“Derrick kissed me.” She told me, my blonde friend who I have yet to name. I’m calling her Mandy.
I raised my eyebrows in shock, phone clutched to my ear.
We were not yet in sixth grade. It was the summer I first read a real romance novel, graduating from Sweet Valley High into one of my aunt’s books without Mom and Dad noticing. I remember being alarmed when I first read it. He put his hand where?! Why would he do something like that?!
“I stayed at Debbie’s house last night, and she went to sleep early. So I went to the basement to hang out with Derrick.” Mandy continued, while I waited, eager to continue my romantic education.
Derrick was older than us, starting high school in a few short weeks as we sweated out the remainder of the August heat across the Midwestern plains. I spent the summer watching Brother and doing chores, swimming in the pool, going to movies and lunch with Grandma once a week, reading voraciously (once I got used to the mechanics, I was fascinated by the sexy novels).
“So I was downstairs and we started to talk, and then he kissed me!”
Then we sat in silence. Confused, I waited for her to continue or hang up.
“Are you OK?” I finally inquired.
“I’m great! I want to tell you, but I don’t want to seem like a slut. So maybe you could ask questions and then I can answer them.”
Again there was silence, this time broken by nervous giggles.
“I don’t know what to ask!” I said. “Just tell me what happened, and then I’ll ask questions. If I have them.”
So she told me. There was removal of clothing, leading to our extensive discussion about his body and her reaction to it. Then more clothes came off. She said she kept thinking about stopping, but he would kiss her when she started to protest and she just let things continue. She spoke haltingly, weighing her words before speaking them, wanting to share her experience but unfamiliar with how to talk about sex.
“Wait, wait, wait.” I finally interrupted. I like to repeat words when I get excited. “Did you have sex with him?” It was my first question.
She paused and I held my breath.
“I…don’t really know.”
Finally! A use for my newfound romance novel knowledge!
“Um…so… I guess that you officially have had sex when…”
“I know what sex is!” She interrupted and I welcomed her knowledge. “I think he might have, and it sort of hurt, but I don’t really know if…”
“Oh.” I said, not really understanding how you could not know – it seemed like there was a pretty clear definition to me. But I was willing to accept that in my ignorance, perhaps I missed some caveat that would eventually reveal itself to me as well.
I remember winding the cord around my finger as we talked for hours, both behind our respective bedroom doors. My room was done in pretty pastels, filled more with books than clothes, while she had deep jewel tones and more clothing, perfume and makeup than I dreamed of possessing.
We were different, and would continue to diverge in our interests and choices as we waded through adolescent changes and difficulties.
But there were more phone calls as she and Derrick continued their late night meetings as she started to stay over at Debbie’s house more and more. I cautioned her against going too fast, getting hurt, doing more than made her comfortable. But at the same time, I was eager to hear about it – waiting to sate my curiosity while risking nothing of myself. She was similarly enamored with our conversations, calling me immediately after returning home. The flow improved - we both got comfortable with talking about this stuff and she shared more and more.
After one of her encounters, I was not available. I had gone with my parents to see Brother play baseball. We were about a half hour away from home when she and her parents joined us at the restaurant for an after-game dinner. I was shocked to see her, and she quickly pulled me away from fried fish and potato salad so we could go for a walk outside.
That would be our last chance to discuss her budding relationship. We had overplayed our hands. It didn’t make sense that she needed to see me that badly – her parents were confused at her insistence on joining my family for dinner. My parents were equally befuddled.
Mandy and I walked around the parking lot, giggling over details (“He said it tasted like pizza! That’s so stupid! … Did it?”) I remember her smiling and averting her eyes, drawing out the story so I could stand in wide-eyed anticipation.
We went home to questions from our moms. Mandy played dumb.
I told everything.
It was too good! I wasn’t able to keep it to myself. I’m ashamed of myself now, not so much for telling, but for the reasons behind it. I was not motivated to protect her from pregnancy or disease, rather I really wanted to share the stories and have a chance to gossip with my mom. She didn’t indulge me, and soon Mandy’s visits to Derrick were curtailed, and she told me stories of how she was grounded and not able to talk to anyone but me on the phone.
MplsJu posted an interesting question yesterday, and I wasn’t sure how to respond. I’m relatively new to the blogging world, and entered it completely knowingly. I’m aware of people losing jobs for seemingly trivial postings, hurting family or friends when their words were discovered, and having the release of thoughts bring about changes that were unexpected and severe.
My thought was that I would just keep many facets of my life private. I’d speak of general thoughts, and when I ran out of things to say, I’d stop writing. But then I got comfortable.
I spent my first 2 weeks with Minor Revisions alone. Nobody read, not even stumbling across it for something like 16 days. And in those weeks, I started to put more and more out there. I snuggled in and started to build my archives, content in watching the volume of material grow and secure in the fact that it would remain unseen, at least for awhile.
The more you publish, the easier it gets. It’s like that first phone call with Mandy – sitting in silence, feeling your way through an unfamiliar situation. It’s exciting – that rush of feeling as you dip your toe in unfamiliar water. But once you get out there, start talking, think you’re safe in sharing your thoughts and secrets, it only gets easier. My feeling was that talking to me – going over what happened and sharing her experience with a rapt audience of one – was an important part of the experimentation for her. Talking to me made her feel grown-up, superior, knowledgeable. And that’s a rush all its own.
So when I read MplsJu’s post and thought about her question, I was honestly at a loss. It’s not a possibility I’ve considered. What would I do if I knew someone casually and discovered her blog? Would I warn her? Would I just keep reading silently?
I keep track of my site statistics carefully so that I know who’s reading. As of yet, nobody from my graduate institution has been here. But someone will very occasionally read from my current place of employment. The first time I saw the school pop up, I panicked.
I never blog at work – never write, never log-in, never even read much of anything. So I knew it wasn’t me. But could it be someone in the department? Someone I knew? Would everyone find out? I felt sick. I went over all the posts in my head, then read through archives. Should I take posts down? Remove the whole blog? Be more careful in the future?
The thought of removing it completely was repellent. This space was for me! You’re not supposed to read it! Or talk about me! Or think about me! Viciously protective, I knew I wanted to continue. It’s making me better – more thoughtful, more aware, nicer. I’ve grown dependent on coming here, looking at my words posing prettily across a web page.
But then I realized I’d fallen into a despised trap. You put something out here so that someone can read it. And in doing that, you give up control over who gets to see your words. As long as they’re out here, anyone can read them, criticize them, tell all their friends. Once my thoughts on your screen, there’s an element of them that is yours to do with what you will.
I hate it when writers belittle their readers. As if there’s some flaw that leads the audience to read or comment when information has been freely given. You have to take responsibility for what you publish. There’s some acceptance of possible consequences, even those that are unforeseen.
But our inherent exhibitionism – our need for someone to try to understand us even when we don’t understand ourselves; to contribute to the dialog – even those of us who may not say much in person; to vent and whine and mope – leads us to tell our secrets. Then some of us sit back and see who might read them, carefully trying to build an audience when our initial goal was to keep this small and simple.
I still don’t know how I want to comment on her post. Because this isn’t like picking up the phone and talking to a friend. It’s like walking outside, closing your eyes and just talking. Anyone can come and hear, and all you receive at the end are tiny slips of paper at your feet. They contain locations, and some digits thrown together for identification. If someone I knew happened to walk by during one of my speeches, would I want them to say hello on the little slip of paper? I just don’t know.
But I'm thinking about it.