Bea Helman is a writer and film photographer in Brooklyn, NY. She is also a graduate student finishing an MFA in creative writing, and spends a lot of time hanging out with her plants and planning long cellphone - less road trips. She's usually loading film or leaving the party early.
Too Much and Not Enough
It’s a really weird feeling when the person you’re dating doesn’t want to have sex
with you, anymore. Not that they never did but that they once did and don’t
anymore. That something changed, that something was lost, without you even
knowing it. It feels like doing too much and not doing enough; I was sure that
if I tried harder, things would change, and that also at the same time I was
already trying too hard. Everything felt wobbly with rejection and I was
confused, unsure how to interpret everything else, even the things that had
nothing to do with it, like what to make for dinner. What to make for dinner
became an entire thing, a process in my mind, a giant what if. What if I made
this, would things change? What if I made something larger and more elaborate,
what if I spent all afternoon roasting and sautéing? What if I did nothing at all?
When I got home early at night and saw that he was already asleep, curled around a
pillow and asleep in the groove of the mattress, I got in bed quietly, and
I ranted against my body. I was sure that this was its own specific fault. It had
betrayed me. I had been wanted and now I was not. Want, want, want, the word
rattled around my head. Want to wanted, unwanted, to want and unwanted again. I
screamed it over and over. Want me! I shouted, and then why don’t you want me,
until my heart ached and my throat was sore. My skin broke out and my stomach
felt heavy, unable to digest. I slept a lot. My arms were tubes and my heels cracked,
thick cracks. I was thirsty all the time. I would stand in front of the mirror
and stare at my face, biting my lip and pinching my cheeks, desperate to see
what had changed. I was obsessed with thinking about how my body might have
changed. I spent a lot of time wondering about what he thought about my body. I
wondered if he liked my the way my belly folded over itself or the way that the
top of my hip was wider than the rest of my hip. At night I would lie next to
him and be still, alarmingly aware of the fact that I was alone in my body and
that my body was not being touched. I would think about my thighs, not being
touched and my shoulders, not being touched and my cheek, not being touched. I
would watch him sleep, dreaming about what he was dreaming about. I didn’t have
a headboard, so the bed felt like it was floating in the middle of the room,
like a ship at sea and I spent a lot of nights wondering when the wind would
One night he reached for me, and I felt it even though I was asleep. I remember
that I woke up and his hands were soft. I felt like I was meeting him for the
first time. His entire body trembled and his need, his need for something was
spilling out of his fingertips and pooling below us and around us, on me and
over him and so I tried to hold my own hands firmly against his.
He had gotten a job that he hated and the weekend before my birthday he threw his
phone against the wall and it cracked.
It was impossible to feel like it wasn’t about me, even though it wasn’t. But it
also felt like it was in a giant way. I was a enormous and miniature at the
same time. Want, want, want. I wilted without validation, without the wanting,
without feeling that he wanted me. I drooped and found it impossible to bloom
without that desire, without another person telling me that he wanted me, he
wanted me so bad, he wanted my body and soul. I found it hard to believe I was
worth it without someone wanting me. If nobody wanted me, who was I? If nobody
wanted it, what was the point? Did I like my body, or did I like it because I
thought he did? If he didn’t like would I still?
It was almost winter, and we were upstate in the Catskills, where it’s extra cold
and there’s no internet or phone service. I don’t remember if we had sex or
not, but I do know that while he worked, searching out a signal and typing away
at a spreadsheet, I had nothing to do but sit on the bed and examine myself.
The bed was soaked with sun, what a lot of people might call drenched. It took
up most of the room and was made with crisp sheets and heavy blankets for the
freeze at night. I didn’t want to do anything of the things I was supposed to
be doing. Instead, I sat with my body. It was clearly my body; it had a scar
and a knick on one knee and the tan leftover from summer, the dark eyebrows and
nub of a littlest toe. It had the tiny hairs under my belly button and the mole
on my elbow. It had the stomach that leaned to the side when it was too full
and short brown hair. I had cut my hair in high school after a boyfriend
cheated on me in Atlantis with a girl who followed him back and how he had sex
with in a basement in front of all my friends. I had stayed home. It had turned
out to be a blessing, because I had been a short haired girl in a long haired
girls body, and having short hair was the only thing about my appearance of
which I was completely certain. That girl eventually went home and I got back
together with that boyfriend, but I walked by her on the street years later,
after I saw that in college she had written a story about them called Sex On
The Beach. She said she had seen me and asked me if I had been the one carrying
all the bags. Yes, I said. I was the one with the bags.
Eventually, I stopped lying so still at night, and started to sleep in my natural state, a
starfish in the center of the mattress. I started to stretch and to wear jeans,
high waisted and flush to the curve of my body. I started to marvel at the way
my thighs held while I crouched over a slab of paper and how my wrists kept my
hand from falling off of my arm. I wore my polka dot shirt, old and teal, and I
wondered at how it hung perfectly from my shoulders. I felt my own breasts and
was amazed at how they had managed to hang there this entire time, so tender
and casting a shadow in the early morning. I fell in love with waking up to my
own stretching body. I would hear echoes of want, want, and I would shake my
head so hard that my hair hit my face. I realized that it’s easy to ask a lot
of questions but it’s very hard to ask, what’s wrong with me? Why don’t you
want to have sex with me? And then, again, emphasis on the me, is it me, am I
not good enough for you? If I were someone else, would it be different?
I never asked, so I never knew. Later, when he broke up with me, I wept and wept
and I sat on the floor and hugged myself, wrapping my arms around my knees and
soaking them with tears. I spent hours watching streams wander off down my face
and dry, or fall off of my cheekbones. I started to soak my body in coconut oil
before bed. I found that it was luxurious to fall asleep and wake up in the
same body, my own body, and that I was proud of the way it got me around every
day. I liked waking up to my bruises and my hairy armpits and the freckles on
my face. I decided that I would start see my body first, before I let anyone else.
Later, I asked that boyfriend if I had been not good enough, whatever that meant. And
then I pinched myself for asking.
But by the time he answered, I didn’t even care what he said.
Lunch With My Dad
You don’t want to tell her over sushi, this isn’t something that
should be said over rice and seaweed and slivers of salmon, salmon the color of
a peach. Don’t tell her over an all you can eat lunch menu for a set price,
outside where the sun is thick and heavy and humid. Don’t tell her where
everyone can see. Tell her somewhere appropriate, God dammit. When you are
telling her, don’t do it over raw fish because that is disgusting and don’t cry
before she cries.
Stop it. Get over it already. I don’t know where she is, she
didn’t tell me, just that she was back this weekend. No, I don’t actually know.
I would tell you if I knew. This is so dramatic. She’s coming back on Sunday,
I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean that. It’s just that your
skin is so thin, just like the soft and tender skin of a blackberry and you’re
always breaking and running all over me, that rich purple juice staining my
palms. I wish you were more like a banana, a grapefruit, something with a skin
so thick that it can fall on the floor, a skin so fibrous it can withstand a
tumble, or even the stab of a knife.
You do know that you aren’t married anymore, right? Do you keep
forgetting? I know, you know, but do you know? Tell her that you know and then
never ask me about her boyfriend ever again. Have I met him? I don’t know if
she would actually call him her boyfriend, I don’t think she has a boyfriend. I
think you’re making that up. How would you know she’s in love with him, that’s
crazy. She isn’t. And he doesn’t even live here anyways, so it doesn’t matter.
Promise me you won’t tell her I told you? You don’t want to know these kind of
things, they aren’t really helping, are they? Okay you better not tell her, she
would skin me alive.
You should not spend New Years together, biking to Brooklyn for
pizza and then eating hot and cheesy slices and then biking back in the cold.
It’s too late to take it back, but just know that that is not what you should
have done. Did it occur to either of you to make plans with different people?
Probably not. You are divorced, you know. Do you remember? Next time, start the
I’ve met him. He had grey hair and a grooved face and freckles.
You would like him.
It would be nice to have married parents. It would save me a lot
of time and energy if you had just stayed that way. I know it wasn’t your
choice but still. It’s pretty annoying that we all have to go back and forth
and have the same conversations over and over. You can tell her thank you for
that. Wait one second, I’ll go get a napkin, there’s coffee all over the table
now. You should drink your coffee faster.
The right way to do it, is to sit down somewhere quietly and
maybe you should have some kind of a snack, something soothing, a chamomile tea
or something like that. Maybe a few chocolates, to sweeten the edge. I like the
kind with the caramel inside, the kind that runs like a river when you break
it, if you didn’t know. Take us somewhere with bloated couches and make sure
its warm, so that nobody is cold. Nobody wants to be freezing when they get bad
news. Nod your head slowly and chew the inside of your lip and bite your cheek
if you have to. Talk slowly and clearly, it’s hard for us to understand when
you don’t explain. Don’t pretend that this is a surprise, even though it is a
surprise, to you and to us. Try not to blink as much as you usually do, try to
be reassuring and try to make the impossible sound possible. Things won’t
change that much. They’re changed already.
It’s your turn to be the larger person, the one who looms over
everyone and keeps us safe in your shadow. I’ve been trying to crowd everyone
in mine but I can’t, I’m too short and you’re too tall. Every time I tremble I
feel like a branch full of raindrops, wobbling on the edge of breaking, so full
they keep crowding each other and dropping off like tears.
Once we’re on the couch and you’re telling us, you should
explain what happens next, because we don’t know. Even if you don’t either
pretend like you do. Say, I’m moving out. Say, we’re selling that house, and we’re
keeping that one. Say I’m sad, don’t say I’m sorry. I know you know that we
already know, or at least that I know, the reason but you can say so anyways,
or tell us now that you wanted to stay together but that she didn’t, that she’s
moving in with someone else. Or, more rightly, that he’s moving in with her. I’m
sorry, I keep forgetting that you didn’t know he moved in until he already
lived there and that she never told you, or really me, or any of us, how long
he would be staying. I know, I know you’ve never met him. Remember the one time
you knocked and he opened the door? You dropped a box of wine hard on the
ground and fled, into my arms. You should tell us together, and you let us
leave after, don’t try to keep us there, caged and thumping at the door.
I know, but it’s not going to rain forever. It wasn’t raining
earlier, I think it just started. Do you have an umbrella? You’re going to make
a run for it? You’ll be fine. I’m going to wait here, wait it out.
You should have told us inside, where there's a roof and walls
and something to keep the world from getting in, you should have told us
somewhere with a door. I wish you had instead built the roof tighter, the walls
thicker, that you had kept the sky at bay. I felt like a Christmas tree
after the celebration, on the street and the kind of thing where everyone knows
its there but walks around it, avoiding it. Everyone knows it's near the end,
and everyone knows it was just holding ornaments, blown glass in it's thin and
You keep saying you want the night to be silent, like a stone,
but that it keeps whispering to you, that you keep hearing the wind. Shut your
window. I think you should paint the room fresh and in a different color. You
say you keep waiting up, watching the night expand and watching the stars
contract, hard knots in the sky. You have to learn to sleep. I’m serious, go to sleep.
I don’t know how you told him, but I hope it isn’t how you told
me. Did you tell him that things would be different now? Or did you tell him
that they would be different, and yes also exactly the same, that he shouldn’t
worry? I don’t know. I don’t even eat fish.
Me, My Mom
I’ve been feeling irretrievably heavy. Like I’m underwater. Like I’m walking up but
not awake yet. There’s something about the heat in the desert, the strong
shadows and the way that makeup melts off walking down the street, that makes
my brain swell. My grandmother seemed unaffected, maybe because she grew up in
California and is used to to rolling with the turns and tides of the weather. I
am from Boston, where we turn the heat on, close the windows, run to the car
and pile on layer and layer of protective clothing, armor against the bitter
air. Where we whine and complain about the cold, the snow, the sleet and the
gray sky, where we are comforted by the dark days and the collective suffering
in the face of another cold day in March. Standing in line for coffee,
conversations revolve around how cold it’s been, for so long, how the weather
should have passed by now, how over it everyone is. Salt is thrown in driveways
and sidewalks, where it sticks to shoes and dog’s paws. Cars are put in four
wheel drive and trucks roar down side streets with their lights blazing, ready
for battle. In the spring people are exhausted from the battle and exalted by
victory, ecstatic at the sight of the sun. The sun coming out means that things
can be put away. Windows are unlocked and shovels, scrapers, are put away, and
the doors swing open. Neighbors are met again. Everyone is pale. I grew up
bringing a sweater with me, just in case. I grew up wary of the weather, ready
for wind and running from door to door. I’m used to praying for snow days that
are rare and fade too fast.
My grandmother arrives at lunch in pressed pants and slides and a sleeveless navy shirt,
with a necklace and a purse that snaps close. She is not sweating. I roll up the pants of my
terrycloth romper, that I bought vintage and makes me feel like I’m from Los Angeles, to
make it shorter. My grandmother explains that this is the top half of the outfit for
her dinner later, in case we want to take a walk after lunch and she doesn’t
have time to change. The idea of taking a walk makes my eyes water.
A lot of the time when I look at my grandmother, I
wonder if she knows about my mom’s abortion, if she has any idea. I’ve
been thinking a lot about what i would have done, if I would have told my
mother, if I were her. I wonder if my grandmother would have said that the but
the rest goes on, the sun still rises and the Joshua Trees bloom when it rains,
and the shadows lengthen and creep in the afternoon. It’s true that no matter
what, they do this. I wonder if she would have stared at her oddly and then
handed her a glass of water, if that would have been it. I think about my mom’s
life would have been different, how it is already different. For not telling
her and for the fact that it happened. I think about how a baby starts off the
size of a pea and I think about the plastic chairs in the Planned Parenthood of
my hometown. I think bout how even though it happened before I was born, it
feels fated, as a part of how I got here. It happened in a different time and
to a girl who looked just like me, with the short hair and the funny shoulders,
and I think about how that moment lives with me. I think about the driveway
that my mom crawled down, the same driveway that I used to lie out on to tan,
hoping that the sun would find the black tar faster than the brick of the
patio. I dream about tracking down the boy who did it, that popular boy she was
so scared of, and watching him live his life, not knowing the trickle down of
what he did and the fact that I dream about it, about knocking the drink out of
her hand and throwing it in his face, I wonder what he would say if I said,
look at how what you’ve done, how it’s stayed with us, has changed us?
People think my mom and I are sisters all the time.