2011: Michelle is waiting for me at the door as Skyspook pulls the car back out into the street to go to work. She rolls her eyes at me.
“If you’re not fucking him, then what the hell are you doing over there all night?”
I avert my eyes. “Sleeping, for one.”
“You sleep like shit,” she snaps. “You’re back up in a couple of hours.”
“Not when I sleep next to him,” I say. “I can relax around him. I’m not sure why, but I can.” It’s true and no small thing. While the worst of the PTSD symptoms are years behind me, nagging hypervigilance and anxiety still remain as my baseline. It’s important to tread carefully and feign vulnerability if I have to in order to get through things unscathed while still retaining a secret steely core — and forget about letting my guard down. I never manage more than a couple hours of sleep in one go. Something invariably startles me awake and keeps me there; sometimes it’s my own mind conjuring echoes.
But with Skyspook? I feel completely safe. Cared for, even. It’s not an emotion I can remember having, aside from some fuzzy memories of being rocked to sleep by my mother or carried upstairs by my father when I fell asleep on the couch. And I’m not sure that those memories aren’t just dreams.
“That doesn’t even make sense,” Michelle says, and her dismissal is so profane and offensive to me that for a moment, I feel adrenaline surge through me, and I want to hit her.
“Besides,” I say instead. “There are a million things that aren’t fucking that you can do if you have enough imagination.”
It’s petty, but I don’t care. I know the rules of our agreement and know that I am squarely within them and have done nothing risky STI-wise. Making out, hand jobs, some light kink, all things I’m permitted to do at will when the mood strikes me. I brush by her to get to the kitchen. I need to make coffee, shower, start my own day working at home. She grabs her keys from the table. “We’ll talk later,” she says before heading off into rush hour.
There were a thousand points I could have turned back when the poly web burned. But incrementally, inch by inch, I didn’t want to. At every turn Michelle objected, insisted I was in violation of rules that I never agreed to, never would have agreed to.
I don’t do permission, I insisted. There’s enough internal work to be done with poly – it’s stressful. It guts you at times. It’s not a lot to ask for some freedom on things that don’t put your health at risk or to let my emotions be what they are, to feel what I feel. I’m my own primary. My autonomy is of superlative importance to me. I’ll use my own judgement, make my own decisions, and tell you when it affects you. Otherwise, what’s the damn point?
I wasn’t chomping at the bit to combine the worst parts of monogamy with the worst parts of polyamory and be at the mercy of everyone else’s desires to the absolute detriment of my own.
Skyspook and I moved at a snail’s pace. Rob and Michelle were notified in October I was interested in dating him – Skyspook and I went on our first date in May. It was always too fast.
Once a week was too often to see Skyspook, Rob and Michelle insisted. Couldn’t I cool it down? Rob said he’d go on a date with me. It took him 3 weeks to go out with me despite the fact that we lived together, he was self-employed on a part-time basis and made his own hours, and I was home 6 out of 7 nights a week. And by the time the date rolled around, it wasn’t coffee or yard sale-ing, like he’d suggested, but coming along with him while he took some packages to the post office and sitting with him while he ate Mr. Hero since they weren’t one of the locations that stocked chicken wings and didn’t have anything low carb for me to eat.
In Rob’s defense, he at least was able to go do something with me instead of complaining I never did anything with him and then rejecting all of my suggestions for actually scheduling something, which seemed to be Michelle’s MO. It’s difficult to deny a martyr their suffering, after all.
I got tired of handicapping the new relationship with Skyspook so that things would be “fair” to Rob and Michelle. For starters, I didn’t know how to limbo under the pace they were setting with me and still actually have a relationship.
Seth volunteered as co-conspirator. He was an acceptable choice to Michelle’s thinking – I’m not sure why. He wasn’t great to me, especially at this point in our relationship, but I suppose the husband I was heading towards separation with was a nice non-threatening alternative. Seth and I would go to the grocery store after I got off work and go shopping, and Seth would drop me off at Skyspook’s on his way home. It was a nice arrangement. Seth got free food out of the deal and the satisfaction of sticking it to Rob and Michelle, whose bizarre possessive behavior and inability to hash things out in anything but the most passive-aggressive (and frequently open hostile) terms had pissed him off with a rawness that I had trouble feeling at the time, softened by my feelings for them.
I’m grateful for the chat logs dating back to that time, the notes I took after the most conflictual conversations, and for my capacious echoic memory. I can look at the way things ended without my self-doubt and guilt filling in the gaps. I know human perception is fallible, but I at least have an outline, a place to put what I do remember.
Rob: I think I want to hold off on sex until you and I build our relationship better.
Me: I agree. That’s a good idea.
Rob: (taken aback) Really?
Rob: Subject to change, of course.
Me: Well, everything’s subject to change.
Rob: But I might want to have sex with you again, I mean.
Me: Then you’d need my consent, like anyone else. I’m not an automatic ‘yes.’
Within 3 months, they were all gone from my life except for Skyspook. I was happy about this, though terribly guilty. This is never what I wanted from poly. When Seth and I had opened, I feared I would end up alone, unloved. My worst case scenario was never breaking a bunch of hearts and riding off into the sunset with the one person who seemed to really appreciate me.
I was the monster under the bed.
I am the monster under the bed.
I warn people now that I’m a heartbreaker. Skyspook says I need stop telling people. Even though it’s true, it doesn’t work as a disclaimer. He says it’s intriguing, makes me seem more attractive somehow.
And everyone thinks they’re the exception. Goddamn personal fable. Like intermittent acne, it’s one of the hallmarks of adolescence most of us never outgrow.
My book is out!
Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory