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Because I Had To
By David Bulitt
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2016 David Bulitt
All rights reserved.
It does feel good. The bathroom is the only place in this little shit box that I really like, so maybe that's why I spent my entire decorating allowance in here. "Decorating allowance?" That is funny. I sound a little bit like my mom when I say it just so, turning my nose a certain way and fluttering my eyelids. My mom, who never thought I was good enough for — well, just about anything — she and I haven't talked in almost a year. When I left, I took some of the money that my dad had left me after he died, and with the rest saved from work, that was all I needed for a security deposit and one month's rent on this, my palace, a first-floor apartment in Jones Beach, Florida, a good thousand miles away from where I grew up. After my dad died, I thought about going west, to California or Arizona maybe, but instead I followed my friend Macy down here because she got me a job.
When we were little, my dad used to repeat the line from a movie we used to watch and tell both my sister and me that "all girls are princesses." Well, it hasn't exactly worked out that way, but once in a while, I still try to think of myself as a princess, so I call this place my palace. Just to myself, though.
The water in the tub is just the right temperature. Thankfully, tonight the pressure is high enough; some days, I barely can get any hot water much less enough to fill my tub. I have my legs hiked up on either side of the faucet, and I've slid down to just the right angle so the water is pounding right where it needs to go. The tub is a little small, like the one I had in my old house when I shared a bathroom with my sister. Instead of yellow, this one is a commercial greenie kind of color. Or maybe it's blue. It's hard to tell. Not that it matters at this particular moment.
The stopper on the tub broke after I moved in, so I had to buy a rubber one from Rite Aid. It fits in the drain pretty well, but sometimes it pops out and unless I can jam it in real quick, all the water runs out and I have to start refilling again. That gets particularly annoying, especially if I am in the middle of the "bathtub trick" as I like to call it when I get off in here. The stopper is in there nice and tight right now, and with the level low and the water running hard, all systems look to be a go.
When I have been with a boy, it is good too. I like having him touch me, rubbing me on just the right spot, getting inside of me, sliding in and out. But somehow, when I am with someone else, it's different. Like when I was little trying to climb the big hill in the Thompson's yard, it takes a while. That hill was a mountain to a ten-year-old girl. I have to get up slowly and pay attention to other things while I am working my way up before I can turn and enjoy the race back down. When I am in the tub, with the water running between my legs, pounding and throbbing, there is no climb. It's a quick pump up the mountain and then down I go over the slippery side, breathing hard, racing as fast as I can, like riding on greased-up skis, catching the wind and hitting a stride, coming in a matter of seconds.
My mind wanders as it often does just before focusing on what is going on below my waist. As soon as I rented this place, the first thing I did was run over to Pottery Barn in the mall and buy a distressed wooden ladder shelf that now sits in the corner, holding a Votivo vanilla-scented candle and Warm Vanilla Sugar lotion and body spray. When I was a little girl, I loved vanilla ice cream; it was the only flavor I would eat. I don't eat ice cream as much as I used to, probably because it reminds me too much of my dad, but I get my vanilla fix now from my candles, body sprays, and gels. I also have a set of really soft bright pink towels resting on the bottom ledge of the ladder. They were expensive — the HOTEL COLLECTION from Macy's — but every time I get out of the tub and wrap myself in one I sure am glad I bought them.
I can feel myself starting to tighten inside and as if a lead singer just counted down a song introduction — "a one, two, three, four" — and is starting to sing my hips are rocking up and down under the faucet. For a second, I think how funny it would look if someone came in and saw me humping the flow of tap water. But the second passes quickly and now I am focusing more on me. I can feel my breathing quicken. I feel hot, and my face is beading with just the slightest bit of sweat. I touch my nipple, swollen and hard, with my left hand, continuing to hold on to the faucet with my right so I don't slip under and inadvertently drown myself. I reach down from my breast and try to put my finger inside myself, just enough so I can feel it, but without upsetting the water rushing to my clitoris. The water is getting higher, not yet to Titanic levels, so I have a minute or so to finish. I can't quite reach in as far as I would like, and at this moment, I really wish my arms were a little longer or I had "the fingers of a piano player" like my sister. I feel the rush coming and tip my head back, resting lightly on the opposite side of the tub.
For some reason, just as my teeth clench and my back arches, my ADHD kicks in and I notice the rusty stain on the ceiling above me from when my friend Bobby in the apartment upstairs overflowed his shower and part of the drywall plopped right into my tub while I was brushing my teeth, maybe three days after I moved in. Bobby, who works two jobs as the super for the building and manager of the bar where I work, said he fixed it, but from the signs of the steadily spreading stain above me, he might need to come back and take another look. I almost laugh, thinking of asking Bobby down to see the stain, but can't because I am holding my breath and before I know it, the pulsing starts, I'm biting my lip and pulling that flow of water onto me, into me. I am flying down that mountain.
After I get my breath back, I swing my legs back around and slide down into the tub, the way it was designed to be used.
I remember reading in Women's Health or Cosmo or one of those types of magazines that the best way to make sure a woman has an orgasm is for her to have a steamy shower, a lot of foreplay, and maybe some oral sex first. Not me. Especially when I do the bathtub trick, I'm like a thirteen-year-old boy who just discovered his dick. A couple of minutes under the running water and pow — I'm good to go.
I get out of the tub and reach for my HOTEL COLLECTION towel. The orgasm felt good. Great even. But fuck, it just sucks. I'm not satisfied.
I need more.
I need to cut.
I start rummaging through my medicine cabinet, pushing aside a jar of Burt's Bees eye cream and the bottles of medications I have been prescribed over the last year. I haven't done it in a while, but I know I bought those blades a few months ago. The ones other people use to remove calluses on their feet. They're perfect, yes, but I don't see them.
Goddamn it, I need to find them. I bend down and my towel falls onto the cracked tile floor as I start to rummage through the cabinet under the sink. I immediately see the packaging — "Tweezerman" blades — they are made in Germany and come twenty in a pack. Hair thin and crazy sharp, they make the most amazing cut. Only one blade is missing from the pack; I used it a few months ago and tossed it away after, promising that would be the last time. At the time, I heard the ringing voice of my therapist in my ear. "It's unacceptable, Jess. It's just a negative coping mechanism. You need to find positive ways to cope with things."
Fuck her and her positive things. I need to do it. Now.
There really isn't anything else that makes me feel as good. Not running, which I took up after my dad died, not working at the bar, not even the bathtub trick. Nothing else makes me feel as good, gives me that same high.
I remember exactly when I first tried it. After school one day, I came home on the bus with my sister and a few of her friends. I didn't have any of my own friends, so I tried to glom on to hers. When one of the girls, Bonnie I think her name was, told my sister to "tell the weirdo to get out of here," I left the kitchen, pretending not to care, and went upstairs to my room. I plopped onto my bed and tried to do some homework, fiddling with a shiny paper clip between my fingers.
I was angry, as usual. Angry at myself. Angry at my sister. Angry at my parents. Angry. Why didn't my friends come over after school? I was always up here, by myself, either because I did something wrong and got sent here or because I just had no place else to go.
Although I always blamed everyone else, I knew that there must be something wrong with me. I wasn't good enough to sit still and watch TV with my parents, like my sister did. There had to be a reason that people didn't like me. I should be punished, I thought.
I opened up the paper clip and made a short scratch inside my forearm. I liked it. I scratched a bit more and kept going until I had carved a short line up the inside of my forearm and into my elbow. It bled a little bit and I watched the bright red streak meander toward my palm. Later, when my dad noticed the scratch and asked me what happened, I just told him that I had an accident with some scissors while I was doing a school project.
I pulled one of the thin blades from the pack and rolled my arm over onto the countertop. I looked at myself naked in the mirror, hair still wet and tangled across my forehead. My body is as good as it will ever look, I thought. My breasts are round and firm and high; Bobby says they could "hold a coke can on top" but I haven't tried to see if that's true. I have curves that I used to hate when I was younger and obsessively comparing myself to all the skinny, athlete types but now appreciate. I look okay. After this though, I will be back to wearing long sleeves again. It doesn't matter. It just feels good. In this moment, nothing else matters.
I need that release.
I want that feeling.
I cut.CHAPTER 2
My dad is dead. It's been almost a year now. He was pretty young, only fifty-two. When I think back on all I have done since I last saw him, I'm not sure how I should feel. Embarrassed? Some, yes. But also proud of myself, in a strange sort of way. At twenty-three, I've probably done more than a lot of people have. Or should have, anyway.
I made it at home for just a little while after he died. Me, my mom, and my sister. And that's exactly how it was. Me. My mom and my sister.
Kasey and I are twins. We were born in Pittsburgh and adopted right away. My parents did not use an agency but got us through what they always told us was an independent adoption. They found us by running some sort of "baby wanted" ads in local papers and those penny saver things that people look at in grocery stores.
Ever since I can remember, Kasey and I were different. As twins, one would think that we would have a connection, a natural bond of some kind, permanent "womb-mates." For whatever reason, though, I never felt it. More than that, I never even liked Kasey. I know it's crazy to say, but as far back as when I was about six or so, I can remember wishing that something bad would happen to her. Of course, for a little kid, "something bad" usually meant like her hair falling out or hoping she threw up all over herself. Once when we were little and on the couch exploring the depths of our prepubescent vaginas while watching SpongeBob and playing that stupid "Pretty Pretty Princess" game my sister loved so much, I handed Kasey a clip-on earring and told her to put it on that little bump thing just above her vagina.
"It will tickle."
Like the mindless sheep she was, Kasey immediately snapped it right on to her clitoris. She went screaming through the house and it wasn't until my dad could catch her and was able to pry her legs apart long enough to unhook the thing that she finally quieted down. I didn't exactly know what a clitoris was at the time, but it sure looked like it hurt. I stayed on the couch and laughed my ass off.
As we got older, I stopped wishing for Kasey to take a fall somewhere along the manicured little path that my mother paved for her. Like old bathroom wallpaper that no one notices, I just stopped thinking about her altogether.
Same as my mom, Kasey always seemed perfect. When we were kids, her hair was long and light brown and curly. She had this creamy translucent white skin and I don't think has ever, even now, gotten a pimple. She reminded me of one of those irritating American Girl dolls. When we would brush our teeth together in the banana-yellow double-sink bathroom that we shared, I always looked over at her in one of her little pink Lanz nightgowns, buttoned up all the way to the top. When she finished, Kasey would rinse out the toothbrush and put it right back into the holder, exactly where it belonged. I looked at her, and then straight ahead into the mirror at myself, toothpaste running down my chin.
My hair was a bit darker and much straighter than my sister's. I had this awful freckle on the tip of my nose that to me looked like a little licorice jellybean. I picked it off over and over again, must have been a hundred times, only to have it always grow right back. The summer before I went to high school, my dad took me to a plastic surgeon who took it off with a laser.
I did everything I could to get my hair to curl like Kasey's. I tried my mom's curling iron, burning my fingers more times than I care to remember. A few times, I tried tying my dad's socks into it overnight, hoping to wake up and see one of those unrealistically cute Disney channel characters in the mirror. One time, I had my dad drive me to a dollar store and bought my own set of 1950s-style curlers. I put them in and one became so tangled that the next morning my dad had to cut it out, leaving a short, jagged patch. Nothing worked. When I got a little older, I just gave up, and instead, just let my bangs grow and brushed them over to the side and across my forehead, often low enough to cover my left eye. My hair-never-out- of-place mother didn't approve. More than once, she told me that I looked like one of the Beach Boys. I didn't know who they were back then, but I knew she did not mean it to be a compliment. I asked my dad to play me some of their music and thought it was pretty good. After that, I didn't really mind the comparison.
Like everything else we owned, my mom bought us the same nightgowns. I hated those things, all frilly and soft. Kasey kept hers folded tightly in her "nightgown drawer." I just never felt comfortable in them and stuffed them into little balls underneath my bed. Instead, I would rummage through my dad's old T-shirt drawer and steal one of his particularly big and baggy ones. It drove my mother crazy, but Dad kind of liked it. Even now, at 23, I still wear his old T-shirts. Except for his Asbury Jukes music collection, what's left in my bank account, and some great fucking memories, those old T-shirts are pretty much all I have left of him.CHAPTER 3
I can't really say where my distaste — that's a good word — my distaste for Kasey came from. Maybe it was because of how differently our parents treated us. Actually, that's not fair. My mom treated us differently. The first time I can remember knowing that there was a difference between Kasey and me was at our sixth birthday party. I wanted to have a party in our yard, with games and squirt guns and treasure hunts and piñatas. Instead, as usual, my mom got us what Kasey wanted. We had one of those lame little girl parties where some otherwise unemployed misfit dressed up as Jasmine from the Aladdin cartoon movie showed up and helped all the girls with their hair and makeup. Kasey was happy as a fucking clam, sitting with all of her boring and perfect little friends getting their nails done. Of course, my mom was right next to Kasey the entire time, laughing and smiling, like some big puffed-up six-year-old princess wannabe. All the while, my dad roamed around with one of those old- style video cameras making home movies that no one ever wants to watch.
I spent most of the afternoon brooding, eating cake and sitting by myself. In one of my early exhibitions of what would later be diagnosed as oppositional defiant disorder, I refused to invite any of my friends to the crappy party. Not that I had many friends.
Excerpted from Because I Had To by David Bulitt. Copyright © 2016 David Bulitt. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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