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  • The Avocado
  • Jill Christman (bio)

If the answer was the smooth, brown pit at the center of a ripe avocado I bought for breakfast from the man on the corner in San Jose, Costa Rica, then the question began with the slippery green nubs on the surface, the ones I ran my thumb across for courage as I walked back to my single bed in the pension, past a group of men on the street, all of them hissing que guapa que guapa que guapa. Twenty years old, blue-eyed and dark-haired, I didn’t know my own beauty, would never have thought to consider such a phrase—my own beauty—but I held a growing sense of my body’s place at the center of things. I mean this in a geological way: the shifting and slipping of solids and liquids, the crunching of plates, the obliteration of the eruption, and, afterward, the layering, the building up.

At home in Oregon, before the tow truck hit my fiancé’s van in the cold November of the previous year, I wore tight sweaters, white cowboy boots, and snug jeans with a thin ribbon of lace around my too-small waist. Before the accident made Colin’s body something they wouldn’t even let me see, never mind touch, I still counted catcalls from the yogurt shop to my Shakespeare class, but I had a dawning understanding that my heart’s acceleration in the electric heat from strangers on the street was more fear than power, more fuck you than fun.

This tectonic shift may be credited partially to my first women’s studies class, but the real change came from the way Colin loved me. Of course he loved my body, as I loved his, but he also loved me. I’d been having sex since my mid-teens and before that, when I was a child—a bedrock violation, my body the property of our neighbor across the field long before I knew it was mine. Before Colin, I’d held all that down, buried deep, not knowing how much work I had to do before [End Page 75] my body was mine—bones and flesh, skin and hair, hard parts and soft parts—a body I could share if I wanted, without giving anything away.

It makes sense, then, that the teenage sex I had before Colin was like something I watched on TV—not all bad, sometimes comical, never better than a book, but always from a distance, always from the other side of a screen. Before Colin, I didn’t stay in my body for sex. I slipped out, a curl of steam, a wisp of vapor, and no one seemed to notice she was gone. Not even me. But Colin loved me enough to know this and we practiced. He’d watch for my departure, and if something pulled me away, he would stop whatever he was doing and lie next to me holding my hand. Together we were safe and together we could burn.

In the single year we had together, Colin beckoned me down from the walls, back from the edges, to inhabit my body, a real woman’s body. With his fingers, his tongue, the firm pressure of all of him, he walked the ledge of my collarbone, fed the curved lines of my ribs, and kissed—again and again—the freckled birthmark spreading across the top third of my left thigh. In the middle-school dressing room, the mean girls had pointed, calling out my dirty spot, heckling me to wash off the mud, but Colin saw something else. “Look,” he said, turning my hip with his palm. “A lion. She’s running, looking over her shoulder.” And I could see her there. Yes. Together, we roared, and then Colin took his own body and went away. He saved my life, and then he died.

On the day of that perfect avocado, I was four months into a kind of volcanic winter, the sun occluded by the ash that rose up when Colin had burned, when his strong, golden, six-foot-two body—so beautiful—had become something the man...