Creative Nonfiction: Haunt Me by Ross Showalter

Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

“Holy shit,” I say. “Okay. Give me a minute to adjust.”

Ben nods. He waits. My body is a tense line. Ben’s cock presses against nerve endings I didn’t know he could touch. He is pressing inside me, making space for himself inside me. I feel like I could burst. I could fall apart from how much I feel right now.

I breathe, hard and heavy. Ben rubs my chest, his hand moving in a circle. He is deep inside me now. “You’re doing good. You’re doing so good,” he tells me. I nod and try to smile. What comes out is only a tensing of cheek muscles. Ben laughs and kisses me. He comforts me in this moment—the moment of comfort ends too quickly. This is the first time a man has been inside me. In this moment, I have gone from being a virgin to no longer being a virgin.

This is my final step towards adulthood. I am 20 years old. I am someone who has sex. I am someone men want. I am someone men want to fuck.

The ache of Ben inside me starts to subside. I take this as my cue for us to begin doing something, for him to move, for us to build friction towards release. I open my mouth.

Ben’s cat places a paw on my chest. Then another paw, then another, then another. Ben’s cat is standing on my chest while Ben is inside me for the very first time. Ben’s cat sits on me, parking himself right on the center of my chest. His tail brushes my nose.

But Ben’s cat isn’t just Ben’s cat. Ben takes care of the cat, Oliver, with his girlfriend, Leanne. Leanne and I met first when we were classmates in a Linguistics class, then she introduced me to Ben, her boyfriend.

Leanne doesn’t know about us. She is across town, tutoring a student on a college subject. I have convinced myself I dislike her but, truly, I feel sorry for her. Occasionally, there is a lightning bolt of contempt. She isn’t here, she doesn’t know about Ben and I, and Ben and I take advantage of that.

She doesn’t know about the six months Ben spent begging to fuck me. She didn’t see how Ben gripped my ass and crotch: tightly, as if he wanted to consume it. She didn’t hear how reedy his voice got when he was pleading, how close his voice was to cracking when he teased me with his fingers and tongue and said, “God, I want you, I want you, I want to be inside you.”

She isn’t here, she doesn’t know anything, but she is still all around us.

I am losing my virginity in the bed Ben and Leanne share. It has pastel flower sheets and thin blankets. Around us is an accumulation of the life Ben and Leanne share. A chair occupies one corner, low to the ground and a bright color of turquoise—Leanne’s favorite color. There are several plants, and they all droop under the cloudy light. Leanne has a green thumb, she has told me.

Ben and Leanne’s cat, Oliver, starts to knead on my chest.

“Can you take Oliver off?” I say. My voice is strangled. I am allergic to cats—already, I can feel my eyes starting to itch.

Ben pushes Oliver on the butt. Once. Twice. After a moment of stubborn resistance, Oliver leaps down to the floor. He saunters around the room. Ben and I are alone again in the bed. But we are not alone. We will never be alone.

***

After Ben, there will be a photographer who takes pictures of me clothed, shirtless, naked. My pale, scrawny body is exposed under his gaze; he reassures me and tells me I am handsome. I feel stirrings of arousal inside me, but I never stiffen. I will proposition the photographer weeks after the photo shoot is over.

“You’re a fox,” he will tell me. “But I have a husband.”

I will not be insulted or even upset. I will feel a strange sort of pride on the photographer’s behalf, for rejecting me.

***

After Ben, there will be another man with a girlfriend. His name is David. He and I will work together, like Ben and I did, towards a common goal. Ben and I worked towards college degrees. David and I work towards customer satisfaction, working together in a movie theater in downtown Seattle.

David will kiss me on the cheek, hug me and bury his bearded face against my neck, and tell me how beautiful I am. My toes will curl in delight. Fireworks of want explode in my stomach. I will caution him. He has a girlfriend. We need to respect her.

He will burst out with the truth over text one night, while I am on the way home after dinner with him, “I love you. I’ve been in love with you since the day I met you. And my girlfriend knows this, and she doesn’t like you because of it. I know that you want to respect her, but my feelings are getting in the way of that. I’m so sorry. Please don’t hate me.”

I will not know how to respond. Ben never told me that he was in love with me. I feel directionless. I don’t know if I love him or if I love the idea of being wanted.

I will read the text again and again until words start to come apart. They become letters grouped up with scant meaning. I will place my forehead against the bus window and hope for the vibrations seeping in my head, my nose, my teeth, to stir up some response. Nothing.

Months later, David will come up behind me in my apartment kitchen and kiss me on the neck, the jawline, my cheeks. He wants to kiss me on the mouth. We have consumed a bottle of two-dollar wine (“two-buck chuck,” David calls it) from Trader Joe’s; the kitchen looks slanted and watery, like a painting.

David’s beard rubs against my neck. His hands slide from my shoulders down my chest, strong and firm and full of want, want for me. He wants me. I cannot control the pants I let out, the soft moans.

He will still be with her. I will open my eyes and shake him off. He will try again, his hands rubbing my shoulders, and I tell him to get out, my voice hard like stone. I ignore his pleading eyes until he opens the door to the outside. I look at him. He grimaces.

After the door shuts, after he is gone, I will realize that I am shaking, my hands unable to wash anything in the kitchen sink.

***

After Ben will come men off the apps:

  • A ginger who works in business or banking—I cannot remember, even though he told me when we were making small talk in his kitchen. I don’t care enough to ask. We end up on his couch. The television plays House of Cards. I snuggle up to him and put my hand on the crotch of his khakis. He is already hard; he kisses my temple, his beard pressing against my eyelids. I take his entire cock in my mouth, with just the slightest gag, a tickle happening in my chest. His pubic hair tickles my nose. I suck him off as the television plays behind me.
  • Someone near the University of Washington asks me again and again to stay the night. He says my profile picture, in which I wear a shirt and jacket, makes him hard. His thrusts set an intense rhythm that he somehow sustains. He seems intent on making me moan constantly. He cums all over me in the dark apartment, dribbles of liquid heat upon my stomach and chest. He kisses me with something close to gratitude, his mouth unfamiliar but still sweet like an eager schoolboy’s. I remain awake as he falls asleep—I want to go again, and I ache with untapped need. He doesn’t respond to my wandering, pleading hands, the circles I rub upon his lower stomach. We squint at each other in the morning and never talk again.
  • On the black and yellow app, his profile picture has him with a hippo. He is attractive in the way I like: tall, dark, and handsome. He also looks untouchable, overly groomed. His eyebrows are meticulously symmetrical. He talks a lot about his white male privilege and doesn’t ask any questions about me. I want to kiss him instead of talking to him.
  • I meet a filmmaker. We talk about movies. We never touch once. I learn more about movies than I ever thought possible.
  • My phone is about to die; I ask this hookup, a man with dark hair, to charge my phone. He points me to a charger by the windows, in his apartment. The city skyline glimmers at us and he doesn’t make any move to draw the curtains. We sit on the couch. He murmurs at me in the dark, his mouth obscured by unruly beard hair, and I cannot understand him. The television is our only light. It plays a Bollywood film, but he doesn’t pay attention to it. His fly is unzipped within minutes. His cock is thick, and it barrels to the back of my throat. I gag. I try to enjoy the way he is fucking my mouth, but it is too much, too intense. He chews on my neck and leaves hickies, even when I explicitly tell him not to. It is only about what he wants. We part ways, unsatisfied, and, at home, I watch porn where men trade sweet, smiling kisses as they undress. The next day, my co-worker smugly asks what’s on my neck and calls me a whore.
  • A doctorate student at the University of Washington reminds me too much of Ben and I let my typical defenses fall. I ramble as we walk around downtown Seattle. We find ourselves on a bench near Pier 62, ocean water splashing and splashing underneath my words, and he patiently listens. I am aware I must ask him questions, but something about him compels me to keep talking, keep giving him my thoughts. At the end, I ask for a hug and he opens his mouth in seeming protest—nothing comes out his mouth except, “Yeah, sure!” I text him later that night and tell him I want to see him again. He never responds.
  • A writer visiting from Finland tells me his favorite novel, The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek—I have read it, too, and loved it. He asks me what I think about riding his cock, and I say I love that idea too. We make plans to have sex, but then he says things have changed and we must put off meeting. Then we have no plans; time has run out, and he must go back to where he lives.

***

After Ben, there will be Ben, again. He will have broken up with Leanne. Their cat, Oliver, will become Leanne’s cat. Ben will want help moving from their townhouse to a small two-bedroom apartment two blocks away. He will still be in the college town where we met. He will have a roommate, one I’ll never meet. Ben says to me that he wants to make amends. He knows he treated me shitty. I will take time off work and I will go down.

We will snuggle on the bed. His arms around me feel familiar. His face will be too close to mine, and he will close the remaining distance. I will tell him, between kisses, that I don’t want to have sex. I don’t want to take my clothes off. Our relationship is more than sex and he just broke up with his girlfriend, I reason. It would be too much, too soon.

He will tease me with his mouth, his hands, his tongue. He will lick at my cock through my pants until I relent—then he works through my underwear, until I let him take those off too. When our naked bodies touch, I have to inhale a gulp of air.

We will fall back into familiar patterns, familiar motions. I will think that this will be the start of something good. It will not be the start of something good.

Ben will claim that we are not right for each other. He says he is polyamorous. He says since I am not polyamorous, things will not work out. The sex between us is meaningless to him, only something for him to fill his time. It is just fun.

The second time I come down, I will meet two of his friends. They will barely pay attention to me. One of them raises her voice whenever she addresses me—indeed, she is always screaming at me. The other one, a waifish poet, appears to be on the edge of hysterical laughter whenever I start to speak.

They will invite him to a party. He will leave at 9 pm and promise to be back in an hour. We will have been watching All About Eve when he gets the invitation. We will pause on a blurry image of Bette Davis, her stern face impatient for us to finish.

Ben actually comes home at 5 in the morning. I will have closed my computer on Bette Davis long before then. I will have waited up for him and I will be foggy with wasted waking hours and the distortion of anger. He will not be looking at me when he apologizes. He does not apologize to my face, but to the bedspread. I will sob quietly to myself on the train back to Seattle.

He will know, then, that I am in love with him. It will not matter to him.

***

After Ben comes another married man. I will drunkenly press my lips to his cheek in a gay bar packed with people on New Years’ Eve, as 2016 is just about to begin. Under my hands, I will feel his back stiffen. Then he will relax, then he will peck me on the cheek. I will also kiss his husband’s cheek, in the same drunken haze of love.

“I’m sorry, that was inappropriate,” I will say later, as we are leaving the bar. The married man and his husband will shake their head. They will drive me home and insist I sleep in the backseat. The streetlights’ golden beams, the way they skate past, prevent me from sinking into sleep, but I will feel secure with the two of them, regardless.

I will not fall in love with them, but I know I could, if they wanted me.

One of them will put out their cigarette against brick wall and ask me, “When’s the last time you were friends with a couple where one person didn’t want to fuck you?”

I will not respond, but he knows the answer. Too long ago.

***

After Ben rejects my idea of us dating because he is polyamorous and I am not, I will enter a polyamorous relationship. I will agree to this while lying in bed with the man I will see, CJ. CJ will outline the terms and I will say, “Okay, okay,” in a nervous, thin voice. I will be scared. I will immediately think that I must have fucked this up before I even started.

I will not have fucked it up. I will feel a cautious flame of happiness. CJ and I will have a lot of sex. I will take CJ in my mouth and relish at the way his thighs tremble when I swirl my tongue around his shaft. He sprays cum all over me and kisses me deeply. I can taste the thank you on his mouth. I love the way he holds my face to his, as if he can’t get enough of me. I lose track of how many breaths I take or don’t take with his mouth against mine.

We will go out on dates. We will cuddle at the Ballard Locks and buy books on Capitol Hill. I will even tell him about Ben, a clumsy nonlinear story delivered over fish and chips at a restaurant near the water. He will take it in and process it and not talk about it again.

After listening about Ben, CJ will be gentler, kinder. He will be the first man to show me what love is, what want is, and how someone could love me and want me.

I will see CJ’s primary partner from afar. We never meet. I will ask about meeting a couple times, and CJ will tell me that the relationship between us is between just us. No one else needs to be involved.

CJ will visit me twice while I am a student at Portland State University. Both times, it will be a bittersweet reunion. After the lights turn out and we settle down to sleep, I am aware of the end approaching. Both times, I grip him tighter in the dark. We will remain in each other’s lives, but our relationship will change.

Both times, he will tell me before boarding the bus back home to Seattle, “I love you. I’m so proud of you.”

***

After Ben will come Ben, yet again; we will meet in my Portland apartment. We will attempt to start up something for the third time, and the third time is when the façade will collapse. The third time we try to start up something will be when I wonder if I need something from him at all.

Ben will kiss me, suck me, finger me, fuck me with the same primal urgency I once loved. There comes an ache without the rush of pleasure to follow. My body feels heavier afterwards, it is harder and harder to find reasons for letting him through my door. Sex between us will feel hollow now, a performance without meaning.

I do not cum when we fuck. Over six years, he has not made me cum once. Ben has exploded semen over my body many times. In Portland, in my own bed, I will be flaccid and will feel only frustration sparking at the base of my spine.

I will ask him if he can stay the night. I try one last time to pull meaning from these encounters, blood from a stone. He will say no. He will have some excuse about work, the same job that he tells me he skips to meet friends all the time. The last time he leaves, I will lower myself in a bathtub full of steaming bathwater.

The truth will surface then: I am nothing to Ben.  He said I was his best friend, but he hadn’t treated me that way. He told me I was beautiful. He told me I was magnificent.

I know the truth now. I was not beautiful. I was not magnificent. I was only to be used.

He will text me months later and ask how my summer was. I will not respond.

***

Hours after Ben takes my virginity, I return to their townhouse after dinner with another friend. The townhouse with Ben, Leanne, and their three roommates will buzz with activity, with noise. They have been drinking, cocktails and beer and straight shots of vodka. They will drink more. They invite me to join them. There is no alternative. As much as I try, I cannot catch up to their buzz.

Ben and Leanne disappear together before too long. I see the two of them giggle and grasp at each other as they go up the stairs. Something in me stops humming. Even as I am two cocktails deep, I feel myself come down. I feel no more excitement about what had happened earlier today. Something in me deflates, something in me that was too close to pride. Earlier, I had felt like an adult. Now, I feel like a fool.

Two of the roommates make out in a chair. The third has gone to bed. I am alone on the couch, and I feel like I have been lied to. I have been lied to. I thought I was loved. I thought I was wanted. I thought I was someone worth loving and keeping around.

I am an afterthought.

Both Ben and Leanne come back down the stairs with smiles on their faces. Leanne’s pants are undone. I feel a surge of disgust. Disgust towards Ben, towards Leanne, and, most of all, towards myself. I wish I was still a virgin. I have no one to blame except myself for where I am right now. This will haunt me for the rest of my life.

“We were smooching,” Leanne says to me. “Do you want another drink?”

Ross Showalter’s stories, essays, and criticism have appeared in The New York TimesElectric LiteratureStrange HorizonsBlack Warrior Review, and elsewhere. He resides in the Pacific Northwest.

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