I was sitting in the back of the car, waiting. It was dusk. He’d gone with Wilma into a pub. He came back with a carton and turned slightly in the front seat. He wasn’t actually looking at me.
‘Do you know about protecting yourself with boys? You’ll be doing that kind of thing. Do you know about the pill?’
Jesus. I mumbled that I knew and looked out the window.
‘You can ask me kid, if you need my help. Don’t forget.’
Wilma came out and I kept my head turned in case I saw their look of conspiracy. Mission accomplished! Jesus. The stuff he was talking about hadn’t reached my consciousness yet. But it put those two in the front in a totally different world to me. They knew all about it. I wanted to remain single, to myself. Adults shouldn’t spring it like that. It only reinforces the differences between us. Its not spoken to bring understanding but to draw the lines of difference.
And children are different. I was twelve, but so emotionally underdeveloped I may as well have been eight. But I knew these things:
- Wilma had let boys touch her down there in the back shed when she was ten.
- My sister was thirteen when she had her first boyfriend.
- Marty was fourteen when she let the next door neighbour make her scream. She came home with a bruise on her shoulder.
- My cousin Ann was raped when she was twelve. She had to stay in hospital for a while. Auntie Rose became fat and started dying her hair black.
Nobody spoke about these things, but I heard anyway.
So from their perspective they thought they were saying the right thing at the right time. But they didn’t look at me and they didn’t think about me. They refused to see me- I wasn’t like Marty, brash and ready for the next thing. I wasn’t open and forthcoming.
My Grandmother used to talk with me on the phone and say toward the end, ‘So you’re still a good girl?’
I’d answer ‘Of course.’
I was sixteen before I realized the implication. By good girl she was inquiring after my virginal status. So afterwards I was what- a bad girl? And what’s the difference? I don’t know, she was twisted in the head anyway.
Its not so much honesty being the best policy, but having nothing to hide. If sexual relations were just another part of life then it need not be concealed. It wouldn’t need to embarrass or intimidate.
Girls at school were divided into those who did and those who didn’t. Though I was surprised later to find out that half of those that said they didn’t really did. But they chose their boys carefully and pretended to be like me; uninformed, unexcited, unimpressed.
Jess had an older brother who used to sneak into the room in the mornings and take me back to his room.
‘Tiff.’ he’d whisper. I was awake. Jess always slept heavily, she never heard anything.
‘Come on.’ He smiled at the door, his chest bare, a pair of shorts on, his black hair a mess.
I went and laid with him for a couple of hours. He cuddled me, talked a lot and fed me chocolate. I felt like a pet. He was warm. His was the first erect penis I felt on my thigh. It wasn’t threatening. It was warm and hard and he always kept his shorts on. I never saw it. I didn’t think about it. It was just him. A couple of times he rubbed himself against me. I wondered what he was doing and he stopped.
He tried to give me kissing lessons but I thought it was disgusting. His mouth too rigid, his tongue just warm saliva. I preferred the chocolate.
But I learnt a little about what boys liked and expected. I also learnt that if I stayed detached and bored the boys were subdued into more tolerable behaviour. They didn’t want to force me. They were sensitive to criticism. They were young.
I had read too many romantic novels at an impressionable age to find the flesh and blood boys I was in contact with in any way tempting.
It wasn’t about sex. It was about emotion.
I didn’t meet anyone who had it.
Nobody did to me what one of those books could.
I just wasn’t interested.
I heard one of my school friends saying how she loved the penis. I could hardly believe my ears. Another girls said she did too. They were wizened and laughed.
So it wasn’t the boy, but the penis. What ever it was, what ever it did, was desirable.
I put those girls into a different category. Its about identification. One of my University lecturers said that she had no one to identify with, in literature, when she was growing up. Ophelia? Lady Macbeth? The only option left was to chose Hamlet. Change gender to identify.
Its about identification. I didn’t identify with my family. I didn’t like the sound of what the girls said around me and I thought much less of the boys. There was only me. The centre of my thoughts, the centre of all valid experience. There was no second best option. That was for others. I was unto myself- without connection. And I suffered in my self inflicted isolation, just as I had to.