The helicopter safety light atop the hospital swirls through its routine: green, orange, white, green, orange, white. I left the blinds up this morning when I went to work. Normally they’d be shut against this reminder of death; normally I would be asleep at four a.m. with no opinion about the windows. Where the helicopter safety light illuminates the pillow in front of my face, it appears a colorless flicker, impact dwarfed by the brilliant gold of the closest streetlamp. The alcohol mumbles against my brain. The dick inside me belongs to somebody I haven’t been attracted to in months.
Which is not to say I don’t enjoy having this particular dick inside me. It’s fine. It’s kind of a huge dick, actually, though its size is hardly a qualifying factor. A bigger gun doesn’t guarantee a straighter shot.
Twenty-eight hours earlier, I was in this bed. Specifically kneeling beside it with my chin rested on the mattress. There was a clitoris in my mouth. It has been an uncharacteristic weekend.
I “lost my virginity” twice.
The first-first time, I was high on oxycontin my since-third-grade best friend had bought off somebody from her high school, which we snorted off the body of an acoustic guitar while Basshunter pumped out of the iPod docking station on my bookshelf. We made out and ate Skittles leftover from my birthday, almost a year ago. Skinny jeans joined emo band t-shirts on the floor. I don’t remember whose mouth touched whose vulva first—I was high on oxycontin and eating Skittles off of my since-third-grade best friend’s naked body while we listened to Basshunter. It was excruciatingly 2008.
I had only used the word bisexual, like, five times. This was a convenient, mutual arrangement, two girls who’d both just discovered that they liked girls and who already happened to be friends. Who already happened to have seen each other compromised and intimate, bleeding from the wrists and thighs, experimenting with prescription drugs. This was ease of access. When we attempted to date, it was longstanding friendship withering in the face of rapidly diverging life paths; that night eating pussy for the first time held us suspended just enough to smoke a couple of joints in her car two years later when we had nothing left in common.
The second-first time I had sex, I was sober. He was my first kiss, first love, first attempt at baring my soul. It was the day after my birthday and a month after my first-first time and I called it first because sex, then, meant the act of a penis in a vagina.
What was valuable was the care, the way his brown hands traced my white hips like he was curving out a vase on a potter’s wheel, firm and sure and still cautious. I expected pain that never came. I came, which I never expected. We laid in my bed in late afternoon, bathed in snowy sunlight on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and made jokes and relished our mutual nakedness. I was awake. I was aware. I could, I did, remember.
It was miraculous as he walked out the door—a first time nothing like the prevalent virginity loss horror stories. A sex, as one of Alice Sebold’s Lovely Bones characters describes it, with windows. In a moment before the first time a man would use my body against me, my instinct was already gratitude. For the serendipitous day-off from school. For a boy who would walk three miles in cold and snow to still ask permission. For being awake and aware.
I felt wise and old. Deeply in my body. Changed in a way that, waking up to see that the girl in my bed was still there when I was sober, I had not been. She walked out the door to my relief; he walked out the door and I became heavy, bones in place, blood rushing anew. Filled with love, although we would get back together for the umpteenth time the next day and break up again a week after. First kiss. First love. First attempt at baring my soul met with a reciprocal attempt. What we would call making love was not, but nor was it “just” sex, and the only saving grace of my subsequent rapes is that they could not erase the gentleness with which that first male body met mine.
For most of high school, I hurt. I blamed the first love, his absence, the violent, angry last-time fucking we’d done during a thunderstorm at his mother’s house at the beginning of sophomore year. I blamed my mother, her absence, her new kid, new husband; her near-death, which fell almost square between my two first-times. I blamed my father for not knowing how to talk to an agonized teenage daughter. I blamed myself for all of it and more: my ever-overflowing emotional wellspring, my compulsion to confess my pain to anyone but those who could help.
I was raped by a that-day acquaintance, an Eagle Scout, six months after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, in a windowless attic bedroom at my aunt and uncle’s house. I would not call it rape for three years.
In the years that followed, I allowed myself to be fucked by boys about whom I had almost no opinion and didn’t enjoy it once. I was fucked by my middle school friend’s older brother in a parked car and strained my hamstring, rain on the windows. I was fucked by my friend’s recently ex-boyfriend in my own bed after choking down enough vodka to attempt to fit his nine-inch penis down my throat. I forgot whose body this was with their bodies on top of it.
I kissed a friend in the hot tub at a party, her sweet, soft mouth, her big, brown eyes. Want. Earnest want. Hands on jaws, hands in hair. A band we both liked on in my car when I drove her home and kissed her in her driveway. I felt, almost, like myself.
I was sodomized by the guy I had asked to the Sadie Hawkins dance; I got McDonald’s after, my friends and I jumped in the Boulder Creek and I bled into the toilet bowl when I got home. Lying in bed naked with the covers pulled to my chin, silent with the lights on, torn somewhere I didn’t know could tear. There, my body left me, or I left her, behind.
The kind of huge dick inside me belongs to a coworker who is eight years my senior. We are drunk because of his going-away party, it is July, and I have known we would have sex since September. It’s an instinct I’ve always had, an at-first-glance awareness. I have not felt it and then wound up in bed with somebody anyway, but I’ve never felt it and been wrong.
He’s a good guy, if not a good kisser. I can’t tell if he’s a good fuck. Kind of huge dick is a plenty straight shot when you’re drunk, tired, and resigned.
When the second love happened, I was caught enough off guard by attraction that my cynicism had no time to intervene. I was seventeen. He had a deep tan and startlingly blue eyes. It was the most sex I’d ever had with anybody because until then the most times I’d done it with the same partner was three. It was love in the mildest possible sense, undermined by fundamental incompatibility that I’d ignore for almost two years for the sake of relief at being “over” love number one. For the sake of a big gun that shot to kill.
One afternoon, I had twenty orgasms. I shook in his arms and slid toward the edge of unconsciousness. It was beautiful. Heart-opening. Raw. I began to crave the hours of sheer sensation, the unbridled creativity of two people newly able to exercise their sexual desires. One moment slow and sensual, the next pounding. It took months to stop feeling so good.
One afternoon, we’d booked it out of school and I was naked, tied up and blindfolded in my own bed while his tongue worked its way down my belly. And then there was searing pain, burning pain, the moan about to leave my throat which ricocheted off the walls a shriek. There was his unfathomable laughter, there were my hands on the knotted blindfold, the sick drop of my guts when I saw my scorched skin, fresh candlewax beginning to harden on my abdomen. I could not demand the apology I needed. I could not articulate for years my fury that his first trespass preyed upon my foremost fear, of being burned. I could not admit that I had been hurt. My body, unmine, shocked red.
When I broke up with him the summer after my freshman year of college, he pulled back his hand to strike me across the face. The blow never fell. He screamed that he would blow his brains out, a mimicked pistol shot, distorted face. He asked, or begged, or wept, that he just wanted to have sex with me one last time.
I stared hard out the window and cried while he sweated and thrust. He mistook the tears for grief that was for and not because of him.
In the shower when I had locked the door behind him, those tears drowned out the sound of water; I filled my tiled bathroom with as much agony as I could muster before shutting off the faucet, toweling dry, heading to work and departing my body to keep from throwing it into traffic.
Sex with Robert was nothing like any sex I had before or have had since. The first time, fumbling and awkward, disappointed me enough that I considered breaking it off. But with practice came synchronicity. With time came not only bared souls but intertwined ones. It became unclear whose body, whose mind, was whose, and the further I wandered to lose myself in him, the less important it seemed to have a self. He knew my body better than I, after years distancing myself from it, ever had.
I could not identify that this total corruption of singularity pushed me even further from myself, drifted me further out to sea. I only felt gravity when it was his body pinning me down. I fantasized about him crushing me flat, collapsing my lungs, killing me with lovemaking tender and excruciating. I was so happy it made me ache. So miserable I could not call it misery. Without him next to me, I was almost sane, almost me. When he walked into a room I was compromised, listening only to his version of reality: I equally clung to his every word and dreaded the moment he would open his mouth and swallow the sun.
We were pretty stoned one winter evening. His blue Christmas lights were on, illuminating the room in a haze of smoke and flat, calming unreality. My hips splayed flat open like a dissection, ankles locked at the small of his back, forehead to forehead. I forgot to breathe until he lent me his air. So much of his body, so little of mine to fit around it. So much weight compressing my chest. I did not ask him to hurt me but longed for it anyway, wished he could smash through and bring me back to myself after all this time absent.
Snow then spring then summer then the oranges of autumn beyond the windows of that blue-lit room. Fights which were vicious two months in were now barbed and dripping with the kind of venom only the closest lovers can curate, creeping insidiously between us in bed, blooming out of every innocent comment. I got straight-A’s and wished always to have every bone shattered at once and wanted him to take bite after bite of my flesh. I cried and screamed and threw fits behind locked doors. I tried and tried to shatter my wrists on the stone countertop of his bathroom; he bruised them extra that same night, holding me down, refusing to let me flee. I believed I was losing my mind. I lost my mind. I clung to sex, the only thing untainted, because if his body was there to make mine alive I could feel that there was a self still within me, lurking out of sight, unreachable but not dead. The window of the dark bedroom within which we played out our nightmare looked directly out at the window of the neighboring building, where the lights were always on.
The coworker with the kind of huge dick and I fall asleep covered in sweat and vaginal fluid. When we wake up, I find that I still feel nothing. In place of the slosh of alcohol, an almost-hangover that I can tell is much more to do with sleep deprivation than with booze. I am in my body, in my bed, next to my friend, who is still asleep and who has now been inside of me.
After Robert, I drank as much and as often as possible. I was sexually assaulted by a guy we both knew and barely cared, so far removed, in too much existential pain to notice the distance of my body, to notice it violated.
It took less than a month for him to start fucking a girl with my first name. After two years, why exert the effort to learn a new one. After enough damage done, why not find a way to paint over, to pretend it away. This after he saw me dance at a party with a man whose friendship he’d forbidden while I was his.
The man, my secret friend finally back in the open, was both the first person with whom I ever collaborated on a poem and the first person I slept with after Robert. Not in that order. We found ourselves kissing in a snowdrift that he drunkenly pushed me into. We kept kissing in a crowded room, music blaring, both wearing striped shirts. We were still kissing and he’d propped me on my desk and I was discovering his rib tattoo with my hands, I was beyond aware, beyond awake, even drunk too much awake to stop noticing his not-Robert-ness. Sex with him felt like nothing, though nothing felt like anything in the absence of gravity.
I learned to stop seeing the people I fucked. I fucked a theatre kid who never orgasmed but always made me. I fucked a girl Robert was friends with and spent twenty minutes covering hickies the next day. I fucked a kid I went to high school with when I was back home for the summer. I fucked a guy from Robert’s fraternity because he was funny and not my usual type and I almost, almost returned to my body. Every time I noticed it more. But I was not noticing my body in its capacity for feeling. I was noticing that my body which I had run from, my body which I had wished to feel crushed, was intact but not connected. My body was as much Robert’s property as my mind, my reality. Each new person between my legs was a chisel, breaking away at some unfathomable barrier. An attempt at feeling.
I graduated and moved and fucked more people. A guy I met on Tinder. A guy from my elementary school, in town for the weekend. A guy from college.
The PTSD symptoms worsened and worsened. Robert was everywhere, every blue car, every first-thought after a restless night dreaming of before. I felt less and less and less attached to myself, fucking and drinking and trying simultaneously to leave completely and find my way back. When I moved a second time after only one year, back to Illinois, to the city in which I’d attended college and met him, it was a last resort. Maybe in this place of my horror, I would unravel its ties enough to continue living.
The windows of my new apartment looked out from the third story in every direction. The blinds in my bedroom had to be drawn at night to shield my pillow from the brilliant neighboring streetlamp, the intermittent flicker of the helicopter safety light atop the nearby hospital.
On the walk back to the restaurant at which until last night we both worked, my coworker and I make small talk. Joke about the blister of the morning heat in Illinois. I cannot stop thinking about fucking him. I cannot stop thinking about how I thought I would feel hollow by now the way I always used to but haven’t for months. I decide to downplay his kind of huge dick when my friends ask, decide to keep to myself the multiple consecutive orgasms, that the whole mattress wound up drenched and that I am deliciously sore. I decide that I am not unhappy. I decide that this anticipated sex belongs to me.
The PTSD began to calm down after six months of intensive therapy and living for the first time in the reality of a town I had barely registered with Robert in it. I began to be able to tell the difference between numbness and true indifference, the vacancy of emotion left from having been deeply, disturbingly in love, the relief of silence after the cacophony of a hurricane. The pull of sexual tension with an acquaintance turned into sex wherein he used a condom without being asked. Sex wherein every next step was prefaced by an expectationless question. On all fours on my mattress in my no-longer-new apartment, I was lost in pleasure, back in my body with this man to whom it mattered whether I was present. Who cared enough to treat my body like the privilege it is.
Over weeks, when we neither spoke nor fucked, I realized he had not brought me back. I was drifting back on my own, guided by my move, guided by my staring down the fire. In this city where I had disappeared, I now wandered sidewalks and masturbated with a rabbit vibrator and took psychedelics and found a self lurking around corners, darting up stairways. She burst through my chest one night when a man at a bar slid his pool cue between her ass cheeks and loudly cursed him out. She held a glass of wine and recounted being sodomized when her friend confessed to the same trauma, sat with her own story and acknowledged its lingering echo in her bones, its powerlessness after years. She brought home a man she was attracted to and enjoyed having actively consensual sex with him. She called her mother and stood up for herself. She got accepted to graduate school. She photographed sunsets out her living room window and got tattoos and kissed the pretty girl before she could be kissed first.
I had two new first times that summer in Illinois.
The first-first was Friday the 13th, during a tumultuous thunderstorm, with serendipitous candles and communication and eye-contact and the word “beautiful” said out loud. And she was beautiful, the girl I kissed before she could kiss me. There were no expectations, her just out of a serious relationship and me about to head off to school. Only body, only candlelight. Only yes. The rain as it slowed against the windows and walking her home, waltzing my shadow across a deserted one a.m. street as I headed back to my place.
All I could think of was gravity, pulling me gently into the pavement. The first time in a long, long time.
The second-first was the next day, not yet drunk and deciding before we’d even left the bar that this night would end in sloppy fucking. Following through for the feeling, following through because it was my decision. The first time I had expected to feel nothing, felt nothing, and felt great about it.
I woke up next to him and he was simply beside me. Neither of us far. My body still mine without the luck of the draw or the communication or the candlelight. Aware. Awake.
I get home after work, still sore, my body still shuddery with the memory of that big gun with its retrospectively straight shot. I know I won’t wake up to tell my coworker goodbye, though I know what time he’ll leave in the morning. I draw a bath and soak until I can feel every muscle pounding with heat, unwound, still. Anchored. I drift into my bedroom for much-needed sleep.
I draw the blinds.
Carly Madison Taylor is an MFA fellow at Chapman University, where she studies creative non-fiction and poetry. She earned her BA in Creative Writing and Dance Studies from Knox College in 2016. More of her work can be found at Rag Queen Periodical and HerStry Blog, and she’s on Twitter @carma_t and Instagram @car_ma_t.