An arrow to the heart and a challenge to make a tacky little kimono my bitch.
“You’re not sexy,” he says. He says this out loud. To my facehole. That’s the kind of thing you think but don’t say. “You’re just not sexy in that way,” he explains. “Or maybe you’re not a passionate person.”
I consider this. No. I’ve never been told I’m not passionate before. In fact I could use a little non-passion. I’m passionate about everything. About my morning coffee, my love of kale, animals, good poems, the right greeting cards. I’m too passionate.
When your lover tells you you’re not sexy, there’s not much to do except cry. It’s like someone saying there’s this other part of life you can’t access. A very special and wonderful part. A part other people live from. It’s like being told it’s your fault.
A soft kiss and he leaves for work, leaving me frozen at the table, thinking something is wrong with me. There must be. Because when he said, “You’re not sexy,” his nose squished up. Like it’s a problem or a disease.
My heart begins to hurt, a small tourniquet of pain that grows from the center, outward and up. A stinging that swells and spreads. I used to feel this way as a child when my father would scold me. I’d sob and shout at him, “My heart is crickety crackety because of who? Because of you!” And I am crickety crackety now, feeling inadequate. Feeling like he wishes I were a Frankenstein doll he could build himself. Feeling like I’m letting him down.
I begin to go down the mental list of what I find sexy. Laughing in bed. Binging on ice cream together in PJs. Diane Keaton. He wants revealing clothing, spontaneous combustion, desire that makes your skin hot. I want still more laughter, and tickles in my hair. The sense of surrendering myself completely to someone. One person who really knows me. All of me like a secret we share.
My phone buzzes. “I’m an asshole,” he texts. “And I’m so sorry.” But you already said it, I think. Screw you! No actually, I won’t screw you because God forbid I do it unsexy! As I digest his commentary, my body slowly closes down, shuts itself in. My body: one I’ve hated. My body: one I’ve betrayed. My body: one I still hide. I pinky promise myself that I won’t live under a microscope, not even his. Not even if I love him and not even if he loves me.
And yet, I know he is worth it. And yet, I know his shitty words may have actually led me to something. To a truth or to a dare. I decide to try on his sexy.
He loves Asian women—he’s Jewish so that’s not a surprise. I call Fredrick’s of Hollywood, the lingerie store on Sunset Boulevard. “Um, do you have, like, Asian clothing?” I ask. “Ohhh, you mean like for dress-up? Totally! We have a racy little Japanese outfit!” sings the voice on the other end of the line. I ask if she will please put one on hold for me, and rush over thinking today’s the day. Today’s the day I find my sexiness. Today’s the day I discover the sphinx in me.
I park in a loading-only zone because I’m planning to make this transaction as fast as possible. The bell on the door bings as I slide inside, and I’m greeted by flavored lube, dildos, whips and feathers. The customers are acting like it’s no big deal to be here at 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon. Everyone’s blatant about their sex stuff, sort of indicating like bad actors to one another. “I’m a fan of this vibrator!” Even the mannequins are super slutty. I scurry to the register so I can pay for the package waiting under my name.
The bosomy Latina girl behind the counter gives me a sympathetic smirk, but I see she’s trying to hide her eye-roll. She’s thinking, “Another plain, pathetic white girl trying to be exotic.” Her black bra shows beneath her white tank top, her pouty pink lips match her punky pink hair, and her hotness is hard to ignore. I don’t think she believes I can pull this off. I’m not certain I can either.
“I like to add a thong with this one,” she points to the bin of panties behind me. “Or you can wear nothing!” She winks. She loves her job, she loves her body, she loves sex. I just know it. She is like candy. I wish I had a speck of her casual promiscuity. It’s dripping off of her, spilling over the counter, flooding the store. But I don’t even get a drop. I refuse the undies, and my brain shouts, “Hurry! Run away now!”
Back home, the moment I put on my new ensemble I know that regardless of outcome, it is worth the forty bucks for the sheer comedy of this outfit. It is a mini kimono. It’s as sexy as a dress that’s meant-to-hide-every-angle-of-flesh can be. Black with tacky, embroidered gold flowers, it barely covers my rump. It looks accidentally shrunken. Along with it comes a little white hair accessory, a comb with shells dangling from it. I push it onto the side of my head and add eyeliner to my eyes. Thin lines, lines from a faraway place where everyone is sexy, even me. Add my highest heels and reddest lipstick and voila.
The get-up also comes with an ivory-colored fan, which I use to delicately move the air around while I anticipate his homecoming. I want to shock him. To scream it. “See, I am sexy!” I lecture myself as I wait. No asking how his day was. No French kissing my dog. No talk of what we’re eating for dinner. Be excited. Be excitable. Excite him. Okay! I’ve got it! Yes! I’ve got this down! I’m going to put this argument to bed. Literally.
But the vulture in my head is buzzing. Maybe all this sexy stuff is his problem. Maybe he watched the wrong porn growing up. Maybe I’ll never live up to his expectations.
Because I’ve come this far and already look like a white Asian clown, I wave off my inner skeptic and press on. I cue jarring Chinese music and light candles. Soon it smells like vanilla everywhere as I practice sitting in a submissive-but-sexy-way. I’m trying to be like that woman who wears a full face of makeup to the airport. The woman who wants the first thing people to think of her to be “Wow she’s hot,” instead of “Wow, she makes me feel comfortable.” A woman who doesn’t ask, “Do you have brothers or sisters?” because all she wants you to do is stare at her mouth. A woman of power, her own sensual power, and she’s not doing it for you, but for herself.
I’m trying I’m trying I’m trying. Where is he? He’s late. And you know what, I love my turtlenecks. And you know what, I think they’re very sexy. Yet here I am in Barbie-sized Japanese garb because I want to make him happy and because I want to prove to myself that I can be seen. Suddenly I hear him in the driveway, then walking up the steps. I feel nervous and foolish, but stand my Asian ground.
He walks in. This man who, like me, is not perfect. A man who says stupid things sometimes, but maybe that happens. He sees me with my head down, bowing, in ridiculous attire. Baring my effort, my commitment, my surprise gift, and my ass. But it is what he offers in return that gives me pleasure, because he laughs.
“You look incredible. And hilarious,” he says. “And so sexy.” I am unexpectedly filled with forgiveness; it washes over me, not slowly, not gradually, not sexily. It’s more like a giant splash. Like a whale aimed all his power at me and heaved his body to drench me. A huge wave of passion for him.
He admires my kimono, my fake accent, my tiny fan. But his eyes are filled with love. Lust even. All this effort to be what he wants, but it’s me who gets what I need. In his smile, his quiet acceptance, his finally really seeing me, I receive permission to be uninhibited. And to begin teaching him what sexy looks like.