Jaded Ibis Productions

an excerpt from Something Wrong With Her

by Cris Mazza

Our night, Mark, was in January 1980. The beginning of a year, of a decade, but right in the middle of the decisions I made that have kept us apart for 25 years. Our night came six months after my final decision to abandon high school teaching which you and I had been preparing for together; after realizing any opportunity to be initiated past sexual trepidation and into sexual adulthood by my master-teacher had expired; and after his wife, alone with me in her kitchen and high on pot, cried about her marriage. During that same six months before our night, as well as the six months after it, I fixed my pathetic needs on a trombone-playing graduate-student Jehovah's Witness, appropriately older-and-wiser, who then told me I was part of "worldly evils" and it was sinful to touch me. He then proceeded to simultaneously: try gently (stealthily, he thought) to convert me, occasionally have too much to drink and go ahead and touch me, then afterwards remind me that nothing had changed and that I was "backing him into a corner" to suggest that his behavior said otherwise.
          In June 1980, a rescue ship on the horizon, or a life raft: I met my future husband, Morgan. "Future" would be seven months. I'm keeping in mind the question you have asked about this short duration: how could I consider myself suddenly "ready" for everything in so short a time after I'd told you I was ready for none of it? But consider this: on the day that I would leave alone at 5 p.m. for New York to begin my first year of a second graduate degree, I sat with my husband of six months and played Monopoly on the floor. Would I have been able to split off from everything that had propped up my feeble attempts at adulthood without him?
          Sanctuary (or its synonym asylum) came along in Morgan, another trombone-playing older man, a professional, long finished with school.
          You, Mark, were completing your first year of being a band director. And your first, and only, year being my sounding-board pen-pal. When I told you about the man I was seeing, you responded that you'd always known you would someday have to accept it when I met my "Mr. Big."
          And so I lost my virginity.
          When I represented it in fiction, the loss of virginity was hopeful, as I probably was when I wrote the scene. And, of course, like anything else I'd learned – trombone playing, photography, writing – I assumed I would get better.
          But what did I feel? I felt success. I felt achievement. I could have been handed a diploma or an A on a term paper. I congratulated myself but gave no thanks or acknowledgement to my body. I don't remember my body feeling much, except friction.
          And that's what our sex life remained. Except instead of upgrading or improving, it got worse. Fear had not been resolved by finding my "Mr. Big." It was fear that then took a different form with each man. With
Morgan, that fear became pain. Became a condition called vaginismus:
      Until recently, I thought the jazz standard "The Nearness of You" started with the words "It's not the pain …oooo … that excites me …" [instead of "it's not the pale moon that excites me."],
believing that perhaps pain was normal, and was supposed to be exciting. With the constant accessory of pain, for us sex involved "getting me ready." Then the "pleasure" of sex – at least for me, but maybe for him as well – was "accomplishing" it. So foreplay was a job that had to be done right. If it wasn't, and he tried to move to the next "step" too soon and met with the muscle's reflex, the spasm, the contraction – and my face wincing, my gasp of "wait" – he often lost his erection. Understandable, considering what he was dealing with.
          Needless to say, my dilemma that there was something wrong with me, and my secret conclusion that it was frigidity, had not abated. Was it better to keep trying? The stretches of time between trying became longer and longer. Did we ever talk about it? Not much. Not until an abysmal attempt at sex therapy, three years later.
          Mark, by this time, you had given up your first teaching job, returned to San Diego and became our drop-in friend. You've told me recently you did it so you could live closer to me, see me occasionally (or frequently), even though I was married. Morgan enjoyed your company; I never realized (until now) the similarity: your lanky bodies, your wide grins with lots of teeth, your jokester
personalities, your love for (and impersonations of) old TV shows. During the period the three of us watched baseball, played games, and went out for breakfast, my intimate life included foreplay and "accomplishment." I've already described the latter.
          "Foreplay" involved his finger in my vagina, his mouth on my breast, preceded by my fingers and mouth on his penis. No variation. His coming in my mouth was not considered, because that would be the end, and no "accomplishment" would happen. With the specter of "accomplishment" hovering over us, I doubt he could have ejaculated during fellatio. But there might have been another reason he didn't.
          In the 70s, Morgan had brought his first wife to Brazil when he got his first symphony job in Rio. The orchestra's musicians were almost all expatriates from the United States, England, Europe, and Australia. Morgan's wife had no profession, no definition formed by skill, talent or training. Bored, she went back home. He begged her to come back. She did. She had an affair. Morgan found out. When he did, she justified it, saying, "Well, you won't do what he does." Was it one of the other Americans? Or a European with a different underpinning for his approach to sexuality? I don't know. Morgan had found out that his wife was receiving oral sex. Their marriage soon ended. He was wounded. I assumed, at the time, by the cuckoldry.
          Once Morgan told me about being drunk and going down on a lover in his first year back in the States. He never tried that with me (he was also never drunk). He never asked; I never made a suggestion. I made an assumption because I had already read this:
I tried. I put my best tongue forward and took the plunge. You'll get used to the smell, I told myself. I said to myself, Self, you smell the same. But it was not much use. … My nose felt like it had spent its entire life in there.
                  Jong, Erica. How to Save Your Own Life. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1977.
         I've been married to two men who were freakishly good about brushing and flossing their teeth, and wouldn't go down on me. At one time, this pair of traits did actually seem parallel, did add up to an If-A-then-B form of logic to me.

      At some point in
graduate   school,  I
wrote in a notebook
"Vulva: medical word:
pudendum: 'of which

one ought to be ashamed.'" It hadn't come to me by osmosis. Where had I heard or read this? I wish I could say.
       In recent casual research, I didn't find any reason there are two Latin words for the same part of anatomy. But it appears vulva is a word 200 years younger than pudendum.
      If, in my 20s, I had been aware of some of these other diverse and compelling, and not-at-all pejorative Latin meanings behind vulva, I might have tried to turn my
mind away from the shame which (experts say) was probably first delivered to me in early childhood through cryptic messages from my mother. Intellectually, I knew the inherent misogyny, the un-rightness of the shame-definitions from the moment I recorded one in a notebook – a notation which I remembered, word-for-word, without finding the page where I first wrote it until this year. I wouldn't, back then, and for 30 years afterwards, admit the shame I actually agreed with. The shame with which I eventually consciously viewed myself.
          For years I thought the discharge during ovulation was a yeast infection and treated myself for it monthly or bi monthly, disgusted that my body continued to be so vile as to host this bacteria. I mentioned it to Morgan once, something like "I have another goddamn yeast infection," and he said, "yeah, I can smell it." Disgusting, I thought.
          When I learned from my doctor – in my 40s – what it was, I wondered, Could he smell me ovulating? Did it stink?
          Besides washing, or using unwarranted yeast infection medicine, I never touched myself for any other reason. We had bought a vibrator, a result of the short-lived sex therapy, and while we must have used it, I don't remember how or to what result, and I know I didn't use it alone. I still didn't think I knew what "feeling horny" was, except once, in 1982, while I was writing a —How to Leave a Country sex scene, I got out my Dr. Scholes foot massager and pressed it against my crotch, through my jeans, for a few moments. I'm not sure I can
recall which sex scene it was, except that it was in my first novel, How to Leave a Country, a book whose premise is that it is narrated by the imaginary lover of the main male character.   A tall, slender artist, "Tara" isn't aware that she is an imaginary lover, or even that she
is, in fact, imaginary. She is troubled, though, by the fact that she has no memory of her own past at all, yet a vivid memory of her lover's past, even before he knew her, things he'd never had to tell her.   Another of her dilemmas is that, while sex doesn't hurt (why would he imagine that), she is inorgasmic (because he doesn't know how to imagine that).
          So, now a married adult, no longer a virgin, the unfriendly association with my body, especially erogenous zones, continued. In a bath, when I lay back in the hot water, I would always spread the washcloth over my chest, so I would not have any view of my breasts. I had asked Morgan once what men saw in these "blobs of fat" (even though mine were the size of half an orange). After that, for ten years, "blobs" became the word I used to refer to them. I did not perform monthly breast self-exams.
          It was for my writing – I told myself – I researched sex and sexuality. The Hite Report on Male Sexuality, Nancy Friday's Men in Love (Men's Sexual Fantasies: The Triumph of Love Over Rage). Notably absent: The Hite Report: A National Study of Female Sexuality, Our Bodies Ourselves, and Friday's My Secret Garden: Women's Sexual Fantasies. I was teaching myself what men wanted, and so germinated a pattern of thinking my happiness would be found in giving a man what he yearned for. I skipped or didn't notice (or didn't believe) that part of what healthy men want is to give pleasure to a woman. What struck me, stayed with me, was that men wanted the emissions that come from their bodies to not be rejected, to be wholly accepted, even craved by a woman. I learned (without the opportunity of actual practice): If the time comes, don't gag or spit out his semen, don't go wash, not even your hands. Only one man (out of a mere handful) ever tried to get me to think twice about going down on him, worried that it was something I didn't really want to do, but he didn't take a lot of convincing, and was wholly grateful. But none ever tried to go down on me. Taught me: they don't want to do that, so there must be a reason.
          1985-88. None of my books had been published yet, but the stories that would make up the first were written, most of them containing frank physical scenes, and while I had occasionally used the word cock, more often it was penis or phallus, and always euphemisms or allusions for female parts, and metaphors for the act itself, including a "horse-maned" girl who "arches her back," and shockingly (for me) is on top of her musician lover, who "holds onto the girl who bounces on him, her hair flying, spreading, softly slapping her back like a horse's tail.  And the wet swishing sound they are making is a song." Astonished at my own imagination of sex: my visualization of a girl who could move so freely, even with abandon during intercourse, a girl who could be the one to rise and fall, roll and thrust, instead of lying motionless gritting
her teeth. Yes, I knew that was wrong. I never lay there with the archaic thought that "this unpleasant business" was a woman's "conjugal duty" that must be endured. I knew it was something wrong with me. I could get it right in my fiction,
although other stories were fraught with dysfunction as well.

© Cris Mazza & Jaded Ibis Productions

In addition to Something Wrong With Her, Cris Mazza's new novel is Various Men who Knew us as Girls, available from Emergency Press. Among her other works of fiction are Waterbaby and some that FlashPøint has featured, namely ... Your Name Here_____ and Girl Beside Him, about which you can find a great deal in Cris Mazza's World in FlashPøint #10. And many of her books can be found on Cris Mazza's Page.