HAM SANDWICH, DRY by Caroljean Gavin

One day, in the middle of the week, a Wednesday or a Thursday, in the humid summer, with the air conditioner broken, and the ceiling fan so feeble, I fell asleep under my down alternative comforter and had a dream of walking through a lush field, thick blades of grass slithered against my legs, dandelions swung in the breeze, little hammocks for lazing bees, and when I woke up, covered in a loose sweat, I walked down the stairs step by step, blinking my eyes open, open and closed, flexing my fingers, balling my fists, and I went to the fridge, drew out some ham, folded it out gently over the white bread I just bought the day before, two loaves for the price of one at the Harris Teeter, and you know what, I didn’t have any tomatoes, or any lettuce, and guess what, I didn’t have any mayonnaise, so guess what, I just ate it like that, just dry, and guess what, that was completely bullshit, all of it, every word I just put down, complete bullshit. This is supposed to be nonfiction, and I’m supposed to tell the truth and only the truth so help me god, so help me, God, the truth is none of that happened, the truth is that I tried to write as boring an opening to this essay as I could think of so you wouldn’t make it this far, and the truth is I gave this the most boring title I could come up with so when you came to it, you would look at it and you would think to yourself, “Snore!” and your eye would jump to one of the other titles, surely, something with a big, bright, unusual noun would pop out to you, and you would be happy with that, and I would be safe, but the truth, the no-bullshit thing is I am never safe, even though I am really good at manipulating words, and saying things that are technically true, like when my husband asks me full of disbelief, “You don’t look at other men?” and I say no I don’t, and he fills in his own meaning, which is that I’m a weirdo, but at least he doesn’t have to worry about me cheating, and I don’t tell my secrets, I don’t tell them to myself, I don’t say, “No, that’s not why.” I flirt with the truth, “I don’t watch much porn, I don’t like watching men and women have sex,” when the truth is I like watching women have sex, and I don’t watch much porn, because women don’t have sex like that, because I want to see two women who are genuinely hot for each other, who fall all over and into each other, who don’t look up at a camera, and don’t lick their own lips and trace their long, sharp finger nails up their own naked thighs, and the truth is I want to see two women truly caught up in making love, in fucking, and the truth is I want to be one of those women, and the truth is I’m not straight, not even a little, even though I stand by the “I want to fuck Eddie Vedder” note I wrote to my friend sophomore year, and the truth is I’m out as bi, well kind of sort of, to some people, not really, and I know, I know I should claim myself, my identity, who I am, and I should probably leave my husband, even though I love him, and I should let my kids see me happy no matter who I’m with, but my own happiness has never in my life been the first happiness that matters, and I am not young anymore, and I am not cute anymore, and no woman would even want me anyway, so why tear up my family’s life like that just to be profoundly lonely on my own terms, and even all that isn’t true, because I started writing this so I could write, so I could finally tell the one secret I’ve been keeping my whole life, and I was going to get to it right away, but then I stopped myself, hey, there’s this other thing, it’s a pretty big secret, and it’s risky, my husband might read it, or his mom might see it, and other people might be angry at me, might think that I’m telling people that they don’t need to live their own truth, which is not what I’m saying at all, and I know you really are getting bored with me, and I know you really are getting tired of me, and believe me, believe me, I am trying to tell you, but my heart is racing, and my littlest kid is running around and he keeps digging his nails into my arm and hopping on the table and taking my fingers off my keyboard, and I think I’m going to cry, and I think I’m going to be sick and the thing is I know, that day, that summer day years and years and years and years ago, a day in the middle of the week, when that girl Melanie who lived in the same apartment complex as us came over, and there was a card table folded out in the middle of my room with a blanket over it, and we hid under it and pretended like we were camping, and she thought of a game which was to take off our pants and touch each other on our privates, and I know that as far as kids go, that happens, but the thing also was I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t like how it felt, and I didn’t like that we were hidden, that even in the moment I knew it was a secret I was going to keep all my life because it was meant to be, and I felt so much shame, I felt like all the people who touched my mom on her privates when she didn’t want them to, because I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know my mom was molested by her father and brother and raped by boyfriends, and I knew this was a sex thing even at 5 or 6 and I was dirty, and that was what I was supposed to feel with sex stuff, and the thing is, and I didn’t even know that when I started writing this, but here it is, sex was not supposed to feel good, or pleasurable, so when I felt that way, later on, with men, again and again, I knew that was just the way it was, just the way it was supposed to be, and so I never really questioned my attraction to men, of course women aren’t attracted to men, that was the assumption I always went on, of course we’re not, because men are gross, and blank, and rough in the bad ways, no woman is really attracted to a man is what I thought, but they’re what we have, what we’re stuck with, so we say we have crushes on male celebrities that kind of look like girls or women our own age and when we’re older we wonder if straight people are drawn more to movie characters they identify with or those who they want to want to sleep with, and we remember the first time we saw Ghostbusters and Sigourney Weaver and we Google things like, “How to tell if I’m gay,” when the answer is, “If You’re Constantly Googling to See if You Might Be a Lesbian, guess what, YOU ARE A LESBIAN!” but I don’t like labels, and I’m not going to call myself a lesbian, I haven’t earned it, I haven’t earned identity, don’t you see, I let myself be swallowed, I make it happen. I can disappear so quickly I didn’t even realize I missed the mayonnaise until I finished the sandwich and a snack bag of salt and vinegar Lay’s and was so thirsty I had to drink two full glasses of water before I went back up to finish my nap.


Caroljean Gavin’s work has appeared or is forthcoming from places such as Barrelhouse, Bending Genres, The Conium Review, and Pithead Chapel. Currently she is working on a novel, a story collection, and putting together/editing an anthology of short fiction based on the jokes of Mitch Hedberg. Find her on Twitter @caroljeangavin.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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