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Authors: Elizabeth Gilbert

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BOOK: City of Girls
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After a long time—a very good long time—he pulled back. “Here’s what we’re gonna do now, Vivian Morris. I’m gonna sit here on this bed, and you’re gonna stand right there, under the light, and take your dress off for me.”

“Yes,” I said. (Once you start saying it, it’s so easy to keep going!)

I walked to the center of the room and stood—just as instructed—right under the lightbulb. I took my dress off, and stepped out of it, covering up my nervousness by throwing my hands up in the air.
Ta-da!
As soon as my dress came off, though, Anthony started laughing, and I was catapulted into shame—thinking of how thin I was, and how small my breasts were. When he saw the look on my face, he
softened his laughter and said, “Oh, no, doll. I’m not laughing at you. I’m just laughing because I like you so much. You’re a fast little operator, and it’s cute.”

He stood up and picked my dress up off the floor.

“Why don’t you put this dress back on, doll?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “That’s all right, I don’t mind.” I was making no sense, but I was thinking:
I blew it
,
it’s over
.

“No, listen
to me, baby. You’re gonna put this dress back on for me, and then I’ll ask you to take it off for me again. But this time, you’re gonna slow it
way
down, okay? Don’t be such a fast worker.”

“You’re crazy.”

“I just want to see you do it again. Come on, doll. I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life. Don’t rush it.”

“No, you have
not
been waiting for this moment your whole life!”

He grinned.
“Nah, you’re right. I haven’t. But I sure do like it, now that it’s here. So how ’bout you give it to me again? But real slow.”

He sat back down on the bed, and I put my dress on. I came over and let him do up the buttons in the back, which he did, slowly and carefully. I could have reached the buttons myself, of course, and in just a few moments I would be unbuttoning them all over again, but
I wanted to give him the task. Honestly, the experience of feeling this young man buttoning up my dress was the most erotic and intimate sensation I’d ever experienced—although it was soon to be surpassed.

I turned around and went back to the center of the room, fully dressed again. I fluffed my hair a bit. We were smiling at each other like fools.

“Now try it again,” he said. “Go real slow
for me. Make like I’m not even here.”

This was my first experience of being
watched
. And while I’d had plenty of men put their hands all over me in the past few months, I’d not had nearly enough of them appraise me with their eyes. I turned my back to him, as if I were shy. Truthfully, I was a bit shy. I had never felt quite so nude, and I was still clothed! I reached back and unbuttoned the
dress. I allowed it to drop from my shoulders, but it caught
around my waist. I left it there. I unhooked my brassiere and slid it over my arms. I placed it on the chair next to me. Then I just stood there and let him look at my naked back. I could feel him looking at me, and it was like a current running up my spine. I stood there for a long time, waiting for him to say something, but he didn’t
speak. There was something thrilling about my not being able to see his face—not knowing what he was doing behind me on the bed. To this day, I can still feel the quality of air in the room. That cool, fresh, autumnal air.

Slowly I turned around, but kept my eyes down. My dress was still gathered loosely about my waist, but my breasts were bare. Still, he said nothing. I closed my eyes and allowed
myself to be inspected and contemplated. The voltage I’d felt running up my spine had now circled to the front of me. My head felt light and spinny. The prospect of moving or speaking seemed impossible.

“That’s right,” he said finally. “That’s what I’m talking about.
Now
you can come over here next to me.”

He guided me down onto the bed and pushed my hair back away from my eyes. I expected him
to more or less attack my breasts and mouth at this point, but he didn’t go near them. His lack of urgency was driving me a bit wild. He didn’t even kiss me again. He just smiled at me. “Hey, Vivian Morris. I’ve got a big idea. You wanna hear it?”

“Yes.”

“So, here’s what we’re gonna do now. You’re gonna lay back on this bed and let me take off the rest of your clothes. And then you’re gonna
shut your pretty little eyes. And then you know what I’m gonna do?”

“No,” I said.

“I’m gonna show you what’s what.”

It might be difficult for someone of your age, Angela, to understand how radical a concept oral sex was for a young woman of my generation. I
knew about B.J.’s of course (that would’ve been our term for “blow jobs”—which I’d done a few times and wasn’t sure I liked or even exactly
understood), but the idea of a man putting his mouth on a
woman’s
genitals? This was not done.

Let me amend that. Of course I’m sure it was done. Every generation likes to think that they discovered sex, but I’m sure that far more sophisticated people than me were experiencing cunnilingus in 1940, all over New York City—especially in the Village. But I’d never heard of it. God knows, I’d had
everything else done to the flower of my femininity that summer, but not this. I’d been palmed and rubbed and penetrated, and certainly fingered and probed (my heavens, how the boys liked to
poke
about, and so vigorously, too)—but never
this
.

His mouth had ended up between my legs so fast, and the sudden realization of his destination and his intent had shocked me to the point that I said “Oh!”
and started to sit up, but he reached up one of his long arms, placed his palm on my chest, and firmly pressed me back down again, without once stopping what he was doing.

“Oh!” I said again.

Then I felt it. There was a sensation occurring here that I didn’t even know could occur. I took the sharpest inhale of my life, and I’m not sure I let my breath out for another ten minutes. I do feel that
I lost the ability to see and hear for a while, and that something might have short-circuited in my brain—something that has probably never been fully fixed since. My whole being was astonished. I could hear myself making noises like an animal, and my legs were shaking uncontrollably (not that I was trying to control them), and my hands were gripping down so hard over my face that I left fingernail
divots in my own skull.

Then it became
more
.

And after that, it became
even more still
.

Then I screamed as though I were being run over by a train, and
that long arm of his was reaching up again to palm my mouth, and I bit into his hand the way a wounded soldier bites on a bullet.

And then it was the
most,
and I more or less died.

When it was all over, I was panting and crying and laughing
and could not stop shuddering. But Anthony Roccella just smiled that same cocky smile as ever.

“Yeah, baby,” said the skinny young man whom I now loved with all my heart. “That’s what’s what.”

Well, a girl is never really the same after something like that, now is she?

Here’s the extraordinary thing, though: on that night of our remarkable first encounter, Anthony and I did not even have sex.
By which I mean—we did not engage in literal intercourse. Nor did I do anything to Anthony that first night, to offer him pleasure in return for the potent revelation he had just delivered unto me. Nor did he seem to need me to do anything. He didn’t seem to mind in the least if I just lay there, as immobilized as if I’d just fallen out of an airplane.

Again, this was part of the charm of Anthony
Roccella—that incredible lack of urgency. The way that he could take it or leave it. I was beginning to understand the origins of Anthony Roccella’s immense self-confidence. It now made perfect sense to me why this penniless young man strutted about as though he owned the whole town: because if you’re a fellow who can do
that
to a woman without even needing anything in return, why wouldn’t you
think awfully highly of yourself?

After he’d held me for a while and teased me a bit for having screamed and cried in pleasure, he’d gone to the icebox and come back with a beer for each of us.

“You’re gonna need a drink, Vivian Morris,” he said, and he was right about that.

He never even took his clothes off that night.

That boy had ravaged me right to the point of unconsciousness without
even removing the jacket of his cheap, cute suit!

Of course I was back there the next night to writhe around once more under the magnificent powers of his mouth. And the next night, too. Still, he stayed fully dressed, without asking for anything in reciprocation. On the third night, I finally dared to ask, “But what about you? Do you need . . . ?”

He grinned. “We’ll get around to it, baby,”
he said. “Don’t you worry.”

And he was right about that, too. We got around to it—boy, did we ever—but he waited until I was famished for it.

I don’t mind telling you, Angela—he waited until I was
begging
for it.

The begging bit was somewhat tricky on my part, because I didn’t know how to beg for sex. What sort of language does a nicely bred young lady use to plead for access to that unnamable
male organ, which she so dearly wants?

Could you kindly . . . ?

If it’s not any trouble . . . ?

I just didn’t have any of the terminology required for this sort of exchange. Sure, I’d been doing a lot of dirty, filthy things since my arrival in New York, but I was still a nice young lady at my core, and nice young ladies don’t ask for things. For the most part, what I had been doing over the
course of these past few months was
allowing
dirty, filthy things to happen to me, at the hands of men who were always in a big hurry to get it done. But this was different. I wanted Anthony,
and he was in no hurry to give me what I wanted, which only made me want him more.

When it got to the point when I would stammer things like, “Do you think we might someday . . . ?” he would stop what he
was doing, rise up on one elbow, grin at me, and say, “How’s that, now?”

“If you ever wanted to . . .”

“If I ever wanted to
what,
baby? Just say it.”

I would say nothing (because I could say nothing) and he would just grin wider and say, “Sorry, baby, I can’t hear you. You gotta enunciate.”

But I couldn’t say it—at least not till he taught me how to say it.

“There are some words you need
to learn, baby,” he told me one night while he was toying with me in bed. “And we ain’t doin’ nothing more till I hear you say it.”

Then he taught me the nastiest words I’d ever heard. Words that made me blush and burn. He made me repeat the words after him, and he relished how uncomfortable it made me. Then he went to work on my body again, leaving me splayed and flayed with longing. When I
had reached such a peak of desire that I could scarcely draw a breath, he stopped what he was doing, and turned on the light.

“So, here’s what we’re gonna do now, Vivian Morris,” he said. “You’re gonna look me dead in the eye, and you’re gonna tell me
exactly
what you want me to do to you—using the words I just taught you. And that’s the only way it’s ever gonna happen, baby doll.”

And Angela,
God help me, I did it.

I looked him dead in the eye, and I begged for it like a two-dollar hooker.

After that, it was Katy bar the door.

Now that I was infatuated with Anthony, the last thing I wanted to do anymore was go out on the town with Celia, picking up strangers for
cheap, fast, pleasureless thrills. I didn’t want to do anything anymore but be with
him
—pinned to his brother Lorenzo’s
bed—every moment that I could get. All of which is to say: I’m afraid I dropped Celia rather unceremoniously once Anthony showed up.

I don’t know if Celia missed me. She never showed any indication of it. Nor did she pull away from me in any notable way. She just went about her life, and was friendly to me whenever we collided (which was usually in bed, when she would come stumbling in drunk
at the usual hour). Looking back on it now, I feel that I wasn’t a very loyal friend to Celia—in fact, I’d dumped her
twice:
first for Edna, and then for Anthony. But maybe the young are just feral animals in the way that they shift their affections and allegiances so capriciously. Celia could certainly be capricious, too. I realize now that I always needed somebody to be infatuated with when
I was twenty years old, and it didn’t really matter
who,
apparently. Anybody with more charisma than me would do the trick. (And New York was filled with people more charismatic than me.) I was so unformulated as a human being, so unsteady in myself, that I was constantly grasping for attachment to another person—constantly anchoring myself to someone else’s allure. But evidently, I could only
be infatuated with one person at a time.

And right now, it was Anthony.

I was glassy-eyed in love. I was dumbstruck with love. I was all but undone by him. I could barely concentrate on my duties at the theater, because honestly, who
cared
? I think the only reason I even went to the theater anymore is because Anthony was there every day, spending hours a day in rehearsal, and I got to see him.
All I wanted was to be in his orbit. I would wait around for him after every rehearsal like the most absurd little twit, following him back and forth to his dressing room, running out to buy him a cold tongue sandwich on rye whenever he wanted one. I bragged to everyone who would listen that I had a boyfriend, and it was
forever.

Like so many other dumb young girls throughout history, I was infected
with love and lust—and moreover, I thought Anthony Roccella had invented the stuff.

But then there was the conversation I had with Edna one day, when I was fitting her with a new hat for the show.

She said, “You’re distracted. That’s not the color ribbon we’d agreed on.”

“Is it not?”

She touched the ribbon in question, which was scarlet red, and asked, “Does this look emerald green to you?”

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