Sally J. Johnson



When I am young I like the way that women look. Lips and lashes and the way we think about everything on the body. I think the wrists of women are a miracle. I think everyone thinks this way. When we play games like If you had to marry a woman who would it be or when we dare the boys in class to tell us they think Brad Pitt is cute I think this is how the world works. The first time I touch myself to anything other than imagination it is to Moulin Rouge. All those can-can dancers. Nicole Kidman with her lips like fire. Later I follow so many picture blogs of beautiful and out lesbians. I don’t tell anyone but don’t know why. I don’t know when it was I learned the world didn’t work that way. That you couldn’t really think Brad Pitt was cute and still want to marry the woman with the most beautiful wrists in the world.


Every day after school I get home and my mom asks me if I kissed any boys. My mother met my father in kindergarten. In fifth grade, the two of them are jumping on a trampoline when they stop their jumping and kiss. Keep jumping. They will date each other all of their lives. In tenth grade I need a new graphing calculator because my hand-me-down died for good. It is expensive and there is a dance coming up so my mom builds the perfect plan. If I ask that cutest boy in school to go to the dance with me she will buy the calculator I need. She says once when she went to the school he held the door open for her. She says that he’s meant for me. When I ask him to the dance he tells me about his girlfriend in Fiji and why it wouldn’t be right. I get the calculator but my mom says it shouldn’t count. I didn’t even get him to say yes.


I fall in love with a man who teaches me to hate myself slowly. First, though, he is charming and builds me things with his bare hands. He sits in the bathtub with me and lets me sing to him. When I break out into hives the size of wallets all over my body he blows cool air on the raised and red edges of me. He does not grow impatient. Until one day his secret anxiety wrestles him. He breaks in half. Smaller maybe. When this happens he controls me because he thinks he has nothing else left. Then lets me try to fix him.

When I meet a new group of friends they tell me I’m a ghost. I understand this as a compliment to how thin I’ve grown but they see through him and they see through my boney arms and the way I am breaking. I don’t know why one day I can see myself the way they do. When it happens I look back at the long hallway of the life I led with him, being pushed into picture frames I didn’t fit into. The day I come home to tell him I can no longer bear the weight of him he has made me dinner, cleaned, and there are candles and flowers on the table. I don’t even cry when I take the pot off the stove.


I fall in love with a woman whose mother cannot accept us. She sends the woman I love terrible letters and so I rub her back at night when she cries. My mother and father and my siblings adore the woman I love. We visit her hometown. We do not go to her mother’s house. When we visit my hometown she is hugged and loved and given a chance to see how it could be this good. Under this kind of pressure my family has made their love magnify. Under the popcorn ceiling of my grandmother’s guest bedroom my lover asks me how it’s fair that it gets to be so easy for me.


The man I loved once does not touch me for eight months. This is before I break us up. This is during the time he is breaking me slowly. During this time I get up at the break of the daylight to run off the fat he says I have gained. At the end of the night I make him food that is never good enough. When one night I cry in the bathtub he comes to find me to ask me if I can do a favor for him. He asks me the problem and I say touch me and he doesn’t. He lets me hold him in my mouth and this is all. He takes pictures of our naked bodies and puts these pictures on the Internet. Searching, he says, for someone who will break up the monotony. It doesn’t occur to him that then he’ll have two strangers in bed.


Before I end up loving her, I ask the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen to go on a date with me but she assumes I am joking. Because I wear lipstick and have long hair and first met her while I was with a man I cannot be serious. I cannot love her. Then we collide in the back of a bar when she grows enough courage in her to tell me she needs me.

I love her with all the whole parts of me. I hide everything else. When suddenly the soft and soiled pieces show themselves to me I hurt her quickly. Pull everything apart like a bad check, like blinds, a Band-Aid. She is blinking and blinking in my car when I call her by her nickname and that does it. She is done. Out of the car and into her house and then one day I get this book in my mailbox telling me she found a leftover piece of me behind that door. 


I met a man who taught me to hate myself. And a woman who taught me to love myself. Who will teach me how to love someone else?


What might kill me is this: when I am with someone I love I am a traitor to the other team. But let me tell you, I am not a sightseer here. And it is not a switch to flip. I am not being greedy. Or gross. Let me love how I love like you let other people. I promise it hurts and is heaven just as much for me.  


My sister is always the tomboy and I am the one that wears skirts. I wear a pair of heels every day in high school. When I tell my sister of the woman I love we are adults. I am still wearing tall shoes and lipstick and mascara. She still wears a du-rag when she has a bad hair day. She suddenly sees me differently and accuses me of changing. Are you going to cut all your hair off? It doesn’t matter that I’ve done that before. It matters now. In six months I cut all my hair off. I donate it and wear my pixie with pumps and A-line skirts. It doesn’t matter. My brother and dad make the same joke: I’m a real lesbian now.


This or another evening I am going on a date. I am applying lipstick, slipping into something that will be more comfortable when it is taken off of me. There is someone putting on clothes I might later take off of them and they are smiling, thinking of me. Maybe he or she thinks I have the most beautiful wrists in the world. Maybe I’ll want to marry them some day.