I'm 37 Now  

Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2002




Iíve got a problem with snakes and I canít really help it because I was almost bitten by one once, I almost stepped on one, a small orange rattler about to come out of the short grass when I was hiking under Timpanogos mountain in Utah, and yes, it happened in 1988, but I was hiking alone, mid-day, mid-week, and an out-of-work red neck was target practicing with his shot gun somewhere nearby, the high, hard blasts of his triggerings echoing around me, and as I hiked, a skunk ran out in front of me and looked at me for a moment, and I didnít know which way it would run, or if it would run, but it did run, and it was this little series of omens happening all at once as I was finishing my first degree at the University of Religion, what they call Brigham Young University where God himself comes down to explain scripture and physics, and I was only three years from coming out of the closet, as in the sexual closet, and I should certainly be over the degree, the red neck, the closet, and the snake by now, but Iím not.  Iím always vigilant for half-smiling Mormons who think they should try and get me back into the fold, and Iím always waiting for gun totting men with tractor-advertising ball caps to walk up behind me all ready and mean, and I always know that slinking sound in the grass is something out to get me.

Ok, so Iím paranoid.

Then in 1995 I decided to stop being afraid of things.

Of course, just saying, ďI wonít be afraid of things,Ē does not miraculously make it so.  No matter how much I say, ďIím not going to be afraid, Iím not going to be afraid,Ē Iím still afraid of snakes and Mormons and red necks, red necks mostly because I think they can actually kill me.  Iím sure they see me down on 9th and 9th where all the queers hang out, and I know they see me in my topless Wrangler, a clear sign of my otherness, and Iím convinced they can tell I think about women way, way, way too much. 

Love-which-is-another-word-for-intimacy-which-is-another-word-for-sex frightens me too, of course, and it frightens me that it frightens me because lately Iíve started craving it so very much, and it is a terrible craving, and I try to be level headed, but more often than not love seems scarier than snakes or Mormons or rednecks combined. 

Love is dangerous and slippery like when I tell my depressed lover I might go out to the bar tonight, and Iím stupid because Iím thinking itís no big deal to ask for this, itís just a way to get out of the house so I can blow off steam.  After all, thereís been so much tension in the air lately with all the world-weary languor flying around, and maybe I just want to dress up a little and pretend Iím cute.  And I know she doesnít want to go.  She hasnít wanted to go anywhere for a long time, and before I ask if I can go out, I create in my mind this idyllic love-union where each partner can do whatever they want whenever they want as long as they are still in love and kind and helpful and affectionate, and I let this Utopic minefield cover my brain like a warm blanket, so that when I say, ďUh, honey, I might go out to the bar tonight,Ē I suddenly get to experience her 100 mile per hour curve ball of anger hitting me in the center of my chest, and it takes days, months maybe, for her to get over thinking Iím like her ex husband with his constant female carousing, and his lies, and his general sneakiness all of which I never thought I possessed at all.

But maybe thatís exactly how I am.

Maybe she is right.

When she explodes at me, I suddenly wish I too could lie and be sneaky and generally get everything on the planet I ever wanted because this is how it seems to go for lying, sneaky people.  They get what they want, or at least thatís what Morrisey sings about in his songs, and he is and has been my true prophet since 1993.

People who are uglier than you and I,

take what they want from life and leave.

But Iím much too neurotically self-aware, and too formerly Mormon-nice to take what I want from life.  Because Iíve been looking hard at other women these last few months, and sometimes doing more than looking, Iíve begun to think I really am a deep, black-hearted cheater, which I never thought I would be, and because this makes me afraid, and I vowed to never be afraid, I hike at the hottest times of the day in the middle of summer in the pounding, foothill sun.  I force myself to walk the thin, brown, grassy Salt Lake trails during snake season, because I keep thinking I will find some relief from the craziness of love by flooding myself with the heat of snakes.  So I read about them.  I look at their pictures.  I watch television shows about them and their sinking-into-skin teeth.  When I see one on the trail, I scream for a moment, then make myself stop and look more closely because like talk show hosts tell us every day, you just have to work your way through fears like these by facing them, so I hike when itís only me and the wind and the cicadas making sound, my dark, pseudo-mestiza head fuzzy and chilling unsteady above me, and I know the snakes are there, and I dare them to be stronger than me, and if I see one and I donít startle, sometimes I feel some little bit of power. 

Below me when I hike, I see and hear pavement and construction, always construction in this town, always orange cones and orange-clad women with Las Vegas hairdos flagging themselves at us with their ultra tan arms, and when Iím driving past them, I sometimes notice their dangling cigarettes, their dark skin, their juicy asses, and my head turns toward them like I am some kind of man with tits on his mind, and sometimes they notice me noticing them, and once in a while they smile at me, a straight girlís smile at being appreciated, and I smile back at them without thinking too much of my depressed lover lying on the living room couch at home on this sunny, sunny day.  These flag girls cover the whole city with their tight thighs, and I cannot avoid them, and I am like a man with tits on the brain, and, yes, I need to be frightened.

But I made the vow.  No more fear.

Dean Moriarty wouldnít be afraid, I tell myself after finally reading On the Road a few months ago.  Dean Moriarty would say YASS, YASS, YASS to it all and never stop to contemplate his neuroses.

Of course, if I were Dean, Iíd be dead already.

So itís probably safer to crave dust and heat and snakes and think these things might really save me.  Itís heat stroke in 100 degrees that will boil all the love-cravings out of me, that will harden my muscles into impenetrability, and make me blue and savage and glass-like until no flash of skin, not even from my tall, beautiful lover who has no libido, not even from a dark-haired woman who tosses me a little smiling wink when I pay for my bagel, not even these things will effect me if I can sufficiently lose myself in heat waves and slithering bodies.

Wild dust.  Curving snakes.  The crunch of my trail shoes.  The rattle of Honda Civic hatchbacks on the road below.  The thorazine shuffle of patients at the Neuropsychiatric Institute down the hill from where I hike.  Every day when I face the heat and the snakes, I pass that brick building, years of wondering what goes on inside.

Then a few months ago I took my lover there because she wanted to die, and this seemed rather sudden to me even though I know sheís often a depressed person, a distracted and staring person, a person who feels murdered by urban living, and she had already been out of work for a while from extreme ennui, but her desire to be dead still seemed so unexpected.  Certainly you could say it was because of my cheating heart, but she didnít know how terribly lusty I was becoming.  She had been insurmountably sad even before I started noticing construction flag women or the angles of my best friendís hands.  I had been smiling at my lover, and heating chicken soup for her, and begging everyone for money to help us through this rough spot, and every day I had been sweetly petting her forehead, and I never went out except to hike in the heat.

But I guess she has been heading for a mental black hole most of the years I have known her.

Iíve never really taken any classes telling me what to do when oneís lover canít stop crying like that, and because I am not a professional, but instead an always frightened, moronic soul who felt the utter panic of helplessness in the face of potentially tragic, real danger, I took her to the building by my foothill trails where I had always imagined they were doing brain surgery, where I had always thought people were walking around with white turbans on their heads and dilated pupils, but now I know there are people inside shuffling slowly through the hallways because they are doped out of their minds, which is good because they need a rest, resting is good.  Now I know the patients there only get smoke breaks every two hours, which certainly isnít enough when you smoke a pack or more a day, like my lover does, and when they go out to smoke they have to have their cigarettes lit by nurses because I guess the staff thinks thereís that ever-present danger that people who want to kill themselves will light things on fire.

Even though my lover is 5 feet 9 inches tall, with long legs always enticing me, even though sheís not a petite thing, at the Institute she looked like a child when I finally left her there the first evening because they didnít really want me sleeping on the lobby floor.  I had to leave even though I didnít want to, and even though I was trying to be quite British about it all, stiff lip, rational eye, I couldnít keep myself from crying like this was the end of the universe and life, my lover in a mental institution, my lover without shoelaces or sharp objects or lighters, and I went home and drank tequila and watched American Beauty because I needed to see a movie I knew wouldnít be awful, because one more bad thing would have made my head begin to peel away from my body until there was nothing left.  But of course the movie made me cry harder.  Thereís Lester Burnham wanting more out of life, wanting an exciting, intimate escape from middle class narcolepsy, which is what my lover has been crying about ever since I met her, yet she has gone on living this middle class, narcoleptic existence, and this is my fault, she says, and now itís finally over because she canít do it for one minute more, and certainly thatís a good thing, waking up is good, being conscious is good, thatís what all the books say, thatís what all my friends who are awake say, and certainly I want more than middle class narcolepsy too.  I want the sage brush and the snakes, and the living YASS YASS YASS of intimacy and sex and long conversations where the word ďNordstromĒ is never mentioned.

I have, for years, been trying to convince my lover that being awake and passionate and connected to nature is the core of living in this Universe.

But in April when my lover asked me for the 47th time in five years if we could please go live in the woods somewhere far away from all this car noise, all these telephone wires, these sirens and asphalt odors, these meaningless jobs and consumptive lifestyles, and move somewhere closer to the red necks and the open space and the farm-like simplicity she grew up with, when we were looking at piŮon pine lands full of snakes two hours south of Salt Lake, thatís when I finally knew I couldnít do it.  I want my impossible escape from fear to happen here in this city because I am urban through and through, and as long as I can drive to the sage and the piŮons, Iím relatively, neurotically happy.

I am a city girl hitting a midlife crisis who is married to a country girl going crazy.

Perhaps this means she and I are not compatible.

Itís taken me five years, thousands of hours spent looking at property, my loverís Neuropsychiatric visit, 143 bottles of tequila, and a shaky affair with my best friend to get me to admit this.

Even in this little Mormon city, this Salt Lake Valley filled with orange cones, even here there are bars and hikes and at least a few women who look you in the eye with something more than friendship.  This is where the go, go, go of life is, and I am in love with a woman who comes from a place that still doesnít have a Wall Mart, thank god, but hopefully that tells you a lot because a place that still doesnít have a Wall Mart, a place without a single hiking trail because everyone rides ATVís, a place where people casually drink beers while driving 70 miles per hour over farm roads, a place like that certainly doesnít spawn the kinds of lovers who want to live the exciting, always going Dean Moriarty yass yass yass of desert, urban life.  An Emersonian escape is no longer on my list of things-to-do, and so, my lover sleeps at the Neuropsychiatric Institute for a few days, and when she gets out she shakes frighteningly from all the drugs, and I try not to look at her with big, uncertain eyes.  I try to pretend she hasnít just come from the place my parents used to whisper about.

ďI did a lot of blessings at the hospital today,Ē my father would tell my mother when I was young.

ďYouíre doing good work at the hospital,Ē my mother would say.

Could it be that because the rest of my life seems so horrifying right now, my fear of red necks and love and snakes and other things has been ebbing?  I mean, how can a girl really be afraid of silly things when her loverís going mad?

I guess that could sound a little melodramatic.  If I want to be more accurate a la the doctors at the Institute, I would have to say, ďWhat does a girl do when her loverís clinically depressed without psychosis?Ē  But that just doesnít sound as good, or as bad, or the rhythm of all those multi-syllabic words throws the sentence off, or it sounds as clinical as it is, which isnít really all that interesting to most people when ďmadĒ has so many emotionally useful connotations as well as alliterative impact.

Lately when I hike in the Salt Lake foothills, I donít think about snakes at all.  I look out over this city filled with millions of houses, millions of cars and people, and I know at least some of those people who are too much like me look away from the television for a moment as they sit on their sagging couches, as they look at their mad, or should I say clinically-depressed-without-psychosis lovers.  They look at their mad lovers, and their minds start to go blank, but they never entirely empty, and they wish they could stop worrying about their lovers doing, doing, doing things all the time, painting, painting, painting, or writing, writing, writing, or sewing, sewing, sewing, or never doing anything ever, just laying, laying, laying, staring, staring, staring, maybe changing the channel every few minutes.  The caretakers of this city try not to think about their loved onesí inertia, but there are commitments and all, rings and mortgages and cars, and they begin to want to read Jack Kerouacís On the Road because they remember someone telling them it was all about fun, fun, fun, with all that driving, driving, driving, and going, going, going, and drinking, drinking, drinking, and fucking, fucking, fucking, and if their lives were this way, at least once in a while, they might feel a little bit of peace, which, of course, is a fantasy, but thatís ok, fantasies can be quite entertaining and therapeutic, and maybe the madness of living in oneís mind would help assuage the madness of staring at a mentally dying lover.  And then these caretakers of the city turn their heads away from their lovers, and watch the end of some Hallmark movie-filled-with-tears, which really isnít the best kind of thing for depressed people to watch, but thatís what she wanted to see, she chose it, insisted on it even though the doctors told her to take it easy with the depressing i.e. mad movies, and the one who isnít depressed i.e. mad knows they canít be too controlling because that could make the one whoís depressed more depressed, so the caretaker just sits while the Hallmark movie-filled-with-tears goes on for hours, days, months, and eventually the caretaker drinks a lot of beer, and whiskey on the rocks, and tequila shooters, and margaritas, and bourbon straight up trying to pretend Kerouacís alter ego Sal would certainly have done this too, that he and Dean Moriarty would certainly have watched a sappy movie out of love for a crazy person while downing six packs.

Sal i.e. Kerouac asks bland, narcoleptic people what they have most wanted to do in their lives, and of course he gets bland, narcoleptic answers, which allow him to say, AHAA, as a way to show that he and Dean are so much more alive.  Of course he worships a mad person, mad, mad, mad Dean Moriarty, but for a moment as you read about them living it up in San Francisco, you just want to be the angel Dean trumpeting this mad, kicking message of real living all over the universe, and you have always wanted, in theory, and during certain times in your life, to be in love with someone like Dean because he has no boundaries, he has no rules except to go, go, go, and you sometimes think youíre like this, youíre a mad, living, boundaryless person, not a mad, dying, narcoleptic person, or a person married to a mad, dying, narcoleptic person.

But of course Deanís life is a wreck of left wives and left children and car accidents and liver damage, and you donít want that, and you donít want to be in love with that, itís just a fantasy for Christís sake, canít I just have a little fantasy for a minute?

I sometimes think I want to study love like I study snakes, like Sal i.e. Kerouac studies Dean Moriarty.  I could face love head on like I face snakes and sometimes I do, or at least I begin to.  I finally do go out to a bar to feel at least a little bit cute, and itís with friends so itís ok, right?  And Iím not supposed to be afraid, so when a voluptuous blonde makes eyes at me, I return the look for a moment, but then I go, ďOhmygod.  Ohmygod.  Ohmygod,Ē and I run to the bathroom full of fear that she might ask me to do something I would really like to do with her, but Iím married, arenít I, and my lover is crazy, and doing something right now would just be the height of evil, wouldnít it?  And then if I actually did something with her, which I would want to do very badly, the curve-balls of nuptial pain would rip through me for years, for millennia.

Then why not be fearless with my own lover who scares the hell out of me, but who the Bible would sanction as a moral sexual partner if it sanctioned women doing it together?  Why not be fearless and moral and say while kissing my loverís back, ďI want to lick your beautiful skin.Ē

ďI canít,Ē she says.  ďItís my pills,Ē she says.

ďItís my menopause,Ē she says.

ďI canít get in the mood just like that,Ē she says.

ďI havenít felt sexual for years,Ē she says.

ďI feel dead inside,Ē she says.

Nuptial grief.  The desert and a half moon.  My best friend.  When she offered her lips to me, they were simply too hard to pass up, and though I did try to pass them up every 5 minutes or so while stopping to breathe, I would then think I was stopping out of fear, and how can I let fear stop me from kissing my best friend who happens to be a superb kisser, who I actually found out was a superb kisser many years ago when I vowed to stop being afraid?  How could a girl who vows to let herself try it all miss out on such an intensely pleasurable encounter?  So I kept pulling her tight to me, and she kept pulling me tight to her, and I didnít pass her by, and now I am suffering the guilt of a fallen woman in need of a patron saint and a miracle.

I didnít tell my lover about all this, but she could tell.  Sheís a country girl with a long streak of country suspicion.  I cooked eggs like a fallen woman.  I looked at the blue, summer sky like a fallen woman.   I dusted the lamps like a fallen woman.  I asked for an open marriage like a fallen woman.

Yes, country women do like to throw things.  It is just like in the songs.

But then a few months later, my love, my honey, my pretty farm girl was reading Women Who Run With the Wolves as a way to find herself after her Neuropsychiatric visit, and though we had been fighting about my sexual cravings and her sexless madness all summer, she said to me, ďI think we should live more like animals, and do what seems to come naturally to us.Ē 



I wanted to say, ďWell, honey, does that mean I can kiss someone who seems kissable and interested whenever the mood strikes me, like perhaps my best friend, for instance, who you are incredibly jealous of?Ē  But of course I didnít say this because that just wouldnít have gone over well, no, no, not with a country girl who wouldnít hesitate to set the house on fire and two-step down the street afterward.

Of course, maybe I want other women because marriage is hard, even without depression, and perhaps Iím afraid of the commitment, so maybe this is what makes me lust, but then if I didnít do anything while making eyes at the blonde in the bar, if I pushed my best friend away when she pushed her lips into mine, if I held up my ring finger and said, ďIím married,Ē ah that lifesaver little piece of gold, that killer piece of gold, well, there I am passing on opportunities, and Iím breaking my 1995 vow, and Iím moving through life without having touched someone yet again. 

Whether itís marriage, or depressed libidos, or my overly contained 37-year-old soul, the hotter the day, the hotter the salsa, the more frightening the snake, the hotter I get for women.  I am a like a man with tits on the brain, and my lover knows this, and I want it even from my friends, and I canít stop looking at their lips and cleavage, and I canít stop noticing their beautiful slow-moving hands, and once during a late lunch my best friend and I were in the bathroom wondering what a quickie would be like, because sheís crazy and craving too, and I grabbed her, and she said, ďI want to show you something,Ē and she did, and we fell hard into each other.  When I canít stop thinking about her lips, or what it might be like to have her take me to her plaid covered bed and fuck wild as if we had both just come out of the closet, well, I end up alone and saying things like this:

ďHi, my nameís Lee and Iím addicted to sex.Ē

ďHi, Lee,Ē the group says.

ďHi.  When I say Iím addicted to sex,Ē I continue, ďI really mean love, or maybe I mean kissing.  It depends on the time of month, but sometimes Iím just addicted to looking at womenís bodies, like their hair and skin.  Their skin really can sometimes set me on fire, especially if thereís some kind of scar, or a mental disease, not a major one, itís more like a deep level of neurosis that attracts me.  Ok, so Iím not really having sex all that much.  Well, actually not at all, not since last month.  I guess Iím getting it more than some people, but maybe according to your definitions itís not an addiction per say.  I just want sex or kissing or something erotic all the time which has been the case for most of my life.  You know how Mormonís are supposed to be virgins and stuff, well, that was me for 26 years, so I probably do have a lot of orgasms bottled up inside me.  Frankly, I wouldnít mind finding out if I truly am a sex addict, I mean, I doubt I can ever get too much of it.  I doubt that my bottomless need can ever be filled, so maybe my doubt proves Iím addicted.  Well, ok, so hi.Ē

ďHi, Lee,Ē the group says again, coughing, fidgeting.

Should I love snakes instead?  The snake Iím looking at now flicks the air with its tongue and coils itís head back a bit as it watches me watching it, and I wonder if it does this to look more rattler-like because it knows Iím afraid, it knows it can win by doing something survivaly intelligent like coiling itís neck, but I know itís not poisonous, itís head is round, not triangular, not filled with venom pockets, this snakeís ok even though it is quite large, fat even, with coiled neck even, and it is a little frightening, but it has a rather beautiful greenish underbelly, and a pattern of dark, brown droplets on itís back, and I almost reach out to it, but I donít because it might get so scared it goes off to die under a sage bush, and then I would feel kind of bad.

I try to look at my lover like this as if I couldnít possibly ever be afraid of her, as if looking too closely at her dappled curves, at her uncertain lips, at her sometimes vacant eyes will not entice and scare me in ways that can never be controlled or satisfied, as if wanting her body too much when the feeling is not returned will not burn out my retinas, my vagina, forever, amen.  I try to not be afraid of being left, of not getting sex or back rubs or every other thing I want at all moments because as I said, in 1995 I decided to love anyway because to live without love of some kind is to live a dry, terrible existence.  Iíve done it before.  I should know.  The first 26 years of my life was a very dry, Mormon time, so choosing some kind of piece-meal-take-only-certain-parts-of-me-when-youíre-interested-kind-of-love seems almost acceptable to me.

I am Mormon sick and reeling.

So I hike in 114 degree heat to purge myself, and it almost kills me to be out at noon in July crunching over the rocks with no shade anywhere, and itís so hot I wouldnít even care if a snake suddenly appeared, wrapped itself around my neck, and bit me on the cheek.  Iíd swat it like a mosquito, and try to laugh, but I wouldnít be able to because itís so hot, and if I can survive 90 minutes of this broil coming down onto my dark, pseudo-mestiza head, I should be able to stay with my lover, wouldnít you think, especially because I fear the dry, terrible existence more than I fear her, more than I fear the heat or those moments when sheís going to tell me sheís dying of cancer from her pack-a-day cigarette habit, or the times when she says sheís leaving me because sheís just had it with my middle-class, narcoleptic desire to live in suburbia, or sheís finally sick to death of my black, cheating heart.  And I fear the dry terrible existence more than I fear her telling me sheís really losing it now, permanently never to return, her body a strange, staring shell that I will have to call an ambulance for.  And I fear dryness more than I fear her saying sheís not in love any more, the spark just isnít there, it disappeared long, long ago, in 1997 actually, when I accidentally misplaced her Timex watch in my infernal need to organize things.  And I fear the dry terrible existence more than I fear my loverís anger and further withdrawal at finding out I eventually did fuck my best friend on her plaid bed.  And I fear the dry terrible existence more than I fear the inevitable moment when my best friend stops talking to me forever as a way to preserve her own difficult marriage.  And I guess I fear the dry, terrible existence more than I fear the times when I want to open the front door, close it behind me, and keep walking forever, unless itís winter because then I would probably only walk for an hour or so and come back and have some wine.

As I hike, I can see tail lights downtown going east as the sun begins to set, tail lights behind people who are going places, to bars downtown, bars with bands and fun and noise and dancing.  Then something moves in the bushes nearby, and I look hard for the slinking long body, but itís a mocking bird trying its hardest to look like a snake because it sees me and knows.  The clouds begin to turn orange, and today itís clear enough to see past Antelope Island where there are no antelope, and the lake which is a sea looks almost blue, and the rescue helicopter from the University Medical Center takes off buzzing close over me because some completely stupid person in the middle of a terrible divorce has decided to jump from one of the easiest trails in the Wasatch, and they are now lying at the bottom of a ravine with a broken collar bone and a broken pelvis and a pair of ripped Columbia shorts from REI, and theyíre calling the University Medical Center on their cell phone because theyíve decided to live, and they are in pain, and a little morphine might be nice right now to dull it all.

The doctors say my beloved, dappled, 5 foot 9 inch Nordic amazon from Gunnison will take time to get better, months maybe, and my lover tells me not to give up the faith, and sometimes I want to tell her not to give up the faith, and my best friend tells me the same thing, and she tells her lover the same thing, and I wonder at all this crazy, waiting, waiting, waiting for everyone and everything to get better, and I know Sal and Dean didnít wait around because life is too short to hold out for crazy women, but truly, I am not a man like they were.  I donít just have tits on my brain like they did.  I do have a stupid, caring, needy, human soul looking for impossible utopias.

And I donít want to be afraid of this.

I donít want to desire narcolepsy over pain.

It would be easier to dig a large hole in my backyard after calling Blue Stakes so as to avoid opening a gas line and worrying the neighbors, and it would be easier to lay down in the dark caliche soil of my Utah property and cover myself over in earthy moisture until I dissolve into the minerals I am made of so that no one will find me or scare me or hurt me ever again.

But Iíve never really wanted the easy things in life, theyíre just too easy, after all. I mean, who would ever want love and beauty and grace just handed to them on a lovely china platter?  Besides, Iíve just spent the last 17 pages telling you I like my life hard and fast and terrible-full-of-bleeding, so Iím not too likely to back off now, am I?  Iím not too likely to tie it all up with a sunset and a death wish, or some poetic line about hiking between worlds, between nature and city, between love and emptiness, between death and life.  No, Iím not too likely to end with something comfortably closing because none of this ever ends, it just keeps going going going, unless, of course, someone falls into a ravine without a cell phone, or shoots themselves in the head and doesnít miss, or decides itís time to live at the Neuropsychiatric Institute forever, amen.

This is the yass, yass, yass of my life, and it doesnít stop, not even for you.


Copyright © Lee Ann Mortensen 2002