Thursday, May 7, 2015

Letting Go of the Girl

by Annabeth Leong

To find out if my writing has changed over the years, I went to my first published erotic story, which I wrote in December 2008. (Not as far back as Giselle's, and not as charming as the tale of the lovely Sophie, I'm afraid.) The story was called "Make It Last," and it appeared in the now defunct Oysters and Chocolate.

“Come on,” Lisa laughed. “You must have done something at some point with someone.” I wanted to kiss the corners of her mouth, at the spots where her lips went from thin to full.

Letting myself lie back, I took a deep breath and resolved to finish what I’d started. “I had this lover,” I began. Lisa made an encouraging sound in her throat. “Every time I got her close to coming, she would push my head away. The muscles in her legs would tighten up, and her clit would be this little rock under my tongue, and I would know she was about to do it. I’d wrap my arms around her waist and hold on hard, thinking maybe this time I’d get in that one extra lick, and she would be screaming and pushing at the top of my head with both her hands.”

I paused, trying to gauge how Lisa was reacting. Her breathing sounded a little faster than normal. My own breathing had certainly sped up. I struggled up onto my elbow and looked down at her. For once, I let myself drink in every lovely curve. I openly admired her long neck and the jawline that traced from a soft, round ear down to a dainty pointed chin, the red-brown lips above that, the wide nose that quivered delicately with each breath. I looked in her eyes again.

“What I wanted to do,” I said, “was tie her to the bed so she couldn’t push me away, and then see how long I could go. I wanted to lick her until the bed under us both was soaked and my tongue got cramped from exhaustion. But I never got to do that.”

I watched Lisa’s chest rapidly rising and falling. Her shirt rode up, exposing her belly button and the very beginning of the fuzz leading down between her thighs. She trembled, and her eyes followed my eyes to the top button of her jeans.

“You never told me you liked girls,” she said in a strained voice.

Another deep breath for me. It felt strange that all the lights in my room were on so late at night. It felt strange to look at her without disguising my lust. I bent over her and pressed my lips to the strip of bare skin between her jeans and her shirt. She jumped. I did it again. “It would have been awkward,” I murmured.

I wrote those words huddled on the loveseat in the living room of the apartment I shared with my first husband (now my ex). Lisa was entirely made up, but the longing in the writing about her is still palpable to me. And the story—"I had this lover"—and the wish that comes with it, is entirely true. (Alert readers will remember the girl I kissed while on top of a rundown train car.)

Lisabet has talked about how she poured all her desires into her first novel, and I've said that I played my cards closer to the chest. But when I read this story in its entirety (I'd give you a link, but it's no longer available online), I see the themes that have shredded me for years now. I may have danced away from this, but it was at the heart of things always. The girl I couldn't forget, the hopeless longing, the fear of revealing desire, and the fear of keeping it hidden.

There is a sort of fantasizing that I've always been able to do to get myself off, but it is cruel, faceless, and nameless. A few years ago, I started wondering: If I could see a face, whose would it be? It turned out to be hers, but when I pictured her and really let myself remember, I couldn't get myself off anymore because I would start to cry.

This is from Untouched, which I wrote from 2013-2014:

Slowly, Marie sat back down on the chair. "Tell me how you wish it had been. Tell me what you need me to do."

Celia sucked a breath in through her teeth and closed her eyes, trying to envision the alternate reality in which things could have worked out between them.

"We would have explored things together. We wouldn't have made such a big deal about prom, and we wouldn't have put so much expectation on that one night. Maybe we would have met at the hotel first so we could spend some time alone together before the dance. We would have ordered room service and I would have watched you eat. I could never stop watching you, Marie. All this time it's been the other way around, but I can still remember how fascinated I was by the way you moved, by every little glimpse I got of your skin. When your cardigan would slip off your shoulder in class, I would stare at the sliver of your bra strap that was peeking out and just drink in the sight of your skin beside it. In the hotel room the night of prom, eating with you, it would have been too much for me. I would have been so turned on by your lips opening and closing, sucking at your fingertips, that I wouldn't have been able to chew my own food—let alone swallow."

Marie laughed, delight on her face. "I'd forgotten that you used to want me, too. It's been so long."

That's still me writing about that girl. I dedicated the book to her, too, with the line, "I should have taken you to prom." And then I wrote another book last fall, under a different name, that is even more about her. So maybe my writing hasn't changed at all. I've done a lot of things, but I've also spent upwards of six years working out my feelings about a girl from my past, one tiny bit at a time. It's embarrassing to admit that, especially with my stated preference for making up characters. I never meant, for example, for Marie to become her, but she did.

Perhaps it's too soon to say, but I think I've finally put it to bed. Something in that last book I wrote felt final. I can talk about her now or think about her without crying. Her face is no longer waiting to ambush me in every secret corner of my mind. I see other faces in my fantasies. They are the same constellation of fantasies, but they feel wider and more possible. I wonder if more hope will come into my writing—I would like that.

I thought about that reading the last paragraph of that story from long ago. I wrote:

If this had happened ten years ago, I might have stopped and held her then. I might have placed my faith in the sex that we would have tomorrow. The years had taught me better. I wound my arms around her thighs and buried my face between her legs, sighing as I tasted her and breathed her in. I pushed my tongue into her again. I had to get enough to make it last.

That's the voice of a cynic, someone who knows there's no going back, there's no tomorrow, there is no such thing as later. And yet recently I've been learning to trust that I'm worth coming back to. I don't have to snatch every scrap of pleasure in every moment because I can see a person again. I can have another chance. I can't yet declare that my writing has changed because of this realization, but I want it to.

(In an unrelated note, I'm doing an online chat tonight in support of my new book Liquid Longing: An Erotic Anthology of the Sacred and Profane. I'll be available from 7-9 p.m. EST at this link: http://www.chatzy.com/FFP-Chat I would love to see any of you there!)

18 comments:

  1. Damn. Are you sure I'm not you, Annabeth? I seem to share many of your appetites for women. The physical wants are not just to see nudity or "plough that field" or anything. It's the little nonsense intimacies, like the way she eats, or the heavenly slips of skin that show between two fabric barriers...oh, le sigh.

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    1. Haha. If you were me, that would be quite confusing for both of us.

      But I'll just take the opportunity to sing the praises of another slip of skin I love—the one between the bottom of a miniskirt and the top of a pair of thigh-high stockings. That one makes me swoon every time. :)

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    2. Further anecdotal that you and I are the same person! That's the queen of skin-slips.

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    3. Anecdotal EVIDENCE, that is...

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  2. Why should you feel bad about revisiting an emotional and erotic attachment that meant so much to you? In a sense you're honoring the intensity of your connection by keeping it, or its possibilities, alive in your writing.

    I still write a bit of my master into every single dominant I create, though he and I have not been physical lovers in more than three decades. I don't want to let the old magic go, even though it hurts to think about the way our lives diverged. The memories are painful, but precious.

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    1. This is a really interesting question, Lisabet, and I've been thinking about it all morning.

      I think I feel bad because there's the cultural idea that one should "move on" and not remain hung up on any particular person. I sometimes imagine her coming across this body of work, recognizing herself, and being… what? flattered? confused? alarmed? My current mood determines a lot about the reaction I picture her having. I know very well stories such as the one about Dante and Beatrice—he stayed hung up way longer, with apparently much less to go on.

      As a writer, I also have a deep fear of being seen as repetitive. It bothers me to imagine a reader recognizing this girl (again) and saying to herself, "Oh. I've seen that before."

      I think your point about honoring the intensity of a connection is an important one, though.

      I think in some ways I've been stuck on this one girl because I've been stuck in my life. I'm getting over that life-stuckness, though, and it makes me want to ease my grip on her, which is what I was thinking of when I wrote this. Your comment is a good reminder that I don't have to let her go entirely.

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  3. I sympathize with your difficulties concerning sex. Why do so many folks have such a hard time with something that should be so liberating? Why do the mores that none of us choose have such a drag on our well-being?

    I will say that although the themes are similar, your writing is definitely become more sophisticated, smoother, more to the point. In fact, I just finished reading "The Miracles of Dorothea of Andrine" in Liquid Longing. Such an all-encompassing piece, Annabeth. From a laugh-out-loud, tongue-in cheek romp to a serious allegory with a story-long segue that's a treat to travel. Totally satisfying read.

    Now if you could only adopt the Philosophy of Dorothea. :>)

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    1. Thanks, Daddy! I'm so happy you've been reading Liquid Longing, and that you like Dorothea. I'd be way better off in my life, certainly, if I could join Dorothea's branch of the church! :)

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    2. I just finished "Dorothea" last night, too! Delicious! Now I've got to go find our whether she's real.

      And I adored "Less Than A Day", also.

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    3. Thank you! I made up Dorothea, I'm afraid.

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  4. I've only got as far as "Less than a Day" in Liquid Longing, but that's because I'm in the midst of reading submissions for three different anthologies. I'll treat myself to more soon, but maybe skip to the Dorothea story first since you all speak so highly of it. (So far I think very highly of all of it that I've read.)

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    1. Thanks, Sacchi! I really appreciate the reading, always. I know how busy people are.

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  5. Update about the online chat for Liquid Longing: It's 8-10 EST. I could have sworn I saw 7-9 somewhere, but in any case, hopefully no one shows up way too early!

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  6. Your memories are of how you felt, so they belong to you, to use as you choose. To some extent you're a different person now, and so is she, but your memories are a part of you and there's nothing wrong with holding on to them--as long as they don't prevent you from establishing great memories with someone else.

    I'm not sure I can count how many stories I've written based on one specific person, although fiction always took over. That person isn't now who she was then, but who he always wanted to be, and that's fine. My memories--and fantasies--are still mine to use in whatever way my muse dictates.

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    1. True. I think I'm always afraid of telling the same story twice (or more), in any way.

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  7. As usual, you've said some things that resonate with all of us, Annabeth. I wrote a whole collection of lesbian stories in the 1980s while inspired by a one-sided crush (which I will mention in my post). When the object of my desire read the stories (typed on a typewriter), she advised me not to send them to a publisher because they were too "negative." I sent them off anyway, they were published, and I soothed my broken heart with the knowledge that she had never really been the person I thought she was, or wanted her to be. She hasn't reappeared in my more current stories, but memories can be useful, and writing can sometimes be a good way of exorcising ghosts.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Jean! The exorcising of ghosts is a major thing I use writing for. Also, to help me figure out how I feel in the present and to point the way ahead.

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