Buzz. Buzz, buzz. Buzz.
My hands tied to the bed post of a twin-sized bed in a Soviet style apartment. White walls and one bathroom for six people. No master, all comrades. My legs were spread open, ready for inspection. A bald-headed Serbian man traced his lips along my inner thigh, my toes curled against pilling flannel. Open mouthed, he face dived. I jolted, pulling at the cotton boxing hand-wraps that were holding my wrists hostage. Make-shift restraints. But then I relaxed, into the moment, letting my arms float in midair. The sun was starting to rise.
He pulled his mouth away and said, “This is a beautiful pussy. Really. Like in the medical books. This is how they should look.” I laughed. Before this, he had asked, “Have you ever been tied up?” He slid a finger inside of me.
His tongue hovered over wet skin.
He pressed into me. I moaned.
Buzz, buzz. Buzz, buzz. Buzz, buzz.
I pulled on the restraints and said, “I hear my phone buzzing, can you get that?”
The Serbian perked his head up. “That is what it was?” He stood up, walked across the room, and picked up the phone— careful not to look at it. “I don’t like to look, I try not to look,” he said, as he held the screen in front of my face. I tried to grab it, but remembered that I was tied to the bed frame. I squinted, trying to see the screen. Fourteen text messages. Four missed calls.
“Shit,” I muttered under my breath. I yelled at the screen being held over my face, “Siri! Call Mom!”
“God dammit. Just, just put it in my hand.”
He nodded and did what I said. Holding the phone in my right hand, I tilted the screen towards my face as I tried to unlock with Face Recognition. But the phone was next to the bed post and my neck strained as I tried to lift my head off of the pillow— the screen was too far away. Gripping the metal in my palm and using my thumb, I unlocked my phone.
I pressed Mom/Pu Sinsky.
The Serbian picked up where he left off. Mom picked up immediately. I could see the creases in her forehead as she exclaimed, “Where are you?”
I took a quick breath before I said, “I’m still with the Serbian.”
I was rendered speechless.
“What are you doing? Are you serious Paulina? I am worried sick. I haven’t slept because I have no idea where you are. What the fuck are you do—”
“I’m having sex!” I blurted out.
The Serbian stopped: Looking up at me, stifling laughter.
“This is torture, why are you doing this to me?” she replied.
What I was doing to her, two days into our trip to Prague, I had a hard time feeling sympathetic about. I understood that she was worried. But I was twenty-six. I could legally rent a car. I understood that I was in a foreign country. I understood that I should be careful. But I was completely and utterly fine. I was with a Serbian who said, “Tonight is about your pleasure,” so I was doing great.
“I’m fine.” I repeated it, over and over again. “Seriously, I’m fine.”
Barely into the vacation, I needed a break from my mother. While we wandered down tiny cobble-stone streets or shoved duck and sauerkraut in our yaps, she talked at me or looked at her phone. When she wasn’t looking at her phone, she was trying to take a picture. I was even wearing make up so that I would be photographically acceptable to her— a minor concession she wasn’t cognitive of until I said, “I’m wearing make up for you.” To which she replied, laughing, “Oh, shut up.”
I had heard, “My grandfather keeps coming up in readings, according to Calise,” her clairvoyant friend. “I’m a lot like him,” she said, at least forty times. I was tired of talking about what decor she needed in her new lavishly expensive New York City apartment and I was tired of hearing about how the Teen Moms were mad at Dad for saying their baby daddies were “babysitting” instead of “parenting” (which, who cares) and I was anxious about the impending meeting of my extended Slavic family that my mom found through ancestry dot com. But she paid for the trip and invited me, so I nodded, and nodded, and nodded as she talked and talked and talked at me.
A month before the trip, Dad and I were sprawled out on beach chairs on the patio of my family’s beach-front condo in Laguna Beach, California. Dad sat up, looked at me and said, “If you guys are going on this trip, you have to have a strategy.”
I didn’t make eye contact as I said, “I mean, I was just planning to be drunk the whole time.”
“Nope.” He replied. “That’s not a strategy.”
Mom walked onto the patio.
“Susan, you guys need a strategy if things get tense.”
My mom stood next to my chair. “What? We don’t need a strategy.”
“You need a strategy,” Dad replied without skipping a beat.
We had never discussed a strategy before. Usually solo-time with my mother devolved into me locking myself in a bathroom and calling Dad or Mom welling up as she bellowed, “You’re right, I am a terrible mother!” But we decided on a strategy: if we needed time apart, we would take it.
And so, I took it. Midway through day two, I found it impossible to utter a single syllable. I had faked too many laughs for the day and I needed some room. I needed to live a little. For myself. So I turned to Tinder and stumbled into a nice conversation with a Serbian dude.
Before my date, I sat in front of a plate of Goulash and drank from a pint of beer as my mother looked at me mournfully. “Are you okay?” I asked.
“I’m fine. It’s normal to not to want to spend time with your mom.” She snapped, “Really. I’m fine.” But the way she looked at me said otherwise. Or, my guilt was threatening to keep me from doing what I needed most: space.
By the time the date rolled around, I was running late. I am always running late. I had ten minutes to get across the Most Legi bridge to meet the bald-headed Serbian in front of the Nacional Theatre.
“You need to drop a pin wherever you are,” my mother requested.
But I didn’t want to do that. I scarfed down some goulash without chewing. “What about Find My Friends?” I suggested. So I added her so that she would have access to the location of my phone wherever I went. It felt simpler then constantly checking in. I tipped my head back and chugged the rest of my pint, before I busted out of the front door of the restaurant.
I ran across the Most Legi bridge, holding a boob in each hand, burping up beef and beer. In an attempt to get the shred of beef caught behind my left canine, I shoved a half a stick of gum in my mouth. Brow sprinkled in sweat, I decided to stop running because I didn’t want to work that hard even if I was late.
I found him fourteen minutes later. He looked like an orange-tipped matchstick: he wore an orange hoody, under a light denim jacket. When we were face to face, he took off his hood so I could rub his freshly polished bald head “for good luck.”
We started walking along the river, dodging stag parties dressed in ponchos and sombreros and promoters handing out laminated postcards. He immediately started telling me his life story: “I was born in a small village in Serbia, my parents are farmers.” I started to clench up. Boy, I thought. We could not be more different. I kept trying to ask questions, but after I interrupted him the fifth time he said, “Wait until I’m finished.” So I shut up, as I had been doing for days, and listened. I asked myself, Is this guy a douche? But by the time he had finished, we had walked along the river and I had heard about how he had moved to the city when he was fifteen. Alone and unguided, he started selling drugs. He hit rock bottom. Before long, he pulled his act together and now he was studying Environmental Engineering and Water Management in Vienna. His forthright honesty struck me; felt familiar. So by the time he finally asked, “What about you?” Slowly, but surely, the muscles in my mouth began to loosen. My shoulder blades fell down my back. I unclenched my fists and I said, “Well, since you’ve been so open with me. I might as well be open with you.”
In retrospect, what a weird way to preface introducing myself. “I might as well”— like I wouldn’t have been honest otherwise. But maybe I wouldn’t have. How much information are we required to dole out on a first date? Especially with someone who lives on a different continent? When I made the date on Tinder, I hadn’t planned on opening myself up— I just wanted a momentary escape. My phrasing made it sound like I was about to drop a piano from the top of a staircase. When in reality, the information is more like one of those party poppers you get handed at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the ones that burn your fingertips after you pull the string and confetti shoots out of its rear-end.
He looked at me.
“My dad is a celebrity doctor in the States.”
“What? Seriously? No way!”
“You’ve probably never heard of him.”
“What is his name,” he asked.
I didn’t hesitate like I usually do. Sure, there are plenty of interesting things about me, but how else can I justify the fact that I was on The View? Or that we had a rock waterfall flowing into the pool in the backyard of my childhood home? He didn’t follow American pop culture, so my fingertips remained unburned— just confetti. We continued to talk about our differences, our interests, ourselves.
He took me to a park that was at the top of ten flights of stairs. I grabbed my boobs again and got moving up flight after flight after flight. When we got to the top, I was sweaty. But it was worth it to see the lights of Prague splattered across the horizon. The vision double in the water. We sat and discussed our dreams and ambitions: “I want to see the world,” he said. “Me too,” I replied. “That’s all I want." I didn’t know where the night was going to end, but I felt my finger tips for the first time in days.
I opened my purse and checked my phone:
Four text messages. Two missed called.
And that’s when the night really began.
“It said you were in the river!” Mom said, panic in her voice.
I looked at the man whose name translates to “The one who’s free,” and we both stifled laughter. I, too felt free so I laughed. “I’m not in the river! I’m very much not in the river. Don’t worry. I’m fine!” I repeated over and over again.
We continued to laugh as we walked further away from the river. “I know where we are,” I said, as we walked through the Jewish Quarter. “Did you bring me here because I’m sort of Jewish?” I asked. He laughed and said no, then we went to an underground bar and got giant pints of beer and shots of clear liquid, a Maraschino cherry resting at the bottom of each shot glass. I lost reception. I tipped my head back and caught the cherry between my teeth. When I came back to the ground level an hour later: Twelve text messages. Six missed calls. I started to lose my patience.
“I was just about to get out of bed and come looking for you!”
“I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. Let me live, please. Let me live,” I replied.
Dad texted, You’re in a foreign country.
I know, I replied. I’m fine.
The tighter the grip, the more I slipped. She had access to my every step and that was the mistake I made that night— not going out with the ex-drug dealer who had PhD aspirations. Never, not ever was this a surveillance I felt in my childhood. In fact, I could have benefited from some of this death grip before my mid-twenties. But perhaps it was there— the control on my hair, what I could wear, what I ate. And now it was just expressed differently. When one lacks control they grip harder. She couldn’t stand being alone.
After the second round of calls and texts, I thought I was in the clear. We walked even further away from the bridge and the water to a more residential part of Prague. On the way to his place, we passed through another park, taking time to inhale the fresh air on a cool summer night. Empty, except for the sound of a leaf blower going off at 2 AM. We walked towards a swing. He told me to sit down and he pushed me, pushed me, pushed me until he got in front of me and I wrapped my legs around his torso. We walked over to a bench. He told me to pull my pants down. I did as I was told. His lips on my lips. I felt free. I was living. I felt free.
So by the time I was tied up, lying in the bed of a man I barely knew, I was over the text messages and the missed calls. I was mad that I had given my mother access to me, something I so rarely do. Our lack of emotional connection was playing out as a panic over not being able to control me. Because I wasn’t doing exactly what she wanted, she felt victimized. Because she was alone, she felt abandoned— she couldn’t sit with herself. I was wrongfully mad that she was worried. But at the time, I just wanted to get eaten out in peace.
Over speaker phone (since I was unable to place the phone against me ear), she says, “If something is wrong…” Trying to think of a code that would bind us in safety.
In my head I thought, you could say something like “What’s Douglas’s middle name” or “What’s the name of your hometown”. But she doesn’t think as quickly on her feet.
“If something is wrong, I just—” she repeated.
“Nothing is wrong! I told you! I’m fine!” I yelled.
He took my phone, put it down.
It’s late and I’m worried
Are you ok?
Please call me
Now I can’t sleep
You are really far now
Please come back
This is torture
Why you so far away
What the hell are you doing to me? We have to get up and you are fucking with my head.
I’m sorry but this is hell
Please tell me you are ok
It’s almost 4 am
Where are you? That is far
Come back please