By Annabeth Leong
We’ve talked a lot about the truth in fiction, so I want to talk about the fiction in truth.
Interlude: Lisa and Rob
We all used to hang out at an open mike night. Rob was known for his joyful covers of “Brown Eyed Girl.” I sang a cappella versions of my poems. I don’t remember Lisa performing, though she was always there. Mostly, I remember her for handing out pills.
On this particular night, we went back to my place after the open mike ended, probably to smoke (more?) marijuana. But as was often true during that era, I wasn’t very patient with the conversation. Rob, particularly, seemed to be the type who got high and wanted to discuss mind-blowing, half-baked theories about quantum mechanics, and the more he waxed philosophical about The Dancing Wu Li Masters, the more I wished I’d left him out of the invitation.
Lisa saved the day by asking us to do her a favor, something she loved but hadn’t gotten to try in a long time. She wanted us to drip candle wax on her bare back, blow on it until it dried, and then peel it off and blow on it some more. I was down for just about anything that involved people taking their shirts off, so I quickly agreed. Rob was down as well, probably for similar reasons.
Many candles adorned my room, so we had the materials at hand. Lisa stripped down to her bra, and Rob and I took turns going through the wax procedure with her. I remember my fascination with the texture of her skin and the way it reddened in response to the heat. I have a major thing for freckles and moles, and I can still recall one just beside her bra strap and how badly I wanted to touch it. I’ll also never forget her gasps and moans.
After she said she’d had enough, I decided I wanted to try it. I never wore a bra back then, so my torso was entirely bare when I peeled off my shirt. The scald of the wax felt sharp and itchy at first, but as the heat spread over and through my skin, it settled into a squirming warmth that transformed into an erotic sensation. But there was also the matter of the breath. Cool or hot, soft or strong, different depending on whether it came from Lisa or Rob—it landed with an unbearably pleasurable shock each time, on raw, nervy skin stripped of defenses.
Rob tried it, too, though I remember having the sense that he was perhaps not as much of a masochist as Lisa or I, and was largely enduring pain in the interest of having two women touch his back and bring their lips close to it.
We did several rounds of this, and, predictably, the scenario evolved into heavy making out. I remember kissing both of them and playing with Lisa’s breasts. Pants didn’t come off, though I’m not sure why—I’m sure I would have gladly removed mine. At some point, Rob and Lisa went home, and I went to bed.
Oh, and by the way, I had a boyfriend at the time, who would have been extremely unhappy to know what I’d gotten up to.
The next week, I arrived at the open mike to find Rob waiting with one rose for me and one for Lisa. I remember thinking the roses showed a certain sort of naivete. He had no idea, I thought, of who Lisa and I were and what that night had actually meant. I don’t recall if we ever discussed things, but nothing erotic happened again with that particular configuration of people.
So, that story is as true as I can make it. I’m sure I’m representing the events and facts accurately, and I’ve represented my thought process to the best of my ability.
However, whenever I tell a story, I’m aware of all the choices I’m making about what to say when—just as I do when writing fiction.
For example, above, I waited until the end to mention I had a boyfriend who wasn’t present for these events. If I’d mentioned that up top, though, it would have colored the entire story and made it “about” cheating in a way it isn’t if I reveal that fact at the last minute.
I spent paragraphs on the sensual details of the candle wax and glossed over the kissing and conversation. That’s an implicit decision about what constitutes the “important” part of the story.
I also left out the context and back story for my friendship with Lisa, which involved a complex love triangle between me, Lisa, and Lisa’s best friend, not to mention previous ambiguous sexual encounters and a lot of drugs I felt ambivalent about taking. I wonder if that back story and context is part of why I didn’t do more to escalate the situation between me, Lisa, and Rob. In a similar situation with different people, I might have been much more into making a triad out of it, but I already had reasons I felt reluctant about getting more deeply involved with Lisa. If I’d put all that, the story would have been more complicated, but maybe it would also have been more revealing?
There’s also the urge to make some sort of meaning out of the story, another thing familiar from fiction. So what is that story about? Is it about the fucked up things I did back when I used drugs? Is it about my discovery of the kinky uses of candle wax (something I still enjoy in BDSM play)? Is it about a missed opportunity at an interesting three-way relationship? Is it about my willingness to explore sexually? About infidelity? About how Rob maybe deserved better than to make out with someone who didn’t care about his interest in quantum physics? About how Lisa and I really should have talked about what we wanted from each other? About how an open mike is a good place to hook up with kinky people? About how I’ve wised up? Or how I’m still the same?
I could write the story to match all those things and more.
This says a lot about writing, both fiction and nonfiction. Perspective is inescapable. Opinions get infused.
Right now, though, I’m more interested in what it says about life and how I look at myself. I can shift the true stories of my life in all sorts of ways. I could use them to tear myself down for sluttiness and risky behavior. I could use them to portray myself as an interesting, adventurous, experimental person. I’ve done both. And sometimes I wonder if there’s any really “true” way to see it all. It’s a true story, so there are true things about me in it. What those things add up to, though, is complicated, and, to some degree, chosen. I’m a writer, and it seems like I do get to write myself, depending on how I tell this and many other stories.