I would have thought being the third daughter of four to begin the journey from young-girl-to-blossoming-young-woman, my father would have gotten the hang of it by now, but when he awkwardly tried to broach the subject of sex with me, one random day, it was clear he was freaking out.
We were both sitting in the living room, probably watching an episode of Jeopardy or Cheers or something, when he abruptly started in with, “Ya see Chelle, ya know how much you like to drink really chocolaty-chocolate milk? Well, someday, sex might be kind of like that too, but the important thing to remember is……”.
Sitting on the couch stirring my chocolate milk that I had eagerly looked forward to drinking, but now which was making me feel nauseous, I had no idea how or why we had gotten on to the topic, but would have given up my very last sip of chocolate milk ever to be talking about anything else with my father. Why was there no warning? Had there been a commercial I missed or something? Couldn’t he have premised with the token, “we need to talk about something” first, so I would have ample time to know what was coming? Why did he have to ruin a perfectly content afternoon by trying to be a good and involved dad?
Setting my glass of chocolate milk on top of the VHS tape-deck next to me, I took a couch pillow, put it in front of my face and told him, “Dad! Puuleeze stop talking to me about this!”. He abruptly looked away and I couldn’t help but notice that he was clearly disappointed that he hadn’t hit that one out of the park like he had hoped.
It would be like my dad to not want to have the “typical” preachy talk with me, but to try and throw some humor into it and lighten things up a little. It would be like him to avoid talking about sex like it was “bad”, and to “never, ever have sex until you’re married” (like that ever works), but to try and be open-minded about the realities that were coming. It would be like him to try and frame it in a way that would make me feel like I could go to him about anything at all.
Poor dad. It didn’t matter that he was doing the right thing by at least trying to have The Talk with his daughter. It didn’t matter that despite feeling nervous and awkward himself, he still headed toward the fire. It didn’t matter that he washed my bras and underwear when he did the laundry, and cut coupons for my sanitary napkins. No matter how he might try to weave it into our conversation, it would always make me want to gouge my ears out. This whole puberty thing was throwing us both for a loop.
My mother, being a woman, and having the upper-hand by default, handled things a bit differently. She was clear from the beginning that she wanted both me and my sister to always be able to come to her about everything and anything womanly, and made a concerted effort to broach the subject, whenever she was able, since I had been about 7 years old. She was so open about all things vagina-related that sometimes my friends would talk to her about what was happening with their Hoo-ha’s instead of approaching their own mothers. My mom described how to insert a tampon as matter-of-factly as one would describe how to change the batteries in a smoke alarm, and would throw around the word vagina like it was the word “the”.
“Washing your vagina is just like washing your elbow or washing your knees. A vagina is just another body part you need to keep clean”, she would tell us when we were younger. My friends would mention something about “down there” and my mother would cut them off and say, “Your vagina. There is nothing wrong with using the word vagina”. While I watched other moms laugh nervously and try to hide their embarrassment upon running into such topics around us girls, my mother would sit at the kitchen table while we did homework and voluntarily bring it up.
Along with tampons and training bras and having to talk about vaginas more often than I really wanted to, I was also on the cusp of developing a bit more of a social/romantic life. At 12-almost-13-years-old, playing the Girl Talk board game on a Friday night with my girlfriends, and prank calling boys was getting old. We wanted actual contact with boys, we wanted the Real Thing and there was only one place, outside of school, that offered such a chance: The Highgate Center Roller Skating Rink. There was a whole world of co-ed activities out there that didn’t include chaperones and I wanted in, especially since I had acquired my first real boyfriend just 6 days ago. His name was Jason, and he had given me the new Guns-N-Roses, Appetite For Destruction cassette tape and a huge, yellow teddy bear at school as a gift just a few days prior.
Saturday night, Jason, along with a few of my friends were going to the roller skating rink in Highgate and I wanted to go more than I had wanted anything in the world thus far. It was far away–only ten minutes north of us, five minutes from the Canadian Border. I desperately wanted to go, but knew it would be a hard sell as my parents did not like “that place”. It had earned somewhat of a seedy reputation for being less of a roller skating rink and more of a, make-out-on-the-bleachers-while-wearing-roller-skates-rink. But I wouldn’t even have my first real kiss for another year and a half, and had no intention, nor desire, to partake in any of that kind of behavior just yet– I just wanted to hang out with my friends and possibly hold hands with Jason.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Linda Martin was planning to kiss her long-term boyfriend, Kyle Goudreau. On the lips. She told me so herself one night when she had a slumber party. Laying in a semi-circle of sleeping bags in our pajamas on her back porch, she told a few of us girls that she was going to wrap her arms around his neck and kiss him on the lips for several seconds! She said she wanted to be “experienced” when she got to Junior High and I wanted to be there when it happened.
Linda was always one step ahead of me in every way. She snuck make-up to school, wore expensive perfume and had already held hands with countless boys. When Dirty Dancing came out, she was the only one of my friends who had been allowed to watch the whole movie. Even the part when Baby goes to see Johnny in his room and he ends up taking her shirt off and kissing her neck in this long, slow way that I’d never seen before. We had the movie at home, but somehow, someone was always in the room when things got too steamy and fast-forwarded it or told me to leave.
At Linda’s house, she and I sat four inches from her t.v. and I watched the forbidden scene with a mixture of awe and fear and I-don’t-know-what-else, as I waited for her parents to bust in and shut it off. I looked over at Linda who was clearly unfazed by it, most likely because she’d seen it a hundred times. I would see it a hundred times too after that, but never, ever was I not always completely enthralled with that movie. I always got goosebumps whenever they did the lift and I wished that someday I might be able to dance as beautifully as Penny who said, “God wouldn’t have given you maracas if he didn’t want you to shake ’em”.
Back at the semi-circle of sleeping bags on her back porch with the June bugs bumping against the screens, she told us all her plan to kiss Kyle as well as hold hands with him.
“I’m going to take his hand and hold it like this”, and she took my hand and laced her fingers through mine–something we’d both seen the upper-class girls do with their boyfriends when they walked to class together. I’d never even held a boy’s hand before and she was planning on interlocking her fingers with his! The closest I had ever come to doing anything with a boy ever was the fiasco with Judd. Holding hands with Kyle with their fingers laced together and kissing him on the lips?
I could not miss this night.
My first few requests were denied outright, but I had anticipated that and started 5 days early, so I could keep at it throughout the week. On Tuesday I got an, “I’ll think about it” from my mother, which I knew was just a tactic to stave off anymore requests, but which was also a sign that I was beginning to exhaust her defenses. Finally, on Wednesday evening, I got the “go ask your father” response, which was a sure sign that she was growing weary. Although, she seemed to be growing weary more quickly these days, which, possibly unfairly, I used to my advantage. She always seemed to agree with my dad and I couldn’t tell if it was because she truly did agree, or just wanted to avoid a fight. When being witness to a milestone such as a kiss on the lips was at stake, I really didn’t care.
When I asked dad, I could see in his eyes that he didn’t like the idea, but that the doors were not fully shut, just yet. There was wiggle room. After dinner that night, they were both at the table doing bills, or work of some kind, and I used this opportunity to plead my case in writing.
I wrote them a note, begging them to let me go, promising to do this and not to do this and that all of my friends were going and to please, please, please, just give me this one thing. I then, dropped the eloquently written note through the infamous hole in Erin’s bedroom floor, and watched as it fluttered down onto the dining room table with a gentle plop–and then ran to my room, and shut my door, and prayed.
Several minutes passed with my heart in my throat. Everyone was going to be there. It was all people were talking about in school. Most of the kids had already gotten permission from their parents and already knew what they would wear. It was the place so many of the High School kids frequented and to be a part of the fun for just one night was all I wanted. I was sick of sitting in my room on a Saturday night listening to “Open House Party” with John Gerabedian and feeling like I hit the jackpot if he answered the phone and played my request.
Mid-prayer, I heard, “Michelle, come down here please”. I made my way down the stairs as casually as I could, giving off an air of “what note?” when I heard my father reluctantly utter, “you can go”. They were the sweetest words I had ever heard in my whole life, up to that point. I squealed and wrapped my arms around my father, “thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou”.
“I am driving you there myself; you are not to leave the rink under any circumstances; who is going to be there?” and lastly, “I’m picking you up at 8:00 sharp” my father barked. No problem. 8:00 sharp was wonderful. 8:00 sharp was fantastic!
Three long days later, Saturday night finally arrived. I spent over two hours in my bedroom getting ready. I made numerous phone calls to fellow Roller Skating Rink attendees on my Swatch, Twin-phone that was Raspberry and blue colored. How many nights had Tami and I both sat on either end of that phone pretending the other one was not there, while we asked boys if they thought the other one was cute? Who knows? Those days were long gone.
This was the Real Deal.
I chose to wear a simple pair of stone-washed jeans and carefully folded and then rolled the bottoms up two or three times so they would sit neatly on top of my white, high-top Nike sneakers. Along with that, I chose my Espirit tee-shirt that brought out my eyes (my mom said it was Periwinkle Blue). I felt the outfit communicated that I wasn’t trying too hard to look “good”. The time I spent on my hair communicated otherwise. Big, teased and poofy bangs were all the rage at this point, and the amount of movement of the hair was inversely proportional to the amount of time spent on it. Sitting in front of my mirror, I had my arsenal of products and appliances ready: my radio quietly playing Tears For Fears, my hair spray, my comb, my blow-dryer, and my hand-mirror for checking my hair at other angles. After teasing, spraying and blow-drying my hair until my fingers were sticky and I could barely retract them from my bangs, I knew I was ready.
Pulling up to the front doors of the rink, my heart was pounding in my ears. Cars were parked in rows and there were teenagers mulling all around, some smoking cigarettes, boys’ arms around their girlfriends’ necks, soda bottles sitting on the hoods of their cars. My eyes couldn’t take it all in fast enough as I reached for the car door handle and as my father was began barking “8:00 sharp” yet again. “Yes! I know dad, 8:00 sharp” I spat out, rolling my eyes. He’d only said it a half-dozen times on the ride over. I got out of the safe, yet suffocating, car and headed toward the front doors.
I felt so out of place, like all the older upper classmen could somehow tell this was my first time at the rink, so I kept my head down and didn’t look up again until I had pulled open the double doors and gone inside. Instantly, I felt like I I had entered some other world that had been going on all this time that I had been cooped up in my bedroom. My eyes, so wide and hungry took in every detail of the life I had been missing as I lip-synced in my bedroom mirror all alone.
The lights were so bright in the lobby, as swarms of teenagers and soon-to-be-teenagers walked and skated around talking and laughing. It was so loud. Boys leaned up against the vending machines, there were small groups of girls perched on top of tables, their skates dangling mid-air, giggling and sharing lip gloss, as someone held a small pocket mirror for all to use. The music from the rink was muffled, but loud enough that I could tell Def Lepperd’s Pour Some Sugar On Me was playing, and it smelled of greasy fries and burgers from the snack bar to the left. Older teenage boys walked past me without so much as a glance, causing me to step back, and I’d already heard countless curse words.
I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
Finding Linda and the posse that followed her, I laced up my skates and started in on the fun. A few of us girls had already begun to do laps around the rink, warming up laughing, giggling, stealing glances at boys. I was relieved to see that all of my other friends also had on jeans and tee-shirts–we all looked like we hadn’t tried too hard, despite the fact that our hair remained motionless as we whipped around in circles. The rink itself was loud with the hundreds of voices filling up the space, along with the thumping music, forcing us all to almost yell at each other “Is Kyle here? Is Jason here? Are my bangs falling?”.
Occasionally, I looked over toward the bleacher section. The part of the rink that was akin to dark alley ways along streets. The part of the rink that was the reason for its reputation. It was loaded with couples in High School sitting closely, holding hands. On my way by, I would spy a couple who were partially sprawled across the bleachers locked in a passionate, messy-looking kiss, roller skates dangling off the stairs and hitting each other as they shifted. The bleachers were both terrifying and intriguing at the same time. I would never dare venture there, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
All at once, the lights in the entire rink dimmed. All of our voices lowered to a collective murmur as I looked around wondering what was happening, when the speakers, clear and loud, began blaring the epic opening guitar of Guns n Roses, Sweet Child O Mine. The best opening to a song ever. The notes of the guitar echoed all across the rink as the disco ball in the middle began to light up and throw colored speckles all over us as we went round and round and round. Kyle and Linda had found each other and began making laps together as I continued to make my way around the rink, when I felt someone catching up to me over my left shoulder. My boyfriend of now 9 days, Jason. Without saying a word, he looked over at me, smiled and took hold of my hand, interlacing his fingers with mine.
I couldn’t tell if it was the skating in circles or me losing my head from adrenaline, because it felt like my world was spinning. The forbidden act of holding hands. The music, the lights, all of the making out happening all around me, my body felt like it was vibrating. My heart was beating so hard it made me feel like I was breathing funny. I felt like I had turned some kind of corner as my sweaty hands held on to Jason’s and we skated in the speckled darkness, surrounded by hundred of hormonal teenagers. Axel Rose sang overhead while we skated lap after lap, not talking, but clearly having fun together. He never tried to bring me over to the bleachers. He just held my hand and occasionally pulled me closer to him if he thought I might run into someone in front of me. There was nowhere else on earth I wanted to be than right where I was.
Many songs later, the whispering began among my friends that “Linda and Kyle are in the bleachers and are going to kiss!”. I saw a few of my friends beginning to disembark from the rink and followed suit. Of course they had to kiss in the bleachers, where else would such behavior take place? I held tightly on to Jason’s hand as we weaved through the sweaty, forbidden bleacher section of the rink, making our way to the small circle that had formed around Linda and Kyle. There, in the middle, Linda stood with her hands resting on Kyle’s shoulders and his hands resting on her hips as they quickly locked lips in front of all of us. For some reason, all I could think about was the fact that Kyle had a raging lisp, and was it hard for him to keep his tongue in his mouth when he kissed her since it always seemed to be all over the place when he talked? Technically, how was this all going to work?
After locking lips for a whole 10 seconds, they pulled away sheepishly and dropped their arms back to their sides as I started to reflect on my first real night out at a social function that included boys. I’d held hands with Jason, I’d witnessed the feverish yet somewhat gross sexual behavior of upperclassmen, and I’d paid close attention to the first kiss I’d ever seen in person, just in case the situation ever presented itself to me. Smiling from ear-to-ear, it all came to a screeching halt when I happened to glance at a clock high above the bleachers mocking 8:13 on its face.
It is amazing how quickly one can go from exhilaration to absolute terror in less than a second.
Losing all memory of the night as well as any socially acceptable behavior, I immediately ditched Jason and my friends and began to push through the thick layer of teenagers in the bleachers section, yelling at them to move and continually looking back at the clock. Maybe it was fast? I was a small fish swimming against a huge current of teenage boys with faint mustaches, class rings and their bitchy girlfriends who looked down at my terrorized face with derision. I accidentally bumped into a couple sprawled along the bleachers in the heat of passion and was kicked in the knee with a skate. Then, I almost lost my balance and took a digger, but was caught by a lecherous teenage boy who was more than glad to help me re-gain my footing again. Squirming from his grip while still trying to act somewhat “cool”, I thank him and turned again toward the lobby when finally, finally I could see the doors up ahead and made a bee-line for them.
Pushing them open in a gust of panic, I was instantly met with my father’s bullet-black eyes staring back at me with such laser precision and ire, that I was virtually catatonic, save for my skates slowly propelling me toward him. At least a foot taller than any of the oblivious kids, he stood motionless amid the swarm of sweaty and hormonal teenagers moving around him like a school of fish. It was like they were all in slow-motion as he stood there burning holes in my eyes with his rage-ful glare. For only a second, the two of us stood across from one another speaking volumes with our eyes. His saying “You’re dead” and mine saying “I know”.
There would be hell to pay and it would come in the form of the longest most terrifying car ride home of my life. There would be no Doobie Brothers tonight. He slowly turned away from me and pushed through front doors to the parking lot while I, fumbling, unlaced my skates, returned them, and half-heartedly waved good-bye to Jason and my friends. Once inside the car, I fastened my seat belt and tried my best to be invisible, but it only took a minute before it began.
“8:00 sharp,”. My father didn’t quite yell, his index finger pounding on the Blue Oldsmobile’s dashboard as he said it.
Then, he did yell. “8:00 sharp I said!”.
“I know dad…” I sputtered out.
“There is NO excuse!!” he barked back. The rest of the car ride home mainly consisted of the both of us yelling back and forth, he telling me there was no excuse, and me trying to give him one.
“Dad!! It’s not like I was doing anything wrong!! I didn’t leave, I was just a few minutes late, I’m sorry!! I was having fun!! I just lost track of time!!”.
“I don’t give a damn!! I said 8:00! There is no goddamn reason you should have been late!”.
“I was 13 minutes late! You’re acting like I was an hour late!”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass if you were two minutes late! I said 8:00 sharp!”. My dad always said rat’s ass when he was really pissed.
He continued on. “I’m your father and if I tell you to be somewhere at 8:00 sharp, you better goddamn well be there at 8:00 sharp!”.
I had given up. I was no longer defending myself, but just sitting in the car waiting to get home so I could go to my room. Forever.
At 12, I didn’t understand that he was scared. I didn’t understand his position at all. I didn’t understand that one woman in his life was slowly leaving him, and yet another one of his little girls was as well. I didn’t understand how out of control he maybe felt his life was becoming. I barely understood how out of control I felt my own life was. I barely understood anything, but acted like I did. He and mom were talking less and he and I were fighting more. One day we were best friends, and the next we were driving in the car screaming at each other. We were probably both scared. And confused. Whatever it was, it sometimes felt like he and I were becoming more and more like enemies, or opponents. We pulled into the driveway. He went inside and sat in his chair in the corner, and I stomped upstairs and slammed the door to my room.
And so it began.