By Caty Brown
Art by Sophie Williams
I think often of touch. Often of heat, goosebumps, and the pressure that accompanies the path of a hand traveling down my thigh. What is more loving than warmth sinking into your skin? What is more human than a hand drifting across your shoulder blades? It feels as if I was made to be touched, my nerve endings tuned to the precise frequency of another’s fingertips. I’m human, soft-skinned and warm-blooded, and I’m designed to be caressed. A part of me purrs when I’m stroked, and I cannot help but fall in love a little when I am held. If I could, maybe I would come to rest amongst the nerve endings just below your skin, and wait to feel the heat of palms and the sting of fingernails. If I could, maybe I would crawl inside the gaps of your silhouette, and live perpetually basking in your warmth.
“I could teach you.” I’d said, all those times ago, coming up to press the heat of my mouth to her neck. I was buzzing then, blood crashing and swelling against my eardrums like waves. Some part of my brain knows I’m not supposed to be an experiment, but the sounds she made lulled that knowledge to sleep, my thoughts a drowsy cat settled in a square of sunshine on hardwood floors. She asked me about it later, when she wasn’t making such sweet sounds. Her hopeful tone rolled across my face, wondering if I’m only interested in women when I’m drunk. Oh. The cat, dreaming of warmer weather, awoke to a dim room’s chill. I think about that, sometimes, when it feels as if my attention doesn’t belong to me. My gaze ambles across the brightly colored belt cradling a woman’s waist, and my thoughts swirl and scrape inside my head. The high of pressing her against a wall, the comedown of realizing she hadn’t been quite what I had hoped for. Around it goes. When I return to myself, the cat comes to rest on the floorboards, beneath the floating dust of a freshly-swept skull.
Occasionally though, I manage to think about nothing. Or, perhaps, about everything. I think of the part of me inside your mouth, and it feels like the dust in my head finally settles into place. I think in reactions: the arch of my back at the first brush of fingers between my thighs, the gasp that slips from between your teeth when I wrap my legs around you. I bite and you choke, and I feel as if we are growing into a space between what’s outside and what’s inside, and I don’t have to think about anything except for the calluses on your thumb.
But it’s not always that way, sometimes it’s sticky and uncomfortable and I am both alone and lonely, within and without. My nerve endings are doing as they were created to do, but begrudgingly, as if they continue only out of love for me, and I continue out of desperation. Desperation for that floating in-between feeling, as I feel the pressure of sinking.
“Is there anything else I can do for you?” he’d asked me once, after many moments of frenetic movement and a few of discomfort. He always did make me feel like a woman, though only because women are so often disappointed. The answer, rattling against the back of my teeth, was of course there fucking is, but women have always been told to swallow those things. I responded to him kindly, irritation simmering in the pit of my stomach: yes, but only if he wanted to. After my words stilled in the air, he turned off the lamp, and kissed the top of my head.
The anger was expected, the relief a surprise. But maybe it wasn’t. After all, in the past half hour I’d recognized the burn in my muscles, but it wasn’t the kind that made my toes curl. I’d felt the slide of sweat, but it wasn’t from anything I’d enjoyed. If I wanted to move, out from between arms that feel like a well-meaning trap, out from beneath a crumpled sheet that feels like a caring snare, out from a room that feels like a welcoming cage, then the easiest way out was in. So I learned. I learned where to push, where to curl, and now I know the strings of my body well, and I know how to make my marionette leap even when the audience isn’t a very good one.
So yes, maybe I could teach you, girl who never really wanted me in the first place, boy who would have learned if I’d pressed the issue. But I am tired of writing to people who cannot read, performing for an audience who doesn’t know the play. So, I want to say I love you to the first person willing to hurt for me. I want to tell you that it has always only ever been about you. I want to tell you to come back to bed, I want to curl up in the heat of your lap, I want to soothe you. I want to learn the notes of the song you have written in the skin above your pulse. With others I bite bruises and scratch symbols, but for you I’ll come unarmed. I exist as a tribute to you, the woman who gave me myself. You will be the death of me. I want to give you all of my deaths, and lie resting at your feet. You are what I was designed for.