Every two weeks or so, I am publishing an essay from an emerging writer. This week, “Three Men and a Body,” by Jordan Young. She is a nonfiction writer from South Florida. Her lyric work explores gender, blackness, cruelty, and beauty. She holds a BA in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago and is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota--Twin Cities. When Jordan is not writing, she can be found hiking with her dog, Benji. This essay was edited by Meg Pillow.
The thing about fucking a 48-year-old man is that he can only go once.
The thing about fucking a 48-year-old man is that he stares blankly when you gush about how hot Kristen Stewart is. Then he asks, “who’s Kristen Stewart?”
The thing about fucking a 48-year-old white man is that he doesn’t laugh when you joke about how your dad abandoning you made you distrust Denzel Washington.
He thinks this is sad. You think it is absurd. But it doesn’t matter what you think. He ruins the joke. He paints over your humor with his white guilt. He apologizes for your dad, and suddenly you are hyperaware of being a naked black body on a white man’s bed.
You begin to worry that you are not ashamed enough. You worry that he thinks it’s weird you can’t take a serious thing seriously. You worry that he pities you.
The thing about fucking a 48-year-old man is that it’s easy to impress him. All you have to do is speak a little Spanish, say you’ve read Tristram Shandy, and have an opinion about French cinema. It doesn’t matter what this opinion is, mind you, but it’s important that you have it.
The 48-year-old-man is also pleased when you engage his dog’s virility, allowing the dog to hump, lick, and nibble you. This demonstrates your indiscriminate sexuality and energizes the man’s masculinity, which is hopelessly bound up in the dog.
When you show no fear at the dog encasing your wrist in his teeth, the man will think that you are not like other girls: you can handle a little bite. He will delight in your playfulness as if it were innate, as if it were not your sustained performance of “fun 23-year-old.”
The man doesn’t know you are a trained method actor. Daniel Day-Lewis ain’t got shit on you, cuz. He doesn’t appreciate your ability to contain your scream when he drives by a vigil for yet another dead black boy. He has no idea that you are not actually a “fun 23-year-old” but an angry black woman. Come on down to Broadway, folks, to see the longest-running show in America. The ensemble cast will dazzle.
The thing about fucking a 48-year-old man is that he invites you to a soccer game but you hate soccer. When you confess this, he says that if you like him, you’ll come to the game anyway because the game is a just an excuse to spend quality time with him. You are grateful he texts this so that he cannot see your face twist with incredulity. You swallow your bile. You promise to go another time. You say that you’re busy writing, but he can have you later.
You don’t say that you recently quit the business of owing anything to white men, any men. Nor do you say that you do not especially like him and do not yearn for his “quality time.” You don’t say that even if you did like him, you would still fucking hate soccer.
The 48-year-old man holds you after he cums like he is in debt to you. He brushes your hair from your eyes before kissing your forehead. He dangles a patio breakfast over your head in a bid to get you to stay the night, but you’d never be able to sleep in a bed that smells like wet fur. He calls you “baby” even though this moniker is woefully on-the-nose.
One night, he props himself over the body you’ve flopped onto his couch to say he’s proud of you for finishing an essay that he doesn’t know was about someone you loved. You don’t need his pride, don’t want it. But he passes it so gingerly from his eyes to yours that you hold onto it until he looks away and you can stash it under a cushion.
You feel bad for thinking the 48-year-old man is kind of gross. You wish you liked his lips but he has none to like. You wish you liked his tongue but it’s rough and stale. You guess he is a part-time alcoholic. And lonely. You wish his need didn't repulse you. You think he might have been good friends with your dad and suppose that's kind of the point.
The thing about a 48-year-old dick is that it’s just a dick with a mortgage. It’s no better at listening. In some ways, it’s worse. You tell the dick three times that you are a runner, but it doesn’t hear you until the third. When it does, it is impressed but asks no follow-up. There’s so much about you I don’t know, it says. You simmer at the irony of the dick marveling at the mystery that it is perpetuating. You know this is the last time. The thrill of riding in the dick’s Tesla has worn off, but, hey, it was one hell of a thrill.
Ok, I’m through with anthropomorphizing. The thing about a 48-year-old man is that he’s just a man with a mortgage. He’s no better at listening. In some ways, he’s worse. You tell him three times you don’t want him to do what he is trying to do. You say “no” three fucking times on three different nights, but he doesn’t hear you until the third, when you push his face away, squirm your body half off the bed, and rip your legs from where he has locked them onto his shoulders. When he does hear you, he is disappointed but determined. The only reason you don’t like it is because no one has ever done it right, he says. You know he will try again. You know he’s strong enough to one day take it. The only thrill there ever was is this: I do like it, and people have done it right. I just didn’t want your disgusting mouth anywhere near my cunt.
The Hosta at my feet looks nothing like June but is so named. True, I don’t know what June looks like, but my mild synesthesia tells me at least that the month is blue, not the green of these leaves here. Had I been in charge of naming this burst of foliage, I might have called it Troll’s Hair or, better yet, Napoleon, for its height and its audacity. I know the pursuit of accuracy in plant taxonomy is folly. There are a limited number of ways to denote, even connote, green. Still, I dedicate myself to the task. Hereafter, you shall be called Napoleon, for you are short and angry. If you see the person who once named you June, send them my way so that I can teach them a plant should only be named June if it evokes the deep blue of London evenings.
Before I knew you, I intended to devote my body to birth. I aimed to pass five children through me, to coax them to sleep at my breast, to carry them on my back. I can still see the daughters I no longer want. They have better hair than I have, good hair that does not cause them trouble because it is half yours. They twirl in the backyard to music only they can hear. Their wind whips their hair into knots I will be able to detangle later with just a few sweeps of the comb. One of them is named June, the other April. My sons are Augustus and Julian. The baby I am growing will be May. In motherhood, I have found an appreciation for theme.
Hostas make good houseplants because they are shade-loving and request only that their soil be kept moist. After walking through the glade, I consider bringing one home from my local nursery. I am trying my hand at keeping things alive again. I take my pill every morning. I only use my kitchen knife to cut vegetables. I sing to my Monstera, Angelica, every time I water her. Four weeks have passed without incident. Compared to all my other forays into green thumbdom, which ended with yellowed leaves, rotted soil, or broken pots, her growing shadows bode well. I once offered my best metaphors to a group of strangers and was accused of pursuing style over substance. At the time, I thought this charge outrageous when metaphor is nothing but the stylization of perfectly good plain language. But Angelica echoes their indictment, my alleged frivolity. She does not purify my air, does not feed me, nor would the Hosta. She is just a beautiful thing to which I tend, like my metaphors, and from which I demand nothing.
You repeated yourself often. About the vasectomy especially. It would be yours for free once you met your deductible. It didn't matter that you were so young; the doctors would give it to you, and I would be able to stop taking birth control. You tried to entice me to your side with the promise that my hormones could be mine again. I was unmoved, but I never told you not to do it. You wouldn't have listened even if I had. Reproductive autonomy was of the utmost importance to you so long as it was your own. No care in sight for mine each time you fucked me while harboring lies you knew would have made me refuse. What do you suppose I do with my body now that I can’t stand to look at it?
I emerge from the hosta glade at the arboretum an expert in identifying the plants. I take my skills to the suburban wilderness. On evening walks down the McMansion-lined streets around my apartment building, I spot the bundles of wide heart-shaped leaves in sloped, treeless yards or pushing out of iron fences onto the oft-traveled sidewalk or stuffed into tight rows against porches. None of the arrangements I see provide as much shade as gardening websites suggest hostas need, but the plants thrive none the less. They are even tapped into the local network, leaves tending toward yellow as October comes to a close. I wonder if the gardening websites and I might be wrong about some things. Resiliency and all that.
Fall half over, I paint my nails a shade of red that looks like congealed blood in the right light. It makes me feel like the type of woman who would never let what happened happen. Soon, more blood for which I am grateful because I have been drunk or stupid more than once in the past few weeks. The first day I shed, I am supposed to write, but the prostaglandins have other plans. The body eats itself. It is worse than ever before or maybe I just can't remember. I decide I could never pass one child, much less five, if this blinding sear is any indication of what's to come. I grieve our honey-skinned family. I grieve the night that my cyst was so inflamed you pressed hot towels onto my lower back until everything subsided. I grieve that I felt the need to apologize to you afterward for having been in too much pain to have sex.
June should be pronounced over the course of two syllables. Ju-ne. This is the way the Romans intended when they offered Ju-no all those years ago. It seems only fair that the duality of the month that rests in both spring and summer be emphasized if not by what we call it, then how.
I am sometimes wrong about things. Yes, it was the prostaglandins, but it was also the soured soy milk I'd unknowingly drunk that morning. Eventually, for the month at least, it all passed.
I bring Angelica’s sisters, Kimi and Lillian, home from the nursery. I think about the succulent I bought you for Valentine’s Day and wonder if it grows still on the sill of your west-facing window. I should have asked for it back when I left the city in June.
I know the end of home. It's when the neighborhood you grew up in won't have you anymore. Four streets down from the little white house I hadn't lived in since I was fifteen, I was in bed with a boy I'd known since elementary school. Parks and Recreation played. A candle burned. Cheap, sweet liquor down my throat. I'd already swallowed too much before I remembered I drove myself to his house and would have to drive myself out. City habits, however late they are acquired, die hard. Back north, I could drink myself stumbling, and the train would carry me.
It was all very sudden. He was still playing football. I pretended to be interested in an episode that I had seen many times. He was a lineman. He was bigger than me, which is implied, but I mention it to lay my process of justification bare. I waited for my buzz. Anyone who has retraced the path of childhood knows the road is best traveled under some influence. It was more than awkward to be in a full-sized bed with someone I knew when I was seven. As if we had crossed some thin line of time-space to be there, where it seemed we just were. As if we were breaking some natural law to sit our adult bodies next to each other. It had been thirteen years, but his square jaw was the same and just as hairless. It had been thirteen years, and he wasn't as gentle, but I didn't know that yet. We both had about sixty-eight inches to our names. Though, he could do more with his—and did—than I could do with mine. Because he had a hundred pounds on me. And then on top of me.
The problem is that the brain protects itself. A nifty evolutionary trick that keeps me alive because it keeps me from remembering. I kissed him back, but then the record skips. Resumes with his thick hand around my throat, squeezing hard. Resumes with his small mouth at my ear. Say my name. Say my fucking name. I pressed the syllable out on a wisp of my precious breath. His mother was in the living room. He wasn’t satisfied. Do you like my motherfucking dick? This, I couldn’t answer; the grip was tighter. Had I been able to I might have laughed what dick and he might have killed me.
That summer, I arrived home from a year in London eager for a crude baptism that I couldn’t have. The water was sick, overridden with bacteria. There was an advisory against swimming. In my small blue room back across the pond, I had spent all of May wrapping myself in my white sheets at midday, sitting in a sun spot, listening to a song about a river, in some sort of budget cleansing ritual. It hadn’t been enough. I was accumulating men faster than I could rid them. The sheets were no substitute for my warm stretch of Atlantic, which I knew would strip away every smoky kiss, lying tongue, stinging cut as soon as I rushed into it. I awaited my July return to Florida. My species reintroduction. But in July, the beaches were closed.
I blame Tinder. I blame my sickness, the one I take a pill for now but didn’t then. I blame that when I stopped eating, I had to fuck more. I was home. It was hot. I blame that my cure was locked behind barricades and the lifeguards’ chalk warnings about the day’s bacteria levels. All I could do was continue to treat my symptoms the only way I knew how: someone’s arms. These were the arms of my hometown. Sturdy, tanned.
We met at a park after a brief in-app exchange during which he pretended to have forgotten then miraculously remembered who I was. I don’t know why this game compelled him, especially because it was so implausible. From second to eighth grade, we walked the same hallways, practiced on the same fields, lined up for awards at the same tail end of the alphabet. I was four when I moved into my house four streets down from him, but I actually didn’t know how close we had always been until I was twenty and following his truck left onto the old, curved road. Off the intersection to the right was the plaza that housed my former daycare, the first site of my body’s objectification. When I was two, a boy bit my shoulder, exposed in my blue halter top. In the aftermath of tears and teeth marks, his only reasoning was that he thought my shoulder was pretty. My skin is caramel, peanut butter, coffee with milk. A year later, my father told me to start wearing shorts under my dresses because the playground was backed up to the road, shared a fence with a gas station, and men would be around. Men are still around, and I am never too young.
I stared at the popcorn ceiling, same as my old room. I clutched his back, soft as hibiscus petals. I thought about the misused words that had dripped from his tongue that day, slow and thick as Belle Glade honey. Impeccable he kept saying when he really meant impressive. Before he finished, I made myself cum. This is another evolutionary trick. Convincing the brain that that the body enjoyed it so that I can sleep I just want to sleep.
He wanted to go again. He wanted me to come to his family’s barbeque the next day. His mother, father, sister, pit bulls around the pool. Smoke of charred meat, chlorine skin, spilled beer. Violence, their laughter violence, his hand violence, my shame violence. Hike and he’s up and he’s smashed and his brain meets his skull violence. His mother tells all the mothers that I turned into a whore, and I don’t tell her that her son is violent.
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Bravo! I adore this piece. So many lines pulled me into the moment, in particular "I know the end of home. It's when the neighborhood you grew up in won't have you anymore." Looking forward to reading more from you.
thank you feels too inadequate of a response, but also like the least pandering or saccharine one that could be given. your words both cut and soothe, and the preciousness of such duality is incredible and powerful. so, thank you.