You Tell Yourself
You haven’t been on a date in a couple months, but the boy with the crooked nose who asked for your number at a bar also asked if you wanted to grab coffee and walk by the river. You worry for close to an hour that he might murder you and throw your body into the rapids; you don’t know him. Eventually you decide loneliness or excessive masturbation might kill you too, so you text him back. It’ll be good to know someone else in town, you tell yourself.
Summer is becoming fall, and you count the leaves you crunch beneath your feet on the way to the coffee shop. Despite the heat, your long sleeves are pulled over your hands. He waits by the door, then buys you coffee. You both make small talk while you wait for his cappuccino. You mention your hectic week and workload. Guilt fills you immediately; don’t complain about work on dates, you tell yourself, but he asks more about social work, seems genuinely interested, and your stomach does a somersault which turns into a flip when he puts his hand on the small of your back, gently pushing you towards the door. His touch feels like a relief, satisfying like the click of the last puzzle piece. You walk a little closer to him on the way to the river.
You’re thankful for the shade of the trees by the riverbank but it does little to ebb the dry, desert air. Sweat starts to form on your neck under your thick hair you spent an hour blow-drying and straightening. Suddenly, you become aware of all the sweat on your body—in between your boobs, on your hairline. If it’s possible, your vulva is sweating too.
He’s a P.E teacher. He has cauliflower ear he points out to you when he talks about the wrestling team he coaches. You glance at his ears again; he catches you, shyly tells you not to look at them. You weren’t, you say, which is a lie. You watch this moment pass, thinking one day you might think back to it as the first time he felt familiar to you.
When you go to bed that night, you imagine him there next to you, folding the pillow pretending it’s his chest. You fall asleep remembering you could smell his sweat when you hugged, and it smelled good enough you would have licked the salt from his skin if you were given the chance.
The first time you invite him over you feel nauseous all day until he knocks on the door. You are surprised an hour later by how comfortable you are beside him. He pulls you closer, slings an arm over your shoulders, and your head rests on his chest. During a commercial break he kisses you, and you let him touch all the places you hoped he would when you thought about him, pillow tucked tightly between your legs.
You like when his hands tighten on your hips after you drag your tongue from collarbone to ear, and you feel like you have magic powers when his eyes close slowly when you grind your hips against his. He whispers, don’t be a tease, and you kiss his crooked nose explaining he is the tease, not you. He asks how, and you forget your words when he drags his fingers up and down the inside of your forearm.
You take off his shirt, his skin warm against yours. It reminds you of a blanket taken straight from the dryer, and you want nothing more than to melt into him. You’re mad at yourself for the shitty metaphor, but you can’t help it. You should say no, play hard to get, but you haven’t felt this good in a long time. He takes your pants off; you reach for the unopened box of condoms in the nightstand.
You’ve been seeing each other consistently, and even though you haven’t had the talk about exclusivity, you have fallen into what you tell your co-workers is a routine. Although sometimes late practices or matches keep you from seeing him a couple days of the week. You don’t go to the matches; he’s never invited you.
He comes over late one night, and you feel chosen even though he is so drunk he falls asleep mid-sentence. He chose to come here, you tell yourself, that must mean something. You make sure the water and Advil are on the nightstand before you slide into bed next to him, even though he is taking up most of the bed.
You fall asleep, telling yourself the future is no longer a looming mountain, a trail to walk alone, leading to peaks made of ice and snow to be weathered only by you. Instead, the future could be a river, constant and flowing, currents that pass easily like time.
When you wake, your eyes are still heavy with sleep even though the sun is bright through your window. He is awake and drags his fingers down the length of your spine. His hands move to your neck and you let out a deep breath, letting him know you are awake, even though your eyes are still closed. Suddenly and slowly there are lips and spit and sweat and morning breath tasting like stale tequila and bedhead, both of you pulling hair out of mouths, and clothes away from skin. Your bodies blur like the sunset, warm colors blanketing each other, and you forget about the parts of your body you pick at with disgust, forget about your toenails you’ve been meaning to clip, and even forget a condom. You want to be closer to him, know that every part of your skin had touched his. Whispers like wind float over his lips when he asks you to go deeper, to keep going, baby. And when you are chest to chest, you ask him for more in the same breath, the same prayer.
You have a suspicion he spends his time with other girls when he isn’t with you. You tell yourself not to be paranoid, to act like you aren’t curious when his phone is always face down and silent. You know you should ask, but a part of you doesn’t want to know. The same part of you that imagines the other girls he talks to are the same girls who are always clouded by Instagram filters.
It’s confirmed when his name appears on your screen followed by a text: tested positive for chlamydia, and you should get tested too.
Days go by and you don’t hear anything more from him, but you do hear from Planned Parenthood, when they call to say you have it, too.
You stop masturbating, afraid to touch yourself. Suddenly your own clitoris and lips feel unfamiliar. You can’t help but remember being with him; four months of dates, and sleepovers, and untold truths and you try to track when this bacterial infection was conceived. Looking back on kisses and caresses only confuses you. How could you feel intimacy, but not the infection it caused?
The message he sends you over Snapchat says only: I’m sorry with the saddest emoji face without tears.
You write a long message back but erase it. You will do this many times in the next couple months, but you never send any of them. How do you tell someone their gentle touch left behind a fault line? How do you tell yourself this fault line isn’t deserved?
The Z-pak kicks in, the chlamydia is gone, and you don’t hear from the boy with the crooked nose anymore. You notice he still watches every Snapchat story, and likes your Instagram posts, no matter what is in the picture. You try not to read into it, but you feel like you can’t quite shake him. You think about blocking him, but you feel powerful. You hope it hurts a little with every like and watch. You tell yourself it has to.
Linzy Garcia received her MFA from the University of Nevada, Reno in Fiction. In both short and long forms, she explores women’s pleasure, shame, and experience. Her work appears in The Dollhouse, Lady/Liberty/Lit and The Normal School. Linzy now lives in Reno, NV with her scruffy terrier Ollie. You can read her blog at blissbuzz.net or find her on Instagram @linzywithatwist, and on Twitter @linzy_garcia.