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United Auto Worker & other poems photo


Bruce calls me from the telephone in his room
Day two of detox
a fourth attempt in 2 ½ yrs at kicking opiates, buprenorphine;
nine years on Suboxone,
six before that eating pills: Vicodin, Norco, Percocet

I had to go to AT&T to get a new flip phone so Bruce could call me
Prior to that I’d been *67’ing him cuz I didn’t want him to have my new #

“my roommate just said there was supposed to be this old shed here Eminem wrote on the wall in but they tore it down or it burned or …anyway, it’s not there anymore”

Bruce is in a treatment center made famous by another patient,
Another pillhead, Marshall Mathers

Everyone in the lower peninsula is somehow connected to
Marshall Mathers or Bob Ritchie, sometimes both, depending on how many people they know,
how much drugs they’ve done in their lifetime

A week later – Monday morning – he’s on the phone again, ready to leave Brighton
“So you gonna give me your address now?”

Bruce wants my address and I’m torn up abt giving it to him
He has a habit of showing up uninvited
Of forcing issues
Of having cops called (3 women he asked to marry him/ me)

It’s been four months since I left his house,
Left my old phone in a can of paint in his basement
Left my wedding ring somewhere there along w my dignity and everything else I so willingly gave to Bruce

But I’m only human
And he’s my husband
And I love him

Maybe this time will be different, I think

Bruce’s first confession upon arrival:
It hasn’t really been seven days he’s been detoxing
“I asked for 2 mgs on Saturday,” he says
“I was afraid to tell you”
“And they gave me 2 mg on Wednesday before that”

he’s fully mid-withdrawals by the time he gets here
I put him in a bath, wash his hair, make him Cream of Wheat, sourdough toast
get him bottles of Imodium, Vitamin B, Melatonin,
Nicotine patches, fresh-squeezed orange juice, pretzels, ice cream, large containers of fresh fruit

We get in bed and watch Girls and fuck and watch another episode of Girls and fuck again
Amid all Bruce’s shitting
We stay up all night laughing and talking abt old 70s Saturday morning cartoons – Hong Kong Phooey and Grape Ape and some show that was a rip off of the Smurfs - because Bruce can’t sleep
And it’s been four months since we fucked and it feels like we’re finally best friends again,
And Bruce shits w the door open while I make us tea

I feel closer to Bruce than I’ve ever felt which is something I think each time we’re together
I think: we are closer than we’ve ever been before
I always think this right before one of us leaves

I always think: I have never felt closer to another human than I do right now to Bruce
And Bruce always says: I have never loved any woman but you, Elizabeth
And Bruce says: You saved my life, Pumpkin

This is how it always goes
Right before
And still I never see it coming
I am an idiot like that

I never see it coming.


Bruce was playing music thru his speaker in the kitchen
And I was playing music thru my laptop in the bedroom
90s punk vs 90s hip hop, Bad Religion vs Tupac
Bruce and I were always competing
Two dominant personalities
Two in love assholes

Six hours earlier, 2 am, I’d crawled on top of Bruce
While he was sleeping

I craved my husband the way he craved opiates/nicotine/fast food

I was so good at moderating the substances I put in my body: 3 cigarettes, one can of wine per night

I was horrible at regulating my emotions re Bruce

There’d been the big blow up fight the night before
Bruce calling me a hooker again
Bruce screaming at me at close range,
The spittle spraying my face

It’d been 24 hours since we fucked
I never felt ok unless we were fucking or had just fucked or were abt to fuck


Something always happened, one of us left the other
The tension too great, mid Bruce’s withdrawals
One of us always sabotaged it

But now we were in a rental in Ohio
I couldn’t leave and Bruce’s car keys were hidden in a desk drawer in the basement (“I wouldn’t have left anyway,” Bruce said later)

After we fucked at two in the morning, I felt a lot better
“everything will be ok now,” I whispered to Bruce before falling asleep

Now I was in one room, door shut, and he was in another
10 am on a Saturday
Competing musical tastes
Two in love, stubborn assholes, one of us detoxing

This went on for some time
A cpl hours, longer
I got tired of dancing to DaBaby, to Tupac, to Rihanna
Alone in my bedroom

I took my laptop upstairs to the attic where I had my office, where I write
Spread the photographs of Bruce and me I had printed out at Fed Ex during our four month separation
all around me on the silver shag rug

Photos of Bruce and me on a pier in Florida, photos of us on a boat in the ocean, in a Michigan metro park in winter, photos of Bruce crying on his front stoop, photos of us kissing in an arcade photo booth, photos from our Vegas elopement, photos from Thanksgivings and Christmases and birthdays…

I lay down in the middle of all these photographs, on the silver shag rug, playing the 3 Taylor Swift songs I had downloaded on repeat: “Lover,” “Betty,” & “Anti-Hero”

Because I didn’t have internet at the house

I listened to these three songs for an hour, for ninety minutes,
Singing along

“you’re my my my my my lover”

I started to miss Bruce
Every time a song came to the end I listened to hear if he was still playing his music
Or if he’d given up, surrendered
I tried to summon him with mental telepathy; I called to him in my mind

Nothing worked and I was lonely again
I turned the volume on my laptop down
Tom Petty was singing
“Mary Jane’s Last Dance”
My weakness, my fav

I ran back down the stairs to Bruce
He was sitting in one of the black leather chairs
I crawled in his lap as I’d crawled into the laps of two other men I loved in the same chair

We fucked on the couch and in the bed and then we played Gin rummy
We played gin rummy all day Saturday and all day Sunday and all day Monday
We played gin and I let Bruce pick the music: 80s alternative, 90s grunge, Elvis, The Doors, The Grateful Dead…
And once in a while we fucked
And once in a while we played Yahtzee

And every day Bruce got a little better
At my rental house in Ohio.


Bruce and I were in another booth
In another diner
Same side seated
Two sides of mayo
Fries, sandwiches
Bruce w another Reuben (coleslaw instead of sauerkraut)
Sunday night football on the tv screen
My head on Bruce’s shoulder

I had to keep getting up to use the bathroom
“I think I have another UTI,” I said after the second trip
All that detox fucking
I’d read abt it on Reddit months earlier
Bruce’s dick had never been harder
The one good thing abt withdrawals
I didn’t even mind that it didn’t last
That he came in thirty seconds
In some ways I preferred it to the laborious task of making Bruce cum on opiates
Blowjobs were so much easier now too
A high school bj for a 42 yr old addict,
my husband finally able to ejaculate into my mouth, 2 ½ years into our relationship

An hour earlier we’d had sex again
A Sunday, midafternoon, after another drive in the country
I’d blindfolded Bruce
Poured hot wax on his stomach
Tried not to let him cum in thirty seconds,
Tried to make it last a full five minutes

I was always on top now
His legs too tired from detox
Or maybe this was just a bluff
A way for Bruce to get me to do all the work

Either way, I didn’t mind
I never mind fucking Bruce
Fucking Bruce was what I lived for,
That and my writing
That and these fucking poems

Bruce’s cock and these poems were all I lived for now

It was just the luck of the draw, all these UTIs it gave me
One seven months ago in Florida, another seven months before that in Michigan,
Now, again, in Ohio

I hated taking all the antibiotics but what could I do
I couldn’t stop fucking Bruce
And I couldn’t live with Bruce either so what could I do

In the hallway bathroom at Urgent Care, I peed into another small plastic cup
Sat in a waiting room, had my blood pressure taken, a little on the high side for once
All the other times it’d been low
I chalked it up to taking care of Bruce all week, seven days straight
I wasn’t used to it
I was used to being alone 24/7
But Bruce never wanted to be alone
He balked when I had to shower, came and watched me exfoliate my face,
blowdry my hair, lotion my body

he never wanted to be alone …

I was having a panic attack when the doctor walked in
He looked like Ryan Seacrest and he scooted the stool close to me
His thighs spread around my legs, his hand on my arm
He was six inches from my face and he gazed deep into my eyes
If he’d been ugly, it would have been creepy
I didn’t know what it was tho
Since he was so good looking
Good looking in a way I didn’t go for, but good looking nonetheless

“it’s most likely a UTI but if there’s any chance it could be something else, we should probably do more tests,” the Ryan Seacrest doctor was saying, legs still touching mine, hand still on my arm

I had to admit there was a chance
Fucking Bruce
My fucking husband
The sex addict
The baby mama
Whoever else I didn’t know about
Sex workers, probably…

We’d been apart four months

Ryan Seacrest, M.D. left me to undress from the waist down
Came back with a young woman
Some sort of assistant, I guessed
Multi colored hair, multi piercings
I couldn’t imagine her qualifications
For this job

All she had to do was open two swabs, hand them to Ryan
She bungled that

I was spread eagle, feet in stirrups,
Ryan’s hand on the metal instrument holding my cervix open
When she dropped the second swab stick on the floor
“it’s ok,” Ryan said, trying to calm her “just get a new one out of the drawer”

But now she was flustered, she couldn’t remember which drawer the swabs were in
“I was always a klutz, always dropping things as a child,” she said later
After I was finally upright again, my cervix no longer held open by Ryan Seacrest MD

It felt like an episode of Girls
Bruce and I had just watched two seasons – the first and the last –
The first three days of his detoxing at my house
Fucking four, five times a night
Because he couldn’t sleep and sex momentarily alleviated whatever pain he was feeling from the withdrawal

Outside in the car I bitched at Bruce
“I had to get tested for STD’s because I never know the truth” I told him
“I had to get my pussy swabbed by this doctor who looked like Ryan Seacrest and put his hands all over my chest because I never know for sure what my husband’s doing!”
I made a poor attempt at crying
A performance Bruce saw straight through

“stop fucking accusing me of shit I’m not doing!” he said

He was leaned back in the passenger seat
Hood up over a ballcap
Looking like an addict straight out of casting
Or like Nate in Euphoria;
I still wanted to fuck him
Of course, I wanted to fuck him

I drove to the CVS and Bruce got out of the car
Waiting in line at the pharmacy I leaned against him and he pulled me to him

“they gave me something for yeast, too,” I said
And Bruce just nodded, hood up, addict/bad boy casting

It would be 48 hours til I knew for sure if it was chlamydia or just another UTI

Seated alone in the waiting room I’d overheard the nurses talking, “it was supposed to be just a UTI test but now it’s chlamydia and gonorrhea too,” one said

“whoops!” the other said, and they both chuckled.

I can hear you, I thought but didn’t say aloud.

Bruce and I went home and played another round of Gin, and I beat him 3 games to one,
Sipping cranberry juice, trying to hold my pee.


Bruce had to get back to work
Had to be at the plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan at six the next morning
But he had to get the shot before he could leave

I’d set the alarm for 7
At 8:30 we were on the freeway, 315 S thru Cbus
I followed the directions to a part of town where the houses had metal front doors
Followed the directions to a series of large brick buildings named for the old man who’d founded Victoria’s Secret, knew Jeffrey Epstein

His name was all over this city

Bruce and I put on masks as we entered the building
I watched his knee shake as a 30 something health care worker prepared the shot
Her back turned to us so Bruce wouldn’t see

“I hate needles,” he’d told her
He stood with his pants unbuckled and I turned my head
I couldn’t watch either
I felt sick to my stomach too – empathy
Then it was over

“Well,” Bruce said as we walked back out to the car “No turning back now”

Each shot lasted a little over a month
He was scheduled to get another one on Valentine’s Day
We laughed when the health care worker asked abt February 14th
“Man, I’ll have to tell my Michigan gf something,” Bruce joked

Haha I laughed along, wondering…always wondering….

“A man is only as faithful as his options”
A line from Chris Rock
A man like Bruce has ample options
A few days before the health care worker had asked him a series of q’s over the phone
“How many sexual partners have you had in your life?”
“Idk…100? 200? More, maybe? Probably more”

“if your man is good at sex he’s probably a cheater”
A line from my comedy book
I knew it was a Catch-22

Either you had a faithful guy who wasn’t that into fucking you
Or you had a Bruce
And he was into fucking you and everyone else

We stopped for coffee and pastries at some French café on the way back to the house
I tried not to think abt why Bruce didn’t want to fuck me one more time before he left
Despite the UTI and yeast

I knew I should be present in the moment, grateful my husband had finally made it through detox,
Finally gotten the monthly shot that would keep him from doing opiates, keep him from drinking alcohol
It had taken four attempts, almost three years…

We were supposed to be saving our marriage, creating a life together

But the second he was gone my mind raced to the next potential problems: Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, Ambien, other women…

It was the other women my mind obsessed on
The ones I didn’t know the names of, faces of
Ones I imagined on his phone

The never knowing kept me in a state of anxiousness
Kept me wanting him
A Catch-22

I’d put my phone down in an effort to stop obsessing
The next time I looked at it there were three missed calls from Bruce
Forty miles north of the city he’d blown a tire
He was on the side of the road waiting on a tow truck

I got in my car and drove to find him
He was just north of a farm where I mistook the white mud-covered cows for pigs
“Those pigs are so big!” I said to Bruce
“Baby, those are cows,” Bruce said; oooohhhh

the Ford dealership was in a town called Marysville
we went to Burger King while we waited on them to fix the tire
“Now we get to have lunch together,” Bruce said
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten at Burger King
I got a Whopper Jr trying to look cheerful
Trying not to think abt what would happen after Bruce left
We hadn’t discussed the near future
What would happen after he got the shot

Bruce always said we should communicate more
But Bruce never seemed to want to talk abt anything like what would happen
After the shot when I brought it up

I imagined him getting back to the Xanax he claimed he had thrown in his garbage
It didn’t seem a leap to think if you didn’t want to take Xanax when you got out of rehab you would have done a better job of disposing of it before you left

I tried to make my mind like a Buddhist’s
Indifferent to what Bruce did or didn’t do
Was that how Buddhists thought?  Indifferently? Or not at all?

I was a bad Buddhist
A terrible Buddhist
Not a thing regarding Bruce was indifferent to me

I drove Bruce back to his car
Watched for traffic as he put on the new tire
His backside facing the oncoming cars

“thirty seconds!” I said, watching a semi approach
Watching my husband step back behind his vehicle til the semi passed

It made me want him, obviously
Watching him assemble the tire

Everything Bruce did made me want him
In many ways Bruce was my god
My father, my lover, my brother, and,
As Cheever said: my doom

He leaned into my car to kiss me goodbye
“I love you, Pumpkin”

I waited til he was gone, down the road,
Til I’d passed the cows I thought were pigs,
To cry.


I was sick with love again
For four months Bruce had been writing me emails filled with longing,
Begging me to speak with him, to see him, to take him back,
Sent me selfies of him sobbing, pleadings for his wife, his marriage…
He’d do anything, he said; get off drugs, put a tracking device on his car, anything

We’d been together, reunited, eight days and already he was back to taking me for granted
Back to check in type phone calls, me feeling sick every morning,
Wine to sleep at night        

I sat in my Ohio rental wondering what to do
Where to go next
How to undo this achiness that was perpetually inside of me in Bruce’s absence, the extreme uncomfortableness, the too-easy ideation

I fantasized about going to LA, NY; the Chateau, the Jane, the Plaza,
Hiding out somewhere Bruce couldn’t find me

Oxford, Louisville, Hudson …

Somewhere Bruce wouldn’t be able to locate me

I knew the secret to reinvigorating his interest (in me) was to run away (again)

I was always going to have to keep running
The thought exhausted me

But what choice did I have?
I couldn’t go on like this

I picked up a book sitting next to me on the kitchen table
Luckily for me it was a book by Bukowski,
A book of poetry, Dangling in the Tournefortia

I didn’t care for the title which was why I hadn’t read it before
I flipped around randomly, read the last lines of a poem titled “I didn’t want to,”
tho I didn’t know it yet,
The title, only the last lines, which were:

I should have loved her more than I did but I didn’t want to.

I read the words again, considering them carefully

I turned a page back, read more lines:

I have the same trouble with women.
“look, you just sit and don’t say anything,”
they say. “now something is wrong if you just sit there
and don’t say anything!”
I drain my drink and pour another.
“look,” they say. “Let’s talk! Let’s work things
“I don’t want to work things out,” I tell them.

The words were like a revelation to me.
There were always more women for Bukowski.
There would always be more men for me.

I should have loved her more than I did but I didn’t want to.

I didn’t want to love this much, either
I was sick of it, sick from it,
sick from the loving.

I just needed to drink more, I reasoned.
Then I wouldn’t have to run so much.
And I wouldn’t be so exhausted all the time either.

Bukowski made it all feel so simple
On the page.

Everything sounds simple in a poem
Like this one

But don’t kid yourself
There will be hell to pay when it’s written

No one here gets out alive (the old Doors book referenced again; hello, Bruce).


image: Elizabeth Ellen