a girl’s feet will tangle yours under sheets you just bought for a night like this. the price tag is still glued to the plastic wrapping stuffed underneath the bed. her feet are frigid and feel like frostbite against your legs when you fall asleep, but they’re like mittens roasted over a fire when the sun blinks through the curtains.
a girl’s legs are taut and thick. they’re flexible and enclose you in a straightjacket at 2 am when they knot around your waist and pull you just a little closer. if she’s still sleeping, it’s even better.
her thighs will make you forget about your calculus homework and your french exam. they will make you forget about your father’s affair or your best friend’s disorders. they will make you forget your name and they will make you forget who you are without them. hold them as tight as you can. i promise, she loves it.
when you were in fourth grade, they taught you stop, drop, and roll at the sign of a fire. when you’re in her bedroom on the second floor, her quivering hips will trick-start a similar fire in your teeth, and you’re going to want to listen to your fourth grade teacher, but don’t. if you stop, whatever it may be that you’re doing, she might kill you.
so in health class, they’re supposed to teach you that your hands will never fit somewhere like they will on a girl’s waist. it doesn’t matter if it’s wide and soft, or small and hard. your hands will adapt to her waist like the heart to your blood. they’ll feel as natural as fingers on an instrument.
sometimes you can see her ribs; sometimes you can’t. they flicker like an old grainy movie under her skin, and they feel like sharp magma in your palms. they’re structure — they protect her. hold her there if you want her to feel like this house isn’t caving in on herself.
her chest. promise her you’d never want anything more or anything less. if you don’t mean it, stop reading, and find someone else.
taste her collarbone. dip in the crevices and valleys and plant trees at the bottom. root down, cherish the nature, and never ever underestimate a girl’s collarbones. they’re a place to sleep when its -11 outside. write scripts on her collarbone. they are forever.
if you don’t know blueprints to her neck with your eyes closed from tracing it with your mouth, you’re doing it wrong. learn it. memorize it. you better know her pulse like counting with your dominant hand. kiss it like it’s her mouth. her neck will change over time, yes. but make sure you can change with it.
kiss her before she brushes her teeth. make fun of her morning breath. kiss her after, and make fun of the flavor of her toothpaste. kiss her when she’s angry and throwing the vase your mother bought her, and kiss her when she can’t stand and she bubbles over with tears like hot water. kiss her if she’s laughing and tell her it’s because she makes you happy. kiss her if she won’t stop talking because you want to taste her voice. kiss her when she isn’t talking because you miss it. kiss her in the shower and kiss her everywhere. if it’s raining, kiss her, and kiss her again when she calls you a cliche. kiss her in public because you want them all to know, and kiss her in private because you don’t need them to either. god, just kiss her on the mouth. nothing else matters. just fucking kiss her.
When I was seventeen and preparing to leave for university, my mother’s only brother saw fit to give me some advice.
“Just don’t be an idiot, kid,” he told me, “and don’t ever forget that boys and girls can never just be friends.”
I laughed and answered, “I’m not too worried. And I don’t really think all guys are like that.”
When I was eighteen and the third annual advent of the common cold was rolling through residence like a pestilent fog, a friend texted me asking if there was anything he could do to help.
I told him that if he could bring me up some vitamin water that would be great, if it wasn’t too much trouble.
That semester I learned that human skin cells replace themselves every three to five weeks. I hoped that in a month, maybe I’d stop feeling the echoes of his touch; maybe my new skin would feel cleaner.
It didn’t. But I stood by what I said. Not all guys are like that.
When I was nineteen and my roommate decided the only way to celebrate the end of midterms was to get wasted at a club, I humoured her.
Four drinks, countless leers and five hands up my skirt later, I informed her I was ready to leave.
“I get why you’re upset,” she told me on the walk home, “but you have to tolerate that sort of thing if you want to have any fun. And really, not all guys are like that.”
(Age nineteen also saw me propositioned for casual sex by no fewer than three different male friends, and while I still believe that guys and girls can indeed be just friends, I was beginning to see my uncle’s point.)
When I was twenty and a stranger that started chatting to me in my usual cafe asked if he could walk with me (since we were going the same way and all), I accepted.
Before we’d even made it three blocks he was pulling me into an alleyway and trying to put his hands up my shirt. “You were staring,” he laughed when I asked what the fuck he was doing (I wasn’t), “I’m just taking pity.”
But not all guys are like that.
I am twenty one and a few days ago a friend and I were walking down the street. A car drove by with the windows down, and a young man stuck his head out and whistled as they passed. I ignored it, carrying on with the conversation.
My friend did not. “Did you know those people?” He asked.
“Not at all,” I answered.
Later when we sat down to eat he got this thoughtful look on his face. When I asked what was wrong he said, “You know not all guys do that kind of thing, right? We’re not all like that.”
As if he were imparting some great profound truth I’d never realized before. My entire life has been turned around, because now I’ve been enlightened: not all guys are like that.
No. Not all guys are. But enough are. Enough that I am uncomfortable when a man sits next to me on the bus. Enough that I will cross to the other side of the street if I see a pack of guys coming my way. Enough that even fleeting eye contact with a male stranger makes my insides crawl with unease. Enough that I cannot feel safe alone in a room with some of my male friends, even ones I’ve known for years. Enough that when I go out past dark for chips or milk or toilet paper, I carry a knife, I wear a coat that obscures my figure, I mimic a man’s gait. Enough that three years later I keep the story of that day to myself, when the only thing that saved me from being raped was a right hook to the jaw and a threat to scream in a crowded dorm, because I know what the response will be.
I live my life with the everburning anxiety that someone is going to put their hands on me regardless of my feelings on the matter, and I’m not going to be able to stop them. I live with the knowledge that statistically one in three women have experienced a sexual assault, but even a number like that can’t be trusted when we are harassed into silence. I live with the learned instinct, the ingrained compulsion to keep my mouth shut to jeers and catcalls, to swallow my anger at lewd suggestions and crude gestures, to put up my walls against insults and threats. I live in an environment that necessitates armouring myself against it just to get through a day peacefully, and I now view that as normal. I have adapted to extreme circumstances and am told to treat it as baseline. I carry this fear close to my heart, rooted into my bones, and I do so to keep myself unharmed.
So you can tell me that not all guys are like that, and you’d even be right, but that isn’t the issue anymore. My problem is not that I’m unaware of the fact that some guys are perfectly civil, decent, kind—my problem is simply this:
In a world where this cynical overcaution is the only thing that ensures my safety, I’m no longer willing to take the risk.