Sex is a peculiar mystery. I've never found any fetish mildly interesting, and I have no real curiosity about homosexual encounters; I think I have touched, and been touched by, one woman or another in every way I can imagine enjoying. And yet, the things that flip the switch from still to alert, from disinterested to hungry, these things are mysterious, inexplicable, unpredictable. When I consider the three major loves of my life (one of whom I never made love with), what strikes me is that each of them possessed my attention like a vial of concentrated pheromones. And yet none of them was particularly sexy. Each of them seemed to me, in her own way, the most beautiful thing I could imagine, and yet each was no more than a flawed, perhaps better than average, human being. (They are long gone; I can get away with truths they wouldn't understand and would probably be outraged by.)
I "discovered" sex when I was eleven. I was sitting in a movie theater, back in the days when they played popular music while waiting for showtime, and Eartha Kitt was singing "Temptation." Listening to that smokey voice accuse me of leading her astray, my hairless little body shivered and I knew, suddenly, that I was going to find out some interesting things about women and what we could do together.
'Sexual' and 'sensual': The two ideas are related, the semanticists tell us, but not the same. In fact, it is not a line, it is the blurry surface of a beach, that divides them. Food can be sexy. So can taking a woman's coat, or having her lift a lock of stray hair from your temple. Genital contact may have no sensual edge to it at all, just the friction of meats in oil. And there is no body part that is not erogenous. June Walechska is my case in point.
That's not her name, of course. She was my best friend's best friend, and we occasionally spoke, but barely knew each other. She was Eastern European, Polish, I think, and good-looking but by no means beautiful. She had the round, soft-featured face of a kitten, and a layer of fat like a thick body stocking that softened the definition of her trim, muscular form. She was a swimmer — the old kind, well-built but seal-soft.
We performed in a USO play together, her Juliet to my Romeo. That was six fairly intimate weeks together, which I have almost completely forgotten. Even that experience somehow did not pull us together. I have no sense that either of us was ever even mildly interested in the other. I don't remember ever seeing her with a boyfriend. I, as I said, was closer to her best friend, the woman I have called Annabel Lee.
But about her back. I saw her one day at the pool, wearing a modest one-piece suit deeply scalloped in the back, and her back, from nape to waist, was covered with soft, downy hair as delicate as a baby's, practically invisible. It was a bit longer than normal arm hair, but much finer, as fine as kitten fur. In the right angle of light, it gave her back a glow, gently incandescent.
It haunted me. Today, no longer harnessed up in my mother's overbearing ideas of sex, the sexual, and sin, I would give anything to have touched it. Then, I sublimated my fascination by associating it with the thrill we feel at freakishness, and it kept me away from her, even as it drew my departing eyes. I think I knew, even then, that there was more to my obsession than the freak show thrill. Mentally, I dismissed it as freakish, but viscerally I knew that my hands, passing over it, would be burned with pleasure.
June is little more than a few tiny images, almost gone, and perhaps it was not even her, the girl at the pool, perhaps she is simply the solid reality I have draped this memory upon. I can almost see her face in the bedroom scene, exhorting me to depart, "It is the lark, the herald of the morn!" And I remember, like a film I made myself, coming up behind her one afternoon, where she sat by the pool, her feet tucked under her, her rope of hair bound onto her head to fit more easily into a cap, her suit as undescript a green as the grass and surrounding bamboo, her back dimpled and muscled, and the fur, the golden, exotic pelt that burst from the top of the suit.
I did not think, at that moment, that I would like to see her naked, to see the whole geography of that glorious fur. I did not think that it touched me, the imagined experience of touching her, like the delicate flick of a tongue pertly against my lip or the glazing slide of fingertips on a waiting belly, with a simple sexual thrill. I did not think at all. I was, like Paul near Damascus, simply blinded.