By Olivia Snider
Part One: Body Language and Interpretation
He told me he’d been raped during one of his deployments, in a hotel room steeped in the smell of stale sweat and loneliness. They’d all been drinking, he and his buddies, memory-dampening poison sloshing around in their sailors’ stomachs. He couldn’t quite recall the exact progression of events, he said. But there was blood on the sheets and he’d awoken sore in the appropriate constricted places.
He told me this as he lay in bed with me, this ex-lover of mine, this man who, as a boy, had been my first. He cried into my small shoulder, mourning the past loss of his dignity and the immediately recent loss of his (ex)girlfriend. She’d cheated on him with an ex-lover of her own not even 24 hours prior, resulting in his breaking up with her via incomprehensible phone waves.
I stroked his stubbled chin, the product of his searching for any deviation from strict routine and being home far too long. Alcohol sloshed around in our sinners’ stomachs and I cried along with him. I mourned my own pain through the revelation of his, indicating through muffled cries of comfort that I shared the same dehumanizing experience, only with different parameters. Then, as a response to the strangely conflicting humiliation and power of sexual encounters, we became each others’ comfort.
I let his skinny hips thrash into my own, pressed my hands into the once-familiar dimples in his lower back—those same ones he’d hated and I’d adored. We’d remained faithfully abstinent of one another since our rough transition to friends three years prior, a change made all the more difficult by the fact that we’d never been friends before we dated. Both of us knew that this physical coming together, this exchange of saliva and shame, was merely an act of friendship. A retreat from our minds into our bodies.
Part Two: Perspective on Naïveté, or a History
The older I grow, the more I find myself shocked by my level of naïveté, both past and present, not exclusively but particularly when it comes to my first love. He’d always been a strangely omnipotent creature to me, this wonderfully fickle yet incredible passionate lover who’d ripped both my hymen and heart in one glorious evening. He’d run his flat fingers over my smooth hairs, freckles, slightly damp skin and told me he loved me. Later he told me, the sound of his shaky voice straining through pinched phone wires, that he was breaking up with me.
There, of course, is context for this: I was fifteen, and had told my mother of his and my “ultimate expression of love” (I’m sure I used some equally clichéd phrase to explain it) and she’d had me call him to tell him we couldn’t have sex again, that I was too young. I probably was, but I couldn’t and still won’t admit it, both because I loved him and we got back together and endless three weeks later. We dated intensely and sporadically for the next three and half years.
This off-again, on-again syndrome was entirely created by him but facilitated by me. He tore off little pieces of my dignity each time he broke up with me or asked to “take a break” (what does that even really entail?) and refuse to answer my desperate calls until he’d had some sort of epiphany. After making me suffer this thoughtful silence, he’d then return with heartfelt (crocodile?) tears—one, two, three days later—insisting that he was sorry, wrong, he needed me. Each time I would stand indignant and rigid until he would wrap his veiny arms around me and strangle out the love he knew I still had for him.
Part Three: Medication Makes Waves
——- had always been a strikingly emotional being and he, like most teenagers, was also depressed. But he was on medication and I used those mood-altering drugs as my excuse for forgiveness. He was taking 60 mgs of Effexor daily when we met, only to be weaned off and then given increasing doses of some other allegedly stabilizing pill. I don’t remember exactly how many changes of medication he underwent (I’m willing to be he can’t either), but the chemicals coursing through his body and shifting his brain chemistry prompted me to take him back even when I thought shouldn’t. He was my love, a faction of my whole self, and I had to be strong for the both of us to survive.
He’d stopped taking medication before entering the Navy, but had started again soon after the bloody sheet incident. He also hadn’t broken up with his cheating (ex)girlfriend. I was not privy to that fact the night our writhing bodies scraped across my black and white floral comforter, nor the next morning when it happened again, our bodies still craving the warmth of each other long after that of the alcohol had faded. Our mutual physical retreats, symbiotic friendship sex, whatever the appropriate term is, was nothing more than a parasitic retaliation fuck.
Part Four: Power Lies with Silence
Even as he pined for her, he asked me once again to comfort him.
“Do you think I’m a bad person?”
“No,” I told him, “I don’t think that, but we definitely made a mistake.”
I told him that, had I known the true transparency of the situation at the time, I would have refrained. I told him I would’ve mentioned that it would undeniably be the “big fucking deal” he declared he didn’t forsee stemming from our indiscretion. I also told him not to hate me if things didn’t work out the way they wanted.
That request was unnecessary because he got what he wanted. A few days later, I saw her “I love yous” posted across his Facebook page, his internet portrayal of himself as a stand-up guy serving his country and adoring his girlfriend. He’d gone back to the neat little life he’d left and left me to wrestle with the squirming monster he’d left in his wake and in my stomach. A gnawing sense of guilt I have too-often come to associate with sex pressed the surfaces of my molars together, nearly breaking my jaw. I tugged at my hair and paced around the room, letting the anger course through my veins like a mood-altering drug. Then, clarity abounded in my skull, my tongue found its way between my teeth, the anger miraculously dissipated. Quickly and quietly, I blocked him from contacting me through any modern mode of communication.
It is not the medication that makes him take everything from me that he possibly can. It is his role as my first love (first kiss, first everything) and the power he knows comes with it: the ability to make me forget all that I’ve learned from the other men who have had me after him who didn’t even love me, didn’t even bother feigning infatuation. The ability to make me retreat into the naïve idealism of my fifteen-year-old counterself. So this time I do not forgive. This time I will tell him nothing.