Image Credit: “Figure Toys Hugging” by Gaelle Marcel (@gaellemarcel) from Unsplash
Beside my bed in a grey storage cube, among old filmstrips and bills, sits a large pink vibrator that goes mostly unused. It’s my first vibrator. I bought it when I was an undergrad still living in Houston and haven’t purchased another since. I’d always relied on my own ingenuity to get off, but finally gave in, believing I wasn’t really an adult if I didn’t possess my own vibrator—a talisman for my burgeoning sexual escapades. Like any good student, I did my research and swayed by the lore of the Rabbit, decided it was the perfect entry point into the world of adult toys. When I finally visited my local Adam & Eve to make my purchase, I barely glanced at the wall of seemingly infinite options. I stayed the course and told the lone sales rep on duty what I wanted. In all, it took less than five minutes to procure my ticket to eternal climax. I reveled in the possibilities, imagining my then-partner—and others—using it to push me over the edge, or while alone, the Rabbit and I forming a private amatory bond.
According to the box, the model I own is a “16 Function Rabbit Super Vibe,” each individual word a different shade of pink, purple, and coral. It’s also Waterproof and equipped with cutting edge “Ten Speed” “Reaming Technology.” This vibrator aims to mine my vagina and it means business. On the box’s back panel, a diagram outlines the device’s various parts, including its secret weapon, the Clit Bunny, which juts out from the rest of the contraption at a forty-five degree angle, making it look like the vibrator also has a penis. At other angles, the device looks like it’s throwing up the bird, the rabbit’s ears defiant like pink plastic fingers. I’ve looked at this box many times, the seductive blonde staring back and goading me on. Go ahead, she whispers. You are your most important project. But the vibrator remains largely untouched. In fact, while moving a few years ago I almost tossed it out before relegating it to an idle suitcase I used to store forgotten trinkets and other ephemera. Why I’ve kept it, I’m not sure.
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit and Stay Home orders were issued, I’ve had a hard time masturbating. In the time of social distancing, masturbation—and any physical activity, really—feels like a reclamation of power. Yet, in my daily quest for stimulation, I’m succumbing to distraction which my customary finger fucking has yet to absolve. Of course, none of this is that surprising as we’re inundated with bad news and more bad news each day. But knowing I could acquire cheap pleasure were it not for this brain fog leaves me feeling a little frustrated and helpless.
I can’t say whether I’ve analyzed a personal device this closely before but in times like this, when we’re searching for remedies to fix and comfort us, this kind of existential appraisal feels essential. It feels like a means to an end we need: to tempt pleasure back into our lives, which often requires human presence and touch. Times of crisis compel us to honor the natural and insignificant—to embrace a ritual of self-delusion in the name of control. Lately this trickery seems to be working, as I’m finding more solace and grace in the rogue neighborhood cats, garden rakes, and abandoned ashtrays I encounter on my daily walks than one should. But they are the signposts I need right now, a reminder of the inanimate’s ability to animate. And so my vibrator feels like an answer to this void. It provides an opportunity for escape, while keeping me grounded.
But why dwell on an object that’s barely left its box in almost a decade?
This time last year I was enjoying the somewhat false exhilaration that comes with being in a city like Portland, Oregon, where the annual AWP conference was taking place. One of the largest writing conferences of its kind, the gathering drew nearly 15,000 attendees, according to AWP’s website. While the conference is always a big to-do, I was especially eager to attend because the journal I manage would be making its flashy debut on the heels of a major rebranding effort. I also had the unique experience of collaborating with my partner, the other half of the journal’s executive team, to plan much of this. We’d developed merch for the bookfair booth, a robust promotional campaign, and even planned a launch party at a local art gallery. AWP 2019 would be legendary, to be sure.
Overall, our debut went smoothly. The journal didn’t skyrocket into newfound fame, but our booth received steady traffic at the bookfair and our launch party was intimate, but festive all the same. Apart from conference duties, my partner and I also managed to tour the city, exploring its bookstores, eating its donuts, and getting lost in its numerous parks. At the iconic Portland Japanese Garden, I snapped photos of him canopied in sunshine and maple trees, the amber wisps of his hair wonderfully ablaze in the light. I savored the luck of sharing the conference and the city together—the exquisite delight of communing with people from all over about the things I loved most, strangers whose names I couldn’t remember, but thought about long after.
A week after the conference, my partner and I made a horrifying discovery.
“I have something to show you,” he said, wheeling over the large orange suitcase we’d used to haul merch to the conference.
The suitcase belly flopped onto the floor in front of me. I stared at it, confused.
“Open it,” he said, trying to fight off a smirk.
I cautiously unzipped the bag, unsure of what to expect. Was this part of some new kink? Was there a puppy inside? There are many things I wish I’d discovered instead of what I found.
Hidden beneath a few orphaned poetry books lay a black lingerie set still in its packaging, a crumpled paper bag stuffed with lube samples and condoms, and, worst of all, my 16 Function Rabbit Super Vibe. I was mortified.
“I was in my office unpacking some of the stuff, when I find this huge fucking dildo,” he laughed in amazement. “It must have been someone on staff, right?”
I didn’t answer.
“What?” he asked incredulously, watching me. “What’s wrong?”
My mind raced, resurrecting each memory I had of the conference: I pictured the suitcase and vibrator inside sitting under the bookfair table, beneath signed books from famous authors, free stickers and bottle openers, and half-baked erasure poems. Little did the innocent conference passersby know that, just inches from where they stood, lay the most interesting mementos of that year’s assembly. Which spawned other crucial questions: who, if anyone, had seen the curious contraband? Had the staffers manning the bookfair table seen everything inside? I tried to imagine the editor who volunteered to fly the suitcase to Portland, unknowingly wheeling the bag through airport security, the X-rays sliding down the vibrator’s phallic-shaped silicon, boring into the metal balls of its insides. Then lugging it to the convention center, where he and other staff members unloaded supplies and set up our booth. I prayed that if anyone had discovered my secret stash, it was him and him alone. But I couldn’t help but wonder who was in on the joke, and how many times they’d stifled a laugh or bit their tongue around me those few days.
“Okay, but even if anyone did see, there’s no way to prove they’re yours,” my partner offered.
I thumbed through the objects once more, scanning their packaging for errant details, eyeing the blonde on the vibrator box for answers, before finally discovering an old receipt in the sleeve of the lingerie package, my name slightly faded but printed in clear black letters. Bingo—it was over.
We spent the next fifteen minutes in a state of hysterics, oscillating between belly laughs and panic (me), and speculating about whether anyone had noticed anything. I cursed the universe for this untimely disaster and disowned my sexuality many times over before proclaiming that yes, I absolutely have one, and anyone paralyzed by the sight of my fat pink vibrator—my proclivity for pleasure—could fuck off. I grew defensive in my shame. Nevertheless, after having come down from our impassioned speculation, my partner and I decided we were overreacting. That somehow the vibrator and lingerie and lube remained hidden throughout the four-day conference. Over the next few weeks, my partner would continue to reassure me that this was the truth, and eventually, we forgot about it.
In quarantine, we are under a similar spell of fantasy, each day trying our best to make the imaginary real. Using the objects around us to find clarity and peace, to reanimate the past and restore hope in the present. My French press, candles, books, my running shoes, and notebooks filled with endless checklists: these are the artifacts of my routine, the objects summoning joy in the wake of a new brutish reality. I’m playing a trick on myself, though I’m not sure it’s working.
To my surprise, I’m also finding consolation in objects tethered to moments unspeakable and distressing—traces of a past life I’d hoped to lay to rest.
A few weeks ago, triggered by my mounting restlessness, I decided to release the Rabbit from its storage cube prison. Now, it sits just visible under my desk, its blonde ambassador saluting me from the wings. I know I probably won’t use it but through it, I’m transported to another time, when I was young and ripe for sexual awakening, when thousands of people could join in communion at a writing conference, when I could still reach out and hold another’s body close to my own. When the ability to endure and honor life’s discomforts felt like a triumph, its own magnificent rapture. Almost inconceivably, this vibrator is helping me feel pleasure again, even when it’s not there. It is an offering that carries ghosts of memory—of the people I’ve met, places I’ve been, the mistakes I’ve made—and I’m trying not to forget.