Lovers and Enemies
Still-lifes. Postcards. Frozen pictures captured in my mind. That’s what my first memories are. A road leading to my pre-school, willows lining the right of the road, a canal framing the left. Myself, crying and holding a bruised and bleeding knee from scraped asphalt in an apartment parking lot. Then later, with movement, looking out the window of our Lancaster home, watching as a child stole the umbrella for my Penguin action figure. Hiding in the dirty wash pile when bedtime was announced, invariably to be found by my parents. These memories feel borrowed – I am not sure which are mine and which are the re-tellings of my parents in later years, which are compressed with even later memories of a church parking lot on PEI and a canal seen on TV one evening.
I don’t know if they are very important. Early sensations of loss, pain, shock, before even the words were understood. My parents mediate these memories back to me, shaping them, molding them from what they remember, making my mind conform. But some things I know are true; they’re pure, because I alone know them.
Kindergarten. Every child brought their own blanket to class for naptime. I brought my favourite blanket, a large brown tartan blanket that had been worn down by night after night of use to a softness irreproducible by machine. I don’t remember the girl, where I met her, or who she was. I don’t know what she looked like, even things like the colour of her hair or what clothes she wore escape me. But I do remember that we would drape my brown tartan blanket over the square table at naptime, closing us off from the outer classroom. She spread out her blanket on the tiled floor, a cotton nest lined in silk. Then we would take off our clothes, and look at each other. We touched each other silently, slowly exploring our bodies as the class around us rested fitfully, coughed, turned, sneezed, all in ignorance of the exploration occurring in their midst. We kissed, without any awkwardness, more easily than we ever would again. How could the teacher not have realized anything? But she didn’t, the entire class was oblivious to our affair. I was too young to have anything but a vague sense that others didn’t need to see this, that this was a thing between two people. What this thing was, I didn’t know.
But that wasn’t the only time. There was another occasion I recall where a girl and I walked to the end of the school during lunch break. There was an extension at that end, wooden on a brick school. It was old and decaying, the paint peeling off and the wood breaking in your hand. We walked to the steps that no one else used, into the alcove. She grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the door, away from the noises of the playground, children yelling, and the noises of the highway on the other side, the cars zooming by. No one knew we did this. She took off her shirt, then slid her pants and underwear down to her ankles. She turned around, allowing me to look at her. She was smooth. Her nipples were tiny things, small raised dots, very like mine. I wasn’t very aware of my own body, but it seemed that her’s was not all that different. Very smooth, hairless, more like something born out of the sea than from something that grew up on the land. “Now you,” she smiled. I took off my shirt, feeling on my chest the wind that curled warmly through the alcove. I slid my pants, then my underwear down, let her look at me. I was reluctant to turn around, shy about her seeing my bum. She was more insistent than I was. “Turn around. Turn all the way around,” she kept saying sweetly, until I slowly turned for her. I haven’t met such a sexually insistent woman since.
Not to say that I had no will myself. I was sort of shy, but very curious about sexuality. I was a willing participant in these activities. In some cases, I was the initiator. I played rounds and rounds of “kissing tag,” where I ran around the field “capturing” girls. I would run them down, kiss them, and take them back to the prison, which was a circular set of monkey bars. My best friend patrolled the monkey bars, making sure that an escape never materialized. I was violent at times, running after and tackling girls who sometimes didn’t even wish to play. I threw them to the ground, sat on them and kissed their faces until they agreed to go to jail. I was very fast, and no one ever outran me.
Note: This is a part (the beginning vignette) of a larger memoir sequence called Lovers and Enemies. In other words, it really happened.