One summer my parents said I could go to sleep away camp. When I was having a good time, I didn’t write them any letters. When I was feeling homesick, I wrote them some letters. The next summer, when I asked if I could go back to camp, my dad said no because “I hadn’t enjoyed it enough.” I felt bad. Like I had screwed up how I was supposed to experience camp. The real reason I couldn’t go back to camp was because my dad had lost all of our money in a cocaine-fueled blackjack binge in Vegas. But I didn’t know that. So I started performing. Well, it probably started earlier. But certainly from then on whenever my parents let me do something new or took me to see something special, I would automatically fake-smile and pretend to love it. Like when they took me to see Cats. I was nine. I fucking hated Cats. But I thought maybe one day I would like to go see another play so I better not fuck this up. I got so good at performing, after a while it was hard for me to tell when I was doing it.

When my parents would fight, sometimes it was like they were in a play and my brother and I would watch like we were in the audience of one of those crammed blackbox theaters with no a/c and zero protections from the blunt trauma happening inches from our faces. My mom would occasionally break the fourth wall. She’d turn to us in the middle and say, “This is not how people who love each other, treat each other.” My dad did not like it when my mother broke the fourth wall. “You’re making me the bad guy,” he’d say. My father also didn’t like being typecast.

My dad was a trial lawyer. He would come home after court and reenact the scenes from the day. He played all the parts. The judge said this then he said that. The jury’s faces looked like this. Opposing counsel objected. Overruled. I didn’t fully understand it but I knew that he was proud of his performance and that I was not allowed to talk. My mother would hold my brother and I while we were watching. Her palms pressed flat against our chests, physically holding us back, instructing us to be still. Don't tap the glass, you'll anger the animal.

When I’m in bed with a man, sometimes they’ll say, “I can feel you’re holding back.”  

I know what they mean but it’s been so long since the software was installed, I can’t remember which folder it’s saved in and even if I could—maybe there are some things you can’t ever de-install.

The last time, it was said by a dreamboat investigative journalist whose mother is a bipolar-former-ballerina, and father is an artist-turned-landscape-designer. He’s in therapy two-days-a-week on the east coast where he lives. It was New Year’s Eve and he left town the next day. He was, in every way, exactly my type.

I was recently dating someone—local—that I liked. This is rare for me. I don’t often date. My friend who is in Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous says I don’t date often because I’m “love avoidant” or “sexually anorexic;” she’s not sure which. Maybe both. She invited me to a meeting; I didn't go but I spent three hours that night reading about it online.

Okay, I’m going to divulge something that is like way too much information but this is a storytelling show so I feel like that’s probably the point. So I’m just going to say it really really fast like I’m ripping off a verbal bandaid. Since I discovered the internet, whenever I wanted to masturbate, I would log on to literotica dot com, click on story tags, and read the ones labeled "father/daughter." I KNOW IT’S SO FUCKED UP IT’S SO FUCKED UP. But I know I’m not the only one who’s so fucked up based on the tens of thousands of stories that exist, let alone the number of people who are reading them.

When I was with my ex-boyfriend years ago, we would role-play and I was very good at it (for obvious reasons) and he was, such a sweetheart but never really able to match my intensity or believability. We still had phenomenal sex, the best sex I had ever had, the best sex I still have ever had. But don’t you dare tell him I said that.

And because I was asked: the sex wasn’t the best because of the role-playing. It was the best—isn’t it funny—this is the part I don’t want to be honest about. This is the part that suddenly feels too personal. The sex was the best because there was something about the way he was with me, the way I felt when I was with him, that made me feel like what he was doing wasn’t only for him but also, for me. So I let it be for me. And when he went down on me on his balcony on the 26th floor (he was also rich, did I mention that?) I relaxed and I felt my feelings (my real ones) and they overwhelmed me and he held me in his arms and I narrated my emotions because that’s what I do when I’m nervous, I overly verbalize, and I said, “I think I might cry, is that okay?” And he said, “Of course.” So I cried and when I finished he asked questions but he didn’t look at me like I was some basket-case, worst-case-scenario from a GQ column. I explained that I cried because he gave me a huge orgasm. He grinned an enormous grin and from then on, crying equaled “he is a sex god” and not “maybe there is grief inside my vagina.” So it went like that. For a little while anyway.

Back to masturbating. A couple months ago, I noticed the stories on literotica dot com were no longer yielding their usual effect. I wasn’t getting high. So I did something unusual. I stopped reading them and just kind of got off on being myself. I walked into my therapist's office that week and said, “I think I’m getting less fucked up.”

Now back to the new guy: recent, local new guy that I like. On our first date, he seems nerdy but intelligent, which I love, sweet, emotionally available. At one point he takes off his glasses and wipes his brow in this dramatic gesture to show me he's affected when I tell him I don’t speak to my brother. He gets sexually excited when I use the word “posthumous.” He says my questions are so good he feels like he’s being interviewed by Vanity Fair. It was good, romantic, promising. We spilled out of the bar, making out on the walk home. The kiss was: in range. We were in front of my apartment when the making out got a little more intense, heated and he said, “I think I should come upstairs and tuck you in.” Now I was already feeling the chemistry but when he said that, the way he said it, my pussy lit on fire. I got a head rush. I was high as shit. And it wasn’t the four glasses of Maker’s Mark I had had at the bar. I responded by running away, literally, up the stairs into my apartment, locking the door behind me. I was excited but underneath was fear. Of him and of myself.

I texted him the next morning: "It was hot when you said you wanted to tuck me in, I wanted you to do it therefore I had to run away." He said "I'm glad you ran away, it was the Makers making me be bad. Thanks for being a good girl."

We continued dating and he courted me. He planned proper dates, he was communicative, romantic, clear about his interest, made space and time for me. I was smitten. But when we would make-out, something energetically shifted. He became aggressive, dominating, controlling. He grabbed my jaw and pushed my face into the bed. He told me he couldn't wait to pound me so hard from behind because he knew I could take it. He said he'd cover my mouth so no one could hear me scream. My arousal morphed into alarm. He said he was just playing. It was a very convincing performance. I was scared shitless.

I didn’t know what to do. Up until I got “un-fucked up” three months ago, I imagine this would’ve been right up my alley. But suddenly, feeling like a little girl afraid in the presence of a man, was less appealing to me.

I should also clarify that the phrases “good girl” and “I know you can take it” aren’t inherently bad or abusive. I know this because I googled it. I wish things were always either—inherently bad or abusive—or not. Life would be much easier to navigate. But it was the way I felt when he said them to me that let me know I was not in a positive situation, for me. Yet still, I continued because… I wasn’t entirely sure. Because I’ve experienced trauma in the past, I worry the trauma has infected my instincts. Made me prone to overreact. See things that aren’t really there. So I ignore, hit override, say things to myself like, “Just try... because when you’re old, you’re going to regret all these chances you’ve wasted.” My therapist is working to rewire my thinking around this. I ask him to repeat the following over and over so that maybe one day I’ll believe him: The trauma isn’t inside of my instincts. The trauma shows up in the way I do not trust them.

When I was 16 years old, I discovered I could use a foot massager in an off-label way. It was effective, I came. Quickly. But I was wearing a bathing suit and on my way to work as a lifeguard so it was inconvenient. From then on, I trained myself to get just to the brink and then stop. Hold myself back.

When I would come home after spending time with this guy, I was exhausted, emotionally drained, adrenals tapped.  But I would masturbate still. Inexplicably. I guess as a way to self-soothe. Process my feelings. Re-create what had happened in way that would not scare me. I let my mind drift to something that would turn me on, make me feel better. I imagined myself. Inhabiting myself. No performance. No fear. Only the power of being a woman.  

I came.