You never think this is how things happen, but far too often this is exactly how things happen.You think that you are strong and certain and have bones made of cement, but you are a house made of matchsticks. You are a paper lantern.
It happens slow, like pulling taffy in the winter, except that it’s summer and they don’t like when you call it taffy. He says, “Come on,” and that’s how it happens, slow and prodding. Because he says it once, and then again, and then one more time—his words, prodding at you, a countertop corner in your ribs, a stick held against your neck. He says, “Come on,” asking for an inch, an inch, an inch more, and that’s when you realize that life is just a series of men lying about inches.
It’s summer and you’re sitting shotgun in a silver Corolla with sad, grey upholstery and it smells like making the best of things. It smells like something you wanted only an hour ago. It smells like sweat. It’s summer and this is how it happens, slow and prodding and eventual because he asked, and asked, and asked, and you couldn’t sidestep fast enough. Think about the people in the apartment building just outside the car door, think about the humidity, think about how you’re suffocating because the air is off and the windows are shut and how long has it been since you wanted things to go slower? now that they can’t go fast enough. This is how things happen.
“Don’t stop,” he says, his words another jab.
Picture yourself upstairs in your apartment, wearing jogging pants and looking for the next possibility, another few inches. Look for someone just a little less likely to disappoint you. This is how it happens, in the summer, in the heat, with the windows up and his breath on your skin. It happens slow and without notice: a smile, a date, a kiss, the two of you laughing and now his pants unzipped. This is how it happens in the summer, on a first date, in the city, in the front seat of a sad Corolla, with your hand on his dick and his face in the rear-view mirror.
We met through a friend. We met on Twitter. We met at a comedy club. It depends who’s telling the story. It depends where you start the timeline. We met in Montreal. You could say that I orchestrated the whole thing. That I made it happen. That I arranged to make it happen. You could say it was meant to be.
His name was Dustin (except we all know that it wasn’t). His name was the name his mother gave him, but we can’t call him that here because we have to protect him. I had no idea butchers needed such safeguards—the knife never seems to slip in the right direction. In a writing workshop, they say right to my face, “Why don’t you just stop dating?” No one asks why we let men be monsters. Why am I expected to live alone and sexless because there are not so many great men? Every man writes in the margins—you deserve better, you deserve someone great—but that’s not how it works. Plus, every man assumes he himself is great and they so rarely are. The man who takes the shirtless selfie and the man who thinks himself wonderful for not being the kind of man who takes a shirtless selfie are not so different from each other. Neither looks at himself clearly in the mirror. They read a story about how things didn’t work out and suggest I stop trying, as if the story had been a letter to an advice columnist, instead of just a tale about the time I took a risk and it didn’t work out. Why am I asked to be a fortune teller, for my broken bones to justify ever having wanted to walk? Why am I not allowed to wear a cast around my compound fracture? They say there are no stupid questions, so I guess you could say I asked for it.
He was a comedian in Montreal and unlikely to be a murderer because I had found him through a friend on Facebook, which gave him a tangible quality I assumed would transfer to real life (and a trail of information for the police to follow if I was wrong [NOTE: this joke felt funnier several years ago when I wrote this). Except that Facebook was an open wound, the exposure too great. If I added him on Facebook, he would see the path between us, and ask questions about how I had found him. Instead, like a good, little internet-sleuth, I found him on Twitter, a dark alley of anonymity. He followed me back immediately and then messaged. Before long he was adding me on Facebook, so that he could see pictures, and I was pretending like this was all new information.
He said: You look like someone that would be great to cuddle with, which sounded like a snooze, and then, you should come to a show I’m doing, which sounded like something better. The night of the show I took a cab seven blocks to avoid showing up sweaty but still managed to arrive late. After the show, Dustin said, “I really want to hang out with you,” and then he leaned in close, and I could hear everyone in the room breathing. He had carpooled to the show with a friend, and I tried not to think him an idiot. If I wanted to continue hanging out with him, he said, he would have to go home and get his car. But why would you carpool on a night you were meeting someone new? Even if I had been hideous or boring, he could’ve just lied and said he had carpooled. The carpooling didn’t have to be real.
“How long will it take?”
“Thirty minutes?” he said.
It wasn’t, but a bird in the hand or something. Sitting with some of the other comedians while I waited for Dustin to return, the headliner leaned forward heavily on the wooden table and said, “You know, you really are a very beautiful girl.” He paused, and then added, “I’m married so I can say this.” But I didn’t know that marriage was such a protective barrier. I’m not sure whom this was supposed to make safe. I was already too tired of men trying to convince me I was beautiful as if I wasn’t aware, as if my fatness precluded this notion. They had no idea how many other men, exactly like them, exactly as unaware, wanted to fuck me. Though I guess that didn’t necessarily mean beauty, but then again that wasn’t really what he had meant either.
When Dustin returned, he asked if I wanted to eat.
I said, “No, I guess not,” and then, “would there even be anything open?” I wanted him to say yes. I wanted him to say, “Let’s get you some food. Let’s get you a meal.” And when I declined, I wanted him to insist, to finally have pressure applied onto something that benefitted me. I wanted him to say, “I want to get to know you over the effort it takes to have a stranger make us food.”
“Probably not,” he said and drove us down to the pier in Old Port where we walked around and made out and laughed until it started to rain.
Back in front of my apartment, we sat in his car, and I did not invite him up. We kissed until it happened, the way it always seems to happen.
The first time he asked like a mime, adjusting himself so subtly that, had I not already been familiar with the moves, I might not have noticed. He sat shifting in the driver’s seat, his erection straining against his jeans, and I pretended not to see.
By the second time, it seemed like maybe he wasn’t really asking. He took matters into his own hands and placed one of mine on his crotch, which wouldn’t have been so bad if that was as far as it went (but that’s never as far as it went). He took my hand and I rubbed him through his pants, having caved under the weight. When he removed his hand from mine, I stopped rubbing and brought my hand back up to his chest (which was where I had wanted it to be in the first place). He waited a few minutes and then moved my hand with his. Again, I caved. Again, I rubbed. My hand, a buoy pushed down into water.
The third time he asked, I couldn’t even hear the question. Sitting in the front seat of his car (which turned out to be his mom’s), he unzipped his own pants—he pulled out his own dick. Sitting in a car, in front of my apartment, I wanted to be the trope of the girl who had to work to be sexualized by men, whose first dates were always an ‘if’ not a ‘when’ scenario. The rumor is that it’s about desire, but when he pulled his dick out, it seemed it had very little to do with me. I looked at his smiling face, and then his hard dick twitching at me. He wasn’t worried about anything. He was calm as a sloth having pulled his dick out. I was filled with a quiet rage—his audacity, his assumptions, his (derisive air quotes) throbbing cock and the expectation that I was supposed to do something about it. He whipped it out and I could almost hear him saying, “Here, you take care of it,” like a goddamn baby. Even the way he pressured was pathetic. They always ask why I didn’t make him stop, why I didn’t just leave. But why does no one ask why he pushed? They say there are over fifty words for snow in the Inuit languages. I know a hundred ways to say he made me carry the burden.
When he opened his pants and whipped it out, the zipper teeth were so close to his dick that I wondered if it hurt (I hoped it did). I hoped it felt tight, like the walls were closing in on him, pinching, like the sharp metal teeth might bite his dick off—a real hostage situation. He grabbed my hand and put it on his dick, never once thinking that if I had wanted to touch it, I would’ve pulled his dick out myself. I assumed he thought I didn’t know how zippers worked. He moaned the second my skin was on his.
I am supposed to be made of resolve (but agreeable like a lady) with veins full of venom (but not the kind that poisons—dangerous enough to inspire admiration not fear). I am told that craving attention is needy and wanting to be desired is worthless, and that I am going to have to be super human if I ever want to be viewed as human. I have learned that I can be a vixen, as long as I’m never touched, and I can be a star, as long as I never ask them to gaze upon me, and that one mistake will most often (read: always) be enough to cost a woman everything, unless she relocates and starts over. Most of all though, I know that as a woman I am never allowed to be bitter. And that men are allowed to be anything shy of violent (and even then, context is important). It’s hard to keep it all straight, this person you’re supposed to be, the things you have to balance on your back.
“You’re so good at this,” he said, and I was already nostalgic for when he was making me wet instead of just making me uncomfortable. Amid the pressure to be strong and the pressure to be wanted, in the fog of a rushed sexual situation, he stroked my ego while I stroked his cock. I mean, how does one even stop such undeniable talent? It’s a wonder they don’t study me for science. A real-life sex goddess, the headline reads, and they come in droves to look at me. I could stop at any time, but I don’t. Because who is even good at giving hand jobs? NO ONE! Except not no one, it’s me (and probably a billion other women), and I can’t even see the web he’s caught me in. The words I had wanted to say did not bubble up from inside. I couldn’t remember how to say, “I’m not into this. I’m not really feeling how this is going down right now, but maybe if you turn back into that guy you were thirty minutes ago we could save this, we could pretend that we’re both better people. We could pretend that you’re not awful and I’m not weak.” Instead I said nothing because I didn’t want to say, “No.” I wanted to say, “Not yet.” My shoulders sagged under the desire to be wanted (and when ready, sexually satisfied), and the disbelief that this was even happening because this man had been someone (possibly) worthy only moments before. I pitched forward under the weight of having not known better because I’m always expected to have known better, to have seen men for who they are as if I had a crystal ball. Long before I ever really know them, I am supposed to see these men at their core, when the people in their lives—their family and friends—haven’t a clue. I’m supposed to have known right from the start, to have been able to break the code of human psychology. I’m supposed to assume that all men are awful (and just want to fuck me) without ever (my god don’t you dare!) assuming that all men are awful (and just want to fuck me).
Why couldn’t he see that I didn’t want this? Why didn’t he think to look?
When I finally said, “No,” it fell on deaf ears, which should’ve been enough to make me leave but wasn’t. My bones are not made of cement. My desires are not so set in stone. I melt in high temperatures. I am not microwave safe.
He said, “Come on,” in that whiny way that men say it, pathetic and aggressive and judgmental. And I did, because I wanted him to think I was hot and carefree and beautiful and he was ruining it every second he existed. He gently reached for my hand, which had fallen away from his cock when I said I didn’t want to anymore, and he brought it back. While he sat in the driver’s seat panting, and I dispassionately rubbed his dick, I wondered if my shame would stick to the windows. I wondered if his mom would be able to tell that a woman had become less-than in her car, if you could see it on the upholstery: a jizz stain on the shoulder rest, my withered heart underneath the floor mat.
He said, “Are you glad you came out?” and I answered, “Yes,” because that’s what you say when you’re pinned to the mat. I learned long ago that nobody likes a complainer. So when he asked if I was glad that I had come out, I lied because I wasn’t sure if I wanted us to be over yet. I said, “Yes,” because he hadn’t earned my honesty and maybe that’s just what I say when someone has had his tongue in my mouth and he made me laugh more than normal but still not nearly enough.
“Forgive me.” I asked for it from my reflection in the rear view mirror (don’t worry, he never heard it).
“Forgive me.” I asked for it because I had wanted him to fuck me, at some point, maybe.
“Forgive me.” Maybe I never even said it, but it was there, I was asking for it because he had told ten jokes and I had laughed six times, which was five more than usual, and I was desperate.
My desperation was unclear and ill-defined. I wanted to have the most fun possible, to meet astonishing and interesting people. I was desperate to kiss men who were good at it, and have amazingly hot sex (like real hot sex, not the kind of hot sex you have in your twenties where it feels relatively good but you never actually get off and it’s mostly just about validating your ego and being a washrag for men who adoration you haven’t yet realized in worthless. I was pleading to be wanted in any other way than apathetically, lazily, for no other reason than I was there, whatevs.
I needed the next man who held my breasts to be one that made me laugh. But sitting in his mom’s car with my hand on his dick, I hadn’t laughed in too long. It was a problem of physics or geometry; I’m not sure which. Something about spatial relations and the relative size of my bra and his capacity for empathy. I may have still been wearing my seatbelt. Even though that seems insane. To be so concerned with my own safety when we weren’t even moving. But with his dick out and my whispers unheard, it seemed a bit like I might be crushed, and I didn’t want to have to worry about surviving a crash and having to reset my own bones while waiting for the ambulance. I’m not the kind of person anyone rescues—my shoulders are too wide for sympathy.
He pulled out his cock and that’s how it happened. He pushed a little more, just one more inch, said, “Come on,” and I teetered on the edge. It took less than twenty minutes to convince me to do something I hadn’t wanted to do and for him to cum. And that’s how it happened. When I had thought I was strong, spine made of something stolen. It happened slowly, like pulling taffy in the winter, except that it was summer and no one seemed interested in what I wanted. He said, “Come on,” and that’s how it happened, sitting shotgun in a silver Corolla with sad, grey upholstery and me thinking about his mom. It was summer and that’s how it happened, slow and prodding and eventual because I should’ve seen it coming, because somehow it still seemed like my fault, because he had unzipped and pulled his dick out, and I became just a little bit unhinged. And when it happened, I looked away and tried to save the moment from itself, just in case. I thought about the people in the apartment building just outside the car door, about the humidity, about how I was suffocating because the air was off and the windows were shut and how long had it been since I wanted things to go slower? now that they couldn’t go fast enough. “Don’t stop,” he had said, his words poking at my ribs. That’s how it happened, in the summer, in the heat, with the windows up and his breath on my skin. It happened slow and without notice. That’s how it happened in the summer, on a first date, in the city, in the front seat of a sad Corolla, with my hand on his dick and his face in my rear view mirror.