Just as Talise was about to surrender to the faceless, melanin-heavy woman poised to enter her, the morning alarm snatched her into consciousness. Wet, slightly irritable and fully awake, she grabbed her phone and quieted the alarm, resisting the temptation to throw it across the room. Instead, she checked for missed late night messages, phone calls, any indication that She thought about Talise while she slept through the night. Seeing nothing, she sighed a breath of sad relief. She knew she needed to get over the woman that was never hers, but the dull ache of missing her had not subsided. Still, the pain she awakened with was more bearable than it had been the previous day, and even more so than the week before. For that she was thankful. She knew it was a process that would eventually pass, but on this morning – and maybe it was the dream – she missed the weight of Alix’s body on top of her, the way she’d grab Talise’s hand and place it on the back of her head as she pressed herself against the warmth between Talise’s legs. The bruise on the inside of her upper left thigh had long gone; the deliciously painful memory of their final passionate morning, healed. Talise closed her eyes and lie in bed, touching herself, pretending her hands were that of her long-gone lover: soft, strong, knowing.
Ugh. Stop it.
Extending her fingertips and toes to the edges of her bed, Talise stretched the desire out of her body and rose to prepare for the day. She searched her phone for her “Wake the Hell Up” playlist and walked over to her blackout shutters, allowing the waking sun to seep into the room, making it official: the night, and the faceless, intriguing woman that arrived with it, are gone, and the day must now begin. She entered the bathroom, stepped out of her nightgown and stood in front of the full-length mirror. She took inventory of her 35 year old vessel – the sagging breasts and wrinkled stomach that was just five years shy of providing home and nourishment to her son, her little musical genius.
The birth of her son brought an overwhelming joy and love Talise had never experienced before. But all of those emotions were poured into her baby, leaving none for herself. More than anything – the fatigue, the draining bank account – she loathed her new body. It didn’t look like her. Her once taut stomach had stretched out, saggy and wrinkled. She tried to “fix” it with belly binding right after her C-section, but the discomfort of the tight material was maddening. Combined with the profuse sweating caused by the loss of water weight and the summer heat and humidity, it was too much to bear. Talise gave up the belly binder after two weeks, and was left with a little pouch that, according to her former personal trainer, wouldn’t go away without surgery, no matter how many planks she did or how much kale she forced down her throat.
When she was period-bloated or ate too much, the former incubator would revert to the shape of her four months pregnant body, and if she were in public, her usual confidence would wane, causing her to reflexively suck in her stomach, lest someone ask when she was due. Or worse, the woman she’d been eyeing at the other side of the room looks down at her protruding belly and assumes she’s unavailable – as if trying to get a date as a queer single mom wasn’t hard enough.
“Maybe you should get a tummy tuck,” her friend suggested one day at lunch. They were discussing their shared disappointment in their post-baby bodies. “I’m getting my boobs done. Kasim done sucked the life outta these titties, girl. I make my husband play with ‘em through my bra.”
Talise chuckled at the image, and took sip of her Sangria. “I’ve thought about it,” she admitted, “but girl, have you read the horror stories? Shit freaks me out. And I’ll be damned if I go back into debt after all my hard work, just for some cosmetic surgery. Besides,” she continued, picking a crouton out of her salad and tossing it to a nearby pigeon, “the thought of plastic surgery just sets off all my feminist, anti-patriarchal, fuck-the-establishment-and-perpetuation-of-mainstream-ideals-of-beauty angst! I’d feel like I’m betraying my values.”
She departed from her friend that day, wondering how to best love herself in a culture where celebrities bounce back from their fabulous pregnancies in two weeks and “Tell How They Did It!” on the covers of supermarket magazines. Scrolling through the fitspo pages of tumblr sent her through cycles of motivation and resignation, as mothers of four with six-packs, perky breasts and toned thighs screamed at her through the monitor: If I can do it, you have no excuse! But as hard as she tried, she never got her Kelly Rowland abs, so she set fire to her cute midriff tops in a mourning ceremony for the body she’d never see again.
But today is different. Today, she smiles at herself in the mirror, remembering her first romantic encounter after giving birth to her son. The night that changed her life, and returned her to herself.
Standing in front of her lover in a loose, black t-shirt, she crawled on the bed over to her, before being stopped mid-way.
“Naw baby, take it all off,” Roselyn said as she reached and pulled at the bottom of the shirt.
“But I like to keep my shirt on.”
Talise sighed, sat on the back of her legs and looked out the window into the night sky. Passion faded into self-consciousness.
Roz reached out to her, trailed her finger down Talise’s shoulder. “Hey,” she said, her voice mirroring the tenderness of her caress, “I need you to be fully engaged in this. Skin to skin, your flaws, my flaws. This is about total submission. I’m giving myself to you; give yourself to me.”
Slow and shy, Talise lifted her shirt above her head, dropped it to the floor and wrapped her arms around her stomach. Roselyn sat up, unfolded Talise’s arms, and placed her hands on top of Roz’s brown, bald head as she bent down and laid three kisses on her stomach. Talise’s stomach muscles tightened and the rest of her body followed suit. Not only had she not been intimately touched since the birth of her son the previous year, but she also avoided all self-contact with her stomach – her once prized possession that had turned into a target of disdain. Roselyn’s defiant act of love confused Talise’s entire being. They didn’t make love that night – well, not in that way. Roz spent the night kissing and caressing the creases of Talise’s stomach, her teardrop breasts, the old lady hands she’d had since childhood, her small “white girl booty” that didn’t belong on a Black woman in the South. All the places of her body that she sent disapproving looks and energy, Roz filled with restorative love, worship and appreciation.
And today, as Talise brushes her teeth naked over the sink, she silently thanks Roselyn for opening her eyes to her own beauty. She considers how being a lesbian, being in women-centered, women-affirming spaces immersed her in the varied truths of the beauty and fullness of women’s bodies. By engaging all her senses in the journey of loving other women, she learned to love herself, again. She realized that she too possesses the curves and lines of women’s frames that prompted her random, erotic daydreams. And she made space to fall in love with the thick, soft flesh of her middle, her small hips, and what Martin Lawrence famously diagnosed as “noassatal.” Loving herself just as she is, guarded her against other women who made a point to let her know that “real women have curves,” “you need to eat” and “you can’t trust skinny bitches.”
Stealing glances at the rise and fall of her breasts as she finger-twists her tightly coiled fro, she reflects on the story that her body tells. A story of her journey through motherhood, in which she has learned to be more patient, understanding and nurturing with her son, her friends, lovers and herself. She praises her sagging breasts, stretch marks, and kangaroo pouch as the physical manifestations and reminders of how far she has come in love and in seeing the beauty and life in her perfect flaws.
Talise’s morning ritual now includes being nude for as long as possible and actively loving her body, sending healing thoughts and energy to every inch of her cinnamon skin before surrendering to the light of the day. And today, on the morning of the eve of her 36th birthday, she ascends her throne, winding her waist as Patra asserts herself over the sensual reggae beat as the Queen of the Pack.