My lover and I decided to stop using our bodies. Of course we had to keep using them—for things like breathing, eating, being alive—but we decided to stop using them when making love.
“Because isn’t it a spiritual thing we share?” he insisted, during the talk in the course of which we finally decided to take the plunge.
“Of course it is,” I said. “I couldn’t go on living if I didn’t believe that love had a spiritual dimension.”
“It has to be more than just a dimension,” said Mark. “I mean, I feel some spiritual link with one-night stands I haven’t heard from in ten years. But if you’re going to be the love of my life, then shouldn’t it be a primarily spiritual attachment? Say, 90% of the soul, and 10% of the flesh.”
“At the very least that should be the ideal.” It had always bothered me, this slap of contingency. Didn’t it invalidate everything, all these supposedly deep, important, eternal things, to know that they were predetermined by accidents of gender, age, nationality, orientation, species? Wasn’t it absurd that I, Janet Boyett, who felt myself to be so much a creature of thought, of ethereal consciousness, should turn out to be so constrained? An inmate in a prison of meat and time?
Mark said basically the same thing, summing up with, “Let’s break these shackles.” He said, “It’s not just for us. It’s for all humanity. Because we’re not just us.”
A wave of something passed through me, like a non-stick mucous, and for the first time our love felt real. Impulsively I leaned in to kiss him, despite the fact that we’d just said we weren’t going to do that kind of thing anymore—one last time, I told myself, making excuses. I expect that, behind the opacity of his skull, he had the same qualm, but I can’t know. The gluey prehensile meats of our tongues scrubbed at each other.
Mark handled the logistics (he’s very good with tools, math, etc., whereas I’m better with stuff like feelings). Over the course of that week several boxes arrived, some containing nothing fancier than plastic or metal pipes, some stocked with grandiose tinker toys, complete with joints, flywheels, pulleys, etc. Mark had a definite vision, but he tried to include me in the designing stage, so that what resulted would truly be an expression of our union. The skeleton of the resulting structure sprang up in the living room, taking control of our common space—one section intruded into the kitchen.
I know that he struggled with how to unveil the completed work to me—on the one hand it was, naturally, hard to keep its design a secret, considering that we shared a living space and that he’d solicited some input on it from me; even more than that, I think Mark felt that turning it into some big revelation at the end would make it less of a partnership between us, and would instantiate whatever ghosts of patriarchal thought-forms still flitted through the interstices of our relationship, such a revelation being reminiscent of the male hunter depositing his prize of game at the feet of the female helpmeet in exchange for sexual favors, etc., etc. At the same time, the device represented an important development for us, and it seemed wrong not to commemorate it somehow. Ideally we would have created a whole new ritual, but that’s difficult to do in a social vacuum—politically I’m absolutely committed to the possibility, but Mark and I both have day jobs, plus he was so busy with actually building the thing, and we were therefore somewhat drained of creativity in the evenings. So we decided it would be acceptable to adhere to the old rituals, as long as we did so with the consciousness that we were utilizing only the form, as kind of a stopgap in lieu of the perfect world that, given time and leisure, we would complete in our spirits, and that Mark and I personally have made no little progress on, if I do say so myself. . . . Anyway, so it was thus that, as I was in the kitchen putting a free-range chicken through the grinder, Mark came to fetch me and, taking me by the hand (after I’d washed it), he led me into the common area, counselling me to duck my head as we passed the section that intruded into the kitchen, even though I’d been ducking past it for days already, and with a kind of solemn gladness raised an arm to indicate the structure that teetered through the room, and that had not changed in the twenty minutes since I had gone to the kitchen to finish de-boning the plucked chicken, except for three joints that Mark had tightened as a finishing touch.
The structure branched through the room like a crystalline lattice, except not so regular—it worried its way organically past obstacles like the loveseat and coffee table, all the way up to our really quite high ceiling—it filled the room, but we could still easily wend our way through its empty spaces. Many of its parts were moving, many were fixed. Without exchanging a word, all the while gazing at each other with love and wistfulness, Mark and I each assumed a station at far-separated points of the room. The “stations” were points at which the moving parts of the structure had been equipped with rubber molded handgrips—we used these grips to manipulate the structure—each of us yanked the grips back and forth, more or less in rhythm with each other, and in some far corner of the lattice the pipes interacted with each other in an abstraction from the sex act. Sometimes manipulating the handle caused a pipe to move back and forth through a fixed ring; sometimes it caused a ring to alternately encompass then release a stationary rod; sometimes it made a ring and rod move together in non-dominant cooperation, so that it was impossible to say which avatar was active and which passive; for certain combinations you had to use two handles, or sometimes you had to utilize one or more foot-pedals, and sometimes you had to use all four limbs, as if you were climbing onto a stationary cardio machine, and then the parts cascaded past and through each other in Busby Berkleyish routines that had no discernible reference to the prosaic anatomical specificities of sexual intercourse. As Mark and I worked, the room was filled with the hushed whisk-whisk-whisk of the well-oiled parts. The idea was that after a certain training period we would be able to make love to each other when only one of us was in the room. I would be able to take the role of Mark and make love to myself, or vice-versa, not masturbatorily but as a vessel for whatever spiritual essence of Mark was independent from the body and hence expressible via potentially any envelope of flesh (or if we could advance far enough then theoretically that envelope need not be of flesh at all, i.e. spirits of the dead which have been known to ensoul rooms of derelict houses, rune-carved stones, trinkets which in life metonymically acquired some special significance, anything really). From that point we would be able to figure out the next step, to move even further towards the true pattern which underlies love-making, beyond all psychophysiosociosexual contingencies.
Of course, we had not arrived at the idea of the structure overnight. This was the latest step in a long struggle for spiritual liberation; there had been others.
Hallucinogenics had seemed a likely aid. We’d tried salvia, taking it in the form of an extract of one-hundred-twenty times the potency of the naturally occurring plant: partly because we thought it would get the job done faster, partly because it seemed closer to the spiritual truth of things to distance ourselves from the accidental parameters set forth by nature, that great dumb beast. We took turns ingesting as much of the smoke as we could. Once the dramatic stuff was over with, as Mark and I were floating through the moderately stoned aftermath, he’d said to me, hopefully, “I think that kind of worked, don’t you? We stopped perceiving our bodies, didn’t we?”
I could not be so sanguinary: “I don’t know if it’s so much that we had less body, though,” I had to say; “it was more like the whole universe became our bodies.”
He stared at me, his face congealing with horror. “You mean it made things even worse,” he said, not asking a question, but turning the statement over in his mind and coming to terms with it. That was the end of our stint as psychonauts.
Our pair-bonding itself was a glaring example of social and animal preprogramming, especially given its heterosexual normativity; when you factored in the closeness of our ages and socioeconomic backgrounds it became downright laughable.
So as to break through the conceptual shackles of the pair-bond, Mark and I found a swingers’ group online. The orgy took place many miles outside our typical American city. After a three-hour drive during which Mark and I chatted nervously but gamely, we arrived at a new housing development, lonely on the plains and apparently unattached to anything. It was not a gated community, though it had the feeling of one. We pulled up to the gray dark quiet house, very big but only one expansive story; looking at it from outside it felt empty, but there were many cars already in the driveway or parked on the curb out front. We walked up to the front door, holding hands (having not yet resolved to stop doing such things, this being before we’d envisaged the structure and a total break with the flesh); we rang the doorbell, and, once we’d been admitted, made our introductions. During the orgy, Mark and I avoided physical contact with each other, as we’d agreed, since the whole point was to learn to make love with each other by means of other bodies. Perhaps one way to explain it is to say that we wanted to divert the effrontery of that contingency onto other bodies, saving the pure stuff for ourselves . . . but what does even that mean, “selves”? Anyway, we had sex mostly in different parts of the thickly-carpeted dim room, and I let myself be carried along the currents of flesh like a chip of soap adrift at sea. At one point, when at the same time I had one penis in my vagina, one penis in my rectum, one penis in my mouth, one penis in each hand, and the penis of a man I was foot-fucking between my feet, I felt like I was drowning, and involuntarily my eye rolled around the room, snatching glimpses of Mark where he was equally busy fucking people, the sight of him like that of a distant boat periodically glimpsed by a drowning person in whose eyes the salt water frequently splashes, smearing his or her vision. The orgy had started at one in the afternoon and it was not very late when it ended, certainly not nighttime. Mark and I returned to the city without exchanging many words. The quality of the light upon the plains was yellow and shallow, as if a hollow sphere of onion skin encased the planet and all the sun’s rays were filtered through it.
But all that was in the past. Now we were banking on the structure.
After weeks of manipulating the pipes and pulleys of our structure we began to weaken from exhaustion. Part of it was because of work, our long days of being bounced by the temp agencies from one office to another. Also the manipulation of the structure was itself hard physical work.
Mark’s face was ashen and drawn—so well had I trained myself to shy from the flesh that I was ashamed to notice this fact. Pointing my face down and to the left, thus looking at him only obliquely, I said, “I’m a little worried about you, Mark. . . .”
“Why?” he demanded roughly, daring me to say it was on account of the meat. We weren’t touching—between us was a wall of invisible, monkish, spiritual glass.
I couldn’t refer directly to his paleness. It would make a monkey of all our sacrifices, to admit to having noticed his skin that way. Instead, almost stammering, I said, “I think maybe . . . maybe the structure . . . manipulating it . . . I mean, I love you, but I think maybe manipulating the structure is taking a toll. . . .” Then suddenly it hit me—that the manipulation of the structure was itself a strenuous use of our bodies! Excitedly, seeing a solution ahead, seeing relief, I gushed: “We need to take the next step is all, honey! . . . Just a little more purification, and we won’t get so tired anymore. . . . We need to, we need to stop using the machine . . . or any physical manifestation . . . we need to each sit in a dark room . . . a separate dark room . . . and just be with each other in the soul . . . I’ll visualize you . . . except, not visualize, not exactly, not do anything so tied up with the physical phenomenon of light bouncing off a surface . . . but some, some spiritual shape . . . except not a shape, exactly . . . I’m not sure what I mean, but that’s the whole point, is that we need to take some time to discover what it means . . . maybe we could . . . I mean, I know we don’t have much money, but maybe we could rig up some sort of sensory-deprivation chambers. . . .”
But Mark was shaking his head already, and he interrupted me: “No, no,” and to my horror tears began to ooze from his eyes, teeming out from behind his lids and writhing down his face like transparent smeared maggots. His voice hitching, throat packed with undiluted spit, he said, “I need the meat, baby.”
I started to cry too. “But don’t you love me?” I said.
He nodded, but couldn’t stop himself from saying it again: “Baby, I just need the meat.”
I don’t know how much of what happened next I planned—the truth is that I was so overcome with emotion that I can’t remember what I was thinking—but I suddenly found myself in the kitchen, having run there, and as if it had been my intention all along I saw my hand stretch out in front of me, grabbing the freezer door and yanking it open. Inside were thin cutlets of raw free-range beef. They’d only been in the freezer about half an hour and were not yet stiff, though they were very cold—I bunched them together in my fists and ran back to the living room, where I held them out to Mark in almost a supplicating pose: “Here, here,” I said, “I love you, here.”
Shivering in the grip of full-body tremors, he stared at the flesh in my hands—then he snatched one of the thin leaves of meat from me so fast that I barely had warning to open my hand and release the cutlet so that it wouldn’t be ripped—with the other hand he tore open his fly and savagely pulled out his dick. I stared at it, swollen and throbbing, bigger than it had ever been, or perhaps that impression derived from my long absence from it. . . . For the first time I understood the notion of the totem, of its divinity; for his dick quivered with its own life, it was unquestionably an entity; but it disdained the fineries of personality and intellect the way an aristocrat will step out of the bathroom and appear before his servants in an undershirt and with shaving cream still upon his face, not concerned with his cheap dignity the way a member of the petty bourgeois would be; this was, I saw, the very definition of the divine; that dick had a far less mediated relation than I to the roiling dyonisian substratum of the maya above which we mortals putter about. Mark took the cutlet, wrapped it around this god, and jerked the bloody sacrifice back and forth three times until liquid smoke issued from its nostril and, assuaged, the red wet god retired, in stately lethargy.
I fell to my knees. Emotion. My vision slimed and I knew I was crying, so I wiped at my face, leaving, as I would later see, sticky pink traces.
Mark had returned to himself, somewhat, he looked down at me, shaking his head: “Honey . . . I’m sorry . . . but. . . .”
But I was already clawing at my pants, undoing the buttons. “The genitals,” I said, “the genitals.”
Thus began our new stage of love. What began that day so spontaneously has hardened into ritual: Mark and I crouch naked in far corners of the room, tucked in among the empty spaces of the lattice, sometimes looking at each other but sometimes not, and, each of us with a cushion of piled cold meat under our genital/rectal areas, we bounce our whole bodies like a grandfather’s knee, patting our organs of generation and waste disposal against the cutlets, or mounds of ground beef, etc. In this way our love-making has pushed all the way through fleshlessness and come out on the other side, in, I have faith, a purer form.
Mark remains precious to me. At night when my mechanism demands its repose I hold his spirit in mine as I drift to sleep. But I try to be pure, and for the most part I manage to banish his face from my mind and instead cherish him—it—in the form of that ghostly kiss of cold meat against my pussy.