I had my first boyfriend in kindergarten. I don’t remember his name, but I know I went to his house. We watched Drop Dead Fred. More than once, he asked me to come upstairs so I would kiss him. Also, in kindergarten, I had another boyfriend who mostly pushed me on the swings. He never could do it correctly. I explained that he needed to push me slow enough that the music comes on and then we get married. I was unaware of slow motion and how movies could be edited.
My Ma-Ma, one of my favorite people from childhood, asked me if I had a boyfriend every time I spoke to her. My mom had lots of boyfriends. Some of my friends moms’ had boyfriends. During daytime TV, if your kid wasn’t getting sent to military school, everything had to do with boyfriends or husbands. Cory had Topanga, Zack had Kelly, and DJ had Steve. Obviously, I needed a boyfriend.
The only person who stood apart from this pressure was my aunt Janet. She was single. She had always been single, as far as I knew. She had a dog named Sally, and a job that she worked at a lot, and was usually sick in some way. She told my mom that she didn’t need a boyfriend. She told me the same. I admired her ideas, but I didn’t want a life that had only a dog. I also didn’t want a life with three kids. I was limited on role models.
I didn’t have a boyfriend in first grade that I can recall, but I did in second, fourth, fifth, sixth, and so on.
Having a boyfriend mostly consisted of declaring that we were, in fact, boyfriend and girlfriend. It also required kissing, dressing up, and wearing nicer shoes. In exchange, I was supposed to receive flowers and/or chocolates and/or stuffed animals holding balloons or singing 1960s funk songs. I got far fewer of these items than I felt was originally advertised.
In seventh grade, having a boyfriend started to mean something different.
At the end of sixth grade, I’d spent three weeks with my father in Louisiana. I didn’t last the full five weeks. My mother had not killed herself in my absence, thankfully. Instead she met and moved in with a man named Jack Frazier. I was picked up from the airport by my mother, who had cut her hair down to about three inches in length. We drove north instead of south on the five freeway. We’d moved to a town called Whittier.
I started seventh grade at a school called Granada. The middle school I’d been planning to attend was seventh and eighth grades only. Granada was a junior high containing grades sixth through eighth, leaving me in the middle.
It turned out that Jack had a drinking problem, among other issues. I watched him push a glass slider door through its frame. The glass pieces flew across the back patio. Over the next few years, I spent hours walking the bottom of the pool, searching for fragments of safety glass left from that outburst.
My friend from school, Lacey, invited me to church. My father had recently spoken to me about church, and God, and Satan. He’d explained that soon I’d be something called “saved”. He was saved around that age, and so was my mother. (I’ve never confirmed with my mother on that point, but later evidence living with the woman leads to to believe that my father was mistaken.) God, who did the saving, would prevent me from going to hell. Jim also predicted AA in my future, since alcoholism is genetic. He’d tell me about it on the way back from his own AA meetings, with a go-cup of Crown in the center console.
I avoided church for a few months. Jack got violent more frequently. One night, I pushed the screen, and then Allison and Alex, out of my bedroom window. We went next door to the neighbors where I called the police. Our neighbors were an older married couple, named Marie and Sal. Sal showed us a TV commercial for Home Depot where he played a Home Depot employee. My mother was upset with me for calling the police. Lacey asked again if I wanted to go to church. I said yes.
I loved the people, I loved the kindness, and I loved the welcoming attitude I found at First Southern Baptist Church of Whittier. I loved that they had hours of time spent away, in the youth room or fellowship hall, or even the library. It was walking distance from my house.
There was a music pastor, and he had a son who was one grade above me. He was my age, but had skipped a grade as a kid. He was in private school, and so was his younger sister. He had blonde hair and could sing. He liked writing poetry and knew everything there was to know about the Bible and God.
We mostly made out, with some heavy dry humping and mild clothing removal. Still, it was the most I’d ever done with a boy.
Before, after, and sometimes during, our trists would involve guilt. There was a lot of praying for forgiveness. We’d sneak into the kitchen past the fellowship hall, and he’d lift me onto the counter, lean in, and kiss down my neck. Minutes later, we’d realize how we’d tempted ourselves, and how we were now dirty.
The music pastor was an angry man. He vented upon his family. His son started to vent on me.
I broke up with the music pastor’s son publically, at an 8th grade graduation pool party I threw. An hour or so after his mom picked him up, I kissed a new boy during a strategic game of truth or dare.
I dated a boy named Devin for three years of high school. During that time, I loved boys that I never touched, and held intimacy with friends that I wish I’d known differently. I cheated, I lied, I flirted, and I showed off. Only once did I have what I would now consider consensual sex, when I was seventeen. It was not with my boyfriend.
Boys were a requirement. It was like needing shoes to go into a store. One needed a boyfriend to be a girl. Getting a boyfriend was easy enough, but keeping one took more. Physical things were required, as my high school love explained to me, to keep men around. It was what a girlfriend did.
As physical things got more demanding, my correlation between sex and enjoyment got further and further apart. I knew how to do everything required, like a being inside my body moved in my skin on my behalf. I didn’t feel anything. I could watch myself from his ceiling, like I was holding a mirror under my chin. Sometimes there was blood. I was accused of starting my period several times, but it was only once was it menstral blood.
The school gave me some scraps of education, and the church gave me plenty of prevention encouragement, but I had no facts. My best friend had gone further than me, and so I used her experiences as gospel. I didn’t masturbate until college.
Most of my physical encounters ended with prayers for forgiveness, talk of our repeated failure, and how we should’ve done better. This was followed by confessing to others (our friends, Sunday school teachers, parents, etc) about our sin.
When I was fifteen, I broke my mother’s heart when I told her I might be pregnant. Little did I know that pregnancy required orgasm, which hadn’t happened for anyone involved.
Boys were critical to future happiness. I invested a large amount of my time in believing that I’d need a husband to live. My mother had struggled with money since Dan had left. When things got really bad, it was because Jim had stopped paying. She married Jack because he could afford us all. I would need a man for an income. Especially, I was told, if I planned to be a writer. So, I had a boyfriend.