By Lyndsay Ryor
Stiff, silent, afraid, I lie on my back beside you as you undress me for the first time. You unfasten the button at my waist, pull down the zipper and slide my jeans down over my pudgy stomach and cellulite-dimpled thighs…
Her thighs look like cottage cheese, it’s disgusting. A woman’s voice cuts into my thoughts. My friend, Sarah, was judging another woman in the YMCA’s locker room. Because women judge as harshly, if not more harshly than men. I think she had a thigh gap. I didn’t go to the gym with her anymore after that.
…now my carefully-shaven calves and finally my toes, gleaming with the fresh just-for-you pedicure I told myself was just-for-me. My tummy flattening jeans hit the floor…
Those stretch pants make her look like a can of biscuits that busted open at the seams, remarks Jared, the boyfriend of my friend, Jenn. I heard him say this about Steph, the Admin Assistant at the office job we all worked at. I laughed, but I thought I would look about the same in them. So would Jenn, for that matter.
…and so does my heart as you reach for my low-cut tank top; the one that clings nicely to my breasts, enhances cleavage, but fits more loosely around my stomach so my fat doesn’t bulge out in rolls…
Just roll her in flour and look for the wet spot, says my cousin, Jon. We were fourteen and he was talking to his creepy friend, Eugene, about the possibility of fucking the morbidly obese girl who lived in the trailer next door.
…when I sit down. I lift up my back a little to assist, raise my arms above my head like my kids do when I help them undress. You peel it off and it drops to the floor with my jeans. I arch my back a little as your hands slide around beneath to unclasp the underwire bra that lifts and separates my large, saggy breasts, creating an illusion of buoyancy and cleavage…
Her tits looked like tennis balls stuffed in nasty old stretched-out gym socks, says an entire chorus of men. I have heard that one many times, not referring to my own breasts, but those of some other woman whose tits failed to defy gravity and other laws of nature after pregnancy and nursing and weight gain and loss. Still I felt it.
You remove the bra, drop it to the floor, and they sprawl out, nipples gravitating in the direction of my armpits. I try not to wince, I fail. You don’t notice or perhaps simply don’t acknowledge my discomfort; you have moved on to my lacy, black boyshort panties, chosen for how they ride up my ass, showing off my nice, round cheeks, but sit high enough to cover my stretchmark-riddled stomach…
It looks like a wrinkled up plastic grocery bag, says a voice from over two decades ago. Shane Granger, this trashy-hot skater guy I was sleeping with, wasn’t talking about me, but about some teen mom, named Regina, whom he slept with before. These are the words I hear when I try to imagine how men see my post-baby stomach.
…and the horizontal six-inch welt beneath the flab that marks the place from which my second and third child emerged into this world.
It’s called a gunt. This voice is brought to me courtesy of an old friend and lover, Wayne, to describe the flap of extraneous skin that I did not have yet, but do now; a portmanteau of “gut and “cunt” coined by some clever asshole.
You pull them off so very slowly, gently, and top off the pile of my armor you’ve made on the floor. This is the moment: the lights are on. Full disclosure. I wait for your reaction to my nakedness, watch your face for any number of expressions I have seen before, all variations on the same theme: disappointment and disgust. I want to say something in the way of apology or something funny to break the tension I feel, but my lips won’t move and I am holding my breath. I wonder if you wish you could put my clothes back on, like a rewind where everything moves backwards in double time until we reach the point when you first said you wanted to see me after all these years.
You see me now. After all these years. You see how two decades have eroded the landscape of my body; replaced the smooth plains with wrinkles and creases and bulges and scars like a relief map of my life story carved into my flesh.
What you can’t see is how these years have italicized the script of our lovemaking. Italics to emphasize a narrative that refuses to be ignored. These are just the shallow thoughts, surface thoughts; other peoples’ voices I hear in my head. Friends, family, co-workers, strangers overheard at the gym. These phrases and others play like a cassette tape with auto-flip in my head. The one about the busted can of biscuits made me laugh because it was so apt and colorful a description, but I still hear it blaring in my head over the poppy dressing room elevator music when I try on clothes and get that “muffin top” effect of my fat spilling over the top of jeans that fit tight enough to make my ass look good. I often wish I could just grab a scalpel and excise the offending flab. Literally cut pieces off of myself so I can fit into a pair of jeans made for someone else.
I still hear this script any time I think about my body, or when I am being undressed for the first time by someone who has fallen for my pretty face, my wit, my intelligence, my sense of humor… but has yet to see me without the smoke and mirrors of my well-chosen wardrobe. I wear dresses cut low in the cleavage, tight to the upper ribcage, but flowy beneath, as if to say look HERE, not here. Jeans with double-button waistbands for extra support to battle rolls of abdominal fat while still fitting tight to my more desirable curves. I wear T-shirts that fit snugly on my breasts, but avoid words across the chest because I hate how much of a joke it is that you can’t read them stretched over my DDs. I wear uncomfortable bras a size too small because the ones made for tits this big are always full coverage and ruin any chance of cleavage. Cleavage and a pretty face are what “allow” me to feel some semblance of physical beauty when I am carrying 50 extra pounds.
Physical shit can almost always be addressed, but a beautiful spirit you can’t manufacture.
These are the words, your words, that first gave me a little bit of hope when I told you I was “crazy out of shape.” They were only words, typed on the keyboard of your phone into the Facebook messenger application, and of these kinds of words I have long been leery. Men have said many sweet things to me that they didn’t mean in this way because there is no eye contact, no body language to betray the lie. But I believed you, or I wanted to believe that my pretty face and big tits weren’t all you found beautiful about me. At the same time, since I take a hell of a flattering selfie, I wanted you to know that I wasn’t the same wiry hippie chick with bouncy tits you last saw almost two decades ago in Boston.
“Todd wasn’t the first, the last, or even the worst. He’s just the most vivid image, like some poster boy to validate my self-loathing.”
I remember the first time I saw you, at a Phish show in Chicago or Detroit or maybe Pennsylvania. I was walking through some hippie-infested, nitrous balloon-riddled parking garage by myself. I rounded a corner and there you were with your best friend, and we spotted each other at the same time. I just walked right up and introduced myself because you guys looked like two fellas I needed to know, and I guess you felt the same because we hung out the rest of that night and at every venue that tour, the three of us. You were both cool, but you were the finest boy I had ever seen, and I wanted you bad. I guess I almost had you, and it’s funny because we both remember kissing each other only once, but strangely I remembered kissing you in Boston, rolling around high as fuck on dope on some hotel room floor, while you remembered me kissing you at Mardi Gras. You conjured up an anecdote of my inebriated self; stepping right up to help myself to your lips and pushing this guy, Crackhead Dan, over into a trash can when he started talking smack. You don’t remember Boston, and New Orleans only stirs a foggy wisp of a memory for me. It’s like we just missed each other, I guess. You looked for me, you said, after that night, but I was gone. Well, I looked for you, too, but I didn’t find you until you popped up on Facebook almost two decades later and began laying that sweetness on me, all while I dropped subtle hints about how little I thought of myself. I was giving you an out before you were even in. It’s what I do.
Maybe I underestimated you, but how could I not? I still hate the way I look naked, and that hatred has been reinforced by the men who came before you; the men who always came before me. Like that SoCal douchebag bassist named Todd. Plenty of men have shown disappointment in my body, but Todd is the one who keeps coming back to mind, all the sweet things he said to me when we were getting to know each other superimposed over the sweet things you’ve said to me and when you pull off my tank top, I remember his revulsion as he lifted my t-shirt to cum on my stomach… and promptly pushed it back down and came on my shirt instead. I never saw him or heard from him again after that, but the next day, some bitch posted something on his MySpace page, admonishing him for hooking up with fat chicks, to which he responded, “lol – no shit.” And that was nine years, forty pounds, and two kids ago.
Todd wasn’t the first, the last, or even the worst. He’s just the most vivid image, like some poster boy to validate my self-loathing. He’s the reason I am searching your face for that deer-in-the-headlights look, but you give me no time to worry about that. You brush my hair away from my forehead, where it’s plastered by static cling, so I feel an electric crackle. Your blue eyes meet my brown ones and you smile, that grin of yours I love, the one that crinkles up the corners of your eyes. I exhale and the tension takes leave of my body. The breath I gulp is fresh and free of italics. I don’t wait for you to act; I pull you down for a kiss.
You kiss me back. There’s passion in it, as if you are hungry for me, but I feel no urgency, so it seems you wish to devour me slowly. You straddle me, remove your shirt and lean down to kiss me on the forehead. Now each temple. The nose and cheeks and chin. And the throat, God the throat, where you pause for a taste of my pounding pulse, and whether it is fear or desire you taste, I don’t know. Perhaps the two are synonymous in me. You trail kisses across my collarbone and shoulders, and I shiver as the breeze from the open window touches the trail you leave. You find a nipple, kiss it, now my breastbone, now the other nipple, no mind to how far apart they lie. You kiss the beauty mark below my right breast, now down towards my tummy, a kiss for my navel and now, now you begin to kiss the places on my stomach that are puckered with iridescent, white skin, kissing all around my stomach, the places others have neglected, ignored, avoided, and I swear my blood turns to smoke in my veins as you kiss my caesarean scar and look directly into my eyes. Your message is as clear:
“I see you, all of you, and I want you.”
It seems like the men in my life only want certain pieces of me. They want the physical parts: tits, ass, mouth, vagina; or they want the emotional parts: understanding, comfort, friendship, loyalty – just not both types at the same time. I’m a salvage yard, where men are free to pick the parts they want and leave the rest. Like, “Hey, that chassis is in great shape, but the entire front end needs to be replaced.” Or, “I really just want those headlights.” And I allow it. I let men come at me like Doctor Fucking Frankenstein building the perfect patchwork pussy. Whether they’re looking for a mouth for their pleasure or a shoulder to cry on or hands to hold them through the heartbreak of some other, more perfect woman, I let them. I don’t know why I do. Because I am lonely, starved for affection? Is it because I hope it will evolve into something more? Or is it because I know it won’t and so then it will hurt just a little less when they leave me for someone with nicer parts?
You caress my thighs, something I thought was just a romance novel cliché, but no, you run your hands up and down, slowly applying more and more pressure with your thumbs until I move them apart. You continue with the caresses, then they turn into kisses and then your lips and tongue find their way to the tiny center of my pleasure; one part that no one ever seems to want anything to do with unless it’s to stroke his ego. I am usually dead silent during sex, but an “Mmmmmm” escapes my lips, and you look up at me. I see the smile in your eyes and know this isn’t about your ego; my pleasure is yours. We are connected. I feel the tension leave my body all at once; my muscles relax. I can see clearly and I am present in this moment – with you. The pleasure intensifies, becomes almost unbearable. I try to push you away, but you won’t stop until my entire body shakes and erupts with my climax.
Never in the history of ever has anyone made this happen without explicit instructions or in less than five minutes, or even fifteen. Your skills are undeniable, but I think it’s also due to the sense of connection I feel with you, allowing me to abandon my insecurities and relax not just physically, but mentally because I believe you. I believe all the sweet words you have typed to me in these few weeks because your eyes, your face, your smile do not belie them. I believe you because you left the lights on, because you don’t look away from or skip the flawed places, because you pull me closer when others have pushed me away, and because you rest your head on my thigh and smile up at me like the cat who just swallowed the canary. I laugh when you ask me if that was good, as if you didn’t know. I run my fingers through your baby-fine hair until the trembling stops.
When you leave the pillow of my thighs and pull off your boxers, I get ready for the next stage, because surely you’ll want your own satisfaction now, but you just curl up beside me, content to put your arm and leg over me and pull me close and squeeze me tight, and I notice now how very soft your skin is, softer than the underside of my arm, even. Soft hair, soft skin and soft, sweet words in my ear, you soothe me with security, and like Mulder from the X-Files, I want to believe. I want with all of my everything that you, once the cutest boy I had ever seen, that you, whom I never forgot over the course of two decades, that you, the best lover I have ever had, could truly love me. It seems possible, probable, even. As you hold me close, with an erection you seem in no big hurry to appease, my wandering emotions all come home to roost, and I realize that for once I know exactly how I feel.
I have never been so scared in my life.
Lyndsay Ryor is a graduate of The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.