing to do with illegal and illicit drug-taking (apart from the occasional joint, bowl or bong session as a student at university). It was far worse, for I can honestly say now, that I have been to the Dark Side.

I slept with a Republican.

Not once. Or even twice. But several times over the course of many years.

I was born and raised in Virginia. People leaning, socially and politically, to the right was a way of life in that state. Even if my people marched to a different drummer, my mother’s family had roots in the state since colonial days. It went without saying that once I was old enough for my mamma to worry about me getting in a car with a boy who could drive, I was bound to date someone or the son of someone who was politically red, in the Republican sense.

My first serious boyfriend would have made Ashley Wilkes look risqué; I bowed out of that budding romance the moment he told me he wanted to be a Presybterian minister. He told me that, quite sincerely, with his left hand down the front of my bikini top copping a feel of my left tit. That must have given him divine inspiration.

I dated a Ragin’ Cajun from New Orleans and a fraternity boy from Baltimore. You literally couldn’t walk ten paces at the University of Virginia in the mid-Seventies without tripping over political conservatism. And as the men at that time outnumbered coeds by three to one, we had precious little choice - if they dared to date us at all - of not consorting at least once with what has euphemistically come to be defined as an educated version of a good old boy.

But there was one, amongst the above, who stood head and shoulders above the rest; and it is he, about whom, I make my confession.

I wasn’t always a political animal, although politics and current events have always interested me. They were the stuff of conversations around the dinner table at home with my parents; but basically, I had come to college to learn how to speak some foreign languages, to read the literature in the vernacular, maybe get a year or a summer abroad, and to party, along with everyone else. You know, work hard all week and then, come the weekend … do a little dance, make a little love, toke a little j … you get the picture.

I was in my third year (junior year to everyone who went elsewhere other than Virginia) and I had just returned from a summer abroad in Spain and Italy, when the Asshole walked into my life. I met him properly near the end of the second semester, when he was a few weeks off graduation and I was thinking about returning for one more summer abroad, in order to sample the wares again before settling down to a final year of study and deciding how I was best going to put language ability to use.

I met him, properly, at a party; but really, I’d encountered him a few weeks prior to that, when he sat down in the student cafeteria at a table with my roommate and me, simply because he slightly knew her and there was no one about, at that moment, with whom he could talk. But, properly, I met him at a party given by a good friend and his flatmates. I was on my own and so was he. He’d had a few and so had I. He got his invitation from the friend who’d invited me, as both of them worked on the student paper, the Cavalier Daily or the CD (pronounced ‘Seedy’- it would later prove apropos for him). In fact, it was Ross who formally introduced us and left us to chat. It was standard stuff, followed by him asking me to dance and me finding out just how awful a dancer he was. Shortly afterward, if I recall correctly, there was the requisite kiss and sooner than I thought, we found ourselves back at my dorm room.

Cue swelling music (amongst other membranes) and the crashing of the sea against the rocks on the shore.

The earth hardly moved. In actual fact, before the earth had begun to remember it should have moved, Mr Asshole put on the clothes I’d helped him remove and left. It was such a sudden non-occurrence that I was left in a state of bafflement.

Was it something I’d said? We hadn’t talked about anything in particular … only that he was studying economics, that I was in Romance languages, that I’d been to Europe the previous summer, that he was going this coming summer. We’d talked about people we both knew and had a few laughs. I was baffled. I didn’t know whether to shrug my shoulders or cry, because, the Asshole really, was kind of cute, in a preppy, conservative sort of way. Sort of like Tucker Carlson without the bowtie.

As it was still relatively early on a Saturday night, I got up from the bed, tidied it up, sorted out my clothes, slipped into a bathrobe and sloped off to take a shower and wash my hair. In the time it took me to do that and walk back down the hall to my dorm room, the bastard had come back. When I entered the room, there he was, stripped buck naked and cuddled up in my single bed and pouring me a Jack Daniels and ginger ale to ease my pain (or maybe, make it easier for us both).

And that’s when we really began to talk. I shared his whiskey and a cuddle and we covered everything from the Nixon pardon to Saturday Night Live, from John Dean’s speaking tour to the ‘Hoos performance in the National Invitational Tournament the previous spring. He was pure Alabama red. I hung blue. He asked me what newspaper I read. I told him that I tended to read The Washington Post when I was at home and - well - nothing really on campus, apart from the student rag.

That’s how the evening went, and that was the beginning of the relationship, such as it was.

That following Monday morning, as I was getting ready for my 8 o’clock class, I heard a thud outside room door. I opened it to find a suscription copy of The Washington Post, marked ‘118 Dabney’ on the floor outside. There was a Post delivered daily until the end of term and for all of the following year.

Mr Asshole never called that week, and I never saw him the following weekend. I kept expecting to run into him on Grounds and steeled myself to act suitably nonchalant. It was, I told myself, a one-night stand. These things happen in life. It may have been the first one, in my young life, but it wouldn’t be the last. Still, I was a Southern girl and my mamma had raised me right. Pulling out the Student Directory, found his address, and wrote a nice thank-you note for The Post, sending it by student mail. I didn’t expect a reply; in fact, I didn’t want one, almost. But two weeks later, when I was preparing to go out to meet some friends for a night out at a local student bar, I opened my door to find Mr Asshole standing there, and the student bar was forgotten.

I must have seen him, always unexpectedly and always (it seemed) when I was ready to dash off, meet or go out with someone else, which necessitated me crying off the prior engagement at a moment’s notice, to spend time with him. Our evenings consisted of him picking up the latest Post, browsing through it and throwing out obnoxious comments about anything that offended his conservative mindset, I would reply in opposition and a debate would ensue that many times bordered on a full-on argument of the snakiest kind, until the horizontal reconciliation process eventually took place. To this date, it was singularly the most stimulating and yet the most unusual foreplay I’ve ever experienced in a relationship.

Relationship? That’s the rub (pun intended).

There was no relationship, per se. We weren’t a couple. We weren’t even dating. We were copulating. Politically copulating.

The school year ended, but a week before I was due to leave again for Spain, he showed up at my parents’ home. Unannounced. Unexpected. Mr Asshole scrubbed up to be Mr Southern Gentleman. My mother thought she’d died and gone to heaven - a law student gentleman caller! (In my mother’s mind, the degree for which I studied was secondary to the good old-fashioned MRS degree; and as one older cousin had returned from the University of South Carolina with her very own doctor in tow, it looked as though I was going to be the one to bag the brief.)

It didn’t stop there. In the middle of July, he turned up in Salamanca. Again unannounced and unexpected. He was on his own Grand Tour and diverted himself from London to jet down and cramp my style in Spain. After all, by that time, even though he was teaching and encouraging me to read the right sort of newsworthy items in the dailies, as well as think about them, I wasn’t sure I liked Mr Asshole very much as a person.

To begin with, he was an inveterate snob - even a worse snob than my mother. My mother was very conscious of her family and her family history, but my mother also liked other people and it didn’t matter one iota to her who those people were, nor what antecedents they had. If she liked you, she liked you. But Mr Asshole was interested in comparative family history. He examined my bloodlines the way a horse or dog breeder would. At any given moment, I expected him to pull back my upper lip for a look at my gums and my teeth. I began to wonder if I should look out the name and address of my old orthodontist, in order that he might attest to Mr Asshole that my teeth were, indeed, all mine and suitably straightened.

He was always looking down his nose at people he deemed socially unworthy. He treated the Spaniards with contempt, because, he said, Mediterraneans looked dirty. When I visited him at Washington and Lee, the following autumn, where he was studying law, I struggled with my suitcase across campus, when a cadet from the nearby Virginia Military Institute rushed to my aid, offering to carry the bag all the way to the law dorms. When we arrived, Mr Asshole gave the cadet a quarter tip and slammed the door in his face.

Then, I always got the impression that something wasn’t quite kosher with Mr Asshole. There would be weeks upon weeks that I’d hear nothing from him. I never called him. My Southern girl pride would have gone craven at the very thought. I was in a state of perpetual limbo. Were we ‘seeing each other’ or just fuck buddies, in today’s terminology? And every time he’d turn up, unannounced, unintended, uninvited, in the course of our evening discussions, he started, almost fantasising about what sort of clothes he’d like to see me wear - the Oxford shirts, khaki skirts and Docksiders. I should try wearing more pink with green and maybe cut my hair. Oh, yes … and think about putting on some weight. ‘More cushion for the pushin’,’ he opined. Somewhere along the line, I began to wonder if I were the training ground for a once and future Mrs Asshole of another variety, if I were, in short, being used.

He went into a blue funk of a mood after the Carter election. His pet peeve was Andrew Young, Carter’s UN Ambassador. Before we always debated both sides of political issues of the day. Now the foreplay was focused on Andrew Young, which became almost an obsession with him. When we went to Washington for a day and he spat on a statue in Georgetown of William Tecumseh Sherman, then proceeded to get my car ticketed for illegal parking, the whole non-relationship began to bore me.

In Mr Asshole’s mind, the Civil War had never ended and when there wasn’t material girl decked out in preppie attire, he got his rocks off banging a liberal. Maybe it was kinky. Maybe it was about power. Maybe it was a lot of things, but it sure as hell wasn’t love.

The problem I had was that just as I would convince myself of all of the above pejorative traits, I’d remember some of the spontaneous things about him that really weren’t so bad. Like the subsription to the Washington Post. Or the tea roses he’d sent me on Valentine’s Day of my last year in college. Or how, I’d be bone-achingly tired from sitting in the Sci-Tech Library for hours on end wrestling with notes for a French term paper and I’d look up across the room, seeing him standing in the frame of the door looking up from hooded eyes and smiling a slow Southern smile, having driven 60 miles from Lexington on the off-chance of finding me bored and wanting amusement. Or how, when my teaching contract wasn’t renewed in my second year of teaching, he spent days accumulating applications and information about various and sundry school districts, all unasked and unbidden.

The whole sick non-starter carried on for another two years, ducking and diving, fucking and thriving here and there. He always seemed to know when to appear out of the woodwork and it was beginning to get old. When he showed up unexpectedly one day in July, expecting to stay the weekend, I made him sleep on the couch. Things were wearing thin and I was planning, for the following summer, another European trip, before moving into a new flat in Charlottesville. Two weeks after I’d made the move, Mr Asshole shows up at my door … only now he’s Captain Asshole of the Judge Advocate General’s School. An army lawyer. Hardly Kevin Bacon or Tom Cruise in a few good men, but I’m not the type of girl who goes gaga for a man in a uniform of any sort.

Still, old habits die hard, and he’d stayed with me a week before I dug deep and got his true mojo. He was dissatisfied practicing law in a small town and so he’d joined the army - just until he’d decided what to do, mind you. Awhile later, when I was in Europe, as a matter of fact, he’d met a girl - a fresh-faced, dew-lipped, wide-assed - hell, let’s not be kind here - fat-assed girl from the mountains of North Carolina, who’d just graduated from the University. She wanted to get married, and he was warming to the idea. He’d found his cushion for the pushing, a pig for his poke; and I didn’t have to gain a pound or even think about wearing pink with green. And he told me this, in bed, a week after his arrival, the day before he was due to drive back to Raleigh to see his sweet intended - before driving back to Virginia at the end of the weekend to snuggle up to me.

‘I think before you leave tomorrow, you really ought to call the JAG school about accommodation,’ I said, as I turned over to turn out the light. ‘Really.’

That was the last I saw of Mr Asshole. I’d often think about him - the lead singer in the British boy band Haircut 100 reminded me of him. So did David Gregory. That’s when I’d think of him. I imagined him back in Mobile, mobilising the local Republican Party, cursing the existence of Clinton, envious of the attention he was getting from Lewinsky, but using that as a phallic rod with which to beat him symbolically, spreading bile about Hillary, rundraising for Bush, while condemning Gore and Kerry.

I wasn’t far off wrong.

Through the wonders of Facebook, I found Mr Asshole about two weeks ago. Damn, the Republicans surely must have a contract with the Devil and a portrait in the attic, because he hasn’t aged a day, the cur. I was surprised to see he was still connected with the military. Just giving a cursory glance at his Facebook page, I sent him a message, casually dropping information that I was married and living in the UK.

The rest of the evening was taken up with a volley of messages to and fro, re-establishing the status quo: he was very much right of right and I was very much left of left. Plus ca change, plus ca reste la meme. No surprises there. I expressed wonder that someone of his intellect could support someone like Sarah Palin’s candidacy for a post for which she was grossly under qualified intellectually and otherwise. He countered that, whilst he didn’t like Palin in the least, he was singularly unimpressed with Joe Biden’s mediocre intellect. And so on.

The buzz was still there.

I asked what he thought of Obama’s proposal for universal health care. He replied that he was going out, but would give the matter some thought and reply. He did, two days later, in inimitable Asshole fashion, ranting about the proposal, wondering how it could work, comparing it to England’s NHS and how that had been depicted in Michael Moore’’s (whom he called ‘a fat commie’) ‘Sicko’ as nothing short of the Eighth Wonder of the world. The debates had begun again, with that selfsame flicker of a frisson of sexual tension. I replied, stating my point.

Then, yesterday, in a lull at work, I looked at his Facebook page again. Emblazoned across the front was his most recent application: HOW GAY ARE YOU? Result of the Quiz: You are 100% straight. In fact, they couldn’t get much straighter than you.

I read on. Most of his friends are military types. Real military types. The sorts who refer to him in writing as ‘Sir’. Loads of pictures of him in fatigues and loads of pictures of him and his various mili-buddies, all with Oriental-type girls young enough to be their daughters. Their very young daughters. Long lists of countries he’s visited. More military gumf. Application lists of people he’d like to see go away: Hillary Clinton among them. Lists of people he’d like to bitch-slap: Keith Olbermann, Hillary Clinton, anyone left of centre. No mention of the fat wife, no mention of family. Golf trips. Man things. Like, I love you, man.

He was right, all right. Righter than right. But right right?

And then I began to wonder. The whole page and its contents were posturing. The uniforms suddenly took on the aura of The Village People. The males in army fatigues messaging and calling him ‘sir’, the ‘gay’ quiz, prominent in its denial. The dodgy pics with his mates, obviously on R & R, in even dodgy oriental capitals with girls who’d be better off in Middle School than hanging with their arms around some GI’s neck.

Like this was cool, the sex tourism. Well, maybe to some, but looking at Asshole’s picture, the smile looked more than just a little wan. And I began to think that, scratching the surface, his Facebook page looked more than just a little gay - at least for him. Thinking about it, that would explain a lot about the past, and a great deal about his present - that maybe in the world of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’, it’s safer to be seen as a militarist who enjoys sex tourism, than someone of the ilk of Larry Craig or Mark Foley.

I gather from his Facebook page, he’s got political aspirations and he’ll more than likely be campaigning. Coming to and cumming in a man’s room near you, I suppose.

I suppose, in a snarky sorty of way, I’m glad that karma’s bit him where it might hurt the most. It must be a hellacious life, having to live it in the shadows.

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