She’d convinced me to wear a crop-top and mini to the party. She’d said, no bra!

If I had breasts as perfect as yours, brown-purple-bluish nipples like pointing toward the sky, perfectly symmetrical like twin grapefruits, I’d never wear a bra.

I’m going to get my nipple pierced. I’m going to get them both pierced, she said.

She drew the bruise outlines on my arms, legs, and torso in purple lipliner. She filled them in with black, blue, and yellow eyeshadow. She managed to not stain the crop top, high necked, white, fuzzy and translucent. Bring a coat just in case, but don’t you dare wear it.

It was back in the day when every single party was a hike up five old, warped staircases in any given building.

Always the top floor, people lining the stairwells along the way, huffing and puffing Newports.

On the way up, a couple of brunette college boys came up close in front and in back of me. They asked her what I was for Halloween.

My little Balkan whore, she said, feigning an accent neither there nor anywhere.

She was wearing a zoot suit. Like a European pimp would wear a zoot suit. She’d bundled her straw hair on top of her head, hidden it beneath a black fedora. She lit one of her five expensive cigars, props meant to last into the morning.

She’d fashioned the couples outfit from a film we’d watched on sex trafficking in Sociology. But at the last minute, she took creative license, ditching her Adidas track pants and wifebeater.

When I objected, she turned crimson, said she could damn well be any man she pleased.

At first I was proud of my body. Amazed at how she eyed it. Lust and jealousy wrapped into one. I always thought love after that was wanting to both possess and to be another, a contradiction I’d filed away as logical impossibility.

But as the night wore on I held my forearm over my chest. Too many college boys, eyes like lasers into my nipples. Hot and frustrated, a new sort of embarrassment. I wanted to leave, but she was my ride, so I just paced the stairs.

She lifted my arm off my chest and draped it around her. I held her. I thought she wanted something more than to expose me.


A year later, we met up. We’d fought that night long ago, in teenage words about bodily autonomy. I told her I’d only worn the get up so she could live vicariously through me. That was how I loved her. Enough to loan her my own body.

She told me she’d tried to teach me how to be comfortable in my own skin. I guess it’ll never happen, she said. We were at the bottom of the stairwell, she smoked her last cigar. My arms were still crossed over my torso, even though we were the last ones there. She kissed my black hair, my muddy cheeks. I went home and scrubbed each makeup bruise off me, until they were replaced with a ripe red patch each.

A year later, I had a new boyfriend. A man friend. Fourteen years older than me. An Albanian man who did not let me talk to him the way I talked to her. He ripped my shirt off and locked me outside a fifth floor apartment. A cold hallway. Goose pimples. Nipples pointing up to the fluorescent beams.

I’ve really missed you, she cried. She’d transferred to a college in Hawai’i. She couldn’t afford milk or eggs on the island, even with her dead daddy’s money. And so here she was again.

She put her arms around my shoulders and sobbed so I couldn’t breathe. She retreated a few feet to see if my eyes were also running. They were dry as talc or mica.

She lifted her shirt, a barbell through each of her puffed up nipples, bigger and redder than when I’d last seen them. Like two honeycrisp apples.

Both infected, she screamed. Her sobbing turned to laughter. To her, bodies were funny.

She came back to hug me, lifting my sleeves, lifting the shirt above my stomach to kiss it. A brown-purple-bluish bruise, here, and here, and here.


Image Credits: Jody Lehigh