Afterwards, you lie in his bed and stare up at the popcorn ceiling. It is late, and the apartment is cold, and the yellow haze from the streetlamps scuds across the stubble of the ceiling, highlighting the mountains, darkening the valleys. Your nipples are hard under the thin sheet. You look for patterns in the bumps of the ceiling: a capital M here, a v of flying birds there. You don't want to look for patterns, but your brain just does these things.
He gets up to use the bathroom again. "It's the beer," he says as he sits up and brushes your bangs out of your face, though they weren't quite in your face to begin with. "It's a diuretic." So far, he has told you this four times tonight, and it was not news the first time. Besides, you don't need a reason. You need space, and you want him to stop apologizing.
He isn't exactly drunk, but he isn't sober, either. The same is true of you. He has just been accepted to grad school—a Ph.D. position in avian ecology—and he'd wanted to celebrate, so you took the Metro to his station and met him at the bar down the street from his place, the one with the comic book pages papering the walls and the floor that is just sticky enough to make you conscious of the soles of your shoes. And then you got not-drunk, not-sober together.
This is not the type of thing that the two of you usually do—it had surprised you when he'd suggested it—but to be fair, you don't know if you've earned a "usually" yet. You've been dating for a month and a half. Earlier today, you counted the weeks when he texted you about going out. Nine weeks since you'd met at the diner where both of you are still waiting tables until you can find something better, seven weeks since he'd first asked you out, six weeks since you'd agreed. Now, you count the weeks once again as you lie in his bed, finding letters in the ceiling. You think that maybe repeating this math will help, but it does not.
So you do other time-math instead. You fumble around for your jeans on the floor and rummage in the back pocket for your phone. You shiver, arms outside of the bed sheet, and you look at the time. It is 1:37 AM. You got on the Metro at 8:25 PM, got off at 8:51, then walked to the bar, so you met up with him at, what, maybe 9:05. You stayed at the bar for the span of three drinks for you, four for him. You don't know how fast he drinks—you've been dating for only six weeks, after all—but let's assume a pace of two drinks an hour for you. So say you were at the bar until 10:35, plus the time that you lost to ordering the drinks and using the tiny bathroom, with its blue fluorescent glare that made you feel drunker than you really were. So you left the bar at maybe 11:00, an upper estimate. Then you walked back to his place—you did not spend time discussing this decision—and that was a ten-minute walk from the bar, except you walked slowly because it was cold, and you used the drinks and the January wind as an excuse to cling to his arm, so it probably took you thirteen minutes instead. So let's say, by the time you got to his bed and arranged the sheets and opened the beers that he'd gotten from the fridge, it was 11:30. You think that seems like a reasonable timeline. Then you watched one episode of Breaking Bad, which was forty-seven minutes, and for once, you both decided to wait that long before making a move, except for that one kiss or maybe two that you slipped in during one of the abrupt scene changes that would have once framed a commercial break. But that doesn't count time-wise, so that takes you to 12:17, and then he told you for the third time that beer is a diuretic and went to the bathroom, so say that gets you to 12:19. This leaves one hour and eighteen minutes, then until now. One hour and eighteen minutes that you would like to try over again. You think that that is not very much time. It is not such an outrageous wish to redo one hour and eighteen minutes.
But even that one hour and eighteen minutes wasn't all bad, you think. The beginning was fine. Great, even. It was nothing new, but you like being close to him, or close to someone. You like to trace the contours of his arms, to bury yourself in his scent, to know that someone has noticed you. So the beginning was great. Then he asked if you wanted to fuck. This was not something that you had done with him before. You had lost your virginity only a few months ago—six and a half months ago, to be precise. You were late coming to these things. It hadn't been a deliberate choice; you had just always been the quiet one who didn't attract much attention.
The guy from six and a half months ago hadn't known that you were a virgin. You hadn't known how to broach the subject. He'd guessed anyway. You'd been too tense, your pain too obvious, your touch too light and uncertain—almost as if you'd been afraid that, if you'd pulled him any closer, he would have broken you.
How had you answered that question? You stare into a corner where two walls meet the popcorn ceiling, searching, and you find that you don't remember. Maybe you'd admitted that it was, in fact, your first time. Then again, maybe you'd lied. Either way, your answer had been mumbled, and you'd left his apartment twelve minutes later. You'd been surprised at how quickly these things can develop. The next morning, he'd texted to apologize, to say that he hadn't meant to make you feel bad, that it had been just an innocent question. The texts had made you nauseous. You'd never answered.
But that had been different: a different time, a different place, a different guy, a different you. Six and a half months ago did not concern you an hour and eighteen minutes ago. You wanted to obscure your first time with a second. And you wanted him. You wanted to move forward with this man who had noticed you. You wanted to feel his contours, to absorb his scent so thoroughly that you'd continue smelling it for the next day, the next week, the next month even. You wanted it. So when he asked if you wanted to fuck, you said yes.
Now, cold under his thin sheets, you think that you should have said something else. You know that things were not right. The feeling was not unfamiliar; it resonated back to your first time: the pain, the tension stretching from your vagina to the arched soles of your feet, the desire just to close your legs, to push him off, to do anything but what you were doing right then. Yet it was different, too. It was the first time that the word quake had come to your mind to describe your own movements. You think that maybe it was the cold of his apartment, but you know that it wasn't. And this was not your first time. First times are painful. Second times are not—are they? You'd expected better. You'd expected that you would do better.
But it happened anyway. You did it. Or, no, you let it be done to you.
You hear him moving about the bathroom. He will be back soon, you know, and he will almost certainly want to talk. He will want to know what happened: why you were tense, why you looked pained, why you stared out the window as if the streetlamps were more important than this next step that the two of you were taking together. He will want to know what you were feeling. He will want to know what is wrong. Maybe it was abstinence-only education, he might suggest. Or maybe you're a lesbian. Or maybe—here he might pause and hold your hands to show his support—you've been abused.
You cup a hand between your legs, as if you can push the lips back together and undo the last hour and eighteen minutes—nineteen minutes, now. You know that none of these explanations are true. Your sex ed was fine; you're straight as an arrow; no one has hurt you. You are broken, you think, without having been broken. You do not have a reason, and you do not want to give one. It would be like baring a patch of pale skin to the sun, like breaking bad news to the family in the waiting room, like explaining pain to one who has never felt it.
But what if you tried? You can't explain, but you can describe—describe how you felt, how you're feeling. You imagine doing this: he will come back into the room, climb under the thin sheet beside you. He will brush your bangs out of your face, even though they don't need to be brushed.
"How's my girl?" he will ask. His face will be dark, backlit by the streetlamps outside, but you will hear in his voice that his brow is furrowed. He's concerned. You like that look on him.
"Frankly," you will say, "I've been better."
He will not need an explanation. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"No," you will say, because that is the truth.
"Okay, that's okay," he will say. "If you don't want to talk now, that's fine." He will inch just a bit closer, slip an arm around your waist. "But maybe we should talk about it."
Part of you will want to pull away from his arm, but the other part of you will resist. "I guess," you will say.
"I think so, too." He will give you space then to say what needs to be said. You will appreciate this, the fact that he is not pushing you, but you will also take advantage of it, and you will lie there, silent, staring at the dark area where you know his eyes must be, until he goes ahead and pushes you just a bit. "So what were you feeling?"
You will not be able to continue looking into the dark space near his eyes. "Tense," you will say.
He will wait to see if you are going to elaborate, but you will not. "Anything else?" he will ask.
"No," you will say. "Just a lot of tension."
He will consider this, the silence in the room punctuated by the tick and occasional gurgle from the hot water baseboard.
Eventually, "Did it hurt?" You will hear the brow furrow in his voice again.
You will not want to answer this question, but if you try to avoid it, he will guess the truth anyway. "Yes," you will say.
"So there was something else," he will say. He will fumble under the sheet for your hands then, holding them in his own. "Look," he will say. "I didn't mean to hurt you. Really. Please tell me you know that."
"I know that," you will say. And you do. He has gone at your pace, held back for your sake enough times that you do know that.
"Good." He will squeeze your hands then. "We can take it slow," he will say. "Just tell me what you want."'
You will squeeze his hands back. "I want this," you will say. "I want you."
Or maybe you will not say that. That statement is ambiguous, and you are, in general, not quite that smooth anyway. So maybe you will say, "Let's just kiss." Or maybe you will just kiss him. That would be enough to show that you still want him, wouldn't it? That he has pulled you back out of yourself?
You hear the toilet flush. It glugs, and you hear him try it again. The water rushes through the pipes; the bathroom door clicks open; you hear his bare footsteps in the hall.
And then he is here. He is still naked, and the streetlamp haze highlights his face for just a moment before he turns towards you, backlit, and climbs into bed beside you. What was that expression on his face?
"How's my girl?" he asks. For once, you cannot see his face in his voice. Is his brow furrowed or not?
You decide to hope it is. You begin to bare skin to the sun. "Frankly," you say, "I've been better."
But you have miscalculated. "How could you be better," he says, "on a night like this?" There is a lightness in his tone, a smile, a smooth forehead, eyebrows raised. And you know that he noticed nothing. Nothing about the tension in your legs or the quaking in your body, nothing about the intensity with which you seemed to study the streetlamps outside his window during or the patterns in the popcorn ceiling after. Nothing about this past one hour and eighteen minutes—twenty, now.
You know that he will not push you for any information, and you know that you will not provide any; you will not know how to broach the subject. You will make out for twenty more minutes, and then, by 2:05 AM, you will have fallen asleep next to each other, at incredible distances. When you wake up six and a half hours later, you will make out again. Perhaps he will want to have sex, but you will offer one excuse or another; perhaps you will have forgotten that you agreed to meet your grandmother for breakfast across the city in less than half an hour, and she is not one who likes to be kept waiting. He will be understanding and will not press the issue. You will take less than two minutes to get dressed in yesterday's clothes: bra, underwear, now-wrinkled Levi's—here you will pause to make out with him just a bit more—then ivory tank top, green striped sweater, woolen socks. By 8:46, you will have gathered your remaining belongings from the various places about his apartment where you discarded them the night before: phone from the bedroom floor, watch and earrings from the windowsill, coat from the couch, combat boots from that area just to the left of the door. He will follow you through the minutes as you reassemble yourself, rewinding last night. As you are about to open the door, he will offer to walk you to your Metro station. You will refuse, perhaps making a joke about being a strong independent young woman. At 8:47, you will kiss him goodbye, your combat boots butting up against his socked toes, and then you will leave—all told, eight hours and thirty-four minutes after you arrived. He will call you a few days later—three days later, you guess—to ask if you'd like to come over to his place that weekend. You will understand what he means, and you will not want to do that. Within the week, you will break up with him. You are almost certain that he will never understand why.
"Hon?" he says. There is the start of a brow furrowing in his voice. You have forgotten to answer him, it seems. How many seconds has it been?
You stare up at the popcorn ceiling. "I'm kidding," you say. "I couldn't be better." You are surprised at how convincing this statement sounds.
"Good," he says, and he laughs. He brushes your hair behind your ear, though it didn't need to be brushed, and you can hear in his voice that he is smiling now, clueless and content. "Neither could I."
"1:18:00" sprung from my desire to create work that highlights the experiences of people with vaginismus. Even though vaginismus is not uncommon among female-bodied people, it's rarely researched or talked about. As a result, people with this disorder may not know what's happening to them and can feel broken or alone. Because vaginismus can impact not only how people feel about themselves but also how they relate to others who are close to them, I felt that "1:18:00" was a story that needed to be told.
Adeline Schlussel is a recent graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland, where she studied biology, English, and museum studies. At St. Mary's, she also served as editor-in-chief of the campus literary magazine for three years. “1:18:00” is her first publication, and unlike the main character, she has an abysmal sense of time.