CandyMy first box of candy came when I was twelve years old, from Nick, the class stud.  Ah, it was garish, the box shaped like we pretend hearts are shaped; a huge red plane floating in space like Pangaea before the great rift.  Did I open the box and bring those soft mounds to my lips, or did I preserve it in the Museum of Love in my bedroom closet?  On that question my memory is a mute swan, though I remember what I was wearing when he first kissed me—a strange, spongy pressing together of our cupid’s cusps behind the high school during a football game—olive green Levi’s with a gold pinstripe, yellow sweatshirt, and a white faux fur coat, not luxurious fakery, like ermine, but pilly and rough, like the skin of a white bear.  He was one of those boys of whom it was said he could have anything or anyone he wanted, one of five golden sons of a registered nurse and an alcoholic owner of a construction company.  Their house was modern—or what we in Niles understood to be modern—acute angles and track lighting, on the banks of the St. Joe.  They’d nailed targets to trees across the river so the brothers could practice for deer season.  He handed me the gun once, of which I pretended to be afraid, though I’d already learned to shoot when I was eight or nine from an old farmer whose gun had a kick-back that would send a grown man flying.  By twelve I’d studied the pretenses of love.  They were part of the contract, so that by the time you laid yourself down on the bed of rose petals, what lay there was a false self, filmy as a spirit, like the white cloud that would sometimes form in a bottle of vinegar, a cloud that back then we called Mother. He dumped me—it’s so funny to think of it now that I’m fully debauched—for my innocence.  When he put his tongue between my lips I said ew.  I asked what are you doing?  When he led me to his bedroom and I saw the English Leather on the bed table and the Playboy centerfolds papering the walls, the swollen breasts, the symmetrical brown nipples, my eyes widened and my mouth opened like I was Bluebeard’s young wife as she entered the forbidden closet where her predecessors hung from meat hooks.  The bra I wore was only perfunctory, ornamental; my breasts had barely budded, if at all.  Now they’re voluminous, I’m known for them, as he was known for his biceps and the little scar on his chin and the speed with which he could snap up the next girl, and the next, each the opposite of the one before, so the one who followed me had straight, near-white hair, long and blunt cut, and a little cleft in her chin—I admit it, she was cuter than I was—with a spray of pale freckles like she’d been spritzed by an atomizer filled with liquid cinnamon.  To not be chosen is a terrible thing.  To be chosen and then unchosen is exile.  I want now to be able to compare myself to Medea, whose exile made her fierce, streaking across the sky in her golden chariot pulled by dragons, Medea, for whom all love was thereafter revenge.  I want to say loss—so appalling I puked, so dreadful my eyes swelled shut from crying until I wanted to slice them open with a razor blade, like a boxer—was my salvation.  I want to say I would not trade my ragged glory for love—brash, gaudy, sweet.

Diane Seuss’ most recent collection of poems, Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open, received the Juniper Prize for Poetry and was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2010.  Her work has appeared in many literary magazines, including, most recently, The Missouri Review, Wag’s Revue, Rattle, Poetry, Blackbird, and Tar River Poetry.  Diane is Writer in Residence at Kalamazoo College, in Michigan.


Photo by Maria Romasco-Moore