Issue 0 Issue 0 Non-Fiction

Just Once Before I Die

By Jillian Luft

Imagine me, swinging in a slip dress in the ephemeral cool of fall, Payless combat boots grazing the playground dirt. Trying to make it make sense, trying to slow it all down. But no matter how much my legs might flail, I yearn to reach new heights. No matter what my eyes might beg, I don’t wanna come to rest. Big Red stings the shine of my cupid’s bow, soft matte brown and lined and never been kissed. But not for long. Sunflowers perfume saturates my scrunchie, making you go harder and harder with one long whiff. Who you are doesn’t quite matter although I like to think it’s you, the one who dated my blonde friend, the 8th grade homecoming queen, the sweet one saving the whales with her smile alone. I like to think it’s you, the one who sang Faith No More songs no one knew and had the facial structure of a late seventies poet. I hope it’s you when the sun spirals away in those still moments before our parents’ punch the clock and we go faster and faster until we both can’t stop.

Imagine me, a girl on the outside. No walls for her to slump against in her imperfect loneliness, no pillows to muffle her screams, to writhe against with want. She no longer needs that kind of comfort. She’s out at the bus stop now looking at the passing cars as detours into PG-13 danger while the bus stop boys salivate and try to stuff their memories of her in their pockets to inspect closely later. She notices but can’t care about what they’ll do with her and those daydream distortions of her naked skin and whatever else they perceive on her as budding and blazing. She’s got bigger things to do in this big, bad world, like whatever she wants. And the next car that slows will ride her off to her next core memory, her next big mistake, her next lesson learned, her next favorite thing further and further away from those defining wounds that reside somewhere deep, deep, deep.

Don’t remember me pre-packaged in the same tight jeans and baby tees as the rest, rendered unworthy of French kissing by SLAM Book criteria, subject to the whims of boys with sweat stains on the inside of their baseball brims and pot leaf pendants jostling against their baby bird chests. Boys who, when they felt generous, rated me a 7.5 with a “pretty cute” or “decent” next to the score. After all, they weren’t total monsters. I was cool; I wasn’t a total dog. My stacked friends with the good hair and real curves were easy 9.5s and 10s with vivid descriptions of their attributes. A robust lexicon devoted to puberty’s great gamble. When those boys were honest–or I’d failed to impress them with my extensive knowledge of pop culture—I earned a solid 6. My stacked friends tried to reassure me, tried their best not to gloat but failed. Their eyes twinkled with ego while they squinted into the shine of my braces. Oh, don’t worry, Jilly, 6 is average, above actually because 5.5 is the median of 10. (The SLAM Book was always shared during Algebra for some reason). Yet, I recognized the rock-hard truth and let it pummel me for the rest of my life. The disturbing open secret that average was worse than ugly. Natural beauty, so close and still so far out of reach. A possibility, no matter how slim, that you couldn’t attain because of physical flaw(s) you, and you alone, failed at obscuring. To be average was to know that your efforts at self-improvement sucked.

I blamed my dead mom and her sisters who abandoned me once she was nothing more than ashes buried beside a pretty beach. If they weren’t gonna stick around, the least they could have done was teach me a cosmetic trick or two. An eye makeup hack for the helpless, the pathetically orphaned by feminine wisdom. Helped me delude others so I could delude myself. 

Don’t remember me, thirteen and motherless, showered and anointed with Victoria’s Secret Freesia lotion, pleading each night with whatever presided on high, most likely some supernal version of a man, for a bigger ass while MTV Jams flashed across my dark bedroom walls like horny hymns to a perverse God who could grant me the one wish that mattered: being a bonafide rump shaker. By spring, I’d manifested my desired derriere and did not care what dark pact I may have made.

I had an ass.

A plumper, thicker and much more prominent ass than that of most girls. It was the stuff of booty bass sonnets. It was noticed. And by default, so was I. Prayers answered, I paid my penance, yanking off willing boys in the woods, anticipating transcendence, hoping to be reborn as something more than a good laugh. But it was better to be a punchline than to never make them laugh at all. At least, I earned a natural reaction. A reaction of any kind.

Imagine me under the bleachers, drinking brown bag hooch, husky voice booming, I don’t care what you do to me. Whatever you do to me has been done and I’ve probably done it better myself.

Imagine me, my smallest skirt snagging on the windowsill, sneaking into a house I’ve never seen when the sun shines and will never remember again. Imagine older men in there, but not too much older, old enough to be dead to their ambitions but still alive enough to what a youthful touch can provide, willing to entertain the husk of me between games of Mario Kart, weak bong rips and pulls of Rumple Minze. Imagine them not crossing lines without my limp go-ahead. Imagine that being enough. 

Imagine me telling my hometown punk rock heartthrob the truth that one night he drove me and my friend to Denny’s and asked me who I wanted to fuck so badly in our school it hurt. Like so badly it was painful. Imagine me cackling from the backseat, it’s you, you asshole, and you know it and that’s why you’re asking. And instead of taking me and my friend back to his house where his old-looking dad sat alone in a tiled room with the good china and a muted blue TV and we strutted on past and waited in his bedroom that was so sparse it looked staged for an open house as he showered for a good half hour, my friend and I giggling at our good fortune for not having a ride home from the mall until he finally emerged, muttonchops dripping, towel loose around his scrawn bod perched on the edge of his bed like such a fragile, harmless thing, big hands playing treacly acoustic renditions of Sunny Day Real Estate that he thought would get us wet as he was, he had dropped my friend off, skipped the shower and the emo theatrics and fucked me plain and silly until he took the pain away for both of us. Imagine that. 

Imagine me telling all the dreamy alt-boys working in the food court at Gyros-n-More what I was willing to do to them, how I wanted to climb over the counter and devour them whole in their Dickies and Sublime tees right underneath the rotisserie spit. I wanted to suck them dry…and more.

Imagine me, in my 20s, an expensive haircut and the hair everywhere else tamed and shamed and groomed and pruned to perfection, just how all the boys and girls all liked it. How I liked it. 

Don’t remember me as I am now, age 40-who cares, welling up in front of the mirror, rubbing my fine lines in the good light, because I’ll never know what it is to be hot. As I age, it’s more difficult to let go of the notion that I should be. I’ve been robbed. 

Don’t remember me as social media reflects: pleasant, inoffensive, sweet. Like a clean smell you barely notice except when it’s replaced by something stronger. And for god’s sake, don’t pity me now and look closer. Just know there are consistent flaws in the makeup: eyes too small and deep-set, nose too prominent, lips too thin. Even now, I’m afraid to point out each of these failings because then you’ll notice them too. You, my unlucky new beholder. 

I’m probably the last person you should trust anyway. My beauty, or lack of it, ultimately belongs to you no matter how much I wish to master it, to bring it into submission. I don’t want to be in control of most things. Judge away and draw your faulty conclusions. I’ve spent too much time (my whole life) trying to glean meaning from my face, my limbs, my hip-to-waist ratio, the size of my tits, the shape of my tits, the size of my ass, the shape of my ass, the shape of my legs, my leg-to-torso ratio, the size of my stomach, the extra fat on my cheeks, the extra fat on my stomach, the fat, fat, fat. I’m bored. I’m boring myself. I hope I’m boring you. Please imagine me boring you.

Imagine me like the better and braver women I notice in movie theater bathrooms, airport bathrooms, any shared and public space, standing in front of the mirror, unapologetically interrupting the illusion of having a natural anything as they spray their tresses, contour their bones, apply, and reapply paints and creams and mists to any outstanding surface. They believe in artifice. They believe in their art while I avoid my reflection. My unwavering gaze is on my soapy hands rubbed clean. I rarely meet my eyes. It’s too painful, too futile. Each time, it feels like a gross admission of defeat.

Imagine me drunk, forgetting the details of my face, or convincing myself I have another one altogether. Imagine every boozy pore of me exuding the charismatic equivalent of a cocktail straw chewed through with carnal ferocity, or a peek of upper thigh when the skirt rides up a bit too much or a waft of shampoo that intoxicates like a hard drug or a head-all-the-way-back laugh when dancing to the best songs on the bar jukebox. Imagine what I could accomplish before the moonlight fades. 

Imagine me forgetting the details of my face when sober, when music alone molds me into what I truly am underneath it all, and I move as if I were the culmination of every man, woman, and organic matter’s wet dream. Who could I be then? The parts I recognize when I forget to look at myself through your eyes only. When I feel the eyes of the universe on me instead.

Imagine all the times men have stopped and ogled and started something I wished I’d let them finish. Actually, you don’t need to imagine this. Just like I didn’t need to imagine my women friends aghast, dumbfounded that these dudes saw something in my likeness that made them pause, that made them hunt and pursue and hunger after me as I appeared, commenting about my good body, my elegance or my entrancing eyes as my friends scoffed within earshot. Regal and mysterious? What were they seeing? I was the girl-next-door. 

Don’t  remember me standing there, my dumb mouth good and shut, while my bedridden mother laid into me for the SLAM book my brother found in my room and brought to her like the chump that he was. In between pages where I rightly kissed my girlfriends’ asses with 10s and “total sweetheart,” “love like a sister” and scored each boy no less than an 8 along with comments like “fine as hell,” “cool freak,” “total sweetheart,” I wrote that my brother’s beauty queen girlfriend was a “SNOT,” “stuck-up,” and “not all that.” I scored her a 3.5. 

Is all this because you know you’re not beautiful like her?

My mom was exasperated, tired. She was near death and did not have time to say things gently. She didn’t know I would remain frozen in this moment of devastating inadequacy for the rest of my life. She only knew her own beauty was fading and she didn’t have patience for those that didn’t accept their fate, their place within the hierarchy. A hierarch her disease had evicted from cruelly and forcibly. But she didn’t know that I’d hold the memory of her beauty dearer than anything I loved about myself. 

Imagine me hot. Truly hot. Cramming my crushes’ mouths with all those verbs that hurt so good. Bangin’, smokin’, slammin’, stunning. Let them burn, let them hurt for once.

Imagine me oversharing about my exploits, doling out tales of my romanticized darkness to an enraptured audience. Imagine me actually relating to all those hot girl memes on the internet, posting calculated mirror selfies zoomed in on my teeny-tiny midriff and disaffected cartoon pout. Imagine me captioning them with moody quotes from suicided poetesses and godfathers of goth rock. Imagine me pretending I’m plagued by insecurity instead of enamored with the way my ribs ripple beneath my too adorbz bralette. Imagine the privilege to look sexy while self-destructing and have thousands upon thousands of followers bear witness to your gracefully planned fall from grace. Imagine enhancing your irreproachable hotness with self-deprecation. Just imagine the audacity in that. The freedom. Fuck, really imagine that.

Don’t remember me with a succession of doting and devoted paramours since age sixteen. Worshipping romantics, each in their own way, desperately trying to persuade me to see myself as they saw me. And sometimes I did. Sometimes I was a beautiful blur. Yet, I dismissed their efforts as lovesick delusion. It’s what love does, I’d say. You inevitably confuse my insides for what’s out here for real. You’ve gone too deep. I’m sorry this happened. My interior filmed your eyes over, glued them shut to any sort of objectivity. All you can see is my wit, my humor, my goodness. My goddamn goodness. It creates this mirage every time. I’m glad you see what isn’t here. If you did, you wouldn’t stick around as long as you do. Thank god for my goodness and my great, big bangin’, smokin’, slammin’, stunning heart. Thank god I have something else to offer you.

Imagine me as the irresistible taste of battery, the spark on everyone’s tongue.

Imagine me never saying please or thank you unless I mean it.

Imagine me taking up space and not thinking about saving room for you. Or thinking about it but not until I’ve thought about all the ways I want to occupy every crevice, every gap that begs for me instead. Imagine me gorging on my fleeting desires and tossing you my scraps. You’ll have to make yourself so small to fit beside me. You’ll have to pretend to know how humility feels. It’ll be a lesson I can teach you. All of you. 

Imagine me pushing myself onto a boy, or a man, knowing he’ll accept the modest roundness of me because it’s enough and fits in the palms of his hand. Imagine me, the opposite of sweetness. No roundness of being. All sharp edges, jutting forth, especially where it counts.

Imagine me not thinking about the shape of me at all. Imagine me ineffable and immaterial like a God. Imagine me on my knees, worshipping myself, sight unseen but felt in the touch of every fingertip that roamed my flesh with the pure intent to fuck. 

Imagine me, as I am now, a pill under my tongue, ready to swallow the night whole, a cat-eye so sharp and on-point that when I blink, my eyes flicker like comely daggers under the blacklight, stabbing through the skin of reality while the party moves around us like a dream. Imagine me, a sleek shimmer sliding around your neck and through your veins. Imagine me enhancing the fantasy. Imagine it isn’t just the drugs talking, but my body. 

Don’t remember me beyond this shell. I want you to covet my slippery surface, not everything slowly rotting within it. I want you to cling in vain to what will always elude us both. Tell me I’m at my peak. Tell me you’re drawn to it only for this moment and never after. 

Don’t remember me making these demands. Pretend it was all your idea. Yeah, imagine telling me I’m hot and making me believe it just once. 

Just once before I die.


Jillian Luft is a Florida native currently residing in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Expat, Hobart, Rejection Letters, and other publications. She’s currently at work on novel about Florida dirtbag romance. You can find her on Twitter @JillianLuft or read more of her writing at