By Chelsey Clammer
There are three bodies tumbling on a floor. A puzzle of tongues deciding where to go, fingers figuring out where to touch, hands discovering how best to share. The light from a pink desk lamp shimmers on a tangle of quivering pale naked flesh. I see you grasping my girlfriend's hips. I am curled behind her, my thighs cupping her ass, my breasts smashed against her back. Your short, bony fingers clamp onto her hips, grazing against my trembling skin. We are young, high school young, discovering ourselves young.
We got here because last night she kissed you, and you kissed her back, and I was scared of being left out. So maybe this was my idea. An idea that the three of us strip naked and figure out how to play around with ways in which to deepen our friendship. Something to confirm that you like her, she likes you, and I like you both. We do our fumbling, she drinks too much beer, you and I finally stop giggling. Once my girlfriend passes out, we will begin to negotiate how to keep our friendship intact while we figure out how to make our bodies come.
I feel your fingers tap against the stick shift of your truck. Your fingers are pale, small, delicate if you weren't so butch. These fingers are precise, knowledgeable. They are fingers that grab for the keys you always forget on your dresser, fingers that grab for the women's hips that are always on your mind. Fingers that curl and motion me toward you, to which I always coyly respond, "I won't come just because you fingered me."
It is months after our night of tumbling, and we think we can finally teach each other the right way to kiss. This is our two-and-a-half week attempt to date during high school. We will only make out a handful of times. We did more during that night of three tangled bodies than we will ever do while dating. It isn't about anxiety or worry, because I have never been nervous about kissing you, because my body is always comfortable with yours. But I don't like the way you kiss. As the space between our faces rapidly recedes, I feel your mouth open up to catch mine. Our lips touch, and suddenly I am losing air. Your mouth suctions onto mine, a tongue prods where I was once able to inhale. I sense you are trying to be butch with me, to show your control of the situation. I picture how a football jock must kiss, spreading his mouth across the landscape of female lips, sucking where he wants, slobbering on the spaces he considers his. The marking of territory. I start to lose concentration on what it is we are supposed to be doing—kissing, enjoying ourselves. I pull back, inhale a desperate breath, and wipe your faux-masculinity from my face.
I am curious how your lips learned masculinity. How you understand the mouth as a place to exert control. Did the boys you grew up with in West Texas poke and prod at you with their own tongues? Do you now overpower a woman's kiss because they forced their mouths onto yours? Is this how you learned to be butch?
I also want to know how we learn to be women, to be females who reject societal notions of femininity. Butch is not bravado, but we find confidence in hardening our outer layers. I do not know how we figure this out. I know I don't want boys or makeup. I know I want women. I know I need someone to help me figure out why. I don't have any men—people who are allowed to love the women I want—to talk with about the beauty of the female body. The female bodies I do not see my own as being. I need someone who will understand how I could love the bodies I wouldn't possibly want as my own.
That person is you. Because we both love bodies we would never want to inhabit. Soft, lovely bodies we would hate to be inside of. But we are in them, exploring. Our lovers allowing us to discover their supple bodies as a source of pleasure. It will take me six girlfriends to understand it is okay if their bodies are smaller than mine. Six women for me to understand that someone can love my soft flesh in the way I love theirs.
Your truck has a smell to it. I thought it was from your steering wheel that oozed with the scent of each woman your fingers were inside that week. But it's not just the stale sex that seeps from the interior. There are other hints of your existence. There are the specks of ash that cover the gray interior of your dark blue truck. The smell of Camel Lights that always lingers, is always in the air, is always a passenger even with the windows down. There is the vanilla air freshener we hate, but you use hoping to one day defeat the stubborn smell of smoke. And then there is the subtle whiff of Taco Bell wrappers. They mill about in the back part of your extended cab. Evidence of the only food you eat each day. Two bean and cheese burritos. Sometimes it is one, never is it three. You, yourself, are a bean, a stick, a young rail-thin lesbian who is all elbows, knees, and attitude.
I learn much about your attitude as I begin to take cues from your body. Your hands teach. They shift gears, light cigarettes, gesture to women, anxiously hold silent phones, and pop off tabs of Bud Light. As I learn who I am, as I grow into my own identity I quietly witness how your body moves and gestures as a lesbian body. How it moves, I assume, in the way you want it to be a butch body in motion.
Years after high school, your body hangs like a woman's. You strap it tight against itself. A sports bra to keep your breasts down, boxers to bunch up layers of clothing in order to straighten out and hide the curves, in order to hide who it is you do not want to see yourself as, as a woman, as a soft body swollen with flesh. The clothes are a matter of finding comfort, of inhabiting your created self.
We are at a pool party, celebrating a friend's recent divorce as she moves into her new apartment, her new life of dating women. You are in your white tank top, one of many you wear year round in the Texas heat. Your legs lounge comfortably in mesh knee-length basketball shorts. They are blue, your favorite color, and baggy, your favorite style. I am just drunk enough to walk around in my brown bikini. You laugh at my self-confidence, and I giggle along with you. I would never do this sober; you would never do this at all. I could never bring you enough beer to coax your body out of its clothes and into the pool. Before the bikini, I looked like you. Tank top, shorts, sandals. I have seen our bodies many times next to many pools of water. Each time we remained in our tanks and shorts, hiding stomachs and breasts until I was sloshed enough to strip the outer layer. I will never see your stomach. I cannot, in fact, recall what it looks like even now. Even with the early memories of naked, tangled, awkward bodies, you are simply dressed in the general idea of flesh. Even when you are naked, your body feels hidden.
That night, that night when there were three bodies tangled on a floor, our bodies are sloppy. They poke, prod, and lick, a bit lost in what to do with each other. You finally take your mouth down, and do what I know it can do. We have talked about sex before this scene occurs. We learn from each others' stories, adventures, mishaps on how to slyly pick pubic hair from teeth. And now here you are, doing something we only talked about doing to others. I do not think it is me that makes you puke. It is your stomach full of Bud Light, I know, a throat sticky with the chew tobacco my girlfriend insisted you try, and the shiftiness of all of the inexperienced choppy movement.
You pull away from me in time to aim perfectly into the trashcan that sits near my foot. As strings of brown foam slush out of your mouth, I cannot help but laugh. Naked, legs still open to accommodate your body, I prop up on my elbows to get a good look at your situation, and I see my belly quiver as I cannot stop the giggles. I do not find this shaking of my skin funny, but I continue to laugh, too drunk to shame my body properly.
There are many underage nights at many bars, nights where older women hold shots of tequila in their mouths to kiss the liquor into our own with thick tongues. Make-out shots, we name them. Nights that end in me puking the tequila out of the window of my truck as you drive, one eye open, one eye close to try and focus on the road. As you drive with a lit cigarette clinging to your whetted lips, a cigarette that supposedly boosts your concentration on the road, you laugh at my queasy drunkenness, at my attempts not to soil the inside of my truck. I am mostly successful most of the time. Eventually, somehow, we arrive at your house and crash. Crash into our own bodies, collapse into your bed. Our bodies reek of sweat, of liquor, cigarettes, of my sour breath. We sleep without touching, your comforter holding our falling bodies onto the bed. You always have the outside, curled into your blue pillow, while I tuck myself into the sturdy white wall. We sleep, crash. I always wake before you, my eyes open to memories of you from the night before. How your hips shifted when women walked by. How your arms teased at the idea of touching those bodies that danced against you. How you held your ground, feet planted and resolute. How you made the women approach you, dance with you there, next to the bar. The women who bought you shots hidden in their mouths. You are only nineteen, and yet you have women over twice your age bending and sliding down to please you.
It is twelve years after our tangled threesome with my first girlfriend. I have moved to Chicago and you remain in Austin. Your breath is not on my skin. It lingers over the phone. A spring night patiently waiting for summer. Your voice is one I haven't heard since winter. It comes to me in a late night call, your voice in my ear, desperate guttural words. You do not know what to do. I can feel your hands grasping at your head, your tailbone shifting in the padded office chair in the corner of your smoke-filled garage. I feel the smell of beer on your tongue. I sense you are speaking to me to negotiate with yourself. There's the angry impulsive cut you made. The cut you carved into your skin out of desperation, out of wanting to feel something in your body after so many years of resisting not wanting to be a body. Your body, something you are still trying to inhabit. I know this because I know it for myself. How I, too, have never grown accustomed to this body, my body, to its meaning
On this spring night, your words collapse on my body. I hold your words next to my blue pillow, next to the head I lay down heavy with the gravity of your words. Ear separated from the pillow's softness by the hard plastic block of my phone, your voice. Your voice sinks into my ear. The cut. The anger. The guilt. I don't want this for you. I never wanted this for you. Never wanted for you to experience what I have recently come to know. The cuts. The self-mutilation, the anger at the fact that a body exists taken out on the skin. I have cut myself, too. Carved eighty-eight scars into my skin, to test, I guess, if it was really there. How our bodies continue despite our pain, they provide our pain, they hold it for us, keep it for us. They resist our efforts to feel comfortable in their flesh. To carve is to control.
With the phone beneath my head, my hands wrap around you, hug the memory of your body. Your body as I wish it were here. I love your body. It is the vessel that carries you. From our friendship, from our failed attempt at sex, I learned from your body, took the cues to survive and overcome forced notions of femininity. But I am still learning, still understanding how to be in this body, this lesbian body, this skin that is now scarred. In this, you have always been my guide. And in your cut I see a part of me, something we share that begins to look like understanding. Over the phone I whisper to you that it will heal, that we will one day be healed. I do not tell you about my scars, my self-inflicted disfigurements, we do not discuss why it is we feel unsettled in our skin. Instead, I hear your gasps, and can feel my flesh want to grasp out to yours, towards what we once knew, the bodies as we have always tried to claim them.
Your body has survived you now, survived the bean and cheese burritos, the beer, the camels, the make-out shots. It has survived your cuts. I hold you, your body, your strength, inside me, furl reminders of you into my skin, into my home. Your pictures on my walls. Your face, neck, shoulders hang around, helping my home, this body hold itself together. This is how we remain connected after twelve years of friendship. Sporadic, necessary phone calls. It has been over a year since we have seen each other. My scars will stop accumulating after this phone call, I will stop cutting myself in order to feel. After your voice sends reminders to my body, your own pain screeching out to mine that we are in these bodies, they are us. In them we grow, heal.