Warnings: ...masturbation, oh my; brief language
Author's Note: This was really tough to write. Interpret that statement as you like. (I'm probably going to look at this later and be like, "AAAAHH!!!")
The first strike is the media’s—preemptive, she thinks; pervasive, she knows. Inundated by hips and hair and cleavage, surrounded by so much skin that she wonders why the clothing industry is in business at all, she starts to take note. She starts to normalize exceptions. She starts to define, to differentiate, to gauge what’s beautiful and what’s too much. She sees Size 0 jeans out of the corner of her eye as she moves through the mall, and the empty numeral feels like a gold ring out of reach.
Movies show her perfect tans and perfect abs, but she can’t quite bring herself to tear her eyes away. Music sells her sex and volume, and she dances alone.
She feels like a Dove ad.
She stops looking in mirrors.
The second strike is Sarah’s.
Sarah’s eyes gleam when she talks about equality.
Sarah’s eyes gleam when she talks about anything.
Sarah is Vanessa’s freshman year R.A., and Sarah is more worried about the spirit of dormitory law than about its orthography.
Or the spirits, as it were.
Sarah tells them that if they’re going to get wasted, which they are, she’d rather they do it where she can supervise.
Sarah’s supervision, Vanessa observes, is hands-on and bottoms-up.
Their dorm hall becomes quietly legendary, and Vanessa feels like she’s a part of something bigger, cooler, and grander than her wrinkle-nosed, tentative participation in these rituals.
And maybe it’s that, maybe it’s fate, maybe it’s the cheap brandy added to her Coke—tonight she sits in one of the study lounge chairs and watches Sarah make out with some other girl.
Sarah wears her dark hair down her back in waves to make an ocean proud, sections pinned to frame her face, and there’s a silver ring about her bottom lip and another through her eyebrow. She is kissing the redheaded stranger so intently that both decorations glint in unison, and somehow she hasn’t spilled her drink.
Vanessa is understandably impressed.
The impression weathers more Coke, more brandy, and her next-door neighbor dancing on the table, having either lost or discarded his shirt somewhere no one can find it.
(Two weeks later, it will reappear tacked to the bulletin board, but the culprit will never be brought to justice.)
By three in the morning, Vanessa lies in her bed again, drained and hazy, but her mind won’t go to sleep. The only solution she can think of is to overwhelm it and drive it into an overhaul.
Vanessa’s roommate is passed out across the room, and perhaps it’s that, perhaps it’s fate, or perhaps it’s being too exhausted to care—tonight she shifts beneath the blankets, sliding one hand under her worn pajama shirt and the other past the waistband of her pants.
She doesn’t really know what she’s doing, but her hands invent and improvise, and she thumbs at one nipple, gently at first, traces circles, starts to pinch—slow tremors shudder through her bones; darts of heat gather between her legs. Her right hand braves the curls of coarse hair that greet her, and her longest finger begins unsteadily to stroke at the pliable flesh beneath.
This is alien and strange, and her body is foreign, and her heart pounds its disapproval against the heel of her other hand—but then her fingertip grazes a place that sends a jolt of impossible pleasure through her so fast her head spins. It’s like being impaled; the bottom of her stomach has dropped out; it tingles and prickles and warms, and she’s breathing out the disbelief and rubbing, hard, with an unbidden slickness easing the pathway to more. She thinks of Sarah; thinks of Sarah’s mouth, lips plump and pink with kissing, with possessing another the only way they know; thinks of Sarah’s tongue bathing those lips, of the sheen it leaves, of the silver ring, of the unrepentant will to own and be.
Her hand moves feverishly now, urgently, and she breaks out in a sudden sweat, the comforter too thick, too stifling, as her toes curl and her chest seizes under a left hand long-forgotten, and a blinding whiteness clenches in her center, and it’s almost too good to bear.
She gasps softly into the rustle of the sheets and stops, because it feels like her choices are giving up or bursting into flames, and she’s never listed spontaneous combustion among her favored ways to die.
She pants for a while, and fumbles for a Kleenex, and feels full and filthy and relieved.
Sleep embraces her without a fight.
The third strike is Liz.
Liz calls her “Van” and claims that it’s a compliment; Liz wears too much eyeliner and not enough shirt; Liz likes black and burgundy, but she’ll jump for any color when it comes to lace; Liz turns sidewalks into soapboxes and honestly believes that whoever argues loudest must be right.
Liz grabs her wrist and drags her out of the chapel after the most soul-crushing sermon of twenty-two years of Vanessa’s life; Liz hauls her up the hill to the cemetery and still has breath to laugh at the idea that the dead notice disrespect; Liz stands two inches from a headstone and looks her in the face and says she hopes Van didn’t listen to a word of that.
Liz takes both of her hands, knitting their fingers together on the left and the right, and admires the way her black-lacquered nails stand out against Vanessa’s skin. Liz is quieter than Vanessa has ever seen her, and Liz explains in a solemn voice that people are people and love is love and everyone is beautiful, fuck anybody who disagrees.
(She cracks a grin, because priests are celibate, get it?)
And then she threads her fingers in Vanessa’s hair, rings topped with pewter skulls tangling into every strand, and tells her Don’t you ever forget it.
She does, however, forget immediately to make sure that no one she knows can see her kissing a girl in the church graveyard.
Three strikes, and you’re out.