Laugh or Die/ Or/ Portrait/ Secrets

You have her phone in your hand, and on its screen is a photo of her husband, naked and bent over, an assume-the-position or grab-your-ankles-and-cough snapshot. Can you trust what you think you see — the line between what's real and distorted blurred?

She had said, "Do you want to see something disgusting?" You hesitated. You him-hawwed. Finally you looked.

You realize she is the same — she's the one who cracks me up. It is you who has changed. She explains that she'd saved the photo just for you, but "you" grows pink, and a laugh escapes you, betrays you, because it's laugh or die, and you want to see anything other than that photo, anything that could erase the dark of a crack from your mind. The baseboard, the carpet, her shoes, the shadow under your desk.

I come to this in silence. This inner conflict of what it means to be bisexual or straight. To be lesbian, and what it means to love. In this silence is the glow of a black light and a bed and the naked body of a girl I loved once, her legs yawning beneath the weight of me, the falling of her knees as I pressed her open wider. This memory, the memory of her skin, now, in its cool ethereal glow, reminds me of a day I sat in the middle of a stream, waters rushing into the cup of my hands as I playfully tried to contain it — palpable, silk, splashing. My son played too in those waters with a man I loved, or loved then.

Here, in this silence, are the videos of women in bubble baths, me imagining a below-the-surface. And the accusation that I like women more than men — a truth. Or it's the pondering of love — passionate or of the mind, of the gut or of the heart, of Eros and Agape — and I wonder how love intersects with, again, love, if they ever meet in a cold sweat on the brow for others as they do for me.

I imagine this woman's body, smaller than my own, me wishing for her body. I remember the slight curve of her small breasts — commas — and my own delight in her nipples hardening on my tongue. It is here I imagine them saying erotic, that the subject is too erotic, and it is here that I say it is a reclamation, that now, sexuality belongs to no one, not mine, does not belong to you or them or me, no matter how much and often we try to tie it down or pin it up for display in the center of a cathedral.

Can I tell you that I wish for this again, a night alone in a room with a naked woman? To feel a body like and unlike my own? When I was a girl, I'd hold a mirror to myself, and what I saw there is what I saw that night — folds. And an invitation. I touched myself then the way I touch myself now, tenderly and imagining a woman on a bed waiting for me.

I could tell you that I imagine a fumbling, a not-knowing-what-to-do, a test of how bisexual or lesbian I am. I do not know how I am divided, how much I am one or the other or if I am even an or. My mother talked Sunday about another woman I've had sex with, described her as an old friend's daughter who turned out to be lesbian, as if her sexuality was the only thing that defined her. And it makes me afraid, afraid of my mother, afraid for this girl who put her face out long before me. She has become my pinprick light, a whole world I will spend the rest of my life trying to see.


I am my own worst subject. I squirm when I study the lines of my face. The easy part: the curve of my chin and the angle of my nose. I study my face in the mirror, the face my mother passed down to me. We have the same gummy smile and close-set eyes.

I took notice of the lines in my mother's face when she was about thirty. I remember thinking, She's too young for those, as if we can somehow stop, have control over, the way we move our faces. Hers were the scritch-scratch of crows, thirty years of smiling. And laughing. Mine is the dried riverbed crack on an otherwise smooth terrain.

I saw my wrinkle first in the car, in my rearview mirror. I thought to myself that I would try not to furrow my eyebrows down because it was when I furrowed my eyebrows down that the line grew deeper. And I realized why, right then, my twenty-two-year-old self had the wrinkle in the first place.

The artist in me could fade the line with a fingertip, smudge it into shadow, make the line — secrets, regret, frustration — a memory. I could tell myself not to worry, that life's too short to worry, to live in the moment means to not worry, but I don't know that I'd listen.


He will ask, "Is there anything else you want to tell me?" and you will think of the time you gave your phone number to the barman in a bit of drunken weakness, a fourth glass into the red, all self pity and wishing you had not let this new "he" in. You will think of the time a girl kissed you and you didn't exactly stop her, or try hard enough to, on the lawn between two buildings where you went to school. You will think of the time you called your ex and somehow said you still loved him — your ex pulled that out of you. You never really loved him.

You'll think about his question now, the question asked by the new "he," the person right in front of you, and decide that there is nothing else because he cannot understand, cannot possibly understand the mistakes you've made, that you nor he can really understand the mistakes you are about to make. His question will seem unfair. If you lie, you are bound to be caught. If you tell the truth, you know next time — there is always a next time — you will have to make a decision again. How much to reveal, how much to keep secret. You're good and not so good at keeping secrets. You will imagine his expecting, questioning face and because you won't be able to bear it, you will say, "Yes. There is more."

Krystal Sierra's work has appeared in The Review Review, Cellar Door Cleveland, Blink Ink, and Belt Magazine. She is the editor of Guide to Kulchur Creative Journal and is in the process of putting together a collection of essays for Vanguard Series (GTK Press).

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