I remember the first time I was inside another person.
I remember the place where her breasts became her stomach, the soft ripple that her ribcage made as she lay stretched out on my bed. The coarse, curly hair she had in more than one place. The way her fingers grabbed at my shoulders and neck and chest as she lay on top of me.
I remember the bar at which we met. The stained glass windows and old wooden strip down its middle. The walk back to my place across cracked concrete. The warm May breeze. The afternoon sun. The white fan in my window.
I remember her succulent wetness on my cheeks, between my fingernails. I remember the softness with which I could take her, not rough like the sensations my own body craved. I remember being awed by her orgasm, by how effortlessly I could pull it from within her, how our movements were seamless, made sense, like gears interlocking so perfectly in a clock. The gorgeous power that came with recognizing my body in someone else’s. That delectable similarity, yet foreign contrast.
My hands shook at first, but then they steadied. And when she came, it was beautiful.
I remember her tender fingers tracing the outline between my thighs. I remember engulfing her whole hand. I remember orgasming so fast. Faster than I ever had with a man. Like she also instinctively knew my body in the way mine knew hers.
Afterwards, we sat on my bed and traced each other’s tattoos with our fingers. I never fucked her again, but I did see her on the queer beach a few years later. Me, topless in the waves. Her, without her glasses, not recognizing me at first. There is a photo from that day of her and one of my sweeties with their hands on each other’s shoulders, me standing behind them, looking sun-drunk and happy.
I don’t know if I believe in God, but I do know that a queer hand is a divine thing.
My dates and I talk about this. We compare stories of their use. We examine their differences, hold our palms against each other and contrast their size. I paint my fingernails, relishing in an unblemished new coat, but also in its marvelous imperfection as it chips. I adorn myself in gold rings.
I tickle thighs with my nails (never long enough, always breaking). We hold hands and I trace their purlicues, the space between their thumbs and forefingers. Tender but strong. My hands are a crucial part of me.
We buy black nitrile gloves to fuck, make jokes about the bracelets of cum left around a wrist after a fist has been inside me. No glove is ever long enough, but a part of me likes it that way.
My roommate and I talk about hands. We watch trashy reality TV and roll our eyes as contestants eternally kiss. We debate hand holding versus lip locking. One seems more intimate to me, and it’s not the one that involves mouths.
Kissing feels like an attack sometimes. The movements jolting, awkward. Hand holding can be awkward, too. But there’s an intimacy in being linked to someone so absolutely. Every twitch of a muscle, every slight movement of a finger, intensified.
Sex has always been a thing I burned for, hot with a plump and sticky yearning. That feeling of hands gripping sweaty flesh. I discovered masturbation when I was 12, and have spent the rest of my life learning what my body can do. Touching my labia, my clitoris. Rubbing my wetness between my fingers. Shaving my hair and grazing the naked skin, scratching myself when it grew back. Determining what I liked, how I liked it.
In high school, I fell in love for one short week with a girl I met online. We sent each other long messages throughout the day, imagined together what our hands could do to each other. It was a long time before I actually came out as queer, let myself learn those things in real life.
I have had hands inside of me, and there is nothing more exquisite in the world than that sensation. That fullness. That complete taking of another person. That fierce connection.
If you’d asked me three months ago how often I touch myself, I’d say that I lose count. My sexuality was a sacred part of me, my libido endless. My fingers the flavor of cunt more often than not.
Now, I want to grab the inside of my thighs, take my vulva in my hands, and squeeze it like a wound, a blister that needs draining. Something vulgar that we don’t talk about.
We met like you do in a romance novel.
In the fall, in a hostel bar in Edinburgh. Me, tired and unshowered from days of hiking to faerie graves and waterfall chasing. Him, lonely from a conference at which he knew no one else. We bridged the gap between our languages with hand gestures and pictures from our dying phones. An innocent sweetness passed between us, and when we said goodnight, hugging and heading to our separate rooms, I wanted to kiss him but I didn’t.
We spent months emailing. We told each other about our lives, our work, our days, our plans. And then, we had the chance to meet again, this time in my city.
On a Monday night, on the day before my 27th birthday, we sat next to each other on two tiny benches at a shop in Greenpoint, and ate ice cream sandwiches. A journal sat open on the ledge before us. “Today, I am grateful for…” it said, prompting us to leave a note.
We laughed and blushed. He grabbed the pen, opened to a blank page, and wrote three lines in Japanese. I asked him to translate.
“I’m so grateful that I had my friend who I met for just one night in another country take me to all the good local places in NY.” And then he signed his name in both languages.
The ice cream dripped down our wrists. There was nowhere to wash them, so my fingers felt sticky all the way home.
On the way to my apartment, he tried so many times to put his hands around me, to manipulate my body with his arms, pull me into him. I didn’t like it, shrugged them off. He acted hurt. It made me uncomfortable, but he was so sweet, right?
Alone in my room, he moved fast, and I didn’t have time to process. Felt disoriented. No sweet tenderness. Only frenzied jerks. His nails were sharp. His fingers not clean. I wasn’t ready when his hand entered me. It was unpracticed and coarse. It hurt.
I told him to stop.
I told him to stop again. He didn’t. I told him a third time. He still didn’t.
I told him again and again. I begged for it, tried to pull him out of me with my own hands. I don’t know how long I pled, but it felt like the length of my entire life.
Eventually, his fingers released me, but his body held mine to his, his tongue forcing its way into my mouth, his warm, wet hand reaching up to squeeze my nipple. I flinched, my eyes tearing. Frozen. Trying to push him off of me, but too stunned and dazed to say much more.
“I’m so happy,” he said.
“When someone tells you to stop, you have to stop,” I told him. He laughed, unbelieving, and pinched my nipple again and again, forced himself on top of me, trying to take my body for his own.
I pulled away, told him I wasn’t feeling well. We lay there silently for a moment. I felt a warmth between my legs. “I think I’m bleeding,” I said. He looked at me, concerned, as if me bleeding had nothing to do with what he’d just done to me.
“It’s okay,” I told him, not knowing what else to say. It wasn’t.
I got up and went to the bathroom. I felt like I’d been split in two.
I tenderly touched myself between my thighs. Assessing the damage. Blood. Not dark, like menstrual clots. Bright. Crimson. Fresh.
I cleaned myself up and somehow managed to get him out. It was about to snow. I told him that he should get back to his hostel before the blizzard picked up.
I texted my roommate. She came and sat with me on the couch. I told her what happened and cried. Felt like I wasn’t in my own body anymore. Like I was watching our conversation from somewhere else. Through an old TV, or listening to it on a crackling radio. She gave me a Xanax and I took a shower and went to bed on blood-stained sheets.
Four days later, my gynocologist gently inserted a speculum into me. Assessing the damage. I didn’t want to go, but I needed a doctor.
Her hands were gloved in white latex, and soft. She spoke in a kind voice and told me everything she was doing before she did it. Touched my inner thighs to warm me up, get me used to being touched. She did everything right. I turned my head to the side and cried silent, hot tears all over the crinkling paper my half-clothed body shivered on top of. Every part of me shook as I quietly hyperventilated. I tried to hide it from her, but of course she knew.
All I wanted was to hold someone’s hand, but no one else was there.
After she was done and I was clothed again, she asked if I wanted to report what had happened.
“It’s useless,” I said. “He doesn’t live in this country. And what’s there to report?” I told her about how I couldn’t breathe. How I couldn’t go outside. Walk down the street. Sit on the subway, with men everywhere. How getting out of bed felt impossible. I didn’t know what to do to survive, or if I even wanted to.
She looked at me with sad eyes, wrote me a prescription, and told me to take care of myself.
Five days after that, I found myself speaking to another woman. This time, a shrink.
I told her what happened, and again about how I couldn’t breathe. How I couldn’t go to work. Walk down the street. Had spent too much money on cabs, because I was avoiding the subway. How I didn’t want to kill myself, but I didn’t really want to be alive either.
I shook and cried and her voice was gentle and made me feel a little bit safe, but for just a moment. She looked at me with sad eyes, wrote me a prescription, and told me to take care of myself.
It took about six weeks before I could let myself touch anyone again. Even a handshake. Even a hug.
Now, eleven weeks later, there is still a tear inside of me. Not just an emotional one (although there is that, too), but a literal, physical injury leftover from The Thing That Happened, as I’ve taken to calling it. The tear stings when my fingers come close. The same fingers that used to spend hours exploring the pleats of my slit now torture me, and the agony I feel when they do is more than physical.
Now, if you were to ask, I would tell you that I can’t remember the last time I touched myself. The last time I let my hands let me feel good. The last time I orgasmed.
But things are better than they were in March. I am processing. Getting help. Trying to talk about it, even though talking about it feels impossible.
I have had lovers since it happened, and they have been deliberate and patient. We have held hands when I have needed to, and not when I couldn’t. I have let their fingers and hands inside of me, and they have listened to my needs and given me some of the pleasure I thought I’d never be able to retrieve. I am trying to learn my body again, to meet myself where it’s at.
Yesterday, my friend, an old roommate and one of the few people I actually told about The Thing That Happened after it happened, grabbed my arm as we sat beside each other on a couch eating steak and drinking wine. She said that I have soft hands, and that she misses them from when we used to live together. I smiled and let her hold one of mine in both of hers.
“I love you,” I told her.
“I love you, too,” she said back.
Read part two: There’s No Such Thing as a “Good” Survivor