Southern Legitimacy Statement: As a child, I lived for the summers spent at my Grandfathers’ in South Carolina. Yeah, we were tourists in Myrtle Beach, but something salty just gets in your blood August after August, coated in sunscreen and crunching hushpuppies till you’re sick. I’ve been smacked by the Atlantic’s great, curved hand, raked on the floor, and spit back up with nothing more than a suit full of tiny, purple shells and what feels like a bet she’s made that I won’t make it to shore. I guess that lesson’s the same as I’ve been learning all the Augusts of my life; I will get dragged under, pushed down, three seconds from used with what feels like the whole world betting against me, and the same question crusting on the edge of their lips: but can she rise?
Her and the Hims
I used to keep a list. First it was all the boys and then the girls I had ever kissed. Then slept with. Then it got too long and I wasn’t proud of it anymore. I was ashamed. Now, when I’m in bed, I play soft as a feather stiff as a board, while she grinds and licks and jerks and cums harder than I ever have in my whole life. She says she doesn’t mind how still I am. She says it’s a journey. While she’s inside of me, or licking me, or touching me, I have to remind myself to moan, just so it won’t be weird. I try to stay present. Sometimes I can, sometimes can’t. Before long, I’m picturing some cocky him rubbing his dick and saying horrible things like get her ready for me, baby. I’m gonna fuck the shit out of that wet pussy when she’s ready. I think it turns me on, but I don’t know. Maybe it’s just habit.
When him was fucking me, I didn’t have to think about anything at all. He fucked me so hard I’d be swollen till next time. He would turn me around and say my ex, oh my ex she never let me fuck her this way. Can you imagine? Always missionary. He would hold my hips and pound, pound, pound, and I would grit my teeth. After, he would turn the shower on hot. So hot I was choking steam. He washed my hair, already longing for that cigarette, but still soaping my hair. He introduced me to Bukowski and when I finally left the mess of his basement bed, I purposefully snuck a black-panty-polaroid between poems.
That was the semester him swallowed pills on my dorm room floor and I found him. This was after Mexico, sick from jicama soaked in water, hot from that desert sun, weak enough to wretch and shit completely naked in front of him. He spoon-fed me the worst tasting “medicine” I have ever had, concocted by the lady of the house, consisting of lemons and castor oil and called loosely, a cure. I did not want him to touch me, but I let him.
From the psych ward he calls begging for release and I hang up the phone. I hang up because of yesterday. When they revived him, body slick with sweat and wrapped in dingy blankets I thought would be his last, he laughed. For a year he sent cds wet with loss but undercut with a terrible, trembling joy.
That May I graduated and spent a month backpacking through Peru with my childhood best friend, the man she would eventually marry, and her brother; the only hot-blooded male seemingly indifferent to how close I slept to him in our two-person tent. Every night I would inch closer, shivering, “trying not” to wake him, maneuvering as close as possible to that boy-almost-man heat. He slept like a rock and me like a dandelion whistling in the breeze.
When the rest of our group got food poisoning and confined themselves to vomit and shit it out, him and I boated Lake Titicaca, saw a floating island, and drank ourselves silly on high altitude red wine. I wanted him to kiss me every second of that trip. I wanted him to be my answer. To have what the rest of the partnered group had. I wanted to tell the story of how we had fallen in love on this trip. This him knew better, young as he was. He admired me, was afraid of me, and he became my friend. That night, stumbling, he led me home on his arm, tucked me into bed, and slept on the floor.
After Peru, I moved to California without hardly a thought. I liked to call where I lived, the Berkeley/Oakland border. I was proud of that. It made me feel tough. I’d moved with three hundred dollars and as far as I could see, nothing to lose. A month in, I was thoroughly depressed, smoking too much weed, no job to speak of, but seeing the most amazing art and music. We’d get on our bikes after Lavender Diamond filled a smoky room with the rise and fall of their eerie sound, and fly through the streetdark in that almostwarm wind, my desire pulsing against the seat, my eyes tearing up, but smiling.
That summer I masturbated furiously, read Malcolm X, even stole the borrowed copy out of pure love from the girl whose room I was renting. I didn’t find a job for three desperate weeks, called my older sister for rent, ate as little as possible, and biked from restaurant to restaurant to apply in-person for waitress jobs I could start, pronto. Just shy of a month in, I landed a few jobs in a row; bakery counter and delivery girl by day, Louisiana-style gumbo server by night. The hushpuppies made a customer cry once, who grabbed my hand as I was passing and whispered, these taste just like home.
They were his hushpuppies and they made me fat. His jambalaya, his homemade roux – come here into my kitchen. This is how you do. Butter, butter, butter, caramelized figs over greens. The staff meals so good it made me dizzy. Mid-summer and suddenly I was plump, younger than I could have ever really known, and responsible for a restaurant sized hard-on. I was their sweetheart, their mamacita, their cutie, their girl. I helped with anything and they helped me. At Angeline’s, I learned how to keep quiet and get fed. If I did, my mistakes during dinner rush were shushed up quicker than they were made.
At the bakery, him had a British accent, and looked like a rock star fallen from stage. Shaggy, grey hair brushing the wrinkled skin of his neck, dirty jokes, dirty apron, hands perpetually powdered with croissant flour, his pastry so good it brought me nearly to my knees. He pointed out the weight I’d gained, but let me know he’d probably still think I looked good stripped down to my bathing suit and did I know he had a pool and wouldn’t I like to cool off in it and was everything okay because I often looked sad these days and he was sure he could cheer me.
There was really only one person who could lift the lost girl look off my face, who didn’t treat me like a thing to be conquered and had. That was him, my high school friend’s boyfriend, and the reason I’d come out here at all. It was her who’d called me up hey, I’m moving to California. There’s an extra room. You should rent it. Her who’d picked me up in a borrowed blue car, her who knew me, if we could even call it that, both lost as we were.
Him took to me, maybe by association, maybe because he needed an audience and I was rapt from the start. He got me the bakery job which meant we often passed an uneventful morning standing two feet apart, sticky with sugar and sweat. Him had this way of checking-out of the unimportant stuff, which I sorely needed to see, as I could not decide what to take seriously, and so took seriously to everything. Him called the bakery a joke, and turned every hour we spent there into one.
On a particularly boring day, he pulled the metal base of those extended bakery tongs into the opening of his long sleeved tee and called himself ‘the claw’. Perhaps it was his irreverence, his complete disdain for respectability, that had me almost pissing myself. I dared him to serve customers all day with this new cyborg personality and he did – with me balled over laughing steps away. Perhaps needless to say, he was fired.
Was it then that I started spending more time at Angeline’s? Was it then that I decided to take up his offer: to say yes, instead of brushing off the suggestive jokes, all the meals he prepared, the way he watched me eat? Do I just want there to be a reason when there isn’t one?
When him came to visit, my blast from the past, my long-legged, long-lashed sweetboy, visiting from Madrid on a month long work visa, I became a bunny in bed. He took me for Ethiopian food, the first I’d ever had. He cried during the meal, lisping my name, and pining for the woman he really loved. We’d met years before during a freshman study abroad in Burgos, the sleepy town that provided me with my very first, second, and third sexual encounters.
Him number one fucked me like I was an actual animal; so fast and hard I quickly discovered the tool called dissociation. I let him number two fuck me against a wall after drinking all night second semester, and him number three came last, his sweetness too much for my broken-in body to bear.
Should I talk about them all? Him again with the pills – no, should be a book. Him, the one who’s name I can never remember, the one who could only cum if he remained completely silent, him (fuck oh fuck), the him I am always attempting to forget, the New York City one-night-stand, or how about the her before her?
I like to fix things. So, when I woke naked and sick in a stranger’s bed, alone, I didn’t call my mother or a friend, or say, the police. No, I called him. No memory? That’s ok; get memory.
Him: It started with a meal.
Me: I remember that (the first of many gin & tonics).
Him: We had drinks (understatement).
Me: I know (see above).
Him: You were all about it. You said you wanted to.
Me: Oh (Did I actually say the word yes? If I was too drunk to remember, how did I participate? Did I lay there, half asleep, the weight of his frame crushing me? Was I conscious? Did he care? How many times did he fuck me? Did he leave right afterward? Did I say the word yes; did he care?) Did we use…
Him: You didn’t have any.
Me: Um. Okay. (Fuck). I’m not on birth control.
When he showed up, ten minutes later, I didn’t bar the door. I didn’t scream fuck you so the neighbors would hear. I let him in, this time conscious. After he fucked me quick for good measure (what did it matter) we went to the emergency room, together. Did I think if I pretended he cared, it meant he did? Did he think if he pretended he cared, it meant he could forget he hadn’t? He was fatter, dirtier, and uglier than I remembered, and I, well, I was nothing I could remember at all.
The last person I saw before I left, was my high school friend’s him. He came over to that same dingy room and cut my hair into the only style I could stand; short on the sides, long in the center, one shock flopping into my eye; a reflection of my dis-ease, my mistrust, a mirror of what was missing. His hands shook as he touched my scalp, he was light on his feet, he kind of danced around me. His fingers hummed a little on the side of my head, and I knew he was afraid to press too hard, to hurt me. We shared a smoke, sitting on the steps, talking about nothing. I would have done anything to get him to stay but he didn’t offer. I didn’t ask. He kissed my cheek. I brushed some long strands from the shoulders of his shirt. We pressed our bodies together for one, long minute in the half-warmth, and he was gone.