Lying here, sunlight blasting my face in its most violating purity, I feel a part of me leave even as he enters me. I reach out and grab for the part that is doing the leaving—I reach for it with my stomach, not my hands, which hold his back, his hips, his ass, arms, shoulders, heart—it is my stomach that grabs the me that is heading over the next rise in the slickrock; my stomach that grips it with a fist held tight against years of being seen; grips it with the words: Stay here, don’t go; my stomach begging, pleading, willing me to stay whole. But his movement inside me, instead of opening me up, instead of letting surprises work their way out in gasps or moans or sandstone or skin under fingernails, his movement inside me splits me in two, serrates me into two parts, and one of them is now on the slickrock bluff beyond the first one, looking back and saying to the me lying here: Don’t do this. Don’t let him see you like this.
And the part of me that lies on redrock in full-on sunlight and full-on sex sees the bluest desert sky above framing the face of love, and all that is before me in the whole world is love and sky and it is so big, so bright, a full moon on the horizon of an August eve, all points of all perimeters moving into one being, into Moon Goddess, into Sun God, into his face, into me.
And the part of me that stays thinks, I should take off my sunglasses, knowing they are all that stands between him and me, while the other part, the part that sees me from now three slickrock rises away, says Don’t you dare! But he is as raw and open before me as the sun, as the desert, as the world and so I do it, I take off my dark glasses and let me see him first in the honesty of pure light, but when he sees me in that same light she flies over the edge of the slickrock plateau, drops into the canyon below, and disappears, glancing once over her shoulder to spit back at me: You bitch You whore You went and did it now.
And the fist that is my stomach closes around the me that is left and shakes me like my dog does his stuffed rabbit. My coming is as far away now as my serrated part, and so are slickrock and canyon and present-day love; instead I am left with a picture as old and worn as a life:
A man with hairy knuckles, hairy fingers on my privates inside my jeans in mid-afternoon sunlight rubbing back and forth back and forth faster, faster. And the part of me that floated away even way back then saying Don’tdoit. No! Not to his gray old face but to five-year-old me, telling me, steeling me, a fist on the inside of orgasm even as his hand—faster and faster against young skin—brought me there against my will. It happened and he saw it—my small body could not fight it—and I saw even way back then that men delighted not in pleasure but in the power. And my stomach wanted to throw up shame and horror all over him but I had to suck it back in, suck it back down into the pit of me and I’ve held it there ever since.
Ever since right up to now in this world of redrock and sage and juniper and sky, me below on slickrock, him above in sunlight, a man who says in words and deeds he loves me loves me but how would he know. I don’t let him see me until here now I do as the last covering I have I remove, setting dark glasses aside on warm stone, and he’s there in blue sky and I’m here on red rock, just him and me and rock and sky, and him and sky and me and rock, and as he comes, I go.
Kathryn Wilder’s essays have been listed as notable in Best American Essays, and have appeared in such places as High Desert Journal, River Teeth, Southern Indiana Review, Fourth Genre, and Sierra. She has an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and lives among mustangs in southwestern Colorado.
SEPTEMBER 24, 2019 / MUSEPAPER ESSAY PRIZE #30 / NO TURNING BACK
Sex on Slickrock © 2019 Kathryn Wilder