Asking For It

It didn’t happen, but it’s what they would have said. I was wearing a short skirt, and I’d been the one to suggest going back to his place to hang out. Never have I been so glad for the guys’ tendency to let their place be too messy to bring girls home.

When I started drinking at parties in high school, about the most I ever did was sit on guys’ laps. To this day, I get drunk, I want to sit on someone’s lap. Once a guy stuck his tongue down my throat, but that was all. I did go into a room with someone at a party once, but it was a game for me to see how much I could stay in control, and nothing happened. I don’t get wild when I’m drunk, I’m one of those who works to not let it show, to stay in control and walk straight. Even when I can’t feel my face. I was afraid of losing control, of something spiraling into chaos I couldn’t handle, couldn’t stop, so I avoided it. I had friends who didn’t. Some were lucky, some weren’t. I had a friend who got wasted at a party and ended up in a room with a guy who told her, “Suck or fuck.” This was when blowjobs were still a big deal, so she chose the latter. For her first time. As she was telling me, my heart was dropping, I knew she’d been too drunk to give consent, that he’d taken advantage of her, that it was rape. But it was years before she admitted it to herself and could say it. I was terrified of anything like that happening to me, so I avoided putting myself in those situations.

I didn’t even really seriously make out with a guy until my first college boyfriend, a nice art student who took a really long time to put the moves on me, even after we were dating. He’d pick me up from my dorm, we’d spend the evening hanging out at his apartment, he’d drive me home. I’m still not sure if his playing Salt ‘n Pepper’s “Let’s Talk About Sex” in the car on those drives home was a subtle hint. But I wasn’t going to throw myself on him when I had no idea what I was doing, as much as I wanted to, so I waited until he finally initiated. I spent the night a few times, but nothing ever happened below the waist. I would have, we were in college, he was my boyfriend, it was what you did. But I was following his lead, and he wasn’t going very fast. We broke up after a couple months. Maybe he expected more, who knows. I liked him, he was a great first boyfriend, really.

Slugboy was the next. Things went farther, faster, with him. In part because he was dating a Nice Girl back home who wouldn’t put out, and so I felt one of the few advantages I had over her was if I did. Yeah, that’s a great reason to lose your virginity, ladies. To win over a cheating liar and make him break up with the other girl. I was nineteen and thought I knew what I was doing. We planned it. I spent a Friday night at his dorm. We switched the CD from My Bloody Valentine to Crowded House because, really, as great as they are, the phrase “I lost my virginity to My Bloody Valentine” just sounds awful. As first times go, I guess it was above average. I enjoyed it enough, nothing hurt, I liked it. We repeated it on Saturday night, then went play rehearsal Sunday morning. He dropped me off at my dorm after, then disappeared. He called that evening from his parents to say he thought we should just be friends. I could hear The Nice Girl in the background. That pretty took the experience from “above average” to “emotional disaster.”

“Just friends” didn’t last long. He told me he’d broken up with the Nice Girl, that they were just friends. I can’t dissect what was happening in my nineteen year old brain to make me think that using my sexuality to win him was the best plan, but I’m sure women older and wiser have made the same mistake so I don’t beat myself up over it. I’m of the pre-Clinton days where oral sex was a bigger deal than intercourse, so I actually performed my first blow job on him months after we’d had sex. It was in my new apartment, no furniture yet, so he was lying on the bare carpet in one of the bedrooms. The act was less disgusting than gossip had led me to expect, even though he didn’t manage to warn me before he came and I had to choose to spit or swallow. I swallowed, it wasn’t bad. Salty, odd, but nothing awful. Still not enough, he was still seeing the Nice Girl, though I didn’t know it then as I believed his lies.

Maybe because I had to be the sexy one, I didn’t hold back, let myself enjoy it. And I really did. Even though it was well over a year before he actually gave me an orgasm- and when he did he asked what was wrong. I liked sex, all of it, and I was good at it. I never felt that good about it, though. Because it didn’t win him over, he didn’t chose me, he shamed me for drinking or smoking the occasional cigarette. For not being a Nice Girl. God, I wish I could go back and hug that nineteen year old me, tell her there’s nothing wrong with her, and that she needs to dump that idiot and go have as much fun as she can find.

I broke up with Slugboy for a time, and dated a sweet Freshman, who looked at me like he was gobsmacked I had chosen him. He was a virgin, I’d only been with Slugboy, and I wanted to be the Nice Girl this time. To know if a guy would still be with me even if I wasn’t having sex with him. I’ll never know, as the Freshman put the moves on me one night, and even though I tried to dissuade him, I didn’t feel comfortable just telling him no. He got overexcited and didn’t make it to the act that night, and saying no after that felt like I’d be punching him in the ego. So next date, I put on something sexy, took control, and made like it was my choice. We were in college, he was my boyfriend, it was what you did. I was never that into it, stopped to answer the phone more than once while we were having sex. He left for the summer and fell away.

I got back with Slugboy for a while, then got free and fell for my friend Dave’s roommate Bill. Bill was an actual Son of a Preacher Man, and didn’t have much experience. He didn’t pick up that I was suddenly arranging my schedule to have lunch with him, Dave, and our friend Will every week, and not just because Dave and Will cracked me up. I remember setting up the perfect shot for Bill to ask me out, and watching Dave’s jaw just drop as he completely missed it, and I ended up having to do it myself. Bill didn’t have much experience, but the boy was a natural. Our first date, once he did finally kiss me, I barely made it inside my apartment before my knees gave out. Yes, that good. Even though I was wondering if I was listed in a university guide as a good sacrificial volcano for boys looking to lose their virginity by this point, I wanted to be with him. And again, the boy had skills. He shyly asked he’d been OK, if I’d enjoyed myself. “Yeah,” I said, “four times.” Go Bill. It was a good relationship, but he was the kind of guy you marry, and at 22, I wasn’t ready for that, so I called it off eventually.

I dated plenty of guys after that, and I can’t remember any who pressured me into doing anything I didn’t want to do. The first night with Jack, even though I’d brought him back to my place and we were fooling around in my bed, I wasn’t sure I wanted to have sex with him. I must have telegraphed that on my face, as he said that we didn’t have to if I didn’t want to. I came around, but it was good to know it was fully my choice. He was dating half of Austin, and maybe he was secure enough that he didn’t need to convince some girl to fuck him to prove his masculinity. And he may have been dating around, and didn’t mind if I was too, but when we were together, I was the only girl in the world, and he expected the same from me. I learned that when I tried to be cool and intimate there was someone else, and he called me out on it, saying you don’t bring up other people when you’re with someone. Good lesson, one I’ve kept, and one I judge others by in their breaking it.

It wasn’t until Frazier that I finally felt that my enjoyment of sex was OK, even a good thing. It was not the best situation. He was dating a friend of mine, even though she was still looking for something better, and he and I had always had chemistry. Since we did, and since she still seemed to be shopping around, I approached the subject with her sideways one day at lunch, saying that a few people I knew had ended up marrying guys their best friends had dated first, and how would she feel about that. Wouldn’t happen to her, she said. All her best friends were married or engaged. As I was neither, I was clearly not among her best friends, so I started sleeping with her boyfriend. Not my finest hour, but not something I will ever regret. It’s not that the sex was the most amazing ever, though it was good. No, it was that Fraizer was so admiring of how much I liked having sex, how much I was into it and enjoyed it. I’d never had a guy compliment me on that, make it sound not just OK but a good thing, something to be proud of. I felt so freed, finally able to express this aspect of myself without fear of being judged and found dirty. But I felt awful lying, and had to call it off after a few weeks.

Fast forward some years, and we get to Dan, and all the chat sex. Like Frazier, he liked that I was into it, that I was open and willing to test my boundaries, even if it was just virtual. I did too, finding out new things about myself (I’d be OK making out with someone else in front of a guy, but not having sex with someone else; spanking and hair pulling are good, things like,”You’re such a good slut,” crossed a line I didn’t like). But you start to wonder if your enjoyment, your willingness to try new things, is a bonus with purchase, or the only feature to really interest them.

Or if, as much as they enjoy it, it also scares them. I had one guy run out after sex, in the middle of the night, when I’d expressed that I actually wanted him to stay. The sex hadn’t been great, neither of us came, but I liked him, and was willing to work on it, and I’d enjoyed myself anyway. No idea if he had, as I have never been with someone who made less noise. I don’t need porn star talk, but the occasional groan is good feedback that I’m doing things right. This guy, I have no clue if I was, or what he wanted. I left him a couple texts and voice mails, but never heard back.

And Dan, well, for someone who is so open to new experiences that we had a Dream Team discussion on which actors and actresses we’d chose for a three-way, he sure embarrasses easily in person. We went out for drinks when we were both home, and I forgot that three vodkas on a mostly empty stomach was a bad idea for me, and got wasted. I still claim I was walking fine, that it was high heels and bad sidewalk that were doing me in, but he was good about keeping an arm around me anyway. We went to get coffee, I clearly needed some to be able to drive home, and as I couldn’t very well sit in his lap at a well-lit coffee shop as is my drunken wont, I tried to make do by stretching my legs out and putting my feet on his lap. I was in a skirt, it hiked up, and my stocking tops might have been visible to the other patrons. Even sober, this is not something I bother about, no big deal and let them have a thrill. But Dan, wow, bright red, eyes darting everywhere to see who was watching. So maybe guys are as scared of their own desires as they are of ours.

There’s nothing to be scared of, though. Until there is. I’d gone out with Dawson once, had a nice time, but found him a little boring, one of those who seems to be waiting for you to finish telling a story so he can regale you with his next bon mot. He walked me to my car, and laid some good moves on my, but I didn’t feel a thing, except that I wanted to go home and wished it wasn’t too late to hit the grocery store down the street. I told him in a email a couple days later that I thought we’d be better as friends, that we had too much in common, and even got him in touch with a friend I thought might like him, as a decent guy with a job in LA is a rarity. I don’t know what happened with them, but I gather it didn’t click. A couple months went by, and I got in touch with him about getting drinks. Thought I might try again for a spark, and if nothing else, I could use more friends. We had a good time, he was more relaxed, we laughed a lot. I had a few beers, and I can’t remember how the subject got around to sex, but then he was asking me what was the weirdest request I had ever gotten in bed. Now, this is not really early dating conversation for me, but rather things I talk about openly with my online friends (many of whom I’ve met through commenting on New York Magazine’s Sex Diaries on Mondays, although I’m more a reader than a participant), and Dan, whom I have known forever. But I don’t like being a prude, and it’s nothing I’m ashamed of, so I let the conversation continue. I haven’t actually had any odd requests (OK, I did not mention Slugboy and the zucchini, as that was just something that belongs in a farce not real life), but we got talking about other likes and dislikes, and I alluded to liking some light bondage. I was not going to get down and dirty with someone I don’t know that well, so I kept it vague. He walked me to my car, and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to kiss him, or just be friends. I even said, “Awkward pause.” He went for it, and this time, I was into it. Really. Though I still hated that he took my purse off my shoulder and put it on the ground- it was a controlling little move. I’m a biter, though I tend to stick to necks and shoulders. This gave him ideas, though why he chose to bite my stomach I will never know. Things went far, with my shirt pushed up around my shoulders at one point, until someone on a bike went past and I shut it down.

He called twice the next day, and when I finally got a chance to call him back, he just wanted to talk. And then tried to invite himself over to keep me company. I was already in comfy pants and looking forward to lounging, alone, watching “Glee,” and had to be pretty firm that I didn’t want company. Even so far as saying we’d do something the next night just to get him off the phone. I worried I’d snagged a Stage 5 Clinger, which is ironic as I can be clingy myself but hate it in others. Typical only child, I need my space, unless I don’t, but I want to decide that. He’d mentioned missing the short skirt I wore on our first date, so I obliged on the next night. Met him at a restaurant, had dinner, and soon realized, God, he is boring. There are only so many, “This one time I said something really funny,” or “This one time I thought of something really funny I could say” stories a girl can stand, and he hit his limit early on in the evening. But I’d had a good time making out the night before (though the biting left marks that made a friend comment on a photo I’d posted of them, “Who are you partying with, Jeffrey Dahmer?”), and a girl has needs, so when we finished dinner and he asked what I wanted to do, I suggested we could go back to his for a while and hang out. He said his place was too much of a mess. I’d decided I wasn’t bringing anyone else back to mine until the third date or later, that if anyone was going to do a runner it was me, so I lied and said mine was too. As I was to learn later, this was so lucky.

I’d found such a good parking spot, I was worried it wasn’t legal, and wanted to check before we walked over for a drink. It was fine, and at my car, he started making out with me again. It must have been the beer the night before, as this time I wasn’t into it at all. I tried to feign interest, see if I could trick myself, but nothing doing. I did not want to be making out with this guy. But how do you say that to someone who’s just paid for dinner? And seems to be a good guy? As I’ve said before, I am too polite for my own good. So I just said we should get going if we’re going to get drinks before my parking limit runs out.

We get to the bar, and his hand is on my thigh almost immediately. I’m not against such things, but not with someone I’m realizing I’m not into, and not in full view of everyone else in a weirdly well lit bar. And he keeps looking at my chest. Now, I’m used to this, as any girl with breasts will tell you, men like to talk to them. But never on a date. They’ve got a decent chance of doing more than just look, so why stare? I was getting more and more uncomfortable, feeling more and more like Something was expected of me, that I had somehow given the impression that I was up for anything. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten less of a buzz off a vodka rocks- my brain wanted all its faculties that night. Not that it did me much good, I still had no idea how to shut Dawson down. After first saying no, then yes, saying no again felt so flaky I was afraid he’d cause a scene. I don’t deal well with having someone be angry at me, so I avoid it. We walked back to my car, my saying I needed to get him home. Not getting the hint, he attacked me on my car again. I kept my knees glued together, and was nervous by how well lit and well traversed the area was. In retrospect, that was a good thing, but I just felt so exposed. I finally got him in my car, I guess I’d made enough references to needing to get him home and get home myself. And then he really went for it. Hand right up my skirt. I pushed it away a couple times, pretty firmly. But I guess as I hadn’t objected in the bar, he wasn’t hearing it then. He was still kissing me aggressively, and trying to get his hand up my skirt, despite my saying, again, “I need to get you home.” I finally tried, “I want to take this slowly.” Which he somehow took to mean, “I want you to try and shove my hand down your pants.” I was having none of that, and pulled back damn fast and said I was taking him home. And to get his hand off my leg as I drive a stick and needed all my attention for that. God bless that stick shift, it kept him on his side of the car at least. He tried more when we got to his place, but I was firm about wanting to get home.

When I did, I freaked out. Nothing had really happened, but I felt so violated, so taken advantage of, and I hated myself for not speaking out and stopping him. But, even though it was my car, and it was a well-lit, well-traversed area, I was afraid. Afraid he’d get angry and it would escalate anyway, and faster. Or that he’d start calling me all kinds of names. I’d tried to appease him, keep him calm, bring it down a notch. But it didn’t work. I kept thinking about what would have happened if we had gone back to his place, somewhere truly private. I am pretty sure I would have had to physically fight him off me, and I’m just glad I didn’t find out how far it would have gone before I’d succeeded. He was a smoker, and wore a lot of cologne, and both previous times we’d gone out I’d been able to smell it on me the next day. I couldn’t handle that, so I tore off my clothes and scrubbed myself in the shower. I woke up the next day with a migraine that lasted a week. I blocked Dawson on my phone, but he still called and emailed twice, increasingly annoyed and concerned as to why I’d dropped off the planet when “we’d had a good time.” I had other drama to cope with, things that were more pressing and important, and I just wanted to forget that night, so I ignored him and deleted all messages.

We talk a lot about consent in this country, about how sex without consent is rape, but we never really define what consent really is. Because it’s not just not saying “No.” I didn’t say no to what Dawson was doing to me, but I sure as hell feel I didn’t consent. I went along, because I was scared and nervous and unsure how to stop him. My friend faced with, “Suck or fuck,” didn’t consent, but she also didn’t say no, she didn’t fight him off. It didn’t make it any more right. But it seems like unless you scream “NO!” repeatedly and fight the guy off, whether he’s a stranger or your boyfriend, you aren’t taken seriously if you do decide to press charges. Even if you have fought, there’s still a nasty tendency to blame the victim, to say she just regretted it and is filing a false claim, trying to get some kind of revenge or attention. Having had friends who have been through the process, I doubt anyone would do it for fun. Sady Doyle’s #MooreAndMe campaign on Twitter, which sought to get Michael Moore to retract and answer to comments he’d made disparaging the accusers in the Julian Assange rape cases in Sweden, drew lots of support and attention to the issue. And if you read The Guardian’s story on the case, it is sadly clear these are cases where the women didn’t fight, they didn’t say no, but also, where they clearly did not want to have sex with this man and ended up doing it anyway. Without the functioning condoms they had insisted on at the very least. But in Sweden, for whatever reason, they seem more willing to acknowledge that grey area, and even have different degrees of sexual assault (though, no, “sex without a condom” is nowhere on that list, however often that lie is repeated). Maybe they’ve had the discussions we need to be having, about what consent means, about how to say no, about how to tell when a woman is quietly resisting and that those are signs you need to stop immediately. Because we’re clearly not there yet in this country. When Moe Tkacik tried to address the situation, in her patented Moe way, full of run-on sentences and not always strong logic, but with some damn good points, she got shredded in the blogosphere because she used the names of the victims. I completely agree that rape victims should never be named before a verdict, but her paper had no standing rule on the issue, and even MSNBC has broadcast their names. She made an honest mistake, and her editors didn’t fix it until the storm erupted, and made it seem it was totally her fault, and not theirs for not having a basic policy in place like any other outlet does. And she got fired, for talking about rape in a way some women found to be wrong.

It seems that you can be judged by all sides for not responding to a rape in the “right” way, whatever the hell that is. The victims in the Assange case have been shredded for taking time to report him, and for daring to continue to hang out with him after the attacks. So that’s wrong. But, it seems, it’s also wrong to be flippant about it, when you’ve been a victim of sexual assault by an acquaintance yourself, as Tkacik has been pretty open about having happened to her in college. Until we can talk about this, without declaring “right” and “wrong” ways to do it, we’re never going to move forward, and never going to make real progress in making it clear that being forceful with a woman isn’t manly, it’s rapey. And women will worry about how open they can be, without it being viewed as an invitation that we’re ready and willing anytime, with anyone.


January 2, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , . Life, the universe, and whatnot. 2 comments.

Waving, Then Drowning

Growing up in Baton Rouge, summers were all about the pool. With temperatures in the nineties, and humidity to match, being submerged in cool water was the best escape. Playing outside meant being sticky from the heat, bitten by mosquitoes, and the ever-present threat of stinging caterpillars. Yes, that’s right, even the caterpillars sting in the south. They come out when the ligustrom hedges were in bloom, and I always associated the smell of the flowers with the stinging caterpillars, like they were the ones with the scent. They were black, and covered with prickles and spikes, and left a painful welt if you touched them. Not only was there a danger of stepping on them, but they could fall from the trees and land on you. So the local pool, with no overhanging trees and the promise of hours of games of Marco Polo and handstands in the shallow end, was the place we all wanted to be.

I was an only child and grew up on a street without many kids my own age. We joined the local pool for the neighborhood, nothing fancy, no high dive, but the snack bar had good french fries. It was almost close enough to bike to, but not really, not on my own. So my mom would have to drive me and drop me off. She wasn’t a swimmer, didn’t like getting her hair wet. I remember her swimming, her head above water, hair protected by one of those caps with rubber flowers on it. Dad would come on the weekends, but weekdays, I was on my own. I don’t remember what we did, just goofed around I think. Teased the lifeguards. All the things you do when you’re six and seven. I took swimming lessons one summer, but I was never a great swimmer. I didn’t want to perfect my strokes and do laps, join a team. I loved being underwater, not going along at speed on top of it. Given a long enough snorkel, I would happily sit on the bottom of the pool all day, just marveling at the reflection of the light on the surface of the water. I liked doing handstands, turning somersaults, all the things I was clumsy at on land felt graceful in the water. I felt graceful in the water. Freed from gravity, I could almost fly.

They brought in busing in our parish when I was in third grade, so I changed schools, went to one far away from where I lived. I had friends all over town, even fewer in our little neighborhood than I had before. I kept wanting to go to the pool in Kenilworth, where more of my friends lived, and I could, if I was with one of them, they could sign me in as a guest. It was bigger than our pool, with a high dive and a kiddie pool. It was a better, newer neighborhood, they had a better, newer pool. If I wanted to bring Elizabeth or Erica to our pool, my mom would have to drive over and pick them up, bring us back to the pool, pick us up at the end of the day, and bring my friends home after. I think it was just easier for my parents in the end to change what pool we belonged to, even though my dad never liked the Kenilworth pool as much. At our neighborhood pool, he had a key, and would go swimming in the middle of the night when my mom and I were visiting relatives. I don’t think he did that at Kenilworth, it wasn’t that kind of pool. My mom always made a big deal about our joining the Kenilworth Swim Club, that I would have to go a lot to make it worth it. Of course, it was farther away, so she had to drive me, which she never came around to enjoying.

But I got to spend the days with Elizabeth, my best friend. I remember days spent at the pool, laughing, playing Marco Polo, bitter when they made us get out because of thunder and lightening, far off and no danger to us. The sun pouring down on us, we owned that world. Night was even better, under the stars, the air slightly cooler than during the day, fewer people. We would swim up to the lights, feel their heat. Looking back, I don’t know how we ended up best friends, we had nothing in common. Though her mom was a librarian, I was the reader, not Elizabeth. I liked playing with dolls, she liked playing sports. She won awards on the swim team, I couldn’t be bothered to finish a lap. I was always playing catch up being her friend. Trying to be more athletic, more outgoing, less of a weird little girl who wanted to make up stories in her head and more of a normal girl who could play soccer. But I could never play soccer. Or tennis. Or do a cartwheel, even after two years of gymnastics. Whatever they tell you, practice does not make perfect, it just makes you slightly less awkward when you inevitably fall down.

Angie lived down the street from Elizabeth, and she was as athletic, on all the same teams I wasn’t good enough to make. Not that I even wanted to be on them, really. I knew I wasn’t good enough to win at games, so I just wanted to play, enjoy myself. Angie wanted to win, so did Elizabeth. I don’t know why Angie and I didn’t get along. My mom says I came home crying the first day she came to our school, when she finally transferred there, long after the rest of us. I have no memory of what happened that day, I just know that after she came, recess stopped being about playing games and started being about winning them, four square and double dutch instead of pretending the climbing frame was a spaceship. I was good at piloting a spaceship, I was crap at four square, or anything involving a playground ball. I broke Erica’s arm in a freak kickball accident in second grade, I wasn’t just bad at sports, I was unsafe. And Angie’s mother didn’t believe, like mine did, that you invited every girl in class to a birthday party. Angie had sleepovers, and all my friends were invited, while I sat at home with my parents, trying to tell myself it didn’t matter. Angie and Elizabeth lived on one of those streets with a pack of kids growing up together, I was just a visitor, having to get a ride over.

By middle school, the pool became less about games and more about real swimming, or laying out by the pool to get a tan. The diving board was for real dives, not just cannonballs and goofing around. Angie took diving lessons, was doing flips. I couldn’t even manage to dive from a walking start, bouncing at the end of the board and cleaving the water with my hands pointed above my head. And Elizabeth was on the swim team, there for practice every day, spending the days playing there lost its appeal to her. I went to summer camp with her one summer, where they tried to teach me tennis. My dad had tried before, giving me a ball and an old racket, moving the car so I could hit the ball off the wall at the front of the house. He even tried tying a ball to a string from a branch on a tree. Nothing could get me to hit that little ball with that damn racket. I was decent at badminton, but no one played badminton in 1980’s Baton Rouge, they played tennis. I did manage to learn how to serve, even if it was just a bounce serve. I rarely hit a ball back over the net, so my serve got lots of practice. Going to the pool, I borrowed my dad’s old snorkel and mask, practicing that while Elizabeth and Angie did laps, working on their butterfly stroke. I couldn’t even figure out what the movements needed for that were. I tried once or twice, and just felt like I was flailing madly. I was a manatee, they were dolphins.

My dad went on a sabbatical when I was in eighth grade, so we moved up to Maryland for the year. I kept in touch with Elizabeth on the phone, this was before the internet, and she came up over Christmas vacation. We made a huge snowman and had snowball fights. I was popular in Maryland, and enjoyed introducing her to all my friends. We moved home during the summer, so we didn’t bother joining a pool up there. I went to the VFW pool with my friend Kelly once or twice before we moved. They made all the kids get out for a time every hour for adult swim. I’d never heard of that before. And we were 14, not kids, it was embarrassing to be grouped with them and not the adults.

I came back to Baton Rouge and started high school, a new school, with even more new kids from all over town. Alliances had changed, solidified, in the year I’d been gone, and I never really caught up. Due to a wonderful genetic quirk, a massive growth spurt had left me with awful knee pains and problems that got me out of PE for the rest of my school career. The physical pain was nothing compared to the freedom from the pain of embarrassing myself at one sport after another. Our school was a magnet school, too focused on academics to have a football or basketball team, but it had a swim team. A very active, very tight one. Elizabeth was on it, so was Angie. They had practice every day, last period and after school. They would get together for group shavings before meets. I took a drama class instead of PE, so I started spending more time with the drama geeks, my fellow non-athletes.

We could get our license in Louisiana at 15, and Angie was the first among our group to do so. She and Elizabeth started carpooling, along with another friend. Even though it would have been easy for my dad to drop me off there on his way to work, so I could ride in with my friends, I wasn’t invited, so my dad took me in the mornings, I rode the bus home. Elizabeth stayed late for swim practice. I had play practice sometimes, Thespian Club conventions. There was no group shaving involved, though. I remember going to the pool a few times the summer between freshman and sophomore year. Kelly came down to visit, so we hung out at the pool to escape the heat, even tried to play tennis once or twice. Mostly we got noticed for the weird old white tennis balls my dad dug up from somewhere. Elizabeth and I still hung out, were still nominally best friends, but what little we had in common was stretched thinner and thinner. Angie had joined a diving team as well, so she taught Elizabeth more flips, complicated combinations. I couldn’t compete with improv games and Red Leather, Yellow Leather voice warm ups.

I don’t know what the breaking point was for me, I think the car pool I was never invited to join was involved. That cut deep, as such things do when you’re 15. I wrote out a long note to Elizabeth, stating all my problems, why I was upset, left it in her locker, like you do when you’re 15. She was shocked, surprised, had no idea why I was so hurt, why it mattered who drove to school with whom. But it did. She didn’t have room for me in her life anymore, and I was left standing on the outskirts of her group before school, and no one noticed if I wandered off. I hated that school, and changed back to the weird little Gifted and Talented program I’d grown up in, set in a terrible inner city school with razor wire along the fence ringing it. And no swim team. We let our membership to the pool lapse that year, I couldn’t convince my mom I would go enough to make the cost worth it. I could drive by then anyway, there were other ways to escape the heat, going from air conditioned car to air conditioned mall to air conditioned movie theater. Melissa’s parents got her a car, an old Duster that had belonged to her grandmother and had low mileage from just being driven to church and back. The pool had lost its allure, we had the whole city open to us.

Sometimes when I visit the pool at my friend’s apartment, I catch myself doing handstands, somersaulting under the water. Remembering when that was enough to fill the days, the freedom to make up your own games and not care who won, just how much fun you had.

July 26, 2010. Tags: , , . Life, the universe, and whatnot. Leave a comment.