Annals of the Flesh

“From Sex to Virginity”

by Jeffrey Willett

In all the war movies ever made, men get sent off to fight their country’s battles on behalf of the rest of us poor sods who stay behind, eat too many potato chips, fall asleep during ball games, and then read wistfully about world events the following morning over fried eggs, burnt toast, and coffee. By all accounts, we are supposed to feel impressed by the enlisted man’s patriotism and dedication to duty, but usually I end up feeling nothing short of envy. It is not just that the uniforms fit so well, the shoes are shined to an unrealistic state of glossiness, or that the pants crease in ways that my dry cleaner cannot imagine, let alone duplicate. No, there is a more profound sensation overwhelming me; all of those guys are going to get laid for free—not just before going to whatever desert foxhole or jungle quagmire they are supposed to be going, but also as soon as they return home.

Soldiers don’t need to have medals on their chest, wear insignia on their uniforms, or even display the smallest bandage where they cut themselves during a morning shave. Nope, all they need is to disappear; stay away for a few weeks; and show up again with a perplexed, dazed, or distracted air across their faces, and women are willing to strip down to their bright red panties and bang the life out of them without being asked.

That is the way life always works when you are in the armed forces. But not for me, and certainly not for other male civilians.

At one time I had what could be termed a normal sex life for an unmarried man. I had girlie magazines stashed for weekdays, adult videos with women performing amazing acrobatic moves for weeknights, and perhaps a date with a real woman every third weekend. On those nights out, we would have dinner at some hamburger palace, pretend to laugh over current events, drink too much beer in some car’s backseat, and occasionally let loose like chipmunks. Was it perfect? Of course not, but at least my basic male needs were being met in the usual halfhearted fashion reserved for unattached men. But all of that changed when I started dating Helena.

Helena was one of those rare women who felt as well as thought and touched; unfortunately, she seldom felt any need to think about touching me. Thus, there always was an epic battle to gain her affection and dispel the cloud of disdain that hung around her like a shroud in a mausoleum. Dating Helena was sort of like an extended adventure in chastity, as well as a Faustian exploration of denial. All of this may have been good for the soul, but did little for the attached body parts.

Helena grew up in an extended family—that is, one where her father chased her mother around the world in a vain attempt to have sex with her. Eventually he caught up with her in Hong Kong, long enough to have a brief fling in a shower; Helena was born nine months later in a Jacuzzi in Madrid. She is said to have had three brothers and another twin sister, but never laid eyes on any of them; indeed, her father had his own doubts, and only would admit to the possibility of Helena being his biological daughter after taking an inventory of all his unused condoms.

Regardless of the mode of conception, Helena grew up as a child of stealth and underprivilege. She hid in her bedroom for 11 years, and emerged only long enough to prove she could speak four languages by the time she was 12; of course, none of them had any translations for coitus, nipple, climax, or erection, so they were as limited in scope as no man could conceive. There were rumors that she dated at an early age, but I think she merely ate a lot of dates and pomegranates and pretended to be social for the sake of propriety. At 17, she went to Paris to loiter outside the Sorbonne, posed as a nude model for several third-rate aspiring painters, and then ran off to Argentina with a lesbian juggler and her three ill-tempered Capuchin monkeys. Helena returned to the continent sadder but wiser at 20, where she took up dancing in a monastery, got expelled, and wandered the Loire Valley for the next four years searching for a lost remote control. At 25, she got a job in an advertising agency in Manhattan, where she threw out unopened mail with a joie de vivre unseen since the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

I met Helena on a ferry to Manhattan. It was either her first day of work, or her last—you never could tell, as her mood remained steadfastly stoic through tragedy or comedy. She was leaning over the back of the ferry, staring solemnly at all the seagulls circling and diving toward some murky dark spot in the foam.

“You think they ever get tired of doing the same thing, day after day?” she asked, turning to me, lifting her sunglasses over her sleek brown hair, and then spitting her gum into the foam, where two seagulls shrieked and dived after it.

“Probably not. It’s like going to the unemployment office—once in awhile you catch something good, and the rest of the time it’s an excuse to get out of the house.”

“I see. You’re a philosopher?”

“No—a sportswriter. Same difference, I guess.”

“Sure, but if Nietzsche coached the Knicks, at least they’d be happier about missing the playoffs. Life affirmation, you know.”

“Too much angst in sports,” I agreed.

“Athletes should embrace Schopenhauer,” she mused. “Human desire and the will to achieve cause nothing but suffering and pain.”

“Tell me about it! Ever watch the Rangers try to score a goal?”

For some couples, it is love at first sight; for us, it was sight at first sight. We stared at each other in a sort of intellectual rapture that was as passionate as a Hegelian hug. Indeed, there was an asexuality about Helena that was almost riveting in its lack of intensity.

Whenever she sensed desire growing within, she would invite me to go sunbathing on the roof of her apartment building. Most people remove clothes when sunbathing, but not Helena. Not only did she keep her clothes on, but she would rummage through her three closets and find more bright accessories to toss on.

“What are you looking at?” she sneered. “They’re all cotton—needing fresh air and sunshine like all natural fibers.”

So, we would sit on her roof—me in a pair of purple swim trunks, and she bloated with six layers of clothing. Closing her eyes, she would meditate and swelter, or sweat and gesticulate, in a melodious rhythm that would have made Kierkegaard proud. Once I made the mistake of sitting so close to her that our perspiration almost touched.

“Did you just try to touch me?”

“Only in an existential sense.”

“You should read more Nietzsche,” she said with a frown. “The theory of eternal recurrence dictates that we experience the same patterns through one life incarnation after another.”

“Great—nothing like being horny through all eternity.”

“You need to practice more self discipline.”

“I have practiced enough with the self—believe me.”

“You should read Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund, as I advised.”

“I did, but had to stop after Goldmund made love to that Gypsy woman in the field. It made me cry—one of those lost memories of youth, I imagine.”

“Then you did not read far enough!” she scolded. ‘The Black Death brought purity to mankind, and Goldmund finally realizes that abstinence is the truest virtue of all.”

“Hesse was a sexual Nazi.”

“He was not! Anyway, he was part Swiss.”

“Great—a neutral Nazi.”

When words could no longer dissuade me from thoughts about romance, then she would enter one of her infamous Aloof Periods. The longest one lasted six years. I would wish her a ‘good morning’; she would ignore me. I would cook meals; she would leave them on the table until they rotted. I would make the bed; she would sleep on the floor. I would attempt to kiss her; she would slash my wrists with a nail file. After several years, we managed to avoid all those endearing traits a couple goes through in trying to establish intimacy.

By the end of our relationship, Helena had converted me to virginity. Desire seemed to drain away from my body in imperceptible stages. I found the gadget ads in girlie magazines more interesting to read than eyeing the photo spreads. Adult videos left me as unmoved as watching John Kerry discuss foreign events. Late at night, while Helena snored, I would sit on the couch in my bathrobe—flipping through channel after channel with the lost remote she eventually found in the Loire Valley. One night, From Here to Eternity was playing as a late night treat for virgin insomniacs like myself.

Oh, Burt Lancaster, how I envy you—not everyone can make love to Deborah Kerr on a beach with waves splashing romantically left and right. If Helena had been with you, I think you would have preferred drowning.

“Head-Slapping Civility”

by Jesse Rawlins

I’m booked for a job interview at twelve.  Not my idea of a nooner.  Like most blind dates Rikkie and I are doomed from the start.  She’s fifteen minutes late.  And eye candy she ain’t—but the foreplay’s even worse: Are you a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty kind of person?  If you were a cartoon character who would you be?  And why?  Time to dismount this fantastical affair and get back to my real job: “The Tasmanian Devil—so I could zip the hell out of here.”  Corporately programed for Auto-Pilot Rikkie doesn’t even blink: Where do you see yourself in five years?  “Obviously, not here.”  I’m shuffling out the door; Rikkie’s still asking questions: If you were an animal what would you be?  And why?  Racing against the clock I get stopped on the interstate: Sir, do you know how fast you were going?  I glance at my watch: “Not fast enough.”  He blinks—but the remark speeds past him; handing me a ticket he wishes me a nice day.  Hopping mad, Don’s in my cubicle, stamping his feet like a Neanderthal: You leave early for lunch—you get back late.  Don’t you know you have a responsibility to this company?  Yes, I say, stapling my ticket to his ratty tie.  Before Don can blink I ditch him for the vending machines, and buy a banana.  Now my admin Andrea’s in my cube. She tosses her freshly-clipped mane: Well?  “I hope your husband likes French Poodles.”  I knew Andrea wouldn’t blink—I ducked.  As I slink thru the door, my wife’s slinking before a mirror.  Honey, does this dress make me look fat?  I blink ….  (Et tu, Brute?)  I rip off the dress—jam my tongue down her throat—and fuck her like an animal.  Though I’m not sure what kind.  Communication was easier when apes couldn’t talk.

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