by DELIA HAMISH
Images by Sophie Calle
It was easier to like people immediately after sex. There was something agreeable about the way they lay there half under the rumpled sheets.
I was softer then, too. Even if I hadn’t been fond of them before, I could have agreed to marry anyone in the five minutes after sleeping with them.
It turned out if you told someone you’d like them more after sleeping with them, they’d often sleep with you just to see if you were bluffing. No one’s called my bluff so far, but I haven’t tried as hard as I might have. There are better places to route your energy, even if I haven’t found all of them yet.
Earlier, when I was young enough to get away with it, my line had been, “I don’t know whether to punch you or kiss you right now,” although I always went with the latter, mainly because my small stature made the former unwise. Eventually word of this got around and the hint of a threat, which among the boys I favored often seemed to be an aphrodisiac, lost its powers.
Here’s a conversation I had after sex once.
“You looked like you were getting stabbed.”
"But in a good way?"
"Is there a good way to get stabbed?"
“Don’t make it easy for them,” I was told, but resisting the impulse to make it easy was the hard part for me. “Sometimes you know what you want…” I’d counter, but determining what exactly you want can be more difficult than simply aligning your desires with someone else’s.
I don’t mean to imply that isn’t pleasurable in its own way.
Here’s a different conversation I had after sex once.
“I prefer men who hate all women a little bit to those who love them universally.”
I guess it wasn’t a conversation because he didn’t reply.
Up until a certain point, when they asked something it was never just a question, it was also a request, and the answer always had to be a performance: an audience-targeted rendering of who you were. Performative people enjoy this part, but they can’t bring themselves to move on from it. Non-performative people also enjoy this part, but usually can’t wait to move on from it. For a long time I was deeply mistaken as to which of these types I was.
Someone asked me not to talk about my boyfriend while we were in bed together, which seemed like a fair request. Months later I made the same error with the same person and quickly apologized, although by then I felt that since they now had me in common, it didn’t seem so crazy to mention one to the other, to associate the two out loud as I did in my head. But even the most detached people want to feel, in that one moment, the opposite of who they are, which is the appeal of sex in the first place.
You can lose touch, but you can’t un-know someone. Even if you never speak again, they’re somewhere up there, their faces after, during, before: crinkles around their eyes, a fold above their lip, a pattern of perspiration on their forehead. People sometimes talk about a physical memory that lies deep in your own muscles, your own bones. But what I think of when I hear the phrase is the impressions that remain within you of someone else’s muscles.
Delia Hamish is a writer living in Chicago.
Images by Sophie Calle.
"Titan" - Clockwork (mp3)
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