My mother came from a long line of lapsed Catholics. A gathering of her relatives on her father’s side almost always turned into a bunch of contentious elderly people sitting in the kitchen each trying to outdo the other on the level of hatred each held for the Pope. It did make me wonder why they each bothered to raise their children in the church. Perhaps it was culture or tradition, but primarily it was what Daniel Dennet calls a “belief in belief.” She was sent to Catholic school to be educated by nuns. However, when my mother came home from school one day declaring that she herself wanted to be a nun, my unbelieving grandfather whipped her our of school faster than she could say “Dieve mano” and put her in the local public high school. In my mother’s eyes, the damage had already been done in regards to her attitude to her sexuality and her body. Several times she told me during my adolescence that she didn’t want to pass on to me and my sister the negative messages about sexuality she had received at the same age.
In the intervening years between her high school days and ours, the sexual revolution had occurred. The day after I first began to menstruate, she came home with two copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She didn’t trust the information she had received from her own mother and the messages she tried to pass on to us about sexuality reflected the current state of educated, enlightened opinion. Sex was healthy. Sexual desire was normal. Sexual exploration between peers was also healthy and normal. I suspect if I had brought around a boy who was significantly older, or a man for that matter, she would have been alarmed. However, Sheep Dog was only about a year older than I was.
After that first time we met, he began to make visits back to his old hometown more and more frequently, and his helpful friends were happy to tell me what he was too shy to say, that I was the reason. It wasn’t long before he was skipping the visits to Chuck E. and the bicycle ride to Cherry Bomb’s front porch and was asking his brother take him directly to my family’s house.
As a poor girl who managed to pull herself up to the middle class, my mother had decorated the house carefully, self-consciously and in a rather stiff fashion. She was sufficiently cognizant of class stereotypes to know that plastic covers on the furniture were declassé, but much of the house was an uncomfortable place for young people. Usually, when my friends would come over, we would go down to the basement, the one with the disco lights and my record player, with its linoleum floor on which my sister practiced her dance moves and on which I could drop paint. At one end of the room was the washing machine and nearby, tucked beneath the stairs, was a small room with a toilet. There we could do almost anything we wanted.
When Sheep Dog came over, it seemed natural to me to take him down to the basement. My mother seemed to not know quite how to respond to this. Her answer was to open the door and poke her head down once every half hour or so and ask if we wanted juice, or cookies, or anything else. It wasn’t lost on me that she didn’t seem to think my female friends needed so many glasses of juice, but knowing how some of my girlfriends, as they approached puberty, had parents who started to act more and more paranoid, I wasn’t about to say anything.
It didn’t take too long before chatting turned into kissing, and kissing turned into fondling. At this remove, it’s hard to recall exactly how long things took. Since he was dependent on his brother for transportation, he came to our part of the state most weekends, but not all. We didn’t spend all day every Saturday down in the basement either. We’d join our friends for movies, or just to hang out. Still, I don’t think it was long before I was running my hand over the lump in his pants, which he seemed to enjoy immensely, and he would put his hand on the outside of mine and rub until I squeezed my arms around him as tightly as I could and started to quiver.
Eventually, my hand made its way down inside of his pants. We dated for months and we never went further than this. I would come to know the feel of his penis intimately without ever laying eyes on it. Eventually, when I would finally see one, I would be surprised by the color. Somehow in my mind, perhaps because it seemed to live in the dark, I had always thought of it as pale and colorless.
One day, during a particularly intense session of mutual fondling, he suddenly gasped as if he was in pain, grabbed my wrist and pulled my hand out of his pants. His face turned bright red and he excused himself hurriedly and walked quickly, and I noticed awkwardly, to the bathroom. Was he sick? Stomach problems? A cramp? I called out and asked if he was all right. “Yes,” he replied, “Just leave me alone for a minute, please.”
Well, I hardly wanted to bother someone while he was in the bathroom, so I remained seated on the sofa, however, I was quite concerned that he was unwell.
Then it struck me. I recalled all those sex education books my mother had given me. He had ejaculated. My initial reaction was to feel pleased and elated. I had so many things that I wanted to say. However, when he returned from the bathroom, where I imagine he had gone to clean himself up, he seemed embarrassed and awkward. We were still young, and perhaps he was not ready for this. I just held his hand, gave him a kiss and pushed his hair out of his eyes.
We continued to fondle, but he never let it go as far as that again.
Some months later, his brother had started to complain about carting him back and forth all the time. We spoke on the phone and his visits became less frequent. Finally after a little bit of a discussion, we decided it was better that we not continue to be boyfriend and girlfriend. We remained friends and I would still see him from time to time when he would come back to visit his friends and we’d all hang out on Cherry Bomb’s porch as we did the day we first met.