1. I don’t save drafts. I either have said what I wanted to say, will say it, or have never had the desire to say it. I have picked fights with friends about trivial comments they’ve made, which I didn’t want to haunt me; written pleading emails to professors asking for recommendation letters, extensions, reading spots; called my family together for drawn-out sessions of emotional warfare and theatrical breakdowns, all for the sake of saving myself from repression. I believe this all stems from the period before graduating high school when I was tempted many times—but failed—to write in people’s yearbooks, including a teacher’s, “I wanted to fuck you.”
2. So many girls say they don’t want anything below the waist. They just want to kiss a mouth wet with tongue intentions, feel the ghost of another’s body heat, lock collarbones through cotton shirts, understand the silky texture of a scalp between washings. I’ve never felt that subdued impulse. Some people fear a slick and salt-burned face when swimming in the ocean. Leave the bread plate untouched. Ignore the ribbon of floss’ debris before discarding. Neglect dirty fingers, their stench a mystery. They don’t know the feeling of being so full it becomes bloating, indulgence, knowing what she is capable of enduring, both painful and exquisite.
3. Since early adolescence I sought the clothes of boys I was close to. Through middle school I wore a dark blue hoodie that said Maine on it in fuzzy orange text. It belonged to my best friend and crush, Campbell, who I thought would be my first kiss, though he never offered himself or vice versa. At the end of seventh grade he gave me the hoodie as a permanent gift. I never wore it again.
4. In high school I complained of chilly classrooms, the cafeteria’s draft, the park’s spring day taking an unexpected drop in temperature. Collared shirts and thrifted sweaters were offered, smelling intoxicatingly of boy: sweat and earth and the artificial pine of a starter deodorant/cologne set. In college there were boyfriends whose clothing I’d borrow and forget to return. Ian’s favorite corduroy jacket is tucked away in the storage unit of my childhood bedroom. Rick’s pajama pants and large t-shirts were donated to a once-visited thrift shop far away from my apartment.
5. As soon as they were mine I didn’t need them. These temporary gifts didn’t prove intimacy, or closeness, or wanting me, or even owning me. Having them was about telling the world that I had the power to take.
6. My freshman year of college I lost my virginity to a studio art major. He had thick-framed glasses and a predilection for writing eloquent mixtape dedications and stream-of-consciousness poetry. Since then, I’ve tried to disprove the idea that my sex life might be cliché.
7. Recently I applied for a fellowship. One of the questions asked me what I thought was my best quality. I wrote, honestly, perhaps too candidly, “I used to be an ugly child, so I compensated by being funny. Now I’m no longer ugly but still very funny.” I wonder why I need a humble origin story. How come I can’t just be attractive and funny now?
8. My contract for being understood is realizing I was first an underdog: clawing my way through puberty, gritting my teeth in frustration at the awkward jutting-out of my jaw and crooked spine, having to find light in my own laughter. I don’t know if the sentiment makes it easier, now, to be loved by others, or by myself.
9. Later, I learned how easy it was to sleep with people. I was afraid my desires would consume me. They did. The lesson was you could find the ultimate pleasure in your fears. I’d act with the sole intention of having his body. Aided by drunkenness, I’d lunge; by sadness, I’d pull him in as if tugging at an endless length of string; by confidence, I’d wait with an ultimatum ready before he even knew he liked me back.
10. For a time I couldn’t believe sex was better with people who loved you. Love involved process and observation, which I assumed meant examination, dissection, a final and definitive judgment.
11. My boyfriend told me that when he was young and just starting Sex Ed, he and a group of friends stole an anatomy book from the library. One of them opened it up to a detailed medical drawing of a naked female body. The friend proceeded to point to different limbs and sections and say exactly what he would do to them. He’d kiss here. Lick down there. Touch that. Most men I’ve been with have never been that meticulous and sweet, even when they thought it was as important to please as it was to be pleased. They grabbed at various fleshy bits and hoped for the best.
12. I never want to see what my face looks like during the act. It would ruin all the hard work I’ve done to believe people when they’ve said they really wanted me.
13. Sometimes I like to be hurt during sex. First I wanted to be hurt because the sex felt too good, then the pain started to feel glorious too. I learned my body was going to find pleasure even when I didn’t think I deserved it.
14. I can masturbate to anything: certain prose, pictures of my friends, of those I hate, of myself, low-quality porn from a male’s perspective, a New York Times article, a vase of flowers, the wisps of smog from incense, a movie poster taped up next to my desktop. Anything can be sensual if I’m in the mood. My friends give disclaimers before showing me pictures of people they’ve regretted sleeping with, but I already understand. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
15. The first time I’d undress in front of a new partner I’d always say, “Sorry I didn’t shave.” I’d be bashful. Coy. A guilty smile. The thing was I hadn’t shaved because I wasn’t planning on it and never had been. But in my mind that meant there could always be a sexier version of what I currently was. I was telling every boy, “This isn’t even the best me you’re getting.” I wasn’t bothered that they’d never have her—that best me. She was always for me, or for some special someone else.
16. Or maybe she is for no one at all. She just gets to be.
17. I used to be horrified, experience second-hand embarrassment, when someone said, “I’m pretty,” or “I know he thinks I’m hot,” because who had the right to claim themselves beautiful? I used to cringe at their confidence, pity the delusion. I was loyal to the notion that beauty could be perceived by everyone but you; that was the only true way of coming to a verdict. Now, I make these statements. I can just be a body, its perceptions, its facts.
18. There were so many times that I would give my gaze back to the world again after analyzing the ex-girlfriend’s face for further nuances of her beauty, pitying the woman with bad skin who hid it un-artfully with clotted foundation, admiring the sloped nose and pointed chin of a boy who would say I was very beautiful but would never answer me promptly—who’d deny my calls when they were most urgent and brush my hair from my face, tender as mitigation. The first was still loved by the one I love now, the second will always be found beautiful by someone less cruel than I, and it was for the better that I never let myself love the third.
19. There’s a short story by Jhumpa Lahiri called “Sexy,” about a young woman having an affair with a married man who she likes sleeping with, but who doesn’t know her very well. He comments on her long legs, her elegant form, kisses her in a way, we gather, that she hasn’t been kissed before. Towards the end, as the relationship starts to dissipate into apathy and missed appointments, and a child tells the woman the word “sexy” means “loving someone you don’t know.”
20. But sexy also means knowing someone well enough to understand they want to be called that, but would never dare ask.