AT TWENTY-TWO, I figured myself to be a whole and complete person because I’d never had a penis in me. I’d had many in my mouth, but had decided that my mouth didn’t count as the inside of me. Mouths are for chewing food. Mouths are full of bacteria and smelly breath. Mouths are for kissing boys you don’t care about. Mouths are what you shape to say words you don’t mean.
A penis, though, theoretically, would break into me, would split me in two, so that it wasn’t just me alone with my fantasies anymore. I wouldn’t be able to think I am all me or feel that my body was all mine, from head to toe. A penis inside of me would force me to live in a new world that I wasn’t sure I was ready for.
I met Charles on AOL, back when complete strangers could pop up on your screen and start talking to you. Charles asked me out 20, 30 times before I said yes. We talked all night. After five weeks of being with Charles, I was sleeping in his bed three or four nights a week. When he told me he loved me, I said “OK,” and he didn’t pressure for penetrative sex. He loved, though, to yank off my underwear and push his head between my legs. I’d sit on his face. He ate me out constantly, even if I hadn’t showered, even if I had my period. Nights with him were full of orgasms. He made me come by rubbing me through my jeans.
One morning I woke up in his arms. The window was open and his bedroom was full of the cold October morning air. In New York City, fall starts in late August when something changes, some shift of molecules, and even though it is the hottest part of the year, it gets easier to breathe. Soon you will be wearing sweatshirts, the days will be shorter and the brisk sharpness of the air makes it easy to remember past Octobers when everything is more still, more quiet, more beautiful than usual. Strange colors are in the trees and smear the ground and you have to look as much as possible and take long walks by yourself with your eyes open to all this that will be gone soon. Something about the quick coolness of the air and summer ending and winter beginning and the trees making everything as beautiful as it will ever be makes you feel aware that you are alone in your skin in a way that is neither good nor bad. It’s easy to notice that you are lonely and it’s easy to remember all the times you’ve ever felt loneliness because of the temperature of the air, being that perfect conductor for memory.
I looked out his bedroom window at the trees beginning to change colors and I watched them rustle in the wind. He had his hands and mouth and tongue on me right away. He rolled over on top of me and his already hard cock pressed against me and he said in my ear after sucking on my neck, “I wish I could fuck you.”
I was sleepy and happy that I wasn’t alone and said, “OK.”
I stared out the window at the reddening trees as he pushed into me, and I could feel the cool air on my skin. I looked at his shoulder and thought it was too bony, with too many freckles, and that he was too small for me. Not big enough for me. The blood stained his sheets and went through to his mattress. He would have to look at it every time he changed his sheets. As long as he had that bed, it would be impossible to forget me.
On those nights he came to my apartment, it never took long to get from the door to naked in my bed.
And underneath or on top of him I liked to think: He is old, alcoholic. His penis is gray, and sticking into me. His blotchy skin is underneath my young hands. He is an old man pushing his dick into this young girl, this young wet girl pushing her hips up to him because she has to, he needs this little girl, he needs her. Underneath him I watched his back and his neck, his strained, bunched skin, and I was at the same time scared and turned on by the idea that he was an alien being, old and diseased, and that I was powerless against him.
He went after my body. He threw me down on the bed, kneeling up, taking off my sweatpants, throwing my underwear somewhere, pushing up my shirt, pushing down my bra, stuffing my tits in his mouth, sucking on the nipple, pulling it with his teeth, and me never being able to resist, and always mad at myself once he left.
I hated myself for being deadlocked on him, for believing him, for waiting on street corners with my phone in my hand, for the ways he made me drench my underwear, for accepting his excuses because I took what I could get from him, which was nights like this, the Rolling Stones’ Forty Licks on a loop, Charles finally in my arms in my new room, love so close, love this close. “I need you,” he said, while he was inside me, and I thought what an old man you are, “I fucking need you so much,” he said in my hair, and I came twice, once, then again.
We stopped after he came in me and I asked, “Why don’t you ever call me back?”
“I can’t resist you.” He looked so sad one second and unhinged the next. That crazy look meant he’d realized something too overwhelming and needed to annihilate the thought immediately. That is usually when he chugged a few shots of vodka. But this night, in this moment he just wanted more sex, and so did I.
I thought I shouldn’t be doing this and he was hard again, on top of me, pushing my legs over my head opening me up wide to him, and I shouldn’t be doing this and I’m just an easy target, what is wrong with me, and I came moments after he took me. He pulled my hair so my head was cocked to one side, both my feet in his other hand and I could see his body banging against me and I was Sara and Charles again because each thrust of his hips filled me up with us. When we were done and his cock had left my body, I was empty and all I wanted was for him to stay inside me forever and never leave.
Forty Licks played again. We lay side by side, sweaty with sex, the window fogged over, and I tried so hard to push away the thoughts to ask him to leave but I was too scared this would be the last time. So I put my head on his firm chest and my hand on his small tummy and tried to suck in the warm feeling of skin against skin. I knew this wouldn’t last much longer and I squeezed him and kissed his chest and his hands were in my hair, his tongue against the back of my ear, then the sound of his breath, “I missed you baby.” He kissed a line down my neck, breasts, stomach, thighs, his tongue on my clit and his tongue swirling inside me and my mind went black and I came once, twice, maybe three times, came in his mouth, shook and shivered in his mouth, open to him, white noise mind. His hands were rough on my thighs, keeping them apart, keeping my hands away, sucking the orgasms out of me, until he came on my bed. My heart beat all over my body. I could feel my pulse in my toes in my throat, in my fingers and in every other inch of me. He got up to get a towel to wipe off the sweat and ooze coming out of me and I lay there by myself, unaware of the bed, the room, him, anything but me. I didn’t understand myself or the hold he had over me. All I knew was that the orgasms obliterated everything.
Charles opened my refrigerator. “Do you have any beer?” His voice was too loud and cut through the calm.
It was my apartment, my kitchen, my refrigerator, my bookcases, my red bedroom, and he found the beer I didn’t want him to find and he didn’t think of the alcohol as mine because all alcohol is really his. He walked back into my bedroom with a bottle of something and expected me to follow, or maybe not.
He watched me walk in behind him, his eyes on my breasts, and pushed me to the bed. His hand was on the small of my back to keep me from turning over, his other hand was slow on my ass and he moved my body so I was on all fours, like an animal. I thought, you fuck up and do all the wrong things, Sara. He ran his hand down my spine and I felt like a cat. He pulled on each nipple and with his other hand slapped my ass irregularly and my face was in the pillows. I thought of all the times I saw him flirting with girls in bars and the time he never picked me up on Thanksgiving to meet his family, and never even called to say he wasn’t coming. The angle of his cock in me made me feel like he was in my stomach, in my chest, in my throat.
When he left me before Christmas, he had said, “I don’t know, you’re so young, you still live with your parents.” And I said, “But I’m moving out in January.” As if that would make a difference. Moving out helped to not think about him. It turned out I had enough things in my childhood bedroom to fill a one bedroom apartment.
The day before Christmas Eve I went to the Union Square Christmas market with my friend Iris to do some last minute shopping. Every stand, every song, everything my eyes landed on or my ears picked up reminded me of him. I thought I was going crazy. He had said, “Wait for me,” but he was still drunk all the time. Yet when he knocked on my door I, of course, let him in.
One night outside a bar after last call, I kissed a bricklayer with the most calloused hands I’d ever felt. He sang me Dolly Parton songs and twirled me down the street. I wanted lips that weren’t Charles’s and a different tongue but I wouldn’t go home with him. When the bricklayer called the next day, and like all the other guys from that time, I couldn’t pick up the phone, and I couldn’t call back.
I’d imagine Charles with other girls. While he slid in and out of me, I’d imagine that earlier his cock had been in another girl. “Call me a slut,” I’d tell him, and he would. He’d hold me down and say, “You want my cock, slut? Whore? Horny little girl?” And I’d pretend I was a cock-hungry whore, a girl controlled by this man, who could fuck me whenever he wanted, right after or right before he fucked other girls. But I was allowed only him. “I can fuck anyone I want. But you, you slut, can only fuck me.” I’d imagine him buying them jewelry and kissing them with lots of tongue. They were always much smaller– shorter than me, thinner than me, the kind of girl he could pick up and place on his cock. Charles’ hands on the little blonde’s small ass, and his hands caressing her tiny waist, and thoughts like this make me come two, three times.
Is the love real if the person wasn’t who you thought they were? Is love a very intricate construction of absolutely nothing? Once you fall in love with him, are you finished, are you screwed, are you in it and it’s just too late to get out?
He would say, “It’s just when I’m with you I feel alive.” And always, “No one understands me like you do.”
One autumn Saturday morning, weeks after he’d taken my virginity, his parents came to visit and took us out to breakfast. His mother looked at me across the table, just looked at me, like she knew that earlier in the week her son had gotten drunk after work and forgot to meet me for dinner, that I’d gone into a craze looking for him, that I’d felt so ashamed the next day. Like she felt sorry for me, but also that I should know better. After awhile she said, “Listen, you’re young, you have no idea how huge the decision to stick by a man is. Look at me. I’m stuck married to this scumbag. I wish my life had a VCR player. I wish I could rewind my life to when I was your age. I love my son but that doesn’t mean you have to.” I couldn’t say anything. I held my fork in my hand. They all went on talking like nothing ever happened.
My boss told me, “Go to an Al-Anon meeting.” There were meetings at the church around the corner. I went. I sat quietly. I listened. They were just like me. Crazed and angry pouring love into people who couldn’t love them back.
And my mother, all my life, because she married my father, “Never get involved with an alcoholic.” And Charles, “I’m starting to see the world the way you do. I walk home and I look at the flowers in peoples’ gardens. You called me the other day to tell me to look at the color of the sky. Look, this isn’t me. It’s annoying.”
And Charles, “I love the way your eyes look at the world.”
And Charles, “I need you to help me. You’re the girl. You’re the girl for me.”
And Charles’ neck, tilted back so far I can’t see his face, swallowing vodka like it’s nothing. It’s water.
And Charles’ fingers, grabbing my shirt, his head in my chest, “Don’t leave me.”
And Charles leaving me.