The doctor told me I needed to lose weight, but not too much weight, just a few grams at the base of the fingers, because my fingers were tapered if you were being generous, or you could say, like my doctor said, that they were like lumpy triangles, with the fleshy base and dainty red nails at the end. She is always going after me in this way. Next week it will be about my genitals, some cosmetic complaint plainly invented to vex the patient. When I got home (I still live at home, meaning with my dad, a big problem) I called Frank and he said never mind about that, tell me about your sex life. I tried to remember the last time I came, but all I could think about was my fingers and my genitals, their coming together doubly offensive. Actually, I said, I don’t do that anymore. Imagine someone else’s hands and genitals, he said, or better yet, use someone else’s hands and genitals.
He was onto something.
At the hospital where I worked, a dementia patient grabbed my breast and cranked my nipple as I assisted him onto the toilet. A young doctor accidentally brushed his clipboard against my left buttcheek. One of the nurses put her hand on my shoulder, in a way that in another context entirely might have been sensual, as she moved me out of the way of the exit. I was getting closer.
Every night I drink half a bottle of Old Crow diluted with diet soda. I can’t sleep at night otherwise. I’m telling you why now. It has to do with this period of my life, these weeks of sexual deprivation and discovery.
I practiced a steady gaze in public and at home I kept my hands busy and my eyes off my hands. One day I was staring down a man walking in my direction towards his car in the parking lot of an adult video store, the last one still open in the city. He had promising, unfriendly eyes and a halting, harried stride, like he was holding a lot inside that threatened leaking or bursting. I put myself between him and the driver’s seat, stretching out my limbs like a giant starfish stuck to his car. He lived with a few other men, one of which I recognized as a recent patient in trauma who arrived with a screwdriver in his left eye, but when his good eye met mine while he was on top of me I decided he did not remember me from when I changed his soiled sheets and gown.
At home I did the dishes and my dad talked at me from the living room. I couldn’t hear well over the faucet. “It’s like your mother used to say… Never owned more than five pairs of pants in my life, Jesus!… So what, I can look at anything in my house it’s my house god damnit, I do what I want…” I kept thinking I better take a shower but then I just went to bed instead. I didn’t shower for ten days and I didn’t get out of bed either, except when I had to go to work.
“Why aren’t you answering my texts?” Frank was standing in my bedroom doorway.
“Why do you look weird?”
“I was at a party. I couldn’t remember my address so Katy took me here.” His pupils were like saucers and his mouth and eyes were moving constantly, so his expression was always changing.
“I don’t want to see anyone.”
“Too bad because I want to see you,” he said, and started crawling on all fours on my bed towards me.
“You better not. I haven’t showered.”
“I like it.”
He was wearing smeared eyeliner and his cheeks were sticky with glitter. “I like your hands, and your weird hairline. Your doctor is stupid. I like everything about you. Do you like me? Let’s take a shower together.”
“Did they make you leave the party?”
“I don’t know. I was making out with this woman, or trying to, and then Katy told me it was time to go.”
In the shower he rhythmically, absent mindedly squeezed my breasts as he recounted his childhood traumas. He had only one memory of his mother, and it was of the last time he saw her. She told him she would be back for him. She was wearing all of the jewelry she owned and her hair was freshly dyed red. She looked like a clown.
“When I came in your dad was standing in the kitchen talking to himself. Why does he do that?”
“Mental illness I guess.”
“He should see a doctor.”
After that I was buzzing for days. I scraped the memory of the men from my mind into the muted part I set aside for garbage I never bothered about. My dad entered a new phase of whatever his condition was where he would try to ask me about my day, ask me if I’ve seen any good movies lately, offer to make dinner for me, etc. I sent him to his room and called the doctor.
When I didn’t hear from Frank after that night I started fading from my life in a bad way. I sunk back into the rut of rutting around. The man I met from Tinder was not good, but he knew a lot about esoteric Christianity. We conversated our way into his bed. Another spoke of dispersed offshore fortunes, but never offered so much as a free fuck. In the breakroom at work I kneaded at my coworkers’ knees beneath the lunch table. A deaf medical assistant, a young but unblemished woman, hogged my blankets for a week, until one morning she served my dad a bowl of stale cereal and a handful of her breast. She kept her eyes off his mouth and on his dick, and this way he said what he wanted and she got what she wanted.
Who were the ones that were taken? I could list them off and often do when I am soothing myself to sleep or to orgasm. A newly paralyzed patient nicknamed Pudding for her soft white stomach, heavily drugged and delirious, grabbed me by the scrub collar one evening as I inserted an IV into her big white warm. “You have the most amazing skin, like a painting,” she said. We talked about where we might honeymoon, where we could go with her new wheelchair, once she was discharged. But the day came and I had no intention of leaving town because I did always hope that Frank would accidentally stumble into my room some hopeless, horny night, and I quickly erased her. But if she called now? If any of them did? I would put away my life. The things that got in the way, that I kept getting stuck on—Frank, my hands, my doctor (why didn’t she ever run any tests?), my dad.
Later it was decided that my father was unprecedented. His symptoms matched no description. He was undiagnosable. He was a free man.
I did see those men again, though, off the record.
I made a mistake with Frank, but I will always swear otherwise. I did the math on how often and for how long you can attempt contact with someone who has canceled you from their life and decided that both numbers were definite but inevitably infinite in practice. While my body bedded and suffered other men the real part of me reeled. I walked through the night shift halls of the hospital forgetful and hollow. Instead of checking in on a patient, I hid in a storage room, elbowing stacks of catheters and IV stands, various tubing, and redialed. An unfamiliar feminine voice told me the bad, obvious news. Shortly after that I was fired, but for a long time I kept showing up anyway.
Hayley Boyd is cocreator and editor of EATING IN MY HOME, a literary journal in the style of a food blog. Her writing has appeared in Anderbo and The Collidescope, and is forthcoming in Blood Tree Literature. She lives in Portland, Oregon.