21 and newly able to drink at home, I was in a pub in Paris where I could have drank beer legally like a fish 3 years ago. I was with a bunch of college juniors on their first night of their year abroad to “study” French. It was standing room only in the bar, even where all us Americans huddled around huge mugs of lambic and tables in a dining area on the second floor. The huddle moved as people switched places to talk to each other or got out of other customers’ way. I loitered on the outside of the huddle, which placed me in the aisle between tables, trying to follow conversations. Anyway. There I am in a fairly busy bar, and it’s about an hour before I will lose my virginity. 

I can’t even remember whether there was a soundtrack to all the chaos in this bar other than the noise. Maybe euro pop music was playing, but it didn’t matter in the last five minutes before I left the bar. All I would be able to hear was the pounding of my heart. 

Suddenly I found myself unable to move, held still by two hands pressing my hips just below my waist. At first I thought someone was trying to move past me and get me out of the way, perhaps keeping me still so he or she would not knock me over. But then a voice broke through the noise of the bar and behind my right ear.

“Tu me manques,” he said in a growl that shocked my system immediately. I need you.

There was no mistaking this was a man at my back. His words came into my skin in hot, wet bursts as he held me. It occurred to me he was trying very hard to be heard over all the noise. But with his breath at the side of my neck, he clearly meant for only me to hear. This was not a caress so much as a demand, sharp and hungry. He had turned his face into my hair. But I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t move. He held me solidly, pressing his hands into the flesh above the crest of my hips. I could not even turn to see whether anyone was watching.

And now, as if his hands and mouth were the center of the world, I felt desperate for him to find the base of my neck with his lips and tongue and trace a line with his teeth back up to my ear. I wanted him to explain in exacting detail what he wanted, what he was hungry for. Because he had already said he wanted me pretty badly. A total stranger comes up behind you and grips your body, whispers the literal translation of, “I miss you”—because that is what people usually say when they’ve been apart and we hadn’t even met—he really could mean only one thing. As soon as I saw you I knew something was missing in me. There’s a place in me where you belong already, and I miss the feel of you. I need you. His hands up my ribs to my breasts, his mouth up my neck and around to my mouth. I needed that. But I didn’t have it. I hadn’t even seen his face. 

And just like that, he was gone. 

I remember being frozen still and waiting several moments to re-translate for myself what he’d really said. I knew I had the French right. Yet no one had ever said anything like it to me, even in English. Thinking it over gave me time to worry that the whole thing was actually quite sinister. A young woman like me, what could I really know? What if what he wanted was to watch me gasp my final breath as he strangled me somewhere? Besides, no one had said such a thing to me, even in English. I peered carefully to my right and then to my left, looking for a stranger’s back and saw several bodies disappearing around the corner, heading for where the stairs were. I looked back at my friends to ask what they’d seen, but they were all busy talking. 

Decision point number one. Search, or keep standing there?

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