I sniffed the right armpit crease of the polyester “Japanese” robe I was given, wondering how many had felt its itchy gold stitching on their bare skin before I had. From the conflicting musks, I guessed at least one woman and two men. I sniffed again. Three men. Four, even. Taking turns glancing at the clock and scanning the empty room, I was overwhelmed by the sensation of air sweeping my knees, cradling them cynically. I felt dry cracker dust fall in my cleavage from the stale matzoh I was eating and dusted it off with my pinky before Agatha sidled in, holding two long PVC pipes.
“I apologize, love, but I seem to have forgotten your name. Remind me.”
“Yes, Lauren, of course. Class starts at nine, so until then, please make yourself comfortable. I implore you to have a bit of the salami in the corner. It’s hand-cured by a little Puerto Rican woman on my block and it is the most delectable thing you’ll ever taste. I’m leaving the pipes here but I’ll be right back with more accoutrements.”
Agatha flitted out, her chiffon cape flowing lithely behind her. I looked at my reflection in the metal paper towel dispenser above the sink, noticing a small mole on my left cheek I had never seen before and suddenly felt very disturbed. Students would be arriving in less than ten minutes at this point, and the time for fleeing had long gone. I had decided not to shave my faint but present happy trail and now regretted the choice.
“Poses in set one will last three minutes each.”
Agatha handed me a PVC pipe and directed me to do what was “comfortable.” Gripping the pipe, I finally took a good look around the room, dismayed to see a class chock-full of attractive men and women of my age. But despite the powerful, plaid-encrusted beauty of the art students in front of me, I felt an irrevocable sense of calm.
“Lauren, are you ready to begin?” I nodded. “First pose, three minutes.”
I had never held a PVC pipe before. I pressed down on the top with the flat of my palm, left hip jutting to the side, settling my gaze on an empty vase above the sink cabinets in front of me and sensing the flash of the up-and-down movements of students’ heads. I hadn’t told anyone that I was coming here today. I wondered how many other desperate girls in a flash of impulsive post-breakup liberation had also decided to try nude modeling for the first time, and if there were online forums. There had to be. I wondered what these people thought of my bare body, further exposed by the white lights set above and below me. I wondered if they could see my happy trail.
“Second pose, three minutes.”
I turned away from the lights and bent my left knee, overcome with the suspicion that they had recently had another Korean female model but with a slender, lengthy torso and seductive legs with no end. I remembered the packaged brownie I had bought at the Korean mart by my apartment and felt a bead of sweat roll down the side of my neck, plateauing at my shoulder.
“Final short pose, before the sevens.”
I’ve always liked my body, despite what the media and my mother have to say about it—I adore its peaks and its valleys, its strong shoulders and swelling belly— which is why I never understood the pills my mom would hand me in the morning or the clothes she would buy me two sizes too small as “inspiration.” “Your face is your greatest weapon,” she often tells me. Three years and seventeen pounds prior, it was my ass.
“Your face is your greatest weapon,” she often tells me. Three years and seventeen pounds prior, it was my ass.
“Quick pause! Lauren, you’re doing wonderfully. Are you enjoying yourself? What did I tell you, it’s fun to be up there, isn’t it? Pardon the heat. You get used to it.”
Because weight and self-image are such struggles in my mom’s life, maybe she assumes that my own life is dominated by my appearance, or maybe she has grown weary of fighting the good battle on her own—against unwanted body fat and other signs of based pleasures. I’ll never forget the night I came downstairs to sneak in a slice of my sixteenth birthday cake to find her already there, eerily lit by the front hallway lights, greedily hunched over our porcelain cake stand, eating frantically from a ravaged red velvet mass. We’ve never talked about it.
“There will be two seven-minute poses, and we will end with one fifteen-minute.” Agatha handed me both PVC pipes and instructed me to flank myself with them, arms back and chest out. I suddenly felt self-conscious, knowing the liberal, artistic girls would think me un-feminist for shaving my armpits, their black stubble protruding from five days’ growth, smelling of myself and the unfamiliar, multifaceted scent of the polyester robe on the stool by my backpack. I remembered the brownie.
“Second pose, seven minutes.”
I wondered if anyone in this room would fuck me. I surveyed the room briefly and came up with three “maybes” and two “definitelys.” I would fuck all of them. Adam had been such a gentle fucker. It felt sincere, but stale. When he came it felt like he was asking for forgiveness.
I wondered if anyone in this room would fuck me. . . . I would fuck all of them.
“Last pose, fifteen minutes.”
My fondest memory comes from the summer I turned twelve years old. It was pouring rain and my mom had uncharacteristically let my brother and I sleep until noon. We came downstairs, groggy and slow, to see her standing by the window in her favorite floral cotton skirt. “How would you like to have breakfast underwater?” she asked us coyly. Sammy and I looked at each other, confused. “Follow me,” she said smiling, as she opened the door to our backyard. We came out, immediately swallowed by the warm summer rain. “Throw it in the pool,” she commanded over the sound of the rain, pointing to our iron patio furniture. Sammy and I stood, paralyzed, watching my mother’s favorite skirt get soaked, all of us getting pelted by the aggressive downpour. “Throw it in the pool,” she repeated firmly. Sammy was the first to follow, grabbing a chair twice his size, then pushing it over the pool’s edge, watching it sink to the bottom, the surface dancing with raindrop refractions and the ripple of the sunken chair. “Lauren, you too.”
I hesitated, unable to understand what had come over my mother. I looked at Sammy and his eyes told me to just do it. I mechanically grabbed another chair by its arms and stood at the pool’s ledge, staring at the other chair sitting at the bottom of the water, feeling every inch of my wet shirt adhere itself to my skin before letting it fall and jumping in. We spent the afternoon taking tea underwater, fully clothed and wearing Speedo goggles so no detail was lost, sitting in the submerged chairs and coming up for warm gulps of air lost to laughter before sinking back down to the bottom over and over again.
“Thank you so much for all of your work, and I hope to be seeing you again very soon, maybe on a Saturday morning next time. Email me,” said Agatha from behind her desk. I stepped outside, sat on a bench by the door, and let a few minutes pass before calling my mom.
“Lauren! How are you, sweetie?” she cried out with surprise.
“Good, good. I’m good. Mom, I’m actually calling to ask, do you remember when we threw our patio furniture in the pool when it was raining?”
“Of course, how could I forget?”
“Why did we do that?”
“Well, I wanted to make sure that you and Sammy didn’t grow up scared to hold your breath. And Dad would’ve never bought me new furniture otherwise.”
Lauren Moon is a screenwriting grad student at USC and the editor of RAINCOAT Mag, an online zine created, curated, and maintained by womyn, for all. You can find her sad OkCupid screenshots here and her bad twitter haikus here.