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Cherry shaped bruise just above the knee on her left thigh. It's exposed as she sleeps. It's a familiar marking to her now. Home holds nothing; it's a place where her sticky brothers throw skate boards at each other and wrestle the dog, trying to make her fierce when she has always been a docile, thankful mutt. A shy dog named Baby. A dog with large, loving eyes. Baby sees that the boys want to play, in some sense, so she tries to please them by barking and jumping around. Always, though, these games end in the dog confusedly mounting one of the boys and trying to hump him. They get angry and push her off. The jokes come then:
"Oh, she likes you!"
"Go for it, John, that's the best you can get."
Baby slithers away, embarrassed, having once again mistaken violence for intimacy.
A common suburban conflation - violence and intimacy. Taught to Kate first on the playground where boys smashed her face into the asphalt and twisted her arms behind her back. "That means he likes you," a girlfriend told her once, in a hushed, conspiratorial tone, as if it was a secret, something just quietly understood. She was surprised. But then, why be? Donovan John (D.J.) was the first in a long line of such amorous boys, from a home in which love was tainted and messy. His role models were crippled and wobbly. He watched from an early age his father shove his mother about, slap her on the ass and corner her with his hand tight around her neck. The two of them his only view of real live man and woman. On television it was worse; he saw images all too often of women being stalked and raped, women as prey not as equal. Poor D.J. thought he was being terribly romantic by clobbering Kate each day. He mused about it romantically before he fell asleep at night as if his forceful awkward hands on her body were the refined gestures of a ballerina or a violinist. He imagined his next moves, how that coming weekend they would go skating Friday night at the rink and how there he could chase her and trip her and maybe get a hand on her rib cage or on her leg. That hand would linger there for a moment before it pinched or punched, just for a second, and those seconds were the ones she liked most, actually craved, fantasized about, little did he know. Her lust sprung from another place, a place so very different from his. Her lust was centered around anticipation. The clumsy, little girl's hope that one day such fumbles would mean something. Touching would become real.
The first talk of a thing called a penis was told in her best friend's bedroom. Her best friend Elisia was a large, swollen girl with dark hair always curled into thick ringlets which fell over the pale skin of her face with her rosy cheeks and doll-like pursed red lips. Obscene, really, positively obscene. To contrast (or perhaps complement) her odd, almost comical features, she was downright mean and insulting, domineering and manipulative. She was cruel on many occasions, finding bizarre reasons to lock Kate in closets or make her surrender all her Barbies for weeks. Elisia seized power and used it to her advantage like a little girl dictator. Kate was easy prey; she was a pale, shy girl who liked to listen, who preferred decisions be made for her. What Kate most loved about Elisia, though, was her gift for storytelling. She would have whole rooms of adults or children silent with anticipation.
Kate's favorite story was the penis story. The penis story was shocking in the same way many of Elisia's stories were. She wore an air as if she were far beyond her years and merely needed the few girls that were around as listeners, disciples. We sat in a circle around her bed covered in pink frills and cushions, basking in the glow of the most beautiful new Michael Jackson poster on the wall, the one with him in pale yellow, looking almost preppy, the one only Elisia had. She told us this day, of her father on the toilet one morning and her walking into the bathroom to do something, no doubt to spray her perfect curls or powder her Victorian-like face palette. There he sat, large and round, defecating. Peering up from under his belly was a small round nobule. "What is that?" she demanded righteously. "That is my penis," he responded matter-of-factly. She said it looked like a little red cherry peering out from under his large soft belly. She then left the room and asked her mother why on earth her father had such an odd looking nobule below his belly, his so called "penis". Her mother explained that they had used it to make the two girls, her and her sister, and that it was a thing we would come to know better later in other men and all men had one. It was used for sex and was an enjoyable thing for both man and woman. The story makes clear why Kate was fascinated by both Elisia and her parents and especially by their relationships. They treated her exactly as if she was just another adult. Her inquisitions were always treated just as ordinarily as if she asked if there was pepper in the soup. She had come to know what a penis was long before any other of the girls so she was the leader and could be depended on to tell them matter-of-factly how things were.
Kate loved to hear the penis story. She would ask Elisia to repeat it far too many times as if she had forgotten. Just as she did with certain story books when she was younger, the child's developing mind craves repetition. The image of the girl finding her father at such a private moment and then giving him this accusatory question as if he held some wrong or other body part which must be accounted for at once and then him plainly saying, "Yes, I have this strange looking thing here and it is called a penis". In her story she always described it as looking like a small red cherry poking out from under his large soft belly. Wonderful, surprising, amazing! Who knew her father could have such a thing hidden there and that in fact, if all her facts were correct that all men had this strange thing there. Of course they did know vaguely about penises; they had seen boys in swimming pools and had seen their brothers somewhat, knew that the things existed, but what was wondrous in this story was that it was explained away as easy as pie, not hidden or dismissed as much of sexuality is for the young. Something that will be learned about later. Not important to know now. And her words and her confidence in telling the story were so intoxicating and reassuring to Kate. Perhaps it was the act of storytelling that Kate enjoyed so much. The keen awareness and outright superiority with which Elisia could convey the information, and the fact that the information was private. Most children would be scolded for telling such encounters but Elisia's mother knew she told the story and didn't care. Elisia's mother knew everything just as Elisia did. Certain self-aware, intelligent women could always be counted on for telling others the truth, for always being candid.
Young girls need these types of folks who can convey secretive information. How else to learn the secrets of the adult world? And those many secrets are what make being an adult so alluring. When adult motives become clear there is little play left, no sense of exploration and genuine newness. It has to be found in more creative, complex ways; it involves a lot more work and a lot less innocence. Figuring out the first motives and inclinations of a boy who pushes a girl down is empowering, confusing and exciting. Elisia was a genius at that. She herself didn't get the attention that Kate did and so she enjoyed hearing the details. Sometimes the two of them would enact the scenarios with their Barbies. What lives those dolls were given! The first glimpses at the complexities of adult worlds were turned into long, sordid affairs. The machinations of a twelve year old girl's mind, the plot twists and dire straits of that play. Outfits were made of colored Kleenex and scotch tape, elastic bands and pieces of broken balloons. They were brilliant little girls creating worlds and trying to make sense of them. Pulling pieces out of everyday life, be it the ordinary or the sublime, it all went into that tall cardboard house or electric pink Corvette. And they grew good at working issues out, in ways that may or may not come to resemble ways employed twenty years later in a hotel room beside a half empty bottle of gin.
This time another pool party and handsome Ken has thrown aside his blue swim trunks and everyone is shocked.
"He is drunk again!" squeals pint sized Skipper, the preteen Barbie. Drunk and disorderly guests were common at Kate's house, but not at Elisia's.
"He will just have to go sober up in the bedroom," instructs Brigette.
Rock n' Roll Barbie, Crystal, secretly follows him a few minutes later, wearing her new silver miniskirt. She enters the room and it is dark; Ken is half awake.
"I am tired, too," she coos. "Can I lie down beside you?"
"Of course." Ken welcomes the company.
Is the dark his hard plastic hands move over her large, hard bosom; his straight arm awkwardly rams up her skirt.
"Ken, what are you doing?" she asks, feigning innocence.
"Just keep still," he instructs as his outstretched turgid body rolls on top of hers.
"But I just want to nap," she says.
Of course she must always maintain her innocence although we all suspect she has her slutty ways. Ken moves over her five times, groaning and grunting. Her silver miniskirt has been pushed right up; her Rock n' Roll T-shirt has been torn off and discarded. She is being used but her protests are weak and halfhearted. She can't want it; she can't ask for it; she can only submit.
It isn't until years later that Kate learns to play her as a slut. She has to work through all the conditioning that has taught her that women don't ask for sex, don't put themselves in situations where they may be "taken advantage of", don't enjoy sex. But empowerment does come. Girls playing reach a stage where they allow Crystal to have pussy power before they know exactly what that is. She is a tease and she gets what she wants by using her pussy. The thing is she is not being used any more: she likes it and she wants it.
Such play instructed Kate's first experiences with boys. However, she found it hard to be assertive. She was attracted to leaders like Elisia who told her what to do. She was submissive when it came to D.J. pushing her down. She did try to fight back but that seemed to arouse him more. Best was to look bored and he would get off and go away for a while.
There was one girl in their class who was somewhat simple and had the largest breasts of anyone they had seen at age thirteen. Her name was Lynn-Marie and she was considered a bad girl. She was the first girl they ever saw who smoked cigarettes. It had been only boys who smoked, but then one day they saw her there smoking as if there was no tomorrow. She had no friends, but the boys were always after her, wanting to get their hands on her enormous breasts. She had always seemed shy, and when she answered questions in class her answers were always wrong. Laughter followed her, beat her down; she was called always either stupid or Tits. Eventually she decided to stop fighting the boys off and started smoking with them and being fondled by them. Elisia and Kate watched jealously from afar. She would smoke after school with the boys, some of whom were in older grades and after a while one would pull her around the corner and go up her shirt; sometimes a few of the other boys would watch or one would move in, pushing the other out of the way. She gave them what they wanted and they were nice to her in return. They stopped calling her stupid and stood up for her; they didn't let the girls put her down or be mean to her. Kate was fiercely jealous. She had barely any breasts to speak of and longed for them badly. She wanted big breasts and she wanted to use them as Lynn-Marie was. She wanted power and she wanted to be touched and not kicked. If she had breasts maybe the boys would be more gentle.
Over the next few years the breasts came and she began smoking. That first day of transition was colossal. What courage it took to leave Elisia peeking from a distance and join the crowd of boys and Lynn-Marie and ask for a cigarette. For the boys such a move only meant one thing: "Now you can fuck with me." She got invited to the make-out parties. A "bad girl", Shauna, lived nearby the school and would invite a select few over for lunch breaks. With her mother away at work, the place was a den of sin, cigarettes out of every mouth, bras discarded on the floor, one beer split between six kids. It was then only Shauna, Lynn-Marie and Kate who were willing. All the good girls just watched jealously or hatefully as the lunch hour crowd left school grounds and returned later rosy cheeked and disheveled. Their small clits and penises swollen in their pants. Those, the salad days of puberty, before sex became enjoyable, complicated or even understood.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Moran has been writing since she was a child. She used to write short stories about the men who ran the greasy spoon restaurant next door to her dad's printing shop. Now she writes a variety of stories and poems about different things. (Sometimes they still involve greasy spoons and print shops.) She is 29 years old and works as a librarian in Toronto. She has a Bachelor or Arts in Philosophy from the University of Toronto. She has had some stories and poems published on the web. Look for some of her poems presently and in the archives at www.taintmagazine.com and in the archives at www.forgetmagazine.com.