“Oh, darling, this is self-respect,” I said, crawling off of his sweaty sexy body, and onto my back and my side of the bed. “What do you think?” I asked.
“No, I’m serious.”
“In what way is this self-respect?” he asked.
“Self-respect is learning to love having recreational sex with–. Do you think our souls touch when we have sex like this?” He was quiet, so I got up to turn the record over. Lou Reed began singing Sweet Jane. I came back to bed and began kissing him. “We’d be getting served dinner now, if we’d gone out. We wouldn’t be in bed yet,” I whispered, lying on my side, stroking his chest.
“You were right to cook dinner here,” he said. “Where is Sam? The wonderful travelling psychiatrist slash husband to Annie.” He took me in his arms and was about to get on top of me, when I slid away.
“I have to turn on the air conditioner. Sam’s in New York.” Sam’s in New York because I said I didn’t want a baby. Sam thought I was mad at him. Sam wants a baby so badly. When I got back into bed, he said, “Annie, are you trying not to make love tonight? You keep getting up.”
“No, where were we? Sam thinks I’m mad at him.”
“Are you mad at me?” he asked.
“Of course not.” Blade Runner, I thought. No, better–I’m the captain of a sailboat. I say, ‘Come about,’ and people look up at me and say, ‘Are you mad?’ ‘No,’ I say, ‘it’s just that we were about to crash into a big rock.’ Mainly, I was thinking about the weekend conference I had to attend the next day, not to mention the talk I had to give for two hours on self-respect to thirty women. Self-respect is fucking, self-respect–let me tell you about the sex I had last night. And it was not with my husband, oh no. And I don’t want a baby because I’d have to give up nights like last. For the baby. I was on my back and he was staring at me, he was fucking me like crazy.
“No soul mingling, now,” I said.
“Maybe our souls do mingle a little,” he said, “like at a party.” We began kissing again and he carried me into Sam’s study and kissed me on Sam’s desk. “If we’d gone out for dinner, we’d just be getting up to leave,” I said, looking at a photograph of Sam and me at the beach. In the morning he asked, “Do you have Cheerios?”
“No,” I said, putting my guitar in its case to take to the car. “Do you?”
“Self-respect,” I said. “Let’s define it.” My crotch ached. I was dressed in brown silk, with a scarf and very high heels.
“Liking yourself,” a small woman in her mid-twenties said. Liking yourself, I wrote on the board. It had to get better.
“Having goals and sticking to them?” another woman said, unconsciously letting a question mark end her sentence.
“Absolutely,” I said. “Here’s one, liking your body, getting comfortable with it.” Now I felt horny again. Shit, in the break I’d write him a postcard. Fuck me soon, as soon as possible like crazy. Self respect is killing me. The women here are wonderful. Sorry no Cheerios.
“Like wearing new clothes? Beautiful–like the dress you’re wearing?” someone asked.
“Behavior,” I said writing and laughing. “But from the inside out. I’m only wearing this because my husband brought it back from Paris and I wanted to look professional.” I hadn’t seen Sam for a week. Suddenly I ached for him. “It really doesn’t matter what you wear as long as you like it, or feel comfortable not liking it, or comfortable not caring. Rhett Butler had it down. He told Scarlett it didn’t matter if she had a reputation as long as she had courage. Courage has something to do, a lot to do, with what we’re talking about today, as well as not caring what people may think of you.” After writing more words on the board, I said, “Let’s take a twenty minute break.” I walked down the path to my room. A dorm room. The mattresses were bare, sheets were stacked on a desk. I wrote him a postcard, Don’t know about self-respect, want you to fuck me like crazy– L, Annie. As I walked back up the hill I threw the postcard into a mailbox. I reviewed the words on the board. I leaned up against it, waiting for the last woman to get seated.
“Okay,” I said, “let’s talk about roadblocks to self-respect. I cleared my throat. I wrote Roadblocks to SR. on the board.
“No money,” someone said.
“Hmm,” I answered, writing that on the board under Roadblocks. “May be a cause. Depends on who you are, where you live. Money.”
“Neediness,” someone said, then another said, “clinging,” and then a tiny little thing said, “not taking care of yourself, not eating right, negative thinking.” I was getting bombarded. “Immoral behavior,” a voice said. I was half finished writing immoral behavior when I turned around to hear, “Excuse me Annie, there’s someone to see you. A man. He claims he’s your husband.”
“Be right back,” I said to the group and walked down to the lounge.
“Baby,” I said looking up at Sam. “I’m in the middle of self-respect. I’ve got to get back. Here’s the room key.” I hugged him. Sam!
“Roadblocks,” I said. “Immorality. Define your terms,” I said.
“I’m not sure,” she sounded unsure now. “Just that immorality can destroy self-respect.”
“It can destroy it,” I said, “But it’s important to define your own morality. Know it, stick with it. Not everyone’s is the same. Don’t let other people’s definitions of immorality influence your own. That’s a roadblock also.” I was beginning to regret the postcard. Like Crazy?
After we finished roadblocks, I gave a short speech on learning to say no, and are you mad at me? I finished with: “Invent your own truth and your own morality, and live it. Live it with everything you’ve got, and eat Cheerios.” And then I thanked the group, and dismissed them. I went back to the dorm. Sam was gone, probably running. I took a shower. I was brushing my hair and smoking a cigarette when he walked back in. All sweaty. Out of breath. He sat down on one of the beds and began playing my guitar and talking at the same time.
“Missed you,” he said. He was playing New York Telephone Conversation. I love the way Sam plays the guitar. I love his voice. I sat down on the edge of the bed.
“You hate Lou Reed,” I said, realizing then that Sam was mocking him.
“Depressing. You were listening to Lou Reed last night,” he said, singing, Oh my, and what shall we wear ? Immoral behavior, I thought. “Are you still mad about the baby?” I asked. He looked up at me singing, “I am calling, yes I’m calling, just to speak to you. No.” In Sam’s bag there was a bottle of Scotch. I poured some into my empty coffee cup, took a sip, handed it to Sam. Sam swallowed and handed the cup back to me. I began getting dressed. Sam got up and took the shirt I was pulling over my head and threw it across the room. He undressed me, I undressed him. I love you, he said. Annie. He was on top of me in the tiny single un-made bed. Annie. Anneee, he cried out. I closed my eyes then opened them, I looked up at the window. The trees were getting blown around. Soon it would be raining. I thought about the man and the postcard. Cheerios.
“Sam?” I asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “Just Sam.” It started raining and I held onto my husband.
“Sam, I keep seeing Cheerios. What does that mean?” I got up and poured some more scotch. “This is getting on my nerves, all these Cheerios floating around. Someone mentioned Cheerios and now I see them everywhere. Big ones, little ones, I close my eyes and see them, Sam.”
“Cheerios,” Sam said. “Cheer up, cheers, see you later. I don’t know. Maybe you’re saying goodbye to someone. Who mentioned Cheerios?”
“I forget. Are you hungry?”
“Famished,” Sam said.
“Well, I noticed this new Chinese place–Sam, I was out jogging yesterday, and the mailman Donald, well I bumped into him, and he called me a hot ticket. Am I? Am I a hot ticket?”
“Tell me the story, Sam.”
“Okay. Yale, 1979. You sat in the front row in Kaplan’s class, anyone could tell you were his favorite student. You entertained the whole class and I thought you were so brave–with that long hair and your pearls and I thought, ‘I’m going to marry that woman, yes I am.'”
“And you did.”
“Yes,” Sam said, “I did.”