Category Archives: Sex
Since the day I started keeping records, my primordial thoughts were about a Jeff. Jeff, et al. Jeff in all his incarnations. The first diary I ever kept began,
I like Jeff. Jeff is in my class.
And then a quick nod to my coordinates in space:
Today is Friday.
Once I even cut a life-sized boy out of a roll of paper and walked around the neighborhood with it, until the real boys who lived down the street saw what I was doing and laughed me back into the house. That’s the thing about boys. Boys weren’t weird. They were practical. They weren’t dumbed down by a love of plastic dolls, ABBA ballads, or a chronic need to tuck blankets around everything until it was nice and cozy. And they sure as shit didn’t walk the block with a paper girl.
Maybe that’s why I got crushes on the mischievous Jeffs of the world, the troublemakers who got sent to the principal’s office, the ones too poor even to be cool. They operated outside the system that had me trapped; they had a nihilist sort of courage to do wrong and the balls to pretend they didn’t give a shit. They didn’t need to be cozy. They probably didn’t even use blankets.
My penchant for Jeffs became a chronic condition in adulthood. They were the types who didn’t care about much beyond their own dicks (a fact they’d never admit). They’d say instead, baby don’t get all deep n shit. Their aggrandized masculinity contained something frightening and foreign that I wanted to own. I wanted to study their skill set and their physical style, I wanted to be on the winning side of that roughness and intimidation. I longed to absorb their mannerisms, chemically react to their smell and plug my face into their naked bodies. My instincts told me that the only way a girl like me could ever stake a permanent flag on Mt. Man, was by fucking it.
The only problem was that I am in fact, secretly, quintessentially, regrettably deep n shit. I wanted to feel whole, and a relationship based solely on sex left me in roadkill condition. So, at the inevitable break-up, the part of me that had bloomed now receded painfully into hyper sleep. It was the maleness I grieved most– even though it had ignored me and slipped the beloved D to someone else – I mourned it. I’d felt so alive! And now look at me, half dead. Forgotten. Staring down the void. Wait. I know how to fix this! Let’s find another one.
This is how I got hooked on men.
Writing Crash Bang Burn was about embracing this alleged half-dead side. Instead of crashing, banging and burning, I made my characters do it – over and over. Poor things. But it was a way of taking my demons for a walk without letting them off the leash. The goal was neither desecration nor worship – I just wanted to scratch the itch without tearing my skin off for a change. I wanted to get one teensy step removed from the rejection and grief that seemed, for me, to be the predicable and perpetual female experience. Instead of it being my cross to bear, it was now, quite literally, Braylee and Edie’s.
But when I was done writing the book, I was by no means done being the puppetmaster. I had just begun. I was compelled to step into their diametrically opposed shoes and gather witnesses for the revival. I needed cameras because hey, not everyone is a reader. Edie and Braylee would be easy to act out. After all, Edie was a caricature of who I wished I wasn’t and Braylee is kinda who I wished I was.
But Cross. Cross was a different story.
Cross wasn’t just any guy. He was every guy. He was an amalgamation of all I loved and hated about men, about the south, about sex. He was the street drug I could never get enough of, even as I bled out. How was I going to animate him? I figured I should find some supermale actor to play him. But no, that wouldn’t do. They might get it wrong. Plus I didn’t need real; I’d had enough real to last a decade. I needed control. I needed a laugh. And anyway, who better to nail Cross than the one who’d been nailed the hardest?
What would I wear, I asked myself, if I were a dude? And so began the experience called “trying on men’s clothes.”
I wiped off all my makeup and strapped on a rubber dick. I found some boxer briefs, buckled on a pair of men’s pants and took a few paces across the room.
The first thing I’d like to note is, wearing a dick is very distracting. Your sex is literally wagging around like a goddamn panhandler. It wants to proposition everything you’re looking at, even the wall or the door jamb. Dick informs your every step. Dick makes you sit and walk different. You can’t just put it out of your mind. Dick is always….right…there. It gently carjacks your senses. Or Car-jeffs.
Next I put on men’s boots, pinned on some foam superman muscles and wrapped an ace bandage around my tits. I cocked my jaw, put on a ball cap, checked the mirror – and somewhere in that series of steps, I disappeared. The same way you might disappear into a hot bath or the driver’s seat of a Ferrari. I wouldn’t call it transcendent. But it’s the kind of ahhhh that put my yearnings at ease. I felt my whole center of gravity shift. I swaggered. I swooned. Look at me, I thought. Holy shit. Finally, instead of trying to crawl under a man’s skin, I was actually in it. Behold, my fix was here before me, staring back in the mirror, awaiting orders. But this time there would be no tears upon extraction. The circuit was contained and closed. I could peel him on, skewer him, adore him, and then pack him up in the closet as needed.
I was going to need to. A lot.
The first time I walked into a crowded bar dressed as Cross, the thing that hit me hardest was how completely under the radar I had become. Nobody, male or female, sized me up. I was neither bait nor competition. I was the looker, not the lookee. I had stepped outside the whole fucking female paradigm. I was free.
But I think the really good shit hit the fan after I got a film crew to capture me acting as all three characters. I wrote the script and then I buttoned up like sweet naive Edie, waiting for Cross with baited breath. Then I melted down like hot little Braylee and told him to get the fuck outta my trailer. And finally, I glued on my facial hair, spat my dip into a bottle, looked deep into the camera, and became Cross:
When I returned home that night, with my three identities and spare dick in a bag, I went through the usual motions. I flipped on the light, hung up my keys, bent down by the the cupboard to get out a bowl, and then, unexpectedly, dropped to a knee. I stared into the back of the dark pantry and happy-cried. Hard. Happy crying, how can I explain this sensation? I know all about sad-crying but this shit was new to me. Imagine feeling so fucking complete that you literally overflow with liquid gratitude. I guess I’d stumbled upon a part of me that had been buried for like, 30 years. Oh yeah, I’m an actor. I’m a goddamn motherfucking actor, people. I forgot. I had three kids, got stranded in Georgia and I completely forgot. Then one day, I dressed up like a dude and remembered who I fucking was.
And to think, it all started with sad little Edie in a bar bathroom, trying to become someone else.
I like Jeff. I think I’m going to dress up like him and film a split-screen sequence making out with myself.
Today is Friday.
copyright © K. Dawn Goodwin 2016
A man passes in the aisle and you shudder. He is the same height, the same hair, the same shirt. Your heart explodes and then collapses in on itself. Is it him? No, of course not. Ding dong, the hope is dead. But its carcass limps along.
This is the grocery store, and the first time you’ve left your house since he left you. It hasn’t been this bad for you in a long time. Maybe you’ve air-dropped into civilian life too soon. You don’t just notice people that pass, you cling to them with your eyes. That is a person, you recite. That too is a person. The fact that they’re not dead inside like you – it’s a kind of miracle.
You can’t go inside your own head, can’t visit your thoughts for long. Everything that inhabited you has fled. There are carpet prints where furniture used to be. All that’s left are pen caps and junk mail and the detritus that no one takes with them. So you keep your gaze outward. You put one foot in front of the other.
Random men keep triggering your parasympathetic reflex, so you brace for the surge and the prickling letdown. It feels like excitement bubbling in your chest but it’s not. Excitement is pink; pink like cotton candy in your brain, pink like the sunset when you drove to his house, pink like your lips going down on him. This isn’t pink. This is gray. The precise crayon shade would be “aftermath”. This is the graveyard, the homeless shelter for love. This is you, your dry lips parted beneath a gunmetal pipe praying for one last drop. It has to be in there somewhere. It has to.
You peer at a woman near the potato chips. Her hair is tied back, her skin has color and she is frowning at a paper list. Children fuss at her waist. Her life is just a life, but her back bends so capably through it. See how she moves and doesn’t cry? you marvel. See that? You used to do that. Before you met him.
.You are blank as plastic. You are the color of a fading bruise. Cords are still plugged into your heart and they drag along behind you like a busted toy, ends ripped off, wires stripped and frayed.
You open the glass door, reach into the cold for a frozen pizza and put it in your cart. The wheels turn and you move three paces toward and still he hurts you. His existence feels like a permanent injury. You cast your eyes onto a teenage girl as she passes. Pink shorts, brown hair, you catalog desperately. She seems fine. She seems nice. You take comfort in the lines of an old man’s face. He nods and smiles at you, a giver of mercy. But a young guy brushes by and you flinch so hard the whole world quakes. Your ears explode. No one notices.
As you walk to the checkout, you hear a child wailing pitifully for his mother to lift him out of the grocery cart. Let me out let me out let me out! he sobs, louder and louder. You look around but can’t locate him him. Please! Let me out! It escalates and pierces and starts a bleed in your brain. Please mama please! Let! Me! Out! Then the refrain changes and it guts you:
I’ll be good for you! he cries. Please! I’ll be good for you! I’ll be good for you!
Something about the order of those words. Now you are crying too. Almost automatic. Push-button tears. You wipe them on your bare arm and keep moving. I’ll be good for you. That was how you acted, wasn’t it. Desperate like a child. You tried so hard not to grovel. But you did. You begged. I’ll be good for you. I’ll do anything. Don’t cut me out.
In the parking lot you unlock your car. You’ve wedged your vehicle in a space between two big trucks that look just like his. It feels safe to park like that, flanked and protected, snuggled up against a lie. You take in the hot, dying breeze. He’s so close, you think. He’s just across town. He’s not even dead. Just a little dead. Just dead for you.
At the red light, you dream with your eyes open. You have a hundred flashbacks to process, all poisoned bait. Sometimes you get so starved that you eat one. You relive him from start to finish, and lick your fingers when you’re done. You can see him on your front porch that night, grinning down at you with those black eyes as he stepped into the lamplight. He was so good-looking, like some cocky high school crush. You let yourself crumble because you knew it, you already knew it. The pain of having him in your bed was going to be as bad as the pain of not having him at all.
Go ahead, remember how it felt to touch him. Slide your hand up under his shirt and take in his clean scent, so hard under his clothes. The TV flickers and there is mint on his tongue. Press down on the stiff denim and the metal buckle. Feel him grip you all over, watch him squeeze your nipples out of the lace and into his mouth. He pulls down your underwear and towers over you naked. He’s pale and slim like some virgin sacrifice you made up. It imprints you like a negative. That cross expression, that frustrated sweetness on his pursed lips as you spread for him, right before he goes in. Long after he’s done making you come it’ll haunt you. The way he shakes his head like too goddamn good. Your body is too soft and slippery inside like velvet and cream and he gives it to you rough and quiet like a man. You let loose all your secret, wicked cries. You let loose all your girlish dreams and hope he can’t see.
It’s just an animal act of course. Sex is just pheromones and molecules and blood and skin, but afterward you rest your forehead on his chest and he feels like the shore. You drowse as he strokes your hair. I don’t want to leave, he says in the morning, and your heart soars. Wrap that day all the way around you, sell your soul to it because it never will be again. And the lesson that comes next is the hardest: It wasn’t even true. It wasn’t even close. It was pretend. It was a very good game. Oh yeah, and you lost.
Text him. One more drink would make it so easy. You finger the latch. You know what he’d do, slip his phone out of his pocket and the light of your name would shine in his eyes. Maybe he’d write back. Maybe he’d make you wait, maybe he’d drag you open-mouthed through the mud again and not even notice. Are you up for that again? The vodka seems to be.
You circle round it, longing to come alive in his hand. You pull up his name, no bigger than a kilobyte at the tip of your finger. You’ve worked hard to get clean. Are you ready to rip yourself apart for a taste? The almighty send button. It’s the only thing between you and the hell you want so badly. You pause. You sip. The screen fades to black.
So you totter to your car and begin driving toward his house. Are you going? You’re not are you? You are? You sail through the empty streets with a loopy smile, freed from the shackles of self preservation. Just past the last traffic light the town disappears, and your windshield is as dark as the edge of the earth. You have a cigarette to smoke, so you pull it hard and blow it long, pluming toward him in the dark, your fingers sparking as they skid through the air. What will you do when you land in his driveway, crumbling into fragments like a half-assed meteor. Stumble out of the driver’s side, tripping over your shoes, banging on his unlit door like you’re crazy? What is it you think you’ll find?
Maybe he’ll yank you into his hallway and ragefuck you so hard the picture frames drop from the wall and shatter. Maybe you can tear his shirt and pound his chest and rake his face with your nails while he makes your body come, because that’s all you got with him. Fucking bodies. Bodies that fuck. Love is nowhere on the scanner. But you miss his scorpion sting, don’t you? The way it leaves you dazed and paralyzed and unable to function for weeks on end? Mmm. That’s sort of like love, isn’t it.
You never make it to his house. Your stomach is seizing, temples throbbing with blood like syrup. The nub of the cigarette goes out the window, and then the entire pack with it. You heave up the woozy dream onto the median, frothy and vile as poisonous raspberries. It feels so good to be so sick. It slaps you in the face. It empties out the pink fog, leaving behind the hard certainty of right and wrong, what will hurt and what will help.
You’ve got to replace the gaping hole in your life and the burning one in your bed. You can’t go back or you’ll have to start all over. So you pick a guy just like him. A little shier, a little softer, a little tamer. A grade B version. He ignores you a little and it weirdly turns you on. You meet him for a drink but he’s not as attractive really, or as interesting. He doesn’t say you’re pretty. He doesn’t say how’d I get so lucky. But he’s here for sex just the same. During a long silence you look over at the bar and see another guy talking to a girl who looks like you. Maybe it’s you in another dimension, you on a future date with someone who cares.
You look back at your empty replacement and realize you’ve made a mistake. You are sitting in the wrong chair, trying to fix a shitty feeling by eating more shit. So you take your purse and get up, as if your software has suddenly expired. You walk away from your date and out the front door and never look back.
Hey hottie where u go? texts what’s-his-name. You don’t answer. You don’t answer anyone. You go home and rub one out. You dry your eyes, smoke half a cigarette and wonder, is it time? But you know, deep down, it’s not. Not even fucking close. You crush the butt and contempt burns deeper.
When r we gonna hang out sexy? Numbnuts texts again.
How bout never, you say out loud, to the empty room. Because someday you’re going to have to recover. Someday pushing your broken heart around in a grocery cart is going to get old. Someday you’re going to have to make room for something good.
“Soon,” you type back. “lol.”
Someday. Just not yet.
copyright © K. Dawn Goodwin 2016
On the drive over, I came upon two dogs humping in the road. Their retinas reflected my headlights, refusing to move aside. The last time I’d driven to a man’s house for sex, I’d passed a dog that had gotten run over on the double yellow lines. So maybe this was a step in the right direction. Or at least that was slightly less dead.
Don’t be shy, he’d texted me, twenty minutes before. You may get a kiss at the door.
A kiss at the door, huh. Cue the release of adrenaline-laced butterflies, just south of the border.
He was from the Epocch of Suches – such a face, such a body – physical attributes that incite saliva and blood and elicit cell memory and blot out the decision-making sun. Those things had left such a fissure behind, dragging across the landscape like a melting glacier. The Epoch of Suches. Almost grown in now, filled in with shrubs and weeds, and soon: one black minivan.
I’d only seen him once before – supple lips and saturated forearms and silence, eyes shaded under a ballcap, all the trappings of the instinctive and careless, hot southern boy.
At the stoplight I checked the dials in my dashboard: all read-outs steady. The clock said 11:30. Meanwhile the ones on the inside were looping round and round, losing altitude. His texts had come in hot and heavy all afternoon, driving me to distraction, eventually driving me to his door, leaving every important task undone. Not just undone, completely invisible. Lust was like that, your very own internally manufactured nicotine and dopamine and ephedrine supply. My charged electrons were bumping into his, equally excited and equally opposed, unable to power anything.
In a few minutes he was going to undo everything, he was going to get up on the inside, I was going to touch whatever I wanted, orally fixate to my heart’s content, and in the process lose my groove, my composure, my self-respect, strewn out my open car window like paper as I politely excused myself down into the ditch.
Oh but it was all so new! And also, the same as always.
Most days weren’t like this. Most days, young men were a thing of the past. Most days consisted of plastic bags and car keys and my hair like an old scratchy blanket. The choking smell from the plastic factory nearby. The dead cement depot overhead, on the hilltop by the railroad tracks. The trains always heaving forward, always leaving, then coming right back. They were so identically plain that I completely forgot: I was young too.
It’s not that I didn’t notice men. Men outside the pawn shop awning, smoking and staring. Men laying concrete, men driving trucks, men loading equipment, men with their girlfriends at the store. I deflected eye contact; I only did doubletakes from behind the safety glass of my minivan.
“Almost there,” I texted.
Hmm, he replied, lighting up my screen. Can’t wait.
In his driveway, I stared long and hard at his pickup, an extension of his naked body. A porch light came on, casting a cold light. His unfamiliar form appeared in the opened screen door.
“I saw these dogs…in the road,” I mumbled, nonsensically, climbing the cement steps.
“Yeah,” his voice was so gravelly, like the air in his throat was dragged down a dirt road too. “I was worried it would be hard for you to find.”
The initial arrows of conversation had each missed their mark. There was no kiss. Inside, a mud room with an old washing machine.
“Hi,” I said finally, and cracked a joke about something, anything.
He said nothing.
“I’m keeping the light off, it’s a mess,” he said, and turned his back to lead me through a cold, pitch black room. I soaked him up from top to bottom, t-shirt, and a muscly, narrow ass in soft sweatpants. Sleeping clothes. Taller than before. His hand reached back for mine, to lead me through the dark. Startled by the gesture, I reached forward and took it, shockwaves rippling up my arm. All the prior digital sex, the robotic syntax and exposed pictures, all of it safe and non-tactile, nothing approximating a held hand. It immediately flooded my circuits. Everything I really wanted, previously on lockdown, was suddenly set loose in my system.
The darkness gave way to a tiny warm bedroom and a glowing space heater. Gray light from a murmuring TV flashed from an adjoining room. His sheets were pulled back, his phone near his pillow, waiting on my texts. And whoever else’s probably.
I froze, not knowing what to do. He maybe said something then, something obtuse and dumb, but all I heard was the gritty growl. My purse and my clothes, where to put them? Where to stand, what to do. I could barely see his face and body it was so dim, I needed more light to see. I slipped off my boots and sat on the edge of his bed as if it was the deep end. He sat next to me, and after one long awful awkward silent moment, there was one little kiss ,then another.
It felt like nothing at first, like kissing a wall. But only because of the delay while serotonin and dopamine dumped hard, polluting the bloodstream with fog and bliss. My god, it was so good to sweep pastthe boundaries of appropriate distance, erode the mile high walls with a fingertip. I slid back on the bed and watched him undress, the shadows hiding behind the ridges of his bare chest. He had a good body, but so what, big fucking deal. But I stared hard, memorizing.
I shed mine too, and slithered up on top of him, eye to eye, skin on skin, ready for the intake, the uptake, the all-consuming meld. He reached his fingertip and tucked back a loose strand of my hair. I froze, still as a mouse, letting him. What was that supposed to be, exactly? Tenderness? Some mutation therein? A bomb went barreling down to the core, burrowing below the magma. It registered a direct hit to my fortress, but I covered it up with my teeth, slipped it under my tongue, overrode it with purring, writhing hips.
He was getting it in now, and I was awash in the body buzz that comes from being roughed up, hollering out a year of pent up days. But all the sound and fury was predictable novelty really, stuff worthy of an omg in a forgettable email. But his fingertip on that lock of hair, imitating love. His hand holding mine, as if he cared — these tiny insignificant variables were the ones you had to watch out for. These were tricky.
And then it was over. Thirty minutes, maybe? Forty-five? Somehow, I had actually believed it would go on forever. Or at least an hour.
I laid with his arm under my neck, chest heaving, blood in my ears, breathing long and deep. I wanted to curl into the heat of his right flank, to cool into a pretty mess and light down on a placid lake of Twilight-grade togetherness. For a minute I skimmed this ridiculous yearning, gliding face to face above it, longing to rest fully on his sprawled body, and sleep. But my mouth was dry, so instead I swallowed. It was the loudest sound in the room. He stirred, and I lifted my head and sat up, looking around, wondering what to do. I did not belong here. I wanted to belong here. I was rendered into a statue, hovering slightly outside my body.
“You can stay if you want,” he said. And I grabbed with both hands at this chance to get my cool back.
I stood up beside the bed and began picking up my clothes, readying to leave, watching him watch me.
Only when I was fully dressed did he flick the bedside light. Strange. I could see his smile for the first time, white teeth in the warm yellow light. Stupid hot boy. An effortless checkmate. I kissed him at the door. He didn’t kiss back.
He never came back for more. I was so sure he would. I was so sure that my splendidly ecstatic nude form had created a disturbance in his force. But no, not even a smallish one. He’d finished the race while I tumbled off the track. It took a full week to get the outstretched hand out of my system, the feel of an actual arm under my neck, his mouth taking me down.
“I know him,” my hair dresser told me a few weeks later. I’d forgotten the cardinal rule of small towns: they are very fucking small. “Only wants one thing, okay. When he gets it, he’s gone.”
I guess I’d known that. But what about me being the exception. What about me being sexually exceptional. What about me and my sex-ceptional self.
“Trust me,” she said, reading my face. “It’s not just you. He did the same thing to me. And one of my friends.”
copyright © K. Dawn Goodwin 2016
A band released an album in 2009 that became, for me, a cross by the highway that marks the dead. Inside each track lurks a hologram of that summer, a descending fluorescent half-dome that yanks me across time and space. Suddenly, I’m driving away from John’s house on highway 16 in the dry and blinding Temecula sunrise, my retinas overexposed, my corneas zig-zagged with streaks of sun-poisoning. It was June and already my left arm was as brown as the finches, resting in the open car window, speeding past the strip beyond the dealership. I was hungover, I was spent. But after all that we’d been through, I knew we’d make it. After the wait.
The question, the song went, is the truth.
“Listen to track four,” he told me, handing me the disc through my car window. I knew his lips like my own flesh and blood, but these farewell kisses were worse than a stranger’s. Beneath his calm, I sensed the panicked division and transference of two men. One cold, one caring. He scrambled to toss me a lifeline as he slipped beneath the carefully remade horizon.
He always gave me something to listen to on the hour ride home. He liked songs that were unusual, little bursts of flavor and texture on a barren grid of four-way stops. I pocketed them all like gold tokens. They weren’t him, but they were. They were.
He was my world back then, back when my world was a series of meadow-lined routes between Carrollton and Senoia, each as smooth and sunbaked as a torqing synthesizer under ecstatic two-part female harmony, fanning out into a cryptically-worded cacophony of Artistic Integrity that sometimes hurt my ears. I tapped forward through the tracks like a patient searching for the right morphine drip. But even still, the passing song fragments of Bitte Orca absorbed into my bones like x-rays, saturating me with dreams and free radicals, neither doing me much good.
Definitely you can come and live with us, the lyrics went, as I passed the house full of abandoned yard toys for the hundredth time, behind the field of propane tanks. I know there’s a space in the basement, yeah. All you gotta do is help out with the chores and the dishes.
And I know you will.
I will! I will!
But I spent my weekends with my phone at the dirty lake beach, waiting for a call that never came, my Gatorades floating in long-melted ice.
The horizon bright and motionless, the song went. The EKG of a dying woman.
“What if I just snuck over?” I asked him one Saturday night. I hadn’t seen him in 12 days. Twelve days, 8 hours and 45 minutes. My tan lines were fresh, my heart as empty as a shell. “After your kids are asleep?”
“No,” he answered, and laughed slightly, as if I was just a kidder. “There’s no way.”
To him it was amusing that I’d even ask such a thing, but to me it was a red flag so big he could’ve wrapped my corpse in it. Hearing that, my right arm barely had enough will to live. I leaned against the wall, trying to keep the phone to my ear. I could feel the sand embedded in the metal seams, the residual scent of Hawaiian Tropic.
I wasn’t above begging.
“But, I could leave early in the morning, before they wake up?”
“I can’t, sweetness. I’m sorry.”
Is there someone else? I wanted to ask, but dared not.
“What are you up to tonight?” he asked, steering the conversation away. Don’t confront me with my failures, sweetness. Hot stuff. Wonderbucket.
I love you, I thought, but instead said, “Nothing.”
But that night I would be up to more than nothing. I hung up pleasantly, a terrified witness behind the arbitrary lines, and sauntered to the shower in a daze. I was used to the pain. I was used to letting my mind wander safely above the truth. It came in handy, since tonight I didn’t want to look too closely at anything. I shaved with a dull razor, dressed robotically and sent a flurry of text messages to people I barely knew.
An hour later I stood awkwardly in some stranger’s high-end kitchen, watching strange people mix drinks, lighting torches meticulously, twisting semi-naked with each other out on the deck, swapping partners, trading wives, reaching out their unfamiliar fingers to tug at the belt loop above the zipper on my shorts. I found my hands stroking the two-day stubble on some guy’s chest, fighting back the grief it left in my scored palms, his attractive face like needles in my eyes. I could smell the geranium nearby as he kissed me, like a failure. It was Saturday night, and all I wanted was John. John’s hands, John’s bed. John 3:16. John’s eyes like two doves. John the holy ghost.
I picked up my flip-flops and my keys and skirted the light, seeking the end of the driveway.
“Where are you going,” the guy called after me. “Whoa, whoa. Wait. Please.”
He was wiry, crew cut, tan, but with the slick and empty mannerisms of a man who gauges all his movements on their likelihood of procuring sex.
“I can’t,” I turned to face him, planted at the hood of my van, staring at my feet. “There’s this other guy I’m seeing.”
Seeing, I thought. That’s all I did. I saw him. In my mind. In thumbnails. In music videos in my mind.
“I don’t want to wreck it,” I managed. “I don’t want to cheat on him.”
Wreck what? I wondered. Wreck the illusion. Wreck the compartment I lived in.
I tend to keep things in compartments, John had once told me, in an email. I’m sorry, I guess it’s a guy thing.
A guy thing.
“If he’s so great, where is he tonight?” this other guy asked.
I know, right.
“He’s got his kids,” I said, which always shut every question down so nicely. Even my own. Is your boyfriend imaginary? No silly, he’s got his kids.
“So, you’re leaving me?” he huffed. “You just got here. I thought we were having fun.”
He had me cornered, the back of my knees now against the bumper, my air invaded by his Hollister cologne. I just wanted my car. I wanted to go home and sleep so I could shut off the dirty projector in my mind, where my fantasies glowed inside the unfulfilled film reel of Track Nine:
When I’m ready for my whole world to open up and surrender, I’ll look for you. I will be searching the garden and the street, I will look into the eyes of everyone I meet.
“You can’t leave me with this,” this douchebag kept saying, taking my hand in his and placing it squarely on his hard-on. There was rage somewhere in that, concealed behind his puppy dog eyes, his drunken purr. “Baby.”
“That feels nice,” I teased. Sometimes I was the most friendly when I was the most frightened. “I can’t.”
I kissed him again, a reformed cannibal, and backed into the driver’s seat, backed out of the driveway, back into the safety of my memories. Back into my Johnsongs.
Call on me, it went. Call on me, call on me, call on me. But I couldn’t. Ever. Least of all now.
I sunk into the disappointment of my headlights, leading me around the curving two lane road, back home. I didn’t want to feel this bad right now, so I thought instead about how John and I had put the clean sheets on his bed that night, before crawling in them to make sick love. We hadn’t seen each other in so long. Fifteen days, ten hours. Twenty-two minutes. He’d been busy.
“Yay, we finally get to have a sleepover,” I’d kidded, standing in panties and a gauzy t-shirt on the other side of his bed, stuffing his pillows into their clean cases.
“Yay,” he laughed, doing the same on his side. “Sorry I didn’t have this ready when you got here.”
“I don’t mind.”
My thighs shook for him, sticky and hot, panting on the inside, while on the outside I played it cool and cautious, always afraid of somehow scaring him away.
“This is the best housework ever,” I added.
It was the essence of him that made me feverish. The arrangement of his words, his blue suede Addidas sneakers waiting by the front door, the way he sketched out football plays like boyish works of art, the way he washed all his pots and pans and left them drying neatly by the sink. He reminded me of someone I wanted to impress, someone I wanted to be, someone I’d never had. But most of all, of someone who didn’t want me back. And that was the part of him that I wanted worst of all. I wanted the push of his opposing magnet stuffed deep inside me, claimed and reversed, converted and annihilated into shining union.
“Can we have sex tonight?” I asked all at once, after the puffy comforter had been aligned into the corners of his four-post bed.
“Of course,” he said, in that polite understated way. My eyes rolled up into my head, imperceptibly.
He rolled back the covers and switched off the light, even though I’d asked him to leave it on. It didn’t matter. I didn’t need light to find my way up onto legs, his fingers, his lips, his cock. I could spellbind him blindfolded and backwards; just the thought of him made me condense into single-minded instinct with superhuman and slave-like talents. I wanted only to pleasure him into submission, into a decibel of need as combustible as mine. He responded to me in kind, with the same sort of ridiculously rough, hair-pulling passion.
I don’t know what I should be looking at, but I will look wherever I’m told. That was exactly what he’d said. Only, he’d used Track Six to say it.
Outside his bedroom window, the whole dim unlucky world seemed to lapse into second place, falling short of the prize of being me, being us. I stretched out across the bed, across his naked body, across the stratosphere, as far as the rubber band of my life could go before snapping back in the other direction. For a tight, straining, airless second, I was suspended at the farthest most beautiful outpost of pleasure, the other half of my life reduced to a speck on a dark sleeping planet.
But that’s where I spent the summer, banished to the outskirts of the galaxy, in Carrollton, with a copy of Bitte Orca like an instruction manual for a stalled spaceship. I memorized it behind my sunglasses, through Sharpsburg and then Newnan, past the cow pasture where I turned left, past the highschool and the second CVS, I played it past the gas station where I’d bought gas on the way in as the heat and the fumes shimmered on the asphalt, past the restaurant where we’d eaten on the patio, at the traffic light where the sweltering morning sun radiated with all the blistering promises of Track Four, and also a suffocating loneliness that seemed big enough to swallow an entire earth full of summer.
I know that I will always love you, from now until forever baby. I can’t imagine anything better.
“I’m glad you enjoyed the songs,” his email said. “But sadly, there wasn’t any kind of hidden message in any of those songs. They’re just random tunes I thought you’d dig.”
But, that song. It had already saved my life ten times. It was my only way back to his planet. It was the only thing I had that was real.
Don’t defend a silver lining, around the halo of what is already shining, when all the planets are aligning, for an afternoon that’s never-ending.
Not that. Don’t take that one too.
I closed his email and swiveled over in my swivel chair, clutched the arm rest for life support, and cried. The grief was so massive, like a huge animal that could only be expunged through my face, in a silent yawn of pain. One by one, the stars in my sky were blotted out, sucked through a straw into the black hole of cyberspace.
After all that we’d been through, I know we’ll make it. After the wait. The question is the truth. The stillness is the move.
But the song would always be just the song.
copyright © K. Dawn Goodwin 2016
I tore along the expanse of highway and let my car window down, like a stoma, to receive the warm dirty air of pines and gum trees and weeds growing along the guard rails. On the floorboards, my plastic bags chattered, the sediment stirred, the filaments of my hair lifting in the current. I leaned into the wind to taste the sweet aroma, but nothing came. I breathed in one more time, just to check.
This was the same stretch of highway where I’d chased his car that night, flying in tandem down four broad lanes, my four windows down, buzzing on the pleasant roar of tequila and wind and thumping bass. For miles I could smell the honeysuckle blooming in the darkness, washing and whipping over me in cool, fragrant waves. The black horizon glowed purple just above the treeline, his taillights pushing 90, darting past me in a diagonal line, tires tapping across massive plaques of smooth asphalt that shone under my headlights. My heart stroked the shadow of his speeding form, wondering if I would die from the sheer bliss of our impending sex, or maybe from an uncontrolled roll at the top of the exit ramp. Either way it was the perfect way to die, believing you might actually catch a thing that can never be yours.
Every year since then, the honeysuckle swelled again, marking the useless passage of time, her plain flowers unfurling and beckoning to me at the edge of my weedy yard, crowned with a plume of feathery bugs. Tethered to my bag of chips, to my hard drive, I’d sniff the breeze and drift outside onto the spongy earth, infusing the clean perfume into my lungs. That scent, the closest thing to my heart, the only remaining approximation of love. I’d breath her in deep, every spinning molecule, the stamen of my body arching upward like a broken satellite, avowing to transmit the southern sky forevermore, if for no one but myself.
The curve of your shoulder, he’d written. In my mind it was so soft your skin looked blurry like cotton.
I’d worn a Mexican blouse that night, I’d kept tugging it down to cover the rolling flesh of my belly. But above the table it slid down both my arms, and his shy smile undressed me, taking me in, his head cocked to the side like a man in love. In that look of his, all the ecstasy of being alive in early spring, and all the warnings of dying in late summer. The southbound lane to his arms was a stream of fresh ribbons, the northbound a mangle of knots that could never be undone.
She ended up being more imminent, more trustworthy, more constant than him. Her fibrous pistils were undeterred by my firing pistons, my trash wrappers, my smoking trail of gasoline. He left, but she came back. Each year without fanfare or fail, her fragrance marked the unresolved passage of my grief. She was the anniversary of silvery sun-soaked leaves that dissolved in the grinding gears of a chipper, the communion of lovemaking before years of solitary confinement.
Not yet, but soon, I’d lay in my dry empty bed, breathing her, taking in her scent again. She would seep into my cells on the open highway, unfurling, calling, until finally I’d rise and depart my dirty patch of carpet to investigate; wandering out through my rotten screen door to inhale and sniff, to pull her petals apart with my lips and drink, and find the exact taste of my own blood, still longing to know itself.
copyright © K. Dawn Goodwin 2016
(This essay was awarded Honorable Mention in the Genre Short Story Category of the 80th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition)
I never meant to have sex with him, even when I was naked in his bed, with the sheet pulled to my chin. But I always lied to myself about these things, to make the Real Me palatable to the other me, the me who knew about Aftermaths and whispered the warnings.
We’re only gonna fool around, I thought, barely breathing as he dropped his jeans on the floor beside the bed, and suddenly I felt vulnerable, uneasy about what his body might look like. Bodies were all we had at this point. A feverish need for skin on skin, despite a hundred miles of buried landmines. That could be anywhere.
“It’s weird, doing this sober,” he smiled. “But I like it.”
He’d rather be drunk, I thought, disappointed. Oh god, what am I doing.
I could feel his self-consciousness too. It was in the air as he undressed, skewing the spotlight back onto his body. Which was good because the light seemed to glare on my own flaws, my less than impressive breasts, my stomach, the scars and veins on my pale legs. Was I still sexy? Was he? I peeked at his black underwear, at the shape of his body, unsure. He saw me looking and his eyes flashed a little fear. It was silly for us to be this far into it and still hiding, but his cotton t-shirt did not appear to be coming off. So I let him focus on my shyness instead, ducking under the sheet like a kid.
“Can I see you?” he asked. There it was again, his electricity working on me, an exasperating sexiness that had nothing to do with his body. He was innocent. He was sinister. It made me swoon.
He peeled the sheet off my chest and nuzzled in. My hands grabbed his back and his neck and his thick hair trying to get it all closer, burying my lips in the rich scent so I could drink it . Every point of contact with him was molten, a rub that sparked an unbearable burn to cling tighter, harder, until all of his bearings were stripped, and he’d drag me down with him, tethered to our doom. He kissed my nipples, my knees, wading between my legs until I felt high, moaning like an animal.
“You’re so wet,” he shuddered, sucking his fingers. “Oh, my god.”
I caught his face in angles from the corner of my eye, feeding on the way his eyelids fluttered, the way his mouth tightened with pleasure. His breathing quickened, train tracks curving downhill, spiraling into darkness, into bliss, into destruction.
“So soft,” he moaned, stroking me. “So soft.”
I reached for his hips, slid my hands under the elastic, taking him in my hand. With the other I touched his lips.
“So hard,” I replied. He held the pad of my fingertip between his teeth, licking it. His other hand teased, wanting to go all the way inside.
“I need more,” I said, guilty. I took his hand and brought it to my mouth, sucking the tips, trying to find relief. “Please give me more.”
He reached up and switched off the bedside lamp, leaving us in semi darkness. There was a slice of light from the hallway. With one arm he ripped off the rest of his clothes, snapping one of the seams. He reached for me and pulled me up on top of him, dragging me along the silky erection and onto the rough, hairy skin of his chest. Everything was going to escalate now. There was going to be sex. A little sex, I cautioned myself. Only a little. What did that even mean. I would keep everything at a distance, I reasoned. No oral, no all the way in, no losing control, just a taste, his body barely inside, my thighs bracing for control, my white-knuckled grip still clinging to the edge of anything I could find. But we were so tangled and swollen now, almost in pain, that when I opened my knees, just a space, he lifted and fit right into me. He fit perfectly.
For a minute we barely moved, simmering in the glorious undertow between us. I seized on him, threatening to pull away, to end it at any minute, but his hand held me fast on the small of my back. It was that way for a while, gentle rocking as I tried to hover, as he gained another inch, until I lost my ability to recall what I was for, what I was against. It was all a game. The goal was to get fucked hard, to claim his naked body and his secrets, make them all mine.
I looked down at his serious face, snagged on the fantasy of his prowess, on the glittery surface of a temporary high. There was no oasis in his eyes, no softness, they were hard and shiny with lust. But he’d gotten control of my body now, fastened in me like a hook, soothing the ache, nudging deeper. My eyes stared at the bedside table, square angles in the dim light, but saw nothing. My body undulated and weakened, my head dropping into his shoulder. I tried to pull myself back, to slow down, to find ground. He was just barely inside and already it was too much. A thrumming pulse that was pushing off me the tracks, sailing, exploding. I was coming.
I expected it to feel good. What I didn’t expect was that it would feel so good I would cry.
What the hell. I fell onto his pillow with a heavy exhale. I covered my face with the back of my arm, and let tears fall without thinking. He looked at me in the dim light and froze.
“What’s the matter?”
“What,” I said, blinking. The splendid tide was ebbing, leaving me settled and dreamy.
“Are you crying?” He sat up a little, his demeanor shifted. His face was in shadows but I could hear the nervous smile.
“No,” I laughed, flipping to curl my arms under my belly.
He was still staring at me, silent.
“Just a release,” I tried to explain, sniffing. “Y’know. Pent up tension. Why? That not okay?”
“It’s okay,” he said, laughing a little, as if to let me know that nothing rattled him. Not even a woman, acting crazy. “As long as that’s all it is.”
“Yeah,” I sighed, brightening my voice to show him. “That’s all it is.”
He got up then, walking to the bathroom. He still suspected me. Of God knows what. Of feeling.
I scooted to the edge of the bed, as far away from him as I could get. For protection, maybe, from my feelings. To acknowledge we had done everything, even though there was nothing here between us. I stared at the face of his digital clock, wondering how he would say goodnight. However he’d choose to do it, I already knew. It wouldn’t be enough.
“I like you,” he said, his voice playful.
“Oh yeah?” I didn’t look up. “Why is that, besides the obvious?”
“You don’t crowd me in the bed.”
“Oh,” I answered, deadpan. “Ha.”
It made me wonder if I should just get up right then, and head for the hills. But before I could lift my head, I was asleep.
In the morning I woke up at first light, staring at the knots in the pine ceiling above us. He was still asleep beside me, on his stomach, his head resting in the cradle of his arms. I peered closer at his face, the flecks of gray in his hair. I could see the tattoo sleeve plainly now, the dark colors across his bicep, a lone pearl shining from inside an oyster shell.
The light coming in the windows was overcast and blue. Outside in the driveway I could see our cars sitting side by side. His sharp and sporty, mine blunt and economical. I didn’t know how I felt about any of this. Maybe regret, maybe guilt. But I didn’t want to figure it out in front of him. I had to get out and fast, before he woke up.
I slipped out of bed as stealthily as I could, picking up the pieces of me left strewn on the floor, putting them on. The air was ice cold. As I shifted around a button clinked against the bed post and he stirred. He blinked at me. I stared back, a deer caught in headlights. Headlights, a push-up bra and unbuttoned jeans.
“Good morning,” he said hoarsely, stretching his arms.
“It’s freezing,” I said, hunting down my blouse. He peeled back the blankets for me and beckoned.
Softening, I considered this. I felt myself being pulled. I hadn’t realized how much I’d wanted reassurance. Just a little. I crawled back in and laid next to him.
“Trying to escape I see,” he said. But not as if it bothered him. As if he was a dispassionate observer of my many idiosyncrasies. As if I was a passing anomaly, like the weather. “What time is it?”
“Too early,” I groaned, sinking back into the warmth of arms that did not belong to me. I closed my eyes and rested.
“I had fun last night,” he offered, after a moment.
That phrase rang in the air, an unpleasant finality to it. My eyes popped open.
“Yeah, me too,” I answered robotically, pushing away my hurt feelings. “But I gotta go.”
I stood up and finished dressing. After a moment he stood too. I tried not to stare as he walked naked to the closet. I could see everything about him, and yet knew nothing. He emerged in some soft jeans and a black sweatshirt with a bulky hood that puffed out behind his head. I startled when I saw him. He looked so young and hot, effortless. Wait, what? Was I on drugs? I had better get out of here.
“Can I make you some breakfast?”
“Oh no,” I said, “You don’t have to do that.”
He began to make coffee, but I was already grabbing my purse and coat.
“Are you sure you don’t want anything?” he asked, following me as I walked to the door.
“No it’s all good,” I said, pecking him goodbye. “Thanks anyway.”
“Okay,” he smiled, eternally amused.
I hurried off to climb into my frigid driver’s seat, shutting the door and turning the key as my breath frosted in the air. Last night’s directions were still crumpled on the floor mat. I glanced up into my rearview mirror and saw him standing there at the bottom of his front steps, hunched in the cold, a distant smile on his face. Instead of scurrying inside, he was staying to see me off.
What, I wondered, could that possibly mean.
Startled, I backed up and straightened the steering wheel. I headed down the long driveway, checking one last time before I slipped out of sight, just to make sure it wasn’t a mirage. He was still standing there, as if to honor the farewell. What a strange gesture. I idled reluctantly at the turn, trying to give the image in my mirror a place or a name, a category, something. But it was nothing I’d ever observed before. It was highly unfamiliar, disarming, suspicious. And it was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen.
Did it mean I was special? Did it mean he cared?
It meant nothing, really. So why, in the name of God, did it mean so much.
copyright © K. Dawn Goodwin 2010-2011