I SLEPT WITH MY STEP-BROTHER. Well. I slept with my ex-step-brother. To me that doesn’t make it straight-up incest. Exactly.
My parents have both been married a fuckload of times. You know those cut-out paper dolls that teachers string up in grade school classrooms? Picture those repetitive, faceless shapes as upper middle-class Jewish men and you basically have my mother’s entire marriage history. Switch genders and add fake tits and you have my dad’s. (He paid for the tits.) The thing that irritates me most about my parents’ ‘just add-water’ relationships: My sister and I have had to live through them.
Eckart Bierbaum was a fancy orthopedic surgeon from Eugene, Oregon, and 20 years my mom’s senior. They were married briefly, about a year and a half. They divorced, then re-married five years later for an even shorter amount of time. Of all the men my mother ever attempted to love, I felt the worst for Eckart; he was naïve enough to trust her twice.
Eckart had two sons—let’s call them Sting and David Bowie—who were roughly ten years older than my sister, Pam, and me. Whenever Eckart and my mom would go anywhere, they’d leave the boys in charge. When I was a kid I was scared to death of them. They threw us in the swimming pool, picked us up by our heads, and locked us in closets. I proved to be less tantrum-prone than my sister, and this granted me limited access into their world of Atari, Polo shirts, and Clearasil. In retrospect, these guys were total dorks: Virgins with squeaky voices and braces.
Once I overheard them talking about Pam and me. David Bowie asked Sting if he thought we’d grow up to be cute adults. “BAHAHAHAH! NO WAY!” Sting laughed, spraying Aqua Net on his bangs.
I brought this up when I ran into Sting 15 years later in Salt Lake City. My mom and I were in town skiing for Martin Luther King weekend. Now 36, Sting’s acne and braces were gone and, based on the picture of his 5-year-old daughter, so was his virginity. He was a single dad and a part-time paramedic/part-time fireman. His brother, David Bowie, lived in San Francisco with his wife and three kids. Their father, Eckart, was retired, remarried and still in Oregon.
My mom thought she was being super progressive inviting Sting to hang out with us. Our last night in town, she insisted he come over to our condo for fondu and hot tubbing.
My initial intention wasn’t to seduce Sting. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I forgave him for all the childhood trauma he’d inflicted on me. What I did know: I was old enough to use my feminine charms to hurt people. Did I say people? I mean my mother. Sting, David Bowie, and their father represented her greatest epoch of recklessness. I don’t know all the lurid details, but I do remember that was the Halloween she dressed up as a psychedelic drug and didn’t wear any underwear to take us trick-or-treating. Suffice to say, the last person she’d want thrust back into her life nearly two decades later would be this particular Husband of Christmas Past. Sting became a walking bulls-eye.
As the night progressed, Sting offered to take me into town to meet some of his friends. Once we were in the Jeep, he dropped the ‘friends in town’ pretense and drove me directly to his fuckpad. He took me on one of those tours a guy takes you on when all he really wants to do is tear your clothes off. The tour ended just outside his daughter’s room. She was the same age I was the last time I’d seen Sting. She was at her mother’s. After several minutes of me referring to him as my brother and making things really weird, he kissed me. Just before things started getting heavy, I told him I should get going. I knew I was coming back to town the following week for the Sundance Film Festival and there was no reason to rush things. Then, as we got in the car to leave, I rushed things by having sex with him in his driveway.
The sex was neither here nor there. Partially because the idea of having sex with someone is always hotter than actually having sex with them. And partially because I was on Lexapro. Regardless, the next day I felt like a seductress supreme. I hinted to my mom that something might have transpired, but chose to keep this ace up my sleeve until the next time she decided to get married.
Once I was back in L.A., I called my sister Pam.
“Guess who I fucked?”
“Remember our old step-brothers Sting and David Bowie?” I asked.
“You fucked both of them!”
“No! Just Sting!” I said.
“It’s just one of those life experience things you have to do, you know?”
“Where,” she wanted to know, “is the check list that has sleep with your brother on it?”
Why was my creative boundary-pushing exploit not impressing her? I’d expected cheers and applause. Instead, I was left with awkward silence.
“That’s my other line I have to go,” Pam grumbled as she hung up, disgusted.
I tried the story out on a few more people and each time I was left with looks of bewilderment. Nobody understood why I’d had sex with my step-brother.
“Don’t you get it?” I’d insist. “Sting is a trophy fuck!”
He was that guy that decorum dictates you stay away from. Like a high school English teacher or a childhood babysitter, Sting was supposed to be off limits. Sleeping with him was an act of doffing off the trammels of modern society! It was my personal beheading of the queen. Did I say queen? I mean my mom. It was a way to say to my mom, ‘you hurt me with your various indiscretions, now I’m going to hurt you.’
The sex was neither here nor there. Partially because the idea of having sex with someone is always hotter than actually having sex with them. And partially because I was on Lexapro.
The next week, I returned to Salt Lake City apprehensive about seeing Sting. Had I been old enough to rent a car, I wouldn’t have let him pick me up at the airport.
When he pulled up, I noticed he wasn’t alone. His fucking daughter Cora was in the car with him. Was this really happening? Was I seriously about to interact with the kid?
“Hi, honey!” he said when jumped out of the car to greet me.
‘Honey?’ Did my step-brother think I was his wife? I didn’t really have a choice, so I got into his car and tried to remain calm.
We drove to a diner and the three of us had lunch. Sting kept trying to hold my hand while the kid drilled me on how long I’d been dating her father.
“Oh, we’re just friends,” I corrected her.
“Friends with benefits,” he chimed. When Sting smiled I could almost see his braces reappear. I’d forgotten to take into account the fact that Sting was a bachelor dad stranded in the among Mormons and lesbian snowboarders. Of course liked the idea of a girl with a waxed vagina, even if she did use to be his sister.
When he got up to pay the check, the kid turned to me and asked if my name was Jenny. When I said yes, she said, “I heard my dad tell his friend he’s in love with you.”
It was easier to have Sting-as-masturbation-fantasy doing me on top of his firetruck in front of a few friends than to deal with him and his daughter in a diner, I realized. I had no choice but to swallow my pride and do something really painful: Ask my mother for help.
Sting and his kid dropped me off at my hotel after I promised to meet up with them later. The second they were out of sight, I charged up to my room, locked the door three different ways, and called my mother.
“Mom, hi,” I said. “So you are probably gonna freak out, but I need your help. I slept with Sting and now he wants me to move to Salt Lake City and marry him.”
This was the moment my entire caper was leading up to—the moment when I’d get to tell my mom that her years of hands-off parenting had forced me into a not-really-incest-but-definitely-close-enough-to-creep-people-out relationship. Now she’d have to take action and be a parent. If the Harry Houdini of intimacy couldn’t get me out of this bind, no one could!
“Is that what you want?” she asked, sounding bored and distracted.
In all my life there was never a guy she didn’t approve of. I could have been dating a serial killer and she’d find the upside. Apparently, not even dating a sibling could irk her.
“No,” I said, “I need to get out of here! You have experience ending things with this family, help me!”
“Jenny, he’s a grown man. Just tell him you aren’t interested. Were you at some point?”
“He seemed interesting,” I admitted. “But no, I just thought it would piss you off.”
“Piss me off? Jenny, you could be dating a serial killer and I’d find the upside. I just don’t want you to be a lesbian or die alone.”
I realized that none of my actions were affecting her whatsoever. The only person I was succeeding in hurting was Sting.
I avoided Sting for the rest of the weekend. I sent him to voicemail every time he called. Upon my return to L.A., he wrote me a heartfelt letter that made me feel like the biggest asshole on earth. He told me how special I was and how our time together ‘just made sense.’
“Made sense in like an Angelina Jolie/James Haven kind of way,” I thought.
Weeks later I worked up the courage to call him. Like a dick, I said I’d avoided him because my mom was uncomfortable with the idea of us as a couple. To my surprise, he was calm.
“A couple? Oh, did I freak you out with my daughter?”
“Of course not…”
“Because, you know, I like you but you’re 20 years old and my ex-sister. At this point in my life, I’m kind of looking for something a bit more stable,” he said sweetly.
Um. Excuse me? Now Sting thinks he’s gonna be the one to break my heart?
I called my mom to apologize for my earlier outburst. She’s made mistakes, like all parents do. And like all parents, she deserves to have her daughter do the responsible thing: Scream at her in front of a shrink, instead of using real people in an attempt to destroy her.
I’ll save that for my dad.
Jenny Mollen Biggs is an actress and writer living in Los Angeles with two poodle angel muffins and an asshole miniature pinscher. She also has a husband. Keep up with her at IMDB or on Twitter @jennyandteets.