Letter from the Void

“Hurry up Ava, we’re going to be late!” my father yelled. There was a soft ringing in my ears, my father could tell I wasn’t fully there by looking at my wistful face. There we were right outside the kitchen, his body fixated on the front door. With his hands on his hips he said, “I can’t fucking believe you.” I didn’t know what to say, my head had left the room. “What’s wrong, Dad?” I asked with a frown. “If we don’t leave now, we’ll miss the plane!” I remembered that my dad likes to leave early in the morning, hours before the flight, so early that on our trips to LaGuardia Airport we would see the sun rise over the parts of New York that hadn’t been molested by concrete. I wondered if it was early morning. I looked outside the window and saw the brightest light I’d ever seen, nothing like the warm light of the sun. My eyes weren’t burning, they were just blinded. “Dad, where are we gonna go?” He shook his head, and he sighed at me, a sigh that echoed more deeply than any yell. 

“We’re going to see Grandpa,” he said, disappointed that I had forgotten. “We are?” I looked and his suitcases were packed, but I didn’t see mine. “I don’t remember saying yes to this,” I said to Dad, his face now bright red. “What is there to say yes to?” “Well, Dad, I’m just not ready…” “We’ve been planning this trip forever, you’re so fucking irresponsible…” His loud anger became a cold disappointment, I could hear it in the timbre of his voice when he said, “I don’t even want to fucking look at you right now.” His body was stiff, his eyes were shadowed by an unusually prominent brow bone. 

“Don’t you love your grandpa, Ava?” He asked with urgency, and a hint of sadness. “Of course I do, Dad… it’s just…” He waited for an answer to escape my lips, an answer that would surely disappoint him. “Grandpa is dead,” I said. The ringing in my body ceased for a minute.

“Ha, ha,” he said, looking down at his feet, arms crossed. “Don’t you think I know that?” I thought of the graveyard we always passed on the highway, the one on the  way to the airport. My father opened the front door. “Dad, Dad he’s dead! He’s dead, Dad!” My dad’s sad, sardonic expression became sombre. “It doesn’t matter, where we’re going…” 

I looked into the hallway of my apartment building. Where I expected murky lamps and shag carpet, there was only light. The same light that bled through the windows. It was then I knew that it wasn’t some miraculous changing of the seasons that made the light outside. I was looking at the final season, the one that never appears on the calendar, the one without happy holidays taught to children. It was no storm, it was still, as unwavering as the stars in the sky. You can never see the stars from Manhattan. 

Suddenly, I was confronted by my body, my soul seemed to be kicking my heart. I was crying. Sobbing like a little girl. “Dad, I’m not ready to go.” My chin was quivering, I could feel the snot and tears run down my cherry coloured face. “You’re ready, Ava.” He came up to me and grabbed my arm. He held me like I was no heavier than a ragdoll. “No!” I cried, my body went limp, and as his hand escaped me I ran back to the fridge. “Ava, you’re not a child any more.” I cried harder. I fell to the ground, grabbing onto the floor as if it would grab me back. “Don’t you love your grandpa?” he exclaimed, “Don’t you love me, Ava?” “Of course I do! How can you even ask that?” His eyes were grey. “What’s wrong with you, Daddy?” 

He looked at me, and without opening his mouth, confirmed that there was no way of winning. He turned around, he grabbed the clutch of his suitcase. “Daddy, no!” I leaped up and grabbed him. He tossed me to the ground like he was removing a tick from his flesh. “Dad, please, no, don’t go!” Finally, he turned back around. His face bore the trail of a lone tear.  Turning, again, he marched into the darkness of the light, the light which enveloped his body.

When I was a little girl, and I would cry inconsolably, my father would hold me and say, “Now no matter what you do, don’t blow your nose on my shirt…” I would look up at him and then blow my nose with all my might. He’d pretend to be disgusted. It didn’t matter where we were. I would giggle, and say, “Tears of joy, Dada. Tears of joy.” 

He was gone. He had left me. There I was, rocking myself, my body a crib for my little heart. I sat, looking into the void, the void looked back. Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice. “Don’t go back to sleep, Ava,” said the voice. I looked up at the white of the ceiling, “Don’t go into the dream—”

Alone, in bed, I parted the curtains of my window. Pink sky greeted my eyes. Unpaintable gradients of yellow and purple adorned the atmosphere. There I was, awake. No more vibrations in my body, only the calming rattling of the air conditioner. I wondered if that would be the last time I’d hear my grandfather’s voice. And as that dreadful worry caressed my mind, something worse came. There would be a day my father would leave the front door for the last time. Out there in the light with his father, his brother, and his mother whom I never met. 

This dream was my wish. My wish that when I cried, my father would always be there to console me, to make light of the saddest of things my little heart could feel. My dream was that when he left, I would leave with him. My nightmare: even in dreams, this could never be true. 

Less than a week ago, I went on a date with someone I will probably never see again. Someone who was rather intimate over text, a person who seemed to have read all the little letters I’d written to myself over the past 18 years. When we had dinner, we talked about family, more specifically, my family. “It’s good that you’re so close with them,” they said. “I just love them a lot.” I looked off into the distance, and thought of my uncle. “You would’ve loved my uncle,” I said. “Oh yeah?” “He was a great musician…” I said. My mind lingered. “He always believed in me, I think maybe he still does…” I could see on their face not sympathy, but maybe intellectual disagreement. I felt I had something to prove, that maybe if I opened up my heart a little more they would understand. Understand the way they had seemed to understand so deeply over their text and phone calls. “Would you like me to read his last words to me?” I asked. “Sure,” they said. Suddenly I was reading aloud my last letter from my uncle Pete. My last interaction with him. I was almost ready to cry. 

I can’t remember what they said to me, sometimes I black out after I say or do something vulnerable. All I remember was asking, “was that too much?” And then receiving some kindly response that I can’t quote verbatim. It’s not because I wasn’t listening, I was, but my heart wasn’t in that spacious Upper East Side diner, it was now far away. A place that I don’t fully understand, a place that I am scared to go. After a few minutes, they decided to leave, and exited the restaurant before I had gotten up from the booth. The waiter came up to me. “They’re gone,” he said. “Thanks, I know.” 

They came back of course, but I knew it was probably done. I didn’t know the person I’d shared my sorrow with, and I now knew that they didn’t want to know me. Hours later, when I got home, I listened to the playlist I’d made for them, and thought of the words my mom had said to me after looking at my dating profile: “‘Do you want my heart now or later?’” she’d said, in a brilliant impersonation of me, so good that so much was said in one sentence. There I was, talking to someone who knew me, who loved me with all my flaws, someone who worried about my little heart. More than someone, my mother, my first home, the one who gave me life and decided to stick around despite all my mistakes and misgivings. If this conversation hadn’t been over the phone, I would’ve hugged her. 

My uncle Pete was the person who talked to my grandfather every day in the last years of the old man’s life. The one who let my grandpa talk his ear off about how the nurses were scheming against him, and how he killed Hitler in WWII—all while my uncle suffered chemo and copious surgeries from a less than decent hospital. We had no idea that those would be Pete’s last years as well… at least, I didn’t.

My uncle Pete was the one who dealt with all the details of my grandfather’s cremation. He died before we could have a proper burial for grandpa Murray. The plan had been to hold a ceremony after my uncle finished his cancer treatments. My dad and I don’t know if Cheryl, his wife, knows the details of which mortuary holds my grandfather’s ashes. Somewhere, they lie in wait. We haven’t asked. It doesn’t seem like the right thing to ask a woman who just buried her husband. My uncle’s ashes are in England with his wife, I don’t know what she did with them, either, but I know that it was whatever Pete wanted—through all this tragedy, he was able to spend the last portion of his life with the love of his life, a woman who proves that family is more than the people you’re born to. 

My grandpa’s ashes are somewhere in Pennsylvania. We never had a funeral for him because we wanted to wait for Pete and Cheryl to be able to bury Grandpa in person. Every day I think about his ashes, how even if we did find them, Grandpa left no note on what he would want done with them. Grandpa was not one to stare into the void, he was one to leave the world kicking and screaming, with a million stories, paintings, and inventions in place of his small and mighty body.

“I think you’re an optimist,” my date said to me last Thursday. Maybe they really did see me. Maybe that’s how the people I love live on—through my need to live and make art like they did. 

That and the chronic sinus infections. 

My Love Letter to Pee-Wee Herman

The other day, while feeling particularly imperturbable yet precariously lonely, I looked down at my phone, waiting for something to talk about. And there I found it, a quotidian sausage party in the comments of a video wherein a man jokes about his intense need for a fleshlight. On one thread of comments, @edgey_mcedgerson_420 said “But it’s [the fleshlight] 88 dollars!” To which another young man, @shadowthehedgehogfan69 replied, “I mean, it’s a good deal, if you don’t know how to talk to women.” 

I stared down at my phone for about thirty seconds, snarled, then wrote out, “I disagree. I think everyone should have access to masturbation tools if they need it. Relationships aren’t about a sexual transaction, and to think about women that way is a little pathetic. If a quick fuck is all you want, you should be able to stimulate yourself instead of manipulating or begging someone else. Nothing is less sexy than desperation — except for, of course, misogyny.” For a moment, I felt proud of myself. I had just won a virtual battle with a stranger who would probably never even read what I’d said. Then I realised that there are probably millions of people just like @shadowthehedgehogfan69, most of whom were not accounted for in this post-ironic echo chamber under a tik tok of a man joking about wanting to fuck a pocket pussy. And what scared me more was realising that it wasn’t just edgy virgin teens who have this attitude toward sex, but perhaps much of the population, many of my friends, and even people who I could have coitus with in the future. This thought shook me from my toes, to my taint, to my clavicle. 

I put my phone down, at last, and left the room. I thought to myself, “What’s so wrong with owning a fleshlight?” Then I remembered how a year prior, a friend of mine had bought one as a gag and then ended up using it, and was ashamed to tell anyone (except for me, for some reason). And as I started running water for my bath, I thought back to when my friends asked me if I was still jerking off after entering a long term relationship, saying that “When you’re happy with someone, the pleasure of sex should already be accounted for.” And as I stepped into the tub, letting the soap bubbles envelope my body, I thought, “Why is it when people talk about  masturbation, they treat it as some kind of unpleasant necessity, akin to taking a shit? Where is the intimacy? The idiosyncrasy? The sensuality? Am I the only person in the world who likes to masturbate just to masturbate?” 

I’m not writing this paper because I want the entire world to know the details of my sex life (my very personal, very alone sex life). This isn’t exhibtionism. I am superbly upset about the reputation that masturbation has, and as a masturbator (like most humans on earth), I figure if I’m not advocating for masturbation, I can’t count on anyone else to do so, either. Though, please don’t believe that I am a masturbatory supremicist, or that I’m not aware of asexuality. All I want is for everyone’s choice to masturbate or not masturbate to be completely their own, void of politics, or religious rhetoric, or shame. Masturbation, in essence, is between you and yourself. 

So, without further adieu, here is why I think you should fuck yourself. 

Sometimes I wish I had a doppelgänger, or just someone who looked like me, who thought like me — someone who knew exactly which points to hit, which parts of my body to tickle or to tease. I don’t think I am alone in that fantasy, to have a mirror, a person who dances with you and matches your tempo, who knows your next move before you do. Déjà-vu in the best way. When I feel this wistfulness, the part of my brain that wants to feel good whispers to me “look at your hands, touch yourself,” and, if I am happy enough, that voice is beautiful, so seductive and in control. I begin to harmonise with my first best friend: myself. I remember that I am the first and last person I will ever meet, and that I have so much time to get to know me. 

There is a somewhat niche community of people who identify as autosexual. Which in short, means to be attracted to yourself as you would be someone else, or in place of someone else. In my opinion, everyone who I know to have a healthy sex life could fall somewhere on this spectrum. There are many people who have a knee jerk reaction to autosexuality, who see autosexuality as a form of narcissism, but I think those people are afraid of love — love of one’s self, or love for absolutely anyone. 

Autosexuality is the opposite of self abuse — the opposite of target behaviours (assuming there’s no solo B.D.S.M., which as you probably know is a form of pleasure, not abuse). If you’ve ever become aroused at the idea of being worshipped, why not start by worshipping yourself? Buy underwear that makes you feel hot, listen to some Barry White or Echo and The Bunnymen (or you know, whatever works for you), draw a bath, and take care of yourself. To me, masturbation is like skincare: the more I do it, the better I feel, and the more confident I am the day after. But this is for you, you know what you like, you know what gets you off — and if you don’t know, have some fun finding out! Maybe you get off on kink like foot massage, peeing, hitting yourself, dry humping, edging, C.B.T. (the therapy or the genital torture), turning your whole body into elaborate origami art, eating sushi off your genitals, rubbing your thighs together until you cum, fisting: different folks for different strokes. I guess that’s the semantics of what is and isn’t masturbation, the point is: have fun. What’s more is that if you seduce yourself, play with controlling and not controlling what you do — you may realise that cumming isn’t always the end goal of sex, and that it isn’t a race to the finish. 

Thinking back to what my friend said about how having a partner should eliminate my other sexual needs — how could that even be the case if I don’t masturbate? The more I masturbate and spend time with myself, the easier it is for my partner to know what I like, for me to guide them, or to switch it up with spontaneity. Why should I expect my partner to find my clitoris when I don’t even know where it is? How am I supposed to have well lubricated intercourse when I don’t know the things that trigger my wetness? As fun as the mystery of sex is, there is no fun to be had if you are a stranger to your own body. With this being said, sex doesn’t need a personalised rubric, it should not lack spontaneity; even if you have a cyborg fetish. It just needs to be clearly stated that you know your own definite boundaries before letting someone else in. It’s your circuitry!

The adventure of meeting someone’s body is fun and essential, but getting into a sexual rut after creating a routine is the fastest boner-killer in the world, that and being presumptuous about what someone wants if you haven’t asked, first. Sex is not owed to you, nor do you owe anyone sex: ever. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never held hands with someone or been to thousands of orgies across the Milkyway — this rule will always be true… always. What’s hotter than enthusiastic consent? Not even Willem DaFoe! I hope that one day, when @shadowthehedgehogfan69 and others like him lose their virginities, they’ll all know this. 

And @shadowthehedgehogfan69, I would also like to remind you that there are medical benefits to masturbation, many of which are easier and safer to attain through masturbation than intercourse with another person. Sex is not a guarantee, safe sex is even less of a guarantee, but masturbation is always safe — and you can count on the fact that the person jerking you off has all the same S.T.D.s that you do! 

 Something I’ve learned over the course of lockdown and after getting Covid twice is that there sure are medical benefits to jerking it, and that when I can’t leave the house — fucking myself is probably the best way to get exercise. Sometimes when I go to the gym (which I definitely often do), I wish I could work out without the company of strangers, or the judgments of onlookers. Then I remember that I probably use more muscles rubbing one out than slowly walking on the treadmill. If you can do both, do both (of course), but I know that I’m more likely masturbating than deadlifting.

I like being alone, most of the time. Sex is hard, socialisation is hard. As an autistic person, I think I’ve learned to enjoy being alone. Not everyone has the luxury of autism, but, luckily for the world — I like sharing my ramblings almost as much as talking to myself. I often think about how I will leave this world just as I was born — ripped from a fleshy vessel just after getting comfortable, all while screaming and alone. So often I cry, but I’ve learned that the most impactful crying I get done is tears of joy during and after masturbation. 

When I think about all the people who have hurt me sexually, all the times I’ve been abused — I am comforted by the fact that I am capable of making myself cum, and making others cum, as well. I remember I am not broken, and neither are my genitals.  That, even though I’ve been alone with others, when I’m with myself I’m not all that alone, after all. Maybe I’ve never really been all that alone, so long as there’s a mirror around. What’s that thing our divine leader RuPaul says? “If you can’t fuck yourself how in the hell you gonna fuck somebody else?” Well all I can say to that is “Would you fuck me? I’d fuck me, I’d fuck me hard.” If I can fuck myself, you sure can too. If I can love myself, even with all the shit about me I’ve learned to hate, I know you certainly can. And when you don’t love you, your body will — it’s not going anywhere.