We were alone in the hostel dorm room when the Egyptian boy put his hand down my pants. “No,” I said. And he slapped me. The fury I unleashed was fucking seismic. He stepped backwards with his hands raised, palms up. Appomattox. Oh, look, a boundary. I was 22. In Scotland. I’d spent the morning in a church graveyard feeling spiritual. Three weeks later, in Venice, I deliberately got lost. Wending my way deeper into the alleys, dreaming of the girl and her vivisections, and I found myself at a dead end with two large men and a commercial truck. As I spun a retreat, I saw a white sheet spread into the afternoon from a window. And the black ringlets of a woman in the tenement above me. The white sheet, the black hair, some Italian lullaby. It felt like grace. I was lifted.
I’d been back home for a week when I ended up with the survivalist. He’d taught me to kill and eat red ants as though they were lemon drops. He’d taken me across a beaver dam and nearly got me eviscerated. We’d spent months together not fucking. And now, from the other side of the room, he stands and says, “I’m sexually attracted to you. How do you feel about fucking me?”
After I stop laughing, I say, “Subtle.”
“Forthright works for me.”
Yes. For me also, and I adopted it, his methodology, and it has served me well too. The survivalist was the first boy who always asked first, who heard No as No and never pushed. The one who taught me power could be exchanged. Handed back and forth like a baton. Neither of us controlling the other. Our positions interchangeable.
I’d forget these lessons. Or lapse into dangerous habits. Or test my limitations. I’d court injury because it was years before I understood it was the vulnerability I craved and not the pain. And I have worried about my power, the way I have worried about my intelligence. I have worried that I’ll victimize others.
Conscious. Keep conscious.