a woman’s touch
It had been six months since I’d touched a woman. I had been studying Arabic in Damascus, trying my best to stay focused and off the bottle. Of course it didn’t go over so well. I ended up befriending a gaggle of Druze and Shiite speed cookers and we spent days at a time loaded on that nasty shit. I remember that eerie feeling of hearing the Muezzin’s call to prayer in a windowless room, wondering, is that the evening call to prayer or the morning one? What day is it, anyway?
My friends spoke way better English than I did Arabic, so the learning experience, in linguistic terms, turned out to be a drug-addled bust. And after three months of being high I thought, this is getting to be problematic. I spent hours writing and re-writing frantic letters to girls long since gone, often never sending them. Sometimes in the shower I’d get aural hallucinations and it would be the voice of my ex girlfriend. I’d run out naked and soaking wet, covered in soap suds and yelling her name at an empty apartment. One time, the maid was in my room – I scared the buhjeezus out of her. I kept up the “do not disturb” sign from there on out.
In retrospect I think I was on so many drugs because it took the place of sex and intimacy. Coming to terms with this, for Christmas that year I gave myself the gift of never touching speed again. It’s one of my better decisions, to date.
I left Syria for Madrid to unwind in a more wholesome fashion (just booze, that is) in a sexually liberal nation state. I got myself a room in Barrio del Sol and went out drinking, usually at a place called Blues, looking for a girl to share in some pleasurable company. But I was rusty. My Spanish was still pretty strong, but my ability to woo had been retarded by all the soul-sucking drugs. I got to thinking, maybe if I have one more drink, I’ll be brave enough to talk to that sparkling Catalonian girl. And by the end of the night I’d find myself alone wandering the streets, thinking, shit: the hangover won’t be worth it again.
Then one night, I met three Argentinian girls on holiday, spent the evening dancing in clubs and drinking. We talked about soccer and romance and politics. At the end of the night, they invited me up to their flat to have their way with me. Finally, I thought. But when they opened the door, some guy inside started yelling at them about bringing strangers home and they had to kick me out. Standing on the corner below their flat, three Spaniards walked up to me and asked me if I was American.
“No,” I said. “Soy de Canada.”
“We fucking hate Canadians,” one said.
I came to, lying on the curb, with blood all over my shirt and no wallet. I just sat there for a while, waiting for the sun to rise. Then I cried, deep, shaking, cathartic sobs. It had been three years since I last cried.
A prostitute looking for her last trick of the night noticed me there on the curb and took pity. She didn’t say anything, just sat down beside me and took my hand in hers. It had been six months since I’d held a woman’s hand. I wish now that I could thank her for such infinite mercy, but I’m sure I’ll never see her again.
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