The first boy I ever loved inherited his fight from his father. Like many men before him, he was a cannonball born with grenades for fists, his mouth wide open, hungry for war. His friends, a chorus of purple-hearted soldiers, sung his praises, feared they’d be the disaster, riding shotgun. He was the toughest motherfucker in the 6th grade, and he picked me like a wallflower, like a dandelion waiting for someone to blow me away. In passing, he placed a folded paper in the palm of my hand. I checked yes and changed my name to his. Three weeks later, he slid a switchblade in my pocket, whispered hold this for me, don’t ask questions and I never saw him again. I learned that the heart is a wingless dove. A broken olive branch. That no matter how bloody the beating, love is a fight you can lose every time.

My second boyfriend kissed me like I was a woman. I did not correct him. I did not pick up the pieces of his broken English. I laughed louder than I should have at all of his jokes. I made myself an island, la casa, a Catholic church: any place he could return to. Any place he could call home.

The summer before high school, I loved a man with a chimney for a mouth. He drove too fast, scared me silent. I wrote his name on a napkin and hid it under my pillow in case I never came home. I convinced myself that silence was a romance language. I learned to listen so hard that I lost my voice. I wanted him to want me so badly that I almost disappeared.

My first boyfriend in high school taught me how to drive with my knees. I spent years searching for the metaphor in it.

My second boyfriend in high school refused my body offering – a good, Christian boy – we were all front seats and phone calls. I hated his clumsy mouth, his useless hands. i learned the sin of a woman’s wanting body, believed him when he told me that the wrong man inside of it would make me a windowless cathedral, a godless shrine.

My only boyfriend in college kept me all to himself. He learned me so well that I became who he thought I was.

I have learned many lessons from men on how to be a woman. The one thing they did not teach me was how to love one properly.

The first woman I let myself fall in love with broke me like good china. I thought that she would be gentler. Softer. I assumed, like a foreigner, that we would speak the same language. So I told her everything. She licked my open wounds like a wolf, like I belonged to her. You would think I would have seen her teeth. You would think I would have asked her what she had learned.