Touching Things I Shouldn’t
It started the way most things do, with a boy. If I held it on my tongue for three whole Mississippis that meant I wasn’t a yuppie girl. Truman Blanchard was no friend to yuppie girls. I let that earthworm writhe on my tongue for four Mississippis, and I even liked it a little bit. I’ve had a hard time keeping my mouth to myself ever since.
I knew I was in love with Truman Blanchard when I laid my eyes on him the first day of kindergarten. He offered me his pudding cup when he realized all I had inside my lunch bag was a half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bag of stale Goldfish. He was different, that Truman Blanchard. He was the only boy in our class who was taller than me. He walked with the confidence of a first-grader, and I knew I had to be somebody to that kid.
Truman lived next door in the blue house with black shutters and a red door. My mother was envious of that house. His mother didn’t care for me much. She was the kind of mom who was home between the hours of nine and five. She was also the kind of mom who looked down on those who couldn't afford to do so, but her cookies were pretty good so I tolerated her presence and suggestive questions about my “working girl” mom.
“Rebekah,” she would say, “I bet you and your mama are awfully lonely all by yourselves. I swear, how do you manage?”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Blanchard, I wonder what you do here by yourself all day.”
That shut her up until I was about thirteen.
Truman and I shared a birthday by fate and everything else by choice. Once a year our families would cross the white picket fence border and throw us one joint birthday party. Truman’s mother would insist on a Barbie for me, but Truman knew better, and they would compromise with a G.I. Jane. After the party died down and Truman’s parents were slumbering with top Kroger shelf wine on their lips, he and I would spend the rest of the night the way we preferred, with each other. We swapped secrets like baseball cards, usually spoken in whispers under the cover of tents and blankets. “My parents don’t love me,” he would say. “My parents don’t love each other,” I would respond.
I never understood Truman’s parents. They were like a doll house; from the outside they were picturesque, even perfect. But if not handled with care, their constructed normal facade would come crumbling down. On more than one occasion Truman’s mother scolded him when she thought I wasn’t there. She would say, “Damn it, Truman! Why can’t you just act right?!” At this point in my life I could not understand how the people who seemed to have everything were so unhappy. Just across the yard at my house was a Christmas tree left up until March and a stack of empty pizza boxes, but my mother never let me fall asleep without telling me she loved me.
I used to think Truman’s house was a museum, the way everything sat high on shelves, never out of place. The carpet was always vacuumed to perfection. If Truman and I played with Hot Wheels too long we felt the wrath of the Dirt Devil. I think his house was an extension of his mom in some way. It was the perfect child Truman could never be. It was her life’s work. And if one day she woke up tired of it, she could just tear it all up and start again with a new issue of Southern Living.
On the night of our sixth party together, I looked at his face in the shadows. Even then he was handsome, large blue eyes always full of something I couldn't quite put my finger on, shaggy brown hair, and a smile that had turned me inside out since I was five years old. I didn’t know boys could have jawlines like that so young. On nights like this when his head nodded off first and his parents forgot I was a girl, I would trace his profile with my fingers, starting with the scar on his forehead, a scar I gave him. I would let his hair fall over my fingers until I reached his cheek. If he was snoring and I knew he was really asleep, and I would let my earthworm-loving mouth hover over his for just a second. Our lips would barely graze and I would be thrown back from a pulse I only felt when I touched him.
I don’t remember the first time I discovered my shower head’s magical powers. I only remember never being the same again. If I moved it a little to the left and back some I could find it. I could find the place inside me that had a heartbeat all its own whenever Truman entered the vicinity. This was the stuff. The stuff fucking Tigerbeat dreams are made of. Never in all my eleven years on this Earth had I enjoyed bathing so much. My mother used to tell stories of how I would build castles from bubbles and turn the tub into an alternate universe, but that was child’s play compared to this dream, a dream I revisited every night. It’s strange how one day I was perfectly content idly coloring for hours, and boys a subspecies of mankind I’d rather not associate with, but then suddenly I was in middle school, graduated from a training bra, and boys were all I thought about. I wanted to touch them, but I can’t do that, so I settle for touching myself.
Truman and I had been best friends since that fateful day in kindergarten, but ever since middle school started, things were different. We were awkward. So awkward, in fact, we had resorted to eating lunch separately. Every time I looked into those gaping blue eyes I was so lost I would just babble incoherently until the bell would ring and dismiss us from a one-way conversation. Truman never touched me anymore. No punches to the arm, no pressure point attacks, not even the occasional high five. It was as if the summer had completely reset our relationship and we had to begin again from another pudding cup.
It was indescribable what my shower head did for me. I would come home from school doing my best Angela Chase impression, not giving a fuck about anyone or anything. I would let my angst stew until I just couldn't take it anymore. I would close my eyes and let water trickle all over me. This was before I understood the true meaning of making a girl wet. I would think of Truman Blanchard. I would think of his blue eyes and strong hands. And the way his shoulders had broadened since we left the playground. I would imagine hanging on to those shoulders and feeling those hands on my body. Slowly but surely my erotic sprinkler would begin to transport me somewhere else. It would go slowly at first, but I was in no rush. After a moment the pace would increase and a tension would build. It was palpable. I was climbing a mountain. I was exploring new territory. Every muscle on my awkward adolescent body was engaged in pulling me higher. It hurt a little at first. But the pain was so exquisite I endured it. I endured it for the sake of my own curiosity. And then, suddenly, I was thrown over the edge. I’d usually choke myself with a washcloth to muffle the sound of me calling out God bless America! I was oddly patriotic at these moments. Falling was the best part. Falling or flying, depending on what kind of person you are, I guess. I would let go of the side of the mountain, and eventually I might land somewhere near my bathtub. When my daily exploration was over I would dress in pajamas my mother bought for me and fall asleep happy with my teddy bear. I was convinced at the time that was what being a woman was all about.
I told my mother when I was thirteen. She was confused as to why our water bill had doubled and why I spent so much time in the bathtub. I would try and wait for the Murder She Wrote theme song to play so I could discreetly disappear for an hour, but I felt like I was leaving something behind every time I went on my explorations. I knew too much. There was a part of me that missed the world before the shower. It was as if my body was brand new, as if my whole life had changed and my mother didn't know a thing about it.
We were in our 2003 Nissan, and my first Victoria’s Secret bra was rubbing me the wrong way.
“Someone is mighty quiet today,” she says.
“So?” I answer her.
“Anything you want talk ‘bout?”
“I touch myself in the shower sometimes,” I look up at her with my eyes wide and full.
I’m ready to be yelled at or told I’m going to hell. I don't know how, but I know there's something wrong with what I’ve been doing.
“Oh,” she finally says. “Well, you want to talk about it?”
I could only bring myself to nod. My mother stopped at Kroger and bought a small Sara Lee frozen cheesecake. When we got home she made coffee. I should have known; it seemed like everything in our life was centered around cheesecake and coffee. Why should masturbation be any different?
“You see, Rebekah,” she said, “sex is not all it’s cracked up to be.”
“I’m not having sex, Mom.” I responded.
“Yes, honey, I know that and I’m happy—"
“Happy about what?”
“I’m happy that you’re not like me.”
My mother was a virgin the day she got married. It wasn't until I was much older that I realized how rare that was. For most women the white dress and veil were something of a fairytale, something pretty they'd dreamed of their whole life, but for my mother they meant something. They were more than things she wore one day of her life. They were a promise, and they were a payoff for thirty-four years of waiting. They were a promise to herself and to the hypothetical man that eventually became my father.
My mother still ended up divorced. Her chastity could not save her from my father’s cruel indifference or the criticisms of the other stiff Southern moms who looked down their smug, ignorant noses at the first divorced mom in Warner Robins.
Her chastity could not save her from depression. It could not make her get out of bed in the mornings, even when I was hungry and not yet able to use the stove on my own. It could not make her open her eyes for me. It could not make her whole again. It is not what made her good. What made her an angel in the shape of my mother was her tender heart, her love for me. Her belief that I was truly something special in this world. That belief has carried me for twenty-two years. I wish I had that. Her unwavering faith, her dedication to God. I wish I had what she had.
Her chastity could not save me, either. In fact, it did the opposite. It condemned me to walk through the world waiting for the day when a man would touch me, and I would be left a tarnished woman. It made me dread something that, to me, was inevitable. It chased away lots of guys, most of whom were worth losing, but it made me afraid. It made me afraid of what it means to love someone in an all-consuming, blow-your-own-mind, physical kind of way.
For a girl who was still a virgin in high school, I spent a lot of my free time discussing sex with my mom. We didn’t really have “the talk,” but it was a years-long conversation. She answered any of my questions about clitorises and blow jobs. She even told me it wasn’t “done right if my eyes didn’t roll in the back of my head.” But the pressure was still there, the expectation of how I was to conduct myself. And even though boys were not high on my priority list at seventeen, I still resented the sermons and the backwards mentalities that were so overwhelmingly loud in my ears at every waking moment.
She still made me go to church every Sunday, and I felt the eyes of the congregation and God on me as I started to grow up. I felt them when I dyed my hair purple at fourteen, when I came home from college with my first tattoo, and when I started to call bullshit on what a “proper Southern lady was supposed to be.”
“Do you think there’s something wrong with me?”
“Oh honey, why would you even ask me that?”
“I don’t know because— I just don’t belong here. I think this whole thing is so fucked—”
“I’m sorry, I just, Mom, I make myself feel so good. And then I’m told that’s there’s something sinful about that and I just can’t buy into that anymore. It’s not fair. And I know how you feel—”
“What do you mean how I feel?”
“You think I’m a sex maniac.”
“I think no such thing.”
“You think it’s weird that I masturbate so much.”
“Just because I don’t do it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. And just because I waited doesn’t mean you have to, and just because I wouldn’t do it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. I meant it when I said I don’t want you to be like me. And you’re not, you’re so free. Never let a man, God or otherwise, take that away from you.”
I kind of thought my mom would forsake me if she knew. If she really knew. I think virginity is bullshit. I think we scare girls out of loving themselves so they’ll think they need a man to make them feel satisfied. I also didn’t want to be like her, not in this way. I used to be so confused as to how I turned out to be a bleeding-heart feminist, but now it’s so obvious. It’s because of her. This woman, a Southern belle in every sense of the word, raised a loud-mouthed patriarchy fighter. And I don’t think she did it on purpose, but I also don’t think she’d change a thing.
Truman wasn’t my first for everything. When I had my first kiss behind the local skating rink, Truman was not there. He was not the first boy to feel me up or get flustered trying to figure out my bra.
By high school, Truman and I existed on different planes. He played football. While he spent four years bathed in the holy light of Friday night, I spent high school alone in exchange for a promise to myself that college would be different. But four years of sexual frustration adds up, and my senior year I let someone new feel the heartbeat between my legs. He didn't know me, not the way Truman did. And I didn't want him to. It was nice to fuck around with someone who didn't look straight through me. He was someone I could lie to. He was someone nice to have around for the time being.
When the time came for me to feel the rip inside, and to feel the pain of losing my good-girl status, Truman Blanchard only crossed my mind as I was drifting off to sleep. The whole thing wasn’t planned. It was not a romantic testament to a young and fleeting love affair, the way I always dreamed it would be. It was sweet. And it hurt a lot more than I ever anticipated. But once again, I endured. And as my first boyfriend wiped tears from eyes and his whispers caught up with his heavy breathing, I could feel my heart sinking. I didn’t know why, but I knew I would never be the same again. I was forever changed by a clumsy twenty-two year old boy. He laid me down across a cheap mattress in my apartment, and I gave him something I can never take back. I would be lying to myself if I said I didn’t regret it. After all this time I still think of blue eyes and broad shoulders. I never thought I was waiting for him. But now I’m wishing I was falling asleep in the arms of a boy I haven’t really known since I was eleven years old.
Turns out I don’t end up with Truman Blanchard. I’m not sure if it was all that time spent in the shower or just life itself, but eventually we fell out of touch. I hear he’s engaged now, probably to a lovely nursing student his mother would approve of. The last time I saw him was in a Kroger parking lot. He asked me how I was and I asked if he remembered.
“The Earthworms?” He said, “Of course I remember.”
I wanted to ask if I was ever somebody to him, but for once I bit my tongue. I hope he’s happy. Or at least half as happy as just the mere thought of him made me over the years.
Rebekah Scarborough is just a Georgia peach who wandered up north and decided to stay awhile. She is currently a student at Emerson College in Boston. Her dream is to work with books in any way she possibly can. Her previous work has been published on websites too embarrassing to mention here, but hopefully soon that will change. Her first love is coffee, her second is whiskey. And her favorite human is her mother, Rosemary.