I was not that woman. In all honesty I wasn’t that guy either. I was a nobody. Not in the diminishing sense, rather in terms of belonging. Even in the most intimate exchanges I could simply disappear. Around age 20 I’d gotten in the habit of facing my feet when I walked, always prepared for the next step and anticipating life’s unexpected shit ahead of me. It was this cautiousness, this dedication to always doing the “right thing” that got me into Penn State and later, NYU. You would have thought it could have saved me from my ex.
Despite majoring in psychology I’d managed to convince the Classics Department at NYU to offer me a full ride to their PhD program. It took several nights studying interview techniques in Latin, memorizing Plato– arbitrary feats of intelligence I had thought would seem more valuable after I got in. Five years into the program I still felt that way. I was beginning to feel that way about everything. Although I knew I’d accomplished something pretty tremendous and had always dreamed of professional life, experiencing its reality still alone, underappreciated, and without sex turned my eagerness into apathy. I wanted human connection but I was too scared to try. I let work be my mistress and spent too many nights distracted by her at the office.
I just couldn’t let anyone get close to me after things ended. Even though I initiated the breakup it took years for me to stop reaching out. Lots of people get tired after hearing the same story but not me; our relationship still plays on repeat. I wanted the degree to silence my feelings so I directed every desire to change the past into changing myself. That was the year I took up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and made a pact with my biceps to work away my ancestry’s flabby arms. We jogged in place for 20 minutes then sat in peeling folding chairs during orientation, “The experience of learning how to defend yourself is empowering,” I couldn’t recognize my own sweat from the odor of my classmates.
This was also the year I decided to learn French, more as a defense mechanism than an attempt to really learn anything. I spent hours on Duolingo, gently rocking against passengers on the N train, mouthing “excusez moi” whenever we mistakenly touched. No one had touched me since 2017. I downloaded Tinder, uploaded three blurry selfies and a couple of group photos taken at a Penn State frat party. When I received no responses I found a cheap tutor on Craigslist. His name was Guillame, a tall flush faced blonde boy raised on the French-Swiss border. At least that’s what I told myself when looking at his photos. I imagined us doing a lot of things together– holding hands down the river Seine, licking champagne froth as we sipped wine in Bordeaux, sailing the Canal du Midi– all while rhythmically stroking myself. I did it in the darkness, under my sheets, just before bed like a midnight digestif, working my fingers in the pattern only I knew how. I so desperately wished for Guillame to know me too, how I tasted, how hot I grew in my cheeks, the hard succulent pout I made when I cum. I wanted him like I wanted my ex, only in daydreams where someone is actually the person you thought they were.