“My friends are all adults; I’m still a teenage girl.”--The Echo Friendly
We’re still on Bill, I’m afraid. Even though I haven’t been in touch with him, and after however many paragraphs, it still feels like there’s an invisible ribbon connecting me to him.
Just like Hannah’s Adam on Girls, the addictive thing about Bill (aside from the delicious way he could fling me around the room) was the way that little glimmers of affection/happiness would somehow work their way out of him. On the rare occasions that he smiled, it was like a shooting star, magical but burning out quickly. Genuine moments of tenderness (or what I perceived as genuine moments of tenderness) punctuated the callousness, the dismissiveness, the occasional gentle choking. I guess I can admit now that I am every cliché girl with daddy issues, and those brief flickers of attention hit a nerve so deep that I couldn’t help but crave more. That’s what makes men so dangerous for me.
One such flicker of tenderness happened one morning while I was cooking Bill breakfast. The very sad Nineties song I’d named myself after (not “Pretty Ribbons”—my everyday name is made up too.) shuffled on and I said “Sheesh, what a song to name myself after. Good job, seventeen-year-old me.”
He smiled one of those rare smiles, looked happy and satisfied down to his core, took my face in his hands and kissed me, like seventeen-year-old-me was the most precious thing in the whole world. I’d certainly never seen her that way, it was wonderful to feel recognized and loved for a part of myself I’ve fought all this time.
The next song to come on was Violet by Hole. “At least I didn’t name myself after this one.” I said, “Though I would have been cute as a Violet.”
Again, the smile. He gathered me up protectively and gave me another perfect kiss. Whenever I hear either of those songs, I remember what it felt like when he saw that part of me and liked it.
Who knows what he really meant by it—probably he meant “I like kissing.” But to feel like someone loved the part of me I hated, it hit me so deep and it’s hard to get past it.
In the six months since I started dating guys, I’ve often felt like a teenager—naïve, curious, volatile, needy, horny and scared. Getting all grossed out because I didn’t know it was common to put condoms on sex toys, being all teary-obsessed before I really know someone, feeling like I have to fight for my body to be my own territory, wanting to jump up and down and say “Sex is a big deal, people!” when most people just take it in stride, none of those things feel like being an adult. It feels a lot of the time like being a lost, hurt kid, craving connection and wanting to experience springtime properly, but wandering into pitfalls and getting stuck.
Part of the reason I’m stuck there, is because I want to save that person, fix the traumas, not just the big, scary ones, but the everyday indignities of being a teen girl who doesn’t like herself. I feel like I’m a little bit of a perfectionist this time around, because my real first times were so depressing.
I don’t know where I got this idea, but when I was fourteen, I knew I was so ugly that no one would ever want me. So when Rob Kilgore (I’m sorry, but that’s really his name, and it’s too illustrative not to use.) said that if someone didn’t fuck with him, he would jump in the river and drown, I volunteered. My first kiss was mere moments before my first sex, and I have to say the former was more impressive than the latter. It took all of probably five minutes. My best friend Sherri was making out with her boyfriend in the next room. One of the following songs was playing:
Afterwards, when I was sitting in Sherri’s kitchen bleeding and reading the funnies, I read a horoscope that said my life had changed for the better, and I hoped that much was true.
Stupid as it sounds, I thought Rob Kilgore and I would have a special connection after that, and that things would change for me in recognition of my new found womanhood—I thought I would somehow be more acceptable to people. What did happen is that his girlfriend, Lisa (in my memory, all of the blondes in acid washed jeans from the late Eighties are called Lisa) quietly called me a freak and told me to stay away from him. But I would always hope for recognition. The following Friday, I wore the same shirt I’d worn that night, a T-shirt I’d designed with an intricate puff-paint pattern of hearts, ankhs, peace-signs. I walked past the high school (I was still in middle school) hoping he would see me, and he did, but he was never more that cordial.
Whenever he was at the youth center, I was always aware of him, and always aware when whatever-song-it-had-been came on. I thought he might notice and catch my eye, but of course he never did.
A while later, maybe a year or so later, I ended up over at the Kilgore house. His bedroom was in an unfinished basement; his bed was a waterbed on a raised platform. I’d worn my favorite underwear, shiny white satin with a bright paisley print. I’m sorry but I have to tell you about the picture he had pinned to the wall: a vivid, comic-like illustration in mostly reds and greens of a very busty woman with her arm getting ripped (Chainsawed? Gnawed off by an alien?) off, bleeding all over the place. It didn’t occur to me then that that was going to look at during. He told me to turn around, bent me over and almost had it in before his dad came home. He and his brother were clearly scared of their dad, they hustled me out of the house. I enjoyed mourning the loss of the underwear for weeks, imagined them tacked up next to the armless lady, another thing to look at.
I don’t know why I didn’t expect more for myself, why I didn’t think I could be part of the world of dating and kissing and whatever else. I don’t know why, but I counted myself out of the emotional aspects of sex. It was a way to both deny and fulfill my needs at once. Erica Jong would be proud of the ziplessness of the fucks that got me through most of high school. I don’t remember any of them ever wanting to look at my face, but I don’t remember all of their faces either. Maybe that’s where my silly urge to feel beautiful comes from.
I do know that the times I have felt beautiful in front of a man these past six months have been either hard to believe in (as in my very nice relationship with MKT) or have felt like the recognition was shining right through to the center of me (like the first fire kiss)—these moments are very hard to let go of, and I guess I don’t have to. I’d like to have a little bit more perspective, though, so that I wouldn’t have to cling so hard that things get devastating.
My senior year of high school when I came out as bi, I thought that it would protect me from feeling so deeply needy towards men. I did have a few good relationships with guys, but mostly, fighting and denying the need for them all these years made it stronger, warped the need into a genuine scary neurosis. If I embrace it, if I let the need in, do you think it might stop hurting me? Let’s try it.