I Knox Why Anne Sexton Had to Die

Jen Escher

Before the dichotomously empathetic, accusatory, and self-assigned label “Daddy Issues” and before my cruelly whispered / screamed / graffitied high school nickname “slut” or “whore” emerged, there was a much gentler label stamped on me — “Boy Crazy.”

When I was small, I would sit on my grandpa’s lap on the rough plaid fabric-covered couch my grandma referred to as the davenport. Through the blue haze of cigarette smoke — from my chain-smoking grandmother in her recliner and my grandfather’s vanilla-scented tobacco pipe — we would watch Dragnet and M.A.S.H. until it was time for me to go to bed. Grandpa would share his sardines and crackers with me and Grandma would growl under her breath for us to watch our crumbs. When a commercial came on and I would get fidgety, Grandpa would grab onto my knee with his callused hand and squeeze.

“Are you boy crazy?” he would ask. “If you laugh you are.” Being extremely ticklish, I would laugh until I couldn’t breathe. “Wow!” Grandpa would say. “You are the most boy crazy little girl I have ever seen. We’ll have to lock this one up, Mama,” he would say to Grandma who would scold us. “Quiet down now! The show is back on!” In hindsight, I realize that innocent little game significantly molded my budding self-perception.

Until I was well into my final years of grade school, I genuinely believed that Grandpa had squeezed out some genetic material that made me boy crazy. He had squeezed that spot so hard that it had sent some unidentifiable slut fluid coursing through my body and into my brain. It was the only way I could explain why I was so curious about sex. Why, at the age of six, I would sneak boys out to the tree belts on the base to show them my Wonder Woman Under-Roos and ask them if they wanted to touch me on my privates. Why, from fourth grade on, I would get in trouble for writing dirty stories in class — romantic and passionate scenes of being kissed and fondled against the seventh-grade lockers. Why, in kindergarten, the Larson twins were not allowed to play with me anymore after their mother found us behind the garage where I made them take turns kissing me. Why, at twelve, I let the neighbor boy (who was five years older than me) finger me in the basement of an empty base housing unit while his mother, my babysitter, cleaned the walls with bleach upstairs.

The phrase “Daddy Issues” is a repurposed, Urban Dictionary version of Jung’s Electra Complex, a counter to Freud’s Oedipus Complex. Jung theorized that girls are in competition to fuck their fathers and remove their mothers from the equation — through matricide in the case of Electra. Generation X, in its infinite introspective narcissism, coined “Daddy Issues” as a way to explain promiscuous behavior in women who had bad or nonexistent relationships with their fathers. The belief is that these lost girls are seeking the love they did not receive at home through sexual relationships with men. Sadly, I fit the criteria for this over-the-counter diagnosis.

The obvious double standard implied here is that for a woman to pursue sex there must be something psychologically wrong with her; only men are allowed to seek out sexual gratification in excess without being labeled as mentally ill. To be fair, there is often a psychological catalyst behind promiscuity, but I believe this applies to men as well. People do enjoy sex for the sex’s sake. Endorphins are released with orgasm. One cannot deny sex’s addictive qualities on a purely physiological level. If it didn’t feel good, our species would die out. But there is a huge psychological aspect that lands more in the laps of women than of men. When I have engaged in conversations with women over the years, self-proclaimed sluts or just plain lovers of sex, I am seldom told that they just like the physical feeling of sex. There is almost always emotional currency of some kind, whether it is love, power, validation of their attractiveness, or attention. It is unusual for me to meet a woman who claims to be in it for the orgasm. To be blunt, very few women seem to get that from a superficial sexual encounter anyway.

In my teen years, I did not have the presence of mind to understand the more complex psychological motivations behind my promiscuous behavior. I just wanted to be loved. I was in love with love. It was that simple. And I had discovered by the age of nine — through a bad experience with a pedophile which should only be spoken of in the sanctity of a psychologist’s office — that it was not through a man’s stomach that one reached a man’s heart, but through his dick. It may not have been a conscious or verbalized knowledge then, but it was knowledge nonetheless. It was a knowledge based on experience, the kind of knowledge that sticks like tar.

My whole life has been an epic quest for love through sex. Like the story of Cinderella, which I related to so strongly as a child, I have scoured the land for the man who fit most perfectly into my proverbial glass slipper. I never really distinguished between lust and love until I was well into my thirties. And even now, at forty-one, I don’t know that I have completely figured it out. When I see an elderly couple holding hands on a park bench, I sob uncontrollably. I yearn for that kind of love, but when I get it, I struggle to maintain it in the long term.

I have been spoken for from the age of fourteen to present. Engaged, married, married — and never content past the ten-year mark. My quest for love continues even in the sanctity of my relationships. I have left men sobbing in my wake, much like my fathers and my first few lovers left me. I enter and leave every relationship with new criteria.

  1. Just love me. Check!
  2. Don’t be abusive or controlling. Check!
  3. Don’t be an alcoholic and have gainful employment. Check!
  4. Call me out on my shit (kindly) and share experiences with me. Check!

I am forever evolving past my partners, making it impossible to maintain a relationship once I believe it has reached stagnation.

Is this Daddy Issues? Am I still Boy Crazy? Am I an aging slut? Or is it unreasonable for one to promise to love someone forever? Am I evolving as a woman — my needs ever changing and growing — or I am blindly repeating a cycle set forth by sexual abuse in early life? Am I just a slave to my own desires / novelty / fairytale love? Is the image that I have in my head of that elderly couple holding hands on the park bench merely my middle-aged mind’s version of Cinderella?

These are the questions that keep me up at night. Guilty tears running into my ears as I listen to the soft snore of my husband sleeping next to me. He’s a hopeless romantic. The man most likely to hold my wrinkled hand as I lay dying. And yet, here I am again, my love expiring. I’m contemplating a way out.

*This piece contains excerpts from “Boy Crazy” by Jen Escher.

About Jen Escher

Jen Escher is an adjunct English professor and a writer of memoir, poetry, and thinly veiled memoir touted as fiction. She lives in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin (in a quickly emptying nest), where she cheerfully writes about the dark, dense, and complicated human magic that is love, sex, and self-destruction.

National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month 2016

If “love calls us to the things of this world,” then poetry too can call us to think about challenging questions, difficult situations, and social justice, implicating and engaging the reader with the world we live in, in the hope that this engagement is a step toward wrestling with our better selves.