Two Sides of The S[h]ame Coin: A Coming of Age Exploration of Pleasure and Pain


Guest Writer: Breton Lalama

*The following article contains sensitive and graphic material

I am now emerging from my first years on the frontlines of adulthood. My face is dirt streaked, my lips are bruised by words I’ve since learned the art of uttering, yet I am still breathing, heart still galloping. Often still, my thoughts caress the dog eared pages of my memories of what came before. The days of my childhood were steeped in the nectar of farm life— chickens scampering underfoot while I belted Broadway show tunes to the trees, competing with the soprano voices of the birds who made nests inside the scarecrow’s placid head. The afternoons of summer were long and thinking of them conjures up the sensation of crushing sun-warmed tomatoes with my teeth, the pop of acidic juices exploding against the inside of my cheeks. I would gather the nights up in bunched handfuls and curl them around my shoulders in the comfort of my childhood bedroom. Once my parents’ footsteps had fallen far enough downstairs, the few moments of strained listening, the careful inhalations and exhalations of suspense’s orchestration, and then:

My fingers would slink beneath the bed sheets to the waistband of my pajamas and I would roll onto my stomach and unleash a world of volcanic pastel comfort that would lull me into sleep.

I didn't know what I was doing; didn’t know then that this feeling of heavy traffic resolving into the blooming of a flower was called Masturbation. But my innocent fingers, guided by Subconscious, played out this bedtime ritual because it heralded the arrival of calmness. Since beginning to wade through puberty’s viscous waters, the faceless guest Anxiety had begun squatting, uninvited and rent free, in the space behind my eyes; this bedtime ritual loosened Anxiety’s hands from the reins of reaction, and allowed me a momentary gulp of peace. It let me sleep and it gave me a strange feeling that started in my middle and spread out warmly across my body— a feeling that curled my toes and tasted like I was gulping down pure light itself— a feeling that could be identified as nothing else but slippery, glittery pleasure.

But see, once Reality had whispered its name in my ear,

this silent slide of warm and gooey excitement that

tickled my fingers into tracing frantic circles against the bedsheets of my youth,

once I had slapped the name tag onto the sensation and filled in HELLO MY NAME IS: PLEASURE,

that was when I started having to hold my breath.

I would seek it out still, sure, but in the way an addict pops a pill: knowing it’s forbidden makes the seeking more thrilling, but once the high has faded, there is only one sensation that remains: Guilt.

I’d loll in the tropical waves of citrus Pleasure for moments only to end up sunburnt by self loathing, Guilt dripping like black ink across the sunshine of secret sensation’s skies. Subconscious would beat her fists against my temples, chanting, “Bad. Dirty. You should be ashamed.”

The first time I had sex, I had to hide the bedsheets in the closet because I was certain I could smell Guilt hanging in the air, notifying everyone who entered my room that they were stepping into a miscreant’s den. Years later, when sex had become as pedestrian to me as frying eggs, I would feel orgasm cracking across my brow like an orangey yolk and gasp and duck as it splattered across my consciousness. Sticky Guilt would eclipse Pleasure in whose pursuit I had first begun the treacherous scaling of stranger’s flesh.

My relationship with Pleasure was born from innocence. I did not know what I was doing; I was simply seeking what felt good. The second I realized the identity of my Pleasure, I lost my ability to experience it.

Realization washing up on the shores of these comprehensive banks

Of grey matter,

I noticed that I follow this cognitive pattern in

All things, sexual or otherwise in


An A+ grade is not pleasing because it is in a subject I enjoy;

This kiss licks of guilt because it was not delivered by an abuser;

The love I receive freely I am unworthy of, because I did not have to bleed in order to be blessed by its citrine embraces.

As I age, I work to un-work my brainwaves from this memorized choreography—I tell them, softly, to embrace what is received, to relish rejoicing even when ESPECIALLY WHEN/?! joy is not wrapped in ribbons curled from my own suffering.

I’ve spent the last decade playing hide and seek with Pleasure, that slippery intangible whose seduction was lost on me the moment I had learned her middle name. I’ll spend the next decade attempting to sweeten the taste of Guilt by reframing my relationship with her. I will not pour honey over her sharp cheekbones . I will listen to her fear as she sidles into the space between my embraces. I will hold her shy rage closely under the lens of my awareness. Perhaps it is not about becoming the surgeon, and separating sister Guilt from sister Pleasure’s hip. Perhaps it’s about learning the flavour of each half of that same beating heart; of understanding and honoring their connectivity. For now that I know how easy it is to flip the coin and land on Guilt, how much sweeter does that make the experience of landing on the shiny face Pleasure?

About Breton Lalama:

Breton is a multi medium artist whose plays, poems, and essays explore absurdism and the human infatuation with the duality of sensation. Breton’s creative process is fueled by coffee and invigorated by close proximity to plant life.