The story below has been sent to me by an anonymous contributor under the Humble Beginnings project on this blog. The idea is that people can send me their writing and I’ll publish it for them.
It can be published in their name, or as anonymous – for the shy ones. “What Is That?” is the first Humble Beginnings contribution, and talks about some uncomfortable topics around sexuality, parenting and misogyny. I hope you enjoy this thought-provoking piece.
It was a relief to discover boys. Girls were complex, difficult. Unpredictable. I was always afraid that if I gave myself wholeheartedly to a friendship, girls would turn on me. I tried so hard to be likeable, but I think that made me irritating. I had some wonderful friends, but it was always confusing and challenging.
But boys. Boys were so straight up. And they liked me. I discovered that flirting was fun, a brilliant way to practise my verbal sparring. Funny and exciting. My girl friends didn’t seem to like my new flirty ways, or they were worried about it. But I was unstoppable! Year seven was full of excitements. We were in the big high school. It was like I had a little light on my head that showed those boys I was a good sort to like. They weren’t shy about showing me they liked what I had, even when it was uninvited. I enjoyed being liked. I felt like I was finally becoming cool. So what if they showed it by pelvic thrusting in my direction. They liked me.
One day, while the overhead fans and Mr Connors droned on, I looked out the louvred window, through the flywire, onto the quadrangle. A teacher was walking a new guy around the school. He was blond and lithe, his muscled, long legs swinging out beneath stubbies in an easy gait. I chewed my bic. I knew that fate had brought him there. I knew that this new guy was going to be my guy. I squeezed my knees together wondering why my legs felt so shaky. Oh Lordy. He was handsome.
At lunchtime, all the kids gathered under the maths block to queue for the tuckshop and eat their lunch. The tough-guy dudes lounged on the tables, checking out the chicks. There was a game of volleyball going on, shirtsleeves rolled up, shouts and whistles from the playground. Mick was leaning against a railing, watching the game. I barrelled up to him and introduced myself. I told him who I was. I told him I’d seen him out the window and I liked him. A grin broke across his tanned face, twinkling in his grey-green eyes. Oh my. He was beautiful. Welcome to our school, I said, and grinned back.
When he found out that I was in Year 7 (he was in Year 12), he only paused momentarily. He mumbled something about how I didn’t look like it. I didn’t. I was already six foot tall. He was marginally taller, a greek god of a creature. An athlete. A Queenslander. The most extraordinary boy I had ever seen. His scent was intoxicating, what was that? Aftershave? Deodorant? I didn’t know but I wanted to keep breathing it in. I walked with him to his next class, not even caring that I would be late for my own. He asked me to meet him in the library later. The library! He must like books! Be still my beating heart! In tee minus two hours, I was a goner.
Mick wrote me poetry. Carved hearts out of blackboard chalk with the point of a compass during class, pressing them later into my eager hands. To me, it was high romance. Deep and meaningful, man. He waited for me at lunchtimes and recess and took me in to the senior common room, even when his mates didn’t like it. People told me to stay away from him but I pursued that boy relentlessly. He responded with rampant enthusiasm. We were Romeo and Juliet. Only what we were feeling was way more epic than that. My parents put my brother on sister-watch and he reported my every move. I got very cunning at finding ways to get around it. We met in the art room, the computer labs, under stair wells and down on the field. They didn’t ask me about him, just forbid me to see him. The taboo made me more determined. I began to understand the old story of the Garden of Eden and the fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I wanted, so badly, to know about love.
Just catching sight of him sent electric shocks into my fingertips. I didn’t understand the feelings that coursed through my body. They were new. Extraordinary. All encompassing. What was that? My goodly, Godly indoctrination whispered the word: Lust? No. Lust was bad! A sin. What I was feeling must be God’s greatest invention. It was delectable. I didn’t think there was a soul in existence who could understand what being with Mick was like for me. Every cell of my being longed to be next to him. Every day was an exercise in how I could get near. I believed that I was in love. A love like nothing any one else had ever known. When we slow danced at the school social I wrapped all my notions of love into that warm circle of intimacy. We swayed in awkward side steps. He wore a mint green shirt with zips, I played with the ziptags. I wore Shazza’s borrowed rara skirt and contraband crop top. Braces framing my minuscule curves. I felt like I could stay there in his arms forever. In love.
Swept away for a moment by chance, yeah, we danced and danced and danced.
In our town, everyone used to congregate at a hotel. It was kind of a social hub, the centre of everything. My parents were very strict, but they were used to me meeting my girl friends there for a swim. One day, I told them I was going for a swim with my friends. They dropped me off on their way into town.
The air shimmered above the swimming pool. I dropped my towel and stepped into the blue water. Goosebumps rose all over my skin as I slipped down into the cool. Michael swam up behind me, until he was pressing right up against me from behind. I shivered with the deliciousness of his touch. Turning my face, searching for his lips with my own. Warm mouth, cold water. I twisted my body around so that I was straddling across him.
I want you, he moaned. His words hot in my ear. Whispered words of longing. I knew what he meant. I wanted him too. I wanted to see him all the time, to have him beside me every moment. I wanted my parents to love him and let us be together. I yearned to synchronise my heart beat with his, to fuse my thoughts to his. To be with him through the day and into the night. To dance. I wanted to be his girl forever. He had an idea, he said. I followed him out of the pool, leaving my towel where it lay. Not looking back.
Up there in the tropics, hotel rooms are aired out during the day. So all the rooms up in the accommodation block were open. Michael stepped into one of the rooms, pulling me in behind him. He slid the chain through the latch with confident self assurance. As it dropped into the notch, I felt cold. He turned on the TV. “To cover the noise,” he said. I knew it was wrong to be in that room. I wanted to leave. He stepped over to me and kissed me. But it wasn’t warm and nice. It was hard and mean.
“I’ve waited long enough” he spat as he muscled me over to the bed. He pulled my swimmers down and my budding breasts tried to hide under my grasping hands. He held them back. I was overwhelmingly ashamed. I looked at him and saw a stranger. I took myself out of my body and let my mind become a small pixel on the screen of that television. It flickered. From white to black.
“WHO’S IN THERE?!” an angry voice screamed into the room, the door banging against the chain. We scrambled off the bed, the footsteps of the housekeeper vanishing along the hall. We were in big trouble. I pulled my wet costume up over my shameful body. I scuttled behind him all the way back down to the pool. He hissed “act natural!”. And I let myself sink under the water, my face burning, staying down until my lungs screamed for air. When I broke the surface, his hateful face stared back at me. That beautiful, hateful face.
The manager came alongside the pool with the housekeeper. She pointed to us and a torrent of words fell on my head. It wasn’t her fault. These two. They are the ones. She didn’t know how they got in. We had to follow them into the office. There was a lot of anger. Talk of how we could pay for the hotel facilities we had used. The Big Manager threatened with the police. We were both silent. Afraid. They told us we were banned for life from the hotel. And they called our parents and told them we’d been found using the bed and the adult movies in one of the hotel rooms. I tried to say something but no words came out. Mick’s step dad was a black belt. He knew he was getting beat up. My Dad was a preacher. I knew I was going to hell.
When they picked me up my Mum couldn’t look at me. They drove me to my Dad’s office, away from the family so we could discuss it in privacy. They yelled and screamed at my silence. They hadn’t raised me to be that kind of girl. I should be ashamed of myself. A year’s grounding. No phone calls. No unsupervised social interactions. I was an embarrassment to my father. Eventually, my mother looked up through her tears and said “…did you make love to him?”.
The words fell like cold stones in my lap. Love? Make love?
I began to laugh. Big gasping laughs. Uncontrollable. My shoulders shook and they looked at each other with disbelief and horror. How did their girl turn into this disrespectful slut? What had they done wrong?
At school after that, all the boys would ask for a piece of my ass. Sometimes they would just grab it, because, after all, it was there for the taking. Even the girls whispered ‘slut’ when I walked past. I was an anomaly. A weirdo. The tall religious kid who fucked Mick stupid in the hotel room.
I was barely thirteen when I discovered that the extraordinary feeling I’d had coursing through me was not love. That when they say girls ask for it that’s no lie. But what we get is something else entirely.
What is that?