YOU APPRAISE YOURSELF IN THE FULL-LENGTH MIRROR
Sometimes, you go to bed with a pillow to simulate a warm body sleeping next to you.
Sometimes, you catalogue objects, and where you got them, categorizing them: pre-Seattle,
Naturally, your bedroom is rich with Seattle: the charcoal gray coat on the wall peg, the lamp
you bought in the Goodwill on Broadway, the picture of you and Brad and the rest of your friends on the
beach at Golden Gardens—drunk, and happy, every last one of you.
Sometimes, when you’re feeling homesick, you wear one of Brad’s old flannels. You always
wake up sweaty, these times.
When you feel sexy, or want to, you sleep naked, wake up cold, and, wanting to feel at home,
you slip into that flannel, catalogue objects, pull a pillow over to your body, masturbate.
The night wears on while you wear his shirt, half-sleep never seems to slip into whole-sleep, you
wake in the wee hours, make yourself a bowl of Wheat-Thins in milk, cry a little for salt, and catalogue
objects. The kitchen, naturally, is mostly post-Seattle, excepting the wok, which hangs big and round
and rusted on its peg.
When the day comes, you go outside, watch the sun rising like an infected cut on the horizon.
You say Hello, go back to bed, catalogue objects, slide into half-sleep.
When you finally rise, late-morning, your hair pointing eight or nine different directions, you
take last night’s half-finished mug of black coffee, zap it, and settle onto the sofa. A blanket pulled up
around your legs, you take your sharpie and your notebook, take a sip of coffee, inhale sharply, and
HOW TO BE A VIRGIN AT TWENTY-THREE
(and still maintain your dignity)
and exhale. You know plenty about the first line. Not so much about the second. Intending to write at
least 500 words, or at least, two full notebook pages, you fall asleep a mere paragraph after your (very
When you wake up a couple hours later, you feel ashamed. But shame is normal. You are used to
You’re beginning to suspect that you’re a narcoleptic, but you know that it’s really just that
you’d like to be able to say, “Hey. I suffer narcolepsy. What’s wrong with you?” When you were
younger you wanted to be an epileptic, were even jealous of your friend Jenna, who was one. But then
one night you slept over at her house, and when she started twitching, moaning, and foaming at the
mouth, you decided that being epileptic had its drawbacks. Even so, and in the absence of acquiring a
job necessitating the operation of heavy machinery, which you don’t see happening any time soon, being
a narcoleptic doesn’t sound bad.
At the very least, it’s a good excuse for not writing. Maybe there is even a way to work your
suspected narcolepsy into your essay. You decide to ask Brad about this when he comes.
Brad—he’ll be here tonight, coming in on an evening flight from Seattle with a stop off in
Denver. You don’t want Brad to be the real reason you’re still a virgin. You really don’t. Because to
admit such would be to feel more pathetic than you already do, and it’s not like there haven’t been
chances. There have been chances. Both before Brad, and “after.” “After Brad” is an artificial term you
use to make yourself feel less bad. You never dated him, never exchanged a single sloppy kiss.
There was that time, “after Brad,” on Orcas Island, up in the San Juan’s. You were at the
clothing optional sauna with soaking tubs that overlooked a private beach on Puget Sound. If there was
an opportunity to lose your V-card, that was it.
A cute, hairy guy with a beard asked if you wanted to walk down the trail to the beach. You’d
been flirting with him, and you knew that the beach was unlit except for the moon on the water. It was a
warm early August night and you were, of course, already naked, having taken a long appraising look at
yourself in the floor-length mirror in the bathroom after undressing. (Too much belly. Not enough
breasts.) And you might’ve gone with him, too. But you’d already seen his dong, long enough it
could’ve been the longest and largest on a chain of linked knackwursts, and you thought about your vagina,
seal-unbroken, and thought: NOT ENOUGH ROOM, declined the offer. Back in your tent you smoked a
spliff and felt miserable, lying on your back in your zipped-tight bag on the hard bony ground, felt like a
chunk of cheese sitting in the open for too long.
You hoped then that you were a lesbian, that your inaction was explainable. Later, an awkward
make-out session with a curious girlfriend would cure you of that.
Now, after a two-hour Craigslist/Facebook binge, you realize your apartment has gone almost
completely dark. Even though Brad will be here later, you rush around your house turning on lights.
Turning on lights is important. It keeps the loneliness and despair out.
Lights on and standing before your refrigerator, you experience a moment of panic. A memory
of Brad, remarking that sometimes, it doesn’t even seem like you’re really a girl. You almost never
forgave him for that.
It was the kind of comment that caused you once again appraise yourself critically in your fulllength mirror.
And again: too much belly. Not enough breasts.
It was the kind of comment you liked when you were reading plenty of bell hooks. You were not
reading plenty of bell hooks. You did not and do not feel man enough—woman enough?—to be the kind
of feminist your undergrad professors wanted you to be, or that your postgrad colleagues are, even here
in Red Dirt, USA.
You’re the kind of feminist whose refrigerator consists solely of ruined chicken breasts three
days past the expiration date, hot dogs, condiments, peanut butter (and not the organic kind); the kind of
feminist whose cupboard contains two boxes of instant mac-and-cheese, Cheezits, Wheat Thins,
strawberry Pop-tarts, never ending Pop-tarts.
You’re the kind of feminist who decides to hide some things. The Pop-tarts, non-organic peanut
butter, Cheezits, all of these must be locked away, down in the bottom dresser drawer where you used to
keep your dildo, which is now perched permanently on its base on your nightstand, the very definition of
tact. The dildo, too, must be put away—you can’t afford to look that lonely. You are a woman, a normal
woman, and you want Brad to know it when he arrives.
After a trip to the grocery store, some strategically purchased Greek yogurt and kale now placed
prominently in your fridge, you try to decide what to wear. A dress? You “outgrew” the only one you
like in the great Pop-tart darkness of the winter semester. A T-shirt, hot-shorts? Define “hot.”
Your eyes rove the floor, eventually you see it. Brad’s flannel, the one you wear while you touch
yourself. A Seattle object. And you think of how it came to be in your possession: simply, boringly left
behind by Brad in your old Queen Anne Avenue apartment. He’d come over to watch The Office with
you during a heatwave and taken it off, favoring his undershirt. You’d sat on opposite ends of the sofa.
You can see that apartment now, too, and that sofa. How many hours spent watching it rain, cars
going up and down the north side of the hill, students with friends going up to Kerry Park on the other
side to pair up and make-out, overlooking the Space Needle, posing for pictures.
No, you decide, you can’t wear his shirt. How could you make your desperation, your
lonesomeness, anymore obvious?
But as you get ready to drive to Tulsa to pick him up, the T-shirt you’ve chosen doesn’t feel right
at all. It’s not that it’s too tight—you appraise yourself in the mirror once more—and at least this time:
enough breasts, not too much belly.
But this shirt does not say what you want it to say. And you want it to say something. It has to
say something. Somebody does.
That person has to be you.
Off the T-shirt comes. On with Brad’s flannel. Even though you’ll sweat like a motherfucker.
Even though you’ll feel ridiculous standing there in it, waiting for him to emerge from the terminal.
It’s time to go. You take a deep breath, scan the living room, and realize it’s a mess. But you
decide not to care. You’ve spent so much time pretending not to care that it shouldn’t be too hard.
Outside, sitting in your car, still hot even in the early-evening twilight, you confirm this notion as
true. It is not too hard not to care about your apartment.
One last time, before starting the engine, you glance around the interior of your car, catalogue
objects. Your travel mug, your empty Chinese takeout cartons, your orange flip-flops—all are postSeattle objects.
You try and smile to yourself in the rearview mirror. You succeed.
You don’t know yet what you will say to him, but it will come.
Nathan Knapp’s stories, poems, and reviews have been published or are forthcoming from HTMLgiant, elimae, The Battered Suitcase, Spilled Coffee, Lark(!), The Fiddleback, and others. He’s currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Oklahoma State University.