Emma* sits across from me at Dazbog in Aurora, biting her fingernails and spitting invisible splinters into the space between our table neighbors.
“I worry about you judging me,” the fresh-faced 20 year old says through a slight grimace. “I know I shouldn’t care, but it’s a weird subject to be interviewed about.” I remind her that I come as a curious journalist — not as someone who’s here to measure her as a human.
“I’m more weirded out by the spitting,” I admit with a smile. I compliment the background of her phone (Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn) and we chat about pop culture in general. Then:
“I’ve never told anyone this — not even my brother,” she begins, settling in. “But if I found out he was sexually attracted to me, I wouldn’t hesitate.” We both know what she means.
“Do you think he can tell?” I ask. She fails to repress a smile.
“Honestly, I think so.”
Emma and her brother Jacob* grew up in a single-parent home with a mother who was raised Mormon. Even though she’s no longer of the faith, the carryover of religious rigidity hangs over her child rearing.
“We were never allowed to spend time at other people’s houses,” she says. “We never had sleepovers — no way. My mother was really paranoid about us getting hurt.” She says her mother eased up a bit when a man we agree to call Kevin moved in and situated himself as a stepfather, even before marriage.
“By that time, Jacob was 17 and I was almost 16, so we were two pretty sheltered kids who didn’t have friends. He had a car, so we hung out together like we have all our lives.” She’s been leaning in the entire time and speaks so quietly that I have to ask her over and over to repeat herself as I cup my ear. She says her mother devoted most of her attention to Kevin, so they weren’t under such heavy supervision. However …
“One morning, I woke up to the sound of Jacob screaming and I jumped out of bed,” she recalls. “He was yelling at Kevin to leave Mom alone.” She made her way toward the din in the hallway and saw her brother in flannel pajama pants and no shirt squaring up to Kevin, who looked terrified.
“His back was flexed and his fists were balled up. He was suddenly a man to me, and he was protecting his family.”
That’s when she felt what she knows now as sexual attraction. “He wasn’t my brother anymore, not my best friend.”
Unfortunately, their mother sided with Kevin, who made his way back to their master bedroom and slammed the door. Emma remembers going back to bed and crying with her face toward the wall when Jacob’s weight shook the mattress. The covers pulled back and she felt his warm arms wrap around her in comfort.
“I wanted him,” she admits, leaning in even closer than before. “I realized he was more than just a ‘sibling,’” she confesses with air-quotes. “He was truly my other half.”
I remind her that was four years ago, and ask if she’s dated other men since that realization. She fires, “No” so fast that I can feel her devotion. “No one could ever measure up.”
I ask if Jacob has seen other people and she bristles. “Once,” she says. “And I hated her so much that she left our apartment and they broke up.”
“So you live together?” I ask. She confirms. “What are you gonna do?”
She cups her hands around her mug.
“Wait for him, I guess.”
“And if he never comes around?”
“Then I’ll be a virgin until I die.”
*Names changed for privacy purposes