by f
I’ve been a wretched combination of sick and exhausted this week. The snow was relentless and kept me at home. Every morning I woke up in my sweats, walked around in them, and simply existed between my infrequent baths. When I looked in the mirror yesterday, this is what I saw: me, in my early twenties– haggard with unruly, fraying hair and a greasy face that frightened my own mirror. My drooping posture, my aching back, the flapping of my ancient harem pants against my unshaved legs all made me appear slightly fossilized.
There’s nothing like a good few sick days — or ten — to make a lady feel very unsexy. But now as I think about it, I haven’t felt sexy in a very long time. Maybe for a year. Possibly two. I mean, I feel moderately sexy when I’m having sex. I have to, or else I’d never get the gumption to rip my clothes off. Otherwise, I am just dimly aware of the need to be attractive. When I go out, I watch the lovely young professional women on the train. They’ve got such glossy hair. Their coats and dresses are pressed. Their boots hint at an obscene value. They fold their hands delicately and move their coated lips only to whisper sweet fiscal nothings into their Blackberries. When I was in college I called them “Sticks”, but I now realize that that nicknname, directed toward a class of women very proficient at the art of personal grooming, was a side-effect of an intense jealousy. During my first couple of years in college I became good at faking some sense of personal hygene. I had an optimistic attitude, and the delights of having a serious boyfriend transformed me.

It was the perfect storm that sparked my inner ingenue. I cut up short shorts — or, as I called them, my “ho” shorts — and wore them to surprise the Boyfriend, who’d had to go to a different city in order to work out of his advisor’s office. And, if I may, I set the collective crotch of the NE Corridor on fire. I was mobbed wherever I sat or walked. The pheremones — my chutzpah, my confidence — got me everyone’s attention, from the cops to the hobos to the bodega guy who dropped a pile of onions on an unfortunate old lady. When I got to the Boyfriend’s office and opened his professor’s door, I found that there was someone who was very, very happy to see me.

“My God, F, where did your pants go?”

Now my ho shorts sit up on the top of my walk-in closet shelf. I keep them hidden under an old picture frame. I dread the day my mother will come to my room and decide she wants to clean up while I’m away. She’ll find those frayed ho-shorts, the graying and dusty emblem of my sexual success, the last tangible evidence I have of my sexiness.

Yet it doesn’t feel distressing to me. As I write this I realize that I should be upset.

I’m not, though. I was on the phone with a good friend this evening. We were inseperable in middle school, where we spent hours and hours on the phone together in the evenings, strategizing about empty crushes. I can only tell you that mine was very embarrassing and I try not to think about him oftener than my memory makes me. A big part of me misses that planning and scheming and wanting.

I don’t even want to want. I don’t suffer complacency from being too close to him. We’re still far enough apart so that I feel like I can never see him. I want him when I am not with him. But I am loved and so lucky that he doesn’t care what I look like. He doesn’t bat an eye when my legs are fully shaved versus when they’re sasquatches. Sometimes he tells me he loves it when he runs a callused foot up my leg, but he does the same thing when I haven’t done anything to tame the forest. And speaking about forests, the old Delta of Venus in its most Amazonian glory doesn’t phase him. When I object, he tells me I’m crazy. Even as he pulls some of forest from between his teeth.

(I can’t stand it when that happens so I keep things very clean downstairs, much to his amusement.)

However, because I am now doing research as I write these columns to make sure that I’m not as malinformed as I think I am, I find that the vast majority of online columnists discuss ways to make sure that one’s man does not stray. Most of them vast importance on personal grooming. (I take this to mean that if one strand is out of place, if my expensive wardrobe remains immaculate and if my hair and face and nails and boobs stay put and stay shiny, I might have a teensy chance at keeping this exclusive fairy — the apex of our dreams, the MAN — in place.)

Yes, I feel old and decrepit. The past two years of unemployment and living at home with my parents have been two fat fists that’ve waged perpetual war against my confidence and appearance. When I am at my lowest and least rational, I entertain the what-ifs: what if he realizes that he can do better? What if I wake up next to him and find that he stares at me, disgusted, disappointed with my body? I’ll think, then, shit — why didn’t I take care of it?

Today, however, as I take the train home from class, I watch the girls. The “Sticks” always sit with me on the train, whenever I ride. Instead of my usual enviousness, I am calm while I observe them staring at their gloved hands between the sharp buzzing of their phones. One girl pulls out a book — it’s “He’s Just Not That Into You”, the revolutionary self-help tome by Greg Bernhardt, a Sex & the City writer. At first I think that she is reading it for pleasure — she seems like she should be happy. Her coat is thick and expensive, and it leaves open the taunting glipse of an expensive purple gauzy skirt. Her phone sits and she smiles into the keys as she types a message into it with urgent thumbs. After texting, she looks at her copy of the book. It is only then that I see that it is litterred with post-its and tabs. She’s making it an object of scholarly study. I watch her read between the lines, greedy for magic advice.

It makes me sick and sad but then, when those sensations ebb away, my peace is bottomless. In my apathy I feel joy. In my ugliness I feel safe. In my unsexiness, I am loved.

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