Lap Sitting

Excerpt from Lovers, Prepare printed for Lambda Litfest at Booksow LA, 2018.

3 min read

You are a little worried when the potential third lover comments on how comfortable you are with intimacy. Worried that you might be too at home in the already in-love-ways to hold a woman. Perhaps you’ve skipped crucial steps here. But it was she, not you, who offered the pink photocopied articles on the second date—a precise and thorough response to the topics discussed at that first meeting. Still, the worst thing would be to enact anything habitually. After all, the cornerstone of your ethos of multi-love is specificity: never treat one person like another.

This one’s a masochist so you won’t tell her when you are thinking of her while you are away. Offering instead a long silence to cause doubt and just a twinge of pain allowing for the rush of pleasure that accompanies the performance of great patience. You know it well. You are a masochist, too.

You aren’t interested in actually hurting anyone, though it isn’t easy. How to mete out the attentive care each woman needs, authentically, honestly, without spreading yourself thin or overpromising… An old lesson born from an even older truth of you: You are a lap sitter.

It began before you can remember. There is always a family gathering and always a multitude of laps. Older cousins and adults, sitting around, laughing, conversing. You can pick anyone. Climb up into Lena’s lap and you get her smell, her steady touch: She will put your little hands in hers and rest her chin on your head. Aunt Diane will pat you on the back and legs, but if you sit in Paulie’s lap she is sure to braid your hair. Each intimacy is unique and unlimited. One on one, body to body, your oldest truest way to relate.

You only begin to associate this state of being with conflict when you attend day-camp in Woodland Hills the summer you are six years old. The counselors are teenagers and have chosen names like Coco and Bambi, since real names are only used for campers. You are the smallest, used to the fawning attention from older girls. And just like with relatives, the main exchange of camp intimacy is through lap-sitting. Each day at closing circle, the youngest campers sit in the laps of counselors as you sing songs, listen to announcements, and watch some lucky kid get a camper-of the-week award.

Throughout the day, counselors ask if you will sit on their lap at closing circle. Bubblegum asks at swimming and Kiwi asks as you fold your clear sparkly and lavender lanyard shreds over each other into a tight box. When you need help opening your package of corn nuts at snack time, Pebbles hands it back to you asking if you’ll sit on her lap at closing circle. Closing circle comes, and Taffy waves you over so you plop down on her lap, tired and happy as she tickles your back with the x marks the spot pattern you also use with your friends when it is too rainy to leave the auditorium. After a few days, the counselors begin to glare at you, acting mean. They talk to your big sisters, who eventually have to sit you down and explain to you that you can’t promise everyone you’ll sit on their lap.

The task of your life is to hover between that blissful state of infinite intimacy and accountability. When your throat tightens and stomach drops, even now as an adult, you know you have done it again and are in trouble. You yearn for the uncomplicated ease of the open laps of family offered like a nest. Instead, a feeling of worry creeps in alongside the feeling of wealth when you go from one woman’s arms to another.