Sugar.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for years. Time to come out, the stigma can’t end unless we end it.

I am a prostitute. I have one relationship based around the exchange of sex for money and it’s really nice. We don’t see each other often—maybe three times a year—and when we do beneficially exchange goods and services, I leave feeling empowered and spent.

It started when I was in massage school. A classmate of mine was talking about a sugar dating site she used, telling stories of this or that gross, pathetic man, passing her phone around for us all to gawk. She said to me, “you would be perfect for this.” Now I don’t know what she meant, that I’m pretty, that I’m slutty, that I like to take risks, I didn’t ask. But I liked that she said it. And I had thought about doing some kind of sex work. I think it’s a valid form of labor and I knew that a lot of men would pay to sleep with me. And I love sex, when it’s done right. It’s the most natural high, it is the closest you can be to a person, it unites us all.

They say if you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.

I made up a fake name and created a profile. Most of the men were looking essentially for girlfriends for hire. This didn’t interest me. I think it could work but I had a good social life and really a lot going on at the time so I didn’t want to commit much to this endeavor. Not to mention, I really didn’t need the money. I just wanted the experience. I wanted the drama of breaking this taboo, I wanted the rush of telling people later in life that I had been paid for sex. I wanted to collect the experience.

I thought I did a great job looking mysterious and sensual and just sweet enough, and I guess I did because I got a lot of attention. A lot of “oh, let me save you from this world” attention and a lot of “let me be your lover and mentor and teach you how to be a person” attention. I didn’t want those things and I don’t think I needed them. I can save myself if I want to and I have a Roth IRA.

I started chatting to one man on skype but when I took a step back and realized that he wanted me to be on screen naked and he didn’t even have his own webcam on I hung up on him. I messaged back and forth with a few others but none of them interested me. Most of them wanted time I didn’t want to give.

Sam and I messaged each other a few times and it seemed like our lives would coalesce just fine. He was in Seattle fairly often for work but lived on the other coast. He was 47 then I think and I was 23. He made me feel very comfortable and checked in with me to make sure he was doing so, which is key if you want to land a quality girl from a sugar dating website. He would be in Seattle in the next few weeks and he proposed a dinner date for us to meet, no sexual expectations, just a little date. And so I went.

I wrote a fairly dramatic poem to psyche myself up for the event. The only line I remember now was, “How do I look? Good enough to eat? Good enough to pay to eat?”

I tried to look sexy without looking like a prostitute. Maybe people knew, maybe they didn’t that the slim young woman with the red lips “meeting a friend” at a hotel restaurant was an aspiring whore. Or already a whore, depending on how you define that word. I’d certainly fucked a lot of people gratis. Sam was outside smoking a cigarette when I first saw him. He said hello, we hugged. He looked just like his photo, a nice, average face with brown eyes and close-cropped hair. He was tall and looked pretty fit. I was nervous. I didn’t know how to act but, as usual, acting like myself was fine. To be honest, I wanted to act more than I felt compelled to. I wanted to put on a different persona. I wasn’t disappointed that our meeting was so normal but it was utterly normal.

We talked about our lives and politics. He was divorced from his wife for cheating. I told him I thought that monogamy was a ridiculous expectation. He told me about his two kids, lovingly. He told me about other women he had met from the website, also lovingly. Friend lovingly more than romantic lovingly. There were maybe three of them. It seemed like they’d had fairly long relationships but, like mine and his, with meetings few and far between. All in all, I liked him just fine and I suppose he liked me. When we parted he kissed me with a tobacco-flavored mouth. Actually, he more or less stuck his entire tongue into my mouth. I didn’t like it but I felt I should be a good sport.

I went home alone. He texted me the next day to ask how I felt about us and I said I liked him, that I wanted to move forward. At this point we hadn’t discussed money at all. He had bought my dinner and wine, of course. I asked him what he would pay me and he said $400 for an evening.

Wow, I thought, two trips to the ATM he must really like me.

I agreed, said that I was open to whatever he wanted to do but that condoms would be required. We set a date for the next night and had all-in-all pretty good sex for a first time. He supplied ample wine and marijuana, as well as condoms and lube, and he didn’t make any sudden movements. He told me I was beautiful. He told me that I have amazing hips. He put his hand on my side and slid down the hourglass, “this is the most important curve on a woman.” He really liked his nipples to be touched. He went down on me in a good faith effort to get me to come but I was not comfortable enough to really let go. I’m sure I faked one.

As I was getting dressed he pulled out a stack of $20s and said, “and this is for you.”

Every time he says I am welcome to stay the night but I haven’t so far. It’s always a weeknight.

I like him a little better each time I we meet. The last time I saw him, I felt a genuine warmth. Not romantic love by any stretch but what anyone would feel for a friend, seen sporadically. We text sometimes, mostly nude photos of me, but sometimes real talk. It’s funny because he texts how my dad does. Lots of winky faces and he squeezes several messages into one long one.

It’s been very interesting just getting to know someone that much older than me in such an intimate way. And not just the sex, more the hour or two after sex when I’m tracing my fingers up and down his arm and he’s telling me that his dad is sick, his daughter is growing up so fast, when he’s telling me his take on politics and how the world has changed since his youth under Raegan. I love those moments, that surrender. We talked about death the last time I saw him, as his father, though improving, was not getting any younger. I told him about DMT and how the brain releases a flood of wonder at the moment of death. So that without believing in an afterlife, I do believe that final moment could be experienced as eternity. Sam really liked that idea and it made me feel good when he smiled.

And at the same time he’s a little boy with me. He loves smoking pot and gets sort of goofy from it. In these instances he prefaces a lot of statements with “This might be weird, I’m just really high.” It’s important to have these release valves. Probably getting stoned and having great sex with an attractive and smart twentysomething is a very nice release valve. And in some ways I think he lives vicariously through me, always asking about my sex life and parties and drugs. A release but filtered through me and my brain and body.

For the next few months I’m living in Sinaloa and he has a business trip to Mexico City. He’s paying for me to spend a few days there and we’ll have one night together. I’m looking forward to it, partly because I know the showers in the hotel will have great water pressure compared to the ones here at my farmstay, partly because I’ll get to see a new city and spend three days alone exploring it, but maybe the biggest part is seeing him. I want to learn whatever else he can teach me. I want to know what he thinks about President Elect Trump. I will stay the night with him, and I’m interested to see how the morning after is.

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Gail.

Shela from Tijuana and I have been WWOOFing here for several weeks.

Her name is Gail. She’s tall for a Mexican, average for an American, and she’s been here for sixteen years. For sixteen years—by choice!—living with the corruption of Sinaloa’s government, the slowness of everything, the heat, and the wet. I wondered how she makes any money off of it and she said, “Oh sweetheart I don’t. I have so much credit card debt back in the States.”

We went into town one Saturday to sell our wares and came away having spent almost all that we made on groceries, tools, buckets. She bought a jar of olives and called it a splurge. “We can share it,” she said to us.

The next week she had to pay her phone bill and taxes and we spent more than the remainder on wine, eggs, and discounted vegetable matter.

We sell our organic produce, dried and canned goods hecho en casa and buy the cheapest comestibles we safely can. We shopped at Sam’s Club, waiting in line behind old gringos with their bottles of Grey Goose. This must be what Marx meant by alienation to one’s own labor.

She wakes up before the sun every day and works with the dusty soil, coaxing it to produce beautiful zinnias and slow-growing carrots. The “greenhouses” she built with her illiterate gardener are really wood frames and cloth for the bugs, not glass for heat. There is too much heat here. She built casitas on the beach for gringos and narcos and politicians to rent, and they are beautiful. But if you look closely you see the humidity swelling and rusting and destroying constantly.

Her silver hair would hang down her back if ever it was untied. As it is, I’ve only seen her in holey t-shirts and men’s blue jeans. A baseball cap for the sun, bleached almost to white. Gail speaks with a wide-open mouth to display receding gums and long teeth. She is as brown as a white woman can get and her eyes, somewhere between blue and green, are wide always with panic.

It took some time to get used to her panic. Her refrain of “oh, SHIT” no longer startles me. I know it’s exaggerated, I know she chose to live this way. She makes mountains out of anthills. She calls herself a workaholic and she’s certainly mired herself in deep with work. I can’t tell if she’s happy. I suppose I’ve been happy sometimes when I, like her, feel tossed and turned and chewed up by life. There’s not a lot more satisfying than successfully tying up miles of loose ends. There are only loose ends to work with around here.

She has a good heart which I don’t understand. She loves the earth, loves it in her fingernails and smeared on her face. Gail talks about her past in terms of previous lives. “In one life when my son was a baby I had a daycare. It was so much fun, we all did potty training together, and the way the house was made it so they could go around through the kitchen, dining room, hallway, living room, past the front door in a circle on their little bikes. They loved racing around.”

In another past life she boarded horses, in one she raised dairy goats, in a life in Northern California she had fifteen employees and flowers paid all of their bills. In her most recent she worked at a battered women’s shelter. She said the worst cases were usually the police who abused their wives because they had power and access to information. Then she divorced and moved down here.

Our trips into town are always educational. It’s two hours driving in a van full of goods and signs and tables. We have to stop at the restaurant she built to fill our coolers with the organic salsas, jams, and fruit juices her kitchen workers process. The three of us sit in the front together with me in a small plastic chair wedged between the front seats. We leave at 4am, she’s always coming down from her wine binge so Shela and I never know whether to expect Mama Gail or the very rude stress gynoid who sometimes replaces her.

“My kids are always begging me to come back to Washington,” she tells us regularly, “but I couldn’t. There’s too much work to do here.”

Gail would love to have goats again. The dry brush and rocky terrain is perfect for goats, and she loves their personalities. But she told us that a neighbor once had a herd of one hundred, with watchdogs and everything. He left them to eat lunch one day with his daughters and when he came back he found his dogs, poisoned, and truck tracks headed towards the mountains. No goats. She told us about the crippled pony who lived in town the first few years she was here in Barras de Piaxtla. “That pony was a mascot. It could go wherever it wanted with its club foot. The dogs would bark but the town loved it.”

She has a sister in Nevada and one in Arizona. “My younger sister is even crazier than I am,” she told us, “she’s a ferrier and works in forges in the heat in Reno, her arms are covered in burn marks. I’m sure our parents thank god for Linda. I borrowed four thousand dollars from her this summer and now she tells me I’m an indentured servant until it’s paid off. She’s got a lot of home-improvement projects and things to do. Linda has the most boring life!”

Crazy.

I’m perhaps average crazy. Perhaps in remission.

Yesterday I closed my eyes & felt my teeth scraping the concrete until they were all ripped from my mouth. But when I peeled back my lids, I peeled back into reality.

When I was younger I starved myself for truly no reason.

He’s afraid of his brain–& reasonably so. He wakes sometimes & yet continues dreaming. I wouldn’t have liked to inherit my mother’s brain either.

It’s that borderline between sleep & waking life. For in our sleep we all have delusions of grandeur. In our sleep we hallucinate & awake we all engage in self-harm.

There are lies I’ve told myself often enough to make them true. To make the truth an untruth.

If perception is not reality, there is no reality.

Sometimes one has to go along with it. Sometimes one has to escape. I wonder if we are all faking it.

In the end, it’s all in how we manifest our necessarily self-centered worldviews. Each of us a microcosm, each of us constructing reality in our own eyes, ears, mouths. Depression, anxiety, we wonder if others see us how we see ourselves.

But a spark of trauma, a disassociation, an underlying profusion of dopamine, can create a cascade of impossibility. I suppose it’s whether or not we realize our truth is just that—our truth. For we all have our own. Nothing is real.