He Fucked Me, But Only in the Head
A thick wave of steam fogged up the glass. Surrounded by a haze hotter than the Bali sun, I stood naked and wet in the shower, suddenly confronted by my best friend’s boobs as she climbed in and giggled, “What are we doing?”
“I don’t know,” I stammered, shaking my head in utter confusion. Juliet and I quickly dried off as Max and Jay, the two Norwegian architects who’d invited us back to their hotel room for a swim, waited in the next room.
This was not quite what I had in mind when, while we were swimming naked, Jay asked me if I wanted to have a shower. Apparently, he meant, “Would you like to go and have a shower, alone, while I wait politely in my room?”
I have swum naked with the male species many times in my life, and never has it not ended in sex. But instead of the not-so-subtle back patting and arse-grabbing Juliet was receiving from Max, I was floating around awkwardly like a deflated pool toy.
Jay’s hand began to lightly graze the back of my knee as Juliet and Max floated away like sexual ships in the night. His fingertips pressed harder and harder against my thigh. Finally, I thought as his hands wrapped around my legs, pulling me onto his lap. Here we go, it’s on. I was Ginuwine and he was my Pony, and we were about to ride off into the sunset.
His hand traced up and down my spine as I bit my lip, anticipating his pending sexual advances. Using his fingers, he drew buildings on my back. His soft Scandinavian accent trickled over my body, causing the hair on my arms to stand in attention as we discussed art and rap music. I studied his sandy blonde hair that sat pushed back like an old-time movie star, and his eyes, as brown as a rich cup of coffee on a cold Melbourne morning. I began to focus on his lips, his slightly crooked smile and perfectly straight teeth.
20 minutes later, he finally kissed me. But this kiss never escalated, despite the fact we were naked together. His hands remained on my back, one between my shoulder blades and the other around my hip. Jay, who is a frequent traveller, made zero attempts to get north or south of my equator.
Then, as quickly as some of my previous sexual partners, I found myself alone in the shower, feeling like a child who just let go of a balloon in the wind. As the water washed away the chlorine and chemicals, one toxin remained, too ingrained in all of us to be cleaned away by a simple shower. The deadly poison of insecurity; the malignant thought, I am not good enough?
In a dazed haste, Juliet and I dried ourselves and put back on what little clothing we had ventured out in on that particular Tuesday. We returned to the living room, where Jay and Max were waiting patiently to politely drive us home.
The sweet little nervous butterflies that comprise many-a love song had been replaced by eagles. Flapping violently, they clawed at the lining of my stomach as Juliet and I sat down to meet the boys for lunch the following day.
The eagles soared away as Jay and I arrived wearing matching khaki t-shirts, and Juliet joked that we looked like one of those insta-famous couples who had probably been together for years. We were as fluid and as welcoming of each other’s presence as the breeze that was gentle-flowing over the adjacent rice field.
The entirety of that day was spent riding on Jay’s scooter exploring the small Balinese village we were staying in, and swimming at his hotel. “Would you two shut up!” Juliet mocked, as we continued to talk without drawing breath. I waited for some kind of reassurance that this attraction was not only in my head.
Every word he said confirmed that he was interested, but there was still no physical contact. The calm I felt around him was only on the surface. The surging waves of self-doubt pummeled me and prevented me from asking that daunting question, “So… are you interested in me or not?” Even if the answer was no, the initial blow would have been better than the endless agony of wondering. I still don’t know what kept me from asking it.
“I’ll message you,” Jay said as he saved my Australian number along with my return date into his phone. He kissed me on the cheek and drove away. I felt like lead had been injected into my bones. He left, unknowingly leaving me spinning faster than the plane that was taking him back home, where, I am sure, he will forget about me.
Every thought that followed echoed the same quiet fear – an idea that I’d always considered myself too progressive to subscribe to. The socially constructed concept that if a boy does not want to sleep with me, then there is something wrong with me. I was overwhelmed with guilt as my feminist brain screamed at me that I was being stupid. I am a kween. I am a boss bitch. I am fucking Beyoncé. I had spent the previous night protesting for the women’s marches in Washington from Padang Padang Beach. Now I was a sad, flimsy page of teenage tabloid, with a headline that read, ‘How to Get Boys to Like You’.
The war in my head rages on. On one side fights The Suffragettes, Rosie the Riveter, Gloria Steinem, Oprah and all the other strong beautiful women whose agenda I feel like I am betraying. And on the other side fights human nature, insecurity and the inherent need to be valued. To be wanted. This side fights dirty. This side stripped me barer than Jay ever did. It is the terrorist that invades my mind and poisons it. It paralyses and chokes me. I cannot speak. It mocks me sadistically as I try to conceal the minefields exploding in my mind.
Analysing the events of our dalliance in painstaking detail, with the help of Juliet and the fine detective skills of drunken travellers in the bathroom of a nightclub, we came to a conclusion: maybe he was just being nice? Maybe he was just treating me with respect? Maybe he was waiting for me to make the move? Maybe I should have. Maybe it was my own insecurity that lead me to a totally misguided conclusion.
Anxiety is a vortex of maybes. You live every day feeling like you’ve just missed a step walking down a flight of stairs. You land on two feet, but still feel as if you nearly died. Maybe my anxiety has prevented me from being able to recognise genuine kindness and respect – instead, twisting it into something dark and damaging. Or maybe he liked me, but just didn’t want me. And maybe I am allowed to feel bad about that.
Cover by Jesse Schoff