Lessons In Control and Poetry: News Round Up!

Hi everyone! It’s been awhile, but I have lots of news I wanted to share today, both about the Lessons In Control series and a new mini-project I’m embarking on! Woo hoo!

I’ll start with Lessons In Control, specifically book one—I am delighted to share that The Assignment is a finalist for the Pauline Reage Novel award from the National Leather Association – International (NLA-I). Holy cow! The NLA-I is a leading organization for activists in the pansexual SM/leather/fetish community. Their annual awards are named after activists and writers to recognize excellence in writing and publishing about Leather, SM, bondage and fetishes. Whoa! This was some majorly happy news, and I’m thrilled to be a finalist. In the past, the award has been given in various categories to some seriously awesome authors. Here are this year’s finalists for the Pauline Reage category:

Risk Aware by Amelia C Gromley (Riptide Publishing)
Heart’s Master by Elizabeth Schechter (Circlet Press)
The Viscountess Interrogates: A Dominion Erotic Mystery by Cameron Quintain (Circlet Press)
Skyscraper by Scott Alexander Hess (Unzipped Books, an imprint of Lethe Press)
The Gambler’s Lady by Angela Hamm (Blushing Books)
The Assignment by Jade A. Waters (Carina Press)

I cannot express how honored I am to be on this list! The winners will be announced at the National Leather Association – International’s Annual General Meeting on April 23rd. Fingers crossed!

Okay, next up: book two, The Discipline. Wow, do I have a lot to say about The Discipline! First, there have been a few excerpts from the book if you haven’t checked them out. One happened right here, another over visited Lady Smut a couple weeks ago, and finally, one appeared just yesterday over at F. Leonora Solomon’s place. I was so happy to get to tour the book around at these stops!

Official cover of The Discipline by Jade A WatersNow for some extra fun—if you’re in the mood for a LIVE excerpt from The Discipline and happen to be the in LA area, then I hope you’ll join me next Sunday, April 9th, at Lady Jane’s Salon OC. The event takes place at The Ripped Bodice, 3806 Main Street in Culver City, from 4 to 6 pm. I’ll be reading along with Pamela DuMond, Sabrina Sol, and Allison Morse. The entry fee is one gently used romance novel or $5, and in exchange you’ll hear some sweet and sexy excerpts. Please come out and say hi! I’ll have all sorts of series swag to giveaway there, too.

If you want to find out more about The Discipline, or even the overall series and my writing process, I wanted to point out an interview over at Lady Smut that happened a little bit ago—the fabulous Rachel Kramer Bussel interviewed me about my writing over there, and I had a good time answering her questions. Check it out if you missed it! Also, on a related note—I will forever celebrate my connection to Rachel since she is the very reason I ever got published in the first place. That said, I encourage you to check out her newest calls for submission. She is always on the lookout for new work!

All right, I can’t very well talk about Lessons In Control without mentioning book three, The Reward. I’ve got to say, I thought at first that book one was my favorite. Then book two was such a bear to write, I thought I liked it most. But…after all the editing of book three, I can officially say it is my favorite. I’m happy to report that it’s not only available for pre-order (out June 12th!), but that we have official back cover copy! Check it out:

What if the fantasy never had to stop? 

It’s been a year since Dean Sova turned Maya Clery’s world inside out. There isn’t a secret fantasy that Maya and Dean haven’t explored—each one more tantalizing and mind-blowing than the last. But while their relationship may be stronger than ever, taking the next step pushes boundaries neither one of them is prepared to face.

Dean couldn’t care less about Maya’s background—all her choices made her the woman he wants to tie to his bed and never let go. But not even a Dom as strong as Dean can keep the past at bay. When a threat from Maya’s old life surfaces, she’ll have to choose once and for all: fight for freedom under Dean’s command, or lose the reward she’s worked so hard for—the chance to be happy with the man she loves.

Book three of Lessons in Control 

This book is approximately 89,000 words

One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise! Find out more at CarinaPress.com/RomancePromise.

Oh, wow. I’m so pumped for you to read this one, guys! Be sure to pre-order your copy at any of the following places:

Amazon US   Amazon UK   Carina Press   Barnes & Noble   Google Play   iBooks   Kobo

So…that’s all on the series. Now, I have just a little ditty to share about a new mini-project I’ve taken on. To be honest, life has decided to throw some pretty big tragedies my way at the moment…and writing has become tricky with all of it going on. But, I caught a very light wind the other day, and I wanted to run with it. You see, April is the official month for the Blogging A to Z Challenge, and I’ve long wanted to take advantage of this on my poetry site. It sort of clicked the other night that I could spin some of the rockiness I’m feeling and poetry together, and still take part in this challenge through a poem every day (excluding Sunday)—except with a twist: each poem will be part of one continuous, month-long poem. I hope you’ll join me on this adventure, which is titled “A Love Affair, From A to Z.” It’s a bittersweet thing that I’m hoping to be able to continue (without tearing my eyeballs out), so if you’d like to read along, be sure to start with today’s “A – Always.”

News, news, news—and I think that’s all of it! Happy weekend and reading to all!


PS Have you signed up for my newsletter? Subscribers will be getting a free preview of book three, The Reward, before it’s released. Don’t miss out!

Cover of Coming Together: In Verse

Poetry for a Cause!

I have always loved writing poetry. It’s been a part of my life since I was young, and in the last few years, I’ve grown so fond of it I knew I needed to launch a secondary site to house all my poetic words. So, when the fabulous poet Ashley Lister put out a call for Coming Together: In Verse—a collection of erotic poetry to benefit Hope for Paws—I knew I simply had to take part.Cover of Coming Together: In Verse

Coming Together: In Verse is a sexy new anthology out today, filled entirely with erotic poetry and risqué verse—be it sultry, comedic, romantic, or filthy. On top of that, the poets involved are ones who will surely rock your world, and sales proceeds go to support a cause that’s dear to me, too—animal rescue! I’m thrilled to have three brand new poems in this anthology—”Colours,” “Farther,” and “Longing”—and to whet your appetite, I have some special surprises for you, too.

First, I’m revealing “Longing” over on my poetry site—it’s the shorter of my three poems included in Coming Together: In Verse. But then, I’m reading you “Longing,” too…because of course, poetry is meant to be heard. 😉 You can find the audio either on YouTube or on my poetry site.

Once you’re finished with both of these book release treats, I hope you’ll really make me purrrrr…by heading over to Amazon to grab your copy of this gorgeous new anthology. Sexy poetry, good cause—how can you pass it up?

I very much hope you enjoy “Longing,” and thank you for your support!


Cover of The Sexy Librarian's Dirty 30 Cover

Interviewed on Inside the Erotica Author’s Studio!

The most exciting thing happened earlier this week—the lovely Rose Caraway of The Kiss Me Quick’s Erotica Podcast had me up to her studio to record an interview! Wow!Cover of Rose Caraway's Dirty 30 Audiobook

Rose Caraway is the editor of The Sexy Librarian’s Dirty 30, a collection in which I am lucky enough to have two stories, “The Bells” and “The Doll.” To celebrate the release of this book, Rose has been interviewing the contributors on her “Inside the Erotica Author’s Studio” series. The whole idea is to introduce you to each of us while finding out more about us and our stories. I could not be more thrilled to be a part of this book, and now to have had the privilege of talking with Rose in her actual studio—well, let’s just say the whole experience has completely boggled my mind.

We had such a great conversation about all sorts of things—you’ll find out about my tendency to try just about anything, how I write, thoughts on my stories, my experience with having an agent, and even an interesting date accident I almost had. Rose is positively one of the sweetest people on the planet, as is the amazing Big Daddy, so this interview made me feel right at home in their studio!

If you’d like to check it out, you can do so right here with the player below. Or, if you’d like to read Rose’s show notes alongside the interview, you can click on over to The KMQ’s. Either way, I hope you enjoy listening to us as much as I enjoyed my time hanging at The KMQ’s!

Also, don’t forget to check out The Sexy Librarian’s Dirty 30 in audiobook or ebook format. And if you’d like to hear some of my previous work narrated on The Kiss Me Quick’s, check out my story “Soundscapes,” or a poem, “Owned.” It’s been a privilege working with The KMQ’s, and now to be interviewed by them!

Thanks so much for joining us!


N.B. You can now listen to “The Doll” narrated by the fabulous Rose Caraway right here!

Black and white image bio of Jade between the sheets

Poetry by Jade – My New Secondary Site!

Poetry, poetry, poetry—no matter what I do, I never stop writing it. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s definitely a thing. On the side of the road, on the move, on the phone, in a bar…poetry pours from my head on a fairly regular basis, and has since my early teens.

I am primarily an erotica writer, and I’ve tried to keep the bulk of my poetry here on the erotic side—but the truth is that I write some things that don’t necessarily fit into that description. So, since I wanted to be able to post pieces as they flow for those interested in that aspect of my writing, I decided it was high time to create a secondary site. I’ve been prepping it behind the scenes for a little while, and I’m excited to announce today that Poetry by Jade is officially up and running!

If you are a lover of verse, please come by and visit. You can follow that site specifically if you’d like, and while I’ll post mostly erotic poetry there (with occasional pieces guest appearing here), that site will definitely carry the non-erotic work when it happens. In the meantime, this will remain my main site, hosting my full focus and majority of postings—from short fiction and musings to confessions and news.

All that said, I will be posting a brand new erotic poem over at the new site a teeny bit later today—so I hope you’ll please come join me for the adventure. 🙂




Picture of panties around red shoes

Mojo Lost, Mojo Found

It has been an insane seven months. I’ve had more stress happening in my life than is reasonable, most it fueled by big drama that I don’t care to get into and that I’d say is only half resolved, but that—I will finally admit—did, in no uncertain terms, zap the shit out of my writing mojo.

Now, for those of you following along, you may have picked up I’m a bit hard on myself. I am part masochist, part perfectionist, part over analyst, part wannabe superhero, and part head-in-the-sand ostrich, so when you mash all this together, sometimes it takes a bad turn. I’m freakishly good at putting on a big smile to cover whatever the hell is going on, ignoring when things are bad, and pushing through insane amounts of pain. On top of that, I am so optimistic (I’m of the “fuck half-full, I have a glass!” ilk), I can convince myself things aren’t as bad as they seem, all while crying about it at the same time.

Gif of muppet freaking out from Gifs for the Masses

Take a chill pill already!



So here’s the deal…I was working on this book for the last, oh, ten or so months. I was excited about it and the vision I had for it—except I kept ignoring how stressed out I was. Well, okay, that’s not entirely true. I was admitting how stressed out I was, but ignoring how much it was affecting me. Insomnia? Whatever. Excessive oversleeping when given the chance? No biggie. Hours spent watching TV to try and soothe my head, chiding myself the entire time because I should be writing? Whatever. Dragging myself into my desk chair and trying to figure out why the hell I couldn’t focus on the words in front of me, not because I needed a muse, but because day after day I had a bizarrely “fuzzy head” that was, honestly, starting to make me feel physically ill? P-shaw. I mean, the list of symptoms went on and on—but despite all these warning signs, good friends telling me to give myself a break, and me telling me to give myself a break (ha ha), I just kept going. And perhaps as no surprise, the book suffered massively because of this.

There’s good news, though, I promise! First, I had a huge meltdown (no, I swear, this is good). Malin James and I often talk about how some people run like sports cars—we run really hot, crazy fast, and super flashy…and then one part flies off on the track and shit hits the fan and our machine needs major repair. This is complicated and expensive, but damn, does that baby run better once it’s fixed. That said, I am certain I was a BMW in a past life, because, holy shit, did this little car have a break down. In the middle of it, my amazing beta babes kindly (and firmly) took the book out of my hands and suggested a break.

Break? Me?

I circled the track a few more times. Was I really going to break? Would I come back on the track speedier and flashier than ever if I did?

I won’t lie—this part was scary and fucking hard. I have an ingrained fear of doing what I did long ago, something I talked about in my interview with Molly Moore about my adventures between writing as a teen and not coming back to it seriously until about five years ago (and only because I was grounded after a major injury): wandering away from my passion for way too long of a time. I consider myself a Jill of all trades—not amazing at anything but pretty good at a lot of things—and sometimes these side things consume me. (Did I mention earlier I’m also part obsessive? Yeah, that too.) Working Renaissance Faire, becoming a seamstress, becoming an aerial acrobat—these things were passions of mine that I dove into with everything I had, forgetting all the while how deep my true passion, writing, ran in me. When I found that drive again a few years ago, it was so hot, so amazing, so why-the-fuck-have-I-been-away-from-you-for-so-long?, I guess whenever I do cut myself some slack, there’s this tick of worry that I’ll be seduced away in some schmaltzy love affair that might distract me, again, from the real deal.

But that’s not what happened. I’m older, and I understand now how much I love writing…so I went ahead and did it.

I gave myself permission to break.

For a few weeks after the breakdown, I tinkered—and then I just threw up my hands and walked away. Other than a few poems and some blog posts, I barely wrote. Then I took it a step further and took an entire week off to do absolutely no writing or editing or thinking about writing at all. I picked up my niece for a couple days and took her Great America (so fun!), I read some books, I cooked, I slept, I watched a lot of movies, and then I woke up one day and…


There it was, cuddling up beside me—this great big urge to sit in front of the computer and write again.

I took it real easy at first, deciding there was no need to work on a large project, but rather, to write a bunch of small things. I needed to practice starting and stopping again, rather than [over]futzing with something too big to chew on just yet. I needed to simply have a good time writing whatever I felt like, no matter if it was good or bad or for any purpose other than to make me smile again. This was the deal I made with myself for the first two weeks I’ve come back—and, holy fuck, I’m a bit shocked at how much has poured out of me! In the first week I wrote six flash pieces, five shorts, a couple blog posts, and opened up documents or scribbled down notes for upwards of a dozen starter ideas or first lines for new things. I even revisited a character I wrote about prior to switching to erotica, and decided she may one day make it into an erotic series, who knows…but I wrote a flash piece about her to enter a contest.

Then came the best part: my amazing beta babes, Malin and Tamsin, sent me feedback for that book I mangled. The evidence that it was in need of work was clear, but guess what? It turned out there was hope in the thing. And instead of worrying about it, I read their feedback and smiled. Yes, there’s work to be done—but it no longer feels so foreboding and terrifying. It actually feels like it’s going to be pretty fun!

So, here I am in my second week of “play time,” and I’m starting to toy with ideas on what I’d like to do next. Fix the book? Likely. Work on other big things? For sure. But either way, I think it’s finally safe to say it.

I may have lost my mojo for a bit there, but, hot damn—that baby is found!


Wicked Wednesday Badge

Neon sign of XXX

You Write Erotica

I’m a proud writer of erotica.

It took me years to finally embrace this and say it out loud for a variety of reasons—you can read a little about that journey here—but as it stands I’m a huge supporter of the genre, and was such well before I officially started calling myself an “erotica writer.” I have always believed that feeling comfortable with your sexuality and speaking your mind about it is vital and valuable no matter what your experience, and eventually, I recognized my thoughts on writing sexual fiction and nonfiction were identical to those I had on the act in general. Finally, I found myself ready to bring it into the light, and have been excited to do so ever since.

So cut to this last weekend, when I started going through old poetry and unearthed a piece written five years ago, when I was just barely starting to test out the phrase I write erotica. The poem was based on a real encounter with a man with whom I’d had a very extended conversation—extended and detailed enough, anyway, that mentioning I write erotica felt like a natural part of the discussion. After rereading the piece, I got to thinking about the act of saying one writes erotica. Strangely, even five years later, it’s a statement that provokes a broad spread of responses, some so drastic that the simple act of saying it might need to be censored. In the best case scenario, we get a loud cheer or encouraging smile, or maybe even enthusiastic questions. In others, we might be greeted with a condescending frown, or a quiet shushing to acknowledge this topic isn’t the most appropriate for the venue. Occasionally (and sadly), we aren’t able to say anything at all.

And still sometimes, the below happens.

Peculiar, isn’t it?


Neon sign of XXX



Jade A. Waters

I write erotica, she said
And you could see him practically
Come himself
Yes, yes I do
Perhaps she shouldn’t have shared this
But when he asked her what she wrote
It seemed the next logical phrase

It was true after all

So like, you write about sex
Yes, I do
Like porn
No, not like porn
Like eloquent porn
With some of the raunch
But more generous in the art department

I see, he said
Adjusting his pants
And trying to hide the subtle turn
Of his lips at the corner
So you write pretty, raunchy, and clever porn
When she smiled
He grabbed her hand

I wouldn’t normally do this
And you can say no if you want
He said, leaning back on his heel
But if I didn’t have a girlfriend, I have to say
I’d totally ask you out

She stepped back herself
A little put off
And wondering if maybe she shouldn’t have mentioned the erotica
But he continued
I could always use more friends, though
Would you like to be friends?

He squeezed her hand
Running a finger along the inside of her palm
And she glanced at it as his words grew quieter
Maybe I can help you
With some inspiration?



What You See



Ammentorp ©123RF.com

Jade A. Waters

There is a girl
Beautiful, broken, bruised, smiling
She is all of these things
She’s got a history
You can never fathom
Though you try.
She’s moved mountains
Swum oceans
Run miles
Through thorns and rocky terrain
From the looks of her
You’d never imagine she could have faced.
What you see
When you look at her
Is the beautiful
And the smiling;
You don’t see the black and blue
That’s forever imprinted on her soul
You don’t see the scars
On her heart
Or all the battles she’s won.
You only see the beauty, the afterglow
The radiance she’s worked so hard to keep
Despite the scratches running the length
Of each of her veins
Marring her for an eternity.
She doesn’t flash them often—
She doesn’t need to, doesn’t want to
Because she’s earned these smiles
She’s stolen back this beautiful heart
She’s claimed a lifetime of looking forward
After what was.
But sometimes, when you look at her,
You tell her what you see
Like it’s all there is
And anything she could share with you
Is trivial and mundane,
Petty figments of her imagination
That couldn’t possibly be
Because how could a girl
Who looks like this
Have experienced that?

I hear you
I really do
It’s hard to believe something that ugly
So many things that ugly
Could have happened to one single soul,
But the truth of the matter is
They have.
Before you tell me it can’t be that bad
Tell me I’m lovely and happy
I’m lucky
And so it could never have happened
That way
For me,
I want you to look at me
Really look at me,
See the beauty, sure, but see the bruises
And the marks deep inside, too
I ask of you.
I’ve earned them
I’ve fought through them
They are who I am, part of me, always me
My right to feel and have
Not whatever it is you keep telling me
That you see.
She’s a different girl
Who isn’t
And never was


Black and White Art Photo of Woman's Hips

“Open” — a Poem, in Audio

I think it’s safe to say all writers love words. We love the shape of them, the feel of them, the way they play together on the page. But while most writing is meant to be read in quiet, there are occasions when it’s the sound of the words that really counts.Black and White Art Photo of Woman's Hips

I make no secret in my bio that I once read synonyms to a lover as foreplay. In that moment I enjoyed not writing the words, but dancing them off my tongue, letting them resonate and seduce in just the right way. And though I’ve read a few stories aloud before, those pieces weren’t written with that intention in mind. Which is why today, I’m trying something different.

I wrote “Open” about seven years ago as a poem to be read aloud. On the page, it reads to me as a series of staccato lines and words—whereas in my head these phrases are better played with in tone, volume, and voice. So with that in mind, I’ve opted not to just post this old poem, but to read it to you, too. It’s quite short, but I’ve read it as I imagined it when I wrote it—not as a string of words, but instead as sounds meant for a lover’s ear.

I hope you enjoy it.




Jade A. Waters

Fill me
Take me
Your love
I ache
I pine
The heat
And burns
I feel
You throb
I move
On you
With you
To you
A beat
A pulse
That stirs
That moves
Us on
As one
And rub
We glide
You slide
In me
You are
You live
I breathe
To feel
In me
With me
Press on
Once more
And then…

 …Come again.

Man over woman looking breathless

He’s Got Her

I rarely write while drinking. For one, I’m usually out with friends, and sitting down to pen something wouldn’t work in the moment. Then, there’s the fact that my creative process simply doesn’t flow under those circumstances. I might have some good ideas, but they won’t come to fruition in any sort of cohesive way until I’m completely clear-headed.

That’s why today’s poem is a bit of an anomaly for me. A month ago, my friend and I met and played our usual rounds of dice games over drinks at a local bar. And as the evening progressed, we shared a powerful conversation on those people who rip you right out of your comfort zone—loves who make you see things differently, move you in ways you didn’t imagine, and break straight through to your soul. Sadly, he had to leave soon after, but I was still buzzed and nowhere near ready to drive. So I sat in my car for a while, texting friends, reading blog posts, and replaying the conversation.

It was then this poem started writing itself, inspired by the heady nature of the discussion and some memories of my own. I wasn’t able to finish it that night, but I’ve finally pulled it up off my phone notes and touched up a few spots. For the most part, I left the original poem intact.

So today, I’d like to share “He’s Got Her” with you:

Man over woman looking breathless

Sakkmesterke ©123RF.com



Jade A. Waters

He’s got her
Spread out
Her limbs stretched across this bed
Wrist to headboard
Foot to base
But this has nothing to do with
It’s the way he looks at her
The way he sees inside her soul,
The way his fingers dig
So deep inside her cunt,
Finding her secrets
Her truths
And all her dreams,
With the flick of his wrist and a glint in his eyes.
She thinks for a moment
It’s not right that he can do this,
Not right that he can take her
From cynical to believer in seconds
But he does,
Every time he holds her
Kisses her
Loves her.
This is what she realizes
As he circles her clit with his tongue
And drives those fingers inside;
He’s got her,
Caught her,
Ensnared her heart and soul in his net
For a lifetime to come
Because it’s supposed to be,
Was meant to be.
It is.
So when he thrusts into her,
Grunting, bearing, deep and loving,
She knows—
This love he takes from her
This love she freely shares,
It was never hers to give in the first place
Because she’s always
Belonged to him.


I hope you enjoyed it.


Wicked Wednesday

Part of Toby's Poem

Today I’m Going to Share a Sad Story

Twenty-one years ago today, I lost my virginity.

That experience itself is not a sad one, but it’s important; I was 14-years-old, and having already had my first sexual awakening a few months before, I’d known when I started dating Toby that he would be the one. He was three years older, an incredibly tall and thin brunet with long hair, graceful fingers, and the most prominent, lovely nose. We’d started phoning one another after he stopped me on the sidewalk outside my Taekwondo studio, where he’d told me he loved my smile and eyes.

What he didn’t know then was that I already had a crush on him. We’d both auditioned for Tevye and His Daughters a couple months before, and while I’d had to drop out of my miniscule role because I had too much homework that I took very seriously, he’d gone on to perform as Tevye in a manner that didn’t fit his 17-year-old frame. It was on that stage Toby struck me as different from all the other boys, as if hosting wisdom beyond his years, but also a presence that couldn’t be explained in any terms I understood then. It wasn’t that he was confident, or dominant, or anything we might imagine when we think of onstage presence; instead it was an aura of listlessness, of discomfort. He was a young man who struck like the gentle beat of the carotid through translucent skin—rich with life blood, and yet so faint you might miss the ghostly tick of who he was.

I discovered I was right about this feeling when Toby and I started dating. There was something about the way he gazed wistfully out the window, and the unusual things he chose to discuss and dwell on. Then there was poetry; long before we’d ever kissed, I’d read him one of my early poems when we sat together in the park. I’d stopped mid-line, suddenly embarrassed and thinking there was no way anyone would really want to hear this blubber I was writing in which I poured out my soul, my ache, and all my love—but Toby did. After, he begged me to write more, to read to him over the phone so he could savor the words and ask me all about what I was thinking when I wrote them. Occasionally—after much encouragement from me—he shared one of his own, and in time, this became our habit. Poems and letters formed our connection, the secret we’d found to express ourselves beyond the physical moments we spent cuddled in the dark, talking of dreams and the futures we imagined for ourselves. Mine were tangible and real, fantasies I could make happen if I set my mind to them. But in Toby’s written words I learned something with which I’d never been familiar: the idea that someone could truly find himself not fitting in this world, that his very existence, for him, was in question at every moment of every day.

By the time we decided to have sex, Toby had shown me more of him. There was a youthful playfulness that distorted his face when he tried to fit in, as if underneath something lingered, a quiet unease that only spilled out on paper when he spoke serious fantasies of living in different eras and places. He made it sound romantic, this obsession with running away from here and now—and this was part of the reason I asked him to be my first. It happened in the middle of the night after he snuck his long, lanky body through my window, kissed me while he slowly peeled off my clothes, and then laid me down on the carpet of my bedroom floor as the moonlight streamed in through the open window and over our skin. Toby kept his lips on mine the entire time, as we both tried, desperately, to stay silent lest we get caught.

In truth, the experience was not what I’d expected. I wondered why people made such a big deal out of this thing. All the other physical acts we’d shared had struck me as more pleasurable, more intimate—and what I wanted in that moment was something more meaningful, to light a candle by which we could whisper our poetry aloud, like we did all the other times we’d been together. I’d been trying to make sense of Toby for so long, and now, this close, this forcibly connected, I needed to understand him, to peer into his soul and see why—despite all his love, his caresses, and the way he claimed he felt happier with me—he still struck me as so lost inside his head.

Part of a poem once written for Toby

Toby’s Poem

Our lovemaking continued for only a month after that, each time better and attempting to draw us closer. It was a physical act to meet my ache for understanding, and perhaps one that represented his need for a world he couldn’t find in his family, friends, or the comings and goings of high school life. And when we broke up, it wasn’t because he was acting as the lost young man I’d come to know and treasure, but instead the laughing, joking boy he thought he was supposed to be.


It was almost four years later we ran into one another, and everything, while different, had stayed the same. Toby complimented my eyes; I told him I still loved his nose. He was thinner, lankier, and his eyes had grown darker somehow, like he’d taken on more of the world’s weight and it had sunk the skin around them as a mark of all he had to carry. But when he asked if I still wrote poetry and I flashed a reminiscent grin, he brightened up. He told me he missed my smile and that we should catch up over poetry and wine.

I honestly can’t remember much of the dinner we shared when we met a week later. The trials that had happened in our lives—rumors that had spread around town about me, and the rumblings I’d heard about him through friends of friends—were all irrelevant as we sat across from each other. We both pulled out the notebooks we’d written in over the years, eager to share everything we’d thought and felt about life, other lovers, and what the future would bring. After our meal, Toby bought a bottle of red while I stood outside the liquor store in the cold night air, wondering if the love we’d make would feel the same to an experienced 18-year-old as it did to the virgin he’d soothed and welcomed into his mystery all those years before.

When we arrived at my house, we uncorked the wine and sat facing each other, poetry in hand as we read, back and forth, for the next couple hours. There were many toasts, many utterances of encouragement, many awed shakes of heads at what each of us had expressed over these few years that felt like a lifetime of change. He stopped me, at one point, telling me he was so glad I’d never stopped writing. I’d dropped my notebook to my lap, beaming and blushing—no one but Toby had read so many of my words, and certainly no one but him had encouraged me to keep writing them. In the same way, I loved what he’d done with his own, and I told him so.

It was somewhere after our second glass we started to kiss.

The memory is ancient and tainted with the fuzzy haze of wine, but what I do recall is this: two naked bodies curling under the sheets, fingertips grazing each other’s sides, tracing memories and yet learning something new, something changed. There was more wine, then more poetry. We whispered it as we made love again, this time a little older, more sure, knowing it was the magic of the lines we read that fueled our fire, that maybe seemed to others strange—two people reading as they arched and bowed, breaths wavering between the words—but that for us remained the secret to our true selves, and what we sought to understand in one another. Our rapture was in poetry, and when we woke in the morning and he kissed me goodbye, I remember thinking it was the real way we were supposed to end: the writers who’d loved, not just the lovers who’d written.

I lost Toby after that night. I heard he moved away, somewhere strange, some other country he’d always wanted to visit. As close as we’d been that night, I’d read in him that comfort in his skin remained a diaphanous, tenuous thing—that despite his beautiful words and loving touch, he still wasn’t all that sure of the world or his place in it.

Wherever he was, I hoped he’d soon find the solace he’d been looking for.


It was over four years later I got the news.

My life was a vastly different one then. I was nearing the end of a five-year relationship that lasted five years too long, one that, without saying too much, broke me in ways women should never be broken. And it was while this boyfriend visited my apartment that my best friend called to tell me what she’d heard about Toby through some mutual friends. She’d dated him too, for a short while before I’d ever met her—but through the years, she knew who and what he was to me.

She spilled it all in a moment, her low tone signaling the gravity of what she had to say: Toby had been living in Europe with a pregnant girlfriend. No one had seen him in a while, but everyone thought he might finally be happy.

And then he killed himself.

My reaction had been stifled by the look I got from my boyfriend. I didn’t know how to act, how to feel. I’d never lost anyone before, but I found myself remembering Toby in that instant as I’d first known him—a lost young man, living in the wrong world, the wrong time, searching for something that fit and never quite finding it, writing letters and poetry that forever tried to make sense of it all.

“So he killed himself and he was your first. Big fucking deal,” was what my boyfriend said to me. “You dated that guy? He was your first? What a loser.”

And because my reaction would determine what came next between us, I didn’t say anything more.


They say you always remember your first, and I believe, for many, this is true. There is something to be learned in your first time—awakening, desire, love, pain, change. And yet, when I think back to my “first,” I hardly remember that moment with Toby on my bedroom floor. What I remember instead are those moments sharing ourselves in the poetic way only we understood, and, deeper than that, the lost man I tried so hard to understand but never fully could. With it all usually comes a sense of grief and loss, a feeling that rose and fell so fast then, never expressed in a way that suited the connection we shared every time we read our words.

Most of all, there comes the acceptance that sometimes, you can never truly understand what’s going on inside a person’s soul. You can encourage them, and you can empathize, but there’s always so much more beyond what they will let you see.

And the only thing you can do is treasure them anyway.


For Toby.