It will probably sound like an overstatement to say this, but in that moment, my world cracked wide open. I was raised midwestern and ultra-Catholic. In that strict, efficient moral universe, there were rules—some tacit, some explicit—about the way one did everything, and I followed them. I'm sure this at least partly accounts for why I spent my early twenties dating nice, vanilla-pudding business guys and having lots of polite, missionary-style sex. These guys gave perfume or cashmere as gifts and frequented the kind of restaurants where waiters comb the tablecloths free of crumbs between courses. I love beautiful gifts and fancy restaurants as much as the next girl, but the men offering them bored me. It all felt so predictable. There was no heat.
This guy, though, the spitter, he was an artist, freaky in the good sense of the word, and something of a bad boy, to employ a useful cliché. He never had any money (though I hear he has since become quite successful), had recently gotten out of rehab, and kept what I called "musician's hours"—staying up late into the night to develop his photographs, his art, with which he was manically obsessed. Sometimes, when I'd call my apartment from the office late in the afternoon, he'd answer the phone from my bed. Maybe I'm connecting the dots tendentiously here, but I'd like to think that his creativity and antiauthoritarianism made him experimental, audacious, willing to take risks and to risk humiliation, artistically and sexually. In my mind, the two were inextricably bound.
The relationship didn't last, but the epiphanies it occasioned did. That encounter taught me one of life's great, momentous lessons: You have no idea what you'll like until you like it. This is especially true when it comes to sex. I realized that I like things maybe a little rougher and, well, less conventional than I'd thought was okay, and that this is nothing to be ashamed of—there are other people out there who share your predilections or who have so-called odd tastes of their own. And I learned that when you go into the bedroom (with someone you trust, of course; that goes without saying), you have to leave your ideologies and notions of what's respectable in the civilian world at the door. That's when the bizarre magic happens.