Jamie Manjarrez


You remember walking with your mother at twelve years old when a man on the corner whistles. Just like in the movies––high-low. Tu-whit, tu-whoo. You tug on her hand. Whisper in Spanish: “Was that at you?”

“No, chiquita.” She says it like a fake secret, the kind that everyone knows. “It was for you.” She doesn’t explain herself, and it doesn’t happen again for a while.

You’re thirteen now in your all-girls middle school, and most of your friends have gotten their periods. They wear their training bras like badges of honor, tugging down sleeves to show off lacy straps. Suddenly you’re hearing that your style is childish––or maybe it’s just your figure, so flat you might be invisible. After algebra one day, Celia says you remind her of a plank of wood and doesn’t explain herself. Your health teacher uses words like “budding,” “blooming,” “maturing,” and “natural.” Normal. She passes around a basket of wobbly silicone dildos for each girl to take one and practice rolling a condom onto it. You get up to blow your nose right as the basket gets to you so you’re skipped; you don’t want to touch them, they look wrong, bad, repulsive. You’re not alone in your discomfort, but most of your classmates simply giggle and participate. It’s silly, so silly.

“Remember, girls,” and there’s a smile in her voice. “Don’t be disappointed. They’re not this big in real life.” More giggling. You don’t understand, and she doesn’t explain herself. By the time you’ve sat down again, the basket is empty; you’re safe. She’s rolling a condom onto her own dildo, demonstrating. “If this makes you uncomfortable, you’re not yet ready for sex.”

Ah– so you’re just not ready yet. That’s fine then.

The summer before high school, you (finally) get your period on your fourteen-and-a-halfth birthday at a My Little Pony convention. You don’t register what’s happened for two more days. It hurts, but at least now you know you’ve budded, you’ve bloomed, you’re normal. Meanwhile, your mother informs you that you can’t get away with going braless anymore, as though you’re being sneaky, pulling a fast one. Your father laughs, tells your brother they’ll have to beat the boys off with a stick. You think, that’s a good thing(?) After that, more things change, and people change––maybe you change too. You’ve done swim team for years, but one day that summer the guy who swims behind you even though he’s faster than you asks you with a wink for your ‘ten digits’. When you tell him you don’t have a phone, he ignores you for the rest of the season. Still swims behind you, though.

Your first bra is a pink-white leopard print. You wear sheer, almost transparent tops to show it off, so everyone knows that you’re not a kid anymore. No one has ever explained why being a kid is a bad thing, but it is, so you hate it. You go up three bra sizes that summer, pop Advil daily to combat the growing pains, and your mother tells you she’s been saving up for your reduction surgery since you were a kid. You should wait, she advises, until you’re done breastfeeding your future kids. Your parents warn you about your posture and jab you in the spine till you straighten up. You’re so beautiful, nena. You can’t afford to get saggy.

High school, co-ed. You get a boyfriend and bad grades––thank god for big curves. Stop wearing your My Little Pony T-shirts, start swaying your hips as you walk. Suddenly you’re getting attention, the kind you’ve never gotten before, and it feels good because it means they like you. You soak in the newfound attention, bask in their desire. You love feeling wanted.

Turn fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. You learn all the tricks, literally: you Google body language and read and observe and practice: push your elbows together and lean forward; suck in your tummy and arch your back for photos; play with your hair, call subtle attention to pouty lips, smile sweetly, laugh often. Compare hand sizes, tease, and tickle, and let them chase. You perfect your doe eyes, which when you get to college you learn are called fuck-me eyes.

Boyfriends #1, #2, #3––you’re called a heartbreaker, a natural flirt, and you learn to claim you don’t know what you’re doing because naïveté incarnate is more fuckable. You know the goal is to be fuckable, but no one explains why, or even what it means. Still, if people like you more when you fidget and blush, then that’s what you’ll do. Sometimes you sense you’re missing something essential. Remembering the dildo, you tell partners you’re not yet ready for sex. You can’t explain yourself, and because you’re all kids, no one cares. You’ll be ready eventually.

Age eighteen, summer of ‘19. Always summer. You graduate high school with a great circle of friends, a stronger sense of identity, and refreshing optimism. Your group is made up of four queers plus Mikey and Matt. The day after you break up with Boyfriend #2, Mikey confesses to you but understands no, respects no. Meanwhile, Matt makes too many comments; he’s always found you hot, did you know? Matt loves talking about your body, but don’t worry, it’s all a joke, you’re not curvy enough for him anyways. He speaks so lightheartedly, so dismissively, that you’ve never found the right time to say no. Matt likes touching you too, little brushes against your back or thighs, calling on you in Truth or Dare, any excuse for you to remove clothing. You don’t talk to Matt anymore.

Still summer, you’re still eighteen. You’ve gotten a job at your favorite restaurant. It’s perfect––good food, close by, and you’ve got a coworker you like. He’s funny and geeky and cute and twenty-four, and it’s okay when he asks you out and kisses you and touches you because you flirted with him first, and it’s okay because he says he wasn’t planning on dating a teenager, but. He doesn’t explain himself. The first time he tries to undress you, you tell him you’re not ready yet. He gets it––even though you’re, you know, an adult now. But he understands! Are you just one of those waiting-for-marriage types? He has a friend who got married before having sex. They’re getting divorced now. If you’re sure, then he respects your choice. Really! But. You quit your job at the end of the summer, and he doesn’t join your coworkers in saying goodbye.

Packing for your gap year. You’ll be away, alone, for eight months. Your dad hands you a pack of condoms to tuck among your toiletries and you recoil; Don’t need them, you protest, won’t use them. The concept feels foreign. You can’t even imagine the possibility––it repulses you. Your father laughs, a better-safe-than-sorry laugh, and doesn’t let you explain yourself. He’s seen the boys you bring home. Aren’t you a heartbreaker? Aren’t you just fuckable?

You’re freshly nineteen and on your gap year, chatting with your favorite fellow volunteer. Condoms yet untouched and dildo in mind, you tell Saskia that you’re not ready yet for sex, it just seems wrong. You don’t even like being naked by yourself, let alone seeing or touching anyone else’s body.

She thinks for a moment. “Maybe you’re a lesbian? Try having sex with a girl. Or you’ll just grow out of it.” And that might make sense to you, but you’ve never cared about gender––nudity makes you uncomfortable, regardless of which bits are attached to whom. You hope she’s right and that you’ll grow out of your hesitancy sooner rather than later.

Your gap year forces you to unlearn old habits; your parents’ Facebook posts are habitually flooded with scandalized comments. They’re letting you travel alone? On your own? But you’re a girl! Forget fuckable, because that’s what will get you killed. You walk like you know where you’re going now, walk like a man, slump over, don’t smile, don’t stop. The first words you learn in any language become hello, sorry, help, and fire. Just in case. Nothing proves as effective as the wedding ring you pick up that September.

You’re in Israel a few months later, exploring Jerusalem on your day off from work. The ring has worked its magic, until now. You can deal with the pushy merchants and the catcallers driving by, but then he starts following you. And you keep walking, fast but not a run, so of course he catches up. Are you in the city for long? Just a day trip? What’s your name? Anna? Is your hostel around here? Where are you from? Oh, you don’t hug? Are you Orthodox? Around here, we all hug. You’re beautiful, did you know that? Can I show you around? Oh, that’s your family? Okay, Anna, have a good one––and you catch up to a mother and two teenage girls. Can I walk with you? They cover because they understand.

You’re twenty now, in college, and your new boyfriend wants you to know that it’s fine that you’re not ready for sex yet, it’s just hard for him. Not that he wants you to feel bad! But. Months into the relationship, you’re starting to worry, too––you still hate the thought of the wobbly dildo from six years ago, the condoms your parents made you pack again. For the first time, it crosses your mind that something’s really wrong. After all, a decreased sex drive is a symptom of all sorts of health conditions. Or perhaps you need therapy. When you tell your roommate that sex is your biggest turn-off, she thinks you need to be with someone you really trust, but aren’t you? Maybe if you get it over with, your boyfriend suggests, you’ll see it’s not scary, you’ll like it, and it’ll be a sign of how much you love each other. After all, everyone’s first time is a bit intimidating. Nope, the dildo says no, and so do you.

You’re single again soon after, and try your hand at exploring: download dating apps, refresh your flirting skills, spend more time in social spaces. Stop just short of sex, because you’re still not ready. You take advantage of the fact that your roommate is gone for the semester, and you try watching porn for the first time. Maybe it’ll help you understand what you’re missing. It’s…uncomfortable. How the scene on your screen could possibly prove pleasurable is beyond you. Your desperation to understand the appeal rivals a natural repulsion, and you close the tab ten minutes into your experiment, equal parts bored and befuddled. It’s unclear exactly what you’re supposed to feel, but you’re pretty sure you should enjoy it, right? If there’s anything that you like, you know now it can’t be that. They’re just so naked.

The dating apps are entertaining for a while. You even meet a few people in person. You’re on a walk after getting coffee with a cute redhead when he trips on the sidewalk and a small plastic square flies out of his jacket pocket. You think it’s a teabag at first, until he starts laughing, and starts apologizing. You understand then: you’re adults now, and you’re there for different reasons. Tinder disappears off your phone not long after. There’s no selectable option in Settings for your flavor of broken, not enough words in a bio to explain what you don’t understand.

You’re twenty-one and on a shopping trip with your mother; she shakes her head at a sweater you’ve tried on. It’s not flattering on you, it’s too big, and it doesn’t show you off. She’ll buy the other things, but you have to use your own money for that one. So you do. After your gap year, you don’t want to feel fuckable, and now you’re unsure if you ever did. At the same time, clothes start to become important to your parents. Don’t you realize you look like a schlep, what a waste of your body, don’t you know that people would kill to look like you, that you won the genetic lottery? Honestly, you’re starting to dress like your brother, all old tees and baggy sweats. How are you going to get a boyfriend looking like that, and with that hair?

You’re twenty-one and no longer a heartbreaker, because you’re still missing something essential. You want to feel desired, but you’re not a kid anymore; relationships have different expectations, and desire is a precursor to a very specific outcome. Your health teacher said you’d be ready eventually, but hasn’t eventually come and gone? No Google search ever explained when eventually would occur.

You’re twenty-one and learn the word asexual. The relief hits you in a cold sweat, you’re not broken, not sick. But what can you do now? The word is a sweet mercy and a nail in your coffin. You’re part of a community now, and you make friends online who understand and share your conundrum, with whom you need never explain yourself. You’re equipped with a term which serves as a directory, lets you deflect the questions: you’re a virgin? But you’re in college! Are you a lesbian? Are you sure? How can you know without trying? You probably haven’t met the right person yet. It’s a human need. You’ll be ready eventually.

You really thought you’d be ready eventually. This new word erased eventually off your calendar. Sure, you’ve been shying away from fuckable, but you never considered the possibility that you’d be unfuckable forever. After all, that sort of attention meant people like you, it’s how humans show love. Right? So what does that make you? At twenty-one, you grapple with feeling the lack of a thing. True, you have a community now, with its own jokes, its own heartbeat. So you’re not alone, at least. But…you are fucked.

Jamie Manjarrez is a junior and an English major at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. A first-generation Californian and avid storyteller, Manjarrez currently works in Willamette’s Writing Center; they have also worked as a freelance editor and taught English as a second language to international students. Jamie Manjarrez is this year’s Albion Review competition winner in prose.

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