The Sense of Being Stared At
Full frontal nudity? I moved the other arm to my back. He was sitting so close I could hear his heart beating. Or was that mine? He drew an outline of my head and then noticed me staring at the drawing. "I don't do hands or faces well," he said almost apologetically. He made two dashes for my eyes, two dots for my nose, and drew curly hair with lots of shading. I looked 20 years old. This was good.
He sketched my shoulder, erased it with his finger, then drew it again. Any minute he would get to my breasts. I stared at his bare feet. He had a corn on his left foot. I studied his long, thin hands. The breasts he drew looked exactly like his bronze bells, only upside down. Then he shaded in my nipples—did he think of them as clappers?
He drew my torso. Thank God my stomach looked flat. I began to relax. It's only a body, I told myself. This wasn't sex—it was art. He finished the sketch, then looked at me and said, "May I have the privilege of kissing your nipples?"
I bolted up from the bed, raced into the bathroom, and fumbled into my underwear as quickly as I could. "Don't you want to do another drawing?" he called from the other room.
"No!" I pulled on my jeans, then my T-shirt. What was so horrible about his making a pass? It wasn't as though some sleazebag had pawed me—he'd actually asked for the privilege! By the time I reappeared in his room fully dressed, I felt calmer.
Both drawings were on the floor. I pointed to the one I wanted. "Do you have a cardboard roll so it won't get crumpled?" I asked.
"You can't take it now. I have to finish it," he said.
I reached for my camera. "May I take a picture?" He nodded. I turned on my camera, but the battery was dead. I didn't have a spare.
He smiled. "You see? It's because you wouldn't let me kiss your nipples."
I was still chuckling as I drove back toward Phoenix. Jagged mountains were everywhere in the distance, but I'd been so nervous before that I hadn't noticed them. Nor had I seen that clumps of sagebrush polka-dotted the desert wherever I looked. I had the same feeling I do when I finish a race—I was so proud of myself, I was almost gloating. I'd done it! And I wasn't even ashamed of what he'd drawn.
I thought about how much of my life I've been self-conscious because I was never rail thin or perfectly toned. I remembered something I'd once heard: The mirror is not you—the mirror is you looking at yourself. And I could choose how I wanted to see myself. At that moment, Billy Joel came on the radio singing, "I love you just the way you are," and I sang along at the top of my lungs. Modeling naked wasn't something I'd ever do again—there was no reason to—but at least it was no longer the most terrifying thing in the world. And for the first time in my life, I didn't feel ashamed or embarrassed about my body. It was just me. Maybe the next time I went to the gym, I'd even allow myself to walk naked from my locker to the steam room.