Chewing Ice Cubes

by Karen Gsteiger

It was the second time in a week that Harrison had asked to come over, and Debbie couldn't decide whether she felt honored or used. She was three months shy of her 27th birthday, and sex overall had been a disappointment to her. She wasn't sure if the activity had just been wildly overhyped in popular culture or whether something was wrong with her. At best, sex felt little more to her than assisted masturbation. She wasn't incapable of orgasm, but she had to mentally transport herself so far away from the actual physical act to get there that she couldn't with clear conscience give her partner credit. At worst, she'd feel Harrison's hand slip into her panties, and she would instantly feel dry as the Sahara and angry and cold.

Something had to be wrong with her. She was the only woman she knew who didn't like oral sex. Sometimes she let Harrison do it just so that he didn't feel inadequate, but it took all of her restraint to not start violently kicking him in the head. She wondered why she was still sleeping with Harrison when the sex was so astonishingly bad for her. But she had to admit to herself that it had never felt much better with anyone else, and Harrison was at least pleasant to look at and undemanding. She contemplated therapy but felt intimidated by her insurance policy.

There was a lingering part of her that believed that maybe if she found the right guy who knew exactly how to break through her considerable inhibitions, maybe she could finally understand what everyone kept raving about. Her cynical side would then point out that she had done just about everything possible that one could do with the male member, and her inhibitions were firmly intact. At times she wondered whether she shouldn't just give up on men altogether and join "the other team," but that idea seemed even more ridiculous.

So Harrison would send some badly punctuated email invitation, and Debbie would sigh and type, "Yes."

Debbie once attempted to confide in Tonia about these problems but, predictably, was having trouble expressing herself. "I'm experiencing...a difficulty in maintaining a certain...presence of mind during intercourse," she stammered with burning, crimson cheeks. Tonia looked confused. "I'm having...uh...intimacy problems. Emotional...intimacy problems...during sex. I have'being there' the moment..." Debbie clarified haltingly, without disclosing the name of her partner.

"Ahhhh..." replied Tonia with a knowing smile. "you're having intimacy problems only because you think you're having intimacy problems. I used to have the same problem with Michael. I would think, 'Oh, man, I'm just not into this...what's wrong with me? Whose fault is this?' But thinking like that is just a huge trap. It gets you all depressed, and then you feel even more lonely and libido-less. The most important thing is just to tell yourself, 'I have no problem.' Then you don't have a problem. I know they like to say that the brain is the best sex organ, but the most important thing is to turn off your brain during sex. Don't start criticizing the encounter in the middle of it...just do it, get off, and move on. It's a bodily function, not the painting of the Sistine Chapel. Do you get yourself that neurotic over peeing or sneezing? I doubt it. Just let go and don't think. That's what I do, and things are 5,000 percent better now."

Tonia smiled beatifically. Debbie felt disturbed.

She thought perhaps all the skulking around was furthering her depression. She didn't know why she didn't tell her friends about Harrison. She knew that Olivia would be very high school and hysterical about the whole thing, but everyone else would hypothetically receive the news well, even if they understood that she and Harrison were not in any way "a couple."

Maybe it was because despite all of the nakedness, Debbie often felt as though she didn't know Harrison at all. He had the typical male interests for his generation: sports, sports-related video games, obscure rock bands, overpriced beer. Harrison tended to be a little fussier and better-groomed than his peers. Debbie knew of his career ambitions, which mostly consisted of dull ways to make a lot of money. But there was something locked away behind his haughty, icy blue eyes--something a little broken and childlike. Her curiosity was mildly piqued, but he steadfastly refused to give her the key. I suppose that's equitable, she thought, considering the mental gymnastics she resorted to in order to push him as far away as possible while at the same time wrapping her arms and legs tightly around him. Debbie knew that she was not the first to ask, "What is the deal with Harrison?" But she was privy to more evidence than the others. Like the night she reached into his freezer for an ice cube tray after he had fallen asleep and found underneath the tray a letter that was sent to him by "Holly" in 2002 from Paris. The fuck? She thought she heard him stirring and didn't dare read its contents. She freed three ice cubes from their tray and quickly replaced both the tray and the letter in their original places.