The Stuff of Stars

You will meet a man who tells you we are all made of the stuff of stars. That our bodies hold the carbon and nitrogen and helium and oxygen atoms that formed the ancestors of stars we see today. He'll have twenty-nine years to your eighteen and when you walk together, he'll hold his hand at the back of your neck just a little too tight and he won't ask before he thumbs apart the button of the jeans your mother bought you off a sale rack at Belk last summer. You'll lay on the floor, head on his thigh, and boast that yes, of course you know exactly whose voice the fold-up record player is squeezing out. He'll tell you all the stars we see are long-dead by the time we're able to look up at them. From this angle you can't tell there's something almost sinister in his eye. After you have sex for the first time with him, with anyone, you'll lay facing the wall and try to mold yourself against the body he's pressing against you, try to settle into a mattress that is not your own. He'll run his hand up and down the length of you and ask if you're alright, if you're comfortable, if you're sure you're okay and you'll answer not with words but with this new body – nuzzling just enough to convey affirmation. Each time you shift, stiff under rules you don't yet know, he'll pause and squeeze, emphasize the pudge that sits unsettled around your midsection where a woman's waist is yet to form.

You will meet a man who paints, but not well. He will live in a drafty loft in the East Village that's fit for a romcom villain and features his own paintings—gallery style—lining the walls. Dark, abstract shapes and smears open for interpretation. When he summons you downtown, it's only once the sun has set, once his neighborhood is lit with neon and teeming with twenty-something men with the same tattoos and $90 white t-shirts as him. He'll buzz you in and volunteer to "crank the heat up since women are always complaining about being cold." You never tell him that you keep your apartment at a crisp sixty-six year-round. Once his hands start exploring the dip of your back, over your hips, up the old skirt that's getting a little tight on your hips; he won't stop to ask if you're ok, if you're comfortable. He'll finish without you, reach for a towel already crumpled on the floor, and sink into your back—let hot, damp breath beat arithmetically into the crease of your neck. You'll notice that once he rolls behind you that you don't quite fit here within him, that his bony shoulders don't stretch quite as wide as your own broad frame.

You will meet a man who you are never quite dating. Will never quite date. He will be sweet in a way your parents would love and will talk about growing up taking care of his mother and will help you pack and unpack furniture all four times you move in two years. Your friends pretend not to notice when you leave the bar together and you pretend you never did. After clunky sex he always offers to switch sides of the bed, ask if you want water or a shirt or the other things romcom rituals teach before placing a forced hand somewhere unnatural—on your shoulder or the crest of your thigh or timidly on your arm. You'll never feel the need, the pull, to press the length of yourself into him and instead become aware of maintaining the glaring gap between you. This gap is easier now, anyway. Easier as you get used to the way your body has settled unfamiliar deposits in your midsection and thighs. Easier to avoid touches in these now-wrong places that feel hot with something closer to shame than fervor. By the time he stops reaching, you won't know if it's from understanding your resistance or if his hands keep distance in their own resistance.

You will be back in the town that raised you when, years after the first, you meet another man who tells you we are all made of the stuff of stars. He learned it from "a Ted talk or something." It's easier to leave his ego intact, let him believe no one's told you this before. You'll drive with him through down streets where you spent twenty years growing older and apparently not much wiser and for four years you will desperately try to exist in the devilishly-warm light he radiates without the scorch when it gets too close, a little too bright. If you pick him up from the bar late enough, his breath wafting a hot and putrid combination of Sambuca and Budweiser, he will convince you it'll be worth it to let him drunkenly fumble around on top of you before he accepts defeat and fall asleep miles away in the king size bed included in his rent. In the space his absence leaves, his dog will curl into the backs of your knees and nestle her nose to your thigh. Your chest will pulse tight with misplaced want, for the validation of his hand on you. Just a hand on you. Anywhere. Twenty-four years and you're not sure what to make of "normal" but this feels fine, comfortable until it's not, maybe just some natural progression. Sometimes you'll wake up to find him gone, hear him snoring from the spare room downstairs. He'll assure his friends they're all mistaken and once he has you in bed again will let you know he said that because he doesn't want them to know he'd fuck someone who looks like you. He'll tell you he has some tips that could help you get rid of that belly, those full cheeks, swollen face. You will pretend to be asleep, hold your breath and wait until he's drifted to let your eyes swell hot and red because it is easier to act like your own ego is still intact. Some nights you'll leave after he falls asleep, maybe before. Some nights it doesn't feel worth leaving. You'll spend years now getting to know the cadence of his sleep and corners of his dark bedroom before you finally pull your thick legs, wide torso, broad shoulders from the groove they've worn into his bed.