Love, Meet Magic Realism by Samantha Eyler

Editor Carrie Ivy, Editor's Choice, June 9th, 2014

...our poly relationship is going through a dramatic phase...

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May 19.

Monday morning, top of the Andes. I squint at myself in a 3-inch mirror broken off a Clinique eyeshadow palette and inspect the smudges of kohl around my eyes. I’ve seen exactly three people in the past two days, but one of them was Ani*, the neighbor, and I looked like a hungover vagrant when we ran into each other. Not today.

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May 17.

Bela, a lesbian I’ve been OK Cupiding with, suggests, dropping her gaze to the burrito in front of her, that more women should lay off the makeup. She’s another of the three people I’ve see this weekend. I’d already been worrying this morning, before our date, that the 3-inch mirror was inadequate for the liquid eyeliner job I was slathering onto my face. In place of the bathroom mirror (we’ve been too skint to buy one since we moved up to the mountains from Medellin three months ago), Tim has chalked onto the wall a smiley face and an “I Love You.”

Bela’s advice reminds me of a recent finding that women wear 60% more makeup than survey respondents deem “ideal.” In the comments, dozens of men sniped that women only dress for other women, anyway. I’m a feminist columnist—I get my share of shit from man-trolls. But I’m still surprised and angered by their bitterness. Why should men care that our female self-painting isn’t always for their benefit?

Later, in a Facebook chat with Paul, one of my guys, he asks what I’m doing and I tell him I’m decorating myself to go down into civilization. He protests: What? You don’t need decorating. He means it, I’m sure. Tim always says the same thing, too. I keep painting myself anyway.

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May 19.

This Monday morning, Tim’s away visiting family in Bogotá. I tell myself I’m grateful for the space—our poly relationship is going through a dramatic phase that I’m hoping some time apart might resolve. But in fact on the first night of his absence, just like when I was an evangelical kid and believed in angels and demons, I see lucid demonic shadows swooping over my bed. I call my dog in from the sofa to protect me.

Even 18 months into a poly relationship, when Tim might leave me for someone else at any moment, I’m still not as immune to fear of being alone as I’d like to be.

Our poly drama is partly about Ani, the neighbor. Tim is into her, but nothing is happening because she has a very jealous and scary boyfriend, José. I’m into her myself, but mostly I don’t trust her. Like me, she’s bi, sexually flexible, but at heart I think she’s more straight than I am, more prepared to pose and compete for male attention. My personal poly-sanity rule has always been—don’t compete. Give the people you’re sleeping with enough rope to hang themselves and they’ll set their own limits. I want Tim to choose me. A relationship based on anything else is, to my thinking, nothing more than emotional coerciveness, psychological violence.

I read recently that the term for this sort of arrangement is “relationship anarchy.”

Ani’s a journalist, ambitious and opinionated. She goes down the mountain to a job in the city 5 days a week, and when she walks past our house in the afternoon sunsets in her eyeliner, blue-streaked hair and cat-eye RayBans, she reminds me of those American Girl dolls I used to obsess over.

I’ve only known her these three months, but Ani seems to want to be super-best friends. She shows up unannounced for coffee and chats, suggests we start our own two-woman book club, invites me along to endless drinking outings. But she also weaves insults into our conversations, snarking about my Spanish, about how I take care of my dog, about how some of us have to work full-time jobs because some of us aren’t overeducated gringa yuppies.

I try to explain that my people from back in Kentucky were trailer-park people, white trash, rednecks. She doesn’t get it, and I wonder if the distinction I’m trying to make to prove my low-class roots is a privileged-person one in any case: By Colombian standards, American trailer-park people have nothing to complain about.

Ani pushes me, but I feel compelled—as much by my own beliefs about feminism as by her allure—to bend to her influence, to keep myself open to where she wants to lead me. But I’m still wary that she might pull me over an edge. She’s more daring than I am, downright reckless. When we drink together she snorts lines of coke for hours, then complains the next day about tachycardia keeping her from sleep. Just inside the door to her house hangs a set of three-foot upholstered hoops with ankle stirrups. I ask her about it the first time I go to a party at their house. “It’s for having sex,” she shrugs. “José made it. Great isn’t it?”

She and I talk feminism, polyamory, lefty politics. I am painfully mindful of how Anglo-American feminists arrive in developing countries and shove our “truth” at women more deft at parrying patriarchy than we’ve ever dreamed of needing to be. I say my piece, but listen to her objections and file them away in my brain for future inspection. She tells me she’s interested in trying polyamory with, say, people like me and Tim, but would insist that all of us end any outside relationships. I blush, mutter something unintelligible, and change the subject.

Tim is transfixed by her, and I can hardly blame him. He lounges out front for entire afternoons, shooting glances over at Ani and José’s every few minutes. I watch, flabbergasted, as she flirts with Tim in front of both me and José, settling her head on Tim’s shoulder, pressing her thighs against his on the sofa. José gets visibly flustered and Tim sends me pleading, please-save-me looks. But I refuse to set his boundaries for him. Recently when we argue he’s taken to retreating to the garden below their house and smoking and pacing there. He can’t fight being drawn into her gravitational orbit. I won’t fight it for him.

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May 1.

It’s the night Tim flakes on a night out with me to drop acid with Ani that I decide I need to escape to Bogotá. Paul is there, along with a few other old flames, but that’s not why I go. I need to reassure myself that there is still a world that exists off the top of this mountain, a world that doesn’t have Ani at the center of it.

I plan to translate one of my columns to Spanish and take it to a Bogotá magazine to see if it interests them. When I re-read it to myself, it sounds to my ear like something I’d read in El Espectador. I send it to Tim for a proof. He sends it back riddled with red.

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May 2.

In Bogotá I spend money on myself (on something besides alcohol and drugs, that is) for the first time in months. I buy a new Nine West handbag, dangly blue earrings, the first manicure I’ve had in months. I speak the best Spanish I’ve ever spoken to taxi drivers, pleased at how orderly and sensible my life sounds when I tell them I’m a writer living in a cabin in the Andes and in Bogotá for the International Book Fair. Juan, a Bogotano friend who used to correct my Spanish constantly, tells me I’ve improved 100% in the year since we last saw each other.

I call Tim and when he answers he’s drinking with Ani and José. The next day, I panic when he doesn’t answer my phone calls for several hours. I imagine him having either a coke-fueled orgy, or a black eye from pushing José too far in flirting with Ani.

He calls me back around noon. He’s spent the night with one of Ani’s friends instead. His voice is somber.

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May 4.

I smoke dope with Paul in Bogota parks two nights in a row. There is a negligible amount of hanky-panky, but neither of our hearts is in it. Instead, we talk for hours about Tim, one of Paul’s oldest friends. Paul asks me if I’m okay, says I look stooped and unwell. I’ve been aware of a painful tightness in my shoulders that won’t go away since we moved up into the mountains, but it’s the first time someone has commented on it.

I ask him if he fancies spending my last night with me. Uncharacteristically, he turns me down, but suggests coming out to see us soon.

I know in a flash that Ani will try to seduce him, and he won’t be able to resist her either. A rock settles in my stomach, but I grin and tell him I’ll be looking forward to it.

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May 5.

Back in the mountains. I run into Ani coming home from work. We exchange awkward pleasantries, and I try to remember, hesitating over words, the woman whose Spanish so impressed Juan in Bogotá. I ask her if she will proofread my translated column. She’s thrilled to help out. I steel myself and send it to her.

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May 15.

Tim suddenly starts insisting that I stop seeing or speaking to Paul. I refuse. Your male competitiveness is your problem, I tell him. But—bros before hoes, he tells me, or some variant of that logic. I don’t believe in that, but most other people do, and are shocked and judgy when they find out sometimes I sleep with my partner’s old friend.

Tim’s also unaccountably wounded when I start going out with Bela, the girl from OK Cupid. He’d been hoping I’d arrange a threesome. But she’s a lesbian, she didn’t fancy it. He sulks and we argue for several days, and he finally decides to go to Bogotá himself for a faceoff with Paul.

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May 18.

This afternoon, I write again to Arianna Huffington, whose email address a friend passed me after reading some of my work months ago. Huffington replied with interest, then never came back to me. I decide if anyone is going to take my writing seriously, I need to develop thicker skin, accept feedback even when it embarrasses me, push people even when it makes me look, well, pushy.

My columns are personal, sometimes intentionally provocative. Ani, who doesn’t read English, seems discomfited by the translated column I sent her. I know a lot more about you today than I did yesterday, she replies in an email. I’m scared to face her now that she has that information—my usual readers are far removed from my day-to-day world on this mountaintop. But I push ahead, ask her to come for dinner to explain her stylistic changes. I need strong women like her in my life. Even if they want to sleep with my men.

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May 19.

Tim calls from Bogota. Bitterness eats into his tone. He’s seen Paul, knows all the “half-truths” I’ve been telling him. I have no idea what he’s talking about, and terror clutches my gut. I usually get accused of telling too much truth to too many people, not the other way around. I know I’m verging on losing both him and Paul—maybe the whole polyamory experiment will just never work here in Colombia. I remember the lucid black shadows swirling over my bed two nights ago, and wonder if this trailer-trash Kentuckian is strong enough to carry on with this magic-realist Andean life alone. I certainly hope I don’t have to.

My email dings. It’s from an editor at the Huffington Post. They are offering me blogger credentials. The ambitious writer in me soars.

I know Tim’s still angry at me, but I can’t resist Skyping him the news.

His response is acid: I hope you’ll still be able to reach millions if you can’t use my name.

I stare at the screen.

Will I?

 

*All names have been changed.

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samanthaeylerSamantha Eyler compulsively writes stuff about her strange expat life in Colombia because she has no one else to talk to (in English, at least). Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Role Reboot, NACLA, the New Statesman, and her own blog Sex, Love, and La Mirada Feminina, where she explores female perspectives on sexuality and art.

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Carrie Ivy

Carrie Ivy (formerly Carrie Seitzinger) is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Ivy is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.