After Joe moved out of his bachelor apartment and got back together with his wife, I started paying attention to public bathrooms. Precisely, family bathrooms, the ones you could lock from inside, ones with a baby change table. The change tables were sturdy. They could hold you up even if you were not a baby. If you were a grown woman, too, getting it from behind.
Wherever I went in the city–museums, restaurants, malls–I looked for bathrooms like that. I wrote down the locations in a little notebook. It would be easier to make notes in my phone but I was still too ashamed that I was looking for them, the bathrooms, and I didn’t want my phone to send me reminders of my humiliation.
There was enough humiliation. I felt it all the time as I moved through the city like an animal, stupid and wet.
After the first time we had sex in a bathroom, I sat on the floor for a while with my head between my knees. He didn’t ask me how I was. I didn’t want to get up. I wanted him to get out, to leave me alone. I told him to leave. I meant leave as in: go home.
But he didn’t; he waited outside with his hands in his pockets and when I came out, we walked toward a table and sat across from each other. What we had just done seemed like a procedure. Like a thing you’d do in a bathroom.
The waitress came and asked, would we like to see the menu?
Just a half-a-pint of Stella for me, Joe said.
Stella for me, too.
He didn’t look at the waitress. He was staring at me.
We should go see a movie sometime, I said. I imagined us cuddling in the movie theatre. I missed our intimacy that was no longer possible because there was no longer an apartment to be intimate in.
Sure, he said.
The waitress brought the beers.
We drank the beers, talked about music we hated, music we liked. When the beers were finished, we parted, went home: he back to his wife, me back to my three roommates.
We repeated the procedure two more times. A high-end restaurant with a bathroom with a chair inside it and a flowery wallpaper—I was proud of this finding— and a Starbucks.
But the first time Joe and I had sex, I was menstruating. He didn’t mind, he said and didn’t ask me if I minded – I didn’t. He said, he and his newly estranged wife used to fuck on a towel when she’d bleed, would I like a towel?
Do you mind if not? I said. He didn’t mind. It was his bed. He had just moved into the bachelor apartment.
I’m kind of sensitive so go easy, I said, and he said okay, but then shoved himself deep inside me as if he intended to hurt me.
I had never been in so much discomfort. It was stabbing, over and over, every nerve split and pounded. I tried counting backwards, multiply minutes by seconds, think of what colour to dye my hair… to distract myself but it was impossible to ignore the pain. Eventually, I gave up trying to move from underneath him, trying to slow him down. He pulled my hair hard; he bit my face, my neck. It was like being fucked by a giant cat. I knew that it would have to end at some point; nothing lasts forever, neither good or bad fucks. I simulated an orgasm; I thrashed and moaned. I had a headache. I was sore everywhere. He came inside me with a roar and I felt a sudden urge to laugh: at the roar or from relief? I don’t know. I turned my laugh into a squeak; it got lost in the roar anyway.
My body smelled foreign—I was covered in his sweat. He was wheezing. He pulled out, there was blood on the condom. He collapsed, half on top of me. I moved from underneath him, rolled him over onto the side. He looked at me with love in his eyes. My knees were shaking. I couldn’t stop my knees from shaking.
My knees are shaking, I said, pointing to them. That’s never happened to me before.
He smiled; he probably felt proud of himself.
I smiled back.
Throughout that night, he moved all around me, half on top of me—but not to fuck me— and he would pull and hold me tight as if I was a blanket. There was some deep sadness there, I felt—no lover has ever cuddled me like that, like I was a blanket, like I was his mother; there was this insistence in Joe as if he needed to absorb himself into my body. He had said he normally didn’t do that with his wife and whether that was true or not, I felt gratified but I also felt great and peaceful sorrow.
We would cuddle and talk and fall asleep for a minute and wake up and talk and kiss and half-fuck till it was 7 am and I had to go to school with bleary eyes.
The next evening after that, I was bruised up and down; the insides of my thighs were splotches of grey-purple. My neck was covered in bites. There was a knot in my hair that I had to cut out with nail scissors.
I came over to his place late, half-drunk.
How are you?
I’m drunk. I want to go to bed.
He said, Whatever you like, baby.
He pulled my silk dress over my head. I was naked underneath it. You couldn’t see the bruises in the half-darkness. I lay on the bed. I looked down on my body – it was silver and pale; it seemed to glow. A bruise on my thigh like a shadow. Joe kissed my neck; he kissed the bruises.
How are you feeling now, he said.
I’m okay, I said. I was still bleeding but I was less tender.
The sex was just aggressive as before, and, again, I faked my orgasm.
That was beautiful, Joe said. It always amused me when men said that, how beautiful an orgasm was, as if I perfectly played an instrument or as if I were an instrument that they had played perfectly.
I like you a lot, he said.
He went back to his wife a week later. So many things are predictable like that; rebound affairs especially. I cried, looked for bathrooms to be banged in; hated myself for looking and for crying.
On the last day I would ever see him, right after we fucked inside the Starbucks stall, we were crossing the street together, me ahead of him. A fast car came from out of nowhere, from around the corner and I lunged to escape getting hit.
I looked behind me and he was standing on the sidewalk on the other side, big eyes. He ran across the street.
I should’ve pulled you to get you out of the way, I saw her coming. I’m so sorry I didn’t, he said. You almost died, he said. His voice shook.
I felt laughter coming up and this time I didn’t stop it. I laughed and he looked at me as if I spat in his face.
Fuck you, I said in case I wasn’t being clear enough.
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” — Margaret Atwood
Jowita Bydlowska is a writer and photographer living in Toronto. Her first book, Drunk Mom, was a national bestseller. Her novel, Guy, is coming out in 2016. You can view more of her photographs at Boredom Repellent.