I remember when I first learned about sex. I was in third grade and my best friend, Cheryl, and I decided to each confront our mothers with evidence that something peculiar was going on in our respective bathrooms. We had both seen the tightly toilet-paper wrapped parcels in the trash containers in the bathroom every few weeks and I had even gone so far as to unwrap one to see what it contained. The sheer amount of blood had shocked and repelled me. Something had to be done, something was dreadfully wrong!
As far as most mothers go, mine was pretty approachable. Like most women who grew up in the 40’s and 50’s, she was very conservative and careful. Her version of cursing was an emphatic “Oh, SUGAR!” if something broke or irritated her. Yeah, well, Sugar was about to get a surprise.
I came home from school and determinedly told my mother that I needed to talk to her. Worried, my mother led me to the living room, where all important conversations took place. I remember her sitting in my father’s green arm chair, almost as if it lent her added composure and strength.
I don’t recall the exact words I used but I still remember the look of disbelief that came over my mother’s face as I presented my inquiry in my third grade trill. God love her, she maintained her composure and honestly and calmly told me all about menstruation and what to expect. There, the end.
Finally, recess! My words tumbled out of me as I told Cheryl my news. But Cheryl’s mother was younger and a bit more progressive. She had punctuated Cheryl’s lesson on menstruation with an Intro to Sex Ed and told her about intercourse! My third grade brain stalled then melted. The man does WHAT to the woman??? NO!!
I marched home, marched up our front steps, slammed open the front door and faced my mother. “YOU DIDN’T TELL ME ABOUT YOU KNOW WHAT!!!” I said. My mother about wet herself laughing. Literally. She had to hold onto the kitchen door she was laughing so hard. I think my mother could have killed Cheryl’s mother that day.
After my initial shock wore off, my inquisitive little brain cells went into overtime. This was interesting stuff, indeed, and I wanted to know more about it. Much of this was fueled by restless hormones; mine stirred early and powerfully and it was clear, even at a young age that sex and sensuality would play an important role in my life.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to distinguish the other qualities that I want in my lover: sensitivity, kindness to others, the ambition to succeed, generosity, the ability to make me laugh, a magnetic personality, an agile mind. Add that to the, oh, so delicious heat that sexual compatibility brings to the relationship and you have the delightful chemistry for a relationship. Not too much to ask, is it?
Although I am no longer a practicing Catholic, sex in my adult life has been an interesting dichotomy between balancing my early, ingrained values and my surging hormones. I’m not saying I want to sleep with every man I see, not at all, I’ve always been a one-man woman, deeply devoted to the man I love. And love has happened rarely. Commitment, love, chemistry, monogamy, all of that needs to be a part of the picture before the hormones can take over. With the right person, I’m pretty much an Angel in public and bawdy Devil between the sheets. Yes, indeedy, that shock from third grade has definitely worn off.
When I was very small and wanted to disappear, to break free of it all, I would go to our backyard and climb onto my swing. I’d pump my legs furiously, climbing higher and higher into the sky, leaning back, eyes gazing into the clouds, feet feeling as if they were grazing the tree tops. My girlish voice would peal at the top of my lungs, “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morrrrning!” I could spend hours on that swing, feeling the exhilarating wind in my face, the sun on my skin, and everything else would just fall away.
I’ll call myself Amalie. It is my mother’s name. Not that she is French, she’s actually mostly White Russian. When I told my lover that, he murmured, “White Russian, eh, that explains a lot!” Her name is the result of a typo on her birth certificate. Her mother was called Molly so we think that was supposed to be her true name.
At the core of it, I ached to get away from my typical middle-class, suburban upbringing, where athleticism and cheerleading seemed to rein supreme and reading books and a large vocabulary were suspicious and strange. I often walked home alone, trailing behind the other students, struggling with an unwieldy stack of library books. I was taller than most of the other girls, as tall as most of the boys and I remember cringing in 5th grade when my Catholic school girl uniform was yanked up by some mischievous boy, “would he notice that I already have hair on my vagina??”, hidden though it was by my white cotton panties. My breasts had already betrayed me, signaling my all too rapid entry into woman-hood at an all too early age. I simply wasn’t ready. Not for the gawking boys who gazed openly at my breasts, even the men who glanced sheepishly, looked away, then looked again.
My parents didn’t know what to make of me. Who was this changeling child that they had brought into this world? Both my parents were stolid, unimaginative, realistic, and somewhat critical. They loved us dearly, though, and believed that participation in organized sports promised entry into Heaven, or at least turned you into a promising human being. It was unfathomable to them that I shied away from anything athletic. They couldn’t understand that the last thing I wanted to do was run in public with my errant, bouncing breasts or try not to stumble with my too quickly growing and awkward limbs. My parents and I fought over sports ad nauseum and I soon began to hate them, never mind what I thought about gym class. Oh, the horror!
One day, the most popular boy in grade school, the one I had an unbearable crush on, circulated a survey around the school. “Do you hate Amalie Garvoille, Yes or No”. When it was passed to me by a smirking classmate during Social Studies, I covered my face in shame and despair and collapsed in silent, shaking sobs on my desk. What was wrong with me? Why was I so maligned? Was I really so terrible?
As a result, school became a place to be dreaded, and I carefully and fearfully navigated the social potholes that I seemed so ill-prepared to avoid.
As I write this, I stop and my fingers hesitate on the keys. Why relive all of this? I have moved on from this and succeeded in so many ways. But every journey has its first step, every story has its genesis. Thus I was formed.
So it begins. This blog won’t have any true starting point. I don’t have any particular measure of my life that I wish to dissect and share. It will be more a series of snapshots, of moments dealing with the difficulties of illness, body image and weight gain, self-esteem, sexual fulfillment and exploration, relationships and at times, abject loneliness. And the joy of breaking free of it all. In short, a life, my life.