1. We’ll Get to Now Later
Sometimes, when two people love each other very much, they want to get closer. So they put their bodies as close as possible to each other, like the pages of a brochure, or two legs inside a mermaid costume. This is called making love. Having sex.
Also, come to think of it, being pregnant. The fetus nestling against your intestines, bending her ear to the music of digestion….
But we’ll get to now later. First, I want to talk to you about sex.
2. In Case You’re Ugly
It may turn out that you are burdened, like your mother, with a long equine face and an abundance of body hair. You may require corrective lenses that over time will leave a salmon-colored dent on each side of your nose. You may smile too widely and in general be a person whose facial expressions betray a certain emotional lability.
If so, buck up. People-especially boys if they have a sense of humor and are at least partially inclined toward girls, sexually speaking-won’t mind as much as you think. With your looks, you likely won’t disappoint in bed or worry about losing them (your looks, I mean) or, worse, implement desperate measures-heavy makeup comes to mind-to prevent same. Your “good features” will receive abundant praise and you’ll feel free to dress in an “interesting way.” Compared to beautiful girls, you’ll get less shit, I should imagine, and more personal space.
But what if you find, some distance into the project of growing up, that you are spiritually unattractive? That you have in yourself a surplus of bitterness and envy? Lack of understanding, lack of generosity, lack of hope for change? A heart that’s dense and inward, small and tight, wedged inside your ribcage the way a blackhead packs a pore?
I don’t know. Here’s what they told me:
Love is never having to say you’re sorry.
Love is letting go.
Love is a verb, not a noun.
Love is a verb? Fine. Try what I tried, then. Conjugate.
3. Humiliation As A Near Rhyme
On the oldies station someday-the oldies podcast-you, too, will eventually hear that song about the ways to leave your lover, the ones that rhyme: gotta get away, Ray, or whatever. Head out the door, Thor.
In life, of course, they don’t rhyme. They are unmusical, anti-musical, like the sound of a needle skipping across the record, which after all is just another artifact, another oldie. Imagine it therefore as the sound of something being unzipped. Or ripped.
I had a Quebecois boyfriend for ten days once. With him, I practiced my elementary French and my internet-researched sex moves, those that were Gallic-seeming, rough, slightly unhygienic. And at my prompting one night, he-let’s call him Gilles-confessed his private penseés, namely his désir for ultra fun.
Ultra fun? Fun? For a moment, I felt silly, frilly, rhymy. Moi?
“Autre femme: another woman!” Gilles finally hissed between his beautiful, if smoke-stained, teeth. “I want to be with her, not you!”
Not me. Pas moi. See? That’s the one that rhymes.
4. How To Use a Ladder
One year when my mother was very sick and we girls needed to experience the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and psychosocial benefits of team sports, my sister and I were made to join the swim team. At the university pool, we swam every morning before school. Our coach was mean and mostly unseen; he sat in his glassed-in office off the pool deck and relayed his instructions through a microphone connected to the PA system.
Rogers, that’s the kind of horseshit that’ll get you disqualified. Two hands to the wall, goddammit. Rice, pick it up or go home. Turn it over, Boileau, turn it over. Turn it over. Goddammit. Turn it OVER.
The coach’s voice slapped the wet tiles, echoed and amplified. He watched us from behind a window as unrevealing as a mirror. But I learned that if you were in the first lane, below the concrete lip of the pool’s edge, he couldn’t see you. Here, you could dive deep. You could pull the water past you in great round armfuls, heading down, and grab onto the bottom of the pool’s ladder. You could hold yourself there, ears painful with the pressure, until the rushing silence became real and surrounding, like something you could breathe. Here, you could hold yourself like a spider in amber, a stillborn in the sac, preserving yourself for the future.
First, everyone says: As Long as She’s Healthy. Then: As Long as She’s Happy. As if these are modest hopes, reasonable bargaining points in a negotiation with management. That’s All We Ask!
I’ll tell you truthfully, my darling: these are too much to ask for. I’m sorry. But come down. Come here. I can promise to give you this: an appetite for silence. Loneliness, and ways to find it when you need to. How to hold yourself safe, apart, tight to the lowest rung.