Withholding 

love is a slice of frozen orange
i twirl around the inside of my mouth
i can’t
shake
the shape
of the syllables
even when i should be distracted
by this man inside my body but
inside my mouth
are these words that get warmer
as they stay
still or
as they sway

if i don’t say them
will i swallow them?
how will he know?

will he be able to tell
by the way my mouth looks
when i swallow the slice

when the letters
don’t matter anymore?

Because (of) the Internet

They say you can’t hide on the internet. Anonymity is fragile and most of us have barely a cursory understanding of encryption. The data we make is permanent inscription, unlike letters carved into stone that will degrade with time. Now that we are all living in a digital world the tracks we leave behind us cannot be covered by dirt or brush. The wind won’t blow away the nudes I sent to my LiveJournal friend in high school.

I at least take solace in the law with that one.

You can hide in the internet. I did. In 2001 I was exactly the 19 year old girl from somewhere in California I always dreamed of being. I took my cues from the manic pixie dream girl trope and added on some authentic kindness and grit. I was her inside the screen. I was nothing behind it. I was 11.

They say catfishing is cruel but it was my only training. These interesting older people would discount me immediately if I came out. By the end of our interactions, usually lasting a few months, I’d find myself taking an ethical high ground I didn’t have the language for. Sanctions and punishments for bad behavior. I’d leave the 22 year old from Indiana behind questioning everything his parents ever said about his innate goodness that kept him from making any real effort to be good.

Sometimes they’d come back around to tell me I made a difference. I would be 12 or 13. Still nothing behind the screen.

Ageism

It was the fourth time this month he showed up at my office. “I had a meeting in your conference room so I thought I’d swing by.”

It was the fourth time this month he uttered those words in exactly that spot, one foot on the linoleum of the reception area, one foot on the carpet of my cubicle. I too felt myself straddling the line between professionalism and allowing him inside.

He’s got at least twenty years and five titles on me. We don’t even work in the same department. But he still feels like my boss. I’m unsure where this imagined authority is coming from: the linoleum or the carpet.

I’m also unsure whether it’s pure desire or the thrill of the game that makes me continue to engage him for an inappropriate amount of time. As I’m thinking this he’s moved inside my cubicle, to the left of the door, as if hiding from view of our “colleagues”. I fucking hate that word. When I call someone I work with my “colleague”, it means I would never get a beer with them.

But this guy, my new boss who doesn’t even work here, I would totally get a beer with. Except I wouldn’t order a beer. I’d order a “dry martini with a twist”. An older woman once taught me how to order a martini and I’ve been charming middle aged men with my uncharacteristically superior taste in and knowledge of after work cocktails ever since.

I don’t need to drink cheap gin anymore.

The door isn’t closed and this is a cubicle. It’s not like this guy is some lothario ready to lunge at me at 2 pm on a Wednesday. I’m glad of this because the fluorescent lighting doesn’t do us any favors. I did mention he’s got like 20 years on me, right?

No, it would have to happen in the dark, and not only for aesthetic reasons. He stopped referring to the mother of his child as his “wife” after our first coffee together. Every time he refers to his “spouse” I feel like I’m a fly on the wall of the law office of a divorce attorney. Except he never brings up a separation or a divorce, which indicates that neither are actively occurring, but that he’s not really into it, either. I guess this is what justifies his amorphous body language shifting into the territory of every man 20 years my senior to buy me a martini.

He likes to watch me talk about the very 20-something things I do. There are two elements of this performance that excites him. The first is my mouth moving at dick level when I’m sitting in my office chair and he’s standing against the wall of my cubicle. The second is the accumulation of a great many references to precisely how much younger I am. He writes down the names of all of the bands I’m excited to see over the summer at whatever music festival I decide to attend. I never know if he’s actually going to listen to them. I don’t think he wants to impress me in that way.

He is my boss, after all. I’m the one who needs to impress him.

I do the obligatory dance of inquiring about the well being of his children. He understands this means the conversation is over for the afternoon.