Once upon a time, in a land far, far away — like two hours on the Metro North — I worked during the summers between college scooping Italian ice for small children who did not understand that at any given time there were four different flavors of "red" and "blue."
One of my co-workers was a guy we will call Lyle. His name was not Lyle. Nobody is named Lyle. I am not doing much to mask this kid's identity.
Lyle was your typical high school jock. Long of limb, muscular of ab, downy of mustache. I suppose you could describe him as nice in that he only agreed with shitty things other people said, and rarely offered shitty opinions of his own. He was very boring. He spent most of his shifts standing in a corner where the security camera couldn't see him, playing Farmville on his phone. Lyle and I had a perfectly cordial working relationship. Whenever we were on shift together, I would do most of the work and then at the end of the night I would make him clean the custard machines. That is not euphemism. That is the most disgusting job we had to do before closing, and so I gave it to him.
Naturally, I wanted to fuck Lyle, just to prove that I could.
For teenage fat girls — who've been told from the moment they have sentience that the best they can hope for is a dude who won't hate them outright — boring jocks are the Holy Grail of fuck buddy. Well, boring jocks and lead singers of terrible local bands. Boring jocks and lead singers of terrible local bands, as anyone who has been to high school knows, are the epitome of high school trophy boyfriend. They prove in the eyes of your peers that you have worth. Many things can be forgiven about the way you dress or act or look if you happen to be dating one of these dudes.
I had recently been dumped by a boy for a girl who wore cat ears. Not as a costume — all the time. So you can imagine the resignation I felt about my lust for Lyle.
I didn't even try to seduce him. I used exactly zero of my wiles. I doubt he even knew that I was attracted to him, or that anyone did, because I didn't speak to him unless absolutely necessary, and mostly looked at him out of the corners of my eyes. My hesitance was partially owed to his being two years younger than me, and I couldn't figure out if I'd be committing a felony. And it was partially because — as with my crushes on virtually everyone else I had ever had a crush on, including the boy who would become my ex-boyfriend — I had tagged that lust as "never gonna happen" and left it at that.
About halfway through the summer, my mother needed me to pick up a couple of quarts of Italian ice for a party she was hosting, so I dropped by the store even though I was off that day. I was not wearing the shop's super-flattering uniform of large neon yellow T-shirt and gym pants today; instead, I was wearing my Hot Topic finest: a cherry-printed corset top. It was new, and I wanted to be impressive for this party my mother was hosting. Also, it felt like an important personal callback to my emo soul while demonstrating how capital-M Mature I had become after one year of college. The top managed to do this primarily by hoisting my boobs up to my chin. I'm telling you this because my cleavage will become important later.
I arrived to find Lyle and several others on shift, which was not unexpected given that it was a busy Saturday. I hung around and talked for a bit, and then I left. I did not think it was a remotely notable set of interactions until much later that evening, when my phone buzzed. Huh — it was a text from Lyle. How strange. Maybe he needs to me to cover a shift, I thought.
The message read, "I can't stop jerkin' it to what Kaye was wearing today."
YES. There it was in my hand: proof! Proof I was fuckable! Proof of my desirability! Proof that was now, presumably, also in his hand!
Most of us have sent the text about the person to the person the text was about. I have been that asshole more times than I care to remember. But to be on the receiving end of such a text, and have it be such a treasure? This was richness indeed, my friends.
Suddenly, the mystery of whether or not I was actually desirable was solved. A teenage jackass, better known for dating waif-people made of air and seafoam — the kind I reflexively resented on principle — couldn't stop jerking it to me. I'd joined their ranks. Me, a person more of lava and granite, a different species entirely — a rhino stabled among palfreys.
I felt...out of place. Out of place like Cinderella must have felt out of place, going from ash to castle. And even as this text delighted me, it horrified me too. It felt like a violation. These things happened simultaneously, twin atomic bombs in my heart: I was validated, and I was violated. I didn't necessarily want to be this dude's wank fodder — this dude who would barely look at me when we were scooping Italian ice within three feet of each other. But I was also overjoyed, because it affirmed my worth. It was a little sharp-edged, this joy. It hurt.
How fucked up is that? How excruciating was that elation? How terrible was that excitement? Isn't it fucking annoying to get something you wanted and realize it's kind of garbage?
Would I have been so moved by Lyle's lust if I hadn't grown up being told again and again and again that no one would ever want me, that to be loved required being wanted, that to be wanted required being a specific kind of beautiful, and that my body at once made me invisible in all the ways that were beautiful and too visible in all the ways that were painful?
"Oh cool sounds like a good day," I wrote and deleted. "Hey thanks for letting me know," I wrote and deleted. "What the fuck is wrong with you, you eel-faced oversexed bag of dicks," I wrote and deleted. "Wow dude," I wrote, and sent.
To his credit, he did sort of apologize. "Lol sorry, my friend was joking around with my friend Kate, it was a typo."
My name is Kaye. This is close to Kate, I realize, having been called Kate several times over the course of my life. But my name is not Kate in exactly the same way Lyle did not have a friend who was using his phone to mess with somebody named Kate.
"Sure," I said. "Sounds plausible."
"I swear!" he said.
"Whatever you say, man."
I wanted him to admit it. I could feel shame hovering at the edge of my hilarity and astonishment. Worse, maybe, than the shame in being inducted into somebody's spank bank was the shame in being told it was a typo. The shame in believing, for even a second, that my body wasn't worthless.
How could I dare to believe that, after all? Multiple men had told me as much, directly and indirectly. My ex-boyfriend certainly had; one pair of my jeans could probably fit his new girlfriend in triplicate. Every TV show, every magazine, most of the music I listened to lusted toothsomely after a very specific kind of girl who I was not. It didn't even seem like a choice I had, to believe or not to believe in my desirability. The lack of it was just a fact that I accepted, a fact that flitted around the inside of my skull as I read and reread this text and sent it to this friend and that friend and tried to make sense of all of the contradictory things that had just happened.
I wish this story had as good a climax as the one Lyle undoubtedly reached while thinking of me. But there was surprisingly little fallout, all things considered. Lyle and I didn't share many shifts for the rest of the summer. I talked about the text with a friend for the first and last time a few days later. "He said it was a typo," she said with an edge of derision.
I've always been bad at recognizing spite, but I think that's mostly what her dismissal was. Spite, or disbelief, which, me too. I tried very hard to never think about it again. I couldn't stomach another trip through the cycle of feelings the event gave me — shock, joy, shame, horror, disgust, shame, doubt, shame — and I didn't want to dissect them. I didn't want to find anything better or worse than what I already felt.
Over time, my disgust for both him and myself has faded. Because of course — of course — my body was not worthless. Teen-me was great, if somewhat melodramatic and bitter. Teen-me should have worn that stupid corset top every day of her damn life, not stuck it in a drawer and left it there until a midnight showing of Rocky Horror in her junior year of college.
Lyle is not very different from many men I've met since. There's a kind of societal checklist in the back of all of our brains about what makes desire acceptable — is she thin? Is he built? How big are her breasts? How broad are his shoulders?
It's so easy to knee-jerk away from anybody who doesn't tick enough boxes. What, by Jove, will other people think? What kind of pearl-clutching swoon of shock will this choice induce? We are all so shoehorned by fear, we forget that being honest about what we want is the only way we can feel complete, and hot as hell, and without shame.
It requires a kind of a spiritual nakedness to say yes, and yes, and yes. Lyle didn't have it, but I do.