Nonfiction by Misha Scott & “The Sine Between You & Me” by Seema Lisa Pandya


The first time I have sex it is in darkness. Still, I ask him to look away as I pull off my shirt and tug the blankets tight around our young bodies.


His feet are cold against mine; a chilly late spring draft gets caught under the sheets and raises the skin on my arms. I think about amphibians. I think about the way their wet necks pulse even when they are otherwise motionless.


A few sharp inhales, some unidentifiable liquid sounds, my lips graze his as they pass over me, and then I watch his face make an expression that I have never seen it make before.


My best friend has a collection of women’s magazines that we like to read during sleepovers. They are full of tips about beauty and sex, and we are trying very hard to be the kinds of women who need their advice. One of the hottest tips is that you should always love yourself, especially if you want someone else to love you.


I am quite sure that I will never love myself the way my seventeen-year-old boyfriend loved me as he pushed into me for the first time. The way he looked into my eyes and came back out with a sense of wonder he didn’t have before. I’ll never love me quite like that, because I live in here. I know what’s in the basement.


Sometimes, for instance, I cry so hard that I lay down on the bathroom floor and am unable to get up. There are other times that I hate my body more than anyone has ever hated anything. I am sure of it. For these and other reasons, it seems necessary to reserve the right to hate myself indefinitely, and the idea of self-love as a precondition for romantic love only instills in me a depthless and abject terror.


Cosmo’s 40th hot tip is that nothing is sexier than confidence. Nothing.


In college, I meet someone at a party. He is tall and sort of brooding, and that is a thing I find out that I like.


We go to see a very serious documentary film and then he invites me upstairs where we watch videos on YouTube. He picks one and then I pick one and then that one ends, and the dark is buzzing so hard that when he finally kisses me it is like licking an electric fence. I follow him into his room with its unframed band posters and IKEA bed.


Sex is different somehow. I didn’t know it could be different, but here we are. There is a reverence in his hands. There is something chemical in his skin that I want to absorb into mine. A quality like memory adheres our bodies together.


This changes everything.


We are 22 and we have nothing else to do but fuck. On the beach, dodging headlights in the dark, in a friend’s bathroom when we are in between apartments of our own, in the bushes of a park in broad daylight once just for fun. Sometimes rolling over in the night and remembering that I am there next to him, he wakes me with his hands, half-asleep and kneading my skin. Needing my skin.


He likes to make a game of licking my body starting at my toes and working his way up along the calf and thigh, then hip bone, side belly, rib cage, nipple, jawline, up the bridge of my nose and to the crest of my forehead. He tries to see if he can get his tongue wet enough to do it in one go without running out of saliva.


He loves my body so much, in such strange ways, and with such abandon, that very slowly and in fits and starts, I start to love it that way, too.


I catch my naked reflection in the window of his studio apartment and admire the curve of my own stretchmarked hip as I bend forward to taste some spaghetti sauce. In the bathroom mirror I watch mesmerized as he licks a drop of toothpaste off the breasts I always felt were pointed a little bit wrong.


This is it – what the magazines meant when they said confidence – I think. It is in the corners of my smile when he runs his hands over my silhouette. It is in the fullness of my belly when I stop trying to shrink myself under his fingers, and the swing of my hips when we hold hands to the taco truck. There is a day when we have sex thirteen times without leaving the bed. He goes down on me when I’m menstruating. I try to remember what shame feels like, and I can’t.


And then, very suddenly, I am alone again. It is a surprise. It is a surprise when it happens and then again every morning when I wake up for weeks afterwards.


Love is a phantom limb. As I try to fall asleep I can feel its absence snarling inside of me. I suddenly contain a vacuum which threatens with every passing moment to collapse Earth and everything else in on itself if it is not filled.


The fashionable magazines of my girlhood have fallen out of favor, but thankfully there is no shortage of advice. My friends send me new-agey Instagram accounts to cope with the breakup and I follow all of them. The people in charge of the accounts represent a wide spectrum of sexual orientations, ethnicities, and spiritual leanings, but they all have perfectly glowing skin, and they all say that I should practice self-love. They say that I should have one or two great rebounds and then leave it alone.


I try to do as they say. To look at my body through the memory of his eyes and see the woman we both fell in love with.


I try meditating. I try medicating. Cardio. Reading lists. A new vibrator. Dancing. Poetry (both reading and writing). Nature hikes. Volunteering. Podcasts. Ice cream. Binge drinking. Korean face masks. Acupuncture. Abstinence.


Nothing is working the way that Instagram says it’s supposed to. My skin is blemish free and my body is well rested, and my creative projects are flourishing, but there’s a deep, aching itch that remains stubbornly unscratched. It is as if I’m dying of thirst, but instead of giving me water everyone around me keeps insisting that the key to recovery is a new hot yoga class.


The hot yoga instructor, as it turns out, is very attractive. We go out after class and get drunk on Fireball at a pool hall in Glendale. I’m having a very bad day. She leans in to kiss me and right before she does, asks so sincerely if there’s anything she can do to help that something melts inside me and comes out from between my legs. Not many people ask that and mean it. I don’t go back to that yoga class because I sense that it is cheating somehow to use these temporary people to fill the hole inside me (aside from the obvious one, I mean). And anyway, I dislike windowless rooms and the taste of other people’s sweat. Still, her kindness remains with me for weeks afterwards, having lodged itself somewhere around my heart chakra.


At a show a few weeks later I meet a Soundcloud rapper (lawyer by day) from out of town. We do coke in the bathroom and his skin smells like Parliaments. As he climaxes he looks deep into my eyes with a hand clenched lazily over my throat and begins to talk very fast about “our future”. He says he wants to take me to Beirut and introduce me to his family. For months, he sends me paragraphs-long texts full of desire, which I read to myself late at night over and over in the rhythm of a mantra. But when we meet again the smell of his cigarettes nauseates me and I hate the rough way he handles my body, like it is a lump of clay and the bed beneath us a slab of marble. I kick myself for wanting to be remade in his hands, for asking him for the care that I ought to be providing myself.


I show up late at night to the Hollywood Hills home of a TV showrunner. He lets me in and compliments my pink Chuck Taylors in a way that lets me know he hasn’t slept with someone who wears pink Chuck Taylors in a long time. It makes me feel good and powerful somehow that he is making an exception for me, so I make one for him as well. We date (a term I use loosely) for just long enough for me to learn the brand of his cat’s favorite treats. Then he meets someone new and asks if we can still be friends. We can’t.


I find that the body can only take so many unceremonious endings, especially when each one is coupled with such profound disappointment in oneself, before even the thought of romance becomes repulsive. I wonder if this is the secret to tricking oneself into self-sufficiency.


For several months, the repulsion is enough to prevent any further lapses in judgment. I read a post on a popular feminist blog asserting that the etymology of the word “alone” is “all one,” as in, “complete in one’s self.” Something about the pink font and the excessive simplicity of this claim strikes me as suspicious, but regardless, I’ll take the pat on the back. I glow under the achievement of perfect all-one-ness.


Then, one night, my phone buzzes and I try to remember the name on the screen. Someone from my contaminated past life, when I was a little less “one,” presumably. Maybe the tall girl with the shaved head from the train? Or perhaps the Tinder photographer. It doesn’t much matter; I don’t feel like going on a date. I don’t feel like anything, really.


It’s a strange thing to maybe want to die. You spend a lot of time trying to make sure you don’t actually do it. So when she suggests an activity that is not dying, I say, “yeah, sure” and we go to a comedy club together. I laugh extra hard at all the jokes about depression. You can always count on a comedy show to have one or two good jokes about depression.


Afterwards, she drives me back to her apartment and we open a beer that we won’t finish. We pass a joint back and forth and talk about our favorite comedians from the show and badly paraphrase their bits. As we begin to kiss I am not thinking about hating myself or looking around the room for a beam strong enough to support a hanging human body. I’m too tired to think about the reasons I should be at home writing out affirmations rather than here with her, so I don’t.


Her eyes are so beautiful. I kiss her wrists and ankles and wrap myself around her belly and rest my head in the space below her ribcage. When we are finished her fingers make a map of the valley between my shoulder blades as we swap stories about our hometowns and favorite bands.


She falls asleep and I can feel the ins and outs of her breath – cool, then warm, then cool again – against the nape of my neck. I imagine myself as a raisin being soaked in water, becoming plump again and losing the pinched, emaciated folds around my sense of self.


The self-care community doesn’t specifically talk much about incorporating drunk strangers into your routine, but my sense is that it is generally frowned upon. Before drifting off, I open Instagram and there is a whimsically illustrated post at the top of my feed that simply instructs: “Give yourself love”. It doesn’t elaborate further.


But a midweek Tinder date is not so different from a hot shower or a fancy bar of chocolate if you think about it the right way.


There are nights when someone succeeds so completely in unearthing me, untangling my roots from the ground, and gently shaking the dirt from my hair, that I begin to believe in a particular sort of magic. I begin to feel that the air in a stranger’s apartment has healing properties, and that the remnants of unfamiliar shampoo caught in the weave of someone else’s sheets can impart a kind of meditative clarity when smelled first thing in the morning.


The people and media tasked with helping us navigate our self-worth are so intent on cordoning off sex (especially sex with non-partners) from our growth as people that there isn’t much consideration given to the types of growth that might happen in intimate moments between strangers, however brief and untidy they may be. If we accept that sex has this unique power – the power to undo us, the power to decimate our self-worth in ways that have lifelong implications – then might it not have an equally awesome power to heal and rebuild?


There are many ways to love one’s self. Taking good selfies, for instance, and going to therapy, and nourishing platonic friendships, and learning to embroider and writing more and masturbating and finding the right haircut for my face shape, but it would be dishonest to say that those things are sufficient. They cannot, for instance, deliver the up-close breathlessness of wanting. They can’t point out the ways that my body, with all of its flecks and folds, might ignite a desire so full of heat that it wakes me up in the night. There is a long list of loves that I can’t give myself – not because I’m deficient, but because I can’t see myself the way other people see me, the same way that I can’t look into my own eyes without a mirror.


I often find myself thinking about a number of people whose names I don’t remember. The girl who (I counted) asked for permission to touch me in 23 different ways. The man who brought me to a different Los Angeles restaurant every week for a month and told me to order everything on the menu that I wanted to taste even a single bite of. The old college friend who for years would come over after parties to listen to records and talk about the people we were dating and when we kissed it felt good and strangely uncarnivorous.


The details of their faces have mostly faded from memory, but on so many nights I learned to love myself by watching how they did it. The ways that they looked at me remain so clearly, as if at any moment I might look up and catch them out of the corner of my eye. The times they asked questions and hung on my every word as if it was poetry, the kindness of their caresses, those things stick to me. I tuck them away for safekeeping in a deep and treasured place, the same place I keep the sound of rain on the roof, and the smell of bread baking. When I need to, I pull them out and press them to my face, these moments that are as sacred as any meditation, as important as every affirmation I’ve ever taped to the mirror.





Misha Scott is a writer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn by way of the backwoods of northeastern Washington. Her work has been published in Hobart, Gold Flake Paint, Five 2 One Mag, and others. She runs a blog for music and creative writing called Hullabaloo. She has an on-again-off-again relationship with all the usual social media at @mishadavia.



Seema Lisa Pandya is a Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist, accomplished sustainability consultant, and green building educator who explores the intersection between sustainability, art, culture, and the built-environment with an aim of connecting audiences with an experiential awareness of nature and primordial forms. Her work ranges from fine art, public art, sculpture, painting, photography, wood-working, light sculptures, kinetic interactive sculptures, and building integrated installations; as well as sustainability consulting, green building certification and coordination. She also teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in sustainability, in the past at FIT SUNY, and currently at the New York School of Interior Design.