An Erotic Memoir explores the power of desire to shape a life.
A truant strand of brunette curls swung before friendly blue eyes, but a sharp chin and thin lips turned the sweet girl sour. With weak shoulders and allergies, Anna wasn’t the robust sort of woman I usually desired, but her penetrating thoughts could reproduce for hours. I loved her mind.
On a spring evening, I stood in her stylish apartment, where minimalist black furnishings and a bored cat made anything human seem incidental. Our infrequent friendship left me always catching up on the “absolute last straw” from her alcoholic lover.
Fidgeting and impulsive, I stepped close and broke the deadlock of clever dialogue. My trembling didn’t surprise her as much as my honesty when I confessed how badly I wanted her. She smiled, and my hands grew confident, drawing her closer still. Her baby-powder scent seemed too delicate for a woman who managed a population of schizophrenics. Her lips seemed too eager for a cynic who had trouble believing in passion.
Anna was charming and disingenuous, and sometimes she was sincere and wounded. She was the fattest vegetarian I knew, and her hyperthyroid mother swam among recollections of her childhood like a shark, leaving Anna bulimic in a bid for control. Her parents once visited during December and took issue with her “Hanukkah Bush,” blaming me for her rebellion after I mentioned my stepfather, the pig farmer.
She brought an indiscriminate appetite to her reading of the DSM-IV. From the buffet of syndromes and disorders, she assigned tendencies to each friend and diagnosed herself as a narcissistic personality. In truth, she was just a liar. She taught me a certain cynicism, but the truly important lesson I was to learn from Anna was that no matter how much I loved her, I couldn’t make her love me.
I was twenty-seven and leaving a marriage with a man for whom I was simply a space-filler. The best I can say about John is he didn’t care. He didn’t care if I loved him, as long as I cleaned the house. He didn’t care what I did with my time, as long as I didn’t spend money. He didn’t care if I had sex with other people, as I long as I had sex with him, too. He was much older than me and admitted he married me because I was “still trainable.”
He was a physician whose authority gave him enough emotional distance that he could care about his patients. Sometimes he even cried for them. He was raised in the Church and Catholic schools, so thoughts of a loving God remained rare, while pornographic images of “good girls” regulated his erections. He was a premature ejaculator who lacked any interest in intimacy and camouflaged his problem before marriage with a spectacular effort at frequency. After marriage, he told me my pleasure was my own responsibility.
In contrast to the toxic compromise demanded by John, time with Anna was more like Communion, when something profane became something sacred, when something fragmented became whole. Then I invited Anna into my marriage and discovered I was just an adventure, while John discovered he had a real gift for leaving women unsatisfied. Lost in a lake of reflections, I realized my value to both was as a mirror. My desire was important to them only because it made them feel attractive.
Learning who I was meant unlearning who I was supposed to be. I had been the kind of liar who didn’t know I was lying because all the time I was trying to meet expectations, trying to make the fiction a reality. Only when I admitted failure did I see I had been lying all along. When I left, I didn’t tell John what a bastard he was but only that our failed marriage was my fault. I just wanted to be free.
Freedom comes from power. Power comes from desire. One of the sexiest things I’ve ever seen was Sharon Kay in a skirt. She was a lithe New Age Pisces with an easy-going approach to relationships. Blonde curls fell around her shoulders, and beneath her turquoise-floral peasant skirt, long hair covered her soft legs. Everything about her was feminine and feral. I wanted to lick her all night.
Fresh with heartache from yet another date with Anna, where she spent more time on the phone with Susan than with me, I stayed the night with Sharon Kay. She lived in a student apartment with a lesbian and a straight man–a financial arrangement, though they indulged in group sex whenever the mood struck. Lynn was blonde and butch and had a genius for manipulation. She invited herself into bed with Sharon Kay and me.
I should have trusted my instincts, but not wishing to be judgmental, I allowed her to parlay the night into weeks, which is when I learned you can, indeed, judge a book by its cover. Time in her bed ended the day I found her chasing my pet rabbit around her apartment. She was laughing gleefully at his terror when the mailman arrived with the steel chains she had ordered for our explorations in the world of BDSM.
Sharon Kay drifted on as ethereal souls often do, while curiosity dragged me into a lesbian S&M subculture. One of the event planners for the community was so proud of her black leather bra that she took me into a university room, tore off her shirt, and insisted I feel its suppleness. What the subculture offered in sheer monkey-watching peculiarity, it lacked in intimacy. Not that I had anything against the sensual potential of pain, but any fetishistic activity so contrived as a “spanking party” or so elitist as to require a laborious skill at tying specific knots with a specific kind of hemp could be at most a curiosity.
The application of “pain,” managed by the “bottom” and her “safe” word, seemed nothing more than a performance, a clotted flow of love leaving pleasure little different from a congealing fantasy of rape: the real thing is never about erotic desire. A baton slides between strapped breasts, and no one shares a thing, but they all get off. This was like ritualizing every bad relationship I ever had and being forced to stuff a ball-gag in my mouth besides.
I would find Fetlife many years later, but the pleasure remained anemic. I found little value in sharing masturbatory solitude through ropes and whips. If the essence of erotic love is to be known as oneself, fetishes are a simulation of recognition. Only the leather is real.
I was content to spend afternoons listening to the summer rain with my two dogs nearby. The steady tapping and moist aromas of tropical growth eased my mind, especially on days when I had nothing to do but brood over Anna.
She returned again and again to Susan, who used threats of self-abuse to monopolize her time. I was not the jealous type. Polyamorous relationships have been a natural expression of love and sex my entire life, but I saw I had no claim on Anna’s heart.
Since she was a creature of the city, preferring clubs, performances, and movies to the outdoors, she never accompanied me to the beach, unless we spent the night at a seaside hotel. But the shore was my favorite place to be, so I had to count on a friend and former lover to keep me company.
When we weren’t playing three-wall racquetball or eating stuffed mushrooms at a local bar, Isabel and I were at the beach. Born to Cuban parents, Isabel spoke several languages and had lived in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and America. Like most of us at that time and place, she was a feminist of the nineties: if women wanted equality, we just needed to be more like men. I loved her independence.
Isabel had been molested by her brothers, which overshadow her erotic joy with shame. On our first night together, we spent six hours kissing, a bliss I haven’t experienced since then, when tenderness meant everything. I encouraged her to masturbate, to find pleasure she could associate just with herself, with her own body. She resisted until the day she proudly shared her new silicone vibrator, a stylized purple rabbit.
On an oppressive August afternoon, Isabel, her new girlfriend, Debbie, and another friend, Patty, joined me on the hot sand of St. Petersburg Beach. We didn’t leave until we were glowing pink from too much sun and feeling exhausted from too much beer. Walking through the ocean cooled us off but left us sticky with salt. After stopping at a beach shower, we watched the sun mingle with the sea at an open-air bar, while an acoustic band finished a set. We returned to my apartment, where we talked about 90’s politics and sobered up.
A few nights before, the four of us had gone skinny-dipping in a neighbor’s pool, and now, along with a comment on the temperature, Patty offered the challenge that without water, we wouldn’t have the courage to strip down. I was the first to toss my clothes to the floor, but soon, four naked bodies and fertile minds were kindling all kinds of heat.
Debbie was Native American, with square shoulders and raven hair, whose long bangs did little to hide her intense eyes. Everything about her was delicious. She mounted me, setting her lovely wetness on my face. When Isabel pressed the humming purple rabbit against my clitoris, the sweet taste of sun-made sweat and desire grew even sweeter. There are few moments as transcendent as tasting a woman while reaching orgasm.
None of us spoke, leaving communication to our hands and mouths. Experience has taught me how much better sex can be with words, but at that time, I was all compulsion. Things like discretion and disclosure wouldn’t arrive for another decade or so.
Piecing together patterns is my nature. Nothing passes by me that hasn’t been turned inside out by the time I let it go, but what to hold on to, what to accept as true? The best answer I’ve found is the process itself is what matters.
Had I been a little more sophisticated, I might have known that desire alone is not enough to get what you want. Inspirational aphorisms and self-help books urge you to achieve your dreams by believing in yourself. Just believe in yourself, and you’ll get what you want! Well, Chesterton had a point. He said the world is full of those who believe in themselves, and they are either in lunatic asylums or life’s losers, because complete self-confidence is both a sin and a weakness.
Love takes more than desire. You must want it, the one you love must want it, and you must meet at a timely moment in both lives. I once believed there was someone managing it all that could be appealed to through the power of prayer. Looking back from midlife, I believe more in the promiscuous hands of particle interactions.
Few people really know themselves. Anna told me she loved me. She promised that her relationship with Susan was ending. Her entrenchment should have been a clue; you don’t fight that much without a whole lot of love behind it. She had much less passion for me. In fact, we never even argued.
Our togetherness was a neat routine. We both went through the motions of what we thought we should be doing. Except that she couldn’t free herself from the emotional fallouts with Susan, and I had a recurring gut-punch from every mention of her. We were both fortunate to have had such painful moments in our lives, but I was the faster learner. Maybe because I already had the example of John and my dad, I accepted what a dead-end that sort of emotional desperation is.
The most honest conversation comes through the body. Consider how easy it is to lie with words and hard to lie with your body. That’s why lie detectors work. That’s why industry and military have specialists who read body language. Have you ever been with someone who said they weren’t shy, but at a party, you knew they were? Have you ever slept with someone who said they loved you, but in bed, you knew they didn’t?
It’s not so difficult to get someone in bed, but once there, the ones you’ve manipulated are waiting passively for you to do something. How hard is it to lie there and let someone make you feel good? That dissonance showed up most clearly in bed when Anna’s body didn’t react with desire and little flowed between us but the alcohol.
Sex with Anna was like a calculus test, searching for what was integral while defining limits, and though calculus was something I enjoyed, performance testing with Anna was not. Before I went down on her, she said she doubted I was lesbian. I had been married to a man, after all. She wasn’t the first or last lesbian to call me out on that.
Definitions don’t mean much to me. I never pointed out that if the test for lesbianism was cunnilingus, she was something closer to a Stepford wife than the radical dyke she imagined herself to be. She was fond of gadgets and possessed one of the most outlandish sex toys I’ve ever seen, which she used in place of actually touching me. She was much like John, but I didn’t see it because, you know, I believed in myself.
When I fell in love with Anna, I thought if I just loved her enough, then she would love me back. It was the same thing I had done with John. I believed there was something deeper he would share if I just made him feel loved enough. I had done the same with my father, trying to meet him on a level where he felt safe. Only a heart attack softened my father, and approaching death eased his fear. I had no such existential intervention with John or Anna.
Sex was not something she fell into during a moment of passion, but something she planned, with beer and vibrator ready. It was a silent, functional, step-by-step process from kissing to orgasm, and ended with a ceremonial washing of the toys. In bed, I knew she didn’t love me, but what she wanted to hide even more was that she didn’t love herself.
Anna didn’t understand how I could love her. Her fascination with me was not for who I was but for what my presence said about her. My self worth didn’t depend on the eyes or the lies of another, but hers did. I wanted to give comfort. That’s what Anna brought out in me, a desire to nurture. I wanted to make her feel good. I loved her and loved who I became with her. What I felt for Anna made me courageous and vulnerable.
She set me free by showing me how much I desired. She also showed me how much I could hurt. And it was glorious.
Copyright © 2021 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.