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.
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
Until recently, I thought the jazz standard "The
Nearness of You" started with the words "It's not the
that excites me
" [instead of "it's not
the pale moon that excites
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
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
"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.
felt like it had spent its entire life in there.
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.
Jong, Erica. How to Save Your Own Life.
New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1977.
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
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
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
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
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.