Isabelle Davis "I Wanna Be Adored"

PC: Mason Pippenger

PC: Mason Pippenger


consider the body, or. consider the bodies of the people considering my body. that’s what sex is really about, isn’t it?


i will turn my body into different shapes for anyone other than myself.


a boy who asks me to not write about him calls me malleable. i think this is sexy in a way & after he fucks me i go to the bathroom to try & stop the inevitable uti. the color i associate with him is something like blue, but different. he asks what i would write about him again & i shout, while peeing, what jo said once, if you didn’t want an essay about you, you shouldn’t have put your dick in my mouth.


or. i don’t quote it then. i quoted it a different time & he laughed, but he hadn’t made any mistakes then. by now he has made several mistakes, some with his dick in my mouth. i tell him, don’t worry, there are a million andrews out there. no one will know it’s you; besides everyone who knows it’s you.


his mistakes are not the point of this though— mine are. my mistake here is finding myself comfortable enough to shout at him while peeing.


the next morning, i leave him alone in the apartment & when i come back my dishes are done, my bed is made, there is a note on my fridge.




the way the symptoms are written out on makes me believe that everyone i know suffers from a love addiction:


  1. Mistaking sexual and/or romantic intensity for love and genuine, lasting intimacy

  2. Feeling desperate and alone when not in a relationship

  3. Missing out on important commitments (with family, work or elsewhere) to search for a new relationship

  4. Seeking a new relationship while still in a relationship

  5. Constantly struggling to maintain the sexual/romantic intensity of an existing relationship

  6. Feigning interest in activities that aren’t enjoyable as a way to keep a partner or meet someone new

  7. Relying on romantic intensity as a way to escape from stress and other types of emotional discomfort


check me for at least five.




it’s easier to determine i have a nail biting issue.  my cuticles bleed constantly.  i take teeth to keratin when i need to know i can make a part of myself go away fast.




the sun loves me the way my mother loves me, which is to say, consistently. when i tell my mom i am moving to los angeles, she smiles big. i wonder if she ever gets jealous. i would get jealous. i know the pull i have to my mom, & i know the pull i have to the sun—it is the only thing that can compare.




the sun came forward & offered itself to the end of my relationship. i wore new nail polish called leading lady. beyza & i sat around the hundreds of other people who thought today would be a good day to come to the beach, but we had been planning this for weeks.


they brought a flask & cigarettes. i took a picture of them: blue in the sky, blue in the lake, blue on their shirt. we said very little. i held their hand tight. we each took a shot & poured one out; a sacrifice, a ritual. we called this closure & i took a drag of their cigarette.


a week & a half later, they pulled my hair back hard. asked, who’s pussy is this? & i gasped my answer, as though the waves had never lapped my feet, as though i had never owned a single inch of myself. & perhaps i haven’t.




when i stop biting my nails i realize it is not so simple. i am like an alcoholic who keeps a bottle of the finest whiskey unopened on her shelf. i pay too much money to make the tips of my fingers seem like delicate things— only the softest colors. i put a nail in my mouth, just between my teeth. i do not bite. i think about it every five minutes. evidence of my mistakes scratch at my shoulder when it itches. i learn how to be alone at the same time, but i am better at keeping my nails long.




the judd apatow effect is something tina & i made up to explain the way that movies and tv shows consistently cast gorgeous women to be the love interest of schlubby men. this is especially evidenced in judd apatow’s work, maybe because his actual life worked out like that. of course, many people’s lives work out this way— there are so many more attractive women than men out here, it’s bound to happen. when i wonder why this is, tina says, well, we’ve been taught to look at men as human beings & not objects.


on love, gillian jacobs & paul rust fall in love (or they think they do). it’s entirely unclear if we are supposed to be rooting for them as a couple. i, certainly, am not. gillian jacobs, as mickey, is a beautiful, intelligent, funny woman with addiction & codependency issues. paul rust, as gus, is an annoying, sniveling, unattractive, dickwad with very few redeeming qualities except he is supposed to be funny.


i’ve watched every single episode.




tammara’s room faced the fox river & therefore the west & so in the afternoon it offered sun. in my best memory of her, i have been waiting in her room for her. i didn’t text, i just knew she would show eventually. & she did, with strawberries. she saw me & exclaimed, isabelle, you are such a blessing. when i bit into a strawberry, the redness of it bled over my fingers; the seeds stuck in my teeth. tammara asked me about the book i held between my thighs. i read her some nate slawson poems out loud & she tells me i am her best friend.


we come up with love poem titles that all begin the same way: my heart beats fast like a balloon to a nail, my heart beats fast like a dancer whose never been hurt, my heart beats fast like a piece of hail to your windshield.


when the school year is almost over, she will collide into me at full speed, mouth stained with wine. she will whisper into my ear, i am doing everything i can to not kiss you, love. & i will hug her hard, but it won’t occur to me to be interested in that. i’m in love with beyza; i’m not built that way.




andrew asks me to sing him a song. i had already told him about the lullabies i sang to willa when i watched her & at first i shy away, but. he can be very convincing. my nail polish is almost completely bitten off but i haven’t destroyed the dead bone.  i call this progress.


when i was young, i believed my mom wrote can’t help falling in love for me. it is the only lullaby i have memorized. i sing it for him, voice wavering. he takes my hand when the song tells him to & i am worried about that. this is another mistake. i think, i should have sung something else with the lyrics pulled up on google. he would have hated that.




katie’s laugh has always filled a room & the first time we meet, i think, this girl can only exist in my life like how flowers follow a light source. at different times we are each the flower, the sun.


at our favorite bar, a dive on the corner, we sit so our knees point at each other. we play music on the touchtunes™ that makes everyone else want to die, or makes them want to buy us a drink. it doesn’t matter which. the whole place—its coat of armor, its red red, its shadowed corners—knows all there is to know about us. on my birthday we arrive & i am given a free shot of malort & katie takes one with me. it tastes like flowers fresh out of the dirt.




catalogue my loves, my admirers, perhaps then i can learn.


beyza says, you love the attention. & i do, but the attention, it hurts.




ryan walks me home from the bar. i am wearing heels & he is acting like a sadboy. i know he’s going to say what i don’t want him to say.


he asks to come upstairs. we slump onto my ugly brown couch. he says, it’s just hard being in love with your best friend. i am not his best friend, but i know he means me. i am a britta filter for guilt & he is tap water pouring in.


i don’t understand what love is, if he can feel it for me. he tells me i mean more to him than anyone, even jack. the only thing i can think is that i would never sell out my friends like this, in a confession of love.


when i talk about this experience in the next couple days, i refer to it as when harry met sally syndrome. everyone nods. it could also, though, be another part of the judd apatow effect.


eva’s boyfriend asks how many times this has happened to me & i sigh. eva leans over, pours their third glass of red wine. when they drink they adopt their mother’s accent. brooklyn layered over southern california & it sounds like braiding hair in the midwest.


i am very lovable, i suppose, or. none of my friends actually want to be my friends. three times. eva says, to be fair, you dated beyza for four years after they did the same thing. oh, right.




none of my friends have known me to be single before, besides drake. & he dated me. when we sit around his brother’s apartment, i feel like i’m in a home i understand for the first time in a while. it is warm on the third floor. the walls are yellow & fading & we don’t care about spilling drinks. his brother’s hands shake the same way drake’s do & when we take shots, we all tap the table first.




i want to write a happy essay, but can i write an essay that just talks about how much i love my friends & the water & the sun? is that allowed?




my barista remembers my order—an iced mocha with no whip & no straw-- & she brings it to me instead of calling it out. she smiles & i think, what are we?




over dinner a man i don’t know starts talking about sex in a way i don’t want him to be talking. not here.  not while the server pours our water. my nails are a deep red called jump in my jumpsuit. i am wearing a dress.  we are on a rooftop with a view of the chicago river.


he says, i always make sure my woman comes first. & we both know this is a lie.


later that night, he has spent over three hundred dollars on me. he believes this means he can touch me wherever he wants to touch me & i am not sure he’s wrong. it’s fine. it’s fine. he calls room service to order condoms when i insist on at least that.


i roll off him— it can’t have been more than two minutes, but— the way he has attacked my breasts will leave my nipples sore for days. his phone rings; he picks up. i start getting dressed & he orders me an uber black. i stay in the car for an hour & a half, racking up the bill.




i tell my mom this story but leave out the sex & she is disgusted for me. she says, & i mean, what kind of woman would you be if you did sleep with him? the implication here isn’t bad, but, weak, i think.




i meet deidre for drinks because she wanted to & because it will be good for my writing. or, i tell people that, but i’m lying. being petty isn’t easy & the windows of this hotel bar stream in grey light.  on the way here i discovered picking at my nails feels almost as good as biting them. i know andrew loves her & that’s fine. he told me while holding me, naked in bed, in an old woman’s home. it’s fine. deidre & i circle around how these drinks feel like an extension of the way we’ve been investigating each other, from afar.


she is the kind of beautiful woman who does not wear makeup; i am the kind of beautiful woman who does wear makeup. we barely talk about andrew.


i try to explain that i am not built for this kind of thing & deidre tries to explain that everyone you ever love will eventually leave a rusty knife in your abdomen. but i would want to talk through that with them, i sigh.




tina & i sit in the sun. she is wearing a pink velvet scrunchie & in the picture we take, the sun streams lines over our faces. she says, your nails are making it very obvious you’re sleeping with a guy right now. i laugh uncontrollably.


we both have the ability to remember details from stories we were told months & years ago. we play a game in this newly bougie area of appleton, recalling our favorite memories of each other we were not present for. i have trouble finding another way to tell her how much i need her in my life.




i send a tweet to everyone i know: Taurus Summer Plans: Falling in love, falling out of love, making you listen to their summer love story a few thousand times.


it is the first day of summer & a week ago andrew & i opened the window in our tent.  when it was quiet i could almost hear the waves.  i know because he recorded his voice & the lake for me to fall asleep to when he went away.  he tucked my hair behind my ear & did his best impression of me while the sun hit our foreheads, like a kiss. his impression was just saying, i’m not build for this! it’s cutting. he told me that sometimes when he’s thinking of us, this image appears in his head: we sit with crossed legs across from each other, lean over & open up each other’s chest cavities. we both jump in; we create a loop.


i will leave for california on september first.




the grey of the sky matches the grey of lake michigan perfectly on nights when the clouds become everything i know. on april first, i stare ahead. my hand rests close to andrew’s hand but not covered by it. we purposefully stay quiet for four minutes & thirty-three seconds & call it a performance. i don’t do things like this for most people. that is to say: stay quiet. that night we hook up for the first time. in the morning i go to the home beyza & i still share together & we talk like we didn’t break up last week, with their hand on my hip.


near the end of may, i am again at lake michigan.  i follow the lights from planes as they glow through the sky & ripple onto the lake. what’s the color of light? beyza tentatively rubs my back. they don’t want to do enough to make me feel like kissing them but i already feel like kissing them. they say, your nails have gotten long. we both rush to make a gay joke. i haven’t completely stopped crying but i’m focusing on the way the grey meets grey & i fall quiet for a couple seconds. this makes both of us uncomfortable. they told me, earlier, about the woman they’ve started seeing. it’s an unspoken kind of exclusive. i knew it before they opened their mouth. when we are done, i go to the home they moved out of & andrew meets me. i make small circles on his back.


he presses down on a knot beneath my shoulder blade & i realize how precarious things are getting. which is to say: i have stopped trying to convince myself i don’t care about him. this is my eighteenth mistake.




my break up essay is also a break up essay with chicago. & sometimes it feels like the only things i’ll love forever are lake michigan & the sun. sometimes i remember my mom.




when the three of us get dinner— andrew, deidre, & i— it becomes obvious i have put too much thought away from myself. i let the wind give me goosebumps. i put my nails into my mouth & don’t bite.


what do you want from this? deidre looks at me & her eyes are a very clear kind of blue, the kind heroes in books have. i tap the table because i have already made myself very clear. what i want has already been thrown out the window. months ago. i am a monogamous person. not right now, but generally.


andrew can’t decide which one of us he wants to look at. his eyes dart back & forth & i ignore him, mostly.


i keep saying what i want is to have fun. it is not fun to constantly be reminded that the man you are falling for is deeply in love with someone else. or, if i must be reminded, do i have to know her? it seems that we have to have a working relationship & it’s true, it all feels very businesslike.  it all feels incredibly straight. she buys my fries & waves me off like it is generous moment. she is a full decade older than me.


later, on her own, deidre decides that this relationship is not what i want. andrew repeats some of her words to me & i break a nail making red marks on my thighs. she’s not wrong; she’s just also not right.


what i want is to be adored. what i want is to feel like i matter in a way no one else does. at least to one person. i flounder over words, trying to explain this to andrew, & lake michigan eats at my ankles while the sun bites down on my shoulders. he does not understand. or he does, but he doesn’t.


i say, i wanna be number one.


he says, but you can’t be tied for that?


i look out at the lake for a long time, long enough for the sky to turn pink over it. it becomes increasingly clear he never played sports.




when i tell alexis about the dinner, she looks at me for a long moment. we both take sips of cocktails the color of the sun on a spring day. she says, just dump him. i shrug, i say, i really like him. alexis laughs, shakes her head no. i say, okay but i’ve spent two months teaching him how to fuck me & now i’m supposed to give up all that work? she is quiet for a second, then nods. i make a convincing point.


just don’t get too attached, she warns.  it’s my turn to laugh.




my phone gets stolen two weeks after beyza & i break up. what i wonder about is what the thief did with the note i had stuck to the inside of the case. it said, have a safe trip & i love you.




i tell julian the best part of a relationship is the two weeks, right near the beginning, when you will cancel anything to see that other person. where you fuck three times a day & you tell all your stories to them & they’ve never heard any of them before even though you’ve told them a million times & so you know when to pause for laughs & they actually care. then we make out in the sun & i realize i probably won’t see him again after today. i am laying, topless on his pink duvet cover, considering where i will go from here.  probably to andrew’s. after something like that, he says, we’re in rebound territory. i nod, but i don’t mean it.


the problem, to me, does not lie with making someone a rebound. it’s when it stops being about moving on & starts being about beginning.




later in my first conversation with deidre, she circles back to what she said before. about everyone you ever love hating you. she says, well, maybe not andrew. i don’t think we could ever hate each other. & i understand why they stay together. i think that beyza & i do not hate each other, it’s more disturbing in it’s tolerance.  i stay quiet. my nail polish is called coming together & i concentrate on the bit that has chipped.


she asks me, what makes you want to write about your relationships so bad? her phrasing is nothing like that, but you get it. it’s not the first time i’ve considered this question, but it’s the first time it’s been asked of me so directly. all i can tell her is i write to elicit emotion, & my heart beats fast like a tiny bug flying into a ceiling fan.




i am not sure yet what love means for me when beyza is not tied to it.


i let andrew read this while we lay on my ugly brown couch. it takes so long & i spend all of it looking at my nails—i forgot to paint them. he tells me it feels incomplete & i say, well i haven’t fallen in love with you. or, at least, i can’t commit to that feeling.


later we fuck & i am on top of him but he holds my wrists & pulls me down. we don’t use a condom; my mistakes have become innumerable.


in the morning he holds my body like an important thing. once we get up, we pull a heaviness downstairs.  we throw my bed in the alley.




i leave him at the airport for a month. i bite my nails on the way there & being bad feels pretty good. i tell katie, i’m going to have to sleep with someone else again. she laughs in a way that says she is not so sure.


i’d almost forgotten, when i fuck someone new i feel myself become a stray balloon. i float above myself & towards the front door, away from all that. i am not interested in learning the intricacies of anyone else right now. i’ve done enough leaning in.


can you train an addiction to point itself inwards?