kurainokoori: (dreamer)
[personal profile] kurainokoori
Title: A Single Step
Author: [livejournal.com profile] kurainokoori
Beta: The amazing [livejournal.com profile] subluxate
Fandom: Original Fiction
Word Count: 14'313 words
Rating: PG
Characters/Pairings:  Original characters - Maja, Jens, Janine, Jonas, Desiree, Derek, Maja's mum, Darlene Yang. Maja/Jens, Maja/Janine, Maja/Desiree, Maja/Derek, Maja/Jonas
Warnings: Non-graphic sexual content, non-graphic bad sex, dysfunctional familial relationship
Summary:  A journey starts with a single step. Maja discovers her asexuality and explores it through the years in several relationships - some more successful than others - until she finds the person she'll end up marrying.
Link to art master post: here by the fantastic [livejournal.com profile] bookblather


 
A Single Step

You’ve asked me to put the pen to the paper and tell you a story. What led up to creation of this piece of work was an exchange that went like this:

“What story?” I ask you with a half-smile, thinking you are not serious. You know I’m not a writer.

You don’t smile when you say, “Our story.”

I know that look upon your face. We’ve been married for fifteen years now, and that ought to be enough to know a person. I know nothing will change your mind at the moment. So with a sigh, I go looking for a pen. I have no idea where to start.

Where did it begin? They say that the hardest part is the beginning, but I’m not sure I agree. The middle is the hardest – particularly the middle that’s building up to the ending. That’s when you lose steam.

Here we go.

I

To begin our story, I suppose I have to go back to the earliest of beginnings.

When did I realise? Some part of me has always known. Has always been so terribly confused about the way other people were acting. As kids we used to play this game – the girls would chase after the boys and give them a kiss – or rather a peck – on the lips. I’d catch a boy and I’d peck him on the lips. It felt nice. I didn’t get why the other girls giggled or why the boys would wipe their lips in disgust. I liked the pressure, but I didn’t get what it was all about.

As we grew older, the interest in sex grew deeper. I’ll admit to feeling curious, but analysing this curiosity with a later perspective, it was more anthropological than anything else. Sex, for me, is interesting as a fantasy, but in reality it’s – weird, for a lack of a better word. I can’t get why some people seem to think the sun rises and sets on it.

Sex Ed was interesting in the way that it was really uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable for everyone, I guess – the teachers and the students alike. I remember sitting there and listening to a female teacher telling us girls about the clitoris, the penis and consent. I remember people squirming in embarrassment, while I just sat there stock-still. I remember the boys telling me that they had only talked about the penis, which struck me as a bit weird. Shouldn’t they learn about the clitoris and consent, as well?

But most of all, I was a bit preoccupied with my own thoughts about sex. Particularly about me and sex in the same sentence. I was fifteen years old and had just started fantasising sexually. I never starred in these sexual fantasies, myself. Most of the time I imagined my favourite telly characters – male characters, my mum would have been scandalised to know – having sex with each other, and it would make me feel hot and tingly. I tried to think about real people – which felt really rude, by the way – and myself in the context. I was fine with fetish stuff – eating fruit off a naked body, teasing with a feather – but the moment I tried to think of myself as being on my back, having somebody else teasing me, touching me, I stopped. It felt wrong.

I told my friends, during a break, all sombre and serious, “I think I’m asexual.” I used it and thought of it in the same erroneous way a lot of people do. The literal way: non-sexual. So when I discovered masturbation a couple of weeks later, I happily put the thought out of my head. Because if I enjoyed a sexual activity and craved it, then I couldn’t be asexual, I reasoned.

The thought didn’t enter my head again, until I was nineteen. I was still a virgin and I longed for a boyfriend or a girlfriend. I imagined cuddling on the sofa and holding hands. Kissing was something that intrigued me. Hugging was something I adored, and I hugged everybody I loved and cared for. But when I thought about this hypothetical boyfriend/girlfriend, I didn’t think about sex. Not once. It started niggling in the back of my head. It prompted me to join AVEN – the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, if you don’t know about it – soon enough. I read through the threads and went for a really long time without posting. One day I read another woman’s story, and it was exactly like mine. I left my laptop to go look at myself in the mirror.

Even so many years later, I look a lot like I did then. The first thing I always see is my nose. My mum used to call it aquiline. Me? I just called it big and ugly. I tried to ignore it as much as I could, but I’ve made peace with my nose today. Mostly because you love it and like to leave a peck on the tip of it. It always makes me blush so nicely, you say. But at that stage of my life, I found it much more pleasant to look at my dark eyes. They were big in the nice sense of the word and I’ve been told over and over again that my eyelashes are to die for. Wandering down my face, my gaze would be stuck on my lips. They were a little too thin for my taste. And really pale, as well. My narrow, angular face was framed by black hair. It was cut short and had been cut short since I was twelve, since I couldn’t stand long hair. Too much of a hassle.

I stared into mirror. A little too skinny. Not conventionally pretty, nor ugly, just a bit on the unusual side of ordinary, if you’ll allow me the paradox. I didn’t look any different. I didn’t really feel any different. But something was different. My shoulders had lost some of their tension and my eyes weren’t as wary. I had a label for myself now.

My name is Maja. I was born on July 17th, 1991.

I’m a bi-romantic asexual. For the longest time I thought I was hetero-romantic, until I realised that sometimes there swoops in a lady so amazing that I can’t help but fall for her.

II

I’ve made it all seems so easy, haven’t I?

God, I always do this. I can’t ever admit to things being painful or struggling. You want our story and that means not hiding anything. The truth: it wasn’t easy. No matter how relieved I felt, it wasn’t easy. The idea dropped into my head one night when I was having trouble falling asleep. The nagging sensation of being different crystallised itself into a realisation. Suddenly I was wide-awake, all thoughts of sleep gone just like that, and stared unblinkingly into the darkness.

Here’s a secret: I didn’t want to be asexual. At this point in my life, it simply terrified me. Even though I had toyed with the idea in the past, I had always thought that I was sexual. Now, I suddenly didn’t. And it scared me to death. I thought being asexual meant the loss of all those things that I wanted – somebody to love me, a stable relationship, a future as half of a couple...

My childish brain and heart, at the age of nineteen, thought that being asexual meant being alone forever.

At first, I went through my days in denial. The thought, the idea, kept interfering with my work at the animal shelter where I volunteered. I’d lose myself in my thoughts as I was cleaning out cages, and my fellow volunteers would have to wake me from my deep thoughts. It turned into a joke. They thought I was in love. I thought I was losing my mind.

It took me three months to work up the courage to actually sign up for an account on AVEN. As earlier mentioned, I only lurked for a while, until I read that story that made me realise that I wasn’t alone. Her story was so similar to mine. But it also added hope to my own life – this woman, whose story I so identified with, she had had an understanding partner since five years back. They were getting married that very year.

I think it was that which got it through my thick skull that I wouldn’t end up alone.

III

I met my first boyfriend when I was twenty-one years old. It was an unmitigated disaster. Hindsight makes it all an equation with an all too obvious conclusion – a not so confident, recently identified asexual plus a narcissistic sexual equals something akin to pouring water onto burning oil. In a way, I blame my mother. As you are well aware, my mother and I didn’t have the most uncomplicated of relationships. In fact it’s only during the recent years that I’ve been able to take her down from my childhood’s pedestal and realise that she was, in fact, a major bitch.

Did you know that she was the one who pushed me into educating myself to become a florist? She owned a tiny flower shop and had this vision of a mother and daughter team taking care of it. So she pushed and prodded. Said I’d never make it as a photographer and, well, we know that’s not true, right? But she was my mum. I thought she was almighty. I believed her when she said that I wasn’t talented enough to make it. Like a good little girl, I applied for the education and went through the motions half-heartedly. In a way I loved making floral arrangements, but I also knew that it wasn’t what I really wanted to do. What I didn’t know at the time was that my mum was so hopeless with economics that she was driving the shop into the ground.

I met Jens – that was my boyfriend-to-be – in a library. I was skiving off from designing a floral arrangement. Instead I was reading about one of my favourite photographers, Graciela Iturbide, on one of the computers, when somebody knocked into my chair. It threatened to overturn, and I grabbed onto the desk. I half-hung from the desk and held the chair up with a leg. Hands suddenly helped me up and righted the chair. A voice said, “I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”

I looked up at the person who’d almost sent me flying to the ground. He wasn’t that much taller than me and very slender. His eyes were huge, with eyelashes that a lot of women would kill for. I felt something flutter in my stomach. He was very attractive. I’ve always been drawn to androgynous men, and this one looked almost elfin. Only after a while did I realise that I was staring, and it made me blush. I stammered, “I’m okay. Really. You just startled me.”

He dropped into the chair next to me. Now, quite a few years later, I wondered if it was all orchestrated. If he bumped my chair to start talking to me. He was so very charming, you see, when he apologised to me once again and I almost fell over myself to tell him that it was okay. He smiled at me, and his eyes crinkled at the corners in a way that was utterly charming.

“Please,” he said, “let me take you out for a drink, as an apology.”

I was aesthetically attracted to him. He was a very handsome man. Is it a wonder I said yes? I went out with him that night. He was thoroughly charming, and I laughed until I had stitches in my sides. The wine flowed rather freely, and I got more than a little tipsy. He walked me home, but didn’t push for more. He gave me my first kiss just outside my flat door. I like kissing. I don’t particularly like French kissing. I find it a little gross, to be honest. But kissing itself makes me feel warm inside. I confess that when I closed the door behind me, I leant against it with a sigh and a smile like in a chick flick. I felt wonderful. He was wonderful.

I didn’t start to fret until a few days later. Should I tell him? If so, when would be appropriate? Now, before he got too attached, or later, so he just wouldn’t reject the notion because he thought it would be too hard? I eventually settled on telling him just a few weeks after we had met. He looked at me with dark eyes. I don’t know if he understood. When the silence stretched on, I got desperate. I told him I wouldn’t mind compromising. As it turned out, we had entirely different notions of what such a compromise of a sexual relationship would entail. Like I said, he was narcissistic, and it mainly manifested in the bedroom. A lot of my girlfriends aren’t surprised when I tell them about him. They’ve all gone out with a guy or two like him.

The first time I had sex was a disaster. I was a little drunk and he was mainly impatient. I didn’t get properly wet and it hurt. When I told him, he backed off. For a few minutes. Then we tried again. It didn’t get better, but I endured. Like one of those girls in the Sex Ed videos. Do you remember? The girl who lies to the boy and says that it feels good, even as the guy is hurting her. I felt uncomfortable and just wanted it to be over with. It took far long for me.

Jens was an idiot. Entirely too focused on his own pleasure to care about whether or not I enjoyed it. I think he might have thought I didn’t care if it hurt just because it wasn’t something I would initiate. It would get better, but it was always somehow one-sided – his pleasure more important than mine. Sadly enough, a lot of girls say that this often is the case. Guys don’t think that girls want or enjoy sex, so they just ignore how they can make a girl feel better.

I enjoy sex in a way. It’s not something I would choose just out of the blue. I enjoy the closeness. The intimacy. The feeling of being connected. I think the sounds and faces people pull are funny. The smells are just shy of unpleasant. The sweat building up disgusts me. But the closeness can’t be beaten by anything. But then it needs to be about intimacy. It can’t be about taking and taking from one part, without giving something in return. I asked Jens to go down on me, because I was curious. He refused. I would go down on him until he choked me one time too many and I refused to do it again. He stormed out of my flat in a rage then.

The only reason I stayed with him, I guess, was because my mum approved of him. I had never had a boyfriend before and she’d been afraid that there was something wrong with me. She did think there was something wrong with me, but that’s a story for later. She liked Jens and was probably planning our wedding. By then I had found out how deep in financial trouble the flower shop was, and it foreclosed that autumn. I had finished a work-preparatory education I didn’t particularly want and I was spitting mad, but hid it like the good girl I was. I found a job rather quickly, though. Mainly because they saved money by hiring me, since they didn’t have to hire a photographer.

The straw that broke the camel’s back wasn’t his behaviour in the bedroom. It was the one-sidedness of the entire relationship. There are no words for how much I hate football, but I would still go. But he refused to go to exhibitions with me, even when it was exhibitions I really wanted to go to.

I tossed his stupid ass out of the door and tried to forget about him.

It wasn’t easy. I loved him, even if he was a jerk. I would find myself missing him. Sometimes I almost dialled him and asked him to get back together.

Instead I moved away from the city and back to my hometown.

I never heard from him again.

IV

My interest in sex at this time was purely anthropological. I find it kind of amazing that we’ve taken something nature intended for procreation only and evolved it past that. In a way, sex can be an art. It can be ugly as hell, but when it’s done right – that is between two consenting adults – it’s so beautiful that I could cry. The Kama Sutra is a fascinating read (though I do prefer The Cuddle Sutra). I love sensual photographs, by which I mean photographs that tease the imagination but are not explicitly sexual. The human body is beautiful naked.

I had a collection of sex-related books at home. I read them from time to time and was amazed at all the ingenuity. In a way I would have loved to get a look at the library in Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, even if I wanted to castrate Maude’s uncle.

I stayed single for the next two years. Not for a lack of trying to find a partner. But my asexuality scared off people before we even got anywhere. It was frustrating. It hurt so much, like somebody was pouring shattered glass into an open wound. I had stopped looking for companionship and looked for books instead. Looked for ways to expand my knowledge.

I think it was May 13th, this particular day. I was in my favourite bookshop, an old dusty place with new books as well as used ones. The lighting was poor, but it felt like it had character. The staff treated me like an eccentric cousin, since I only bought erotic literature and books on photography. This day I had taken down a book with contemporary nude art. I was flipping through the pages without really seeing the content. I had the afternoon shift at the flower shop and wasn’t in the mood to go to work. A new girl had started and she made my life hell because I was eternally single. I missed Kristian, with his soft voice and limp-wristed gestures and wicked, wicked sense of humour. He had made work bearable.

“Are you buying that book?” a voice suddenly said and I started, almost dropping said book.

I turned around and looked at the person who had spoken to me. She was, and I hope you’re not going to be offended by the fact that I still care for my exes’ appearances, stunning. Like me, she was pale, but she had red hair and green eyes. Her makeup was flawless and her clothes were fashionable. She had curves and wasn’t afraid to show them off. All in all, she made a rather appealing subject for photography.

“Yes,” I said and remembered that it had been the only copy. “Why? Did you want it or something?”

I would have given it to her without batting an eyelash. But instead she blushed.

“No, it’s just that I made a few of the illustrations,” she admitted, sounding slightly embarrassed. “I just got so excited to see somebody actually buying the book.”

“Oh?” I said and cocked an eyebrow. “Which one is yours?”

She took the book from me and flipped through the pages. She stopped at a picture of a nude woman. It was painted entirely in shades of red and even as the woman was sitting on the edge of the bed with her knees pulled up to her chest, with a cigarette hanging from her lip, you could see her vibrating with energy. There was something over the eyes that said that the woman was ready to pounce. Her eyes sparkled with life and laughter, laughing at the world, daring it to come after her.

“Irene,” the woman said fondly.

I touched the page and breathed softly, “It’s beautiful.”

What got to me was that she was beautiful, but realistically so. Her stomach wasn’t flat as if she’d been holding her breath, but it seemed as if the sketch had been made just as she sagged. Her stomach was soft. I wanted to touch it. The urge surprised me. I shook my head and asked the woman to show me the rest. It was a few beautiful portraits of nude men. She told me about them. I was interested in a portrait of a man named Dennis. It was in black and white with a static background. I sensed despair and anxiety. When I told her of this impression, her eyes shuttered close and I realised it was a sore subject. I closed the book and complimented her on her talent.

I left the bookstore with the book and her phone-number. I couldn’t stop smiling. This redhead was beautiful, brilliant and clever, and she was interested in me. I was drawn to her like a moth to the flame and after a couple of weeks, we were a couple. Her name was Janine – apparently I like names that begin with a ‘J’ – and she was also asexual. That was our only similarity. Otherwise we were as different as night and day.

Janine was almost obsessive about the way she looked. It had nothing to do with the way others viewed her, really. But rather, she appreciated seeing herself in flattering clothes and with flawless makeup. I loved looking at her, I must admit. She was so incredibly beautiful. She always turned heads when we were out and it made me feel, I don’t know, pride that she would choose me over the rest of them. I never bothered to brush my hair in the morning. My jeans were baggy and worn until almost all that remained were holes. But I was the one she would cuddle with on the couch and compromise on kissing with. She didn’t particularly care for it, but I did, so we could kiss for hours. Soft, closed-mouths pecks that made me feel really relaxed and cared for.

She had this tradition of making nude portraits of her lovers. The images in the book I picked up were portraits of some of her lovers, those who had consented to have their image published in the book. I knew of this tradition. I knew that it would come up. It made me nervous as hell. I knew what it meant to her, but I wasn’t entirely sure that I was comfortable with the idea. She had a great EQ and picked up on my anxiety soon – probably because I would always eye her painting gear suspiciously whenever she would bring them out.

She confronted me about this after a while. Or rather, she reassured me.

“Look, sweetie,” she said, and pecked me on the lips, “it would make me happy beyond words if you let me paint you, but you don’t have to. I’m not going to badger you to give in.”

I nodded and fled. I was late for work, anyway. The new girl, who wasn’t that new anymore, was late and kept prattling on about things I found rather inconsequential. I had long since learnt to tune her out, since she always talked down to me like I only was a really clever dog or something. I was thinking about what it would be like to model for Janine. To lay exposed and vulnerable as her eyes raked over me and her hands made a likeness of me come to life on the canvas. I flushed in embarrassment as I imagined her complete and utter focus on me. It was also a little thrilling, I have to admit. The idea that she found me worthy of painting. At the time she had a job as an art teacher and struggled to make it in the art world, but I knew she was going to succeed. Her eyes were focused and she always strived to work her hardest on, give the most for and breathe life into every piece.

The subject wasn’t brought up for several weeks. And when it was brought up, I was the one who did it. I was flipping through her portfolio and the sketches she’d made of a model she’d paid to sit for her. They were beautiful drawings. Before I even knew that I was going to say it, the words were out of my mouth, “I want you to paint me.”

The smile she gave me could have lit up an entire room. I felt warmth unfurling in my stomach. It surged pleasantly through my body. My heart sang with so much love for her that I barely could stand it. By saying those six words, I had given her something she really wanted. She bounced over to me and pecked me on the lips.

“The light is horrible today,” she said, as it was a terribly cloudy day, “but you’re free tomorrow, right? I think the weather report said it would be sunny.”

I was free the following day and found myself whisked away to Janine’s studio. It was on the top floor of an older building and she rented it with some friends from Konstfack, the art college she’d attended in the past. I had never been before and took it in with a keen sense of curiosity. Props were shoved off to the side along the walls. Windows, taller than me, bathed the entire room in light. The sunlight was the soft light of the early morning when we came in there. I didn’t have much time to marvel, as I remember it, because Janine was impatient to get started. She handed me a robe and shooed me off to cubicle to disrobe. It felt a bit weird to get undressed in there, as it felt like they’d stolen a cubicle from a store. I tied the robe tightly around my waist.

In the centre of the room there was a raised platform and Janine was raising it even more. She spun it around before my eyes. I clutched the robe and hope she wouldn’t do that when I was on it. I didn’t take vertigo very well. She threw a look at me and smiled softly. She motioned with a hand for me to get onto the platform. With a deep, calming breath I dropped the robe. She held out a hand and helped me up onto the platform. Her soft hands poked and prodded me until she was satisfied with the way my body was positioned.

The painting she sketched that day was painted entirely in sepia. The lines were sparse and the sharp lines of shoulder blades and hips were smoothed down to something soft and pleasant. It was a highly idealised portrait, which was something I teased her about. But she told me that it was as she saw me. This wasn’t the only painting that she made of me, but it’s the one I remember the best. It won an award and was featured in her first solo exhibition. She invited me to the showing, but the trains (fucking SJ!) ended up being so delayed that I never made it.

There’s something I’m going to always owe Janine for. At this time in my life I had given up photography as a pipe-dream. I took the standard, commercial photos with a camera they gave me at work. But my own camera was collecting dust in the closet, before Janine dug it out. I had forgotten to transfer some pictures from the memory card to the computer. She was curious and looked through them. Hovering nervously, it surprised me how enthusiastic she was over my talent and ordered me to get back to photography. Her faith in me made me want to again, but I was stumped. I would bring the camera with me everywhere and yet could never find anything I wanted to take pictures of. I forced myself, but it all ended up feeling really uninspired.

Until one day when I snapped a picture of her, lounging on the couch. She modelled for me willingly. Even did some nudes. She was comfortable in front of the camera, until I asked her to do it without make-up. She looked so achingly vulnerable in those shot that I almost deleted them. But I kept them, treasuring them and the trust she’d shown me, and I still treasure them today. I took pictures of details of her body – the curve of her shoulder crossing over into the smooth length of her neck, her neck stretched and only her chin and lips visible of her face, her eyes open and crinkling in the corners because she was smiling…

After that, it was like I could see again. I saw the world in lights and shadows. I saw lines and what would make a good picture. I got back into puttering around in the digital darkroom and just experimenting. It made me regain a sense of self and my sudden self-awareness spilt over in every aspect of my life. I felt more at peace. It affected my work performance, and I even had fun making the standards bouquets.

I’ll always owe Janine for reminding me of who I was. I loved her so much that it hurt. It felt like I was going to have a heart-attack, I loved her that much. That’s why it was so surprising what happened next. We lasted for about a year and a half, before we realised that we’d gone from a couple to extremely close friends. Our relationship had fizzled out. When we realised, we split amicably. We’d been dancing in a club and it seemed like we were simultaneously hit by the realisation that we were just girlfriends having fun. She smiled at me and kissed my cheek. She said, “Well, we had a good run, didn’t we?”

I used some of the photographs I’d taken of her in my first exhibition. I had asked for permission beforehand and sent an invite. Do you remember how nervous I was? I told you she was an old friend. I’m sorry I lied about who she was to me. But you liked her. The fact that she came to the exhibition was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Because when she had walked around the room and came up to me with a soft smile and a “well done”, I knew she meant it. I also knew that I could make it.

Janine is an artist. I mean that in a way that art is her passion. Her love for it invades pretty much every aspect of her life. She lives and breathes art. It’s almost frighteningly obsessive, yet irresistible. I’m drawn to passion helplessly, like a moth to the flame.

I trust her judgement when it comes to art above anybody else’s.

V

The following two years were frustrating for me, when it came to relationships. I had trouble meeting people who found me worth the trouble. I’ve tried to be as open about my sexuality as I can, because I don’t think it’s fair to hide it from my partners. But the complete and utter unwillingness to at least try bothers me a lot.

I was alone and frustrated by it. I’ve never been able to handle solitude very well, which has led me to keep holding on to toxic relationships for longer than I should have for my own sake. Jens is a case in point. I had friendships back in secondary school which made me so angry that I didn’t recognise myself, but I would keep being with these shallow girls because the idea of being alone terrified me. In the silence of loneliness, my thoughts are too loud and too jumbled. They run a mile a minute. I press my hands against my ears to drown them out, but they’re in my head so it doesn’t work out all that well.

So no, I don’t handle being alone that well. Sure, I had my friends, and we went out to the last remaining jazz bar from time to time, just having a beer and bitching about work. It wasn’t enough. I had got a taste from my relationship with Janine that had left me addicted. I wanted the option to stay in on Friday night. Just cuddling on the couch and watching a movie. Instead, I went to bars on Friday nights and I was searching, but I couldn’t find whatever I was searching for. The trouble with relationships in Sweden is that they often work out like this:

1. You meet at the pub.

2. You sleep together.

3. You exchange phone numbers, call each other after a conventional amount of time has elapsed and then sleep together again.

4. You sleep together for months, fretting and wondering, “are we in a relationship or not?”

5. You decide that you are in a relationship, or that you’re not. Whatever works for you.

For reasons that may be obvious, this model didn’t work out for me at all. I needed to build a relationship before I could even contemplate compromising about sex.

When I watched the retreating back of the pretty blonde I had been chatting up, I muttered to myself without any irony, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

Being over twenty is only a few shy steps of still being a teenager, meaning that I was still rather melodramatic. I decided to give up at that bar.

Instead, I threw myself into photography. Evening and morning light are the best times for photography, which would have me up at dawn. Kristian once decided to accompany me out of some misguided sense of loyalty. Now that’s not a morning person. He managed to stay awake for half an hour before throwing his arms out and declaring that I was insane. “Never again,” he muttered and stomped back to bed. I shrugged and continued my early morning walk. (My secret? I go back home and sleep until my shift.)

The day faith decided to give me a little shove, I was exploring a beach, my camera a faithful companion. I’ve always been fond of water and beaches, which is something you know well. There are a lot of beaches in our story because it all started on a beach.

I walked leisurely and looked around the beach. I would crouch down and turn my body in a number of directions before finding the right angle to take the shot from. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my shots of the day. They were beautiful but lacking something. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

It wasn’t until I found this old tire that somebody had turned into a swing that I started to feel enthusiasm. It was hanging just by the water’s edge, and I could see a pine forest in the distance. The sky was painted a soft blue, tinged with pink as the sun started to rise. The clouds were soft and veil-like.

Nodding to myself, I started to walk around to find the best angle. I even, with a cringe at the cold, stepped into the water. It filled my ratty shoes quickly, and I jumped up on the beach as if stung. I toed off the wet things, glad for the gentle summer heat. Crouching down on the ground, I took a few shots. Not entirely happy with the results, I climbed up onto a rock and used the added height to take some more shots from there in hope that the angle would be more interesting. They were good, but not quite what I wanted. I jumped off the rock and took a few steps back, towards the road, and I snapped a series of frames.

This is the picture I ended up liking the most: the sun is just coming up over the forest. The direct light makes it almost black, as is the swing. The swing is placed far right in the picture and, just a little to its left, a rock is sticking up through the water. The rock is almost black; only some lighter parts show shape and shadows. It was a really nice contre-jour effect. There’s more water than sky in the picture, but it doesn’t entirely look that way because the first thing your eyes are drawn to is the sky with the beautiful clouds and the morning blush.

I was down on my stomach, trying to get a shot from underneath the swing and of the sky, when an incredulous voice asked me, “What on earth are you doing?”

My blushes don’t reach the surface skin, or I would have been tomato red at the time. You, however, like to tell this story with me being more poised and graceful than I am in real life. In your version of events, I lazily rolled over onto my back and looked at you, just one quick sweep of the eyes over your running shorts and sweat-drenched t-shirt. Then I got to my feet, casually brushing my jeans off, and said loftily, “Taking a picture. What does it look like?”

The truth, I’m sure, involved me very clumsily getting to my feet, glaring at you in slight embarrassment, and spitting at you those words. My assessing gaze, however, did find you very attractive. Fit, runner’s build, my age or maybe a little younger. An open face with strong cheekbones and a little too wide mouth. Freckles – have I mentioned that I adore your freckles? They’re really cute. I want to play connect-the-dots with them – and blonde hair. Oh, honey, shush. I know you try to pass it off as brown, but I’m calling it as I see it: it’s blonde. Maybe a bit dark, but blonde nonetheless. I don’t know why that should upset you; don’t blondes have more fun, after all?

See what I mean about not being a writer? I keep getting off track and I just can’t resist bantering with you. I think I would like to see your face when you read this. I’m sure you’ll splutter and protest at the passage above.

To return to our story – I turned away from you and tried to ignore you. But it was hard because, for some reason, you didn’t resume your run. Instead you watched me flit around and try to take pictures. Truthfully, I was too flustered to even try. The beautiful light was disappearing, frustrating me. I hadn’t taken nearly as many photographs as I wanted.

“I’m sorry,” you said, and I turned around to look at you again, “if I disturbed you. Could I buy you a coffee to make up for it?”

I was going to say no. I really was. My heart couldn’t take another, “Oh, really?” and then a retreating back when I came out. But what came out was a yes, and I found myself at a quaint little café with you. Your name, you told me, was Jonas. You had a degree in sociology and had no idea what to do with it. With an embarrassed rub to the neck, you confessed that you once asked your professor what you could do with a sociology degree. Your professor had looked at you like you were an idiot and said that you don’t become anything with a sociology degree. You have to make your own place in the world.

“My sister,” you told me dryly, “went to theatre school. When the extended family asked what she was majoring in, they said, ‘Oh, at least it isn’t sociology.’”

I’m not sure it was meant to be funny, but I couldn’t help but giggle. You smiled at me for that, and my stomach did a funny tumble. I liked you. I instantaneously liked you. You know those people that you just click with? You were one of those. I just felt comfortable around you. I liked your shy crooked grin and bright grey eyes. You talked to me and listened to what I said. Not to get me to bed, but because you were genuinely interested in me and what I had to say.

That’s what made me give you my phone number. Why I met you up for that first disastrous date where we both ended up with food poisoning. Why I met you up for a second that went so much better where we shared a kiss sweeter than any I’ve ever had. Why I told you on the third date about my sexuality, Jens and those that followed – leaving out Janine – while you listened with a serious face. You took my hand and said earnestly, “Maja, I like you. I can’t say I understand. But I really like you and I want to try.”

So we tried. I think my heart was doomed from the start. Did I know at the time that this was the person I was going to marry? I’d like to think so. It felt right.

Back when we first met, you’d insist we take long walks on the beach where we met. We’d hold hands and smile at each other, stare into each other’s eyes in that sickening way people do when they’ve just fallen in love. You’d tug at my hand and pull me out into the water, barely giving me time to kick my shoes off. The waves would gently brush against my bare feet. It never failed to make me smile.

We became a regular fixture on the beach. People would recognise us and say hi. They would comment on it – how much in love we seemed. They’d tease and make you blush. We always smiled, and you’d squeeze my hand harder.

One of the moments I remember the best was when you drew a heart in the sand with your feet. You looked at me and smiled crookedly. A little shy, a little unsure. I noticed how your canine stuck out a little. I noticed how you looked at me, and I squeezed your hand.

That’s why I fell in love with you, Jonas, why I’ll love you to my dying day.

You never asked me for more than I could give. You never pushed. You let me come to you at my own pace.

I love you so much for that.

VI

I’m sure you regretted those words you said at least once in the course of our relationship, that you ever said that you’d try. I’m sure that you, at one point, wished that you had never met me. No, don’t argue with me. Don’t. You asked me to tell our story and I’m telling our story, from my point of view, with my perceptions. We’re never going to talk about this in real life. If you’re asking why, the answer is because I say so. Any attempt to broach the subject will lead to me telling all our friends about what happened on our first date that led us to eat at that street vendor, subsequently getting food poisoning. I hope you’re blushing.

I want to gloss over the bad stuff. I want to skip it and go directly to the fairy tale ending, but it’s stupid. Even a non-writer like me gets that there needs to be tension, a conflict, which needs to be resolved before you can move on to the fairy tale ending. But there were so many conflicts in the beginning. I have no idea where to begin.

Your friends never liked me. I don’t know if you told them or if they just figured it out, but somehow they managed to suss out my sexuality. It made it thoroughly unpleasant to be around them. We’d go out together, in a huge group, and once you were gone, they all turned their attention to me. I’m not entirely surprised you didn’t notice the hostility, as you can be remarkably oblivious. Anyhow, I was at war with your friends. They declared war on me the moment they started suggesting that all I needed was some loosening up. They had a number of inventive and highly disgusting ideas on how to accomplish that. They said I must be a frigid prude. You were a poor bastard, having to put up with me.

I’m not a damsel in distress. I gave as good as I got. We tried to keep the hostilities from you. My reasons were that you genuinely seemed to like them and I didn’t want to be the kind of person who ruined my partner’s friendships. I can’t fathom why they would keep their peace in front of you. Maybe they figured you would tire of me. When you didn’t, they decided to call you a poor bastard to your face instead. Your eyes shuttered close and your face went blank. The look you gave them made them wary and you told them loudly, “I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

Whenever things got tough, I clung to that memory tightly. We broke up twice through the following two years. Once for three months, which I spent dating a beautiful woman named Desiree−finally breaking the J trend!−who wasn’t all that compatible with me, but I liked her well enough. The second time lasted for six months, and I met another asexual, Derek, who I went out with. But he was so hung up on his ex that it didn’t work out. Not to mention that I kept drifting back to you, kept going back to the places we had gone to, and each time, after I broke up with those two lovely people, I came back to you.

It was insane. It shouldn’t have worked out. So why did we think that the next logical step was to move in together?

VII

As the bathroom door slammed in front of me for the hundredth time since we moved in together, I sighed deeply. Agitated, I kept running my hands through my hair. I looked at the bathroom door with a forlorn expression. I wished I had this sexual attraction thing so that I for once could just give you what you wanted without screwing things up first.

A theoretical interest in, finding myself fascinated by sex, check, but the practical application of it is meh, nothing to write home about. I like it, but it’s never on my mind. So unless you spell it out for me, I won’t understand that you want sex. It’s that far from my mind. You also need to get this – whenever I say that sex is boring, I don’t mean that you’re boring, Jonas. I’ve told you over and over through the years, but you don’t seem to realise that it’s true.

When you find something that boring and don’t have that much investment in it, you notice all other things. I notice the sounds when you probably don’t and they are absurd. The faces you make during sex and the movements – they look absurd. But the sweat? The sweat is frankly disgusting. Pornographic fanfiction is entirely too fond of the sentence ‘their bodies glistened with sweat’ and it makes me shudder. It’s sweaty skin on sweaty skin that particularly gets me. Our sweaty bellies rubbing together get to me every time. Most of the time, my mind just drifts during sex, but sometimes I notice that sensation and I always have to ask you to stop. You always do. I’m not sure Jens would have, and I’m glad I never had to find out. I think badly enough of him already.

Sex might be the big elephant in the room, but there’s so much more to our relationship than that. Because of the difficulties entailed to our different sexualities, I’m ending up discussing it in detail when I’m writing our history. Maybe I’m forgetting to write about the other parts of life, since sex is just such a small part. The way you’ll cuddle with me and never expect anything more. The way you back off whenever I don’t want to be touched. The way you don’t really understand me, but you try and you respect my boundaries. Or how I can tell with a single glance that you’ve had a bad day and need some cheesy old films to cheer you up.

I sleep less than I should. Whenever the muses take hold of me, I end up grabbing my camera and leaving the house. It doesn’t matter what time it is. Or I’ll end up getting stuck on AVEN, chatting with friends. You keep tabs on me. Whenever you see that I’ve overdone it, nearly making myself ill, you’ll step in and make me take a nap with you. I love how you always spoon me from behind and wrap one arm around me. It’s so comfortable and it makes me feel safe. It never fails to lull me to sleep.

We’re good for each other. We take care of each other. There’s so much love in me that I feel like I’m about to drown. It’s not unhealthy – it doesn’t threaten to erase me or make me completely and utterly dependent on that person.

Maybe that’s one of my biggest problems: fear of being dependent. I don’t need it pointed out to me. I realised my asexuality in my teens and I used it as an excuse to avoid commitment to others. Every emotional relationship was a risk – a risk I wasn’t willing to take.

Emotions make me feel like I’m drowning. They scare me. But this time I’m braving it out.

VIII

At this time of my life, I didn’t have much contact with my mum. There was some lingering issue with the fact that she’d pushed me to enter a profession just so I could take over the flower shop, when she knew that the flower shop was, in fact, doing very poorly. It might also have been due to the fact that she kept pushing for me to go back to Jens. By then, any lingering sentimentality had vanished, and I had realised just how bad we’d been for each other.

She made it no secret that she didn’t like you. She never learnt to either, I’m sorry to say. But even if it took her awhile, she eventually seemed to realise that you were here to stay and tolerated you. She would call me every other week to nag about grandchildren. She was very insistent and pushy on the issue. While most people find my lack of sexual attraction weird, they find the fact that I’m a woman who doesn’t want children downright offensive. Of course I want kids! they say, bewildered and outraged. I’m a woman! How can I not want kids?

The very idea of being pregnant makes me physically ill. I’m just not comfortable with it. I look at the swelling belly of a pregnant woman, and I want to turn in the other direction. Whenever friends have asked me to feel the baby kicking, I’ve fled the room. I can’t explain why I find pregnancy so disconcerting, but I do.

I stopped by her house one day after work, and we sat down with a cup of coffee, the way all Swedes almost immediately do when somebody comes calling to our homes. There, at her kitchen table, I told her that there would be no grandchildren. Very clearly, I told her that I couldn’t stand the idea of pregnancy, and I had no desire to be a parent. I didn’t think I would be very good at it.

There and then at her kitchen table, I told her about my asexuality for the first time. Her face whitened, and her lips thinned. Quite seriously she asked me if our neighbour had touched me when I was a child. It seemed like a non sequitur to me at first, until I understood what she was asking. There was no sexual abuse to explain who I was, like she almost wanted to believe. Because when I told her that nothing had happened to me, ever, she flat-out stated that there was something wrong with me. It sparked a vicious fight, and, in the end, I caved to all of her demands.

I made a doctor’s appointment to have my hormone levels checked. Everything was within a normal range, so Mum struck a physical condition from the list. Instead, she asked me to see a psychologist, and one turned into two, all of them talking and asking questions, trying to find out what it was that made me tick. I had a number of other exams – some less reputable than others – all throughout the next year. I cried myself to sleep some nights, and you held me. Our fighting stopped, and, for some reason, it made us closer as a couple. But I wouldn’t listen to you when you told me to stop this, to stop going along with everything my mum said, to stop suffering like I was.

She was my mum. All my life I had caved into her demands – going along with the career path she picked for me, going to parties when I wanted to go to exhibitions, going through relationships the way she wanted me to – and now I was almost thirty. Maybe it was time to put my foot down. Establish boundaries. So I did and laid out that the doctors and psychologists had found nothing abnormal in me. I was healthy. There was nothing wrong with me.

I have no idea what it was that made her turn so cruel – if it was that she was losing control over me or that she wanted grandchildren that badly – but she turned so very vicious. I made the decision to cut her out of my life – our life – and we didn’t speak for years. We never reconciled. She was struck down by a drunk driver before we could.

I’ve had years to get over the guilt over never speaking to her again. The guilt over not inviting her to the wedding. But sometimes it comes to me, a stray thought – would she have come to accept me in time?

I honestly have no answer to that question.

IX

But that was still far in the future from the next piece of our history. I remember this as the happiest of days, sitting in our favourite restaurant, being served lobster. I love lobster. It’s my favourite food. But I don’t want to eat it too often, since I think it ought to be a treat. I try to only eat it when there’s something really worth celebrating. It didn’t surprise me, then, when you took me out to this particular restaurant for our fourth anniversary. It was an outdoor restaurant – only open during the summer – and the lobster was delicious. I’ve yet to find a place to compete with it.

I think you know this, but there’s really no way to eat shellfish elegantly. So when you smiled widely and said that you loved the way I ate lobster, I assumed that you were teasing me. I smile awkwardly and assumed that I had food all over my face. When you got up, I assumed – the non-writer part of me apparently likes the verb ‘assume’ – that you were going to do the cheesy thing and wipe my face. Instead, you knelt down on the ground. My eyes immediately zeroed in on the ring in your hand. I was completely dumbfounded. I didn’t see it coming at all.

“Marry me?” you asked, voice shaking and breaking with nerves.

I was gaping like a fool. All I could say was, “Uhm, what?”

I stared blankly at you. I remember the thoughts going through my head – that I had never thought that I would have a happily ever after. If I had one, I thought it would be with another ace. I never thought that we would last forever, Jonas, because I reasoned that you would tire of the compromise. I never realised that you might – what? Love me so much that the trouble didn’t matter?

I was taken completely by surprise, as I mentioned before. I could only stare at you in dumbfounded silence. As time dragged on, you started to look dejected. There were a lot of people watching, waiting for my reply, and the longer it took the redder your neck became. I was torturing you, I realised, and it was the realisation that got me off the chair. I scraped my knees when I threw myself down on the ground but barely felt the sting. I hugged you tightly and between the kisses I managed to get out, “Yes, of course, yes.”

X

The beach is our thing. Most of our dates have involved walks on the beach, or just spending time lying on our towels, lazing around. There was one thing that I learnt about you early on – your skin doesn’t tan, it doesn’t freckle, what it does is burn. And you always seem to wilfully forget sunblock.

I never imagined myself as anything like a Bridezilla. But when my husband-to-be, who knew that his skin was sensitive, stayed out too long in the sun the day before our wedding – you were as red as a lobster, Jonas!

I could only glare and mutter darkly, “You’re lucky I love lobsters, Jonas.”

I didn’t have that much energy to be peeved, to be honest. I never planned my dream wedding as a child or even as a young woman, and I was simply unprepared for how much work it actually entailed. I didn’t have a fantasy image of what my dress would look like, and, therefore, I was a little lost. The visit to the bridal shop made me really nervous because clothes never fit me properly. But the saleswoman worked her magic, and the one I finally settled on fit me beautifully.

The decision of who to invite – I very briefly considered extending an olive branch to Mum, but the wound was still too raw – gave me a headache. An even bigger headache was figuring out the seating arrangement, which made me doubt that weddings were ever the happiest day of anybody’s life. Luckily, I could make the floral arrangements myself, but it was definitely one of the most stressful events of my life.

I wanted to cry when I saw that it was raining on the day we were getting married. My gran always told me that rain on a wedding always means luck. There might something to it – after all, our marriage has lasted for fifteen years when people didn’t expect us to last for one.

Our wedding was outdoors, in a garden, and luckily the rain turned out to be little more than a drizzle. Our clothes weren’t in any danger from the rain, and, considering the heat of the previous day, it felt rather nice. I felt the cool drops run over my skin while I stared at you. We must have made a rather odd picture, a really skinny bride with her first dress to ever fit her properly and a groom who was lobster red from being out into the sun too long. What I hope that our friends and family saw was how much we loved each other. I think your sister did, at least – remember how her mascara ran because she was crying so hard? I thought she’d break my ribs when she hugged me and welcomed me to the family.

She went a little overboard on the rice throwing as well. Getting the rice out of my hair was hard work for you. What? Do I have to be romantic to have a wedding? Okay, I might have got a little teary-eyed, a little choked-up, while we were exchanging our vows, but getting sentimental over rice in my hair? No, thank you.

But the memory of you giggling – no, you weren’t chuckling, that was definitely a giggle – while combing through my hair for rice. It might be my favourite memory from that day. No, wait, the best memory is the sound of rain against the roof as we played Scrabble on our wedding night.




Part 2

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kurainokoori

August 2012

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