A little girl walking through the woods on her way to her best friend’s house finds a small piece of paper. It is shiny and colorful, ripped from a magazine no doubt, with ragged edges and folded into halves – twice. I still don’t know what makes the little girl take that loose piece of paper into her hands. It is litter, really. But it will never be far from her for the next decade. From that day, she keeps it. Folded as she found it. She gently places it between the pages of The Little Prince or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, perhaps Watership Down. Now and again she takes it out and unfolds it. Over the years, the piece of paper becomes worn and soft, as satin silk or lambskin chamois. Whitened, thin and frayed at the folds until it is too delicate to even open. But the girl keeps it. It has become her confidante.
What started as a mysterious thrill and matured into a treasured taboo was actually just a torn fragment of a pornographic magazine. At a certain point I discovered that the magazine’s lettering was Japanese and so I always assumed that she was. ‘She’ was a lithe nude with beautiful breasts lying on her back with her arms outstretched. The part of the page torn away from mine must have held the body of the man whose cock was penetrating her. Her legs were spread so wide it looked as if it were unbearable, but she had a look on her face which then confused and mystified me. Now, I would call it ecstasy or bliss. And though I remember thinking at first that she looked as if she were under some sort of attack, there was a powerful aura of contentment. I don’t think I knew ‘she’ was erotic. I hadn’t any idea it was an image designed to arouse, inflame or maybe ignite the sexual frenzy depicted on the page in the reader. Instead, to me, the paper was at once a secret and an object, a map to some buried treasure that nonetheless was just a woman, just a girl – like me. I was transfixed. I memorized every shape, contour and colour on this page, the way I committed things whenever I sketched anything. I’m not really sure what I was looking for. I doubt I ever drew her. That would have called attention to her, to me. I wonder now, how did I know. How did I know not to show her to anyone, to hide and protect her. It is as if I knew I was sheltering myself, which I didn’t. I would take it out and stare at the page, but calling it a page I am collapsing my older self with the young. Part of why I found her exciting and mysterious is that she was not a page. She did not belong to a volume whose issue numbered in the tens of thousands, an item that was published monthly and distributed somewhere in the world. She was a real girl – a woman like the one I was becoming. She was part of me.
A few years later, when my first boyfriend introduced me to his porn magazine collection, I was struck by the familiarity of the paper. It was thick, shiny and filled with ‘flesh’ coloured bodies. My paper fragment may have come from just such a magazine. One of those tucked under mattresses or stuffed in shoeboxes and closets everywhere. Hidden, just like his. But somehow, I knew ‘she’ wasn’t part of this. With her help, I had discovered how to bring myself to beautiful heights, without knowing what it was I was doing. I was bemused. My boyfriend was years older than me and supposedly knew more than I, but his explanations of pornography sounded puerile. He would cite categories of publications as if that was all it took to understand. ‘Penthouse is sophisticated. Playboy, classic!’ I’ve forgotten what he called the last one. But there were three. Three magazine titles in his archive. Three categories in his mind. Just three. I learned that his idea of eroticism was only a porn magazine collection. Now, I see his need to introduce me his to brand of eroticism as a corruption. He was, in a word, limited. Eros, I had learned from ‘her,’ is not. It is expansive, indeterminate, ambiguous. For that is its power. It is resistant to description, definition or finality. His was not a corruption of my virginity – the alleged and associated purity of this – but as a misapplication of the erotic energy I embodied, a perversion. It is not what his idea of eroticism was – mind-numbingly boring – but what it was not. What it would neither allow nor include. His was one of countless ways to reach the energy, but for me it was an inauspicious introduction to the world of sex with another person. I imagine what so many years with a different first lover might have been. It’s a piece of me that I wouldn’t mind having back.
The young girl who grew up to meet a guy with a porn collection would sometimes hold herself. It would always be at night. She slept alone. Her bed was directly beneath the window. And whenever the moon was full and the night clear, she was enchanted and still. Lying back on her pillow and staring up, the room so quiet she could hear herself breathing. She didn’t want to go to sleep. Even now I marvel at the magic of a thing so distant, yet it could bathe that girl and her room with such brilliant light. It was under this light that she learned to reach for herself. She would place her hand carefully over the same place where the man’s erect cock met the girl’s glistening pussy in the picture. The palm of her hand, loose at the wrist, draped over her naked pelvis. With no guidance but the image from that paper, her fingers softly cupping what was below and just a bit further — without purpose or reason. Simple touch. She would feel instantly peaceful.
I am choosing my words carefully. I don’t want them to have someone else’s meaning. There was no writhing friction, no motion-like stimulation at all. Perhaps even the word ‘stimulation’ is inaccurate. I wasn’t arousing myself. Rather ‘she’ had more or less given my body a set of instructions, that distant precursor to the unfolding, innate sensuality it held. The comfort of holding my self in that place, in that way made me, quite simply, content.
Soon the girl has moved beyond holding herself. She has begun to bring herself to climax by playing with her clitoris. She comes, though she doesn’t know what to call it. Those evening sessions when she holds herself have become more frequent. Cupping has turned into soft slow touching and then gentle stimulation. She calls it melting. She calls it melting because that is literally what it feels like – in a fraction of a moment, her body warming from within to without, feeling as if it were made of a million pieces that no longer touched each other. Most of all, these pieces can fly. They fly, she flies. She is hooked. If she thinks of it as anything, she thinks it is sex – something beautiful and high – easy, uncomplicated, something blissful. I don’t even think she was fantasizing, at least not about a specific person or act. I think she simply summoned energy.
Eventually I found other lovers. Attuned to the many languages of the human body. Patrick, a gregarious, witty writer was one. The only time Patrick was quiet was when we lay together. It became our ritual. We actually lay down next to each other, mostly on the floor or on the grass. Rarely on a bed. He would just worship my body with his hands and fingers and tongue. Slowly, he would trace every part of me. Every inch, every crevice. He got high from making me stoned on his touch. We never fucked, per se. It was just a quiet exchange of energy. I caressed him until he came and then he licked and fingered me until I did. It was a beautiful, sensuous game without any rules spoken. Our practical reasons for finding and satisfying each other do not change the fact that it was extraordinary. No words, just the gaze. As he turned me over with an appraising eye, trying to determine the best angle from which to work, I looked on. His eyes lingered just outside my vision for a moment until I looked up and returned his gaze. Then time and space changed. I was still connected to the limb he held in his hand but time, and my breath were arrested. Every pore of my body exuded some new diffused silvery heat, every atom was floating as if only loosely connected to its neighbour. I stood exactly where I had been, but I was no longer touching the ground.
All these years to come back to her, pieces of me, pieces of her. Just uncluttered, unfettered curiosity. It is what I thought it was when I was a girl. Energy.