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Why I Only Love Addicts

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I met Scott at a bar called Sugar in Tribeca. He was on Vicodin that night, in addition to whatever he'd been drinking. His habits also included cocaine and gambling. During the four years I knew Scott, he rarely answered his phone when I called. I had no guaranteed access to him. It killed me for four years.

Scott was raised Mormon in Arizona. His older brothers tormented him by bringing girls home and having sex with them in the upper bunk while Scott had to pretend to sleep in the lower. I don't know how old he was when he watched his father, whom he now suspects worked for the CIA., drown in the ocean in Central America, but I know that Scott was in his early twenties when he worked as a missionary in Central America, where they called him a "man of god." He almost married a Mormon girl and had been in the process of separating from her when we met at Sugar.

Lying in my sofa with him one night, holding his back to my chest, our ribs moving together, I listened to him tell me about the 13-year-old girl he'd interviewed in his capacity as assistant D.A. to find out exactly how and when her older cousin had ejaculated on her in their bathroom. That may have been the same evening Scott told me about watching his dog being bitten almost in two by a larger dog in a dog run. He'd watched her eyes as she died. "She looked at me," he said. "She knew."

Scott seemed calm to me, but he wasn't so much calm as suppressed. The angrier he'd get, he told me, the "calmer" he'd become. He told me also that sometimes he'd hold back an orgasm during sex to avoid feeling anything. "Did you?" of course I asked, moments later. "Shhhh," he said. So, while some women check their lover's cell phones for secrets, I found myself that night in my bathroom picking through the wastebasket looking for the condom to see if this man who rarely returned my phone calls had had a proper orgasm.

Once, when we were in bed and I was worrying too much to enjoy it, I asked him to "just talk to me." Without stopping, he confessed his exact birth date, which, for some reason, he'd wanted to keep a secret from me. I asked for more, so he said, in a sighing confession, "Well... my mother didn't come to my graduation from law school."

Scott was usually drunk when he'd come over, but sometimes he may have been sober. After about two years I said, "I think I deserve an answer, after all this time. Do you love me?" After a silence, he said, "Yes. And I don't use that word very often." "But you'd never say it," I said. "I thought I just did," he said. Four years ago Scott moved to Micronesia to work for the government. I never heard from him again. I think I'm still waiting for him to come back.

***

My strongest romantic feelings have always emerged in the presence of addicts. Here's why:

  1. Addicts come and go when they need to, so I have a lot of time alone, which I need, even if I don't always like it.
  2. Addicts require instant, cutting intimacy which I seem equipped to deliver, which makes me feel unique and needed
  3. They have a dark physical warmth that's hard to come by in the course of a normal day.
  4. When an addict disappears, it's largely beyond his control. What's largely beyond his control is largely beyond mine. I.e., I didn't do anything wrong to make him go away.
  5. Also, he didn't really abandon me, since he couldn't really have stayed. If I can't be abandoned, and I can't control or fail to control someone else's behavior, then I can start to love.

***

Alan, a handsome middle-aged pediatrician on the Upper East Side, sat looking at me in a kindly or patronizing way. He'd just tried to embrace me. We were in his lovely den, on his comfortable beige sofa, watching football on his flat screen TV. He'd made space for me in front of him and wrapped a throw around us. I'd managed there, my back to him, staring blankly at the television, for about a minute before I could no longer bear the suffocation of his arms and the wooden coolness of his healthy hips. I moved to the far arm of the sofa, then to the windows to look out at the colorful high-rising night sky. "For some reason," I said, "I don't feel what I think I should be feeling right now." I assured him that I loved talking to him, that I enjoyed our dinners, that he hadn't done anything wrong -- and that, by the way, his apartment was great. "I can't believe you apologized for not having hung your pictures yet. You should see the penniless maniacs I'm typically attracted to."

"Don't take this the wrong way," he said, "But maybe you're just not able to receive attention in a healthy relationship. Some people just aren't able to."

"Ever?" I said. "In life?"

***

Zach writes jingles and uses heroin without needles. We never had sex during the six weeks we dated. I'd hold him, though, put my hand on his cervical spine and feel it relax, his torso expand and soften. Zach was concentrating on not drinking, because drinking could lead to heroin, which he wanted to quit, even though it made him feel like everything was right in the world, like he had to do nothing at all to justify his existence, like he was perfect, nurtured. "My mother was a good mother. She's always there for me," he assured me, though I hadn't asked. Zach said that being with me was like heroin.

***

I don't know what my addicts found through knowing me. But in trying to love them, I found shame, panic and momentary tranquility. I gnawed away at my psyche for years, loving them until I found the point inside myself from which I can begin to connect.

I'm seeing someone now, sort of. He's not an addict, to my knowledge. When he tells me he thinks I'm beautiful, I listen. When he says he'll see me on Saturday at 2 p.m., I don't instantly start worrying that he's going to cancel at the last minute. When he says he has feelings for me, I let myself feel it for a moment. His feelings. Not mine yet. Almost.