For years I was confused about where exactly pee came from. It seemed to come from the little tip that stuck out and forward between the lips, but that would indicate a hole, and as far as I could see there wasn't one. The lack of a hole was just one puzzle in the whole puzzling arrangement between my legs, where somewhere there was also supposed to be a hole big enough to let a baby out someday, but where there seemed to be nothing but a convoluted surface of folds overlapping folds. It's not that I was uncurious. As soon as I was alone in bed, my hands slid down into my pajamas to their resting place between my legs. I liked to pull at the flaps of skin, let them spring back. I plowed my finger through the tacky folds, deciphering them. The landscape between my legs was hard to map, though, and I was content not to understand it yet. If there was a vagina in there, it didn't seem to be any concern of mine, any more than those other organs mooted about, whose functions I hardly understood, the kidney, the liver. (When I heard those words, all I pictured was the small, dense lumps from inside the chicken, simmering in a pan, to be picked out with toothpicks.) The sheets were heavy and smelly. Underneath was my laboratory, where painstaking researches went on. Progress was slow and scarcely resembled progress at times, the findings were so bewildering, my methods so whimsical. I was more like an alchemist than a modern scientist, interested in intuitions, affinities, not in logic or proof. I pottered about in the steam, my hands silent confidants of my secret parts. I pulled, I plucked, I unstuck fold from fold. So dedicated was my curiosity that when, later, the inner folds, which had been neat and small, stretched until they sprawled over the outer lips, I thought I had damaged myself, made myself into a freak: half boy, half girl.

It upset me that I'd never know what it felt like to have a penis. The division of the sexes seemed like a grotesque blunder, as all-around unfair as if some people were born without eyes and others born without ears. We couldn't even compare notes: there was no zero degree of pleasure we could measure from. It was the same discovery I had made about colors: I couldn't know whether I meant the same thing by ˝red" as anyone else did. I could describe what I saw, but what I would evoke in someone else would not be my red, but theirs.

I concentrate my thoughts on the front of me, the tip of my clitoris, the vague ache in my crotch, and thrust it all forward in my mind. I throw my legs far apart so no touch of thigh to thigh reminds me that nothing hangs between. I imagine all my sensations the same but elongated, turned into the protruding tip of me, rather than pocketed, swallowed. For a second, a cock erects itself over my pubic bone. Then it shivers, it falls to pieces.

For years I referred to everything between my legs as my "bottom" ("if we crawled under that house and there was a crack in the floor and a lady was standing over it we could look up her dress and see her bottom," I said, my last such usage, to which my friend responded with a scathing, "her bottom?")

I began inserting the pages of books into my vagina as soon as I located that orifice. In fact, my libidinal attachment to books sped my exploration. I was in the habit of tearing off the corners of pages as I read and chewing them into pulp. I became quite a connoisseur of the different flavors and textures. You could truthfully call me a voracious reader. I delayed tearing off the first little piece as long as I could, but after the first rip I figured I had committed myself and might as well carry on, though I was reprimanded for chewing books that didn't belong to me, like my aunt's brand new copy of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Though labelled a vandal and a hooligan by librarians, I have always felt the warmest affection for books. Why else would I want to ingest them? Later on I read a description of this malady, considered a nervous ailment. I was lumped in with eaters of mud and sand, which seems to me quite another thing, though not without appeal. There is a good word for it: pica, which also, appropriately enough in my case, is a unit of size used in measuring type. (Spelled pika, it's a little rodent.) I did not consider myself to be suffering a nervous ailment, of course. I liked the taste of books. New white paper, pulpy yellowing paper (dissolves), glossy coated paper that squeaked between the teeth, whose sharp triangular edges needed to be cautiously bitten blunt, I liked it, and also liked the cud I chewed it into, and considered it as good as gum, though lacking in flavor. In fact, on the theory that delicate things are more toothsome, and that everything tastes better with sugar, I once served a tea-party desert of moistened Kleenex with sugar on top. It was disgusting; I speculated that it would have been better not to use scented Kleenex, but the experiment was so emphatically unsuccessful that I never had another try.

It wasn't a big leap from eating books to sticking them up me, a page at a time. Fine literature in my vagina, pulp fiction up my ass, that was my instinctive decision, that is at first, before I began to question whether the distinction was really so clear. I sat through English class with Chaucer and Boccaccio here, S. E. Hinton there. One day, when I fished out the slippery wad, laid it on my desk and teased its folds open with a pen, I noticed that some of the words seemed changed. I took the stinking page to the library and confirmed my discovery in the echoing stacks. My vagina had rewritten Joyce. It was then I knew I was going to be a writer.

I also found, and would like to share with other women, that a dictionary in a pocket edition, if well worn, can be rolled up and used as a tampon in case of need.

Later on, though hardly tiring of the printed page, I experimented with other objects. Talking on the phone to my best friend, I inserted the receiver into my cunt, then bent over and yelled endearments in the direction of my womb. She said she heard me say: sample my donuts. I said nothing of the kind. This should be taken into consideration by parents seeking to give their kids an edge by pre-natal read-alouds. I have also inserted dolls, dice, piano keys, and school filing cabinets with hanging files in alphabetical order. (I would not do that again. I did it on a bet.) My vagina has very long and sticky lips and sometimes I would stroll pantyless through a store in a short skirt, brushing nonchalantly against the merchandise, and come out with valuable items stuck to me. I always felt these goods were mine by right, as they had attached themselves to me like burrs without my deliberate intervention, though once, when I began dragging a whole sofabed out the door behind me, I was hard put to explain this reasoning to the manager; but his embarrassment won the day for me, and in the end I even prevailed on him to help me load the sofabed into my car.

When I have my period my body aches from my ribs to my knees. I feel like I am melting from the center outward, like a candle. Or I'm dissolving into silt and flowing toward the ocean on my own slow river.

With a razor, I carve a labyrinth into my pubic hair, and require my lovers to find their way through it. This is not whimsy, it is practical. By the time they have traced their way through it to the end, the most backwards suitor will find me ready for them.