By Desiree McCullough
Content warning: This piece contains themes of sexual assault, which may be triggering for some readers.
He forgot THE SONG.
I rarely asked for anything. But what should I expect from someone I allowed to be so spoiled?
My smooth, tight body straddled over him.
My mouth on crevices prone to chafing.
My willingness to drive 250 miles to him through the fickle weather of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
My body frozen in stills that symbolized how much I yearned to close our distance.
I can't blame him. I even created excuses:
Excuse #1: We barely knew each other when I offered up this revelation. How could I trust him with my vulnerability?
Excuse #2: He was technically at work during said revelation – even though he still encouraged me to tell the story behind THE SONG.
Excuse #3: It's just a fucking song. I mentioned so many songs.
But this was THE SONG. The one that haunted me. The one that played on a loop while men explored my body during a coke-filled weekend when I was a freshman in college many, many years ago. I let this dissection happen because I couldn’t quite numb the memory of being drugged and raped earlier in the semester, a hole that stretched and grew within my core. So among strangers, I asked for that song on repeat. It was a cry, an anthem, the party theme where I was the only woman present. Wishing someone would rescue me. Still, just 18.
I had hoped to gain the power of THE SONG back with him. I wanted to play it within the safe confines of coherent intimacy, remaking it into my own. Not turn into ice when it popped up on my music stream, taking me hostage for three minutes and 33 seconds. Still reluctantly drawn to it, always stuck on repeat to punish me … but enjoying how it mesmerized me, a reminder that I deserved this pull into the past.
The only thing I ever asked him was to have sex with me while THE SONG played. And, of course, he graciously agreed.
* * *
Vulnerability disgusted me since I viewed it as a foolish weakness. My norm was to patch anything threadbare, even a thin airhole that led to my secrets, but his gentle kindness, reciprocating sense of humor, and unpredictable depth made me willing to be properly hemmed though fully bare before him. Unwound and then tangled up over and over again.
I was drawn to his own wounds. Though it saddened me to hear his self-deprecation about his “football brain,” a nod to his college football career, and the void of feeling not worthy of love, I was hungry to nurture and salve. In return, he told me how smart I was, how funny I was, and how pretty I was. Those compliments made me float, and I despised that.
I wanted to ground him, but he wanted to keep me as his fantasy.
The jock and the creative. We still made a sweet team. A tapestry of taut, contrasting hues.
* * *
Weeks later, we bantered and flirted over text as I organized my life with colors and asterisks in my planner, giving the trivial of this life more weight than it deserved.
Then THE SONG started to play, interrupting my lofty thoughts and good mood. The draw to get lost in it still revealed my frailty, so I sought safety in reminding him about THE SONG.
He casually mentioned he liked Pink Floyd.
“Wrong song,” I responded and then corrected him with THE SONG from THAT BAND.
“Oh, that one's good, too,” he said, like we’re sipping beers and reminiscing about songs hearted by older millennials.
His candid word-vomit noosed my heart, pulling it out in one flippant swipe.
I shut down and just stared at words that began to blur.
I even went back and searched our text conversation to confirm I didn't make the whole thing up. (Because that’s what women do. Because I was making a big deal out of nothing, right?)
No, it was all there.
I wanted to scream:
"Check November 20th!"
"I never ask you for anything!"
"You're right, I do spoil you!"
I couldn’t go back to witty texting because I questioned if he was ever really there. Were my words as fascinating and worthy as he made them seem?
I thought I felt secure with him. I craved his dissection. But my one request, with its redemptive purpose, was either too much or too little for him to unravel and restitch with me.
THE SONG stayed on repeat. Just for me.
Desiree McCullough is a creative writing graduate student, freelance writer for the odd and provocative, and an occasional substitute teacher when her school district is really desperate. She lives in southeastern Washington State. Find out more about her at desireemccullough.com or on Twitter.