Choke, p.17
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       Choke, p.17

           Chuck Palahniuk
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  The warm beer tastes from Denny’s mouth, his teeth and Chapstick, that’s how bad I need to drink right now.

  “And for real,” I say, “if I’m on a sinking ship, I’m getting in the lifeboat first.”

  We don’t need women. There are plenty other things in the world to have sex with, just go to a sexaholics meeting and take notes. There’s microwaved watermelons. There’s the vibrating handles of lawn mowers right at crotch level. There’s vacuum cleaners and beanbag chairs. Internet sites. All those old chat room sex hounds pretending to be sixteen-year-old girls. For serious, old FBI guys make the sexiest cyberbabes.

  Please, just show me one thing in this world that is what you’d think.

  To Denny I say, this is me talking, I say, “Women don’t want equal rights. They have more power being oppressed. They need men to be the vast enemy conspiracy. Their whole identity is based on it.”

  And Denny turns just his head, owl-style, to look at me, his eyes bunched under his eyebrows, and he says, “Dude, you are spiraling out of control.”

  “No, I mean it,” I say.

  I say I could just kill the guy who invented the dildo. I really could.

  The music changes to an air raid siren. Then a new dancer struts out, glowing pink inside some sheer baby doll lingerie, her bush and breasts so almost there.

  She drops one strap off her shoulder. She sucks on her index finger. Her other shoulder strap drops, and it’s only her breasts that keep her lingerie from falling to her feet.

  Denny and me both watching her, the lingerie drops.

  Chapter 32

  When a tow truck from the auto club gets here, the front desk girl needs to go out to meet it, so I tell her, sure, I’ll watch her desk.

  For serious, but when the bus dropped me off at St. Anthony’s today I noticed two of her tires were flat. Both rear wheels are resting right on the rims, I told her, and forced myself to make eye contact the whole time.

  The security monitor shows the dining room, where old women are eating different shades of gray mashed food for lunch.

  The intercom dial is set on number one, and you can hear elevator music and water running somewhere.

  The monitor cycles through the crafts room, empty. Ten seconds pass. Then the dayroom, where the television is dark. Then ten seconds later, the library, where Paige is pushing my mom in her wheelchair past the shelves of battered old books.

  With the intercom control, I dial-switch around until I hear them on number six.

  “I wish I had the courage not to fight and doubt everything,” my mom says. She reaches out and touches the spine of a book, saying, “I wish, just once, I could say, ‘This. This is good enough. Just because I choose it.’ ”

  She takes the book out, sees the cover, and shoves the book back on the shelf, shaking her head.

  And from the speaker, scratchy and muffled, my mom’s voice says, “How did you decide to become a doctor?”

  Paige shrugs. “You have to trade your youth for something. …”

  The monitor cycles to a view of the empty loading dock behind St. Anthony’s.

  Now in voice-over, my mom’s voice says, “But how did you make the commitment?”

  And Paige’s voice-over says, “I don’t know. One day, I just wanted to be a doctor …,” and fades into some other room.

  The monitor cycles to a view of the front parking lot, where a tow truck is parked and the driver is kneeling next to a blue car. The front desk girl stands off to one side with her arms folded.

  I dial-switch from number to number, listening.

  The monitor cycles to show me sitting with my ear to the intercom speaker.

  There’s the clatter of somebody typing on number five. On eight, there’s the whir of a blow-dryer. On two, I hear my mom’s voice saying, “You know the old phrase ‘Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it’? Well, I think those who remember their past are even worse off.”

  In voice-over, Paige says, “Those who remember the past tend to get the story really screwed up.”

  The monitor cycles to show them going down a corridor, a book open in my mom’s lap. Even in black-and-white, you can tell it’s her diary. And she’s reading it, smiling.

  She looks up, twisting to see Paige behind the wheelchair, and says, “In my opinion, those who remember the past are paralyzed by it.”

  And Paige pushes her along, saying, “How about: ‘Those who can forget the past are way ahead of the rest of us’?”

  And their voices fade out again.

  There’s somebody snoring on number three. On number ten, there’s the creak of a rocking chair.

  The monitor cycles to show the front parking lot, where the girl is signing something on a clipboard.

  Before I can find Paige again, the front desk girl will be back, saying her tires are fine. She’ll be looking at me sideways, again.

  What Would Jesus NOT Do?

  As it turns out, some asshole just let the air out of them.

  Chapter 33

  Wednesdays mean Nico.

  Fridays mean Tanya.

  Sundays mean Leeza, and I catch her in the parking lot at the community center. Two doors down from the sexaholics meeting, we waste some sperm in a janitor’s closet with a mop next to us, left standing in a bucket of gray water. There’s cases of toilet tissue for Leeza to lean over, and I’m splitting her ass so hard that with my every drive, she head-butts a shelf of folded rags. I’m licking the sweat off her back for a nicotine buzz.

  This is life on earth as I knew it. The kind of rough, messy sex where you first want to spread some newspapers. This is me trying to put things back the way they were before Paige Marshall. Period revival. Me trying to reconstruct how my life worked until just a few weeks ago. How my dysfunction used to function so beautifully.

  Asking the back of Leeza’s scrubby hair, I say, “You’d tell me if I was getting too sweet, wouldn’t you?”

  Pulling her hips back against me, I say, “Tell the truth.”

  I’m ramming at a regular steady pace, asking, “You don’t think I’m getting soft, do you?”

  To keep from triggering, I picture airplane crash sites and stepping in crap.

  My dog burning hard, I imagine police photos of car wrecks and point-blank shotgun damage. To keep from feeling anything, I just keep stuffing it.

  Stuffing dick, stuffing feelings. When you’re a sexaholic, it’s for sure the same thing.

  Plugged in deep, I reach around her. Forced in tight, I reach under her to twist a hard pointed nipple in each hand.

  And sweating her dark brown shadow into the light brown case of toilet paper, Leeza says, “Ease up.” She says, “Just what are you trying to prove?”

  That I’m an unfeeling jerk.

  That I really don’t care.

  What would Jesus NOT do?

  Leeza, Leeza with her three-hour release form, she grips the case of toilet paper and hacks and coughs, and with my hands I feel her abs spasm rock-hard and rippling between my fingers. The muscles of her pelvic floor, the pubococcygeus muscles, called the PC muscles for short, they spasm and the clenched drag on my dog is incredible.

  See also: Gräfenberg Spot.

  See also: Goddess Spot.

  See also: Tantric Sacred Spot.

  See also: Taoist Black Pearl.

  Leeza spreads her hands open against the wall and shoves herself back at me.

  All these names for the same place, all these symbols for the real thing. The Federation of Feminist Health Care Centers calls it the urethral sponge. The seventeenth-century Dutch anatomist Regnier de Graaf called this same mass of erectile tissue, nerves, and glands the female prostate. All these names for the two inches of urethra you can feel through the front wall of the vagina. The anterior wall of the vagina. What some people call the bladder neck.

  All of this just the same bean-shaped territory everybody wants to name.

  To stake with their own flag. Their symbol.
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  To keep from triggering, I picture first-year anatomy and dissecting out the two legs of the clitoris, the crura, each about as long as your index finger. Picture dissecting out the corpus cavernosa, the two cylinders of erectile tissue in the penis. We cut out the ovaries. We removed the testes. You learn to cut out all the nerves and lay them off to one side. The cadavers stinking with Formalin, formaldehyde. That new-car smell.

  With this cadaver stuff in mind, you can ride for hours without getting anywhere.

  You can kill a lifetime without feeling anything but skin. That’s the magic of these sexaholic chicks.

  When you’re an addict, you can go without feeling anything except drunk or stoned or hungry. Still, when you compare this to other feelings, to sadness, anger, fear, worry, despair, and depression, well, an addiction no longer looks so bad. It looks like a very viable option.

  Monday, I stay home after work and sort through my mom’s old tapes from therapy sessions. Here are two thousand years of women on one shelf Here’s my mother’s voice, steady and deep the way it was when I was a little shit.

  The bordello of the subconscious.

  Bedtime stories.

  Imagine a heavy weight pressing your body, settling your head and arms, deeper and deeper into the cushions of the couch. The tape playing in headphones, remember to fall asleep on a towel.

  Here’s the name Mary Todd Lincoln on one taped session.

  No way. Too ugly.

  See also: The Wallis Simpson session.

  See also: The Martha Ray session.

  Here’s the three Brontë sisters. Not real women, but symbols, just their names as empty shells you can project into, you can fill with antique stereotypes and clichés, milk-white skin and bustles, button shoes and hoop skirts. Naked except for whalebone corsets and crochet snoods, here are Emily and Charlotte and Anne Brontë lying around naked and bored on horsehair settees one fetid hot afternoon in the parlor. Sex symbols. You fill in the rest, the props and positions, the rolltop desk, the pump organ. Insert yourself as Heathcliff or Mr. Rochester. Just put in the tape and relax.

  As if we can ever imagine the past. The past, the future, life on other planets, everything is such an extension, such a projection of life as we know it.

  Me locked in my room, Denny comes and goes.

  As if it’s just some innocent accident, I catch myself thumbing through the Marshalls in the phone book. She’s not listed. After work some nights, I take the bus that goes past St. Anthony’s. She’s never in any of the windows. Riding past, you can’t guess which is her car in the parking lot. I don’t get off.

  Whether I’d slash her tires or leave a love note, I don’t know.

  Denny comes and goes, and every day there’s fewer rocks in the house. And if you don’t see somebody every day, you see them change. Me watching from an upstairs window, Denny comes and goes pushing bigger and bigger rocks in a shopping cart, and every day, Denny looks a little bigger inside his old plaid shirt. His face gets tan, his chest and shoulders get big enough to spread the plaid out so it doesn’t hang in folds. He’s not huge, but he’s bigger, big for Denny.

  Watching Denny from the window, I am a rock. I am an island.

  I call down, does he need any help?

  On the sidewalk, Denny looks around, his arms hugging a rock to his chest.

  “Up here,” I say. “Do you need me to help you?”

  Denny heaves the rock into his shopping cart and shrugs. He shakes his head and looks up at me, one hand shading his eyes. “I don’t need help,” he says, “but you can help if you want.”

  Never mind.

  What I want is to be needed.

  What I need is to be indispensable to somebody. Who I need is somebody that will eat up all my free time, my ego, my attention. Somebody addicted to me. A mutual addiction.

  See also: Paige Marshall.

  It’s the same way a drug can be something good and something bad.

  You don’t eat. You don’t sleep. Eating Leeza isn’t really eating. Sleeping with Sarah Bernhardt, you’re not really asleep.

  The magic of sexual addiction is you don’t ever feel hungry or tired or bored or lonely.

  On the dining-room table, all the new cards pile up. All the checks and best wishes from a lot of strangers who want to believe they’re somebody’s hero. Who think they’re needed. Some woman writes about how she’s started a prayer chain for me. A spiritual pyramid scheme. As if you can gang up on God. Bully Him around.

  The fine line between praying and nagging.

  Tuesday evening, a voice on the answering machine is asking for my permission to move my mom up to the third floor at St. Anthony’s, the floor where you go to die. What I hear first is this isn’t Dr. Marshall’s voice.

  Yelling back at the answering machine, I say, sure. Move the crazy bitch upstairs. Make her comfortable, but I’m not paying for any heroic measures. Feeding tubes. Respirators. The way I react could be nicer, but the soft way the administrator talks to me, the hush in her voice. The way she assumes that I’m a nice person.

  I tell her soft little recorded voice not to call me again until Mrs. Mancini is good and dead.

  Unless I’m scamming for money, I’d rather people hate me than feel sorry for me.

  Hearing this, I’m not angry. I’m not sad. All I feel anymore is horny.

  And Wednesdays mean Nico.

  In the women’s room, the padded fist of her pubic bone punching me in the nose, Nico wipes and smears herself up and down my face. For two hours, Nico laces her fingers together across the back of my head and pulls my face into her until I’m choking down pubic hair.

  Tonguing inside her labia minora, I’m tonguing the folds of Dr. Marshall’s ear. Breathing through my nose, I’m stretching my tongue toward salvation.

  Thursday is Virginia Woolf, first. Then it’s Anaïs Nin. Then there’s just enough time for a session with Sacajawea before it’s morning, and I have to go to work in 1734.

  In between, I write down my past in my notebook. This is doing my fourth step, my fearless and complete moral inventory.

  Fridays mean Tanya.

  By Friday, there are no more rocks in my mom’s house.

  Tanya comes by the house, and Tanya means anal.

  The magic of getting butt is she’s as tight as a virgin every time. And Tanya brings toys. Beads and rods and probes, these all smell like bleach, and she smuggles them around in a black leather bag she keeps in the trunk of her car. Tanya works my dog with one hand and her mouth while she presses the first ball on a long string full of greasy red rubber balls against my trapdoor.

  My eyes closed, I’m trying to relax enough.

  Breathe in. Then out.

  Think of the monkey and the chestnuts.

  Slow and even, in and then out.

  Tanya twisting the first ball against me, I say, “You’d tell me if I sounded too needy, wouldn’t you?”

  And the first ball pops inside.

  “Why don’t people believe me,” I say, “when I tell them I just don’t care?”

  And the second ball pops in.

  “I really really can’t give a shit about anything,” I say.

  Another ball pops in.

  “I’m not going to get hurt, again,” I say.

  Something else pops inside me.

  Tanya still throating my dog, she makes a fist around the dangling string and yanks.

  Imagine a woman yanking your guts out.

  See also: My dying mother.

  See also: Dr. Paige Marshall.

  Tanya yanks again, and my dog triggers, the white soldiers gobbing against the bedroom wallpaper beside her face. She yanks again, and my dog’s coughing dry and still coughing.

  And still triggering dry, I say, “Damn. For serious, I felt that.”

  What would Jesus NOT do?

  Leaning forward with both my hands spread against the wall, my knees folding a little, I say, “Easy does it.” I tell Tanya, “You’re not star
ting a lawn mower.”

  And Tanya kneeling under me, still looking at the greasy, stinking balls on the floor, says, “Oh boy.” She lifts the string of red rubber balls for me to see, and she says, “There are supposed to be ten.”

  There’s only eight and what looks like a lot of empty string.

  My ass hurts so much, I finger around back there and then check my fingers for blood. As much as I hurt right now, you’d be amazed there’s not blood everywhere.

  And gritting my teeth, I say, “That was fun, don’t you think?”

  And Tanya says, “I need you to sign my release form so I can get back to jail.” She’s dangling the string of balls into her black bag and says, “You’re going to want to stop by an emergency room.”

  See also: Impacted colon.

  See also: Bowel blockage.

  See also: Cramping, fever, septic shock, heart failure.

  It’s been five days since I remember feeling hungry enough to eat. I haven’t been tired. Or worried or angry or afraid or thirsty. If the air in here smells bad, I can’t tell. I only know this is Friday because Tanya is here.

  Paige and her dental floss. Tanya and her toys. Gwen with her safe word. All these women are yanking me around on a string.

  “No, really,” I tell Tanya. I sign the form, under sponsor, and say, “Really, nothing’s wrong. I don’t feel anything left inside.”

  And Tanya takes the form and says, “I can’t believe that.” What’s funny is, I’m still not sure I believe it either.

  Chapter 34

  Without insurance or even a driver’s license, I call a cab to come jump-start my mom’s old car. On the radio, they talk about where to find traffic, a two-car accident on the bypass, a stalled tractor-trailer on the airport freeway. After I fill the gas tank, I just find an accident and get in line. Just to feel like I’m part of something.

  Sitting in traffic, my heart would beat at regular speed. I’m not alone. Trapped there, I could just be a normal person headed home to a wife, kids, a house. I could pretend that my life was more than just waiting for the next disaster. That I knew how to function. The way other kids would “play house,” I could play commuter.

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