Sunscreen

by Sarah Weigel Lefebvre

The air smelled of sweet, smoky wood and the cloud forest chirped around us, thick with the heavy humidity of the Ecuadorian selva. I walked up the stairs to the cabin we shared. We had innocently and appropriately chosen to occupy separate floors of the jungle A-frame. I went up those stairs on purpose. My intentions were scheming, but safely disguised as professionalism and a simple need for sunscreen. I didn’t really need it- the intensity of the sun under the cloud forest canopy is hardly cause for alarm, even at the equator. It’s no big deal to step outside without it. I knew I could apply it myself, but he was up there and I was looking for a benign excuse to interact in that intimate space we shared. So I asked and he obliged, taking the tube from my shaking hands.

We stood in the bathroom in near silence, his soft hand rubbing my back. I stared down at the floor at the faded, woven, native rug, avoiding eye contact at all costs. I glanced up at the reflection of his face in the mirror, his green eyes squinting and focused across my tanned shoulders as he worked. Our skin touched, probably for the first time ever. There was no conversation, no direction. Up to this point our interactions had always been through words, joking and negotiating our way through an activity or our work together. This time we were silent.

We were friends, co-workers, traveling abroad with 15 students. I was in a shitty marriage. He was beautiful and single. We’d known each other for two years. Our friendship made me feel joy, the kind that children feel. It was pure and free of the complicated distractions and over-thinking that muddies relationships over time, even friendships. I embraced its simplicity, and I searched for opportunities to bring us together. Every interaction led to more respect, more admiration, more joy, and a desperate craving to see him again. I was adept at finding reasons to go up to his office to discuss student work, plan for next week’s lessons; these were things that I could just as easily email him about. But I wanted to see his face and be in his space.

I pulled my tank-top straps down off my shoulders (to avoid tan lines, of course). He didn’t flinch. He just kept massaging the sunscreen in, slowly and thoroughly. It was calculating and intimate in all the right ways, and in all the safe ways. It was intoxicating to feel in control, but also feel so out of control. Even this time in the jungle, it was alright as long as it was just about sunscreen. I never crossed that line. I was no cheater.  

I was so good at it- loving him when I wasn’t allowed to love him. He had no idea, and as it turns out, neither did I. We were both in the dark, thank god.  I loved the game though, the flirtation, all of it.  It led me to a happier place, a place I felt entitled to be if only briefly. I loved how I felt around him today, particularly with his hand stroking my bare back, as I tricked him into intimacy.  I didn’t really care how he felt- to this day I’ve never thought to ask. I’m sure he didn’t think anything of it in the end. Either way it didn’t matter. This was all for me.  

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Sarah is a Biologist living in Massachusetts with her husband and two kids. You can read more of her writing here.

I Tried to Go Home Last Night

by Amanda Loudin

 

I tried to go home last night. My vision was to visit my split-level, childhood home, sold by my parents some 30 years ago. I was in the general area for the holidays so I thought I’d walk up to that front door and ring the doorbell to see what would happen.

I knew showing up on a stranger’s doorstep came with some risk: These people didn’t know me from Adam, and they might be a little creeped out by the middle-aged woman dropping in and asking to look around. But I wanted to try.

So I parked my car in my old spot in the driveway, drew a deep breath and touched my finger to the doorbell. I was greeted by an older woman, a look of curiosity forming across her face. Asking if she could help me.

I explained to her who I was and why I was there. She asked if I was Vaughn’s daughter. I was and I said so. Turns out she and her husband purchased the home from my parents all those years ago and were still there. It felt like the slightest connection that she remembered my dad and hope took hold in the pit of my stomach that she might let me in.

She was sick, she informed me, and her husband was just getting over that same virus. They wouldn’t want to expose me to it. I was welcome to take a peek from the threshold, though, if I wanted.

We chatted for a few minutes as my eyes scanned the foyer and sought out as much of the interior as they could from the outside in. It was chilly as I stood on the concrete porch, staring past the old wooden door she held open. Most of what I could see looked somewhat familiar, if not slightly altered in the color of the walls and type of carpeting on the floors.

Soon it became a bit awkward to remain there at the door, at least for me, so I said my goodbyes and walked back to my car, past the living room’s picture window, the same one I through which I had gazed so many comings and goings over the years.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, if anything. But I know what I wanted.

I had hoped to walk into that house and revisit the living room where our Christmas tree had sat in the corner every year since I remembered the holidays. To see all the family gatherings in that room, or times when friends and relatives had come for dinner and stayed on to chat over drinks perched on the heavy, rectangular coffee table.

Or to wander upstairs and look into the bedrooms. Would my brother’s room still sport the bicentennial wallpaper and red shag carpeting? Would the windowsills in my bedroom still show my initials, which I carved in with a paper clip? How about the hall bathroom — could it still possibly be home to a pink tub and Formica countertops?

I wanted to walk down the stairs and look into the office my parents had shared, the headquarters of their own business. All these years later, I marvel at the fact that they so peacefully worked side by side, day after day. I don’t think it’s something my husband and I could sustain.

Had I peered into the laundry/utility room, would I have been able to envision my Siamese cat, curled up on a pile of shirts thrown down through the chute? Would I be able to smell the abrasive, industrial bar of soap we kept on that utility sink? Did the new family keep their various board games and kids’ instruments on the shelves for rainy day play as we had?

I wished to step into the long kitchen and look through its windows into the back yard, to know if the old A-frame playhouse my dad built us still stood at the edge of the lawn. To open the door into the garage and see if it still contained any remnants of the clutter my brother and I so expertly scattered around its perimeters. A deflated football, a red paint chip from our old wagon, or perhaps an old piece of pottery scavenged from the adjacent vacant lot. 

Not having the opportunity to do any of the above — and knowing in my heart that the home had to be different — I realized my memories would have to suffice. The warm, cozy feelings of a secure, wonderful childhood would need to sustain me.

That’s probably a good thing, I guess. Reality is, everything in that house had to be different because it was no longer ours. No matter the color of the bathroom tile or the placement of board games, it was just the container my family used to make a life. The warm, cozy feelings of a secure, wonderful childhood—that’s what would have to sustain me. 

Apparently, you can’t go home again.

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Amanda Loudin is a freelance writer with a focus on health and fitness. You can find more of her work on her website.

VAMPIRE

 

by Sally Bergesen

 

When I was 16, I dated a vampire. 

I didn't know it at the time. He was just a boy. But I loved him desperately.  like one might love a rescue team, or the last train out of childhood's refugee camp. And he loved me like one might love a potted plant, like a bit of greenery that shows up during the holidays, on the window sill with all the others.

I came to know he was a vampire like most people, with the biting. It was a sultry afternoon and he was driving me across town, the engine rumbling like desire. When I turned toward him, he kissed my neck and I felt a sharp, deep sting like that of a blood draw. I let out a cry and my fingers moved to the wet spot on my neck, feeling a small puncture and a flap of skin.

Eventually, the puncture closed. But the flap of skin never healed. When bored, or listing toward a night of newfound insomnia, my fingers would drift up and push the flap of skin back and forth, feeling its deadness against my jugular.

When the vampire moved away, I began dating someone new. A nice boy who didn't drive. And one day, the flap of skin was gone. I remember because it was right after I turned toward him and tasted his sweet, soft neck.

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Sally Bergesen is the Founder and CEO of Oiselle. You can find more of her writing here.