In a four-part series in which we excerpt pieces from Christy Chilimigras’ debut memoir, Things Even González Can’t Fix, this first piece finds Christy asking the question: Can your self-love come at the expense of the love who’s asleep next to you? Here’s what she wrote:
Having been a COSMO writer for years, it’s safe to say I’m comfortable discussing masturbation. Even so, it took a ton of guts to come clean about just how much self-love features in my life, and my relationships.
- Mimika – Best friend
- Olive Oil – First love
- The Italian – Star of my masturbatory fantasies (monthly debit order of my wank bank, if you will)
- Tiger/Protector & Soul – Sister
It is on the Greenside Street, the one that serves as the place of my entire existence, where I first meet The Italian. Mimika and I sit at 2am on a Saturday morning, riding the ass end of a Friday-night adventure, waiting for our pizza to arrive at the 24-hour joint next to the cocktail bar and whispering about the man at the next table. He is seated alongside a woman in a leopard-print dress and together they turn their heads to brazenly discuss me before leaning in closer, considering something, a thing, all the things, and craning their necks once again to gawk. After what feels like a lifetime – an uncomfortable lifetime – he hauls his big, thick body out of his chair and hovers over Mimika and me.
‘Hi … Can I buy you a pizza?’
‘I can afford my own pizza,’ I tell him while Mimika’s giggles litter the seriousness I am trying my utmost to convey.
‘I’m sure you can,’ he says, his eyebrow cocked in amusement. ‘But I’d like to buy you a pizza.’
‘We’ve already ordered and paid for our pizza,’ I explain again, my own lips betraying me and tugging upwards into a faint smile.
‘In that case, can I have a slice of yours?’
Mimika’s giggles flourish into a burst of laughter and my tipsy warrior replies, ‘Bro, she has a boyfriend.’
He bids us a disheartened goodbye, which I see in his cheeky eyes is feigned, before returning to Leopard Lady, whom I later learn is his sister.
Months of drinking, waitressing, drinking while waitressing and Olive Oil sex bled into each other before I next lay eyes on The Italian. I am sweaty, flustered and dressed head to toe in black (which the owners of the cocktail bar insist I be), packing a tray with grubby martini glasses when he greets me and introduces himself. I wonder why he is so smug. There is a look on his face, one that seems to live there, that one moment I want to slap off, and another I’d like to brush my fingertips over, gently tasting the flesh of his temple. He appears more often than not on Friday and Saturday nights; we greet each other, I busy myself more than is necessary to avoid making small talk, I avoid looking him in the eye for the rest of the evening.
Months more go by and one night at 6pm, I realise I have been looking for his face in the crowd. As I count my rands at the 3am cash-up, I realise I am disappointed that his small mouth and big nose and short black hair didn’t arrive to greet me, hadn’t arrived to greet me in more than a week. I wonder which bars he’s been watering his insides at; which other waitress had ended a shift only to find a pizza and pack of cigarettes waiting for her in the kitchen, delivered by The Italian to the head chef at some point in the evening; which other waitress has wanted to smack and kiss his face. I feel a need to know where he is and why he’s forgotten me.
‘I feel a need to know where he is and why he’s forgotten me.’
This goes on for weeks. I carry my guilt home with me and tuck it into my bed where Olive Oil is already fast asleep (he’d long ago taken it upon himself to move into my home). One evening as I am hunched over wiping a liquor-soaked table with my filthy black cloth, my skin prickles and I know The Italian is looking at me. And so he is. He greets me and I look him in the eye, steadily, and I bathe in his small talk, greedily. That night I go home and I masturbate, laden with my familiar guilt and fresh fire, next to the sleeping Olive Oil while considering The Italian and his fingers.
I look at Olive Oil often, each year we’ve spent in each other’s company its own lens. Sixteen is signed with the nutty tone of desperation. Seventeen is blue-and-white foam and wetness, and when I am 18, it is all of these things and more. Retreating waves of burnt, melted butter pasta in my heart. When I am in my twenties, we are beige, my love and I. But even this is set alight, accidentally, at times. Weeks’ worth of a desert between us, between my thighs. Until an evening of dancing and touching pulls us lightly into one another again, where we meet, all white and blue and nutty and foam. And I love him, this love of mine, immensely. I love him when he goes up in flames in front of my eyes when he is reduced to an ember of the person I initially knew; I adore him even when my fingertips are burnt trying to pull him in closer. Yet I keep thinking of The Italian.
In my fantasy, The Italian walks into the cocktail bar. The smugness is drained from his pores when I assertively place my hand in his, as I lace my fingers through his in the middle of the throbbing crowd and lead him to the parking lot at the back of the venue. There is a dark corner here, perfectly suited to the dark corner in the back of my mind where my fantasies flourish, and here and there I pull him in, to kiss him, drink him, I let him sink his fingers into me. And this is enough, and foreign, and begins happening regularly in my mind when I dissolve into sweaty sleep. I suspect guilt has an expiration date, because it rolls off my fingertips when I touch myself, sinks into the sheet on my bed, burns a hole through my mattress and disappears into the rocks of the earth, and eventually I forget it even existed in the first place. And where guilt once lived there is now a muted amazement, a thing I’d never say out loud – even to Mimika and Best.
‘I let him sink his fingers into me.’
I become acutely aware of how easy it is to live in my mind without letting my secrets spill out into my everyday life. I boil gnocchi and wash dishes and smoke cigarettes and I do all of these things sincerely with Olive Oil by my side, but I shake hands and make friends with the part of myself that he will never meet and who I’ve only just discovered, and it is the first time I have chosen to calmly climb down from the high horse my manic childhood insisted I climb up. Tiger in her childhood, Protector & Soul in her adulthood, had always insisted that things aren’t always black and white, and I’d argued because the crisp air of my pedestal had made me dizzy with righteousness. But I learn she is right, and I know I will tell her that she is. I just won’t tell her how I came to learn it.
Things Even González Can’t Fix is available at Exclusive Books and online here.
Article illustration by Luci Badenhorst.
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