Krissi and I huddled in what little shade we could find at the end of the alley. Trails of sweat, tinted hot pink by her freshly dyed hair, began to trickle down her brow. She swiped and grumbled about ruining her makeup.
“You look great,” I encouraged.
“No, I don’t,” Krissi countered. “I’m getting too old and too fat for this.”
My eyes drifted over her. In comparison, I thought I was fatter. I was always fatter –a fact I’d been challenging in earnest via a cycle of calorie restricting, binging, and purging.
Our photographer Steve called me over and frowned as I approached, wobbling over the gravel lot in a borrowed pair of vintage heels. “That dress is way too big,” he said, which made no sense to me. It was a 1950s size four –one of the smallest dresses he had in his wardrobe.
Immediately, his assistant and stylist Soraya began tugging at the back of my dress, folding the excessive fabric and carefully securing it with safety pins. At her touch, my knees congealed. She noticed, giggling, “Hold still. God, you really need to practice wearing heels.”
“I feel like I’m on stilts,” I said, feeding into her impression. But, it wasn’t the shoes or my weak ankles. It was her, my awe of her.
I hadn’t dated a woman in over a year; ten years later, I still haven’t. I’ve developed crushes, had reoccurring fantasies, and even went on some dates –ultimately settling for friendship. The desire was and is, but something has always prevented me from realizing it. Sex had come to represent harm –a belief that’s deepened in light of more recent sexual trauma. To experience harm in a relationship with a man was a given, but to do so with another woman? What an unbearable prospect.
My body made this potential more likely. It was something to be battled against, not to impose on other women. I had too much love and respect for them. When men invited my attentions, I succumbed more easily. I expected them to mimic my own attitudes about my body –that it was trash, dirty. Something to strive for control of, or simply punish for being.
At the time, I didn’t know Soraya had similar feelings for me. A few months after the shoot, she called, asking if I’d participate in a threesome with her and her new boyfriend. Although my belly fluttered, I turned her down, saying I’d think about it. Steve and I lost touch with her shortly after. Eventually, I lost touch with this world, too –one consequence of my shifting vices.
By the end of 2010, I was regularly funneling alcohol into my body. In this way, I came to fully recognize myself: a sluggish, amorphous blob that navigated its surroundings like a buoy. I stumbled into men who thought I was hot and were impressed I’d been a pin-up model. Very few of them remain in my life, yet those who do are something like soulmates.
I now weigh less than I did when I modelled, though I don’t understand it. I’ve been sober for six years, and I can’t remember the last time I purged. However, trauma’s influence on my sexuality has only worsened; one result is that my status as a polyamorous bisexual is effectively dormant. But, I’ve made my peace with this by finding alternative ways to express affection and loyalty which don’t involve sex.
In Steve’s photos from that day, I pose next to a restored antique car. My long black hair is gathered in chunky rolls, stayed to the top of my head with hairspray and bobby pins –compliments of Soraya. My leg is turned out, hand on hip, and no one would know my dress was modified to fit my frame. Squinting against the blaze of the afternoon, my smile is wide and genuine.
"Cal Louise Phoenix is a yidishe tokhter and writer from Kansas. Her first book, Tracing Ghosts, was published by Spartan Press in the fall of 2018. She is currently working toward a license in Substance Abuse Counseling and wrapping up a hybrid memoir on professorial abuses. She’d like you to check out Heartland RADAC, a grassroots organization that provides life-saving addictions services. Her own recovery is exemplary of their good work." Visit www.hradac.com.