Choke, p.2
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       Choke, p.2

           Chuck Palahniuk
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  Halfway down the hallway to Room 234, Nico pulls me against the wall. She waits until some people have walked past us and says, “I know a place we can go.”

  Everybody else is going into the pastel Sunday school room, and Nico smiles after them. She twirls one finger next to her ear, the international sign language for crazy, and she says, “Losers.” She pulls me the other way, toward a sign that says Women.

  Among the folks in Room 234 is the bogus county health official who calls to quiz fourteen-year-old girls about the appearance of their vagina.

  Here’s the cheerleader who gets her stomach pumped and they find a pound of sperm. Her name is LouAnn.

  The guy in the movie theater with his dick stuck through the bottom of a box of popcorn, you can call him Steve, and tonight his sorry ass is sitting around a paint-stained table, squeezed into a child’s plastic Sunday school chair.

  All these people you think are a big joke. Go ahead and frigging laugh your frigging head off.

  These are sexual compulsives.

  All these people you thought were urban legends, well, they’re human. Complete with names and faces. Jobs and families. College degrees and arrest records.

  In the women’s room, Nico pulls me down onto the cold tile and squats over my hips, digging me out of my pants. With her other hand, Nico cups the back of my neck and pulls my face, my open mouth, into hers. Her tongue wrestling against my tongue, she’s wetting the head of my dog with the pad of her thumb. She’s pushing my jeans down off my hips. She lifts the hem of her dress in a curtsey with her eyes closed and her head tilted a little back. She settles her pubes hard against my pubes and says something against the side of my neck.

  I say, “God, you’re so beautiful,” because for the next few minutes I can.

  And Nico pulls back to look at me and says, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  And I say, “I don’t know.” I say, “Nothing, I guess.” I say, “Never mind.”

  The tile smells disinfected and feels gritty under my butt. The walls go up to an acoustical tile ceiling and air vents furry with dust and crud. There’s that blood smell from the rusty metal box for used napkins.

  “Your release form,” I say. I snap my fingers. “Did you bring it?”

  Nico lifts her hips a little and then drops, lifts and settles herself. Her head still back, her eyes still closed, she fishes inside the neckline of her dress and brings out a folded square of blue paper and drops it on my chest.

  I say, “Good girl,” and take the pen clipped on my shirt pocket.

  A little higher each time, Nico lifts her hips and sits down hard. Grinding a little front to back. With a hand planted on the top of each thigh, she pushes herself up, then drops.

  “Round the world,” I say. “Round the world, Nico.”

  She opens her eyes maybe halfway and looks down at me, and I make a stirring motion with the pen, the way you’d stir a cup of coffee. Even through my clothes, I’m getting the grid of the tile engraved in my back.

  “Round the world, now,” I say. “Do it for me, baby.”

  And Nico closes her eyes and gathers her skirt around her waist with both hands. She settles all her weight on my hips and swings one foot over my belly. She swings the other foot around so she’s still on me, but facing my feet.

  “Good,” I say and unfold the blue paper. I spread it flat against her round humped back and sign my name at the bottom, on the blank that says sponsor. Through her dress, you can feel the thick back of her bra, elastic with five or six little wire hooks. You can feel her rib bones under a thick layer of muscle.

  Right now, down the hall in Room 234 is the girlfriend of your best friend’s cousin, the girl who almost died banging herself on the stick shift of a Ford Pinto after she ate Spanish fly. Her name is Mandy.

  There’s the guy who snuck into a clinic in a white coat and gave pelvic exams.

  There’s the guy who always lies in his motel room, naked on top of the covers with his morning boner, pretending to sleep until the maid walks in.

  All those rumored friends of friends of friends of friends … they’re all here.

  The man crippled by the automatic milking machine, his name is Howard.

  The girl hanging naked from the shower curtain rod, half dead from autoerotic asphyxiation, she’s Paula and she’s a sexaholic.

  Hello, Paula.

  Give me your subway feelers. Your trench coat flashers.

  The men mounting cameras inside the lip of some women’s room toilet bowl.

  The guy rubbing his semen on the flaps of deposit envelopes at automatic tellers.

  All the peeping toms. The nymphos. The dirty old men. The restroom lurkers. The handballers.

  All these sexual bogeymen and-women your mom warned you about. All those scary cautionary tales.

  We’re all here. Alive and unwell.

  This is the twelve-step world of sexual addiction. Compulsive sexual behavior. Every night of the week, they meet in the back room of some church. In some community center conference room. Every night, in every city. You even have virtual meetings on the Internet.

  My best friend, Denny, I met him at a sexaholics meeting. Denny had got up to the point where he needed to masturbate fifteen times a day just to break even. Anymore, he could barely make a fist, and he was worried about what all that petroleum jelly might do to him, long term.

  He’d considered changing to some lotion, but anything made to soften skin seemed to be counterproductive.

  Denny and all these men and women you think are so horrible or funny or pathetic, here’s where they all let their hair down. This is where we all go to open up.

  Here are prostitutes and sex criminals out on a three-hour release from their minimum-security jail, elbow to elbow with women who love gang bangs and men who give head in adult bookstores. The hooker reunites with the john here. The molester faces the molested.

  Nico brings her big white ass almost to the top of my dog and bangs herself down. Up and then down. Riding her guts tight around the length of me. Pistoning up and then slamming down. Pushing off against my thighs, the muscles in her arms get bigger and bigger. My thighs under each of her hands go numb and white.

  “Now that we know each other,” I say, “Nico? Would you say you liked me?”

  She turns to look back over her shoulder at me, “When you’re a doctor, you’ll be able to write prescriptions for anything, right?”

  That’s if I ever go back to school. Never underestimate the power of a medical degree for getting you laid. I bring my hands up, each hand open against the stretched smooth underside of each thigh. To help lift her, I figure, and she twines her cool soft fingers through mine.

  Sleeved tight around my dog, without looking back, she says, “My friends bet me money that you’re already married.”

  I hold her smooth white ass in my hands.

  “How much?” I say.

  I tell Nico that her friends might be right.

  The truth is, every son raised by a single mom is pretty much born married. I don’t know, but until your mom dies it seems like all the other women in your life can never be more than just your mistress.

  In the modern Oedipal story, it’s the mother who kills the father and then takes the son.

  And it’s not as if you can divorce your mother.

  Or kill her.

  And Nico says, “What do you mean all the other women? Jeez, how many are we talking about?” She says, “I’m glad we used a rubber.”

  For a complete list of sexual partners, I’d have to check my fourth step. My moral inventory notebook. The complete and relentless history of my addiction.

  That’s if I ever go back and complete the damn step.

  For all those people in Room 234, working on their twelve steps in a sexaholics meeting is a valuable important tool for understanding and recovering from … well, you get the idea.

  For me, it’s a terrific how-to seminar. Tips. Techniques. Strategies for g
etting laid you never dreamed of. Personal contacts. When they tell their stories, these addict people are frigging brilliant. Plus there’s the jail girls out for their three hours of sex addict talk therapy.

  Nico included.

  Wednesday nights mean Nico. Friday nights mean Tanya. Sundays mean Leeza. Leeza sweats yellow with nicotine. You can almost put your hands around her waist since her abs are rock-hard from coughing. Tanya always smuggles in some rubber sex toy, usually a dildo or a string of latex beads. Some sexual equivalent of the prize in a box of cereal.

  The old rule about how a thing of beauty is a joy forever, in my experience, even the most beauteous thing is only a joy for about three hours, tops. After that, she’ll want to tell you all about her childhood traumas. Part of meeting these jail girls is it’s so sweet to look at your watch and know she’ll be behind bars in half an hour.

  It’s a Cinderella story, only at midnight she turns back into a fugitive.

  It’s not that I don’t love these women. I love them just as much as you’d love a magazine centerfold, a fuck video, an adult website, and for sure, for a sexaholic that can be buckets of love. And it’s not that Nico loves me much, either.

  This isn’t so much romance as it is opportunity. You put twenty sexaholics around a table, night after night, and don’t be surprised.

  Plus the sexaholic recovery books they sell here, it’s every way you always wanted to get laid but didn’t know how. Of course, all this is to help you realize you’re a sex junkie. It’s delivered in a kind of “if you do any of the following things, you may be an alcoholic” checklist. Their helpful hints include:

  Do you cut the lining out of your bathing suit so your genitals show through?

  Do you leave your fly or blouse open and pretend to hold conversations in glass telephone booths, standing so your clothes gap open with no underwear inside?

  Do you jog without a bra or athletic supporter in order to attract sexual partners?

  My answer to all the above is, Well, I do now!

  Plus, being a pervert here is not your fault. Compulsive sexual behavior is not about always getting your dick sucked. It’s a disease. It’s a physical addiction just waiting for the Diagnostic Statistical Manual to give it a code of its own so treatment can be billed to medical insurance.

  The story is even Bill Wilson, a founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, couldn’t overcome the sex monkey on his back, and spent his sober life cheating on his wife and filled with guilt.

  The story is that sex addicts become dependent on a body chemistry created by constant sex. Orgasms flood the body with endorphins that kill pain and tranquilize you. Sex addicts are really addicted to the endorphins, not the sex. Sex addicts have lower natural levels of monoamine oxidase. Sex addicts really crave the peptide phenylethylamine that might be triggered by danger, by infatuation, by risk and fear.

  For a sex addict, your tits, your dick, your clit or tongue or asshole is a shot of heroin, always there, always ready to use. Nico and I love each other as much as any junkie loves his fix.

  Nico bears down hard, bucking my dog against the front wall of her insides, using two wet fingers on herself.

  I say, “What if that cleaning woman walks in?”

  And Nico stirs me around inside herself, saying, “Oh yeah. That would be so hot.”

  Me, I can’t help imagining what kind of a big shining butt print we’re going to polish into the waxed tile. A row of sinks look down. Fluorescent lights flicker, and reflected in the chrome pipes under each sink you can see Nico’s throat is one long straight tube, her head thrown back, eyes closed, her breath panting out at the ceiling. Her big flower-print breasts. Her tongue hangs off to one side. The juice coming off her is scalding hot.

  To keep from triggering I say, “What all did you tell your folks about us?”

  And Nico says, “They want to meet you.”

  I think about the perfect thing to say next, but it doesn’t really matter. You can say anything here. Enemas, orgies, animals, admit to any obscenity, and nobody is ever surprised.

  In Room 234, everybody compares war stories. Everybody takes their turn. That’s the first part of the meeting, the check-in part.

  After that they’ll read the readings, the prayer things, they’ll discuss the topic for the night. They’ll each work on one of the twelve steps. The first step is to admit you’re powerless. You have an addiction, and you can’t stop. The first step is to tell your story, all the worst parts. Your lowest lows.

  The problem with sex is the same as with any addiction. You’re always recovering. You’re always backsliding. Acting out. Until you find something to fight for, you settle for something to fight against. All these people who say they want a life free from sexual compulsion, I mean forget it. I mean, what could ever be better than sex?

  For sure, even the worst blow job is better than, say, sniffing the best rose … watching the greatest sunset. Hearing children laugh.

  I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a hot-gushing, butt-cramping, gut-hosing orgasm.

  Painting a picture, composing an opera, that’s just something you do until you find the next willing piece of ass.

  The minute something better than sex comes along, you call me. Have me paged.

  None of these people in Room 234 are Romeos or Casanovas or Don Juans. These aren’t Mata Haris or Salomes. These are people you shake hands with every day. Not ugly, not beautiful. You stand next to these legends on the elevator. They serve you coffee. These mythological creatures tear your ticket stub. They cash your paycheck. They put the Communion wafer on your tongue.

  In the women’s room, inside Nico, I cross my arms behind my head.

  For the next I don’t know how long, I’ve got no problems in the world. No mother. No medical bills. No shitty museum job. No jerk-off best friend. Nothing.

  I feel nothing.

  To make it last, to keep from triggering, I tell Nico’s flowered backside how beautiful she is, how sweet she is and how much I need her. Her skin and hair. To make it last. Because this is the only time I can say it. Because the moment this is over, we’ll hate each other. The moment we find ourselves cold and sweating on the bathroom floor, the moment after we both come, we won’t want to even look at each other.

  The only person we’ll hate more than each other is ourselves.

  These are the only few minutes I can be human.

  Just for these minutes, I don’t feel lonely.

  And riding me up and down, Nico says, “So when do I get to meet your mom?”

  And, “Never,” I say. “That’s impossible, I mean.”

  And Nico, her whole body clenched and jacking me with her boiling wet insides, she says, “She in prison or a loony bin or something?”

  Yeah, for a lot of her life.

  Ask any guy about his mom during sex, and you can delay the big blast forever.

  And Nico says, “So is she dead now?”

  And I say, “Sort of.”

  Chapter 3

  Anymore, when I go to visit my mom, I don’t even pretend to be myself.

  Hell, I don’t even pretend to know myself very well.

  Not anymore.

  My mom, it’s like her sole occupation at this point is losing weight. What’s left of her is so thin, she has to be a puppet. Some kind of special effect. There’s just not enough of her yellow skin left to fit a real person inside. Her thin puppet arms hover around on the blankets, always picking at bits of lint. Her shrunken head will collapse around the drinking straw in her mouth. When I used to come as myself, as Victor, her son Victor Mancini, none of those visits lasted ten minutes before she’d ring for the nurse and tell me she was just too tired.

  Then one week, my mom thinks I’m some court-appointed public defender who represented her a couple times, Fred Hastings. Her face opens up when she sees me and she lies back into her stack of pillows and shakes her head a little, saying, “Oh, Fred.” She says, “My fingerprints were all over
those boxes of hair dye. It was reckless endangerment, open and shut, but it was still a brilliant sociopolitical action.”

  I tell her that’s not how it looked on the store’s security camera.

  Plus, there was the kidnapping charge. It was all on videotape.

  And she laughs, she actually laughs and says, “Fred, you were such a fool to try and save me.”

  She talks that way a half hour, mostly about that misguided incident with the hair dye. Then she asks me to bring her a newspaper from the dayroom.

  In the hall outside her room is some doctor, a woman in a white coat holding a clipboard. She has, it looks like, long dark hair twisted into the shape of a little black brain on the back of her head. She’s not wearing makeup so her face just looks like skin. A pair of black-framed glasses are folded and sticking out of her chest pocket.

  Is she in charge of Mrs. Mancini, I ask.

  The doctor looks at the clipboard. She unfolds the glasses and slips them on and looks again, the whole time saying, “Mrs. Mancini, Mrs. Mancini, Mrs. Mancini… ”

  She keeps clicking and unclicking a ballpoint pen in one hand.

  I ask, “Why is she still losing weight?”

  The skin along the parts in her hair, the skin above and behind the doctor’s ears, is as clear and white as the skin inside her other tan lines must look. If women knew how their ears come across, the firm fleshy edge, the little dark hood at the top, all the smooth contours coiled and channeling you to the tight darkness inside, well, more women would wear their hair down.

  “Mrs. Mancini,” she says, “needs a feeding tube. She feels hunger, but she’s forgotten what the feeling means. Consequently, she doesn’t eat.”

  I say, “How much is this tube going to cost?”

  A nurse down the hall calls, “Paige?”

  This doctor looks at me in my britches and waistcoat, my powdered wig and buckle shoes, and she says, “What are you supposed to be?”

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