AFTER ALL the times we’ve slept next to each other, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Kyle sleep so soundly as he did last night. Whenever I dozed off with him on my Mather twin, he never fell into deep sleep. He would lie there with his eyes closed, just skimming the surface of consciousness and ready to wake from the slightest movement.
My bed in New York is bigger than what we’re used to. The air is musky, laced with liquor from our breath. When I beckon him to bed, he comes fully clothed. I unbutton his shirt, unfasten his belt, pull off his shoes and his socks and finally — with a tug — his pants. I run my fingertips over his torso, resting them between the tufts of dark hair on his chest, and ask him to turn onto his stomach. He obliges.
I start to rub his shoulders for the first time in months. I ask about his girlfriend — or rather, his ex. They broke up recently, just a few weeks ago, and I actually believe him this time when he says it’s over. He confirms what I long assumed: his cheating on her with me was symptomatic of already existing problems, rather than their underlying cause. I think I needed to hear it from him to be sure.
“But she’d still flip a shit if she found out, right?” I ask.
Everything feels displaced. All my friends I’m used to seeing in dorm rooms and dining halls are now running around New York nightclubs and office buildings instead. It changes things. I can’t imagine Kyle sitting in my common room and having a conversation with my Harvard roommates, but put us in a shabby chic one-bedroom across from Tompkins Square Park and suddenly, he’s making brunch plans with Kam. That was last night. Unfathomable. Were I at school, my blockmates (always the first to remind me of his transgressions) would have a difficult time mustering up cordial “hellos”. Maybe Kam is less judgmental. Or maybe it’s New York that’s forgiving.
YOU KNOW those nights when you enter a party slightly inebriated but completely pumped and hours slip by without you even noticing it? That was also last night. I walk into Aidan’s birthday celebration around 11:45pm with my friend Jules in tow. We dance, we laugh, we talk. Next thing I know, it’s pushing 4am, the club is emptying, and I’m getting into a cab with Aidan to drop off a drunk companion. I have no idea when everyone else left (though it’s clear they’re long gone), where my keys are (I drunkenly handed them to Jules), or how/with whom I’m ending the night. I can barely recall the last four hours. It feels like I just got there.
But I know I had a good time. I see it in the expression on Jules’ face. If her smile is any proof at all, then I must be damn pleased. I feel it too. Something about the rhythm of my heartbeat makes it feel like the last song played is still pumping through my veins. I am in such a good mood that I don’t even freak out in the cab when Aidan’s very drunk friend reaches up my dress, rubs me between my legs, and presses his lips against my thighs. I laugh uncomfortably and move his hands away. But I couldn’t get angry if I tried.
I stopped having sex after spring break. The last time was on March 29 with Sam in Philadelphia. A week later, I found out he’d been telling another girl that they were sexually exclusive and I ended things. I was about ready to give up on men altogether. Then Riley happened and if I had any doubts at that point, that fiasco cemented my feelings on the subject. I told myself and my friends that I didn’t want to sleep with anyone unless I was sure I could trust them or at least certain that they didn’t have secret girlfriends. That meant restricting sex to relationships.
In some ways, I looked forward to saying no. Most of the time, it wasn’t even difficult because I didn’t have any romantic feelings for the guy. It’s easier to disappoint someone who’s just a hookup. And with each successive encounter, my resolve strengthened, as if every refusal at the sight of a condom was a small victory in itself. Guys couldn’t argue. My reason for not having sex left no room for debate. The bottomline: if we’re not dating, we’re not fucking.
But the truth is more complicated.
I’m incredibly scared of loss. And I know I shouldn’t feel like I lose something by sleeping with someone, but I do. I decided to stop having sex because I was sick of giving away all these pieces of myself and subsequently worrying about unintentional attachment, ill-advised yearning. It felt like I had no control. It wasn’t my silly superstition about winding up with taken men (though certainly, the pattern started to worry me) so much as it was my wanting to wait for someone who made me feel safe.
I guess last night is as safe as it gets, even though some might say that sleeping with a previous partner doesn’t count. Let me tell you, after four months of forgoing sex, it counts. There are plenty of people it could’ve been, others who have made me feel safe, but something about yesterday’s circumstances allow for the situation to happen. It is organic. It didn’t feel right with the senior who I hooked up with on a near-daily basis over exam period, nor have any of the men in New York left enough of an impression to earn my trust. I was quite tempted to give in a couple weeks ago with Mark in the hotel but the place didn’t feel right even though he did. Thankfully, he didn’t push for it. I don’t know if I could’ve resisted.
It is easy to anticipate last night, even though I don’t really think it is going to happen until it actually does. We both have had a good deal to drink, but it isn’t the alcohol that convinces me. Often times, I’m most stubborn about this matter when I’m drunk. I don’t really need convincing at all. Everything is so familiar, like we have done it before — and we have — but need to remember again what it’s like. It all feels the same — his tongue against mine, the smell of his breath, the texture of his hair between my tugging fingers, the way his hands grip my waist. At the corner of my mind, I remember that Kam is in the living room, that I need to quiet my moans. But that thought is already drifting away.
I stroke his chest with my fingertips slowly, in circles — like I used to — before I lean down and stretch my lips wide to take him in my mouth. Even that is the same. He feels very, very familiar. Before he gets on top of me, he whispers a promise about not making the same infamous mistake we made the first time. I think that is what makes the difference. I laugh. I don’t care anymore.
When he finally pushes inside me, it hurts. It actually hurts. It’s been so long — not just since I’ve had sex but since we’ve had sex. Initially, the pain takes me by surprise, but then I remember that it always used to hurt.
I guess I forgot that part. After he finishes, he leans over, presses his cheek against mine, and sighs long and deep. I breathe hard. I can hear footsteps and the apartment door opening and Jules’ laugh.
IT’S JULY 29TH. Four months to the day. It’s been a pretty long self-imposed streak, if the lack of activity on the blog hasn’t already made this abundantly clear. This entire time, I thought that having sex again — just once — would end the whole mission, that I’d go right back to sleeping with men who I only vaguely trusted. I’m not entirely sure how I feel right now but if anything, I’m more firmly resolved to wait for a relationship than ever.
This morning, I wake up to the sound of storm and thunder. I can sense nausea on the horizon. Kyle is next to me in a surprisingly deep slumber, his chest rising and sinking steadily. Kam and Jules’ muffled voices filter in from the living room. I feel safe.