“You’re unhappy” she said flatly.
There the words hung, resolute, in the stifled air of her fifth floor office. My fragile ego arched and hissed as her sentence resounded in all four, muffled corners of my mind.
Stopping it in its commandeering, looping track, my mind silently protested. How? Why?
Indignation caught in my throat like a big, dry pill.
She gazed pointedly at me, knowing that I knew. And that there could be no more hiding.
A stubborn ego is a difficult companion with which to navigate one's life. At the core of its stubbornness - behind the arrogance and bravado - lies heartbreaking fragility.
I have a collection of fragile moments.
One time, I drove an hour to a dingy share house in a forgotten suburb, to meet a boy I had met once before.
On the first meeting, he bought me coffee. We walked in the desolate winter morning, hands awkwardly stuffed in pockets. He invited me for dinner later that week - an invitation that made me feel nothing.
He was an Italian boy of few words, who spent most of our conversation gazing at my mouth and left earlobe, as I wondered what it would feel like to run my fingers through his thick, shiny beetle-black hair.
He shared a house with two other boys. International students, I guessed. The house was hollow; barren of decent furniture and barely lit (to save on bills, presumably).
The Italian cooked something that faintly resembled risotto - budget-brand rice with bacon bits - which we ate in silence. It was a knowing silence that contained the mutual acknowledgement of post-dinner penetration.
My mind was numb like the cold fingers brushing the steel rail of the staircase, as we marched, single file, up to his bedroom. There, on his wrinkled blue bedspread, he pulled my waist mechanically towards him and began lifting my dress. I yielded to his tugs and pulls like a lifeless doll, staring blankly into vacant eyes. I remember spent condoms and nothing more; a blur of disembodied fucking.
It was late, and I was bored of the obligatory post-coital snuggling.
I slipped my dress back on, and wound the black layers around me tightly; vain efforts to erase a nakedness that cannot be unseen.
Inside the musty familiarity of my car, emptiness took me in his icy hands. I did not know why I was there, or how I felt.
Was I liberated? I didn't feel empowered.
Was I hurt? No. Ashamed? No.
Did I feel romance? Love? Excitement? Desire? None of these.
I had forgotten how to feel.