Kala Wahl: I Promise This Is Not About Sex
Anna Nicole Smith is like a mother to me. Tall, buxom-blonde Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith. The one who died of a drug overdose or whatever in Hollywood, Florida. Who knew there’s a Hollywood in Florida? Not me. Anna Nicole is like a mother to me because she looks so much like my own mother, and she was all I had while visiting my father’s house during the holidays.
I got into my dad’s porn stash. Big deal. I was seven years old, but he still didn’t exactly go out of his way to hide it. I found Anna Nicole Smith: Exposed right next to my copy of Finding Nemo in our movie cabinet. One movie is about a lost clownfish, and the other is about a naked woman having sex in some mansion with a pond out front. I watched the DVD while my father was away, working for some airline company he’d get laid off from a couple of months later. I’d cozy up on the couch with my stuffed bunny, affectionately named Moo (exactly, just like a cow noise), and watch Anna Nicole have sex with her chef, housekeeper, publicist, and whoever else happened to poke their head into her room. Her platinum blonde hair was just like my mom’s, and so was her picturesque, pin-up body most men buy vodka tonics for at bars. She was beautiful like my mom, and I watched her porno often. Moo and I did.
Watching Anna Nicole’s sex tape wasn’t sexual to me. It was a reminder that I wasn’t alone at my dad’s house—that some entity that looked like my mom was there to keep me company, along with the random girl Anna Nicole had sex with in the fourth or fifth scene of the film. It felt like she was babysitting me, or like I was back home at my mom’s place. Because I’ve always loved my mom more than my dad, I never wanted to go to his house. It never felt like I was totally wanted there, or that he even knew what to do with a daughter. I was a specimen for all he was concerned—he’d keep me in a plastic cup, poke holes in it, and slide McDonald’s and a sugary drink into the opening at least once a day.
My dad stopped calling me when I was twelve; I remember this because it was around when Michael Jackson died. Twelve was also the age the court decided I was no longer legally obligated to visit him anymore. After that, it was always just my mom and I. We’re very close because of it. I am twenty-one now and I think about my dad often, or, the idea of him. It’s hard to differentiate the two sometimes.
I have what most people would refer to as daddy issues. It’s not a medical term, but I think it should be.
Everybody writes about their dad, because nobody likes their dad. You’re in the minority if you do. I actually can’t stand people who talk about how much they love their dad. I find them annoying—and if that’s you, you’re annoying. Maybe you can go tell your dad about it.
Here’s what I know about my father: his name is Clifford, like the big, red dog. Cliff, for short, because it obviously made people think of the big, red dog. I don’t see how that could be a bad thing, though. He was a wrestling hotshot in college—supposed to make it big or something, but who knows, because all old people say stuff like that in order to feel less like losers in their old age. When I last left Cliff, he was living in his mother’s basement and selling gently-used hardware from the garage on Craigslist. He considered this to be his career. It was the fourth or fifth “career” of his. I don’t know where his downfall was, nor does my mother, who was never married to him in the first place. I guess we’ll never know because he and I don’t talk. I’m sure if I asked my mother, her answer would be along the lines of “wasted potential” or something. She claims all her exes had “wasted potential.” Whatever that means.
Most of us have daddy issues, but my issue is that I can’t find my dad. I actually can’t locate the motherfucker. Believe me, I’ve tried looking. I’ve looked right up at lots of forty-plus-year-old men who could have been the same age as my dad, but even all their cash and the unlimited mixed drinks they’d get me at hotel bars couldn’t suffice for my real, biological father. I don’t know where he is and sometimes I’d like to. Maybe it’s because I’m nosy, or maybe it’s because dads are something all of my friends have, like the latest iPhone model or denim jackets. I don’t miss him or anything—my dad was a piece of shit, one of those guys who skipped out on child support and kept pornos next to his kid’s copy of Finding Nemo. He wasn’t a good person. I don’t think he ever wanted a daughter, and sometimes I’m not even sure he remembers my name, or that I exist. But I miss something, and I can’t figure out what that something is. I know he has something to do with it, though.
There’s a void, and my dad is responsible for it. It’s deep and dark and it makes me feel empty sometimes. I have trouble with men, and I don’t think I would if my dad were still in my life. That’s what my harem of BlueCross BlueShield therapists have said. I think my dad is the reason I “date” older men. And when I say “date,” I mean have sex for money. It’s an issue of semantics, I guess. I have sex for money with older men. But it is kinda like dating, except you don’t get to see their rooms or meet their parents or anything. You just go to nice hotels and earn like, three-hundred dollars (It’s always difficult to put a price point on sex. I charge three-hundred dollars because that’s how much I think I’m worth. My mom always told me I was worth millions, but I quickly figured out that’s an unreasonable amount to charge.). These men provide for me much like a father would. They give me money so I can take care of myself, and buy like, nail polish and those little, plush keychains you see in displays when you’re checking out at a store. I tell myself they provide for me, at least. They’re around the same age I imagine my own father to be. I’m not a shrink, but I think there’s gotta be some kind of connection there.
Don’t tell my mom any of this. She would fucking kill me.
These men are desperate. They are socially inept. And they’re not always rich. Some save up a paycheck to get their dick wet, while it may not even dent another’s bank account. A few have been married, a few have wanted a girlfriend, and a few have been uncircumcised. You have to watch out for the uncircumcised ones.
I am seemingly the worst escort they could ever pay for. If it weren’t for my tight pussy, youth, and long, blonde wig, they would hate me. (The wig is more for me than them. I hide beneath it like a turtle in her shell. And I slap my clients’ hands when they try to pull on it). I don’t listen when these men speak. I don’t make noises when they fuck, asides from an occasional yawn. And I don’t kiss them goodbye. But I’m successful; I have regulars. I am overpaid for mediocre blowjobs with teeth and half-arched doggystyle. My clients find me endearing. They mistake my silence for shyness and my laziness for inexperience. I’m a cute college girl, and they’re ugly old men who wear dress shoes with jeans and offer me hard candies from their pockets.
Sometimes, when I’m with my clients, I fantasize about my dad’s reemergence. Like, he might rise from the ocean waves and chant my name, or break through my bedroom window with a superhero cape on and take me to some remote island with fairies and mermaids and shit. I may not remember what he looks like, but I’ll know it’s him. I think I’m looking for my dad to save me. Because I’ve convinced myself that this whole escorting thing is his fault, and I need him to come stop it. My dad is a changed man in this fantasy. He’d tell me how disappointed he is in me for sucking old-man dick for money, and then I’d remind him I was only doing it because of my deep abandonment issues or whatever. He would understand, and I would feel nice, having my father be disappointed in me, because I’ve always wanted something like that. He’d tell me I wouldn’t have to escort anymore, and then we’d go to Disney World, because I always used to beg him to take me there. My dad has yet to appear in my window, but I keep hoping he’s been trying to yell at me from the ocean. Since I live in Chicago, I wouldn’t be able to hear it, so I always ask my friend in Florida if he’s seen or heard anything unusual in the water. So far, it’s been a no.
I tried to find my father in a forty-eight-year-old man named Richard. He preferred to go by Dick because he thought Richard sounded too stuffy, too formal. He is the only man I’ve ever “dated” who had children. One had autism, and the other just resented him. Probably because he was throwing money at twenty-one-year-old, blonde chicks like me.
I thought Dick was going to be the one. Not my soulmate—but like, my dad. He was the closest thing to what I wanted out of a father, therefore, he was the man who would take care of me and keep me safe and tucked under his wing, like I was a baby bird or a precious jewel. I even considered taking my wig off for him, but we never got around to that. Dick asked if he could be my last client; he wanted me to stop escorting. He wanted exclusivity. I was ready to give it to him, because he sounded disappointed in me when he told me I deserved better than what my other clients were giving me. It was a lecture; I loved that. I loved his disappointment. I rolled around in it like it was mud and dirtied myself up. Please, I mentally begged, let me know how I can disappoint you further.
Even though Dick called me his girlfriend, he still paid me. He’d leave money in my purse. He’d sneak it in as not to make a big deal about it—“it” being paying me for sex, I guess—I’d find it while in my cab the next morning. I never understood why he wouldn’t just hand it to me, or why he was still paying me if I was his girlfriend. But I would dismiss this thought quickly. I’d tell myself he was just taking care of me, like a father would. Sometimes he’d leave me real fancy chocolate too, or leftover bottles of alcohol from one of the few bars he owned (it depended on how big my purse was that day), or sleeping pills. He knew I had trouble falling asleep. It was thoughtful. A guy, especially my own father, had never thought to do little things like that for me.
Dick did lots of little things. He held my hand in large crowds at nightclubs, because he knew lots of people made me nervous. He’d walk me to the bathroom at restaurants because I asked him to. He’d whistle me cabs and make me text him whenever I got home, you know, just to make sure I was safe. These are things I imagine dads do. Maybe not going to nightclubs with their daughters, but everything else.
I brought up the age gap with Dick a lot. I joked about it; sometimes I joke when I’m uncomfortable. There’s always going to be something inherently uncomfortable about trying to relate to someone twenty-seven years your senior. He didn’t think it was funny when I called him old, or told him that he couldn’t keep up with me during sex when he’d roll onto his side and pant. I thought it was kinda funny. But he got really offended by it, so I stopped.
Dick never stopped talking about his children. He would send me pictures of them and tell me about the vacations we’d all take together. He’d tell me about his son’s autism, and that his daughter recently threatened to slit her wrists at the tip-top of his ex’s Malibu mansion. He said she was going through a phase and asked if I could talk to her. Dick had a lot of cash from working in medical technology. Dick also had a lot of baggage. I never questioned why his children didn’t live with him.
“But I don’t expect you to be a mother or anything,” he’d remind me in between sips of a chocolate martini at some bar in River North. I would always be near blackout, per usual when I’m not paying for my own drinks. I’d tell him I didn’t care and I just wanted to get to know him. I’d usually have to repeat that sentence a couple of times because I would be slurring so bad, slouched over my drink, face nearing the rim of my beer can. This was the usual during an outing with Dick; getting drunk and listening to one another try to form sentences was how we got to know each other. I always wondered what we must have looked like to other people.
After a night out, we’d go back to his high-rise apartment and drink more. Dick always had a stocked fridge with all the nice alcohol they keep locked up at stores. I usually vomited in his bathroom and then stripped naked, in that order, leaving my clothes strewn along his linoleum tile, his toilet filled with my puke, unflushed. Dick never saw it because of his cleaning lady, or maybe he was just too much of a gentleman to ask me to start flushing my own vomit. I’d then stumble out naked like nothing had happened, and he would chuckle as if thinking, Oh, what am I going to do with her? I’m not sure if he actually thought that, but that’s what his laugh sounded like. I’d fall onto Dick, who would be sitting on his couch, and he’d finger me or something. We’d be so wasted that it’d be a wonder if he even found the right hole. We’d have lackluster sex on his couch; Dick didn’t want to get any sweat or cum on his bedsheets. Then, I’d look out at the city lights around us from the large window of his living room, and I’d contemplate vomiting again. That was how Dick and I spent our evenings. My clothes would always be folded for me the next morning and a cab would be waiting.
No matter how much glitter I caked onto my cheeks, or how long my Walgreens, false lashes were, I was still my mother’s child. I’d wind up in situations that were seemingly too big for me, and I’d blame it all on anything but myself. It was never my fault. Just like my mom, who claims that, in the prime of her alcoholism, the Red Hot Chili Peppers wrote a song about her. It’s called “Scar Tissue,”—you might’ve heard it. My mom says she’s the young, Kentucky girl in a push-up bra. And if you pry too much on this subject, she’ll just say she doesn’t remember the details. “It was the Jameson,” she’ll remark.
“And it’s the daddy issues.” That’s what I’ll remark. It’s how I wish my problems away. I blame it all on my dad. That’s how I think I’ve ended up in these situations.
“Will you take me to Disney World one day?” I was sitting on Dick’s lap on his bed, a glass of vodka in one hand and my other gripping his shoulder to stay upright. He squeezed my side and told me yes. At that point in the evening, he might as well have had a funnel shoved down my throat, pouring bottles of Absolut down the tube as if I needed it to stay alive.
And that’s not untrue, or anything. I did need it. I needed that Absolut in order to be there. I needed it so that I wouldn’t be thinking. I didn’t want to think about sitting on Dick’s lap and feeling his boner pushing onto my inner thigh. I could tell he wanted to mention that he took his kids to Disney World once, but I was done talking about the kids. Let’s talk about me, I thought.
“You know, I know a lot about Disney World. I could tell you about all the rides. I’m the best person to go with,” I told him. And I meant that. He wouldn’t regret taking me to Disney World. I’d always wanted my own dad to take me to Disney World. And in my drunken stupor, I chose a guy who prefers to go by the name Dick to replace him. He was going to take me instead.
The more I got to know Dick, the more I disliked him. Isn’t that true for anyone, though? I thought Dick was pathetic. I could see why he couldn’t attract someone his own age. I think it was because he thought he was my age. The father persona began to crumble.
He was annoying. Dick liked to talk about himself a lot. I told him I was a writer, and then he made me read his poems about the moonlight and grass and the noises owls make. He had so many fucking poems, and I couldn’t understand why, because they weren’t any good. He bought me clothes I didn’t like and that didn’t fit, and old lady perfume. He’d buy me the perfume my mom wears: Chanel No. 5 (I regifted it to her for Mother’s Day.). He kissed me too much. He was too comfortable touching my face; he’d cup my cheek in public and tell me he loved me over a plate of tacos from a place off of Diversey—another rich people place, with small-ass, rich people tacos. Perhaps if the tacos were bigger, or perhaps if he ever ordered me something more than an appetizer, I’d say I loved him, too. His breath always smelled like gin and tonic. He walked funny, probably because he was always buzzed, or because he had an abnormally large dick for a guy in medical technology. He took conference calls at dinner. He was too into real estate.
And he had two children. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t overlook that detail. How could he focus all his attention on taking care of me with them around?
So I ended it with Dick. I obviously never made it to Disney World on his dime, so I decided to peddle my wares elsewhere. By wares, I mean body; I started escorting again. You could really argue I never stopped since Dick paid me. But it was pretty easy to slide back into things, because most of my clients had never stopped contacting me. My phone was filled with unknown numbers and unsolicited dick pics—every girl’s fantasy. It was time to find a new suitor to take me to Disney World. Suitor? I think I mean father. I keep getting the two mixed up.
“I’m gonna go down to the bar,” Danny, one of my regulars, called from the other side of the hotel room. I was completely naked, my left arm handcuffed to the nightstand with cheap, plastic cuffs, straining my neck upward toward the plastic straw of my Cosmopolitan sitting on the surface above me. I leaned my body onto the side of the bed.
“Okay,” I said.
“I might be gone for a while.” The tone of his voice was high and playful, like he just knocked over someone in a wheelchair and ran away or something. Danny peaked at me from behind the room’s front door as he exited. I could see exactly what he wanted in his face—his raised eyebrows and his half-smile. He wanted to provoke me. He wanted me to plead with him and to acknowledge the handcuffs cutting into the skin of my wrist. Please! Hurry back soon! I’m just dying here, handcuffed to this nightstand. I need to be fucked! That’s what I imagined he wanted me to say. He thought he was being kinky. I could never tell with these types of clients if they were genuinely turned on by this kind of thing, or if they were trying to prove their masculinity. I guess it was flattering that they wanted to impress me. With Danny, I could only manage another, “Okay,” before leaning upward for a sip of my Cosmo. I was tired, and these handcuffs were too tight. I did ask him to bring me another drink, though.
Everyone wants the satisfaction of knowing why I do the things I do, and I can’t give it to them. I don’t know why my dad is involved in this, but I know he is. I can feel it. It’s a lost kind of feeling, drifting in and out of this world of store-brand lubricants and hairy, grey chests. I am aimless. My life is filled with cheap condoms and insecure old men and Hilton hotels, and I couldn’t be unhappier. I’m not finding what I’m looking for. I don’t want my mother’s disappointment; I’m used to that. I want my father’s. Something new. The smell of my perfume is constantly stuck in the crooks of my nostrils, a cheap kind of vanilla mixed with roses or something from the clearance section of Victoria’s Secret, my synthetic wig’s hair caught between the tight straps of my bra. I pick the hairs off and I go to school the next morning. And then repeat. I can’t get out of this loop. I’m trying to figure out why.
It’s not about the money. If anything, I consider that to be damage. The sex is just a hobby, like a workout or a killer scrapbook collection, if it happens to be any good; it never is. I think I just want someone to take care of me. I want someone to want me. It’s nice to have men pay to be with you because it means they want you. There’s affirmation in it, getting handed three hundred dollars. It makes me feel prized and valued. I can never understand why the one man I’ve always wanted to want me, never wanted me. Sometimes I try to play back in my head what I might’ve done to push my dad away. Maybe he knew I watched that Anna Nicole DVD and he resented me for borrowing one of his personal items, like when kids don’t want to share their toys. Maybe he didn’t want me during the holidays. Maybe I was preventing him from doing other exciting stuff with Craigslist or his wrestling career. Maybe he just didn’t like me. I’ve had people tell me they didn’t like me before. If that’s the issue with my dad, I might be able to understand it.
Maybe I took up too much space. Maybe I breathed too much air. Or maybe I reminded him too much of my mother. I don’t really know what happened between them, but I can infer it wasn’t good, because they’re not together or anything. Maybe it was unrequited—because he was jerking off to a porno with a woman who looked a lot like her.
Danny was at the bar, and I was still naked and handcuffed to the nightstand. I didn’t want to be there, but I couldn’t bring myself to have an existential crisis about it and leave. It’s not like I had the keys for the plastic handcuffs. I didn’t care enough, anyways. Like my unkempt bush, which was resting in between my pasty thighs on the scratchy, hotel carpet beneath me, I didn’t care enough. My pubes stuck out in every direction. Danny had said he liked it. Of course he did; it probably reminded him of the women he used to jerk off to in the seventies. But a bush on me means I’m depressed. And I am depressed. I’m depressed and tired, and I don’t know how much longer I can do this.
Because it’s not just sex. It’s never just sex. It’s sex with weird men who can’t name a single song from the past twenty years, or who want to tie you to things, or talk about their children. Maybe both at the same time.
I actually got infected from a guy named Greg. He didn’t clean his foreskin well enough. I should have known better when I saw the thick, off-white goo surrounding the head of his cock. I’ve heard that’s called smegma. I was too startled at the fact that I could barely even see his cock, hidden beneath a flap of fleshy skin, to pay attention to that. Admittedly, it was the first uncircumcised dick I’d ever seen in-person. So, I excused my negligence. Greg wouldn’t foot my doctor’s bills, and I ended up telling my mom I must have gotten infected from a toilet seat at school, because that’s easier to explain than what I’m actually doing. She took care of it and told me to be more careful. If only she knew. We’re close, but I don’t think there’s any easy way to tell your mother that you’re having sex for money. If there is, please let me know.
And besides, this is my dad’s issue—not hers.
One Cosmo down and one wrist handcuffed above me, I thought about Danny. He didn’t strike me as the Disney World type. I’d had sex with him before, and I knew exactly what type he was. He thinks foreplay is me sucking his dick, as if that does a whole lot for me, and he tries to spank me during sex, but ends up missing my ass and instead hits my lower back. It’s because Danny is one of those guys who can’t receive pleasure and do something else at the same time. He grabs me real hard and it hurts, like an Indian burn, or when your cat scratches you. He throws me on the bed beneath him and makes growling noises; I think he’s trying to be dominant. He cums quickly. It feels like only a few thrusts, and he doesn’t want it in my pussy. Danny wants it in my mouth, like I’m swallowing his “essence” or something romantic like that. Then he rolls over and falls asleep. He always pays for an entire night, so I just turn on the TV and watch Dr. Phil or whatever else is on and listen to him snore. Again, it doesn’t scream Disney World to me. Danny isn’t nurturing, and he sure as hell doesn’t want to hold my hand.
I looked toward the wide window of the hotel room, and still, no dad.
I dream about Anna Nicole a lot. She holds me in most of them. We lay together and her face sprinkles glitter down on me, little flecks from the apples of her cheeks. I feel like a princess as I rest my face on her massive, silicone breasts. They’re the size of bowling balls and as soft as a bed of kittens, whatever that feels like. But it must be the dream—I’ve been told implants are hard, not soft. She scratches my forearm with her red, acrylic nails and tells me everything is going to be okay. I love Anna Nicole like I love my mom. I wonder what it would feel like to love my dad like that.
I’ve never thought to ask Anna Nicole what my dad is up to, but I should. I have a message I need her to give him, because she can do that now that she’s dead, you know, from Heaven or whatever. Or maybe through the screen of his TV, if he’s even watching Anna Nicole Smith: Exposed, still, with the surge of Internet porn and all. I’d have her tell him this: I think I need you. I say I think because I really don’t know. I don’t know if I need my dad or not. I don’t know why I’m so fixated on him, and I don’t know if he’s really responsible for all the things I’ve gotten myself into. I feel anger for not having normal relationships with men. I feel anger that sex has become some kind of quest to locate someone—anyone—that can take care of me and want me. But there’s something hopeful about searching for my dad in all of this. It gives everything meaning. It gives me hope that this will all stop someday, and I need that. I need that in order to keep going.
I don’t have my dad’s phone number, I don’t have my dad’s address, and I don’t even know his middle name or what his favorite color is. I’ve tried finding him online, and I couldn’t. I could hire one of those private detectives . . . but who has the money for that sort of thing?