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Dan Chalmers

January 21, 2021
dan

By Christine Heuner

“He’s doing it again,” Gianna reported at lunch, looking across the cafeteria at Dan Chalmers, his eyes fixed on Rachel.

Gianna nudged Rachel. “Hey,” she said. “Look.”

Rachel flickered her eyes to see Dan’s eyes on her. When he caught her glance, he looked away.

“See,” Gianna said. “Told you.”

“Quit it,” Rachel said, looking down at her anatomy notes.

In anatomy class, Rachel and Dan, both high-school juniors, were lab partners. He took the lead in dissecting a cat, and she was grateful.

She hadn’t noticed him looking at her until hawk-eyed Gianna picked up on it. Gianna also heard from Allison Levy who heard from Owen Lehrer that Dan had a crush on Rachel, and Owen was always a steady, reliable source. The only interaction Rachel had with Dan other than the cat dissection was when she bumped into him in the threshold between the hallway and classroom. They moved to get out of each other’s way, but ended up shifting in the same direction. They smiled; Dan might’ve said he was sorry.

But Rachel couldn’t dedicate her thoughts to Dan. Only weeks ago, she and her best friend of one year, Val, had taken off their clothes in Val’s room while Val’s parents were out. Facing each other in Val’s bed, they made each other feel good. Rachel had never been attracted to another girl, and her lingering feelings about Val confused her. She tried to find other girls attractive, focusing on the swell of their breasts, their curves. She fixed her attention on eyes, lips, hair, but only Val’s dimpled smile, her full, glossy lips, brown eyes, and shoulder-length blond hair, loose and curly, snagged Rachel’s attention. Rachel noticed how good Val looked in her leggings. Her cut-off shirts revealed her belly button and light skin. When Val spoke, she gestured with her hands. Her laugh was as bright as her costume jewelry.

Rachel was excited the next time she and Val were alone in Val’s room; she sat closer to Val than she usually did while Val sketched and Rachel painted with watercolors. When they watched a horror movie, Rachel leaned closer to Val, put her head on her shoulder, and held her hand. They rested their arms on Val’s thigh. Rachel hoped Val might change her position, lean in and kiss her, but she didn’t. Rachel assumed Val was anxious about her parents coming in her room, but another day when Val’s parents were both out to dinner, Val didn’t come closer as Rachel hoped she would. Val never asked to touch her again, and Rachel wondered if Val thought their moment in her bed was a mistake or a distraction from boredom. Rachel’s stomach lifted when she thought of them together, and then fall with shame for what she wasn’t supposed to feel.

Rachel tried to keep a distance between her and Val. She lazed around the house, muddled through chores, watched romance films with tidy endings. She attended to her grades as a distraction and to keep her parents off her case. She memorized the limbic system, math formulas, irregular verbs. She fed and walked her dog Cinnamon, played with her ferret Stella, went out on two dates with Jonas Martino, a senior. He made good money at his part-time construction job and flashed his thick wallet, bulging indiscreetly from his back jeans pocket.

After dinner and a drive through the mountains, where Jonas pointed out his favorite estates, he parked his Jeep in a dark parking lot and pressed his tongue in Rachel’s mouth. He tried to go up her shirt. She pushed him away. “Stop.”

His eyes narrowed in hostile impatience. “If that’s the way you want it,” he said.

She wanted a slow kiss from soft lips, gentle fingers, hair on her cheek, the smell of lavender shampoo, vanilla and honeysuckle. “Keep doing what you’re doing,” she had told Val. “Don’t stop.”

Unable to restrain herself, Rachel cried.

“Holy shit,” Jonas said. “Sorry.”

Rachel wiped her cheeks in quick fury, snapping, “I’m fine.”

As Jonas drove her home, she recalled Val scratching her back, laughing as Rachel murmured, “That feels so good.”

Rachel shivered; chills raised bumps on her arms.

I’ll never be free of this.

I don’t want to be free.

Rachel hung out a few times with Gianna, but only felt an aching emptiness when they sat in her dull blue-gray room, listening to music, gossiping about bullshit. She imagined kissing Gianna, but the thought enticed her as much as kissing her own hand.

Tuesdays after school, Rachel stayed late for Key Club. Her mother wanted her to join more activities, and this was Rachel’s compromise. While she waited for her mother to pick her up, Dan Chalmers approached her in the near-empty parking lot.

“I fixed up my Corvette,” he said, tipping his head vaguely to the right. “Do you want to go for a ride?”

He was the only red-head she knew. He had small eyes and flecks of acne on his cheeks. He smiled hesitantly, as if the wrong word from her might destroy him.

“Sorry. I’m busy. I have all this homework.”

“Maybe we can study together then.”

“I don’t think so.” She shifted her backpack straps.

He came closer to her with surprising quickness. His body was long and lean. “I like you a lot, Rachel.”

She shook her head.

“I think about you all the time.”

“You’ll get over it,” she could have said, but he had been kind to her, slicing into the cat’s chest cavity while she gagged, giving her his notes when she was absent with strep throat.

“Won’t you give me a chance? I’ve had a crush on you for so long.”

And yet she had not noticed it other than what Gianna reported. Now, she wondered if Mrs. Moss, their anatomy teacher, knew about this crush and assigned them as lab partners, hoping for the best.

“I’m sorry. I really am.”

“Is there someone else?”

Unbidden, an image of Val, laughing, dimples pressed into her cheeks, rose to the surface. She shivered, remembering Val’s fingers on her skin.

She shook her head. “I’m just not ready.”

He kicked at the pavement with his black Nike sneaker. “Do you think you could ever be ready?”

“I don’t know.”

He exhaled a labored breath and slouched his shoulders. He was too thin. “Can’t we just go for a drive? The car is great. You’ll love it.”

She couldn’t tell if his persistence was more exasperating than her consistent refusals. It pained her to see his cheeks flushed, the acne more prominent.

“I can’t.” Why was her mother so late?

“You mean you won’t.”

“I guess.”

“Will you at least think about it?”

She nodded, but his expression fell, his hope gone.

As her mother drove home, Rachel imagined telling Val and the rest of her friends about Dan, but decided to keep his agony to herself. Another thought of Val intruded: They got out of Val’s bed that day, naked, a little shy with each other. They handed each other their clothes and dressed in silence. It was a complete moment, a fulfillment of a desire they’d hidden or didn’t know they had. But Val, somehow, stuffed it away. Rachel’s heart sank as if, instead of Dan, she were the one rejected, left alone to suffer.   

Val continued calling Rachel, asking to get together. Finally, Rachel gave in, accepting Val’s request to go to the Halloween bash as zombies. Val had been practicing makeup techniques online. “I can do wounds,” she said. “I’m perfecting the weeping sore.”

Rachel and Val spent hours in Val’s room getting ready. Rachel’s mother, Kate, came to take pictures.

“This is absolutely disgusting,” Kate said, wincing at the bruise on Rachel’s eye, the oozing gash on her cheek.

Rachel gave her mother a look.

“I mean it in a good way,” Kate said. “You’re talented, Val. You should do makeup for Hollywood.” Val beamed. Her lipstick, the deep-red of blood, made her lips look kissable.

At the Halloween bash in the school gym, all the chaperones made Rachel and Val pose for pictures in their ripped flannels and jeans and boots, their hair wild, teased with a comb and hair sprayed. Everyone agreed that if zombies walked the earth, this is what they would look like. The principal created an award for Val, giving her free cupcakes and snacks. She took her fairy godmother wand, a shimmery silver baton with streamers, and handed it to Val.

“Here, my dear,” she said. “You’re queen of the apocalypse.”

 Val laughed and took the wand. “Not sure you want me to be in charge, Mrs. Cullen, but okay.” She pointed the wand at her friends. “Now, who am I going to turn into a frog?”

In spite of the music, played at normal volume, not many people danced; Rachel and Val gathered with Gianna and Gianna’s friend Tara by the bleachers. Rachel startled to see Dan Chalmers, dressed as Pennywise the clown, by her side.

“You look really creepy,” Rachel said. “Who did your makeup?”

“My Dad.” Rachel imagined that Dan came from an intact family like her own. He might have told his father about her, plied him for advice about how to ask her out.

“Your dad did your makeup?”

“Yeah. He has a steady hand. He paints model airplanes and boats.” Dan rocked back and forth on his heels. He would have a good father. That sounded right.

“So,” Rachel said. What else could she say?

“You did a great job on your makeup,” he said. Val, seated not far from Rachel, looked up.

“It’s all Val,” Rachel said. Val turned and smiled. Rachel’s felt a warm pressure in her chest.

“Awesome job, Val,” Dan said, raising his voice and leaning in.

She acknowledged him with a wave of her wand. “I did it by magic.”

“Huh,” he said as Rachel felt herself grow warmer. She knew Dan wanted to speak to her, erase the rest of them.

Rachel noticed that Tara made eye contact with Gianna, opened her eyes wide and tipped her head to the left. Gianna gave a quick glance over her shoulder at Dan and said, “Hey, guys. Let’s get something to drink.” She still had a soda can in her hand.

Only Val looked back at Rachel, shrugged her shoulders, mouthed “I’m sorry,” and, swinging her wand, jogged to catch up with the others.

“That was subtle,” Dan said. Rachel had to smile.

“I didn’t mean to take you from your friends. I just thought I’d come say hi. How are you?” He had to raise his voice a little to talk over “Thriller.” He leaned in toward her, smelling vaguely of Axe. She wondered if he’d put it on, hoping to see her. To impress. He’d helped raise her grade from a ‘C’ to a ‘B+’ in anatomy, and she was grateful, but standing beside him all she wanted to do was escape. She wanted to be with her friends.

“I’m good,” Rachel said, looking away. It was hard to look at the clown makeup without feeling uneasy.

“So, maybe… I was wondering if you might like to go out sometime.”

“Dan—”

“It doesn’t have to be like a date. We could just go as friends.”

But we’re not friends. “I don’t know.”

His voice tensed. “What does that even mean?”

His eyes, black-rimmed, looked cruel; the red slivers of makeup, sharp against the white background, ran vertically from his forehead to the edges of his mouth like ribbons of blood. This and his red hair, thick on top, looked menacing.

“I don’t know,” she said again; sweat gathered on her forehead.

“You think I’m a loser, don’t you? You think I’m pathetic.” His voice was flat; dull.

“No.”

“I am, maybe,” he said, looking down. He tapped his black Nike sneaker against the base of the bleacher. “You know I’m crazy about you. I’ve made it so obvious.”

She looked down at her nails, painted black. Val had decorated her completely.

Crazy about you.

When she didn’t answer, he said, “This is going to sound stupid to you, but I feel like we belong together.”

“How could you possibly know that?” she said, an arch rising in her voice. “You don’t even know me that well.”

He spoke methodically, as if reciting a list: “I know you love animals. I know you’re a good friend, especially to Val. You work hard, you listen well. I like your clothes. Your hair—”

This hair?” she said, pointing at her ragged head, the raised strands stiff with hairspray.

He smiled, but she sensed his latent annoyance at being interrupted. He shifted his position and cracked his knuckles.

“I notice you. I notice everything about you. You’re beautiful, Rachel.”

There was no way to make her escape. She felt dizzy. Trapped. Yet she had an impulse to kiss him on his white, unblemished cheek. She almost smiled, thinking of the silly image: this zombie and clown sharing a moment of affection.

“I don’t like you that way, Dan. I just don’t. I’m sorry. And I can’t go out as friends, pretending… you know. Why waste your money on me?”

He gave her an actual smile. Combined with the painted-on grin, he looked like he wanted to rip her head off. She shivered.

“It wouldn’t be a waste. I’d be honored.”

She shook her head, knowing how ridiculous she must look with her weeping wound and her teased hair, so messy and fake amidst all this gravity.

“I’ve got to go,” she said. She turned around, walked a few paces, then turned back. “I just want to tell you: You’re the bravest person I know.”

After the Halloween bash, Val and Rachel waited outside the gym for Rachel’s mother to pick them up. Val told Rachel she had a boyfriend named Clay who she met online.

Rachel’s head spun and temples throbbed. “Online? Where online?”

“He follows me on Instagram. Does it matter?”

Rachel pressed her with questions: How old is he? Where does he go to school? What does he look like?

“He’s almost twenty-one. He works for a towing company. He has brown hair, brownish eyes. They’re light brown, sort of like maple syrup.”

Rachel looked at Val’s dark lips, the fake blood smeared on her cheek; it looked almost like a bruise under the streetlamps.

“What?” Val asked. “I thought you’d be happy for me.”

Rachel’s chest burned; her stomach lurched. She felt hot; even her scalp prickled. “What about that day with you and me in your room? What about that?”

Val looked away; Rachel could not sense of Val were angry, sad, or simply indifferent.

Rachel touched Val’s arm gently. “Val?”

“It was good,” Val said, though her expression belied her words, her mouth pulled down, her eyes askance. “But you know it can’t be more than that. I—”

“Why not?” Rachel spoke with a new confidence, born of anger. Good wasn’t a strong enough word. She pressed against it.

“Because we’re not gay, Rach. That’s why not.”

Rachel felt dizzy; nausea gripped her. “You know what, Val? You can just fuck off.”

She stepped away from Val just as her mother pulled up in her Escalade. Rachel got in the passenger seat, left Val to sit by herself in the backseat.

At Val’s house, Val said, “Thank you, Mrs. Downey,” and gave Rachel a weak good-bye that she did not answer.

“What is it?” her mother said as soon as Val closed the door. “Oh, sweetie,” she said. “Come here.”

Rachel shook her head; her mother handed her a tissue. Rachel wiped her face, the tissue smeared with red paint that looked like bright blood. Rachel shivered, recalling Val’s fingers on her skin as she applied the make-up, her warm breath on her cheek.

She imagined Val kissing over-aged Clay, her tongue in his mouth, her satisfied smile as she pulled away, gazing into his maple-syrup eyes. Rachel wished she could recall the feel of Val’s tongue upon hers, the taste of her, but she could not. It was as if the entire moment was a fantasy, fake as the costumes Val conjured for them.

When Rachel got home, she ran to the bathroom, stared at the face Val had created: the damaged cheek, the hollowed eyes surrounded with blue-and-purple shadows as if she’d been punched.

At the cafeteria the following Monday, Rachel approached Dan Chalmers at his lunch table, asking quietly if they could talk. He had just taken a bite of a whole-wheat sandwich. She could feel all of his friends looking at her.

“What’s up?” he asked as they stood by the vending machines.

“I’m ready to go out… I mean, if you still want to.”

He paused as if he hadn’t heard her correctly.

“You mean it?” he asked. “This isn’t some bet?”

“Of course not,” she said. “I’m sorry I put you off before.” She noticed his acne had cleared a bit. He wore a dark green Henley that accentuated his light green eyes. He looked almost handsome.

In the dark movie theater, Rachel settled close to Dan. He was hesitant, holding her hand like an egg. He told her she smelled good.

Rachel thought all night about whether or not he would try to kiss her.

In her driveway, he leaned toward Rachel in his Corvette, a barely perceptible motion. She moved in, uniting their lips, touching her tongue to his. She closed her eyes, and she was in Val’s room, Val’s bed.

It was Val’s lips she kissed.

Christine C. Heuner has been teaching high-school English for over twenty years. She lives with her family in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in Narrative, Philadelphia Stories, Flash Fiction magazine, and others.

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Guest Posts, Relationships, Sexuality

Wreckless Abandon

August 16, 2020

By Kevin Wood

It was the second car accident and third hospitalization that spelled the end. We’d known each other six months, had sex many times, but never spoken on the phone. Now we never would.

Last summer, I connected on a hook-up site with a guy I’ll call Daniel. On the evening we agreed to meet, I was late. I arrived to find him sitting at the end of the bar. He was in his late-thirties, a few years younger than me, cuter than his photos—a rarity. I remember thinking he looked profoundly lonely. The kind that shows up in slumped shoulders, staring into an empty glass, circling with a straw, as if to stir up a connection with the world. I walked over and we greeted awkwardly, then I sat down and ordered a drink.

Before meeting Daniel I’d decided to give dating a break. I was two years out of my last relationship. I’d thought I wanted to find another. But a few dating stints had followed, and several firsts, none going anywhere. I reasoned that, for now, just sex was less frustrating or complicated.

It was clear Daniel and I were into each other. We made small talk a while, then left. The bar was closer to my place than his, the understanding from the start that’s where we’d go. He lived with a cousin who doesn’t know he’s gay. When we got there, we each drank half a beer before we locked lips and clothes started coming off. Afterward, we talked a few minutes. Then he jumped up, seized by a furious need to leave.

Just like that, he was out the door.

Daniel came over again the next day. We went at it again, and he left just as suddenly. He was going to the Dominican Republic later that week, where he’s from, staying with his large family for a month. We agreed to meet when he got back. I wasn’t sure that would happen and wasn’t particularly concerned.

A week after he left, I got a text from an unknown number. It was Daniel, using a phone with better reception wherever he was. “I can’t stop thinking about you,” he wrote. This surprised me. That he’d made the effort, the forthrightness that contrasted with quick, silent exits, that he felt that way at all. I’d thought about him too, though not as often as he claimed. The next time we messaged, he said sometime he’d like to take me to a place as beautiful as where he was. This also seemed strangely intimate.

Right after he got back, Daniel and I were in bed again. Afterward we lay in the dark. I had my hand on his leg. His body was as stiff as it had been relaxed minutes before. He seemed consumed with shame. We talked a while, stilted, incongruous to his expressiveness in tiny words. Then he abruptly wanted to leave, just as before.

“That’s cool,” I said, casual, instead of betraying the disappointment I felt. After he left I began to realize I recognized his behavior. That was me before coming out.

*

The sweet and flirty texts continued. Despite thinking I didn’t want it, I found myself starting to develop feelings for this person. The next time Daniel came over, I asked him to stay the night. “I wish I could,” he said. “But I can’t.”

“It’s complicated,” he added. I didn’t push it. We stuck with quick visits, and quicker exits.

Daniel was surrounded by family who lived local all the time, just as he said he’d been in the D.R. He mentioned his mom frequently. Aunts, uncles, other cousins. More than once he cancelled our plans last minute because he ended up with family and didn’t know how to duck out. He always apologized. Still, the back and forth grew wearisome.

We sometimes bickered as if we were an actual couple—over text, of course. Passive aggressive, snarky even. We always found a way back, neither able to maintain a petty argument on our respective ends. The intimate affection would return. It was becoming the most relationship-like non-relationship I’d ever experienced.

A couple of times, Daniel disappeared for a week. He didn’t initiate contact or respond. This upset me more than expected when it happened the first time. I wasn’t yet willing to admit how much I’d started to like him. I excused the inconsistent behavior as “complications.” Knowing that for him our relationship—if you could call it that—was illicit only contributed to my denial that he meant something to me.

It turned out, that first time, Daniel had been in the hospital for a back injury he didn’t explain. This wouldn’t be the last. He seemed to exist in constant chaos. Doctors and hospital stays—his or family; he might have to move suddenly; a car accident; a new job quit after three weeks; a torn knee ligament; a real estate scam in the D.R. And on it went.

I recognized this too, chaos that had engulfed my own life while hiding in a shrinking closet, down to repeated car accidents. Constant distraction, preoccupied with something, manifesting in how I operated in the world. But as the boomeranging continued, Daniel’s inner turmoil became my anguish. I thought about him constantly and never knew what to expect.

*

For two months, Daniel didn’t come over. We stopped contacting each other, though neither explicitly said it. For my part, I decided the whole thing was too big a struggle. I deleted his number, which of course only suggests finality, as if reversing it isn’t simple. But thoughts of him hung around, like mosquitos you just can’t seem to swat away.

Then, he surfaced again. Annoyance was almost overcome by the excitement I felt. The un-named number got its name back. “Why are you contacting me?” I said, then immediately worried this was too dismissive. “I wanna see you,” he responded. It took a while, but this time I said no. I fancied this cutting off an act of self-preservation. He honored the break, apart from a couple more texts and me finally saying no more communication.

Less than a month later, I gave in and contacted Daniel. A moment of weakness, I told myself. Friday night, jet-lagged, home alone. He replied right away. “I just can’t get you out of my mind.” Of course, I invited him over. A lot had changed since we last got together. I had moved, started a new job, he had another new job. When we saw each other, it was if no time had passed. I think we were both surprised by how strong the chemistry still felt. After the hottest sex yet, Daniel threw his leg over mine and scooted next to me—a casual affection he’d never exhibited before.

For the first time, he stayed and we talked. For hours. Next to each other, naked, my hand on his back, his on my arm. It was mostly about family. Each of us with a very Catholic mother. His father’s lost battle with alcoholism. It was then Daniel told me he was married, to a woman, with two young kids, in the process of getting divorced. I was stunned but pretended not to be, worried if I made a big deal out of him being in my bed he might never be again.

He hadn’t told his wife he’s gay—nor anyone in his family—and insisted no one knew. As we talked, his phone across the room repeatedly rang and dinged with texts. He tried to ignore it, which became difficult. “My cousin thinks I’m at the gym,” he said, tone completely flat. His eyes darted back and forth from me to the phone, unsure which way to go, body positioned between two worlds, equally powerful in that moment, each in its own way.

The inevitable side won. Conversation dropped off, as it always had. Agitated, he went and looked at the blue screen glowing in the dim light. “I have to go,” he said. Once again I affected a lax, sure that’s cool response. After he left, my mind rolled back over our interactions, now, with this new information. Some things made more sense, others led to bigger questions.

*

We had plans for Daniel to come over the following Saturday. He cancelled last minute—in the hospital, another car accident. He was clearly shaken. I had my coat on, ready to go, worried he was there alone. Then he said an aunt was with him. In other words, don’t come. We checked in after that. His pain lessened. We agreed he’d come over soon.

I never saw him again.

A few days after the accident, I got a long message from Daniel. He said it had caused him to re-evaluate who he is and what he wants. He made a vague reference to feeling lost, and a relationship to God and faith. He needed to recover his life, he said. In short, he couldn’t see me anymore. He apologized twice, which felt unnecessary, once “for all the chaos he had created.” His use of the exact word I’d been using for months to describe his life felt telling.

I sat at my desk in silence and re-read his note, work spread in front of me, suddenly unable to concentrate. With this decision to will a piece of himself away, I wondered, what would happen now?

I went out and wandered the streets a while—a gray sky fittingly somber—feeling almost breathless with sadness. At first I thought it was all about the situation of Daniel’s life, the inner battle I’d recognized, how his body would claw its way to connection, then seize with shame and flee. And the chaos he himself had called out. That familiar, relentless, brutal chaos that can engulf a life with such conflict within. Representations of how we resist living as we’re meant to, at odds with how we believe we should.

But the sadness lingered for weeks after. “Why are you so sad about his life?” a couple of friends asked.

It took me a while to recognize I was using Daniel’s situation to obscure my own. Til the end I struggled to accept I’d developed real feelings for him, beyond the bedroom. I felt foolish. Romance from a distance is essentially fantasy. And I’d told myself from the start I wasn’t looking for a relationship, knew this would never be more. But maybe that’s what made those feelings possible. Opening my heart was somehow safer than when trying for a lasting relationship. After multiple burns, I have to admit I’ve struggled with that in recent years, which I suppose contributes to why new ones don’t last.

I’ll never know the true nature of Daniel’s feelings. But what I know to be true is sad. Meeting Daniel reawakened me to how insidious homophobia can be. I haven’t been naive to the fact it still exists. But I’d forgotten what it feels like so close to the skin.

On one of our last exchanges Daniel had just bought a new car, soon battered in an accident. He sent me a picture. I said I hoped for a ride one day. “Definitely,” he said. More banter, then I signed off with, “Don’t be a stranger.” I had said this before, though never to Daniel. The lightheartedness is always overshadowed by the suspicion you will forever remain that. Maybe I already knew.

His immediate response, a single word: Never.

I hope when it comes to discovering a relationship that feels right the subtext of that word doesn’t prove true.

This essay was originally published online in Litro Magazine.

Kevin Wood is a freelance writer, writing coach, and contributing editor for the online publication Good Men Project, where he focuses on social justice and queer issues. A former teacher, he also works with college students training to be educators. Kevin holds master’s degrees from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins and the School of Education at NYU. Previous work has appeared in The Washington Post, Fast Company, Litro Magazine, American Chordata, Thought Catalog, and Elephant Journal, among others. He was a finalist for Sequestrum Literary Journal’s 2019 Editor’s Reprint Award. He lives in Barcelona, Spain.

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The Pleasure Is Mine

November 8, 2019
pleasure

By Sandra A. Miller

It was the summer of my 29th year, a few months ticking down to thirty, when I left my Swedish fiancé. Blue-eyed, fetching, and fluent in five languages, he looked great on paper—and in an Armani suit—but my heart knew better and needed to be free.

After years of indecision, I moved out of our marble-floored apartment in a cushy European banking capital and flew to Boston where I had one friend and no job. I was in recovery from responsible, from a too-soon engagement to the wrong man and a life that left me in a perpetual state of longing for something bigger than a healthy retirement account. Standing alone on the cusp of thirty, I realized that I had plunged headfirst into adulthood and acquisition and had lost pieces of myself in the process. I had to rescue that creative young woman before she was gone, and then I needed to resuscitate her.

I took a cheap studio sublet on the still-ungentrified edge of Boston’s South End. I bought a rusty orange Toyota with a broken muffler as if needing to be loud. Then, after considering expenses and counting my meager savings, I gambled it all for the sake of my soul. I gave myself two months off from being a grown-up—a summer of pure and unapologetic pleasure.

Boston sweltered that July, and I only had a lazy ceiling fan to stir the heat of my apartment. I could lie in bed and smell summer in the city—street tar and Thai basil plants that I set outside my window on the fire escape. After years of living in a country known for rule abiding and wealth, those smells brought me back to my girlhood growing up in a factory town with a farmer father and gardens tucked into every sunny spot. I spent my days writing stories, reading novels, discovering Boston’s gritty urban corners where flowers bloomed like art from the pavement, and the graffitied walls of the subway told bold-colored stories of ugliness, outrage, and passion.

#

Passion. Everything whispered to me of passion that summer, and when, I met Chris, a wannabe writer six years my junior, my lust for him—my novecito—summoned my tired libido back to life. Rail-thin with a shock of blonde hair that smelled sweet and clean like baby shampoo, Chris would come by a few nights a week with a bottle of wine, sometimes take-out, often a single rose plucked from a nearby shrub. We spent our time savoring that all-night-into-morning brand of lovemaking that I needed, like a lifer in a prison craves touch. We would trace each other’s bodies with ice cubes, slow jazz on continual loop playing to a persistent hunger circling inside, a pas de deux of body and spirit. Late at night when the heat kept us from sleep, we’d stagger across the street to the Middle Eastern market for Popsicles and little packets of Sominex. Then when Chris stumbled off to work the next day, I would sleep for hours more, lazing in the morning sunlight before starting my day at noon.

On Sundays I might stroll around the corner to Wally’s Café where old black men who once played with the likes of Charlie Parker would jam with longhaired white kids from Berklee College of Music, just down Mass Ave. As other guys wandered in off the street with a saxophone or trumpet, they would be called to sit in on a set. From a rickety table in the corner, I would watch them disappear into a song, their heads nodding the beat, their faces reflecting the rhythm of a beautiful riff. Once a big, graceful black woman in a flowered red dress got called up on stage and sang “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Eyes lifted, arms raised like an angel imploring the gods of love, she put that room under a spell that not one of us could resist.

That summer was an experiment in surrender, to music, to pleasure, to love, to food, the kind I hadn’t eaten in ages: bagels slathered with cream cheese for breakfast; for dinner, a greasy slice of pizza from the shop around the corner. It was too steamy to cook, or maybe that was my excuse. I’d spent five years fussing with European measurements, preparing dishes that tasted just fine, but never like home. So, I ate out when I felt like it, giving in to cravings, savoring a fullness I’d been denying myself for a decade. Sometimes, I’d go a day on coffee and dark chocolate, then late in the evening I’d call my friend Lisa for a stroll through the South End to Deluxe Café. We’d drink salt-rimmed margaritas and play Scrabble until we were slouched across the bar, half asleep but still bickering over the spelling of some word that one of us had maybe concocted.

On scorching August afternoons, I might coax my neighbor Paul, a gay guy who worked from home, to come with me to Walden Pond in Concord. We’d waste the afternoon with our books and a thermos of gin and tonics. Once we stayed until the park closed at 8 p.m., hiding in the depths of Thoreau’s woods as the guard who cased the pond had passed by, deeming the place empty. When it was as quiet and dark as No Man’s Land, we swam naked in the cool, deep water, the best respite we could find from that clinging heat. Another time we swam the entire width, laughing so hard we almost drowned midway. We got to the other side without our clothes and the worrisome realization that we likely would not survive the swim back. So, naked, we circled back on foot through the woods, mosquitoes feasting on us as we slapped our bodies and howled into the darkness with frenzied joy.

I needed that summer to recover my soul, my kid, my sense of joy. I also developed an appreciation for the rejuvenative powers of pleasure, pleasure so good and liberating I often had to remind myself that it wasn’t wrong. It was just pleasure. Personal. Satisfying. Essential. Never in 29 years had I lived so sensuously and decadently by absolutely no one else’s rules but my own. Never had I let myself wander with abandon to the opposite side of acceptable. For this middle-class Catholic girl, pleasure was always meted out in a carefully measured dose, then swallowed down with brimming glass of guilt. But here I was guzzling right from the bottle, feeling the warmth in my throat, the heat in my belly radiating out until it coursed through every vein.

Only towards summer’s end did I start to nervous, wondering how I would walk away from this lifestyle before becoming addicted like a washed-up rocker who still gets drunk in hotel rooms and smashes lamps. Indulgence can be habit forming, I was learning, and even this cautious Catholic girl was finding it increasingly easier to surrender to the sensual, to sleep late, to laze.

But then something happened. Was it because I’d surrendered? Was it because I was looking for nothing that the magic found me, and life offered up a version of the dream I’d been living all summer?

Through a conversation in a bar one night, I met a woman who knew my college boyfriend. We had parted ten years earlier when we weren’t ready for a real relationship. But my thoughts would often stubbornly wander back to him. Now we were both in Boston, and both recently single. We reconnected on the phone and planned a date.

When that still-swarthy boy-man picked me up in my South End studio on Friday evening, I instantly remembered being 21 with him in a sweltering Brooklyn apartment almost a decade earlier. I remembered life and its pleasures before stepping onto the up elevator of adulthood. And I believed that the universe was giving me another chance to love deeply, seriously, to not just indulge in the occasional pleasure now and then, but to insist on it as a part of my life.

So, with August fading to autumn and feeling sated in every way, I relinquished my sublet, got a job, and—hand-in-hand with the man who, 25 years later, still shows me pleasure—stepped around the corner to thirty.

Sandra A. Miller’s writing has appeared in over 100 publications. One of her essays was turned into a short film called “Wait,” directed by Trudie Styler and starring Kerry Washington. Her memoir, Trove: A Woman’s Search for Truth and Buried Treasure, will be released by Brown Paper Press on 9-19-19. Sandra writes at SandraAMiller.com and tweets as @WriterSandram. You can also find Sandra on Instagram as Sandra.A.Miller.

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Guest Posts, memories

Good TImes

June 21, 2018

By Sara Lippmann

It was the night Paul Pfeiffer came into the bar in Hancock. We’d been going to Good Times all summer, a corner dive in a ramshackle clapboard, baby blue, pulp exposed instead of siding, where the dirt met the road, where the railroad ran alongside the lumber mill whose raw planks stood out like Lincoln Logs in all weather desperate to be put to use, emitting that downed forest smell. Segments of the sign’s neon coil had blown so above the Genesee logo in the window it read GOD TIES, which felt right. Apparently you could rent a room upstairs, but the steps were barreled off with galvanized kegs, we were summer people, we poked tongues through pink sheaths of bubble gum, we weren’t about to cross.

Someone had a car, had legality, the rest of us had youth, a partial paycheck, and thirst. We had to be quick, quick about everything, the potholed parking lot, puddled dark roads, careening around the bends swerving for deer, over the rusted one lane bridge across state lines to the sour rot of mahogany worn soft and sticky from other people’s nights, then sling back for curfew, which meant we were in the car for as long as we were inside polishing off pints and embarrassing ourselves at pool. We were terrible. It didn’t matter. We were camp counselors. Let strangers stare.

Paul Pfeiffer wore a slicker on account of the rain, the yellow hood cinched like a periscope. It wasn’t raining that hard but he taught drama at a nearby camp, he told us, and what do you expect from the dramatic. I forgot his real name. It was Italian not Jewish. Same diff, he said, unzipping, twitching his damp nose. I played one on TV! and proceeded to recount Paul’s bar mitzvah in a halting nasal pitch, real generic like Baruch Ata Adonai. We were not impressed.

No way, we said. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexuality, Writing & The Body

The Vagina Monster

July 10, 2017

By Amy Bond

I took my first pole dance class the same day that I started law school. The instructor, Stacey taught us a move called the Vagina Monster, where you lay back, toes pointed to the ceiling, and then shuffle sideways, butt cheek to butt cheek waving your legs. The effect makes it look like your vagina is ravenously hungry and going to eat someone. It was raunchy as fuck and I loved it. By the end of class, we made something of a contest out of who was the nastiest bitch in the room, and it ended with all of us laughing uncontrollably, our heads resting easily on each other’s bellies in a pile of womankind solidarity. I left feeling strong and unapologetic.

There, for the first time, I met women who celebrated their bodies, and delighted in the weird shit we discovered we could do with them. I hadn’t seen sexuality like that before, which surprised me because I used to be a sex worker. From the women I met in pole dancing, I discovered a form of sexual expression utterly different from the kind I’d learned before.

Growing up, I was raised Mormon, and I believed that the absence of desire was what made me good. When I was 19, I moved to LA to be an actress, and maintained a long distance relationship with a Mormon man. We planned to get married in the Mormon temple and he was good like I was good; a virgin, pure. Continue Reading…

aging, Guest Posts

Grief Is Not Always About Death

January 22, 2017
senior

By Marlene Adelstein

We were about to renovate our bathroom, a total gut job, so in preparation, I began to empty out the vanity. Into the garbage went wands of gloppy mascara, old lipstick stubs, and ancient condom packages. In the back of one drawer, I found a blue cardboard box that I hadn’t touched in a while and I felt a surprising surge of wistfulness. It was a box of tampons, for God’s sake, and I was teary-eyed! It had been well over a year since I’d reached for it which meant…I had officially gone through menopause.

No, of course, I didn’t miss the inconvenience, the cramps, the bloating. Those unpleasant feelings had been replaced, first with perimenopausal, and then menopausal symptoms like night sweats, moodiness, weight gain. My bible on all things menopause, herbalist Susun Weed’s book, Menopausal Years, The Wise Woman Way, called it time of the Crone, which did not sound sexy at all, despite her encouraging words to embrace the change. Even though my longtime boyfriend still told me I was sexy, I wasn’t feeling it. What was it about the blue box that created a jumble of emotions? I wasn’t ready to figure it out so I left the damn box in the drawer.

The next week I had my annual gynecological exam, and my doctor, a no-nonsense woman looked up at me from between the stirrups and said, “Your vagina is pale.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape, Vulnerability

Sexual Vulnerabilities: An Education

January 8, 2017
sex

CW: This essay discusses sexual assault.

By Beatrice M. Hogg

After hearing all of the recent media reports of sexual assault and improprieties, I wanted to think, “Glad that never happened to me.” But, like most women in this country, I couldn’t do it. In one way or another, it has happened to all of us. I have friends who have been raped and assaulted; amazing women who at some point barely escaped with their lives from domestic abuse. Some still have physical scars and many others still harbor emotional scars. When I started to think about my own life, I was surprised at all of the incidents that rushed to mind, some that I hadn’t thought about in years.

In my tiny coal-mining hometown, there was a small grocery store, owned by a husband and wife. When I was eleven or twelve in the late sixties, I would walk up there alone with a list of things to get for my mother. I always dreaded when the list included a meat item. That meant that I had to go to the back of the store, where the husband worked behind the meat counter. Almost every time I would go back there, he would come out from behind the counter to give me a big hug. His hugs always included a squeeze or a grope of my burgeoning breasts. I never told anyone. Would my father have believed me? In a town were everyone was armed, would he have gone up there with a shotgun? Would he have accused me of lying? Who was more credible, a shy little black girl or the friendly white grocer who everyone in town loved? As I took my meat purchases to the front of the store for the wife to ring out, I used to wonder – did he do that every girl? Did she know? I was overjoyed when the store went out of business. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexuality, Women

The Origin Of The World

September 29, 2016
sexuality

By Zoë Brigley Thompson

I start to like my father again when we are standing together looking at a painting. To begin, you would have to explain the place. The Musée D’Orsay in Paris was a railway station until 1939, and the great clock-faces on the exterior signal an obsession with timekeeping and travel. This particular painting is relatively small, and its intimacy is out of place under the arching glass roof where trains once ran. The museum is a public space and still has the feeling of a railway station with people hurrying to their next destination. In the middle of all this is a painting of a woman’s genitals, and my father and I are standing together in front of it.

I have just turned 18, and my father has brought me to Paris as a birthday present. Some years before, my father moved with his new wife to the central lowlands of Scotland, but he often rings on the phone. “Just hop on a plane and come over for a visit,” he says, but of course it is never that simple.

What my father does not know in Paris is that I am in a very precarious place. A few years before, I swore that I would never have sex again: my first experiences were that awful. Not long after that, I slept with my best friend just for the sake of it, to get it over with. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexuality

Body Lessons (Genealogy of an Orgasm)

September 16, 2016
orgasm

By E Alice Isak

Shame blocks our mouths like the fat tongue of an unwelcome lover.

A questing tongue that corks our voice in the back of our throat, our own tongue pinned beneath,
as shame’s hot sour breath fills our nostrils and its sweaty body strains against us, pressing us tight into the corner of a darkened room.

Shame is what we submit to, what we open ourselves to, when we do not know how to believe that we deserve anything else.

After my divorce, I began a long and agonizing journey to reclaim my own sexuality. Seemingly overnight, I had developed both an overwhelming urge to masturbate—and an inability to orgasm without sobbing hysterically. Every orgasm cracked open a vast well of grief in my chest, a pain too profound and inchoate to put into words, then or now.

I would cry until I choked on sorrow.

The experience felt terrifying and ludicrous and shameful. I tried talking to my therapist about how silly yet frightening I found the whole thing. I tried blogging about talking to my therapist, titling the post: “In which I Talk Shamelessly About Masturbation.”

Rereading that story today, I am reminded how ‘shameless’ is not the same as ‘shame-free.’

The small but enduring popularity of that post in the two years since I wrote it leaves me both heartbroken and heart-warmed. The readers who find my piece are asking questions about how to talk to their own therapists about masturbation—and how to do so without shame. It craters me to witness this widespread pain from our culture’s pitting of shame against pleasure, of pleasure against speech. Yet I also see hope in people’s ongoing quest for help, for answers, for ways to speak ourselves past the hurt and back into our bodies.

I wish I had found clear answers then. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexuality

A Series of Almosts

August 24, 2016
kiss

By Elizabeth Glass

I was ten when I found my dad’s Playboy magazines. I pulled them out from under the bed one at a time and looked at the pictures. I sat in the window box and pulled out the centerfolds, let my fingers go over their breasts and legs, noticed the hair they had that I didn’t yet. The women were perfect—no moles, no fat, no imperfections, which I was full of. When I read the blurbs about these women, they said they had always wanted to be in Playboy. I decided right then I wanted to be a Playboy Bunny one day. I was a chubby kid, so it crossed my mind that none of the women were fat, but I didn’t care. I practiced how to be a Playboy Bunny, which meant stripping in the basement while listening to the 45 rpm record of “The Telephone Man” by Meri Wilson on endless repeat. I moved the Barbie townhouse away from the fireplace and used the brick hearth as a stage to practice my stripping and naked dancing. I wore my ballet recital pink and purple tulle tutus and pastel satin sequined leotards to strip out of. There were poles in the finished basement and I did my own rendition of pole dancing, too. In the magazines were stories of Hugh Heffner and his Bunnies, how they lived with him on his ranch, so I needed to get ready for all the sleepovers I’d have with them. I practiced in forts I made in the basement with sheets and blankets, gathering pillows from around the house to have pretend sleepovers with my friend Mary who lived two doors down. She was fun to do this with, but wasn’t very adventurous. My friend Ellie was, though.

I was at Ellie’s house on a snow day from school. I pulled a Playboy magazine out of the brown paper grocery bag I brought dry clothes in so I didn’t wear snowy clothes in the house while we played. When I was changing, I stopped while I was naked.

“Look.” I pointed at the women, then at Hugh. “We need to be Playboy Bunnies together.” Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, Young Voices

Moments of Silence

April 27, 2016
family

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Aimy Tien

I’m cleaning the remnants of makeup and tears off my face when my father accuses me of hating my parents. “That’s why you don’t want to live in Colorado. That’s why you don’t want to come home and study here and be a doctor.”

It’s almost one am. We are three hours into this phone call, and I am tired, not just because of the conversation, but because this was Pride weekend—my eighth Pride, my third as an out queer woman (well out to everyone but my immediate family), and my first Dyke March. Dyke March is more low-key than the parade, no floats or gigantic balloon displays, just women and allies marching through the streets chanting about social justice and celebrating. After the march, I spotted an Angry Asian Dyke sign propped against a tree in Humboldt Park. With queer women as far as the eye could see, the sense of community was overwhelming. The rest of the weekend was a blur of rainbows, undercuts, and dancing at Backlot Bash, an outdoor queer woman party. And now, it’s Sunday night, I’m exhausted and I’m on the phone responding to my parents’ third in a series of increasingly angry voicemails.

Hour three of this call and the joy of the weekend is almost gone. My shoulders slump against the wall, and I let the sound of the Red Line rushing by my apartment settle me. I’m too tired to lie. “I’m not comfortable in Denver, Dad. It doesn’t feel like I can be honest there.”

“What do you mean?”

I think of the mantra I’ve been holding on to, “You can’t lose in a fight about your own happiness. You can’t lose in a fight about your own life.” So I say it.

“Dad I date men and I date women.” The train rumbles by. “You hate men and women? I don’t understand what that has to do with—“

“No, no, I date men and I date women.” The call drops, and I remind myself of a conversation I had six months before, sitting on a couch on the 8th floor of one of Columbia College’s buildings. Instead of discussing how to integrate writing and the arts into my scientific life, I was explaining to Megan, my former professor, how to be a bad Asian daughter. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Intimacy, Self Image, Sex, Sexuality

Ripe: Flaunting My Desire

January 17, 2016

By Andrea Jarrell

When I was ten, my mother declared me old enough to stay on my own between the time school let out and the time her Buick Skylark would roll up from work, tucking in behind our modest apartment near the Pacific Ocean. She tested me first, made me run a mock fire drill and a bad-guy-at-the-door drill. After passing her gauntlet, I was liberated from my babysitter, the muumuu-wearing, horn-toenailed Mrs. Carmichael.

Although we never would have referred to me as a latchkey kid (my mother forbade me to wear a key around my neck), that’s what I was. During those witching hours growing up in 1970s Los Angeles, I banded together with other untethered children. We dared each other to jump from my second story bedroom window into thick ivy below. We roamed the neighborhood on our bikes, stole candy from the supermarket, and tried out the confessional box at St. Bernard’s even though we weren’t Catholic.

But sometime during sixth grade, that daring girl I’d been just the year before turned inward. Unlike my classmates, I’d begun to look more woman than girl. Boys who had once been friends accused me of stuffing my bra; they taunted and grabbed me. Too much engine under the hood for the girl I was, I didn’t know how to respond. I was ashamed of their attentions mostly because my body seemed to be complicit, revealing new desires I wanted to keep secret. Only after school was out, left to my own devices and free to discover the rev and purr of my body, could I appreciate my full breasts in the mirror.

When I wasn’t lost in myself, I escaped into television. This was before VCRs and TiVo. My options were soap operas, bad cartoons, game shows, and my favorite, Westerns. I liked the old ones made before I was born:  Gunsmoke, Wagon Train and The Rifleman. At that age, I vacillated between wanting the rifle-wielding Chuck Connors for myself and wanting him to ride up on his horse and rescue my single mother.

One memorable commercial peppered these shows. Voiced by spokesman James Garner, the ad provoked a longing in me I’ve not forgotten, both a yearning and an urge to act.

The ad was for strawberries, sponsored by the California Strawberry Growers Association.

Just as there was no on-demand television then, fruits had strict seasons that lasted only a few months. Over photos of sliced berries garnishing piping hot oatmeal and piled high on waffles laced with maple syrup, Mr. Garner teased: “Imagine strawberries on a crisp autumn or cold winter morning?” His closing pitch: “Why now? Because they’re here now.”

It was the here now that pierced me. Come October and December, I would want those strawberries, yet they would be an impossibility. The memory of May’s shortcake would be my only salve.

Wise to the growing number of latchkey kids, television executives started creating programming just for us. The ABC Afterschool Special dove deep into taboo topics that called to me. By the time my mother came home, my nose was pressed against a glass of teen sex, runaways, anorexia, alcoholism, and feminism.

Even by high school, though, when the bodies of my classmates had caught up to mine, I had yet to act – to delve into real sex, to drink, to stay out late, to speak out for causes I believed in, to flout authority in any way. Not wanting to risk the judgment of others, I sat on the sidelines hungry for a taste of the grown up things I longed to do.

***

I have a man between my thighs, but it’s not what you think.

I’ve just swung my leg over the back of his Ninja sport bike and tucked my hands into the front pockets of his leather jacket. Pulling away from the curb, already the seat vibrates my most secret places. As we take off down the block, my knees press into his hips, giving me the illusion I’m in control and steering, but with the pavement so close my life is in his hands.

The sun is neon orange and low. It’s Friday evening in early September, technically still summer, the air buttery soft around me. I live on the other side of the country now, just outside of Washington, D.C. My local grocer carries strawberries year round. Not a girl anymore, I’ve been married to my husband Brad for over twenty years. Our daughter is in college and our son has just started his senior year in high school.

The year before our girl went away, I was overcome with fits of crying. Like a wave I could see off in the distance from shore, our life as a family of four was coming to an end. Scared the bittersweetness of it all might pull me under, I braced myself to ride it out. That was a couple of years ago. Now with our son’s departure only a year off, instead of an end it feels like a beginning.

Earlier in the afternoon, I texted Brad, “How about a motorcycle ride?”

We leave our neighborhood behind, heading upcountry on roads whose names—Lost Knife, Old Gunpowder, Bowie Mill, Goshen—inspire the storyteller in me. Sitting at a stoplight, waiting for green, I glance at the people around us, car windows open, heading into their weekends. Two girls in a black SUV are laughing and singing to the radio. They beam smiles our way. Brad reaches back to pat my thigh, his hand lingering. The light changes and we’re gone.

Merging into traffic, we bullet forward. I fly back a little and grip his middle tighter. Who are we to offer up our fragile Humpty Dumpty heads like this? I think. A boy in his last year of high school still needs us. I see my daughter in her twenties and remember myself at that age. They both still need us. I see my mother, my in-laws, our friends and neighbors at our imagined funeral, shaking their heads and saying, Why would they be so stupid, so careless to ride like that?

I’m not sure what Brad feels about this impending time when it will be just us again; I’ve been afraid to ask, and now I’m not sure I want to know. For all the time we’ve been together, part of me has always been on the lookout for that moment when the music will stop and harsh lights will be abruptly cast on the glow of our party.

But on this September evening, I feel freer than I have in years. As we accelerate, I don’t worry about crashing and burning amidst the cars around us, even after I catch sight of a dead fawn on the shoulder, legs mangled, white belly exposed, the burnt-leaf scent of its baking carcass sharp in my nostrils. I relax, the way I learned to float as a child: lying back on the surface of the water, trusting it would hold me.

We ride for miles, as I duck down behind Brad to keep us streamlined and fast. We lean in unison as we take the curve of a freeway onramp to head for home. Shifting lanes, I instinctively turn my head as he does, looking over our shoulders in sync, as if we’re part of a movie’s chase scene, staying just ahead of what’s after us.

Back home, we make love as we both knew we would. After all, that’s what my invitation for the ride was all about. Lately, we’ve been having more sex than ever. The sex has always been good, but something has changed and I think it’s me.

Despite having had my fair share of lovers before I married and a robust sex life with my husband, for all these years I’ve still been shy about revealing the magnitude of my desire. Pleasing someone else is easy for me, but enjoying my own pleasure takes a different kind of letting go. Especially without the tried-and-true de-inhibitor of alcohol. Shortly after we married, my husband quit drinking. In solidarity with his sobriety, so did I.

Yet lately, clear-eyed and sober, I flaunt my desire for him.

Walking naked into our room, no need for the cover of darkness, Feast your eyes on me, I’m finally eager to say. I am that girl in front of the mirror again, reveling in her own body, inviting my husband to be equally seduced. I’ve shed my youthful need to look perfect. I don’t see thighs I once thought too big. Instead I appreciate slim hips and sexy shoulders. I’m grateful for the way my body makes me feel, the way it makes him feel. No longer encumbered by all the pressures and worries of raising children, now my job is to move forward, to keep living.

* * *

The morning after our ride, Brad gets up early as he does every Saturday morning. While I’m still sleeping, he’s opening the doors of a church basement, turning on the lights, getting the coffee ready for the AA meeting ahead. Afterwards, he calls me and laughs as he says, “I kept thinking about last night. During the Lord’s Prayer I was afraid I was going to groan or say something I was thinking out loud.”

After we hang up, I text him, “Come home to me. I’m not sure why, but my breasts are big and beautiful right now. We should enjoy them while we can.”

I don’t tell him that I know exactly why I’ve recently gained more than a cupsize. I’d lost my ample breasts after nursing two kids, but now, in perimenopause, they are larger and firmer. Once again they are the breasts I hid from the boys in school forty years ago.

Our son is on his way to a friend’s soccer game. As soon as he leaves, Brad comes to me, kisses my neck as he lifts my shirt.

“I wonder if kids know their parents are waiting for them to leave the house so they can have sex,” he says as we lie in bed afterwards.

“No, they’re just thinking about their own escape and the sex they want to have,” I say, laughing.

But even as I say this, the knowledge that next year will be different hangs over us. There will be no son down the hall, no children at home, and my full, ripe breasts may wane again for good. Gazing into my husband’s blue eyes, I push such worries from my mind. Determined to seize this season and savor it, I run my hand along his thigh.

Jarrell_Headshot

Andrea Jarrell’s essays have appeared in The New York Times “Modern Love” column; Narrative Magazine; Full Grown People; Brain, Child; The Washington Post and several anthologies, sites and publications. Her memoir I’m the One Who Got Away will be published in 2016 by Booktrope. 

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

beauty, feminism, Friendship, Gender & Sexuality, Guest Posts, love

Beauty and Bitterfruit

November 24, 2015

By Renee Gereiner

There’s something painful about living in a world where the rules have never made sense to you, where the idea of following the rules breaks your own heart, so you start making bird calls in the middle of the night, hoping someone will hear you, hoping there will be someone else out in the cold night singing.  It takes so long for it to happen so that when it finally does the other bird is old, and she presents you with a bitterfruit.  Like no one you know, she speaks, “We are not of this world.”  And you don’t question her, because she holds you in the deep brown of her eyes.

When you bite it, you become the women you always knew you were.

You sneak into parties you aren’t invited to where the beer is cheap and the women are shirtless; you drink bottles of wine in fancy restaurants standing up; you talk about film and documentaries and both the history of it and all the bullshit of what happened to old fashioned picture taking like you’re a famous photographer who has an honorary PhD at NYU; you drink your weight in wine; you stay up all night literally burning your shit in a bonfire with hippies; and you finally start making those blue nude portraits that actual professionals compare to the late Francesca Woodman.

But, of course, the bitterfruit gives you diarrhea and you end up spending afternoons over the toilet bowl, and even so, you still go back for more.  Because the calling of the bird tickles you from the base of your spine all the way down the sides of your wings until you are flying.

The bird knows shit that women wish they didn’t know. Continue Reading…

Gender & Sexuality, Girl Power: You Are Enough, Guest Posts, Young Voices

In My Mother’s Bathroom

September 23, 2015

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station: This is a piece for my “Young Voices” series. I am looking for more young voices to publish so please submit if you have something to say. Please note, if you are under 18 you must have parental permission unless you are using a pseudonym. I am so excited to be working on the book Girl Power: You Are Enough, as well as the workshop for young women which has been a HUGE success so far. Please help me spread the word and sign up or sign your daughters/nieces/friends. I am also in the process of selecting ambassadors to represent #GirlPowerYouAreEnough. More information on this on my instagram at @jenpastiloff. Love, Jen

In My Mother’s Bathroom
By Emily Falkowski

Over the years I learned how to kiss girls without feeling like my abuser. This is one of the small ways in which my voice came knocking at my gut, demanding to be let in.

The first time I fooled around with a girl I was fourteen. I kissed Brianna up against the wall of the astronomy building at summer camp. I pushed my groin into hers and imagined Brianna pinned there against the brick, like moss.

“You’re so aggressive,” she said. “I didn’t expect this.”

“I’m sorry. I’m nervous. Should I stop?”

“No,” Brianna pushed her tits up at me when I grabbed her wrists with one hand and pinned them behind her back, “I like it. It’s like you’re a boy.”

When she said that I got intensely wet. I wanted to be a boy. I started to unzip her pants and imagined that I had a penis. How it would be hard and corporeal against her thigh, a real thing she could pull out of my pants. Then I would push Brianna onto the ground and make her fuck me with her mouth.

I pulled her left breast out off her bra and wrapped my mouth around the nipple. She said my name, and I felt my body go numb, I couldn’t feel anything below my belly button. This wasn’t surprising, I was used to this sort of thing happening when someone I was with said my name, or tried to touch me below the waist.

“Mmm, please don’t say my name right now.”

“Okay,” She giggled, “What do you want to be called?”

 

My earliest idea of womanhood is limited, defined by the sexual anatomy of a female. I’m four in my mother’s bathroom watching her dry off after a shower, wrapping her hair in a green towel and propping one leg up on the bath-tub. Continue Reading…