Love Letter in Nine by Anne Falkowski

  1. The first time I put my legs behind my head during sex it surprised even me. We were young then. The heel of my foot slipped back easy. One and then the other. Ankles overlapped like a Jesus cross.Your dog tags dragged on my chin. I was probably drunk because we were always drunk, but crazy in love, and we would hit a different bar every night. Twenty-one and I was finally legal to be in those bars I’d been going to since sixteen. Believed I was a grown-up even though I just failed out of college, and now meeting you, fellow failure, discharged from the Air Force where you served two years and not four. You said you were going crazy painting the insides of missile silos in Minot, North Dakota, where temperatures dropped so low people’s hearts would stop. You said you were supposed to see the world, but the US Air Force had different ideas. Your ability to hold a cigarette in your lips while you talked to me is why I held your hand for the first time under the table at The Hungry Tiger. The white stub moved up and down and I admired the way you didn’t know it was there. I got mad at you six months later when we tried to get an apartment and you had that damn cigarette in your mouth and the pack of Reds rolled up in your sleeve and I’m sure that’s why the landlord wouldn’t rent to us. I don’t know why I was driven to fail out of college. It was more like a killing than a saving. Through my boozy heat, my being felt cloyed and the path to class was too cumbersome to set my feet on. Why we drank so much in the first place was never accounted for.


2. I think we did the best job of parenting our second cat. I can’t remember if it was a boy or girl. I do remember we got it at the flea market along with a glass container to make sun tea. A handsome grey tiger cat. We almost thought it was funny a week later when we found out it was infested with fleas. It was as hot as August can get in Connecticut which is sweat running down your cheeks and dripping into your underwear and air conditioning is never enough and sometimes pets die in these heatwaves. Soon our ankles were itching. Well mine were and not yours because you aren’t really affected by fleas. We laughed it off and said, “Isn’t it funny that we got our cat from the flea market and now he has fleas?” When we moved out of our rented duplex and into our first home, a small cape across town, our flea-market cat didn’t fare well. He soon disappeared and one of our old neighbors said she saw him walking nearby our past apartment like some sort of cat ghost. We drove our car back to halfheartedly look for him, but we never did find him.


3. You were intense right from the beginning. I wished I knew then how young we were and soaked in the youngness of us. The lack of history between us. I was the one who would start it. Worked my body up close and lingered. Rubbed my breasts against your back and my crotch to your thighs. When we sat at the bar table, you next to me, a cigarette in my hand, my other hand cupped you through your jeans. There will be more of this my hands said. We couldn’t fuck at either of our parents’ houses, because you liked it when I made noise, although we did watch a lot of Magnum PI on the television in your parents’ cellar. You even grew a mustache, which I asked you to shave and get rid of it along with your grey cowboy boots. Really I was so embarrassed. We became experts at finding abandoned parking lots. The daycare up on Birch Mountain was our favorite. There are times you still ask to go that parking lot. I say no. “It’s not reasonable.” When we fucked under the parking lot lights, you looked at me straight on and penetrated me from above. You made sure I came first. Sometimes when your mouth was on my belly, you reached up and brushed my lips with your fingers. Once I thought about biting you. You’ve never said it but my pouty lips are my best feature.


4. Cats can be jerks. Our first apartment was up four flights of winding stairs which made it more like eight. We smoked too much, not weed, but cigarettes, and during that time I switched from drinking vodka and cranberry juice to white wine. It was what we did together, drink and smoke and fuck but we were getting out of shape and going up those stairs wasn’t easy. Sometimes it made me mad that we had to live there and not somewhere nicer. It was the only time we lived in a place with a clawfoot tub and one night it got so hot on the fourth floor that I became freezing cold with goosebumps. You placed me naked in the bathtub and ran lukewarm water over my body to bring my temperature down. It was the only place we ever lived where you tied my wrists to the bedposts. Per my request, you left my legs free. You were so excited that I said yes, you dove on top of me. You tried to get me to do this many more times in different beds in different houses, but I said no like you were pushy for even asking. We bought our cat from a group of kids with a sign, ”free kittens.” A small orange thing. He was not affectionate. I don’t think he ever once sat on our laps, but he was a jumper. Do you remember how he’d sit up on the back porch and jump down the four flights and land safely in the parking lot? Do you remember how he would cry at the bottom of the stairs for us to get him? I mean really, he wanted us to walk down four flights which was more like eight, pick him up, and bring him back upstairs. One day he jumped and didn’t return. We acted sad but I think we both thought it was for the best.


5. We moved into our first house and it snowed every day for a month. We lit fires in the fireplace and had sex under the Christmas tree and then I gained a hundred pounds with our baby girl in my belly. I grew so big I couldn’t fit behind our kitchen nook table. I was ashamed of my size but couldn’t stop. It was as if I had swallowed a potion to make me grow. You said, “Baby, I love you fat!” In my dreams, I kept leaving our baby in unsafe places like bar stools and my old college dorm room. When I went back to get her she would be gone and a fire alarm rattled my whole being especially my legs. Awake, I looked down at my calves and ankles and they were bloated bigger than loaves of bread. It was impossible to lean over and shave them. We had two cats. The first one was a black and white tabby who turned its nose up at dry food. One day he started peeing on everything: shoes, pillows, blankets and even in the baby’s crib. When I took him to the vet, I thought maybe he was anxious, but the vet said he probably licked some antifreeze. Did we carelessly leak some on the driveway? We racked our brain trying to remember. He had to be put to sleep. You were working your first paying job that wasn’t mowing lawns or selling insurance to old ladies, and I went alone to the vet with him in a cardboard cat-carrier. His weight felt heavier than he was. I didn’t go into the room when they put him down. After all, the baby was with me in a sling on my back. Our other cat was mean. She scratched us if we even looked at her. It was the only mean cat we ever owned. When it came close to our second baby’s due date, we called an empty-nest couple from church and asked them to take our mean cat, which they did. A month later, we got a report, the cat wasn’t mean at all. It just needed to climb trees. We didn’t believe them. The second baby arrived and I didn’t believe in sex any more. You did. Maybe it was because I quit drinking and smoking, or because I was a mom and milk flowed through my blue-veined tits, but I kept saying no. Out of my lips- No. Out of my belly- No. From my pelvis- No No No. Im too tired or My stomach hurts or something like that. I didn’t want to admit it was me. Sexless. I went to bed after you. Many times I had to wait, closed my eyes on our red-flowered couch waiting for you so you weren’t waiting for me.


6. We moved into our second home, a brown colonial on a cul-de-sac with a screened-in-porch. It was the dark red rhododendron bushes and light pink mountain laurel flowers that sold me. You envisioned the attic as your get-a-way man office. Soon I began to resent that house with no back yard to speak of, just a hill that went up. You didn’t mind. “See the potential,” you would say. We killed four cats during the four years we lived there. Not by our own hands but we couldn’t seem to keep them alive. Heart conditions, the vet said. Do you remember the one who left us presents by our back door — not only dead birds and mice but once left us a rabbit with a slit neck? I don’t remember if we ever had sex in that house. We must have, right? You would never would have tolerated zero sex. I remember the yoga. That’s when I opened my first yoga studio. We were both surprised by its success. That’s when your family stopped talking to us. They said I was toxic. There was rage and you broke a chair. When I fanned open my fingers and spread my toes in downward dog, something primal awakened. When I pushed my pelvis to the sky in wheel pose, I felt it even more. Whatever it was, I wasn’t willing to share. The cat’s death that upset me the most was the fluffy orange one we found stiff on its side in our basement, eyes wide open. You put gloves on and buried him in our pitiful back yard.


7. Our next house was too big but we bought it anyways. It had central air so I don’t ever remember being hot again but the bills piled up and your business went under and we learned that the IRS are fuckers and really will put leans against your home. The house had a swimming pool which I didn’t want but you said it would be fine. One day the worst happened and our toddler sunk without noise to the bottom, but you saw her and dove in. When you placed her on the patio, arms and legs extended out like a rag doll, she opened her eyes and smiled. You smiled back. By this time you had declared you hated all cats. I had declared I hated all sex. Well not declared really, but I was never present, stayed on the bottom; soundless, lifeless, and rolled over when you were done. Sierra was my favorite cat of all. We inherited her from the neighbors when they moved. A white Siamese with two different colored eyes, blue and green. I made the neighbor fix her before we would take her and this made her belly become pouchy and drag to the ground. She grew fatter and fatter until she could no longer jump successfully. One day she tried to jump up on our son’s bed, miscalculated her leap, and landed a reckless claw on his closed eyelid. There was lots of blood and tears but we learned to shut his door at night. I know you will never forget the time she couldn’t wash her own fat backside and pieces of cat feces clung to the white fur around her ass. When I came home from work, you had her fat body over our ceramic kitchen sink as you washed out her asshole. Your wet fingers and a bar of soap were on her ass and you were furious. It was your 40th birthday and you were washing a cat’s ass. I laughed out loud. You pouted for the rest of the night, over beers with our friends, but it made for a good story — you and the cat’s asshole. We went camping for a week. My mother was supposed to feed Sierra, but somehow she left our sliding door open, the one that goes out to the pool. She was not an outside cat. She was not a survivor. She was not pretty. We never saw her again.


8. We’ve been married twenty-seven years and lived in three apartments and three houses. The ten cats we’ve owned have either died or gone missing. That makes one cat dead for every 2.7 years we’ve stayed together. What does it say about a couple who can’t keep cats alive? What does this make us?


9. Your tongue makes it way down between my legs. My pelvis reaches up begging you to go harder. Your hand goes over my mouth to silence me. I don’t realize I’m making noise. Deep sounds against high pitches.  We’ve never had oral sex in any other house but this one. We discovered we needed to do sex this way because our teenagers never go to bed and if we have our typical intercourse, the squeaky bed sounds echo through the house. Your mouth has revived me. Brought me back from the dead. You on me. Me on you. Tongue on flesh. Cleansed me. It gives you ways to reinvent me. Reinvent us. It’s as if we never faltered. We don’t discuss and just let it be. We have a new cat now. Her name is Roxie, a small gray female, who likes to play it cool. She will hide behind doors and furniture if anyone moves too fast, but eventually she emerges and sits next to you. Never directly on you. That’s not her way. She purrs whenever we are alone; tough, rugged, and rhythmic.

Anne Falkowski‘s work has been published in The Manifestation and Elephantjournal. She is a mother to three and owns one of the largest yoga studios in Central CT. When not writing, she can be found on her yoga mat.

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