A brief contemplation on a naive young woman’s first sexual encounter and the meaning of intimacy – whether physical or romantic.
When they first met, to her, he was just another face in the crowd, standing at the top of the stairs, waiting, looking out at the mountains sprawling beyond the traffic of the city.
But the night he brought her home and kissed her, he whispered against her lips that he wanted her. It was only at that moment that she really saw his face for the first time.
She was a hurricane of sweet and sour, a coil of the burning desire for new, heart-racing experiences tied with a dogmatic adherence to the familiar. There wasn’t anything particularly striking about him, she felt, that would make it all unravel from the eye of the storm. But somehow, his words un-looped it all. Perhaps it was the look he gave her, because no one had ever held her gaze so intently before. She melted against him and told him she wanted him too.
Losing her virginity wasn’t a big deal to her. It was an occurrence that would have run its course eventually. It only hurt her physically. Losing her dignity was a graver injury.
In bed, he completely unwound her, scattered the storm. After it was done, she rested her head against his shoulder and sighed. She felt the blood seeping through the fabric of her shorts, but noticed no pain except the sting of adrenaline in her chest and the burning in her cheeks. She wanted him to snake his arms around her waist, to kiss her forehead, to run his fingers through her hair.
She looked up at him with the eyes of a child, through rose-colored glasses. She traced his jawline and whispered to him, kissed his neck and lips and nose, like a lover in a fairytale.
She didn’t quite understand that they had only hooked up.
He did not stay the night. After she had nestled into his chest, he rose and said he needed to be somewhere early the next morning – breakfast with a parent. He took his leave at half past one.
The next day, she woke up and looked in the mirror at herself and saw nothing different, except a strange shimmer to her eyes from lack of sleep. Because she’d been up late after he left, looking at the ropes of uncoiled emotions lying on the floor with her clothes, thinking about what had happened.
She leaned over the bathroom sink and splashed water onto her face. She had set her phone down on the table next to the sink. As she wiped her face, she stared at the screen. She pushed the button to make it light up – nothing except the time (11:34) and the phone wallpaper that said, “When you know your worth nothing can make you feel worthless.”
He had not sent a text yet. So she waited. And waited.
At four in the afternoon she gave in and sent a text. And waited. And waited.
In this city with millions, people come and people go. Maybe he was used to that. Maybe that’s how it was for him, how it’s always been – people come, people go, everyone eventually becomes faceless, even nameless, and he does not remember. He simply lived in the present. She had the misfortune of a naive, free hope.
For a week after that, she’d have imaginary conversations with him. She walked down the streets in the crowds of thousands and tried to glimpse at strangers’ faces to see if it was his. She thought that if she saw him, she’d apologize and say that she didn’t mean to come off as too hasty. She wasn’t needy. She was just new to this.
“Don’t you think it’s needy in itself to have to explain you’re not needy to him?” retorted a voice in her head.
She’d imagine what she’d say instead as she sat at her office desk and typed away her next work assignment. She’d play the “cool girl” who only wanted a friends with benefits type of thing.
“But don’t you feel how your heart beats in your chest when you’re around him? Do you even know if you’re capable of handling emotionless sex?” retorted the voice.
She’d think about it as she was chopping onions on the cutting board for dinner. She’d tell him she just wanted to be friends, that’s all, as her eyes stung from slicing the onions. She’d glance over at her phone, blurry-eyed, hoping that once her vision cleared she’d see something from him.
“Do you really need his friendship?” asked the voice.
One night, as she sat on the windowsill with a cup of tea gazing out at the city lights, she put her phone down to charge and did not check it for him. It took her a week to realize that she did not need him, that she did not want him, and that the best option was silence.
She cried a little bit in her pillow as she went to bed, mourning not him but the realization that she had been pinning all of her value in the lustful gaze of a fleeting stranger who only saw her as an object of desire.
It took her a week to realize that she was not okay, and regret bloomed in her chest at what she had agreed to, at what they’d done.
It only took her a few minutes to realize that it was okay that she was not okay. All it pointed to was that she was unwilling to conform to a flawed culture of callous one-night stands and games of spurious indifference. She treasured the real, the authentic – hand holding, gentle glowing looks, feathery whispers in her ear without the expectation of something more than her very presence.
Perhaps at first she could not separate the genuine from the false in his face, but after staring up at the dark ceiling for an hour or so, contemplating, she thought to herself that she would be able to pull apart the complexion of him or any stranger and realize whether or not they are worth it.
Now she will look in the mirror at her own face and trace all of the details – the pride in the bridge of her nose, the sensuality in the curve of her Cupid’s bow, the innocence and faith in the flutter of her eyelashes. She does not need him to tell her he wants her. She does not need him to say a single sweet thing against her lips, because she already knows her worth.
It has only been a week, but she does not think they’d recognize each other in a crowd. His gaze means nothing special to her any longer, and she’s changed so much that he would not realize who she is.