Alternative, Underrepresented, and Educational
Rachel A.G. Gilman
“... I wanna steal your innocence. To me my life, it don’t make any sense ...”
The Strokes, “Barely Legal”
“I can’t picture Sam eating a girl out,” my friend says. She’s sitting on my couch, her legs folded underneath her body and a family-size bag of Cape Cod salt and vinegar chips is in one of her hands. I’m sitting on the hardwood floor of my apartment across from her. “Sam is selfish,” she says, continuing. “He’s the guy who just wants a blowjob and then to go to sleep.” I fall over to the side, laughing so hard I have to hold onto my stomach to try and keep it together. Maybe it’s the mental image or maybe it’s just because of the guy we’re talking about. Either way, I’m a mess. My friend smiles at me but doesn’t say anything. That’s why she’s better than the others I’ve had before. “Yeah, Sam for sure sucks in bed. And he’s definitely never gone down on a lady.” She eats another handful of chips then turns to look in the full-length mirror hanging from my bathroom door positioned across from her. “Besides, I’m pretty sure his big teeth would get in the way.”
“His teeth?” I ask, finally able to sit up.
“Yeah, you’ve never noticed?” My friend sticks out her front teeth for emphasis. “Not that he’s concerned with female pleasure, but I don’t think he would be very good at achieving it.” Smoothing her hair, her eyes are focused on her reflection. “I’d still fuck him, though. He’s hot. And I’d want lots of mirrors around, like, on the walls, so I could see.”
“The ceiling, too?” I joke.
She nods. “I think he’d be into it. We would be terrible together because we’d both be too busy looking at ourselves, noticing how pretty we are.”
“Oh my God!” I say. It’s partially out of embarrassment over imaging the situation, and also because I know, comparatively, I have only been able to have sex in the dark. And my friend is still a proud virgin. So I don’t know how we got on this subject, anyway, or why we always seem to get on this subject of boys (especially those we work with) in bed. It could be because when you attend a university like we do, where there are more women than men to begin with, and then those men consist mainly of players, previously committed dudes, and boys that like boys as much as you do, you tend to focus on the slim availabilities accessible.
“Ben, however,” my friend says, “is probably very concerned with female pleasure. Like, sleeping with him would be very vanilla, but he would make sure you enjoyed yourself.”
“I can’t picture that,” I say. I don’t want to picture it, seeing as I’ll actually be seeing Ben and Sam in just a few hours. But, hypothetically, I just can’t image the twenty-going-on-thirty- five year-old real estate agent slash student as a sexual being. I’ve never really thought about it either. I put him in a different category. Half of his wardrobe is the same as my stepfather’s. That’s not to say he isn’t sexy – Ben is – but good at sex? That is a different word altogether. To me, he’s the man you make love to, not the one you have sex with. I hope that makes sense.
“We could ask his girlfriend,” my friend suggests. “He should bring her around, and then we’ll be like, ‘hey, has Ben ever gone down on you? And is he good at it?’”
“Yeah, sure. That wouldn’t be weird.”
My friend shrugs and goes on. “Ben would also be very big on the post-sex cuddling, I think. You know, really concerned with making you comfortable. I’m not saying it’d be the greatest time of your life. He’d just be very sweet.”
“I couldn’t handle that,” I say. I have a problem with boys that are too nice to me. It makes me gag a little. Honestly, I probably just have trust issues, or maybe I’m afraid. As soon as you taste happiness, you’re going to want it forever, and I’m not in the market to miss more things. I already know I’m going to miss what I have right now – my friends, my job, the conversations on my floor. One day, it’s all going to change. I’m in too deep to get out, but I have to accept it. If I have low expectations, I figure I’ll be happy with whatever I get. I doubt I’m the first person to think this way. “I’d keep questioning him as to why he was acting that way, and eventually just be turned off.”
“Rachel, why are you such a masochist?” my friend asks me.
I’d take it the wrong way if not for the smirk on her lips. And, of course, there’s a bit of truth in it. There’s a reason I only fall for the jerks, for the supposedly bad-in-bed boss with the big teeth, the entirely unattainable, the one I can’t stand caring about because he’s a horrible person and it makes me wonder if I am, too. But my friend’s probably right. It must be that I like the pain it causes me. Stretching my back, the floor has started to take its toll, and our project of working on a revamped radio news department website has now gone by the wayside. “I think Naveen is probably the best in bed, out of all the boys at the station,” I say.
“Oh, Naveen is great in bed!” my friend says. “Like, he would be the best sex of your life.” “I would never have sex with Naveen, though.”“Why not?”
I can feel something hot rush up into my cheeks, which is perfectly ridiculous. If I’m supposed to be studying the relationship between creative writing and sex, I should be able to articulate my opinions on an individual’s performance in bed without blushing. And finally, I can. “I’m afraid Naveen would make me feel things I’ve never felt before, and I’m not ready for that,” I say. “I’m scared that I would do stuff out of character, that I would say things that would lead to my neighbors knocking on the walls.”
Now it’s my friend’s turn to laugh. “Naveen is for sure amazing in bed.”
“He’s said he’s been told that,” I say.
“Do you think I should lose my virginity to him?”
When I bring it up to our other female friend at the station later in the day, she cringes a little. “I don’t know about that,” she says. “I’d probably switch Ben and Naveen. But she’s got Sam spot on.” She’s coming up on her second year anniversary with her boyfriend. They have an apartment, two cats, and enough cuteness combined to really choke a cynic like me. We’re together in the production studio. It’s a soundproof room with a glass wall – basically, a fish tank. Sam and Ben happen to be in the studio across the way. They’re discussing something, and every once in a while someone throws their arm up and shakes it in the air, aggravated. I’ve yet to notice Sam’s teeth, but Ben is wearing a Mets baseball jersey over a cashmere blend sweater that resembles one my stepfather opened up on Christmas morning (even though, like Ben, he’s a Jew). I can’t even make eye contact with Naveen. Yet there I sit on the counter in the studio, discussing it all again. I really am a masochist, aren’t I?
“I don’t want to think about them like that,” she says. She laughs, but she’s sincere. I get it. And our other friend and I wouldn’t have to if we could just find ourselves what she already has, though admittedly, I’m not sure I’ll ever want to or if I ever will. I don’t think I believe in it.
“... Spending time together, watch out. Don’t let it get you down. Nothing is forever, that’s right. But don’t let it get you down ...”
Twin Peaks, “Making Breakfast”
My eyes can't decide if it's more painful to remain open or to close around the plastic, dried contact lenses attached to my irises. This is just one of the many side effects of four hours of standing, waiting, and joining lines that eventually turned into crowds in and around Washington Square Park, all to hear a seventy-four year-old Jewish man talk about how our country's in need of a “revolution.” Most everyone around me is vying for a glimpse of his balding head. I just need a sound bite of his voice. And frankly, the longer I remain squished between two barricades with half- heartedly written "Press" signs attached, the more I just want someone to hold me and convince me I wasn't an idiot for thinking I didn't need a second sweater tonight. I'm delusional enough by now to want that person to be my boss, the other grumpy Jew in the park, the one standing next to me. I've become more interested in his grabbing my hand, squeezing it to warm and wake me, than the story. This is the life of a journalist? I find myself internally asking.
The combination of cold and exhaustion encourage me enough to lean my head on my boss’s left shoulder. I was already pushed halfway into his body to keep warm, and my arm is getting tired of holding up my cell phone turned tape recorder, anyway. I don’t think it’s that weird. He smiles, so maybe he doesn’t either.
“If I ‘boo,’ do you think people would notice?” he says into my ear. It’s just loud enough that I can make it out, though at first I do wonder why he wanted to project cow sounds at this over-hyped millennial crowd. When I stop giggling, he follows up by asking when I’ll be ready to leave. “It would be kind of nice to beat the crowd, you know?” I also know we’re both just here for the experience, to check it off the bucket list. Skipping the line with press badges was kind of cool. Seeing Vampire Weekend perform was the real reason we even waited. The rest of this means little. We’re undecided voters, but tonight has helped us to know we aren’t really feeling the Bern.
“I just need ten minutes,” I whisper back, tipping my nose up toward his jaw. I click the home button on my cell phone. We’re already at four. “We’ll be good soon.”
He nods, turning his head back to the Washington Arch. We remain close, so close I can smell him. He’s a little sweaty, probably from riding his bike everywhere. I wouldn’t say it’s bad. But he’s not quite as nice as I’ve been thinking. There are bags under his slightly yellowing eyes, blackheads fighting for room on the bridge of his nose, and gaps between his teeth, the teeth my friend classified as too big for comfort. The amount of grease in his hair literally helps him earn the label “dirty blonde.” It also convinces me he really should reconsider his decision to not use shampoo for the past month. I find myself debating if his sad attempt at growing facial hair is endearing or pathetic and almost forget what I’m supposed to be doing.
I check my phone again. Ten minutes, six seconds. “We’re good,” I say, pulling away and saving the file. “Let’s go.”
We get back to work and within the hour find ourselves sitting side by side in the production studio of the radio station, trying to work out the script for our four-minute piece. Turns are taken passing the keyboard back and forth to transcribe what we’ll read and record, and whoever isn’t having to type is eating the dinner I paid for with my remaining meal plan swipes.
“I should have gotten an orange,” he says as he watches me bite into mine. I try not to squirt the juice between my teeth. There are just too many places for it to go (literally and metaphorically). “But, I had one for breakfast. I’m obsessed with citrus.”
So am I. “I had a banana,” I say, referring to the side he chose with his Quizno’s sandwich. Part of me is still smiling inside about the adorable way he stuck his tongue out and shuttered at my ordering mayo on mine. I only ordered it so I could see this reaction. I realize while I’m reminiscing on not even fifteen minutes ago, he’s moving things around the studio, as if searching. “Problem?”
“Have you seen my banana?” He gets on the ground, crawling. “It wasn’t that large. I guess that’s why I misplaced it.”
“I could make a joke, but I’ll hold back.”
He laughs. He smiles just enough that it actually hurts my stomach to look at him. “Oh, yeah, that’s a good one,” he says. “I can never find my dick, and neither can the girls. Now, can we finish this so we can watch the game?”
Yes, the game, the start of the NHL playoffs, which luckily I am invested in enough that I can stop thinking about his penis. But it does return me to the first time I met him. It was August, and I was wearing my New York Rangers cap because I hadn’t seen the point in washing my hair or dressing up for the first staff meeting of the semester. Now, I pick out a special dress for the weekly Tuesday get together. But I vividly remember the way he leaned over on his elbows on the table in the main room and looked into my eyes before asking if I liked the Rangers. His lips were pouted in a way I’d seen before, probably on my ex-boyfriend. I wasn’t interested. My response was constructed of an eye roll and a rather annoyed, “Do you even know what sport it is?”
He politely leaned away. The same kind of smile he’s just exposed was on his face, too, though back then it just barely softened my attitude. “Yeah, of course,” he said. “I just prefer to root for a team that actually wins the Stanley Cup once in a while.”
Our private conversation blurred into a public introduction. He went first. He was not only the producer of the sports talk program, but also the general manager – my boss, my boss that became significantly cuter the more I stared at him. I never would’ve thought we’d get to the point where I could actually speak to him while only making a mild fool of myself. Well, maybe I would’ve believed it if you’d added that it took us all year to get there, up until he only has a month left in my life, and half of the time he still thinks I hate him. The other half, like right now, we’re so comfortable it scares me.
“Found it!” he says, locating his banana underneath the table. It’s a little bruised, but we make eye contact and seem to decide he’ll be fine. He peels it. “So, you going to France or not?”
“My mother doesn’t want me to,” I say. The Cannes trip – it’s just one of the things I’ve worked my ass off to earn this year that my mother doesn’t seem to understand I’m mature enough to enjoy. “What about you? Have you made up your mind?”
“The trip isn’t reliant on my going.”
“You still need to make up your mind.”
He smiles again, though smaller. “If you go, I’ll go, too.” That’s turned into our old adage to one another. We act like we’re in it together in a way that the others aren’t, and maybe we are.
I want to say “ditto.” I want to kiss him, right there in a glass room where everyone can see. And I want to confront my mother and tell her she doesn’t have a say in this, that she needs to understand I’m almost twenty-years old. I can fly to France. I can spend the weekend with my friends in the city without getting in trouble. I can become my own person without her having to tag along. I’ve almost brought myself to the point of saying all this, probably because I don’t realize that as soon as I get home tonight, she’ll lecture me about my decision to hang out with my boss until eleven at night when I had work to do and class in the morning, and oh yeah, he’s a boss who I’ve openly complained about before for the way he confuses my heart and my head. So what? It might be fair, but it doesn’t feel like it. If she can’t even accept my watching a hockey game with a boy she doesn’t know but dislikes simply based on my track record with other, similar boys, what hope do I have of her allowing me to fly off to another country? When do I get to be happy?
“I’ll let you know,” I tell him. “Let’s just record this.”
“... I wanna boy to keep the bed warm while I shower. I wanna boy to keep the bed warm while we’re watching TV. I wanna boy to keep the bed warm when the whole house is freezing. I wanna boy who isn’t anything like me ...”
PWR BTTM, “I Wanna Boi”
A while ago, I wrote the ending to this story. I pre-planned it in my head, partly because I thought I would only ever tell it as a form of fiction and partly because I’ve decided I’m a real crazy person. I figured it was going to end in my having to give him up, give it all up. I thought it would probably involve someone flying away. Weirdly enough, I included Ben in there, too, standing by my side as I watched it all dissipate, helping me to decide where I stood. I guess I just picked up on something. But there were a lot of things I didn’t get right, like that it might be me on that plane and not my big-toothed boss. I didn’t imagine there would be a possibility of my going anywhere remotely interesting. Then again, I hadn’t considered the idea that my cell phone would now hold two texting conversations with boys where they couldn’t grasp the need for them to apologize for the way they had acted, two conversations I’ve screen captured and reread an embarrassing number of times each. I guess I had never expected to care about how little this guy cared about me. I thought I was used to it. And I certainly hadn’t pictured myself sitting in a blank office across from our radio adviser, a notepad and pen by her side, as she transcribes our discussion in a way that’s a little too psychoanalytical for my liking.
But nevertheless, this is the ending I’m looking at now, now that he decided it doesn’t matter if I’m going. It no longer means he’s going, too. In fact, he’s not dealing with the trip at all. It’s become my problem. He knows I can handle it. Maybe I could’ve a couple weeks ago, but not now.
“It was just a little too much,” I say. “Having him walk me to class at eleven in the morning and talk about how excited he was to go on the trip, and then a couple of hours later call me and tell me he’s out.” I don’t tell her about the part where he said he was only excited to go because I was going, that he’d told his parents that, too. What would it add, really?
I cross my legs tightly, perhaps a bit nervously. They’re covered in the black pants that are two sizes smaller than I wore last year at this time. I could only squeeze into them this morning because I haven’t eaten since I got the news he wasn’t going on the trip. My stomach now has the same heavy pain inside that my chest has, the kind of pain my friend described you get when you really like someone, the kind of pain she doesn’t have when she thinks about Naveen, which is probably why she shouldn’t keep thinking about losing her virginity to him.
Looking up from her notes, our adviser nods. “Yeah, Sam, I’d love to study him, the way he’s so terribly independent. He’s kind of a psychologist’s wet dream.”
We both laugh a little bit, but I debate if I should. Someone could probably place me in the same ship. I have the few things in my apartment that reminded me of him (the vintage cookie book he gave me for my birthday last week, the mismatched green pens he’d tucked inside the card’s envelope, the Chicago Cubs hat I really only wear so it gives us something to talk about) inside the bottom drawer of my nightstand so I wouldn’t have to look at them and think about everything, every damn mistake I feel like I made for the second go around. It made me feel like I haven’t really gotten better at all this year, like maybe I’d just gotten worse. I don’t actually want to be a masochist.
“It was hurtful on two levels,” I say. “Professionally and personally.” I re-cross my legs. “I guess I just thought...I mean, I didn’t think...” I stop, restarting one more time. “We were supposed to be better friends than that, than for him to do this to me. It was wrong. And it just feels kind of manipulative, like, he acted like we were on the same page, against the opposition, then he just switched and threw all of the problems my way. It’s the way he’s acted with me all year. He knows he just has to stare at me with those big, sad, brown eyes and I’ll do whatever he asks. I give into him. But I can’t give in here.”
I don’t know how else to tell our adviser that I have this undeniable urge to bang the boss and I’m bummed out that he’s nothing more than the selfish piece of shit everyone tried to warn me about. Somehow, I don’t think I have to elaborate. She looks up from her notepad and smiles, as if she understands completely, almost like she’s been in the same place before.
“Do you think it’d be worth you and Sam sitting down and talking through this? Having him apologize, acknowledge the problem here in his leadership?” she asks me.
Fuck no, I think. I eventually say it, too, but more articulately. “I don’t see the point,” I say. “He’s never going to understand the emotional problems this has caused. He’s never going to really know why he’s apologizing. They’ll just be words. He’s not capable of more than that, and I just have to accept that I read him entirely wrong.”
Our adviser almost looks proud now, in the way an older sister might. It’s only mildly strange because I’ve just met her. “You are aware most people your age aren’t fortunate enough to be so logical, the way both you and Ben are.”
Yes, Ben. He reminded me yesterday after I’d come to conclusion that I actually really hated our big-toothed boss (for real this time) that all of this would be over soon, and as soon as he said so, my throat caught and tears prickled my green eyes. It was actually Ben who suggested I speak to our adviser. Ben: the person I reached out to as soon as I got the news and started crying to on the phone in the way I’ve been accused of doing before but never actually done until this past Wednesday afternoon. Ben, the person who was willing to have dinner with my mother in order to make this trip happen, who pronounced my last name incorrectly then paid for the meal with a platinum Amex before walking “us ladies” back to my tiny East 27th Street studio. Ben, the person who has called me intelligent, creative, and even fierce and beautiful – a slew of words I don’t think I’ll ever be able to believe about myself but he says with so much confidence it terrifies me.
Ben. He’s also the name I chose to include in here, the one I didn’t dodge around. I’m actually writing it. I guess because I decided he “earned it,” whatever the hell that means to me anymore. Maybe he’ll be the first person to earn it by actually being nice, and then I won’t be a masochist anymore.
Our adviser pushes her notepad away and reaches across the top of the plastic-posing-as- wood desk, moving her hand in my direction as if to bring us closer. There’s a sad kind of smile across her fuchsia-colored lips. I lean in a little and uncross my legs. Maybe she wants this to be some kind of moment. I can’t tell, not until she places her hand on top of mine. “Ben really cares about you, Rachel,” she says. “I’d never seen him so emotional about something until he came in to talk about this yesterday. He was really concerned.” Her hand squeezes down a little. “I hope you realize that, okay?”
I’ve heard this before. I heard it when Ben said it himself to my mother over the dinner table at Churchill’s last Sunday, when he reached across for my hand in the same way our adviser just did. I hid my hand under the table. I guess it didn’t mean anything then. It was just a gesture, just a stepping-stone to France. I’m thinking about it a little differently now
When she pulls away, so do I, giving her a nod. “Yeah, I think I’m figuring that out.”
I’m figuring out a lot, like maybe I need a friend who cares about me more than I need another jerk to screw me over. Maybe I need something happy to write about for once. And maybe this is the door to all of that.
Our adviser notes that she is going to email the boss, the boy who I still won’t address by name. It’s in here enough, anyway. She’s glad I came to see her, and so am I.
Ben is the first person I talk to about the meeting. “Hey,” I text. “I met with Nanci.”
He responds within a minute or two. “Good, I’m glad. And?”
There’s so much I could say, but he’s right. Soon enough, it’s not going to matter. I should try the idea out now, get used it. “Start packing your suitcase.”
He sends back an emoji, the one smiling and wearing the sunglasses. Nothing has ever felt so appropriate.
“... Check your passport. It’s no trick. Take the Chap Stick. Put it on your lips. Crack a smile. Adjust my tie ...”
Vampire Weekend, “Oxford Comma”