A few moons later Belle told me that she went poly because she wanted to build strong relationships with other women. When you’re in a monogamous relationship, she said, it’s difficult not to view other females as a threat. Going poly was a chance to grow closer to women, because, theoretically, she would welcome them without reservation into her and her partner’s lives.
It was this conversation that first opened me up to the idea of polyamory. Nigh and I hadn’t been getting along too well: we were stale and nitpicky, unexcited, mournful, and all those other telltale signs that we were growing apart but clutching on to the memory of the love we’d once shared. At the time I couldn’t bring myself to consider the cause of our unhappiness (or that maybe there was no cause, just as there’d be no straightforward solution). I told myself that jealousy (understandable: I wasn’t used to a polyamorous environment, and I wasn’t used to sharing close quarters with seminude girls) was to blame. Jealousy prevented me from becoming a part of the Family; jealousy made me a crank. We needed a new solution. So I told Nigh that I was ready. We’d take it slowly, easing into it: cuddling with other people, cuddle-puddling.
That night I cuddle-fucked Badger on the futon in the middle of Town Square. Badger—Belle’s partner—was sad because Belle had slept with Ivan, the old shamanic primitivist who’d gotten us all swooning after he shot a doe with a bow and arrow. (She fed us for a week. Longer, since we reused her bones to make bone soup.) Badger was sad, and Nigh encouraged me to “give him a pat on the back, or something,” and I suppose that I was angry, manic, over the fact that our relationship was changing. So that evening Badger and Nigh and me huddled in the Spider Dome around the stove (a rusty old metal barrel tipped on its side and with stove pipe snaking up, held together all piecemeal with wires), split dark chocolate and gulped down our whisky stash…
Flashes of entering into the Main House with 33 expectant faces glancing up at me from their dinners, pausing from slurping soup from their spoons as they sat on the long wooden benches on the long wooden table. Flashes of slurping up soup from a spoon. Flashes of pushing my ass against Badger’s groin and Badger petting my breasts and shoulders beneath the pile of blankets on the futon in the middle of the Main House, as life went on around us.
Later, much later, when Badger was passed out with his head snuggled between my shoulder blades, I peered up at Nigh, who stood over us, looking down on me with his terrified and beaten-down look. “I’m going back to the Spider Dome,” he said. “Where would you like to sleep? You could come back there with me, or you could stay here. What do you want to do?”
We walked back to the Dome, our boots sinking into the snow, with the crunch and silence of the black night sky. Jupiter loomed in the sky that night.
The next night was a failed attempt. Nigh and I had been spooning under blankets on the futon as life went on around us: the dreaded girls practicing their yoga poses; the dreaded boys patting the deerskin-hide-drums, feeling out the primordial dum dum dum with the sides of their palms. We were spooning, and we both felt cozy and good, love-y about each other and love-y towards the whole room and everyone in it. So I suggested, “Cuddle puddle?” and right as Nigh whispered, “Careful…,” I yelled, “CUDDLE PUDDLE!” into Town Square. “YO WE’RE HAVING A CUDDLE PUDDLE RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW YO WET DOG YOU WANNA CUDDLE?”
Wet Dog—pale and thin and blue-eyed, with his long dark hair curling in beneath his shoulders, his cowboy hat, a skirt made from canvas pants, construction boots with plastic shopping bags sticking out of them, plastic shopping bags that he’d wrapped around his feet for extra dryness, with his face tattoos of claw marks and knuckle tats spelling out OPEN ROAD although he hailed from outside Detroit—sat at the foot of the futon, looking slack-jawed at the books on the bookshelf.
So it all went wrong because it was supposed to be a cuddle puddle, a bunch of people cuddling in a puddle, but only Wet Dog showed up, and it was awkward. Wet Dog pushed his back against me and that was awkward; I felt awkward being pressed against Wet Dog because he is an ex–sex addict and has had sex with 150+ people. But then I felt bad that this made me feel weird and I felt awkward for Wet Dog so I wrapped my arm friendly-like over his arm and cupped my hand over his, and as I was doing this, Nigh put his hand out to search for mine and found it in the hand of Wet Dog. That was awkward, but then we all held hands together. Then Nigh got up and didn’t come back and I wanted to leave, but I didn’t want to make Wet Dog feel bad, so I stayed.
I suppose that two nights in a row of cuddling and shifting shapes beneath wool blankets in the middle of Town Square made people suspect that I’d had a change of heart. “All the eyes were on you,” Nigh said. And later he said that he was torn up during all of it, very jealous and deeply sad, but that what kept him going was that he also—when he thought hard about it—felt happy because I was happy and had made Badger happy and Wet Dog happy. This happiness kept him going and kept him from destroying everything in the Main House. So he just kept leaving the room and peeking back in at me and Wet Dog, playing chess to distract himself, and then Arrow came up to him.
“Hey, friend,” Arrow said. “Do you want to share a cigarette?”
Nigh looked at the shape of me under the blankets, and Arrow looked at Nigh looking at me, and then Arrow looked at me. Nigh shrugged. “Sure.”
Between puffs, Arrow informed Nigh that he was sexually attracted to me and believed the feeling to be mutual, and he wanted to open up the conversation, start a dialogue with his friend Nigh about him, Arrow, having sex with me, Nigh’s girlfriend.
Nigh: “Um. Well. I guess we’ll have to talk to Anna about that one…”