A few years before Nikki accidentally but honestly told her best friend about rape and sex in one quick, sharp blow, I was watching Dallas with my mother and father. I was too young to follow the storyline but that didn’t matter. I was just happy to sit with my father, my back on his chest, nestled between his legs on the floor not far from the television. A commercial break came on, colors and music, shiny things and happy people, always happy people. There were two beautiful woman drinking coffee on a soft white sofa, talking talking talking, not noticing the time going by. The scene cut to one woman holding a small white object and she said, "Tampons, feels like silk, protects like always!".
It looked nice, like something Nikki and I might play with someday. I asked my parents, my eyes still on the screen, “What is that?”. My father’s body shifted and tensed and my mother tersely said, “I’ll talk to you about it someday”. They were silent until Dallas resumed. I felt a hardness in my throat. I had done something wrong. And I knew I had done something wrong because my mother never talked to me about tampons. The same went for sex. Except for once, when she talked about what not to do.
Bekki was there to help me put my first tampon in. She knew the oddity and pain of the action, of pushing that dry, rough cylinder into a place, a depth, I had never touched before. And Bekki was there a few years later when our mother called us both into her room. We found her perched on the edge of the bed, already in mid-sentence about how on Friends everyone was sleeping with someone different each night. Bekki and I were allowed to watch Friends but our show choice was accompanied by the weight of our mother’s audible disapproval which really killed the vibe.
Our mother abruptly shifted to explaining how oral sex is just as bad as ‘normal’ sex. That it is also dangerous and that it too should be reserved for after marriage. No room for discussion, no room for questions. I felt absurd, sitting where I sat, listening to these words, as my mind wandered to an image from just the day before, of my legs wrapped around the trunk of a muscular pale body, our hair of almost the same shade mixing together. I felt myself get a little wet and then swung back to the present moment. Mother prudishly in front of us sisters, talking about what not to do in the future, about fear and disease and right and wrong. I wish I had had the guts to ask her, “what about pleasure?”.
My parents finally found out I was having sex when Rinny’s mother read her diary. How fucked up that I was caught in the end because of Rinny, the one who turned me away from women, the one who had broken my heart. But no one knew that story. My father was irate and my mother sad and nervous. They never asked me how I felt, why I did what I did. It was all just blame and punishment fed by bullshit puritanism which hung over the northeast like smog, choking the sense out of people.
My mother began going to church again which she had not done for years. Surprising us both, she convinced me to join her one weekend. I only agreed because I was starving for another perspective, because I was interested in hearing the female minister speak. I knew Andrée vaguely from yoga class. We both attended on Thursday evenings, the one studio in town.
Half way between Old Smoke Road and the center of town, at the crest of a hill surrounded by cornfields, sits the antique congregational church. It is white adorned with green shutters, one modest steeple and two rows of straight backed pews. The congregation itself was also white, lower to upper middle class nuclear families and the first three rows were spilling over with their offspring. I focused on Andrée, summoning all my energy to cancel out the chatter of predictability prodding at my nerves. Andrée was middle aged and I found her attractive in an unassuming way. She opened her mouth and a spring of parables surrounding Mother Mary flowed from her in a subdued voice. She animated the young woman’s plight; pregnant, without consent, and with the pressure of God upon her to raise the son of God himself. Andrée plucked Mary from the throne and sat her right there next to me. A young, poor, single mother, who to the majority must have appeared as a simple slut.
I bought Andrée’s story completely. I was onboard. My mother had me, or could have had me, if she had just stopped there. It was the end of the sermon and Andrée asked the congregation if anyone needed spiritual support. Many people raised their hands, waited their turn, asked for prayers for a dying grandmother or for help after a surgery. I was lost in thought, trying to hold on to a sentence from Andrée’s storytelling, one perfect line which had given me goosebumps.
My concentration was interrupted. My mother was squeezing my hand and asking for guidance for her daughter who was going through hard times. My body tensed. Eyes on me, publicly shamed, everyone looking at the poor child who has been taken by the devil’s way. She did not know, but my mother accomplished an architectural feat that day. She built a wall around me which she would end up spending many years attempting to enter, whether through bombardments or knocking, or taking it down brick, questions, by brick, true interest. This last tactic, in the end did work.
That day though, I turned myself into that devil they believed in. Before I had kept it civil. I had done what I wanted behind my parents backs. Now I ran rampant. I drove home drunk and stoned, snuck out, fucked as much as I could whenever and wherever I could. There were tears and pleas and an anger in my father’s eyes which I had never witnessed before.
On New Year's eve my brother arrived in the driveway. I never asked why he decided to return to Hebron when he should have been partying with his cadet buddies. I had taken over his bedroom when he moved out and that is where he found me, holed up, surprised I too was not out with friends. I had nothing left though, no more fight, I was tired. I opted that night for the two things I knew where stable, my body and my mind. I was drawing alone after having done a Cindy Crawford workout video, alone. The gym was closed for the damn holiday. When Levi asked what was wrong, what had happened, my father’s presence outside the bedroom door was revealed. “Go on” he prompted, “tell Levi what you have done!”. A triumphant note rang in his voice. I said nothing and Levi didn’t ask.
Levi told me that night, how he had spent many evenings alone in this room as well, wanting to go out, wanting to be at the party. He was strong and handsome and was indeed invited. But he told me how he was too nervous, too intimidated. He admitted to how much effort it took just to get out of this room in the morning. He told me how most nights he opted for a book, but detested himself as he read it. He told me he wrote. He did not offer to share anything and I did not ask.
Levi and I sat together that night in the room I had painted yellow, reading and writing and drawing. Our parents sat downstairs, father on the floor, mother on the couch, watching the celebrations at Time Square as the ball dropped and another year began.