Wendy at 23 by Brendan Garbee

Before she met Daniel, Wendy was submerged in the same thinking as all the other young people around her in Oakland, a way of thinking that claimed sexual encounters could be free of attachments and of entanglements. And so if she met a boy she thought was attractive, or funny, or interesting, she would not let a sense of propriety keep her from taking him to bed. She had been a virgin all the way through high school, afraid of sex the way some young women are, and in college she had dated only two boys, one after the other. It wasn’t until after she graduated college and dumped the second of those two boyfriends that she lost her timidity towards sex, admitted to herself that she enjoyed it and began to explore, uninhibited. Sex for her was something to get excited about, to have fun with, to talk about with friends. In her encounters, the adoring things that boys said to her mattered very little, and what she and the boy did with one another the morning after didn’t matter at all. What mattered were their hard cocks, her body, their hands and their mouths, tongues. At age 23, it was the spontaneity that Wendy loved, the adventure, the thrill and the glory of that wild passion that was like a flame inside of her, throughout her.

As she made her way in and out of those loose affairs she termed “hook-ups,” or, if they lasted longer than a few weeks, “relationships,” the encounters that most thrilled her were the messiest, the lustiest. A boy who was the lead singer in a touring band had told her after the show that he had seen her in the crowd and had been singing to her alone. A boy whom she met at a party had strayed from his girlfriend’s side to first follow her and then lead her into a laundry room for 10 minutes of what seemed to her for a long time afterwards to be the most sacred, intense sex of her life. A boy she met while she was camping with her friends had shown her a secret path down to a secluded beach so that he could draw silly pictures of her. In each case, the affair came to nothing soon after the encounter, but for the short time it lasted, she felt the passionate intoxication of what she playfully believed was how she would feel all of the time, in the most obscure and most ideal of all of her possible futures. It was just a whimsical fantasy, she knew, but she’d lightheartedly think back to it whenever she found herself intrigued by some new boy. So when she met Daniel at a party, she had liked him and she had wondered idly, lightly: Is this the one to come and sweep me off my feet? To make all the playing with all the other boys meaningless, silly?

Daniel turned her down that night. He had been interested at first, she could tell by the way he had talked to her and danced with her. She was able to tell lots of things about the boys just from the details of how they looked at her, if, for example, they let their hands brush against her skin “accidentally.” Daniel had the same attitude about sex as she did, and so he didn’t make it a secret that he wanted her. And she didn’t either, so she was surprised when, after more than enough flirtation to have her planning on a late night, he went to the bathroom and didn’t come back.

When she found him, he was reluctant to talk, and just as she was resuming flirting with him cheerfully, blithely, he said with an awkward, uncomfortable smile: “Someone just told me that you’re dating a guy named Matt.”

“No, it isn’t serious,” she replied, surprised and embarrassed, and upset to have to feel such embarrassment about her sex life. “Don’t worry about that,” she said lamely, impatiently. And it was true, from her understanding, that what she had with Matt wasn’t serious. They were friends and they slept together, but only, from her perspective, for the pleasure of it and only when there wasn’t anyone else either of them happened to be interested in. She had taken Matt to bed on a whim once, for no reason other than that she was drunk and wanted to have sex, and she had felt comfortable enough with Matt, and she thought that it wouldn’t matter. And it had been fun and casual, so when it happened again a week later and several times in the months afterwards, she wasn’t bothered. At times she had noticed something like possessiveness in Matt, something like jealousy or resentment, but she had always confronted him when she had noticed, and he had always protested and explained his behavior away, or apologized and joked about the confusing ambiguity of their sex and their friendship, so that she could relax and laugh about it with him.

“I heard that he’s in love with you, and that you’ve been leading him on,” Daniel said, still with that awkward smile as if he felt uncomfortable talking to her. And then Daniel left her alone, because a girl had hurt him not long before that night and it gave him a certain pleasure to hurt someone else in turn. Her embarrassment was crippling, so much so that she left the party soon after to go home alone and restlessly try to sleep. Months later, she would wonder if the changes that took place in her life in the weeks after that night would have happened whether or not she had met Daniel, if the changes were an inevitable phase of her life. And much later, she wouldn’t wonder at all, and she’d call what happened to her, rather dismissively, “growing up.”

The next day, early, she called up Matt and told him that they were not going to sleep together anymore, to which he laughed and protested and tried to make his jokes. She was resolute.

“Okay,” he said uncomfortably. “So you’ve made up your mind. I don’t see why you have to make a big issue of informing me. You could just stop fucking me. That’s a pretty good way to tell me.”

“I don’t want anyone to be confused,” she said. And then Matt began to know that she had fallen for someone else, not him, and so he began to finally experience the agony that he had been dancing around for months.

Wendy was the type of girl who could not be denied for long, and soon Daniel and she were dating. It didn’t last long. Neither was ready for what a relationship would require. They drank too much and were too used to flirting with strangers. But moreover, they were too quick to blame each other for the boredom and the quietness that came with intimacy. During the fight that marked the end of their relationship, Daniel called her a slut and it was as if he had punched her in the face. It was the first time that she had felt shame for the way she had chose to live, and, being the first time, it hurt her in a way she had never been hurt before.

She carried that shame with her for a long time after, and even when she had moved on from it, she retained the habit of worrying about how people judged her behavior and choices. As a result, she began to distrust the boys who sparked that messy lustiness within her and she wound up avoiding them, going for safer, more stable boys. It wasn’t long before that tendency towards the “safe” spread to the rest of her life. And, gradually, yet conspicuously, the thrill of and the glory of that wild, fiery passion went out of her life forever.

Brendan Garbee is a writer and painter living in Oakland, California. He has a blog, bgarbee.blogspot.com, with weekly updates of short fiction and rad art.