I almost cried the first time I saw a penis. I hadn’t solicited the impromptu viewing party; in fact, I had explicitly requested the opposite. He had never been a very good listener, pawing his way into my jeans even after my own hands quietly reminded his to move back north. Still, I had assumed he had understood when I said the coexistence of our naked bodies wasn’t something I was ready to discuss.
“Come on,” he laughed, as if humor was congruent with the current situation. “Katlyn, uncover your eyes.”
“I will when you put your pants back on,” I hoped my voice was loud enough through my clammy, palm-covered mouth.
He spoke again through more laughter before I could brainstorm how to put my shirt back on without moving my hands. “It’s not going to bite, I just want to be naked with you.”
“I’m not okay with this! I’ve told you that before!” I felt the exclamation points stick in my throat.
The laugh continued to pollute his words as he sighed his way back into his boxers. He sat down on the couch next to me and said, “You’re kind of acting like a little kid.”
I brushed the hairs that had escaped my ponytail out of my eyes as I unstuck my sweaty palms from my cheeks. A whisper fought its way through the battlefield of angry punctuation inside me and asked, “Will you take me home now?”
“Don’t be like that,” he said as he placed a firm hand on the shirt I was desperately trying to pull over my head. “Don’t put your shirt back on, just stay here. I’m sorry.”
I obliged and buried my face in the pillows, trying to disguise the clouds I could feel inside my eyes. My breath once again fell into a quiet rhythm as I distracted myself with the pattern of thread pressed against my cheeks. I shrank away from the hand he placed on my vulnerable back. It felt as if it had been dipped in chilled ultrasound jelly.
“Why are you burying your face? Come on, what changed?” his voice regained a fraction of its former laugh, and I couldn’t tell if it was sincere or just attempting to salvage his fun.
“I really just think I should go home. It’s getting late and I have some things to do tomorrow,” I sat up after a deep exhale and grabbed my now-free shirt, turning it right-side-out and sweeping it on in one motion.
“Okay,” he said. In the car, we sat in silence and he placed an ultrasound-jelly hand on the inside of my thigh. “Don’t think too much about what happened. Don’t let it mess us up.”
I stared at the hand on me, knowing it must belong to a completely different person than the man that used to stroke my cheek after a tough day. “Okay.”
“This is a mature relationship, Katlyn. I just want to share your body with you, that’s all,” he explained. In my eighteen years I must have missed the memo on body-sharing protocol, because I didn’t remember offering up anything in the first place. At twenty six, he must have known something I didn’t.
The house was quiet and dark when I returned home, just like peeking out from behind my hands in his bedroom. I cleansed them with a pump of lavender chamomile hand sanitizer, hoping it could sterilize me and destroy the residue from my evening. Safely locked in the upstairs bathroom, I removed my protective layer of clothing and stared at the body before me. I was skinny, pale, and small. I was a little kid. My eyes lingered over a pair of barely-there breasts, and I recalled the blue paisley dress hanging in my closet that I had only worn once.
I was curled on the couch in a brand-new sundress. An eighteen-year-old pair of hands infiltrated its protective blue layer as I slept, their owner ignoring my bra’s reminder of safety. The hands followed their own pattern of squeezing and circling, with no regard to the swirls of paisley surrounding them. I woke when his expedition expanded southward.
“What are you doing?” I asked, my sleepy haze making everything seem like the Salvador Dali painting with the melted clocks. Distorted and outside time.
“Like you were asleep,” his voice was at once accusing me and pleading with me. “There’s no way you could have slept through that!”
“Well, I did,” I replied as I shook more sleep from my eyes. “What were you doing?”
“You know what I was doing,” he said. “You’re hot, and that dress looks so good on you. How could I not?”
I felt my skin peeling away from me, collapsing into the failed paisley rayon shield I was enveloped in. I rose and grabbed my keys off the counter, my sixteen-year-old hands curling around themselves like dead spiders.
“I need to take you home now,” I said. “I have to get back by midnight.”
“Don’t tell your parents,” he ordered as he rose from the couch. “I don’t want them getting the wrong idea.”
“What’s the right idea?” I asked, but the conversation was already over.
The silence pressed against my ears like I was underwater during the ten minute drive to his house. I opened and closed my mouth a few times, desperate for words like a beached fish for seawater.
“You’ve never been touched like that, have you?” he found his seawater first and my silence replied for me before he continued, “I think that’s what’s so sexy about you. You’re just so innocent and pure. I just want to be the first one to have your body.”
The lavender chamomile hand sanitizer didn’t make me any cleaner at eighteen than it did at sixteen. First, parts of my body were taken under a cloak of friendship. Now, my boyfriend pushed his own body onto mine by leveraging the false promise of love. I know you’d like it. Let me go down on you. Sometimes, love took me on kite-flying picnics or backstage at a theater performance, but eventually it demanded I strip down and give him what he deserved. You’re in a serious relationship, it’s not normal to guard your virginity like this.
The perfume on my hands disguised, but didn’t change anything; my body was no longer the untouched “sexy” they so wanted. My body was still virginal, but it had been stolen now twice from me. You’ve never been touched like that, have you? Looking into the mirror at the imperfect and naked form I was attached to, I didn’t know where to look to find me. I searched for some piece to connect with, and settled on my fingernails—freshly painted purple fragments of my identity. Those fingernails were mine, cared for by only me. They were connected to ten fingers, two palms, and two arms that connected to a torso with two small breasts that still felt the confusion of touch around each of their surfaces.
Slowly my peeled-away skin and nerves knit back together, a process that continued once I was back in the protection of shorts and a t-shirt, standing in my driveway turning away flowers from a person whom I would not share my body with. My body. My sixteen-year-old sleeping body. My eighteen-year-old body not ready to be naked with another. My twenty-one-year-old body, twice stolen and once reclaimed. My body, which deserved to be invited in conversation to share another’s, not taken in silence.
I washed my hands with soap that day, and have every day since.