Image Credit: The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers (photographed by the author at Brooklyn Museum)
I am naked in my bed with him, so perhaps I have already acquiesced to what he does.
At first, he twists his fingers into me. His insistence is as thick as his digits, his pressure as heavy as his palm pulling me lately into bed with ever more urgency, as the dark has begun to push itself up, unwanted, into each afternoon. And with the abbreviation of the summer days—back when he gazed at me across the driver’s seat on our first sunny date—his patience has started to shorten.
“It’s been long enough,” he has groaned. His voice prodding, his erection jutting out like the narrow, truncated barrel of a handgun from his compact frame, standing in the bedroom entry and demanding entry into the center of me. But I have arced my stomach and my hips away. And I have instead reached out my hand—to repel, and yet to offer the only part of my body I have ever before given a man.
So with his hand now, under the cover in the dark, he probes me the sole way I have permitted, and he strokes my face with his other hand.
Then both hands close about my cheeks.
Yet—somehow—it seems his fingers are still filling me.
How can this be?
My body stills.
My mind trips over the calculation.
And then I am springing up into the dark. Scurrying back against the headboard. Churning my knees under the covers until his body has retracted and detached from mine.
I thrust my hand against his hair-matted chest. And before my shove thuds the back of his skull into the drywall pushed up against the side of my bed, I glimpse his eyes wide, searching mine for signs of the desire that he believes he has called forth. Arousal opens his mouth into an O, a gaping hole of crooked, snarled teeth in the dark.
I slap at his face. Collapse it suddenly.
“How dare you,” I seem to be saying. Or, maybe, “I don’t even know if you have a disease.” Or, then, “Get out. Get out. I don’t ever want to see you again.”
I am sitting upright, swaying from my waist back and forth. I lean forward to the end of the bed and gather my cat from her dreams, then clutch her against my chest as if I am a child, after a nightmare, trying to survive. To reassure herself, with the reality of the soft fur, that none of the horror was real.
“It’s rape,” my friend pronounces, releasing a plume of cigarette smoke from her perch above me, the next evening, on my apartment’s hallway stairs. On the step beneath, I shake my head, look down, downplaying. “It was only seconds,” I say. “And I was naked. I had been naked so many times before,” I explain. I had been torturing him. Withholding my partner his proper due….
The breathy treble of my recited rationalization falls off, like tapped ash, beneath my friend’s stare, its sternness amplified by the lenses of her black-rimmed glasses. And I see the irony: I, who once underlined thick feminist college texts on Men, Women, and Rape, now defending the act against the position of my friend, who has argued, between long drags for countless hours, against me, against women’s equality, against abortion.
“You need the morning-after pill,” she decides, stubbing out a butt and replacing it in her hand with her phone, calling a pharmacy to request particulars on a prescription, on pre-ejaculate, on the potential for pregnancy.
The low risks reiterated in professional tones reassure more than any posts on the Internet.
But I turn to comment threads, discussion boards the next morning alone at work, working through a hundred contradictory opinions scrolling through my mind and on my monitor. Seared into the screen, the stories, with only slight shifts in detail, repeat identically, endlessly, from virgin fingers typing out the same tale of some boy, some young man, taking more of a bare body than was given. Taking the first time.
But my time for firsts already passed anyhow, I note as I notice the pleas come mostly from teenagers, asking for adult guidance about my same predicament, unfolding for me a decade later than for them. So could I expect teenage petting, just the touch of a hand, to sate a grown man? Could I ask him to wait while I untangled the twisted vestiges of my childhood’s strict religion, equating sex to sin? Could I really, I ask the Internet, call his quick transgression, his long frustration, rape?
“Please don’t say rape,” he begs, “This was just an accident.” His hands hang down limp inside the over-long sleeves of his coat as he stands, head hung in the penance he has been texting me, in the center of my apartment, where he imparts his own pitiable tale. “Back in high school, a girl accused me of rape,” he says. “And I never touched her,” he insists. “I never did.” He has touched me, I resist, immobile in front of him.
But then across the long floorboards separating us, I see his limpid eyes trembling, and I rush to him. And then sobs are choking, jolting his whole body, in my arms. “You will be the one that got away,” he mourns.
I arrange to see him one more time at the county clinic, where I balance beside him on the edge of a plastic chair in long rows of huddled, sunken bodies, waiting for their name, for their fate. One by one they disappear to hear whether within their blood lurks some horrible, incurable disease, which I have demanded he detect with a test. Yet when his results are called, the nurse bars me at the exam room door to protect his privacy, his individual, bodily autonomy.
But his body came into—became—mine, I want to say. I am silent. Until he emerges with only verbal assurances. I rush across the waiting room. “Please,” I beg the woman behind the desk. “Please, give me some kind of confirmation.” So on a sheet spelling out all my potential terrors, next to negative, her hand will mark an X. But first, she must turn to him, and affirm his nodded consent.
I refuse his invitation to dinner afterward, which he offers in the parking lot at dusk. Yet as the next nights lengthen, so do his texts. Pleading for a second chance.
My first is finished, I calculate. Or partially. Half-way. I can never now explain what—or who—was my first time. So why not choose to make it real, complete with him? Yet “is anything with him after this really, truly a choice? Or is it all just an inevitable aftermath of that night?” I ask my diary. But the flat paper—unlike the wide Internet pages proffering their myriad suggestions, unlike my wise friend packing her paper cigarettes—remains static, silent.
So I open my mouth into a gaping O in the dark of his living room. On the carpet, my knees sink, as my back arches, and my tongue tries, tentative. Then my neck is flung back with his thrusts, as he bends his knees standing naked above me, and his sun-browned skin tenses over muscles built working construction sites, where he has become accustomed, among the two-by-fours and drywall frames, to pushing, forcing, taking—the same way he now is gagging me. “You want to be my slave girl?” he asks, breathless. And I inhale through my nose, and I nod, and I do not allow myself to consider how literal the expression, the fantasy. An action performed against the will, against my control.
“Get a condom,” I finally command, after my lips have closed again and again warm around his skin on colder and colder nights. Morning has broken now. And through his bedroom’s dirty windows, a gray haze filters onto his bare, uncovered bed.
So there, on the edge, he puts himself into me again for the first time. And for an instant my legs flail up straight into the chilly air until he finishes.
I replace my clothes and button my coat. And as I climb into his jeep for the ride home, I survey the tops of the bare-branched trees and think, Everything has changed now.
But nothing is in his eyes when I turn toward the driver’s side to engage his gaze. His lips are closed over his crooked teeth in a careless line, and his irises, dull as the muddy mounds of snow pushed off the road, have frozen onto the gray asphalt ahead, clouded by the windshield’s splattered glass.
So against the passenger window, whistling with cold wind, I shrink slowly back. And then I sink down inside the heavy weight of my winter coat, where underneath, I am naked.
Andrea Bianchi lives in Chicago. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Eastern Iowa Review, Atticus Review, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and her work was named a finalist for Witness magazine’s nonfiction literary award.