My next novel is about bad men. No shock, they all are.
A man who loved my writing asked, “Why do you always write men like this?” and he asked because they reminded them of him (although I wrote both books before knowing him). And they were faithless, and casually used people, and lied, and some of them rape. But they all mean well, and they believe they do. Really. It’s for the best, it’s for your own good, it’s best for both of us. You only meant well? / Well, of course you did.
And I told him, “I don’t write about wolves in sheeps’ clothing because I hate the lambs.”
The unasked question: do I really believe in lambs?
I never could convince him I did. That man and I no longer speak.
Loving men (and I mean “loving” in any sense– husbands, fathers, sometimes friends) is like longing to crawl into the lap of a bear. A man, specifically a domestic partner, is the number one cause of death for a young woman. A man– a stranger– also a man of the same demographic’s number one cause of death. And that means, I think, we fear different things.
I’m a natural horror writer. I write what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of sitting on the edge of tables while wearing skirts. I’m afraid pennies are filthy. I’m afraid I’ll put one in my mouth absent-mindedly anyway. I’m afraid I won’t get what I want. I’m afraid I’ll get what I want. I’m afraid I will love someone, because I love easily and fiercely, and they will not want me to. I’m afraid people will read what I write as autobiographical rather than merely personal. I’m afraid people will insist I wrote something about them when I wrote it about me and my fear. I’m afraid they will leave.
I’m afraid that I know men are dangerous and I love them anyway. That’s a sort of body horror. Ah, the thing most likely to murder me. Better fuck it.
So why write about bad men when there are good ones? I’m not afraid of good men, for one thing, so what would I have to write about them? They make bad stories. We held hands once, it was nice? Unfortunately, most men do make good stories. Most “good” men are merely good to the right people. Take my husband (please– ha!). He’s his best self with me. He’s never let me down once, never been absent, never too tired when I am sick.
I’m sick now. I’m crying every day, hours. It’s like the flu, but instead of so fatigued I can’t walk and must sit down on the floor for a rest, it’s grief that hits me in the hallway. I sink to the floor and open my mouth until my jaw pops in sudden, overwhelming pain. And my husband is there. Every time. It’s not too much (I am always too much). It’s not my fault (I’m not worth it). And he’s just there. Never a doubt.
But to his ex, who he didn’t much want to be with, she’d ask him if her butt was too big, and he’d say, “it is a little out of proportion.” I told him he was fortunate he was still alive, never mind invited to her wedding. And that’s why he loved me and not her– if she’d said he couldn’t talk to her like that, he’d have left her. And that, I bet, is why she put up with it, so he’d stay. That shit gets under your skin, man. Not just those words, the fact you give away so much of who you are, put up with a man who couldn’t even tell a white lie about your ass, because you just want them to stay.
Even the best men haunt someone. Especially the best ones.
I talked to my husband a while about that, about the good men who haunt me because they weren’t so good to me. He asked me if he should apologize. I said just tell her she looks beautiful in her wedding dress and shut up.
A few months later, my husband came home and he told me his buddy told a rape joke to the waitress where he was, with three buddies, and she was so uncomfortable. He presented it as this woke moment. He, alone, didn’t laugh. A lot of other men did, at the table and in the bar. Maybe eight in total.
And I got mad. That waitress had been terrified, he told me. So I said, “And you said nothing.”
“I guess not.” Of course not. But that’s men.
Wait, no. That wasn’t it. I didn’t let that go. I said, “No, no, you said nothing.”
“What should I have said?”
“Anything! She was disturbed, yeah? You could have said anything”
“I couldn’t!” he said.
And he burst into tears and said, “Because all those guys were rapists. I realized I wasn’t safe either.”
He’d known that guy for ten years, and he was crying because he was newly disabled, and he needed friends, and he was never going to see his friend again. It wasn’t even a choice. No bros vs hoes. Of course not. When the line was drawn between his rapist buddies and the rest of us, he saw himself on my side of it and against theirs. Never a question. Never a thought otherwise.
Tonight I sat in his lap and said, “Don’t leave. So many people do.”
He said, “I never will.”
And that is also men.