Evan tells me, very seriously, "Never look twice." There’s a lot of beautiful women in the world, he says, but there’s way more of them in your head. The first look is always best; the first look is the one where their beauty thumps you in the chest, a surprise attack that leaves you breathless. The first look is the one where you know you’ll always be a little in love with that swan-necked Nordic queen, that curvy caramel goddess, that elfin redhead with an ass – "excuse me, Lex" – like a ripe tomato. On the second look, the queen is horse-faced, the goddess pendulous, the elf prepubescent. The second look breaks hearts.
"One look, Lex," he reminds me every time. "One look only, if you want to think there’s goodness in the world." Of course there’s the occasional two-look women, the ones who make us twist our faces and pound our fists on each other as if their sheer sexiness sent us into paroxysms of pain. And if either of us ever actually approached one, we would probably have to give her a careful appraisal, right after finding an umbrella to protect us from the airborne shit of flying pigs. But most of the time, Evan is strict. One look, that’s all.
I find it amusing that my brother has taken it upon himself to teach me how to girl-watch. When I told him, there was of course a moment of shock, a moment of silence – and then, bravely, charitably: "I’ll show you how it’s done." As though the suddenness of my announcement meant I’d only noticed women yesterday. As though his ignorance made me a novice; as though the sexual awareness that I’d fought and fought and gotten too weary to fight existed only when he was aware of it, too.
So we sit in the mall, by the pretzel stand, and my brother instructs me in the particulars of what I’ve been doing since I was twelve years old. How to lead your stare so that she’ll walk into it, saving you from an obvious twist of the head. How to bounce your gaze off of mirrors and shop windows. How to use your peripheral vision. How to look once, and not look back.
Evan’s two years older than me, and he’s never had a real girlfriend either. We’ve both had this, for years – this covert vulture-eyed watch over the high bangs and acid-wash asses in the local mall. We’ve both had the awkward fumbles in the junkyard where the boys hang out, or behind the portable classrooms at school – the too-wet kisses, the averted eyes, the hand briefly brushing a nipple and then darting back as if burned, as if scared. But I let him teach me, and I try to mold my too-sharp face into the big-eyed gaze of an ingénue. I am a dyke, and my brother still loves me, and he’s taken me under his wing, though it’s just as damp and featherless as my own. I’ll let him play the playboy, the man of the world, if that’s what it takes. I am a dyke and he still loves me.
I sit and listen and nod like he was the goddamn Dalai Lama, and I never tell him that I always look twice. That I want to see these achingly beautiful visions sprout pimples and weak chins and knobby knees, that I want the flab and the chewed nails and the peeling sunburns. It doesn’t erase that first brilliant unveiling, the goddess in all her glory, not for me. It just makes her a goddess I could someday, maybe, hold.
Evan knows I'm still his cherubic little sister, who used to wear pigtails and dance ballet like a spastic monkey, and I’m also a dyke -- which our parents would never accept, which our teachers would never accept, which our neighbors would never accept, which even the girls whose tongues I sucked on a little too hard in the grass behind the portables would probably never be able to accept outright. Which I can barely accept. And this is the way my brother keeps loving me, the same way I stay a little in love with all of these luminous maidens, after their beautiful imperfections show through. We look, and we keep looking, and we let ourselves get caught, and we don’t look away.