Editor’s note: Welcome to The Root’s Sunday series highlighting the best in black fiction writers: It’s Lit! Each week we’ll feature a new story across all genres—from Afrofuturism to those stories that will bring a tear to your eye.
I wanted to believe it didn’t mean anything.
The smell of whiskey on his breath. The hurried kiss and his tongue latched around my left nipple. The gentle suckling as my abrasive wool sweater remained bunched against my throat. I told myself it meant nothing and I was nothing but an ends to a means. My underwear was discarded as a mere inconvenience. The pain was sharp and swift. It was over before it began as I stared at the roof of the SUV waiting for the magic.
Oh, that all-illusive magic the world had promised me.
That the ripping of my hymen would open a cacophony, a chorus of womanhood unrivaled. That I would be complete. Instead I was undone. Fingers stabbing at my insides. Dead eyes staring at nothing in particular, not me, as he stabbed away in my darkness, my hole.
Did he even have the right one?
It hurt so bad, I could scarcely tell the difference. But I did not dare cry out. I didn’t want to be one of those girls. Stick it in, then want to take it back. I told myself I asked for it, so I was getting it. I was open, the matter was closed. I was fucked. Not loved. Fucked. Hard. Something plastic jabbing me in my side. His dirty breath in my ear.
Something about my cunt and it being tight. Something about wanting to fuck me so hard I could taste his cock in the back of my throat.
It was bullshit.
This was not one of the stories my sister told me.
She said it would be love. That he would be handsome and gentle and all the bullshit greeting cards. Sixteen candles of rot.
I lost my virginity in the back of a converted Chevy Blazer to a 37-year-old man and I was 14 and it was unremarkable.
I don’t even remember his name.
The year was fuzzy, for I was drunk.
I cried silently, but he never faltered. He never hesitated. He never asked was it good for me. But who cared about me? A dark hole to stab inside of in the middle of the night? Who was I to talk?
I told myself I let it happen.
I told myself it would always be this way.
I told myself I let it happen again and again, because he never stopped coming until he wife caught us one Sunday afternoon. His face smothered between my thighs. As she screamed of his infidelity, I wondered if this was love. If he loved me. Or if he just loved the taste? The smell of it. If my hairless cunt was a drug he wished to partake of. If this was about power and what sway he held over me and my schooling and my father. He was my mentor. He was teaching me the way. But his wife only saw a pervert with his mouth wrapped around my swollen young clit and a hot, oversexed girl with lips so red, it was like I’d eaten Bomb Pops all day.
I was a black girl. Not half. Or partly. But whole. Skinny knees and dark pussy and all, and he was white and she was aghast. But he told me he liked the taste and didn’t feel any remorse. His wife just left the room and cried.
I put on my clothes.
I never saw him again.
Later, when I masturbated until I feel asleep, I wondered if that was love. I now know love is an artifice, an artifact, artificial. I never loved at all. I was hot black ass, fast-tail bitch 14, primed for fuck for any day by anyone. Motherless, fatherless child, waiting to be exploited. I was sex personified, hot and bothered. I was Venus, I was Sapphire. I was Hottentot. I was forbidden fruit, and he ate me like a peach and I came so many times, even though it was wrong and my mother would have slapped the taste out of my mouth if she had ever once cared that a white man was in my pussy, a 37-year-old white man with a thing for 14-year-old girls with no pubes and open, blown-up, thick-lipped mouths. Curly hair. Nasty demeanors. Problem children who no one would believe.
He called me for weeks afterwards.
I never called back.
I never went back.
But then, I was never the same.
Fucking was just fucking after that. Sucking was even less.
Can’t say I ever had much of a soul, and the things I would do to get what I wanted when I wanted, using what I had.
They say the black ones never make the real money. Rich men want the fantasy, and she is blond and white and perfect with porcelain skin or orange spray tans and fake boobs and veneer smiles and hairless and spineless and slutty.
I did the next-best thing.
I could beat the shit out of any white person I wanted. Literally beat them until they bled, and all they ever wanted was more. I got paid better than some weekend Nordic princess. I just could never go out in the sun. I could never have a serious boyfriend. I could never feel safe. I could never feel love.
But I had power. And for a long while, that was enough. I smoked my cigarettes and they paid me to make it burn.
I never understood them.
But my profession truly proved that racism was a disease. The biggest racist in the world wanted to get ass-fucked with a dildo by me.
Who cared as long as the check cleared.
That was between the good reverend and his God and the bowl of cocaine he was bathing in. He wanted me to keep his secrets. I wanted him to pay.
For what, I don’t know.
Cash was good enough for now. It was fun, in a way.
But I had to break it off that one time when I got the boyfriend.
The boyfriend lasted 10 months.
He was an airplane pilot, so he was gone all the time, but when he was around he was Mr. Excitement. Mr. Surprises. He always brought me something from his travels. I joked with him, did he fuck any “coffee, tea or me” bitches while we were apart.
He never replied. I think it offended him. But he never said if that was so.
He would come into town and we would meet for dinner, then fuck afterwards. There was no true spoken commitment. This was a boyfriend for me. There were meals purchased and conversations, and he didn’t “fuck” me, per se. He was almost romantic. It didn’t really make a difference because I didn’t feel anything whether I was getting the shit beat out of my pussy or he was treating it like a soufflé. It was all the same. He thought he was plenty special, though. He took me to meet his family once.
That was almost enough for me to never return his calls again.
They called me by my real name and looked me in the eye. They thought I was a model because that was what he told them. I said he didn’t have to lie, but we both knew he did. You can’t exactly tell Jesus-loving Mom that your baby boy is fucking a dominatrix, a prostitute, a call girl. You can’t tell her that she’s lost count. That a dick is a dick no matter what a man thinks, and ain’t shit special about any of them. That there was nothing special about her son’s dick or her son, who I just enjoyed because he wasn’t a tool.
We broke up because I was too hard and my beauty made him jealous in ways that made him uncomfortable. He said I was all razors, knives for eyes, ever the curve on an edge, sharp and cutting. I held none of the soft, womanly qualities he desired. I was exotic and it was thrilling. But it was never going anywhere. Still, it lasted longer than it should have. To a Thanksgiving and a mother and a lie about a modeling contract.
Once, over breakfast, he asked me what it was like. I pretended not to hear him. He asked again. Said he really wanted to know. Said he wanted inside. I told him he’d miss his flight. We fucked on the bathroom floor like beasts. In my ass. Breath hot on my neck, him calling me a demon, as always. Me saying … nothing.
He really didn’t want to know. None of them did. Why would they? Who would want to know how banal and unremarkable they were? Who would want to know that there would be another to take his place as soon as he moved his things out of the walk-in closet? Who wanted the comparisons? Who wanted that measuring stick? What? Did he want me to offer to give him what a Wall Street executive in a diaper paid $2,000 an hour for?
Of course he didn’t.
He didn’t really want to know.
He didn’t really want to know me.
I didn’t miss him when his things were gone. I moved on.
I started seeing a therapist. Twice a week. I really don’t know why.
I could afford it, so I figured why not.
The good doctor says I was raped. She says I don’t trust and that I see my body as not my body. That I use it as if it belonged to someone else. That I was my own pimp and that I held myself with no value. I told her my shoes cost more that her hourly salary.
She told me I didn’t get it.
I guess she wanted me to cry. But she told me I did exactly as she expected. I smoked three cigarettes even though she told me not to smoke in there. I spoke like the coldhearted sharks I fucked. I told her that love was an illusion created by evolution to keep the peace, and even that didn’t really work. I told her no one ever really wanted me but perverts, so I made it a business. I wasn’t walking the street. I was always in control. I dominate. I dominated her in some ways. She told me I was intimidating. I asked her if she thought all black women were intimidating.
She said it was just me, but I think the bitch was lying.
In so many words, she told me that I am more than my pussy. It was weird to hear her put it that way. She said I was too smart. And too reckless. And that I should get out before I can’t.
And after she said that, I wondered if he really meant it. Had he really wanted to know?
He didn’t leave a note. I just opened the closet and one day the shit was gone. And I drank some wine and smoked some cigarettes and watched a DVD and masturbated and that was the end.
I imagined him getting high off my pain. That he was a rescuer. I’d dated a few of those. They were the worst. They thought they were all princes. One kiss and I wouldn’t be a whore anymore. The edges would melt away and I’d give them the key, lock, basement and storage compartments and let out the hate. They wanted me to change. Into what? I don’t know.
Once I walked away from the pilot midcoitus because I couldn’t come and I was getting sore and frustrated. I told him to finish himself off and he was furious. But not in an obvious way. He was hard as hell and sweating and mad and punched the pillows, but he didn’t call me out of my name or yank my hair or hold me down. He just went into the bathroom, turned on the shower and jacked off. Went to sleep on the couch.
I’d hurt his feelings, but it was the truth. How long was I supposed to lie there? I wasn’t 14 anymore. He wasn’t my “mentor.”
The next night he whispered that he hated me when he thought I was sleeping.
I know that the opposite of love isn’t hate.
Maybe he wanted to know. Maybe he really wanted to know. He’d get so frustrated with me. During conversations. On dates. When we made love. Especially toward the end. He told me he couldn’t win. He didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t answer.
We celebrated a year’s worth of sex and self-loathing with a bottle of Chianti, pasta, candles, Coltrane and some pills.
They didn’t agree with either of us.
He’d gotten them from a friend. Swore they would loosen us up, get me to relax. Instead they turned me into an emotional vampire and him into a broken man. It was the only time I’d ever seen him cry.
It was a silent cry. He was watching me roll down my stockings as I lay on the bed. I expected him to be turned on, but he was flaccid. He just stared with a mesmerized vacancy. He was a zombie and he fucked like a zombie that night.
It was terrible. The next morning he looked at me like he’d just screwed his sister. I never once asked why or what he was feeling. I figured it didn’t matter. He didn’t care.
But now I think maybe I was wrong.
He had me meet his mother.
He cried in front of me.
He walked away instead of forcing any point.
The therapist told me to write things. To visualize. I try to see his face (I have no photos of us together. I never wanted to take any, and he had the only one in the history of our time together in his possession); I try to see him in his pilot’s uniform like that first day I saw him. I thought he was tall and handsome. He had caramel skin and I was surprised because I’d never met a black airline pilot.
He said he used to be in the Air Force. We were both in the first-class lounge. I was with a client of sorts. He assumed I was a model because I was so disaffected and unsatisfied. But when we talked, he was surprised to learn that I was very knowledgeable about stocks and bonds and the New York Giants and martinis and Coltrane. He was surprised that I knew Japanese. He was surprised that I’d been so many places, that I was so cultured. He was riveted.
I don’t know what I initially thought.
He had a misleadingly warm smile. A smooth and easy demeanor. He was pleasant yet charming, with a dark undercurrent, perhaps left over from the Air Force or maybe something in his childhood. I never asked.
Our first date, we didn’t even kiss.
On the second, he touched my hand.
On the third he casually brushed my thigh in the balcony of the Met, watching Carmen.
After Carmen, I couldn’t take the teasing anymore. I didn’t understand. In the cab on the ride home I flirted with him. I asked him why he was so proper. If he was gay. If he was looking for a beard because he didn’t make enough money.
He thought I was joking. He laughed, sort of.
My neckline was plunging. My dress was tasteful but short. I was cold, so he’d given me his jacket. I told him my hands were cold, so I put them in his pockets. I leaned on him and kissed him.
He closed his eyes, gently touching the back of my head, his tongue probing until he found mine and I decided to push him to see where he would go. Through the pockets of his slacks, I brushed lightly against his dick.
It was hard as a rock.
He was good at hiding, but I was right. To his confused yet elated surprise, I unzipped his pants and massaged his dick. He bit the bottom of my lip gently. He told me to stop now if I only wanted to fool around. I asked if he really thought I was that big a tease.
We went to his place in the Village. I don’t even remember taking off our clothes. It seems like we floated from cab to naked, high on anticipation.
He was so excited. I guess I was, too.
It wasn’t bad. He smelled like sandalwood and shea butter. His skin was smooth. I liked the way he tasted. He was fit. He took good care of himself. His fingernails were trimmed, so when he massaged my pussy, I actually enjoyed it and got wet. I didn’t orgasm, but it wasn’t bad. He came. Twice.
After we slept it off and had a breakfast of eggs and toast, coffee black, he wanted to know everything about me. I wanted him to know nothing. Before he could get too deep, I sucked his cock.
He couldn’t remember what his question was then.
I don’t remember how we ended up living together. His lease ran out. My place was nicer, with a lovely view of the river. He liked my bed. He liked waking up with me. He liked getting a fuck in before breakfast. He said he liked my mind and my humor and my beauty. All I heard was fucking. All men want. All men think about is fucking. But then he still liked to take me out. He still tried to impress me with concerts and trips and gifts and tickets to shows. He was still trying to seduce me and romance me even though I didn’t care.
Not that I didn’t enjoy these things. And I tried not to act annoyed when he held my hand. And after a while it didn’t bother me much at all. He always had a hand on me in public, on my shoulder, on the small of my back. If we were in a poorly lit bar or club, on the inside of my thigh or my ass.
He figured out quickly that I had no shame. In the beginning it turned him on. He said it was like college, or at least, the last time he’d fingered a girl in a public place was college. The last time he’d fucked in a public restroom or snorted cocaine or danced for hours.
But even with all that, he was polite. He gave me his coat. Sometimes when he was in a good mood, which was almost always, he’d hug and kiss me for no reason. He’d pick me up just to get my reaction. He normally didn’t get a reaction, but that never stopped him from trying.
Yet in all the laughs, sucking and fucking, I wasn’t really enjoying it.
I think I was waiting for the trick. And that may have been the problem with us. Our whole time together, that year, I was waiting for the trick, and it never came. Maybe the misleadingly warm smile was just a warm smile. Maybe he originally only wanted the lay because I was tall and built and pretty and exotic and all that other shit people said I was, but couldn’t get over the Japanese fluency, Standard & Poor’s. He came from a two-parent family. He lived a good, special life. He’d never really suffered or had problems. He caught some shit for being the only black guy wherever he went, but that was a small price to pay to be a pilot, he said. To fly. To be where he always wanted to be.
I think I was fun for a while.
He liked my dark humor. He liked the mystery. He didn’t take it well when he found out I wasn’t a model, but he didn’t break up with me, either. He didn’t take it well when my stalker found out where we lived and we came in the house after dinner to find his fat, white ass naked, asleep in our bed. He didn’t take it well when I worked late or went out of the country on work or when I talked like a whore when we fucked. I think he hated that the most.
In the beginning it was a turn-on, I think. But after he knew the truth, he hated it. He told me it wasn’t real. That he didn’t want it if it wasn’t real. So I stopped pretending like it was made out of gold and built like an anaconda, slowly swallowed his spirit whole. I dragged him into my dark abyss of misery’s unrepentant celebration, of decadence.
His name was Albert.
I didn’t know how to love him. He’s married now. I saw him, unfortunately, at a party in Manhattan. He was there with the wife. She was boring. She said they had twins, and that was boring. And that she’d lost all the baby weight and was a size 4 again. She was one of those black girls who was really a white girl. She laughed too hard at things. She tried too hard. She knew she had a “good man.” I just wished I was drunk, but the wine was terrible. Albert just looked at me like I wasn’t there.
He cornered me when I went outside to smoke.
“Four years,” he said.
“Of course you didn’t want to know why.”
“You wanted to leave.”
“Four years,” he repeated. “Long time. Are you still?”
“I’m at this party.”
“It’s not important. You’d only be disappointed in him if you knew.”
“I know you don’t care. I know why you never asked. I know you won’t tell me. You only understand force. Maybe if I was harder? Maybe if I called you names?”
“I never would have stayed that long. One night only.”
“One night, why? That’s what I’ve thought about for four years. You didn’t need me. You didn’t want me. You didn’t enjoy fucking me. I couldn’t make you come. I couldn’t make you happy. You still don’t need me. You make me weak, and I’m not a weak man. You make me vulnerable, and I don’t like that feeling. You make me question myself. You made me think, and I can’t look at a girl, not even my wife, without thinking about you. Wondering, who are you? What are you? What made you this way? Tell me what it’s like,” he said through gritted teeth, now grabbing my forearms in the cold air. “Tell me what’s it like!”
I just stared at him, as always. I had no ready-made answer that would ever satisfy him. So I did the most charitable thing I could.
“Your wife seems nice. Maybe you should go see about her?”
He relinquished his grasp. He stood back and looked at me.
“Would it have helped if I’d treated you like the whore you are?”
I said nothing.
And he walked away.
I went home with my date.
He was the mayor.
He was a regular. I don’t know why he wanted me at the party. He told people I was a model. He didn’t make enough money to spoil me, but there were other advantages. He drank too much, so we didn’t role-play. We didn’t have sex. I let him sleep it off in the hotel and went home.
The hallway was dark because the light was out, and just as I opened the door I was grabbed and thrown to the ground. Bewildered, I looked up and it was Albert ripping off his jacket, still in his tux, locking the door. I knew what he wanted. I’d waited five years for it to happen. Five years to be proved right. They were all the same.
I didn’t fight him.
He ripped open my dress. He ripped off my stockings, he unzipped his pants and I just stared at him, waiting. And then, as he began to choke me and I was starting to fade out, he eased up and started crying. He hadn’t put it in me yet. It was an ugly cry. A wail. He screamed into my neck and pounded his fist into the floor.
“Say something!” he yelled.
I just stared. He punched the floor again and hollered, “Say something, you bitch!”
He then collapsed into me and cried into my shoulder, my neck still sore as I came around. He kissed my collarbone. He massaged my tits and he begged me to love him.
“Just tell me,” he pleaded as the would-be rape turned into an intervention. “Why?”
I looked at him, waiting to beat him, hit him for trying to force himself on me. Instead …
“You were a pilot. I thought you wouldn’t take it so serious. The others didn’t.”
“How many others?”
“Does it matter?”
“What was I to you?”
“Liar. You stayed with me for a year. We lived in this apartment together. You never even changed the locks.”
Exhausted, he pulled himself off me, pulled up his pants and sat down on the couch. I gathered myself, my clothes, and sat on the ottoman across from him. I stared at him, waiting. He had my attention now.
“Can I have a cigarette?” he said as he wiped the tears from his face.
I handed him the pack from the coffee table and the lighter. He had quit smoking just before he left.
“This was a test,” he said, taking a long, indulging drag. “I had to know. You were just going to let me.”
“I wasn’t going to … ”
“You didn’t even fight. You think I’m a monster?”
“You’re the one who hid in the dark, knocked me to the ground and ripped off my clothes.”
“To get your ATTENTION!”
“You choked me.”
“I almost passed out.”
“This is going to sound incredibly stupid, but when we were together, I used to think that if I could just make you come,” he said, his voice trailing off. “It’s a dumb way of thinking. But that’s what I thought. After I told you I only wanted the real and you gave me 10 of the most self-defeating months of my life. When I threw you to the ground, you were rigid and limp, if that makes sense. You were like a corpse. It was like trying to rape a dead girl. I couldn’t keep it up. I’m not into necrophilia.”
“So you did plan to rape me?”
“I don’t know.”
“You either planned to or you didn’t.”
“So? You gonna call the cops? Have me arrested? Did you have the first guy arrested?”
“You’re saying it was my fault?”
“No! I’m saying your fucked-up attitude is your fault. Whoever did whatever to you that made you what you are should burn, but you should have just left me alone. You knew. You knew what you would do to me.”
“I can’t make love to my wife without wondering. I can’t do it. There’s nothing there. I tell her I want the real, but I don’t know what’s real. Your rejection was real.”
“Your problems aren’t my fault. They were always there. I just made you realize them. You didn’t just wake up one morning thinking you were full of shit. You’ve known it for years. All I did was force you to open your eyes to the pointlessness of you.”
Albert and I didn’t say anything for a while. We just smoked. Then, out of nowhere, he said, very pitifully, that he’d like to try again.
I will be honest, it was different.
Mostly because I’d reduced him to what I was at 14 and the roles were reversed. That he had no power and I had all the power and he just wanted to feel something again, even if it was the pointlessness of me.
For a man who claimed he hadn’t been able to keep it up for his wife for years, he was a stallion, a crying, miserable stallion, and as I stared down at him with my dead eyes, seeing the awfulness that I’d inspired, I realized why I chose him and why I stayed for a year. He was just too good. He didn’t fit. He didn’t make sense. I needed to fix him. I needed him on my level. He said he wanted to know how it felt. I told him he didn’t. But he came back anyway. This much I owed him.
He was me, before. He was what I could have been if circumstances had been different. Smart, talented, loved. I, smart, talented, hated. To create that hate or, better, to manifest that hate in him that once only existed in me. To spread it like a disease until he trusted no other feeling but the kind that stabbed. To see the wedding ring on his finger and the picture of the twins in my head and his perfect wife and the facsimile of normalcy he’d fashioned as an opposite of me. To see the sweat and tears and gritted teeth and anger. The show was all for me.
He was mine, and even though he would return to them after that night, he would always be mine, like I was always my mentor’s. We would always be prisoners of each other and the dirt that we had done, and with that realization, we both got our dreams come true.
I’d become the one I hated.
It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. And it was real and we both knew it was real, and the neighbors knew it was real from the noise.
And a broken, used man got what he thought he wanted and went back to a life he hated.
And a broken, used woman showered and combed her hair, called the mayor and canceled her 10 o’ clock and, for the first time in nearly 20 years, cried.
I didn’t love him. But I picked him because I had wanted to.