my earliest introductions to the concept of formal non-monogamy

1998: On my own at UMass Amherst for the summer, I make friends with a hippie gentleman in his late 50’s (a jazz violinist) who informs that he has an open marriage. I am 17 at the time, and he tells me that I’m quite a musician, adorable, and wise beyond my years and would have a relationship with me if only I were a year older. I have no idea what to do with this information and am grateful that my minor status simplifies things. When I run out of money having squandered the bulk of it at Newbury Comics on CDs, he gives me his carton of rice milk and orders me a spinach bacon pizza (my favorite thing to eat at the time). Later he helps me out with my first real hangover (after a wild night of vodka with the boys, who to their credit took excellent care of me and did nothing to capitalize on my weakened state) with herbal teas, soft music, and a back rub. When the Sun Ra Arkestra comes to campus, we dance together on the grass,  and I feel happier than I’ve ever been.

To this day, I’m not sure I would have dated him had I been 18. I think so.

2000: After a rocky first year at college, I move in with K. The reasons I date him in the first place are simple. He pursues me aggressively, settles my indebtedness to my old drug dealer, and won’t take no for an answer. I am 19, and he is 32, savvy, incredibly charismatic, and often a complete enigma to me. There seem to be slivers to his personality. I feel like I am dating 10 different versions of the same person, and though it can be terrifying (as I never know when I will trigger his anger), it’s terribly exciting in a way as I find him so darned interesting and unpredictable on a fundamental level.

He shares with me a 2-year relationship he had that was a triad with 2 women. I am incredulous about its feasibility and ask a lot of questions. Once my curiosity is satisfied, I remark that surely I by myself must seem insufficient in the face of having 2 women at once. He educates me on the pros and cons of such an arrangement, dotes on me, and tells me not to worry. I find myself that summer often obsessing about my inadequacy as being only one woman with a desire to have a close bond with one person as I clean hotel rooms (my job), blasting the music on the clock radio to try to drown out my neurosis.

As K is connected to my group of my friends (as his group and my group are two large circles that just barely connect), he has heard all the legends surrounding me, my uncanny ability to attract women (even straight ones), my participation in all-girl orgies, implacable charm, my bisexuality. He brings it up in conversation frequently. I don’t want to talk about it. I just want a chance at a “normal” relationship, a meaningful bond with someone, one person. For once. He won’t stop. Every time we hang out with his female friends, he takes me aside and says, “I saw you checking her out.” Sometimes he tells me this during sex.

I want to hit him in the face and yell, “Am I not good enough for you? Why does no one ever love me for me? Why is it always the people I attract?” Instead I dissociate and focus on a point of light behind his head, writhing and moaning as I manage to escape what he says and get lost in our bodies. I shower, write a bit on my bleak novella, smoke up, and take a handful of mystery pills (one of my favorite activities at that time).

He starts controlling every aspect of my life. He takes my paychecks. Tells me what I can and can’t eat or wear. Who I can or can’t talk to. I don’t know how it happens. A millimeter at a time, I guess. It seems sweet at first, but before I know it, I’m suffocating. He’s in my mind, molding me. The drugs don’t help. They make me suggestible. I can just barely fight his influence off.

I take advantage of his failing short-term memory to call my father and leave K before something even worse happens. I can see it on the horizon. K sits on my stereo and cries as my parents help me load my stuff into the car. “I love you, Page,” he sobs over and over again, and I believe him.

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