THE ISSUE WITH INTIMACY • by Kathryn Ward

When I was sixteen it was my fantasy to get beaten up. I was sure that a blinding fist to the eye and a broken nose would trigger a release in me, in the same way I imagined jumping off a roof or having sex would. I wanted this more than I wanted those things, though. It seemed like the only thing that might let me relax. At night when I couldn’t sleep I lay in bed and imagined my amorous stumble backwards, what each bone in my face would feel like, how my clavicle would rip as whatever was inside of me came out.

I had this friend, G. He was a football player who could lift me over his head with one arm and was only friends with me because we were the only cellists in second period orchestra who did drugs. He was nice to me in a way that always caught me off guard. He looked so grown up, and his voice sounded like October and he thought I was funny. He had a beautiful blonde girlfriend who was a dancer and in choir and didn’t do drugs.

Once we were practicing in a practice room together and by that I mean we were sitting next to each other with the cellos on the ground and our bows in our hands and we were joking around. At some point his left leg brushed against me, and I know we both felt it like it hurt. My chest was tightening and my virginity was only hanging on by a thread. I wanted it to be him so badly, and I knew I could either ask him right now or else forget about it forever.

“What?” he said, like he was waiting for the question.

“Will you beat me up?” I said.

He laughed and I laughed but we held each other’s eyes. “Why?” he said.

“I really think it would make me feel better,” I said.

“You only think that because you never got beat up,” he said.

“I’ve never been a lot of things,” I said.

“And anyways, wouldn’t it just make you feel worse if you got all fucked up?” he said.

I was willing to consider this. I really only wanted the feeling of being hit, not of holding plastic bags full of ice to my face after. “Well, just don’t hit me as hard as you can. Just beat me up a little bit,” I said.

He laughed again. We never talked seriously. When he was fighting with his girlfriend, we made jokes about destinies and handjobs. When I passed out from starving myself, we made it about burgers and beauty. I liked that because he always told me exactly what he was thinking, but wrapped up in something funny so that I never had to respond. Maybe that was what he liked about talking to me.

“Why don’t you get one of your friends to beat you up?” he said.

Besides him, all my friends were either Catholics or assholes. “No!” I said. “I can’t.

“I’d get expelled or something,” he said.

“What, you think I’m going to tell on you?” I said.

We laughed, and his leg touched me again. I thought about his knuckles arched over his bow, the slope of bone in each finger, the skin already bruised from football practice. I thought about how he stayed after school once to help me with my English homework, and we recorded ourselves reading Macbeth, and he read so tenderly and messily and sweetly, and I told him he was a good actor and he told me he had been a baby model. I thought about my body and about release.

The next day he sat down next to me, and without saying hello or anything he said, “Okay. I’ll beat you up if you really want me to.”

I smiled. I might’ve even blushed. I was glad I asked him this instead of asking him to bang me. “I do,” I said.

He laughed. Everything would be a joke right up to the end. “Okay. When?”

“After school,” I said.

“Okay,” he said, then he laughed.

We met up in the parking lot after it had mostly emptied out. All day my whole body had been electric, like it knew what was coming, like the thing growing in me knew it was about to be knocked loose.

He was out there before me and he wasn’t smiling anymore. It was a little cold, and his nose was red like his knuckles. “You still want me to do it?” he said.

“Yes,” I said. I wanted him to hit me so hard that my skull blossomed against the concrete. I wanted him to feel my face break in his hands. I wanted him to make me bleed out of my nose and my mouth and my lips and my teeth. I wanted him to hit me free.

I stood in front of the orange brick wall of the school and he checked his footing three feet away. I didn’t know what to do with my hands so I put them in my pockets.

“Okay,” he said.

I didn’t close my eyes.

G stood there and balled his fists in front of him. He stared at them. Maybe he was trying to get angry, get into it. He stood there and stood there and stood there.

Finally his arms dropped to his sides and he wouldn’t look at me. “I can’t hit you. I’m sorry, I can’t do it.”

The thing inside me swelled. It shoved itself into my throat, wrapped around my lungs and squeezed. You’re mine, it said. Mine.

I tried laughing. It sounded fake. “Well, hey. Nothing to beat yourself up over,” I said.


Kathryn Ward is a graduate student at the University of St. Thomas. She lives in Minneapolis.


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