The Embracing Ace

Brontë Pearson

Almost a decade ago, I met the man who would become my husband in the cool of an October that laid over us like a dead hand. This was inconvenient, considering my half-naked witch’s garb. I was assigned the role of The Witch, a zombie woman who is highly sensitive to light and the close presence of uninfected humans, from the video game Left 4 Dead. She cowers in the dark crying until she is startled or attacked; she then has the ability to instantly incapacitate or kill the player. For this role, I had to wear a tattered white tank top and pantyhose soaked in fake blood, and I sported a platinum blonde wig, black mesh holes for eyes, and twelve-inch long claws made of aluminum foil and black masking tape. Beneath all the paint and liquid latex, I was unrecognizable.

 

Behind my parents’ early 20th century Victorian home was a construction site of horrors. Wooden walls draped in black tarps stood along a sharp-bending river of dirt and old carpet, and decrepit buildings spotted the two-acre backyard. My stepmother had built them all when the Nightmare Maze was still a blueprint in her brain. Red spray paint sprinkled the door of one building with a wrap-around porch, and inside was a wave of mannequins, both whole and dismembered. Mirrors lined the walls and what looked like a bed at the doctor’s office sat in the back corner.

 

The maze was different each year, but these buildings remained, serving a different purpose, of course. This year, my first and only year to participate, the theme was Raven’s Hollow. I never quite understood what that meant; the range of characters was vast, and The Witch hardly seemed fitting, but alas, there we were. I wailed and asked no questions.

 

I felt uncomfortable in my costume at first, but I pulled off the role well. I was placed at the beginning of the maze, where I crawled through the mud and sobbed as the guests approached, and then I’d scream and lunge at them when they least expected it. I made people of all ages squeal, and I was regularly complimented on my solo performance as the opening character, often tying for “Scariest Act of the Night” with the masked chainsaw wielder at the end of the maze who ran at our guests through machine-fog and a soundtrack of banshee screams. Despite my success, a few weeks into the maze I was chosen to make room for an actor who didn’t seem to fit anywhere else in the maze, and so he eventually joined me at the frontlines.

 

He was a red-faced cloaked demon who would taunt the crowd as I crawled across the dirt towards our unsuspecting audience. We made an excellent team and quickly became friends through our long shifts together three nights a week. Between groups, he made cheesy jokes, character impressions, and recalled his time in high school theatre. A nerd and major goofball like me, he was hard not to like. We never saw the other’s face, though—not at first. But even so, after weeks of scaring together, we kissed anyway. We kissed and then we had our great reveal on Halloween night, and my gosh, I was not disappointed. In the words of my childhood hero Junie B. Jones: “wowie, wow, wow.” He was the most beautiful human I’d ever seen. Beneath his costume attire, he had golden hair and piercing azure eyes. His nose sloped into a fine point, and his lips curved vivaciously. His smile was bright, and his spirit glowed through his whole body. He exuded innocence and warmth. He was the masked demon of my dreams. Little did I know that this man would come to change my life forever in more ways than one.          

 

This man and I came to spend nearly every available moment together, and he was beyond romantic. A few weeks after we officially began dating, I left the state for six days to visit my mother, and when I returned to Arkansas, I came home to six letters taped to my front door—six letters written each day that I was gone, the last ending with “I love you.” He was always spontaneous and silly and had the brightest spirit of anyone I had ever known. Falling in love with him was easy, and there wasn’t a thing I wouldn’t do for him—or so I thought.

 

There was one problem: throughout my adult life, I had never enjoyed sex or felt compelled to have it; it was simply an obligatory act. This man, however, did enjoy sex and was in love with me, and I was determined to make sure he stayed in love with me, so make love we did. After only two months of dating I became pregnant, and although we were shocked (for some reason), we were happy to embark on this huge new journey together.

 

As the months went on, our love stayed strong, but the new began to wear off, and so did my desire to engage in sex. I should have known that the feeling wouldn’t last—it never did—but I wanted it to. My body wouldn’t cooperate, though, and sex began to hurt. He didn’t understand and took it personally, and I didn’t blame him; I didn’t understand either. I must have been broken.

 

As time went by, sex got harder. I rarely wanted to, and when I’d attempt to push through it, we would start and then have to stop because it hurt so much. At first, I chocked it down to pregnancy, but the problem persisted even after our son was born. Even so, we got married under the greenest leaves in May; we still loved each other and wanted to ensure our child had a family. I thought the revitalization of our passion through marriage would get things going again, but it didn’t. We couldn’t consummate our marriage on our wedding night because it was painful, and my body shook in a panic neither of us quite understood. I blamed it on my deceased brother’s absence from our wedding day. Every day after was no different, though. We had entered our own nightmare maze.

 

I went to my family doctor and multiple gynecologists, but nothing was wrong. It was just me. I didn’t like sex, and neither did my body. I was married, though, and we wanted to keep our relationship monogamous, so I simply endured discomfort. I became more and more uncomfortable, but I never said much about it because he was now the father of my child and my husband—it was my obligation to push through it. Right?

 

Two years went by this way before I spoke up, and I only spoke up because my discomfort became louder than my love. He was hurt and offended by my truth, though he was clearly unhappy with the way things were between us too. We spent another year trying to overcome this hurdle and those that stemmed from it before we agreed to separate and seek a divorce. Our maze was over.

 

After we separated, I went through a deep depression. Many days and nights were spent in mental darkness; two years, to be exact. Even though I had run from our relationship, I realized it wasn’t him I was running from: it was sex. I was riddled with guilt, dwelling on the reality that I sacrificed my best friend because I couldn’t just give myself to him like a wife normally would. I understood my lack of affection had hurt him, however, and he was able to find a great girl who could fulfill needs I could not, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. I felt like I didn’t deserve anyone, and I isolated myself from everyone for those few years.

 

This period allowed me to do a lot of self-reflection, however. I discovered after reading and research binges that my feelings were totally normal and valid: I was asexual. I was not some mutant being but a part of the LGBTQIA+ community full of millions of others who shared my experience. Asexuality is when a person lacks or has a low desire for sexual activity; it affects approximately 1% of the population. It even hosts a broad spectrum of sub-identities: demisexual, fraysexual, cupiosexual, graysexual, lithosexual, aegosexual, placiosexual, abrosexual, and apothisexual.

 

It is important to note that asexuals should not to be confused with aromantics, who are people who lack or have a low desire for romance, although they can go hand in hand. That wasn’t my case, obviously. I was very capable of romantic love, just not sex. My guilt lessened as I interacted with other asexual people online and heard their stories, and I realized that my husband and I were simply incompatible. He didn’t understand the boundaries of my asexuality because he was full of sexuality, and he deserved to be with someone who could reciprocate that. Neither of us deserved to make ourselves uncomfortable anymore, no matter how much we had once loved each other emotionally.

           

Being a young divorced woman, men are eager to satisfy my lack of sexual activity, but I am quick to turn them away. I still have a bad taste in my mouth about sex that I don’t expect to disappear—this is who I am. I have come out publicly about my asexuality to ensure total transparency for any future relationship I may have and to spread awareness of asexuality and all it encompasses. I recognize that I cannot settle for just anyone when I try dating again. Perhaps my eventual trek to find love will be harder than most; I must be open about my preferences (or lack thereof) from the beginning to avoid the pain my ex-husband and I endured while trying to be “normal.” The next love I find will be honest and come with respect for my boundaries because I now know that there is a valid need for them.

           

I am an asexual woman, who has had sex, and I genuinely enjoyed the love and the children that came from it, but I have no desire to do it for my personal pleasure. I am not obligated to force my body to endure sexual experiences against its will. My asexuality prevented me having a healthy marriage with an allosexual, or sexual, person, but that is not my fault. Lack of sex education, largely, was to blame. I now know that I belong to a community full of normal but asexual people, and I am now able to set healthy boundaries because of my experience and the discovery of that community. Through this loss, I gained a new piece of myself and relieved a weight that has rested upon my heart for so long. The transparency of my Ace brothers and sisters has set me free, and I hope sharing my story will liberate others like me in the same way. Asexuality is not equated with brokenness. We deserve love just the same as everyone else.

Brontë Pearson is a science journalist and creative writer from Oklahoma. Her essays, short stories, and poetry seek to expose the art of being human through natural discoveries of the body, environment, and mind. Her work has been published in numerous online and print publications and 'best of' anthologies, including The Smart Set, Motherly, The Mighty, Arkansas’s Best Emerging Poets, Aphotic Realm, 805 Lit + Art Magazine, and others. In addition to being a writer, Brontë is a mother and an enthusiast of alternative rock music, dark chocolate, and cats.