An Excerpt from the Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

May 29, 2011 § 1 Comment

An excerpt from The Chronology of Water, a memoir

by Lidia Yuknavitch.

When I first met Hannah in graduate school I was a woman gone numb.  I would do anything.  Anytime.  Anywhere.
Hannah was one of those lesbians who looks like a beautiful boy—hazel eyes, that cool short curtain of hair hanging over one eye, broad shoulders, little hips, barely there titties.  More like m & m’s.  Hannah played basketball and softball and soccer when she wasn’t being a Eugene lesbo and English grad student.  She used to wait for me by my blue Toyota pick up truck between classes and hijack me and drive me to the coast, where we’d stay up all night getting it on in the back of my truck, drinking Heinekins and waiting for the sun to come up.  Then we’d drive back and go to class.  Or I would.  Hannah thought grad school was kind of lame.  She much preferred sex and club dancing.
So when Hannah captured me and my best friend in the hall after our 18th Century Women Writers seminar by grabbing our wrists and pulling us toward the wall, I already knew it would be something sly.  She smiled her sly Hannah smile and whispered, “Wanna go to the coast?  I got us a room.”
My best friend blinked so blankly her eyes looked like a doll’s, and I think I coughed academically.  But I have to admit it.  My crotch went messy pretty much that instant.
After my best friend said something about not having enough money or time and anyway didn’t we have seminar papers due, to which Hannah said, patting my best friend’s head like a puppy dog, “Don’t worry, I already bought us the weekend, complete with a kitchenette,” making my best friend smile like she’d just eaten chocolate, and after I said something equally lame ass like I have to see what’s up with my boyfriend—I have to see what’s up with my BOYFRIEND?—to which Hannah responded “Really?  Is he your dad?”  Reaching underneath the waist of my jeans with her thumbs.
Oh yeah and after she picked at something on the front of my shirt until I looked down like a twelve year old fucktard and she tweaked my nose . . . laughing a little Hannah laugh–we were mysteriously on our way to Albertson’s to load up the back with beer and wine and food.  We cleaned out my monthly food stamps buying gruyere cheese and pickled herring and smoked salmon and those cool not American chocolate bars with fruit ooze in the center and baguettes, the check-out lady scowling at us like somebody’s mother.  And, me being me, we also scored three great filet mignon steaks I stuffed in my pants.  To try and recover some semblance of coolness.
Listen, you probably think you wouldn’t, but I’m telling you, if Hannah said get in my truck we’re going to the coast, raising her little trickster eyebrow and putting her hand right underneath your breast and against your first couple of ribs, going, I dare you, you’d go.
So there we were crammed three-way up front in a pick-up truck, beers at our ankles, Hannah at the wheel, my best friend in the middle looking a little like our kid, and me with my mane of blond out the window yelling wooooooo hooooo.  My best friend kept…squirming between us.  I mean she was talking like normal and laughing like normal but her eyes had little electrical sparks in the corners.  I kept looking at her but she kept looking away, or into the rearview.
About my friend.  We met each other in a Women’s Studies class and hit it off right away.  She was smart as a whip but not kiss-assy women’s studies smart—her questions always burrowed underneath the obvious and her seminar papers were more thoughtful than mile.  A lot.  Not only were her eyes the deepest chocolate you’ve ever seen, but her tits were the roundest and fullest most beautiful tits I’ve ever seen.  When I first met her I assumed she was a dyke, mostly because she didn’t have a boyfriend and her hair was cut in a boy haircut and she knew SO MUCH about women writers.  Also after about a year we shared a graduate teaching fellow office together and sucked some quite serious face.  So we were definitely headed for…something.
That’s a lie.  I mean it’s not a lie—it’s just that I’m telling it like what was best about her was her hotness.  I wish I could go back and tell her how intelligent and beautiful she was.  I wish I had been able to understand the two best things about her—that she was loving.  That she was kind.  But you don’t get to go back and tap yourself on the shoulder and go Hey fucktard.  There’s something big here.  I was busy dramatizing my sexuality.
In the truck with Hannah we were headed for the See Vue Inn.  If you’ve never been, you are missing a lez secret hideaway.  It’s located on a bluff above a beach full of agates, fossils and tidepools. Whales migrate within view and sea lions play in the surf. Elk, eagles and deer are frequent visitors. But that’s not why women go.
Women go because of the themed rooms.  The Secret Garden Suite (private garden).  The Crow’s Nest (nautical).  The Salish (Native American). Princess and the Pea (weirdly medieval). Mountain Shores (rustica).  Far Out West (cowgirl).  The Cottage (you get the “house” to yourself).
We had The Cottage.
But halfway there my best friend had to pee, so we stopped at a ratty little gas station in the coast range between Eugene and Florence.  Peeing women trigger other women’s bladders, so I went into the bathroom with my best friend.  Those gas station bathrooms are squalid dump holes that smell like someone shit air freshener.  The floors always have weird black slime on them, the sinks are always stained with something that looks a little like a serial killing, and more often than not the toilet is backed up with either toilet paper or, well, you know.  Miraculously, our toilet was not backed up.  I tried to break open the crappy machine with the tiny sex toys in it like French Ticklers—no doubt installed for truckers—while my friend peed her pee.
When it was my turn, while peeing, I looked up and said, “Everything O.K?”
My friend did this thing she did when she was anxious—she scratched a mole on top of her head that only people who knew her knew was there.  “Yeah,” she said.
“Then why are you scratching your mole?”  I wiped up and flushed, looking back to see if it was going down or coming back up at me.
My friend went to look in the mirror—the glass made her face look kind of special Olympics.  She messed with her hair, pushing her bangs one way, then the other.  Her face started to go red.
“Um, are you sure you are O.K.?” I asked.
When she turned around my best friend’s eyebrows were knitting across her forehead.  Then she blurted out “NO.  I am NOT O.K.  O.K.?”  Her voice had a tinge of I’m a grown woman trying not to cry in it.
I sat back down on the toilet, which was making a high pitched water pipe screech sound.  “What’s up?” I asked.
She closed her eyes.  She took a breath and held it in.  I hate to say it but she kind of looked like a muppet there for a second.  I said her name out loud.  Then she spilled it.
“I’ve never licked pussy.”
“What?” I said, as if I’d gone deaf.
I sat there staring at her.
I sat there some more.  I looked at the ceiling, the floor with the black slime, then back at her.  Was she nervous about having sex with women?  It suddenly occurred to me that these were not things I ever thought about.  And the reason I didn’t think about distinctions such as this is that I was using my body as a sexual battering ram.  On any one and any thing available.  In fact, you might say I sexualized my entire existence at that point.  It seemed to work a lot like alcohol and drugs.  If you did it enough, you didn’t have to think or feel anything but MMMMM good.  I looked more playfully at my friend.   “I thought that’s what graduate school was for?  I thought that’s why we took Women’s Studies?  I thought all women did women in grad school so they could say I did a woman in grad school?”  I laughed.  I was kidding but kind of not.
“Shut up!” she spurted at me from her corner of the shit hole.  “It’s not funny!  I feel sick to my stomach!”
This threw me.  “Like you’re gonna barf?  But why?”
She turned around in a circle or two scratching her mole vigorously.  “I just…”
“You just what?”
“I’m just afraid I’m going to…you know, like gag or something.”
“You’re afraid you are going to gag?”  I started laughing.  I couldn’t help it.
“Shut the fuck up!”  She stomped her foot and made fists.  Swear.
“Look,” I said, “Calm the fuck down.  I’m no bonafide lesbian,”—this was indeed true.  In Eugene at that time anyway, if you were with women but you also, dang it, still liked the poke, you couldn’t really be a card carrying member.  “But I’ve been getting it on with women since I was fourteen and, you know, there’s…there’s lots of stuff to do.”
She considered this.
Then I said, “Besides, even if you did gag, gagging could be, you know, sorta cool too, couldn’t it?”  I couldn’t help myself.  I started laughing again.  She began to swear at me and kind of fake slap my head, so I reached over and grabbed at her pants.  “I’m going to do you right now you coy little minx,” I yelled, and ubuttoned her pants and pulled them down.  “Jesus.  Your underwear is pink.  People still wear pink underwear?”
But instead of laughing or swearing at me, she just stood there with her pants down.  I looked at her.  She looked at me.  Then I said, “Do you want me to?  I mean, for real?”  She shook her head up and down.  She closed her eyes.
Women all taste different.  Her taste I’d say was a cross between kelp and heavy cream, plus a little hint of pee on the palate since we’d just peed.  She smelled like hay and skin lotion.  Partway through my lip smacking she said, “O.K.  Stop.  Let me try you.”
I said “O.K., but did that feel O.K.?”  She laughed.  I took that as a yes.  Secretly I was glad she wanted to switch because my knees on that nasty floor grossed me out.  I dropped my pants.  She stared at me.  I wasn’t wearing underwear at all.  “What?”  I said.  When she got down there and began her mouth to mouth I had to lean up against the wall to take the force of her.  I said, “Well jeez, for someone who has ever done this you are a natural,” and laughed.
From within her wet suction she said, “Shalty.  Ish O.K.  Ish mmrowlrm good.”  Then she looked up and said “Um, you kind of smell like filet mignon.”
“Yeah,” I said.  “There’s lots of other stuff to do, too, you know.”  I didn’t think I was going to hit the high note on this one so I treated the whole incident as a teaching opportunity.
Then I heard a weird noise like the wall was being rammed.  My friend shot up and I turned around and yep, there was Hannah’s head up at the shitty little prison window above our heads on the wall.  She was grinning and her fingers were curled over the railing—no doubt she’d hoisted herself up boy style.
“Whatcha doing?”  she said.  And laughed her Hannah laugh.
By the time we got to The See Vue, there were three of us who had licked pussy in the car.  Tragedy averted.  Minimal gagging.
The little cottage we had sported a fireplace, so I said don’t do anything without me and drove off to get firewood.  When I got back, the door was open.  I went in.  The two of them were in bed with the covers pulled up just underneath their tits—Hannah’s m & m’s and my best friend’s glorious pendulous globes, smiling like Cheshire cats.  Cheshire cats who had licked pussy.  And in the middle of the bed was a little suitcase that Hannah brought—filled with toys.
I immediately dropped the wood on the floor, shut the door, and stripped, launching myself onto the bed like superwoman.
Whoever was staying in the Princess and the Pea or the Salish or the Far East, they must’ve gotten an earful.  Hours of woman on woman on woman whose regular lives didn’t allow for such wild abandon.  Sometimes Hannah’s fist up my cunt my best friend’s mouth on mine or me sucking her epic tits.  Sometimes Hannah on her stomach me up her ass with a strap on my best friend behind me giving me a reach around—a skill she intuited.  Sometimes my best friend on all fours me and Hannah filling every hole licking every mouth rubbing her clit making her scream making her entire corpus shiver her head rock back her woman wail let loose gone primal cum and shit stains and spit and tears. I came in Hannah’s mouth, her face between my legs like some goddess in a new myth.  My best friend came with Hannah’s fingers in her ass and pussy, her body convulsing and falling off the bed, me wrapped around her and laughing and hitting my head on the wall.  Hannah came jamming a dildo up herself while I buried my face in the clit of her.  She pulled my hair.  She pushed my head.  My best friend curled under me licking and gagging but not not not stopping.  I don’t know how many times we came…it seemed unending.
We ate each other we ate pickled herring we ate gruyere cheese.  We ate the animal out of each other’s bodies we ate steak we ate chocolate two women my chocolate.  We drank each other we drank all the beer we drank all the wine we peed outside.  We got high on skin and cum and sweat we got high on pot.  We came in waves we ran out and into the waves.
I wanted to stay like that forever—outside of any “relationship” I had ever had and inside the wet of an unnamed sexuality.  The moon a grand spectator.  As full of alive as the ocean outside the door.  All the night it was difficult to tell whose body was whose.  The woman of it drowned me.  It nearly cleaved my mind.  And again.  Again.  Waves.
In the morning we wrapped ourselves in blankets and drank coffee and perched ourselves about.  Hannah on the porch railing outside and my best friend in a big overstuffed chair in the main room and me back in the bed curled up like a lion who’d just eaten a baby.  It would have made a nice photo, three women contented like that, three women waking from their own pleasure without any one or anything to put them back in their clean and proper places.  But life is life.
On the beach later that day Hannah grabbed my best friend’s hands and swung her around ring around the rosey style harder and harder.  My best friend was laughing and then the wind and rain kicked up and then Hannah swung her too hard and let go and my friend went tumbling over sand and rock and scraped the shit out of her face and shoulder.  Also she wrenched her back.
Back in the cottage I smoked a great deal of please don’t let this all go to hell pot and got so high I passed out at 8:00 P.M.  When I awoke my best friend was sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace crying and Hannah was nowhere to be seen.  When she came back to the cottage we were just three women again, living women lives, me with a boyfriend and my best friend with a seminar paper due and Hanna just standing there with her idea that had gone to shit.  On the solemn heavy drive home I got pulled over and given a ticket buy some man cop—as if the little piece of paper read:  not so fast, ladies.
I don’t know why women can’t make the story do what they want.
I don’t.
I don’t know why the story of a woman’s sexuality can’t be the next Great American Novel.  Form coming from content.
When we got back to our ordinary lives, my best friend told me she was in love with me.  A sentiment I couldn’t find in myself to return, hard as I tried.  I wish I could go back and try.  It was real, what she offered.  But kindness wasn’t something I even recognized.  Hannah’s girlfriend tried to commit suicide, feeling betrayed and alone.  Though I had an episode or two left with Hannah, I was seduced away from her wild abandon eventually by a man with a fifth of whiskey, and like Faye Dunaway in Barfly, I followed him toward the meated smell and taste of poke.


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