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  • Kim Idol

Weeds in the Garden

In her mind Las Vegas was a place for strangers to meet. A transitional place, not somewhere you put down roots or made permanent commitments. Las Vegas shouldn’t exist. A gangster’s daydream, not a place to live but a place to pass through and escape in time. Las Vegas was where she met her husband, who confirmed these rules. Her husband thought she’d help him grow and she thought he’d make her feel safe. He made love indifferently, like a man afraid of intimacy, but who understood the need to pretend. It was as if he’d read about love in a manual and knew it was sup­posed to exist, but didn’t want to share the experience with her. For all she knew now, he’d since found it with someone else. Looking back, she could see that his attitude aligned with her philosophy of relationship main­tenance. She wouldn’t have kids with him, because he was unsuitable for that, so she let that wish go. Sex for him was when he shut down, so she let hope for a healthy sex life go. He’d never pretended to be trust­worthy, so she accepted that. Still fighting for a better day, she rejected six marriage proposals, but then she stopped hoping for the kind of marriage in which she mattered. You can get married and divorced in a week in Las Vegas. It’s not a place for permanence. She let a lot of ideas slip away into the divide that became their marriage. The purpose of the two of them would be him and discussions about how whatever she wanted inter­fered with an all-consuming sense of entitlement that made him jealous of her desires. When he did comply with the role of husband, it was as if he’d read a descrip­tion of one in a textbook and was following that pas­sage very closely, so that he could say that he’d been a good guy.

The first time they had sex was as a threesome and the second time he came too fast. She should have paid attention.

Now, after it was all over, she stood outside in her yard with the divorce decree in one hand and a cup of lukewarm coffee in the other and tried to make sense of the waste. Her yard was full of weeds, but she had always liked weeds. In Las Vegas the weeds blossomed in the fall and the spring in vigorous waves. She thought of them as scruffy inhabitants making the best of a diffi­cult situation when they poked up through the bad soil. She liked the weird plant that pushed through cracks in the patio and grew tiny yellow berries. She loved the messy crush growing in her flowerbeds, the pale green telegraph plant, the spotted spurge that covered the ground like ivy and could be easily pulled up, the pur­ple mallow, and the white bindweed. She admired the willowy mesquites that popped up in between her rose bushes and provided shade if you just let them grow.

When it came time to cull the overgrowth in her yard, she kept some of the weeds because they were pretty and because she wanted to preserve those messy sur­vivalists that she felt had earned the right to succeed. She let them live in between her desert roses, next to the one oak tree, and near the stand of sumac she’d rescued from a weird bug infestation. Now, in the days when she was just barely surviving because the divorce was a killing affair, she also let the weeds stay; she didn’t have the heart or the energy to remove them.

They’d been talking but not dating for months before they’d had sex for the first time. He was an emotional mess and while needy men were labor intensive, she felt comfortable around them. They were a responsibility she understood, and dating narcissists meant that she could preserve a certain amount of distance. Narcissists were always paying attention to themselves. She would never have to peer too deeply into her own soul as long as she and her husband were together, because the project of their relationship would always only be him. She’d be too busy. She’d be too tired to think about what she was giving up by marrying a child and staying in Las Vegas because that’s where he needed to be.

She was a year ahead of him in an MFA program. At their first meeting he said he’d just divorced his wife and left her behind in Utah.

“For a while it was pretty perfect,” he said. “I haven’t had to work for the past ten years unless I wanted to.”

“How’d you work that out?”

“Disability. I’m a diagnosed schizophrenic. My ex-wife, too. Between the two government checks we could stay high and rent an apartment and have a cat.”

“A cat?”

“I left him behind when I left her and she had him killed.” She didn’t know what to say to that, so she let it go.

“Are you still schizophrenic or whatever?” she asked. They were standing in the campus counseling center waiting to make appointments.

“I don’t think so.” He shook his head. “But I take lots of drugs. Xanax, Clozapine, Ativan, Ritalin, Zoloft, anti-de­pressants, anti-anxiety, anti-psychotics. And I still need prescriptions filled, because you can’t just stop taking them.”

“You take them all at once?”

“I switch them up,” he said. “My mom was worried about me as a teenager. I told her that I could talk to angels and that I was seeing them, so she took me to a doctor and they got me started on the drugs. And I stayed that way. But I’ve cut back now, because I want to go to school. I want to write poetry.”

There it was. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas offered a stipend to anyone who was accepted, and with that money he could afford an apartment and remain unemployed as long as he didn’t need much.

“How old are you now?”

“Twenty-seven,” he said. Fifteen years younger. “Starting fresh.” He had moved to Utah as a teenager, but had grown up in Las Vegas. For him enrolling at UNLV was like coming home. The campus seemed set in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by low-income housing and strip malls. Only a few miles from the Strip, the cam­pus spread a concrete presence that offered no more a sense of community than Las Vegas itself.

They met in the counseling center. He needed a refill for his prescriptions, and she was depressed. He latched onto her, hoping to win for himself some of the strength he saw in her, and she saw an opportunity to build a desert dream around him. She was lonely. Sex clubs were fun, but she wanted someone to come home to and as long as she dated him, he’d keep her busy and keep her company. She’d keep the household bills in her name, because he didn’t mind not paying the bills now and then. And as long as that was her job, if he abandoned her, she wouldn’t be in too much trouble. She loved her house and she loved the view of the des­ert and Red Rock Canyon. It offered a calming sense of wilderness that overrode the city’s high-life aspect. She would keep all that in her name in case he bolted. But as time passed, and despite herself, she started to trust her husband. There would be good times. Her job as his wife would be to clear the way for him to succeed, to get him sober, to get him to graduate, to help him find a job. As for the qualities he didn’t have, that she wanted her man to have, she’d make them up. She wanted a part­ner. She’d try it this way, try to build one from scratch. Good for him. Good for her.

The first time they had sex wasn’t planned. When she looked at the calendar later on, she realized it was on the anniversary of D-Day; an appropriate anniversary, given the way things went.

That first night he was still recovering from a nervous breakdown. He’d shown up at a friend’s apartment three weeks earlier babbling, and they’d taken him in hand and walked him over to the nearest psychiatric facil­ity. She covered his campus tutoring shifts while he was hospitalized. His friends tried to contact his family when he melted down, but they couldn’t find his father and his mother had refused to become involved. It wasn’t until much later that they all realized his problems were drug-induced as much as anything else. Once released from the hospital he’d gone right back to it. He became cannier about hiding his issues, letting the demons run free in spurts, so that he just looked like another grad student who overindulged from time to time.

He became good friends with a particularly noxious trio of potheads who had shifted into ’shrooms and coke use in the second year of their master’s program. They were all keeping their heads above water at school, but every holiday and each weekend they let loose. On Fri­days they would collect all the paraphernalia, drugs, food, and drink they needed to make it through to Mon­day, set up the game center, and invite all who were willing to disembark from Earth for a couple of days. The crowd holed up in the apartment of the one who lived closest to the university.

He had agreed to meet her at the party, but it wasn’t a date. The party was a muted bacchanalia. No one was screaming, no one set the furniture on fire or kicked in the TV set. She didn’t drink or use drugs, but she enjoyed the company. She also had no idea how involved he was in terms of the drugs. As per her pattern with the men she dated, she wasn’t paying attention to the possible pitfalls that everyone else could spot right away. They were reaching the point where not having sex was odd given how close they’d become, but he didn’t have the experience and she wanted to be pursued, just once.

She arrived at the party after he did. It was a stripped-down apartment in a student-housing com­plex, tiled floors, stucco walls, a working air-conditioner and a fridge full of beer. The only piece of furniture in the apartment belonging to the tenant was a universal workout bench. A super skinny dude, he was trying to bulk up.

Passing through the living room, she saw partygo­ers in small groups huddled around their favorite party favors––coke, pot, ’shrooms, booze, and acid tabs. Every­body nursed a beer. Cases of the stuff were stacked up next to the fridge, because it was filled to the brim and a trashcan was set up in the bathroom for empties. If you wanted to smoke cigarettes you had to go outside. Smokers sat on the walkway while they looked up at the sky, the stars, and the criss-crossing casino skylights.

Aside from the weight bench there was nothing in the apartment that mattered to its inhabitant except for a PlayStation and the headgear and hand con­trols for gamers who were online playing some version of shoot-to-kill with whomever else was also online at the time. She spotted her guy standing amid a cluster of men snorting coke off the kitchen countertop. Since drugs didn’t interest her, she joined the group playing the video games and started heckling the remote team.

She didn’t remember afterwards whose idea it was, but at some point during the night, she found herself in bed with a gay guy who wanted to screw the guy she wanted to screw, and the guy she wanted to screw was too high to be useful to either of his sex partners. They left the bedroom door open, not so that people could watch, but because none of them cared what people saw. At one point she looked up to see a friend standing in the doorway smiling at the scene, his eyes so bright they sparkled. As far as the gay guy was concerned, she was in the way, though he didn’t mind her participa­tion if her presence got the man he wanted into his bed. Both men were tall and soft-bodied specimens. Her guy was about twenty pounds overweight and very pale with stretch marks on his thighs, stomach, and ass from when he had been fifty pounds heavier. The other one was albino white with an acne flush across his face and chest and he smelled like a locker room. Both men were high, but her guy was flaccid and passive, and every­one should have guessed how the thing was going to play out when he entered the room so dull-eyed. When he undressed and joined his partners, she saw that he had a very short, curved penis and realized that he was going to have to develop some skills in order to make it useful. She and the gay guy got him hard once, but he didn’t have the staying power. The three of them played around for a while, but when no one got where they wanted to go, she eventually gave up, got up, and dressed. Her guy passed out and the gay guy sighed, put on some underwear, and plodded back out to the living room to get a beer. She left the party soon after that.

The second time they had sex, she went to his apart­ment, which was kept in exactly the same state as the skinny guy’s place. He didn’t have a bed, but he had a mattress. He had no skills and came within minutes, giving her the burden of telling him that she didn’t mind and that he would improve over time.

Because he was young, she figured that it was just a matter of proper training. She was wrong there, but since they weren’t officially a couple yet, she figured she could keep going to the sex clubs and satisfy her needs while she began a relationship with the guy who didn’t know how to screw. He got better in that he learned how to hold on until she came, and because he was new, the novelty helped her get off. She kept thinking he would get better. He didn’t like suggestions, but he said stories about her sex life before he came along turned him on, so that helped a bit. Still, he didn’t want to try anything new. She took him to a sex club once and while he could get it up, he couldn’t finish, so they didn’t do that again and she realized that she was going to have to give up the clubs if she wanted the guy. It seemed disloyal to go without him and she was all in in terms of the relationship she dreamed they might have. She was too committed to the idea of the man he could be, the man he said he wanted to be, so reality was already taking second posi­tion to her dreams of a relationship. She learned to have a healthy imagination when they screwed. Eventually, she convinced herself that he loved her, so she resigned herself to having a bad sex life as long as they were in love. How long that would last without satisfying sex she didn’t know and maybe she should have thought that out.

Sex with her eventual husband was like a long-dis­tance relationship. It was when he was so close that she became more aware of his anger toward her and his disappointment and she recoiled, dove inside her­self while she tried to stay present. But the weird rejection he presented whenever they made love killed any affection she had for him. When they were in bed, she needed protection most from the man who didn’t want her near, but who also wanted her to satisfy drives he refused to explain. Again, this should have bothered her more, but she didn’t want to lose him and was willing to pay any price in order to keep him.

Three weeks later in an awkward exchange, he told her that he loved her. She’d driven him to the bus station and as he got out of the car he tossed out the phrase. She wasn’t looking for the traditional romantic moment, but he said, “I love you” as if he was testing the phrase out. She replied that she hoped he had a good winter break and drove off. It wasn’t that she didn’t care for him, but to have the words tossed at her on the curb didn’t sell it.

He went home to his mother’s house for winter break and she went to Mexico. She’d booked two weeks at a resort long before they'd met. They talked on the phone while she was there and she told him she’d been over­whelmed by his admission, but that she loved him too and that she was a little scared. He told her they’d be all right and that they’d both have to learn to trust one another, teach each other how to love one another, and work on having better sex. And he did pursue her. It was his idea that they move in together. It was his idea that they marry. She had just enough sense to hold off until he got himself an actual job and committed to a finan­cial plan and a future. The fact that he was still addicted to pills and alcohol, the fact that he wasn’t a good guy just didn’t matter so much. He’d change. She’d stand by him no matter what and he’d change. But he never stopped being the only thing he cared about and she never stopped hoping despite all the evidence.

Years later, after so much failure, one of the things he complained about was the fact that she didn’t seem to enjoy sex and that it seemed unfair to condemn him to that fate. While she stood in her yard looking over the divorce decree, she wondered how long it would take to want to weed the garden again.


She should have paid better attention.

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