We're on the sofa in my apartment in the East Village. It's spring, the cherry trees just starting to blossom in Tompkins Square Park. Beforehand, we'd walked for hours, hand in hand, stopping to giggle and kiss like kids. And now we're here, lying naked side by side, our clothes pooled on the floor around us. I can hear your heart beating inside your big, barrel chest. Ssssshh, you say, to no one in particular, running your hand back and forth across my breasts. Your body makes me feel calm, like I'm basking in a garden.
It's been three years since I so much as kissed anyone. The last time was in New Orleans, in a hotel room under a lazily turning fan. When it was over, when we had both been brought efficiently to orgasm, the man, for whom I was about to move across an ocean, said: "Don't think this is a done deal." It was the first fissure, the first sign that trouble was brewing. He started to break up with me a week later over Skype, in a train station in Chicago, and finished the job over a hotel phone in Seattle as I begged and pleaded. To no avail. Later, when we finally met in person, he added the coup de grâce: that he had been lying every time he told me he loved me.
I'd fallen for this man harder than I'd ever fallen for anyone, and with a certainty that now seems frightening, if not actually deranged. It wasn't just my heart that was broken. Some fragile internal structure, some delicate citadel of sexual esteem, had also lurched and crumbled into dust. I could barely meet anyone's eyes, let alone consider opening myself up to that kind of rejection again. I stopped dating, stopped existing as a sexual being.
The irony of it was that I'd always been a libertine, a celebrant of the multiple and various things humans can do together. I'd had more lovers than any woman I knew: one-night stands, threesomes, foursomes, flings, and long-term relationships, with both men and women. I loved the chase, loved the electric moment when it was clear that something was going to happen. More than anything, I loved being in bed with another person, the combination of eroticism and playfulness, the fluency of bodies communicating by way of lips and fingers, skin and tongues.
It took three full years of celibacy before I came back to life. It was like being frozen, I think now, frozen into a wall of ice. I had to wait for something to melt. It happened slowly, like the coming of spring. I started to feel sensual, even sexy, again, to get a kick out of how my body felt in certain clothes, certain moods. Even then, I was terrified of getting involved: frightened of letting myself be vulnerable; anxious about not being able to tell if someone was lying when he used words like want and like and love.
The body knows what it is doing. All that time I never met anyone, though sometimes I longed for a savior to sweep in and rescue me from the hard work of having to recover trust. But it wasn't until I started to feel better that he came along. A painter. A big man, younger than me. We circled each other for months. I remember watching him eat and thinking how much enjoyment he took from it and what a talent that was, to know how to take pleasure from life. And then, a little later, he touched me for the first time, in a bar on East Fourth Street, somewhere between the second negroni and the third. Yes, I said with my whole body, my whole heart. As for the night on the couch: You've seen footage of a river melting after winter, the pelt and dash of it. That's what it was like. A thaw worth waiting for, even if it took a thousand days.
From Friday, January 9 through Friday, January 16, ELLE.com is doing a deep dive into the world of female sexuality—from the perils of being a 24-year-old virgin in New York City to a beginner's guide to exhibitionism to the steamiest scenes in film history. Is it getting hot in here? Or is it just us?
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