We sat on his bed after we were done. Trapped between him and the wall, I looked down on instinct. He hated that, had told me over and over that I needed to make eye contact or he’d feel like he was doing something wrong.
“Look at me.” He tilted my chin up toward him, leaning closer so that I couldn’t avoid his gaze. For a second, I felt like a zoo animal in a cage, or like prey.
“Hi.” I smiled; I think it was only half fake.
He let me go, and I turned my attention to his window, watching the streetlight outside flicker. His hand found mine, and I let him hold it. We stayed like that for a while; at last, he turned me toward him again. I glanced at his face–the glasses, the brown eyes searching for mine–and weakly tried to move away. He gripped my hand tighter, keeping me in place.
“Why are you so uncomfortable?” he asked.
I shrugged. Please don’t make me articulate that.
“Why did you even sleep with me?”
I ran through all the honest answers in my head. Boredom, loneliness, curiosity. You kind of look like a less attractive version of my ex. Cute enough that I could stand to see you naked, but not so hot that you’d judge me the whole time for not wearing makeup or not having abs. You live close by. You didn’t seem like the type who would axe murder me the second I stepped into your room and let my body rot beneath your bed. A search for some kind of validation. You clearly wanted it, and I’m bad at saying no.
“I just wanted to see what it would be like.” Curiosity—probably the nicest choice.
I still expected this to make him angry, or at least to wound his ego; I thought that he would accept nothing less than because you’re so sexy I couldn’t help myself. But he just ran his hand through my hair and said, “Text me if you ever want to do it again,” and I felt a sense of helplessness that the morbid, masochistic part of me reveled in.
Alone at last, I shivered on his porch in the one a.m. chill, cursing myself for not wearing a thicker jacket. Sitting in the Uber he ordered for me, I called Naomi. She picked up on the first ring.
“Hey. It’s late. I was a little worried that he kidnapped you or something.”
I rolled my eyes. “Come on.”
“So? How do you feel?”
“I don’t know.” I picked at the nail polish on my thumb. “I’m fine, I think. He wasn’t mean to me or anything.”
“Well, that’s touching. But if you’re fine, why did you call me?”
“To let you know I’m safe, obviously. Girl code.”
“That could have been a text.” She was never fooled by my feeble attempts at lightheartedness.
I sighed and eyed the driver, trying to decide if he was the type to listen in. He was facing forward, not even glancing at me, and he turned up the 80s pop song he was playing.
I kept my voice down just in case. “I can’t tell if I feel guilty, or if I feel guilty for not feeling guilty, you know?”
“No, I don’t. Why would you feel guilty? Because of John?”
I cut her off before she could give me another you need to get over him already spiel. “No. We broke up months ago. He clearly doesn’t give a shit what I’m doing.”
“Then why? You’re allowed to get laid. You’re not Catholic.”
I chuckled in spite of myself. The driver coughed, and I dropped my voice another few notches. “Catholic guilt isn’t the only kind. Isn’t there something off about sleeping with a guy when you don’t even know his last name?”
“Not unless he’s in the sex offender registry.”
“God.” I grimaced. “Thanks for putting that idea in my head.”
“I’m deeply sorry.”
I ignored her mock serious tone. “I just don’t want to let random guys fuck me because I have no self esteem. Or because I’m trying to harm myself somehow.”
“Jesus.” The teasing lilt left her voice. “That’s a shitty way of looking at things.”
“I know, I know. I’m not trying to slut shame myself and all of womankind.” I sighed. “It’s late. I should let you go.”
“Just one more question.” She paused. “Was he good? Was it b—”
“Oh my god. Bye.” I hung up as she giggled, and stared at my reflection in the car’s window. My lip gloss was smudged, and I swore I could see bags developing under my eyes. I slumped in my seat, hoping to doze off for the rest of the ride.
Two nights later, I was back in his room. When I was under him, I preferred to close my eyes and let him touch me, without thinking too much about where the sensations were coming from. I didn’t hate looking at him, but it wasn’t enough to get me to face the brutal reality of where I was and what we were doing.
I should feel disgusted, I told myself the next day; I should be ashamed. I always promised myself I would never sleep with a guy who was more attracted to me than I was to him. It’s wrong, it’s gross, it’s antifeminist. I’m letting myself be turned into an object. I’m fitting far too nicely into the idea that his desires are more important than mine.
But they were my desires, too–that was the most confusing part. I didn’t feel used; I barely felt objectified. All I felt, really, was surprise that this was my body, that I had let this happen.
At two-thirty pm, I left my apartment and walked aimlessly, over the railroad tracks and past the liquor store, until I reached the suburban side of town with the loopy highway. Standing behind the curb, the cars whizzing by me, I wondered which of the positions he’d put me in made my shoulders, of all things, feel so sore now. Then I called Naomi again. This time, she picked up on the third ring.
“How was round two?” I detected a note of sarcasm in her voice.
I sat down on the curb, dangling my feet over the gutter. “It was actually much less of an emotional rollercoaster the second time. I think I’m getting pretty good at the whole ‘no strings attached’ thing.”
I could feel her incredulity through my phone screen. “Isabel, you texted me to say that you cried afterward.”
“Well, yes, but it was only for like five minutes, and I waited until after I left.”
She sighed, and I pictured her brow raised as she stared me down. I stayed silent. A dark grey Prius sped by me, and I peered into the driver’s seat, thinking I recognized that face.
Her voice snapped me back to reality. “I can’t tell if I should be worried about you.” When I didn’t answer, she coughed loudly. “Hello, Earth to Isabel. Are you there? Are you too busy mentally reliving last night to talk to me?”
“No. Gross.” I took a breath. “I just thought I saw someone I know.” Before she could respond, I quickly added, “No one important.”
“Sure.” She snorted. “I’ve got to go soon. Do I need to drive over there and rescue you? Are you okay on your own?”
I gazed at the trees on the other side of the highway. For a second, I was convinced that I saw him behind the branches, waiting to cross over and find me.
I shook my head, clearing the thought.