or more specifically, “gorda,” because his language is Spanish. We were in front of the vanity after sex, the mirror reflecting the shining skin of tropical heat. My skin used to be pale, the evidence reduced to the twin territories that mark the bikini I wear everyday now that I have a pool on my roof. The new color I carry is toast—exactly the shade of browned white bread that my brother and I would smear with butter, before Saturday morning cartoons, after mom went to work.
His color is always the same: toward coffee, with cream, smooth on the eyes in the same way that milk interrupts the sharp bite of black. The sun bears down everyday on the coast of Colombia, but the wardrobe of my lover, and the millions who’ve always lived here, elevates fashion over temperature. Blue jeans, long sleeves, and even skullcaps defy the elements when the mind considers style. Clothes and hair—personal style transcends poverty in Cartagena Las Indias. People care about appearance and they celebrate it in others—you know you’re on when your chico’s shout, “bacaaaannnnooooo!”
I’d been in Bogota for only a quick trip, but the days on either side added up to a week without contact. We’d reunited in a fierce embrace that began at the entry next to the washing machine, pushed through the long kitchen and into the front room, before shaking the wall behind the bed. Reunion sex is conflated with the reacquisition of territory. People will say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but what I know for sure, is that it makes the dick stand harder.
I had splashed water on my face, bent over the bowl, slick beyond capacity in a climate where a body can’t compete against the twin assault of humidity and anaerobic passion. When I stood up again, the adoration in his eyes matched the white smile that split his face. The reverence was non-verbal and blessedly familiar; it was almost a year since we first discovered that bilingual communication had been narrowly defined to language. It was in that afterglow moment, our eyes locked in the mirror, when, “eres gorda,” left his lips and pierced my lungs with that breath-stopping reflex.
He called me fat!
In my culture that’s a slur equal to the offense intended with bitch, cunt, slut or whore. The fact that his smile was lit with love, or that his culture held nothing but authentic desire for every pound of flesh that took female shape, failed to register against fifty-four years of American fat-phobia. The previous hour of adult-rated choreography evaporated like vapor, as I pursued a panicked inventory of my naked reflection.
I’m an athlete by most standards, driven toward self-competition over a lifetime, with a catalog of solo sports. I’ve taken toward pole fitness recently, and the reality that reflected back at me was tough strands of abdominal strength. I carry the pride of a six-pack, female version, where my belly is framed with the clear diagonal tracks of tissue. When I’d had medical treatment in December, the weight loss had almost hollowed my gut, and rigidly defined every muscle that I’m made of.
I had filled out since then, and the hard angles had softened. That had been true for several months, and I looked healthier with the re-sculpting of meat. I’m writing a memoir, The Bachelor Chapters, so I know that memory is arbitrary, and even inaccurate behind the veil of time. I looked no different than I had the prior week; but there was indeed change since February, when the combination of aggressive weight training, and the consequences of treatment, had dramatized my figure. It seemed clear from his comment, that during our separation, my lover’s memory had pulled the February file.
There are many things that haunt woman’s psyche and self-image. So many of us are friggin’ smart—intellectually conscious of our cultural mind-fucks—yet still at war with them in the streets, in our happy hour laments, and in our language on the page. At middle age, I carry wisdom as my trophy; a vessel of accumulation from a life lived paying attention to each lesson. I command the desire of young lovers in multiple countries; I cultivate a lifestyle that reverberates the so-called youthful endeavors of dance, adventure, and creativity; I am more authentic and more satisfied in my fifth decade than ever before.
The fact that a finger pointed to flesh can preempt more than fifty years of common sense, supersede the radiance that follows sexual satisfaction, and challenge the veracity of my own eyes, illustrates more than anything I know, the weight of culture. It’s my terminal luggage. My best bet is to keep it stowed in that locked bag, where it trips me up occasionally, until I push it once again into the corner, and out of my way.