Her Body, Ourselves

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Her Body, Ourselves by Adam Davies

Our First Kiss went like this. We were flying in a cab up Amsterdam, on the way to play pool with the guy she was dating. I’d only known her two weeks — we’d had our night at the Blue & Gold a few days before; it would be another two months before she made the lamp — but already


I could feel the electrons in my arm arcing through the distance between us in the cab.


“I know what you’re thinking, little Hairball,” she said. “And you can forget it. There’s no way I’m going to kiss you.”


“Well, don’t get your hopes up, either, small Evie,” I said. “The last thing these lips are going to do is make contact with yours. Even the idea is sickening.”


I put my hands inside her blouse and under her bra and we just stared at each other like players over a chessboard &#151 silently, inscrutably, antagonistically. Then she was on me. It was great. It was like being in the backseat with a horny and confused Shiva, her hands and mouth everywhere. Struggling madly with my belt as we sat at a light with people walking by the window, she said, “Don’t get any ideas, little Harry. There’s no way I’m servicing you in this cab.”

This became a refrain. Not the line. The act. Fellatio, I was to discover, would be the only mode of sexual activity between us because as Evie told me the night I first trotted out the condoms, she has a very dire case of endometriosis.


“What’s that?” I said.


Holding herself like an armful of flowers, she told me about the endo.


Endometriosis is a condition where the lining of the uterus breaks away and drifts throughout the abdomen. This misplaced tissue — endometrial implants, they call it — usually just sort of attaches to the ovaries and ligaments that support the uterus. But she’s got an especially bad case. She’s got implants the size of squash balls and they’re all over everything. The problem is that because the implants are uterine they think they’re supposed to bleed. So they do. Oh man do they bleed. They bleed and bleed and bleed. Every month she suffers agonizing pain as the implants swell with blood and push on the nerves in her spine. The cramping during her periods is so painful that she has to call in sick to work. And even when she’s not menstruating she has such incredible pain that intercourse isn’t possible.


“So, I’m afraid you’re going to have to quit brandishing that prophylactic, please,” she said.


“No sex?”


“Not that kind, I’m afraid.”

 night, Evie hadn’t had sex in over nine years, since her sophomore year in college when it was so painful (“Imagine a bear trap on your uterus”) that she swore off intercourse for good. When we met she had had sex a grand total of seven times. In her whole life. It’s a miracle that she managed to have sex even once. Doctors often misdiagnose endometriosis, but Evie’s case was bungled more than usual. It took twelve years for them to figure out what she had. They thought she was exaggerating, that she had irritable bowel syndrome, or colitis, or pelvic inflammatory disease.


She told them her periods were unbearable. “It’s normal for young girls to experience some discomfort during menstruation,” they said. “Take aspirin.”


She told them she had painful defecation. “Probably an incipient hemorrhoid,” they said.


She told them she had searing pain throughout her abdomen. “Are you getting enough fiber?” they wanted to know. “Have you considered bran muffins?”


She told them about the amount of blood and tissue she expelled during one of her first periods (after Aunt Margine found her passed out, facedown on the bathroom tiles, in a puddle of blood and clots). “Is there something you want to tell us, Miss Goddard?” they asked coyly. “Because what you’re describing is a miscarriage.”


All of the doctors’ efforts were like this — hilariously, stupidly wrong.


So from that first moment when she became aware of sex she associated it with excruciating pain. She spent years, she said, praying that a date would never try to kiss her because she was terrified of what might follow. She spent the four nights of her period sleeplessly balled up and pressed between her mattress and box spring because the pressure was the only thing that relieved the pain. When I’m with her now, she curls up with her back to my stomach, and I lace my arms under her knees, bringing them up to her chest, and we spend the night sleeplessly this way, contorted and compressed.


The cannonball, we call it.


And there’s the Rapunzel therapy. Nowadays I have Evie’s cycle down pat, and when the first day rolls around — she always has to take two or three days off work — I come by her place and throw pennies at the window. She opens up and I say “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your extension cord,” and then she’ll send down this basket tied to two extension cords and I’ll put in the basket Rapunzel treats to help her get through the period: everything bagels, lemonade, fortune cookies, Metropolitan Home, documentaries on crocodiles (a bite as powerful as a great white’s which is confusing to me: I can’t figure out if I’m impressed by the crocs or disappointed in the great whites) or dingoes (smarter than you think) or the African honey badger (the only animal in Africa that kills for kicks). Because the flow is so heavy it’s necessary for her to double up on protection and so I also send up boxes of Tampax Super Absorbency tampons and Always Alldays Fresh Weave Pantiliners with Wings. A lot of the time Duane Reade is out of the Always so I have to get Stayfree Maxis with Cottony Dry Cover and Four Wall Protection.


When Keeno heard about the Rapunzel treats she couldn’t believe it. “Harry Driscoll being nice?” she said. “And you even know the brands? Uh-oh. Glug glug glug.”


“What does that mean?” I asked Keeno. “Glug glug glug?”


“The girl’s sunk your battleship. Been nice knowing you.”




Evie didn't discover the truth about the endo until her second year in New York. She had spent so much of her youth in doctors’ offices (“I was in stirrups so much it was like I was Annie fricking Oakley; ride ’em, cowgirl, eh, Hairball?”) that she had almost given up. But when she moved to New York and was finally in possession of an insurance plan, she went to a qualified OB-GYN at Beth Israel who gave her an ultrasound and then — immediately seeing a problem — a laparoscopy. The doctor made a quarter-inch incision in her navel and inserted a tube through which she pumped carbon dioxide gas to inflate her abdomen so the organs were clearly visible. Into this incision she put a tiny, snaking telescope with brilliant lights. Then the doctor made another cut in her pubis and inserted a prod that she used like a fire poker to push organs around. After it was over Evie looked at the photos.
     “Chocolate chips,” she said. “They looked like chocolate chips. I looked at those photos of my insides and everything was covered in chocolate chips. I couldn’t tell what was my stomach or my spleen or anything, but it didn’t matter. Everywhere you looked they were there. All over everything.” It was the first time I’d ever seen her cry. She sat there, hugging her knees. I wrapped my arms around her and we were warm, entangled, concentric, maybe even sort of O.K.
     When I met her she had just gone off Lupron, a pseudomenopausal. The mood swings and hot flashes were too much for her and so she switched to the Pill, but intercourse was still out of the question. For almost this whole time — two years — Evie and I didn’t have sex. But she still had an appetite. So she did what you might expect: she became an expert in nonvaginal sex. With her agile hands, her mouth, her ass — the unimpaired, pain-free balance of her body — she made herself the best compensatory lover she ever could.
     Do you know what this means? All her life Evie had been conditioned to loathe sex, yet she makes running leaps into the sack with me? It makes me want to cry if I think about it too long.
     “I know,” she said when I asked her about it. “It’s crazy. I’ve got the Hairball bug. What’s a girl to do?”
     She also says that I am the only man who ever made her come. I’m not sure I believe it, but yes I’m glad to hear it. The denigration of the romantic past is a necessary step in the romantic present, and Evie sure has had some bad lovers. “He was so clumsy,” she said once about the ex of cigarette-lighter fame. “Flick, flick, flick. It’s so nice to be with you. You’re so . . . deft.”
     Our inability to fuck is part of Keeno’s theory on my infidelities. “You’re the worst slider I’ve ever seen. It’s because Evie can’t fuck you, isn’t it?”
     I thought that maybe it was. But that theory was shot down last month. A few months ago Evie goes out and has this procedure. She didn’t tell anyone — not me, not Madeleine, not her parents. She checked in to Beth Israel again. The doctor gave her an enema to clear her intestines, did some X-rays, electrocardiograms, blood tests. Then they gave her this anesthetic. It was so fast-acting that after the injection Evie remembered they started wheeling her toward the operation room and she said, “Cruise control. Goody. I love this part,” and then lost consciousness. It had been maybe fifteen seconds. In the operating room the doctor tilted Evie’s head backwards so her organs would fall against the chest cavity and she could see Evie’s ovaries and fallopian tubes clearly. Then she gassed her up some more and lasered everything in sight, separating her organs with dissolving fabric — like cheesecloth — so things wouldn’t stick together again, and stapled her back up.
     Et voila.
     Sort of.
     Endometriosis is what they call a “gluestick disease.” Adhesions — an intractable network of scar tissue that binds things together like a crazy explosion of epoxy resin — form when the endometriosis progresses. In Evie’s case she has implants and also these adhesions, especially concentrated on her bowels and ureter. One false move with the laser and you could have peritonitis or urine pumping into the abdomen, which can kill the kidneys, among other unpleasantries. Plus surgery increases scar tissue and can actually cause more adhesions, and because adhesions can cause organs to be tangled into an unnatural configuration — you can get knotted intestines or “kissing ovaries,” where the ovaries are cinched together — you can have severe pain with any kind of movement at all. And Evie’s adhesions were so plentiful that during her period it hurt her to even walk or breathe.
     So this procedure to remove a certain amount of the tissue actually exposed her to exponentially greater risk. She shouldn’t have done it. But she did it because she wanted to have sex with me, because she loved me. And she did it as a surprise. She told me she went to the hospital for appendicitis. Even during her convalescence she said nothing. Then one night when we were in bed together in my place, our skin silver with sweat, it happened.
     We were wearing the T-shirts I’d had in the freezer and sucking on ice cubes. It was late and the fruit flies had calmed down. Outside the window the wrong church bells were ringing. I was stroking the long thready muscles of her hips, the little convexities of her face, the thin, wiry eyebrows. A very placid moment. Then suddenly she was rubbing my stomach in a way that is both a question and a plea and pushing her tongue into my mouth. Our lips were salty and our mouths were cold from the ice cubes. Her tongue felt like a cool sea plant waving inside my mouth. She rolled up on top of me in one graceful movement and then — as simple and beautiful as a magic trick — I was inside her.
     Afterward Evie asked me if I would stop seeing whichever Date I was on at the moment and I told her I would. That’s it for me. No more Dates. Consider Date stricken. She’s a necessary cut. Debridement. She’s excised. Deleted.
     Then Evie curled up in my arms like a tired pilgrim and fell asleep. I lay awake, rigid and miserable, blood curdling, knowing that tomorrow I’d feel even worse because I had lied to her again.  



Reprinted from The Frog King by Adam Davies by permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc.

Adam Davies went to Kenyon College and received his M.F.A. from Syracuse University. He has worked as an assistant at Random House, a teacher of English Literature and creative writing at the University of Georgia, and is currently at work on his second novel. He lives in San Francisco.