Abraham was staring at my breasts, or maybe it was my hair. One is always grazing the other.
“Ok, baby.” he said, “What you need to do is lock away your vagina. Lock it away!”
Abraham and I had met seven minutes earlier.
My mental state at this time could be described in two ways, depending on the audience: to my mother, it was “a bit of a moment,” to my friends, a “fucking meltdown.” Things were just like they were when I was younger. Back then, my thoughts spun around in my brain, leaving a hollow in the middle of my mind that I perfused with a single obsession; a boy, normally.
I was thinking I might drop out of school for the second time in three years. The idea had me so on edge. The last joint I smoked sent me into a dry-mouthed panic attack that I tried to wait out in the bathroom of an art gallery.
I stared in the mirror, deep breathing and applying YSL lip-gloss for 20 minutes. The feeling of the sticky felt applicator made it better, a sloppy, rhythmic kiss.
The last time I dropped out, my therapist taught me to identify colors when I felt anxious. In the gallery bathroom, someone knocked timidly on the door and I read the name of my lip-gloss out loud again and again: “peach me love, peach me love, peach me love.”
I met Abraham at the New Age bookstore he owned a few blocks from my house. The window was decorated with giant dream catchers and a sign that said “Tarot and Spirit Board Readings.” The store smelled the way I imagine the embrace of a large, socially conscious man might smell: musky, consoling, and slightly oppressive.
I sat down at a card table in the corner of the bookstore, tucked between the “Tantra” and “U.F.O” sections. Abraham was a sixty-year-old Jamaican man in a fleece vest. He slapped a velvet bag on the table and took out a small folding screen that looked like a sushi mat. It had tiny brass bells dangling from it. Abraham started shaking the screen and whispering my name into the bells.
I didn’t laugh. I needed guidance that bad.
I asked him if I should drop out of school to be a writer and Abraham took a minute to consult a higher power. He came back with this message: “Your pussy is precious, and you shouldn’t be giving it away for free.”
I thought he might not have heard my question. I asked him again about school. He told me that, if I wanted to accomplish anything, I needed to “lock it away.”
Then he asked me if I would cut off some of my hair and give it to him. He said he would put it in a bag and give it back to me when I travelled to keep me safe. He also offered to take me to an unspecified river and, for 500 dollars, perform a cleansing ritual.
“Do you want to dunk me in the river?” I asked. He was offended by the question. He did not answer it.
He told me that in a past life something bad had happened that split my soul in two. The ritual, he claimed, would reunite my body into one.
I have always felt like that, like I was only half myself.
When I left, Abraham asked for my phone number.
I was so fucking furious and inexplicably horny on the walk home. I ran through my front door like someone with very important things to do: for instance, figure out a plan, any plan. I ended up masturbating under my duvet until I heard my roommate’s keys in the front door.
I laughed with my friends when I told them the story. The improbability of being slut-shamed by a shaman.
But really, I was pissed. Mostly with myself. Who is so unsure of themselves that they will ask advice from anyone brazen enough to charge a fee?
The next week, I finally dropped out. I sat in the academic advising office and all I could think about was giving it away. I was so wet that I held a course catalogue in my lap and tried to slip my hand under my skirt. They called my name before I could get there.
Dropping out was nothing. They clicked some buttons and I had to give up my bus pass, like a sheriff turning in a gun.
When I walked off campus for the last time, I texted the first boy I ever fucked. I took the bus to his apartment without paying and we smoked a joint out the window. We leaned into a sliver of sun and I told him I wanted to be a writer and that if I had to read another Victorian novel I would die. I smoked the very last dregs of the joint and felt the embers almost burn the tips of my fingers.
When we got in bed, I leaned back and pulled my panties to the side so he could see what all the fuss was about. I thought about a time when I was so young that my body seemed self-evident. I used to feel like there was nothing between my legs. It had been a long time since I’d realized that no one else saw me that way.
I wanted to feel that again: not exactly innocence, but something sweeter and more substantial than ignorance. This boy never really looked at me, and I liked that. I wanted to be alone, but also to have him inside me. I liked him because he gave me my privacy. But the day I stopped going to school, I stopped wanting to be fucked like that, in a way that made it so easy to pretend I wasn’t all there. My ankles on his shoulders, folded in half, split in two like a magician’s assistant.
When we finished, I found three dollars and a broken bobby pin in my jacket pocket. I used it to pay for the bus home. In my new world, nothing is free.