Can I Sit with You?


Ella Enchanted

Suzanne LaFetra

Age 12 at the time

Jorge strummed his blonde wood guitar in the hotel patio. He swaggered right up to the table where I sat crunching a taquito de pollo drizzled with cream, flanked by my parents. I leaned toward him, his tight silver-spangled pants and mustard-colored mariachi suit bright in the Mexican sun. He looked me straight in the face, and launched into a song that seemed to be breaking his heart. Yo soy un hombre sincero…

I was twelve, and enchanted. It was Holy Week in Puerta Vallarta. California was still groggy from winter, but Mexico was wide awake, fragrant and rioting in color. Scarlet and magenta bougainvillea comingled, dripping over gleaming black balconies of twisted iron. Thick white-washed walls hid interior courtyards, filled with cooing birds and cooling palms.

I watched bright parachutes soar over the Pacific. I ate clams for the first time and crunchy curls of fried cheese dipped in smoky salsa. I devoured Gone With The Wind, perched poolside in a black bikini, legs slick with baby oil.

Back home, the foxiest boy in the 6th grade was Tim Morelli. If I did the right thing, acted the right way, maybe he would invite me to his fort, clasp his St. Christopher medal around my throat, ask me to go steady. A couple of weeks before our trip, Tim invited me to meet him after school at the bluffs, a hideout under the eucalyptus trees. I pushed my bike up the craggy, crusty hill and waited in the shade under tangy leaves, my heart thumping. When he arrived, Tim jammed his grimy hand into my underpants and wormed it around. I squeezed my eyes shut, lips pressed together. The going steady would come next. A ring, maybe. I waited. Footsteps crunched through the leaves and he pulled out his hand. His two friends, Wally and Dave elbowed each other, and Tim grinned.

I pedaled my lime green Schwinn home as fast as I could, thighs on fire, tears streaming into my ears. No medal, no gentle kiss. After that, Wally and Dave regularly ambushed me in the janitor’s closet. They wrestled me to the ground, then groped and grabbed at me. “Gusto,” they shrieked, mimicking a popular beer ad, and twisted the tender tips of my breasts. “Go for the gusto!” Each time, my nipples were purple for days.

But in Mexico, there were wide grins, low bows, a door swept open. And what does the señorita desire this evening? While Jorge strummed, I sipped my virgin strawberry daiquiri and imagined his mouth clamped over mine, what it might feel like to have that black mustache prickle my lips.

I was safe, high on my vacationer pedestal, a moat of chlorinated water, Hawaiian Tropic Cocoa Butter and my mother’s close eye keeping me from harm.

At home, though, the border between child and woman was dangerous. On weekends at my dad’s house, my older step-brother regularly terrorized me in the middle of the night, fondling my breasts with his dry hands, jacking off in the dark while I scrunched into a ball. Another guy started out as a babysitter, and we jumped Parcheesi pieces around a board, but after dark, the game changed; a slobbery kiss, a teenage hand cold on my belly, reaching, pushing.

“Don’t tell,” they all said, and I was ashamed, so I kept quiet. I figured I deserved it; that’s what happens to girls with breasts already as big as their mother’s, who dream of kissing mustached mouths, who are desperate to wear Tim Morelli’s cheap ring.

The lipglossy clear-eyed girls in magazines, the Susan Deys and Marsha Bradys swung their hair and grinned. They didn’t look scared. They wore gleaming white swim suits, slim bodies just right; no scraggly wiry hairs sprouting, no purple stretch marks, no Oxy 10 in their medicine cabinets, no worn copies of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret under their pillows. They were cool, possessed, sure, un-slouching, un-needing. Unlike me.

A couple of months before our trip to Mexico, I discovered a saddle-colored stain in my underwear. I was the first girl in the class to get my period, but I had seen the film strips, I knew that it was just men-stroo-ay-shun. I snuck into my mom’s bathroom and pushed in a tampon. It felt foreign inside me, uncomfortable; I didn’t feel like horseback riding or swimming, like the smiling Kathy Rigby had promised in the TV ads.

That afternoon, I hid in my room, record player blaring, furious at my body’s betrayal. I knew what was lurking across the border; more bruised nipples and slimy tongues, more grabbing and jerking.

My mom came in, asked how my day was, and the tears dripped off my jawline.

“Oh, honey, whatever it is, we can fix it,” she kept saying, stroking my hair.

“You can’t,” I cried, hanging my head. “Nobody can.”

After a few minutes, she spied my balled-up underpants in the corner and understood. She straightened me up, looked into my face, gently. “You’re becoming a woman.”

On our last day in Mexico, Jorge again came to our table. He sang a lovely lilting song, closing his eyes, chin tilted skyward during the best parts. “In your mouth, you will carry the flavor of me…” Then he took off his hat, and asked my parents’ permission to leave a small gift. “So that you have warm memories of my country,” he said in perfect English. It was a cheap, too-big necklace, a slab of marbled stone hanging from a cord. I was awed. It was the same mustard color of his mariachi uniform.

A tiny ballerina danced every time I cracked my jewelry box open to look at Jorge’s gift. I fingered the cool stone cradled in red velvet. But I never wore the necklace, didn’t want to feel the weight of it around my neck, the press of stone between my breasts. I just liked knowing it was there, waiting for me.

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Can You Imagine Middle Schoolers Tackling Mature Subject Matter?
February 20, 2008, 8:02 am
Filed under: cartoons, comics, elementary school, fifth grade, forbidden, innocent, naive, naughty, sexuality, songs

*UPDATE* Unrelated to the following italicized hissy fit, we have been reinvited to the literary festival to do a panel on blogging and self-publishing for middle schoolers, perhaps featuring some of our less incendiary CISWY stories.

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Apologies as always for the lack of posting. The reason is not lack of stories; we’ve several in the chute (and still we crave more…).

No. We’ve not posted anything because it took me a while to get over the shock and disappointment from a recent CISWY turn of events: we were asked to do a panel at a local middle school’s literary festival, and then — once said festival’s organizer actually read the book — disinvited due to CISWY’s “mature” subject matter.

Am I really that naive, in thinking that the organizer overreacted, made a huge mistake, or at least an unnecessary and pre-emptive concession? CISWY is about the things that actually happened to us in grade and middle school, and how we actually felt at the time. Parents might like to imagine that their grade- and middle school children ponder nothing but fluffy unicorn manes, enrolling at Hogwarts, and scoring winning soccer goals, but IT IS NOT TRUE. And these kids need to know that other people, other kids feel the same way, and that they are neither warped nor alone.

Here are a few of the things I did as a relatively sheltered, somewhat dutiful Catholic girl from a well-adjusted suburban family, two full years before I went into middle school. First read, and then consider: Do you think it would have been a good idea, possibly even therapeutic and healthy, for me to feel comfortable talking about mature themes with adults and other peers?

Years Before I Was Allowed to See R-Rated Movies
by S. D. Rosa
Age Ten at the Time

I spent fifth grade in a segregated geek/G.A.T.E. class on a regular elementary school campus. We were quite sheltered compared to our “regular” campus peers, which meant that our complete obsession with anything naughty had limited information feed lines. My friends Mike, Miho, and I had to bounce everything off each other.

Like everyone else in our class of clearly demarcated dorks, were given lots of self-directed free time with which to develop our supposedly impressive intellects. This means we were forever dicking around, telling proto-L33T Dolly Parton jokes that ended with the victim spelling “80087355” on their calculator, making cartoons and comic strips, and modifying the lyrics of every song we learned to see who could come up with the filthiest result. In the interests of propriety, I will not reproduce our efforts here, but please know that there is a reason I smirk every time I hear the lovely Quaker ditty Simple Gifts.

One song had, however, been pre-altered for us. Somehow, we came into possession of the following lyrics for that classic dance hall tune, Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay:

Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay
I met a boy one day
He gave me fifty cents
To go behind the fence

He pulled my panties down
Then pushed me to the ground
He counted 1-2-3
Then stuck it into me

My mother was surprised
To see my belly rise
My father jumped for joy
It was a baby boy!

Every ten-year-old we knew, and even those we only knew of, could sing this lovely celebration of rape and teen pregnancy. It quickly became one of our standards.

Mike, Miho, and I decided that, given our considerable free time, we should give the song a comic strip counterpart. We named the protagonist Selena, made her a teenage prostitute, and set about illustrating her adventures. She was insatiable, our Selena. Mostly she would meet a man and then discreetly walk out of a frame, but there were times when her hunger demanded something more substantial, such as the planet Saturn. I can only imagine what my parents would have thought had they had seen these still very childish drawings, which contained no penises (ew!) or indeed anything more graphic than a long shot of Saturn going up Selena’s skirt between two verrrrry widely spread legs.

This may sound horrifying, but I don’t really think it is. We were not actually interested in the sexual aspects of our songs or cartoons, only in the thrill of dabbling in such absolutely forbidden themes. (Oh, and cursing a LOT. That was a thrill, too.)

I myself was so completely clueless about sexuality and sex — I knew that a man could put his penis in a woman’s vagina, but not one jot else — that I didn’t realize the reason I liked climbing the two-story firefighter-style pole on the jungle gym was because every time I did it, I had an orgasm. (Who had ever heard of orgasms?) I even tried to talk to Miho about it: “When I climb that pole, my butt itches. Does that ever happen to you?” Miho said no, as she preferred to stay on the ground and play soccer, but she did ask her mom, who said that she sometimes got an itchy butt at high altitudes. Since her mother only spoke Japanese, I am guessing something got lost in translation, both coming and going. I couldn’t get up the nerve to ask my own mom, because we were Catholics, and if something happy came out of wrapping (not even rubbing) my legs around that pole and climbing, then it had to be bad.

My friends and I were both naive and innocent. We spent recess playing games like Statue Maker and soccer. I was fond of using my transparent red visor cap to catch the bees that gathered pollen from our playground’s clover. The three of us liked to suck nectar from the honeysuckles growing along the playground fence. We were neither warped nor damaged, nor were we exposed to “bad influences.” We were simply curious fifth grade children with both too much and too little information.