Guernica Magazine

When Naming Isn’t Enough

No matter how inexperienced I was, I didn't deserve what he did. The post When Naming Isn’t Enough appeared first on Guernica.
Illustration: Ansellia Kulikku. Image source: U.S. National Archives.

On my last night in Georgia, I tried to focus on the mundane: Clorox wipes and 409 spray, a sponge and an old toothbrush, on my hands and knees in a t-shirt and underwear, scrubbing the refrigerator and kitchen floor. Sweat rolled down my neck and I paused to breathe in the bleach fumes. Nearly everything I owned was moved out a week before, and I was sleeping on my mother’s twin-sized blow-up mattress on the living room floor. I’d just graduated with an MFA in creative writing, and tomorrow I was moving home to Kentucky. It was spring, and I was now 30 years old, and three months before, I’d had sex for the first time. I was scrubbing my apartment to get my deposit back, but I was also scrubbing to remove all traces of that night, the skin cells and smells, from the walls and the floors and from my memory.

It wasn’t working as well as I’d wanted. So, as the last light left the sky, I took a break and called the Orphan, a man nearly three hours away in another Georgia town. We’d never met.

*

When I think about the first man I slept with, the Barista, I think about how quickly pleasure turned to shame. I think about the morning after, the white-hot Saturday sunshine streaming through the mini-blinds in my living room, illuminating his body on my couch. I remember peeking around the corner from the hallway, watching him sleep under my quilt. I didn’t know whether to wake him or let him sleep, but I needed to do something. I was restless. I went back to my bedroom and texted my best friends that I no longer had to worry about being a thirty-year-old virgin. My birthday was in three weeks.

I tried to go back to sleep in my bed, but the previous evening came in flashes, like Novocain wearing off and sensation returning, inch by inch. When the Barista finally woke, I greeted him sheepishly. He put on his t-shirt and jeans, and then offered to drive me to my car at the bar. We can do this again, he said in the car, if you can keep this quiet. I was a regular in the coffee shop in our small Georgia town. I wanted to do it again.

A few days later, I stood in front of him at the coffee shop register, looking for an acknowledgment of intimacy, wanting to be seen instead of looked past. I wouldn’t get it. I tried to write in the corner of the

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