Sitting on my bedroom floor, I play with my dollies. I am six years old, and there is an entire universe unfolding before me. Barbie and Ken and what their life might become in this mansion perched upon pink plastic support beams. The Barbie Dream House.
I am six years old, and I know that the dream is simple.
The two dolls have recently been married by my own ceremonial hand, and now they will live together. Now they must safeguard the happily ever after. Six years old, and I smash the bodies of the dolls together in that ritual the big kids on the bus call sex. I don't know anything about this sex thing. I understand that it means something that equates to togetherness.
Hence the smashing.
I am six years old and don't know about the complications. I don't know about the splendour. Six years old, and all I want is to be grown.
I am fourteen years old and losing my virginity. It is not a romantic affair. The deed happens in a filthy basement bathroom while my friend, Janelle, pounds frantically on the locked door.
She is telling me not to do it. Not with him. Not this way, she yells. It is all so melodramatic—just the way I like it.
It's summertime, and I'm day drunk. Pretend-dating this fellow I met a few days earlier. I say pretend-dating because he has not met my folks or taken me out for a meal. It's been all dry humping on a dank couch—no throw pillows, no cozy blankets to watch movies under. The dry humping is what leads to the loss of the maidenhead.
The house we spend our time in over this summer could be named Nightmares for the Parental Units of the Teenage Adolescent. Drug paraphernalia litters the coffee table. A batch of hot knives is forever smouldering on the wire-rimmed burners of an electric stovetop. There is always some naïve fourteen-year-old losing her virginity in the bathroom at any given moment.
I am just fat enough when entering into my teenage years to be self-conscious of this fact. Self-esteem can be a fickle bitch in those pubescent years, so one minute I think I'm the cutest thing around, and the next, I'm a toilet monster.
It starts with Steve, a boy with whom I never end up pretend-dating, but I find cute nonetheless. He tells me, as a bunch of us sit around a backyard soaking up the sun and smoking cigarettes, that he really likes the look of my fat ass in the jeans I'm wearing.
This, I won't lie, confuses me.
I can't make out if he's just paid me an insult or a compliment. Fat equals bad, my brain tells me, but he likes it? I decide I want the attention. It might not be a bad idea to begin collecting this kind of praise—shove it in my pocket for later use.
A few hours later, I'm walking downtown, checking the scene, with my good pal Janelle when we run into two girls from the previous year's homeroom class. They are childhood friends of mine. They are what Janelle and I call goodie goods. They study and make funny talk shows with home video recorders in their spare time.
I used to make those videos with them.
They eat junk food and do not care about their weight. They have good relationships with their fathers. Their hair is unkempt, pulled back in blasé ponytails. They wear sneakers because they still sometimes run like the wind.
"Hey, ladies," I yell a little too loud because I've just smoked a joint, and I feel self-conscious again. The toilet monster in me is emerging. So I remind myself that the jean mini skirt I'm wearing is slimming. I have a green halter top on. Dark lipstick. Hair that is perfectly curled in ringlet coils and sprayed stiff to hold.
"Hey," Jo says. She's wearing knee-length shorts and a loose tee. Her face is clean and confident. "What have you guys been up to this summer?"
"Well, I don't know about you girls," I say, jumping in, throwing bra strap to the wind, "but the other day, I went into the shower clean and came out dirty. If you know what I mean.” I want their reaction. As usual, I don't get what I'm looking for.
Janelle rolls her eyes and snorts. The girls look at me, blank-faced with only a touch of dismay reaching their eyes. Mostly, I think they feel sorry for me.
I am sixteen and have met a boy who becomes my first real boyfriend.
He likes me. We meet at a party house, a different one than the first. Similar though. The same dinginess persists. He makes an effort to sit near me and rub his leg next to mine, instantly connecting. Within minutes, he corners me in the bathroom, shoves me up against a wall and goes in for the kill.
He kisses my neck, my collarbone, my lips. I'm happy enough to have him do this. I'm collecting his attention—it's in my pocket now.
So this boy and I go on to date. Again, not anything like actual dating. It's the kind of dating that means we don't sleep with anyone else. We fall in love. It is a dreamy, tall, dark, and handsome sort of love. On my part, at least. On his part, it's an, I will have sex with your friends and not tell you about it, sort of love.
There goes my definition of dating.
After two years, I am still in love. Not so much head over heels like I was in the beginning, but it's love, I suppose. I don't want to be with anyone else. Although, I, too, have taken part in my own side escapades.
The bad part starts now.
We have been living together for several months. I've stopped calling and dropping in on my parents. Although he hasn't come out and said this, he doesn't really like them, I can tell.
He beckons me to the bedroom. I tell him I'm not in the mood. He says, "Come on," in the whiney but sort of sexy voice that usually gets me going. Mainly because I feel guilty I'm not giving him what he needs. I tell him no. Simple, straightforward, that's that.
My wrist is squeezed tight between the cuff he is making with his large hands. While the action is leaving its mark on my previously unblemished skin, he reiterates, "Come on, just for a little while."
I give in.
However, I am not into this. I do not want it—his body on top of mine. The engulfing, smothering, oxygen being sucked out of the room sensation makes me feel claustrophobic. I tell him to stop. I scream for him to stop.
Later, after my tears have dried and the terribleness of this event has evaporated into the open air of our bedroom, he states very matter-of-factly that he cannot stop once he's started. It's unfair of me to ask him to do that.
By doing so, I have made him feel uncomfortable like he is raping me or something.
I apologize. I apologize profusely. I tell my boyfriend that I'm sorry, and I hug his rigid body that faces away from me. I don't want my first real boyfriend to leave me, so I apologize again and again.
Eventually, he accepts these apologies, and we move on. From this point, I never want to have sex with him again. I do, however, each time he indicates his need. And there are plenty more tears shed silently to my pillowcase because I don't want to make him feel uncomfortable again.
I am eighteen and beginning to understand what sex is.
It is a hateful thing. A, keep you locked inside yourself, thing. Why doesn't sex lead to love? Why can't love bring me happiness? I am eighteen years old and lying in bed quietly so as not to wake him.
His stained whiskey breath assures me that tonight will be uneventful, for which I am grateful. Eighteen years old, and I know this is no way to live. Why don't I have the guts to leave? To pick this used body off these musky-smelling sheets and walk away from this place.
Because you're fat and ugly, his voice reminds me. It has been his mantra for months now. You should try to lose some weight. Sure, leave me. It's not like anyone else will want you looking like that. Eighteen years old, and all I want is a real boyfriend. Because this is what the adults do, they share a life with someone.
They live together, and they make sacrifices for those they love. I am eighteen years old, and I just want to be grown.
I am still eighteen but now living in Victoria, British Columbia.
It took me six more months to wise up and leave. Janelle helped me pack my things and get out. I told you she's always got my back.
It is the first time I am alone. I am learning who I am as an individual. I am learning to write and how to be true. Little by little, I am gaining confidence. I am no longer looking for a real boyfriend. I am exploring the rivers of sex like a canoe rushed by rapids. I am dipping my toes in.
I am diving headfirst.
I choose to put aside the guilt I once felt about sex. I am using this sexuality of mine advantageously. I wear it like a badge.
I am at a hotel bar. A man, not a boy but a man, is buying me drink after drink. Preposterously I am still wearing my housekeeping scrubs from the day shift—blue polyester from neck to ankle. Green Crocs. Ponytail. No makeup. Maybe a little mascara; smeared from a hard day's work. The buzz from the city, or perhaps it's the tequila, is making me smile.
He asks me to come up to his room, the one I have recently cleaned, for a nightcap. He uses the term nightcap. Maybe I am finally grown. I accept his offer. I tell him I just have to go hand in my employee key card at the front desk. He tells me the room number, and I imprint it to memory.
I am standing in front of his hotel room door. Despite my lightheadedness, something severe and grim comes over me. I realize I do not want to be here.
I do not want this. I am not relevant to the sum of people I fuck.
I don't have to search for retribution in the dick of a stranger. So I walk away with no explanation. Finally, I understand that I don’t need a reason to say no. It is my prerogative, my choice. Why has it taken me so long to learn this?
Now, I stand in front of a bar in my hometown. I am visiting for a couple of weeks and have decided to treat myself to a night out with the girls.
I catch an old flame's glance in the crowd of drunkards who sway outside the pub while cigarettes ride fingertips, and girls in miniskirts hug themselves for warmth. I smile and pop a small, unassuming wave in his direction.
This guy was a mere blip in the thing I call my love life.
A second in time and space. Too kind. Too sweet for the likes of me. And yet, over the years, I found my daydreams drifting towards him. Unexpected and lovely. Hot air balloons migrating to open ground, looking for landing space.
He approaches my corner of the sidewalk, not really confidently, but purposeful. He says hello, and I say it back.
He asks if he can kiss me.
I am Thirty-five years old, and I’ve now had all kinds of sex.
Unfortunate demoralizing affairs that left me whimpering into the cold side of a pillow.
Exciting flirty sex with almost strangers that felt exhilarating and empowered the womanhood that I always knew was buried deep within me.
Sex that still after ten years of marriage makes me giddy with ecstasy.
Late-night quickies on ballpark benches on the way home from date night. Eye contact and whispered I love you’s in the quiet of the midnight hours while our children sleep soundly.
The pain and worry of not knowing about sex slipped away quietly sometime over these past ten years, and I am grateful for that. The regrets and bitterness I once held from bad memories and even worse experiences are fading too. Sepia-toned photographs reminding me that I am strong and good and oh so resilient.
Thirty-Five years old, and I may not be grown yet, but I am always learning.