By Gail Bridges
“Whore! Whore of Babylon!”
A red-faced woman stood behind the barrier rope, screaming.
I recognized her. She had been lurking at the airport late the night before when I had arrived in Mexico City with the sexual gymnastics team. Despite furious coaches and horrified airport personnel, she had flung her sign reading “Save our Olympics!” back and forth, pointing and jeering and calling us dreadful names as we passed by her on our way to catch the subway to the Olympic Village. Her worst insults were directed at me. I am, you see, the female half of America’s Darlings.
Surely you’ve heard of America’s Darlings?
Benson and I earned the moniker last year when we won the Internationals in Moscow. The media went crazy for us, couldn’t get enough of us, wouldn’t leave us alone. The sportscaster covering the event, a guy named Ryan Markham, had coined the name America’s Darlings—and it had stuck. No-one had asked Benson and me whether we liked it or even wanted it. Luckily, we do like it. At least I do. The extra attention earned us the adoration of a nation enchanted with our brand-new sport, millions of fans intent on following our every move.
I’m still not used to it.
It throws me when people recognize me. Complete strangers call me by name, act as if they know me, comment on my performances, give advice or offer to help me to practice, and it gets me every time.
But I like it. I do.
As America’s Darlings, the nation’s highest-ranking sexual gymnast duo, Benson and I were the team’s best hope, probably the only hope, for a gold medal in the Olympics—and the public never let us forget it. My face—and Benson’s—had been plastered everywhere for months.
Of course the woman knew who I was. How could she not?
Now here she was again.
“Jezebel! Porn-Monger! Sex fiend!”
Sex fiend? Really?
The Team and I were making our way through the Olympic Village to the Olympic on-site training facility, the “Oostif” as everyone called it, for an early workout. We were nervous and excited, all of us. The Olympics! Finally! Everything we’d worked so hard for was coming to fruition! We were the vanguard of a new sport, the first wave of sexual athletes to be included in the Games. The Olympic Guidance Committee had at long last seen the beauty and athleticism of sex.
This was history in the making. I couldn’t afford to let the woman distract me, not after all I’d been through to get here. She was right about one thing, though. I did have sex. A lot of it.
Let me give an example. During our upcoming practice session I would have sexual relations—I would “couple”, as we called it—with Benson, my duo partner. Time permitting, I would also perform simple exercise routines with various men on the team, and perhaps with one or two of the women. Maybe I’d even practice difficult moves with a coach.
Real sex. Even during practice.
Because I know you are curious, yes, I have orgasms. And yes, I do enjoy them. Very much.
Sex in the Olympics.
It’s not a big deal. Really.
But some people just can’t get their heads around it, such as this obnoxious, horrible woman. She was a throwback to an earlier time when people had been prudish about sex, especially about public sex. What had she been doing during the Second Sexual Revolution? Hiding under a haystack? Obviously she’d missed the train. She and people like her—we call them Fringe Dwellers—reject our current sexual culture. They abhor the fact that humanity proudly and publicly reclaimed its sexuality in the wake of smart anti-STD drugs. Fringe Dwellers, poor things, do not understand anything about sex. They are ignorant. They have no idea that sex is a natural function of being alive, no more deserving of shame and ridicule than, say, a handshake.
It’s hard to believe that they willingly deny themselves something so beautiful.
Why did this awful woman hate modern-day life so? Why did she condemn people who have joyous sex with multiple partners, who engage in homosexual relationships, who love each other in public places or who perform beautiful choreographed performances for others to enjoy? Why, when she didn’t understand any of it?
I didn’t—I couldn’t—understand.
I knew she was Fringe. I understood her vitriol was nothing but the spewing of a misguided soul. I tried to ignore her, but it was hard.
You see, I am easily upset.
Benson says I’m delicate. My head coach—Coach Bob—uses the word “fragile”. My mother calls me highly strung. My sister, when we were younger, accused me of being high maintenance. Lord! Who wants to be high maintenance? I try not to be those things. I don’t want to be delicate. I hate being fragile. I strive to be the strong, confident woman my adoring public thinks I am.
I’m not oblivious.
I do see those things in myself, when I try. But more often than not my self-destructive behavior has to be pointed out to me. I know my teammates and coaches have learned to protect me, to gather around me, to manage me and do their best to keep me functioning. I’m not supposed to know, but they’ve invented a list of “Leah rules”, things to help them to help me. I know I take up more than my share of the team’s energy, and because of that I drive myself to distraction trying to prove to them and to myself that I am worth it.
I try so hard to be like them!
I would give anything to do what they do, to laugh off an ugly remark, to let a bad rehearsal go, to ignore a petty jealousy, to better care for my mind and body—but there’s always something sending me into a tailspin, something throwing me off balance, something illicit to tempt me, something to make me doubt myself.
My only solace is sex.
It doesn’t take much for me to become desperate with need. An ache fills me, body and soul, and I won’t be right again, I won’t feel like myself again, until I can lose myself in lovemaking and be cleansed in the magnificent joining of bodies.
I have come to understand that I find healing in sex. Others may call it an addiction.
I must have sex.
This Fringe Dweller threatened my well-being. Her insults cut me to the core.
She had three friends with her. They screamed and shouted, waved banners, chanted. Supposedly these protesters were “vetted and bonded” by the Olympic security detail—it was all explained in our orientation packet. Each protester wore a bright-red limited access pass hanging around his or her neck, complete with photo and identifying information.
My pass was green.
This ridiculous protest was legal—I knew that from the sixty-eight page Olympic rule book I’d read cover-to-cover, then read again—but I wished security would keep them away from us. Other athletes—the swimmers, the runners, the chess players—didn’t have hecklers following them around. Why should we?
It wasn’t fair.
My favorite coach, Coach Debbie, thought the sole purpose of the protesters was to drum up interest and controversy in a public wearying of the Olympics.
Maybe she was right.
But it was me this woman was calling names.
“Game Polluter! Moral deviant! Whore!”
Her sign—“No smut in our Olympics!”—looked like it could do double duty as a club.
Let me be clear. I am not a whore.
by Gail Bridges
I saw my first Paint-ini last summer at Golden Sands beach. Of course, I didn’t know it was a Paint-ini because – just like the ads promise – it looked exactly like the real thing. The girl’s blue-and-white bikini didn’t look any different than any other swimsuit on the beach, bikini or not. I only knew it was painted on her bare naked body because the news flashed from beach towel to beach towel until she may as well have been naked because everyone knew. Every single one of us was waiting for the only sign it was all a trick of the eye: a glimpse in profile of the girl’s nipples. Even me.
Needless to say, I was curious. From behind dark glasses, I watched the girl and studied her paint job. I knew something about art and about painting, having just completed my second year of Art School, and – believe me – whoever painted her did a fantastic job. The lines of her fake bikini followed and accentuated the contours of her body, hugging the curves of her breasts and tantalizing the eye where it disappeared between her legs: how did they do it? How could impressionistic dabs of blue, green, and turquoise paint look so real? I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Obviously, much thought and care went into the creation of such a beautiful work of art.
I had to know more. I walked right up to her, wending my way through her clump of admirers, and stuck out my hand. She regarded me warily.
“Yes!” she said, cutting off my greeting, “It’s a Paint-ini. Leave me alone.”
“Please. I’m an artist,” I said, wincing. “Your Paint-ini, it’s… it’s wonderful. It’s a work of art. I just wanted to tell you.”
She touched my arm as I turned away. “Sorry. I’m nervous, is all. This is my first time out. People have been pestering me since I got here! I guess I should have expected it.”
“No. People are rude. I was rude. I was staring too.”
She smiled and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “But you’re an artist. You don’t count.”
Claire and I went for ice cream. She threw on a gauzy skirt and a tank top, and that amazing Paint-ini disappeared and I never saw it again. She licked her scoop of chocolate mint and said I had to go to Paint-ini Paradise and nowhere else – it would be an experience I’d never forget. Getting a Paint–ini was expensive, took twenty-four hours, and I’d be achy and exhilarated and exhausted afterward (why?); but it was worth every penny because it was waterproof and would last an entire year. A year! And by the way, I had to get the Deluxe Package – I just had to.
“They’re really good at what they do. They’re unbelievable. Believe me.”
I believed her. I’d seen her Paint-ini.
Excerpts from the published works of author Gail Bridges
Inn on the Edge
by Gail Bridges
The Washington State map flapped against my face, threatening to fling itself out the open car window and into the scrubby-looking trees at the side of the road. I folded the annoying thing and stuffed it in the folds of white satin draped over my lap. There. That was better. I shifted in my seat, wondering how long it would be before I could get out of my hot, itchy wedding dress. The fabric tugged and pulled and scratched—obviously, wedding dresses were never meant to be comfortable. That’s why most brides change out of them before setting off for their honeymoons.
Josh had asked me not to.
I breathed deeply, willing myself to be patient, hoping we were nearing our destination. At least the landscape was changing. It felt cooler here, near the Washington coast, and wetter too. I thought I could smell the ocean. I sat up straighter, hoping for a glimpse. “Josh,” I said, breaking a long silence, “tell me again—how did you find this place? The Inn on the Edge?”
Josh glanced at me. “You already know how. The internet.”
“But it’s…you know. Strange. An odd choice for a honeymoon. Four couples together for an entire week—that’s kind of different, wouldn’t you say?”
He smiled. “You like different, babe. And you asked for a surprise, remember?”
“Mmm. But are you sure I’m supposed to wear the dress? At check-in?”
This time his glance lingered on me for so long I almost told him to pay attention to his driving. “You’re so beautiful, Angie. Even with your hair whipping around like that. And the red spots on your cheeks. Beautiful.” His knuckles gripped the steering wheel. “I can’t wait to get there. To get you out of that dress!”
“Me neither.” I reached over and squeezed his knee. It felt warm.
“Really? How huge?”
He grinned. “I’m not telling. But to get the special rate we had to come straight from the reception. Still in our wedding clothes.”
“The food is supposed to be out of this world. Highest ratings I’ve ever seen.”
“Good. I’m ravenous.”
“And there’s more.”
I waited. I squeezed his leg for good measure.
“Hints I’ve read online. Nothing very clear.” He glanced at me, a glint in his eyes. “About…um…sex. I think.”
"People rated the place for sex?”
“Yes! The setting is supposed to be perfect for it. Romantic as all hell. People say they return from their honeymoons invigorated. Raring to go. With new—ah…tricks in their arsenal.”
I laughed. It sounded good to me. Who wouldn’t like a new trick or two? I ran my hand up and down the fine fabric of his suit pants, feeling his muscles move as he drove. I caressed his thigh, moved toward his crotch then back to his thigh, carefully steering clear of sensitive things that ought not be messed with while driving.
But wanting to in the worst way.
“Angie! Do you want to make me crash?”
“I love you,” I said for the hundredth time. I was allowed. It was my wedding day. It was a day of relatives and friends and co-workers and neighbors. Of getting my hair done, and my nails. Of crying on my mother’s shoulder. Of spilling a perfectly round spot of cadmium orange-colored tangerine juice on my dress and almost giving in to hysterics. Of going to the church in a caravan of cars and taking pictures—and doing my best to hide that damned spot—and stealing glances at an opaque, purple-tinged sky, hoping it wouldn’t rain until the photographer was done. It was a day for vowing to spend my life with Josh and vowing to be faithful to him. And of holding Josh’s hand and thinking, he’s my husband now!
Josh and I never slowed down all day. Not until we left our reception and set our sights on the Inn on the Edge, laughing at how Josh’s friends had booby-trapped our getaway car with shaving cream and dangling beer cans.
And now here we were, three hours later, still in our wedding clothes, driving along a winding road in the gathering darkness, looking for mile markers and signposts, so tired we could barely maintain the hots for each other.
My wedding day.
I was twenty-seven, Josh was twenty-nine, and we were finally married. Exhausted but married. We’d done it.