Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Innocence of Children

I find it quite odd the things we remember doing as children and the things we should remember but don't, even as we're older. The innocence we all had is fascinating to me. However, I suppose if we had known in detail all the things going on around us we might have suffered trauma.

There was a girl in 2nd grade who would sometimes stick her tongue in my ear. Later she was out for several weeks due to an "accident." When she returned she had a scar across the bottom of her throat from ear to ear. She told us she fell against an open over door and burned herself. We believed it, because we were young and innocent. I often wonder what really happened. Did she try to kill herself or did one of her parents try to kill her? Who knows. Maybe she really did burn herself. I doubt it.

The tongue situation struck me as odd when it happened and I often reflect back on the sexual situations I was exposed to at an early age and wonder if that was normal, or did I just attract it. And there were a lot of sexual situations. In the same classroom there was a small double shelf for books at the back of the room. On one occasion another boy in the class came back there and stood beside me as I was looking at a book. Without saying a word he proceeded to unzip my pants, slid his hand in there and began fondling me. This was going on while the teacher was at the front of the room. I guess she didn't notice what was going on, and since we had our backs to her we assumed she and the rest of the class probably wouldn't be aware.

My parents never talked to me about anything regarding sex, or what would happen when I went through puberty. Without help from outside sources, I’m not sure when I would have figured everything out on my own. I guess it would have just been accidental discoveries, like when I was seven and discovered the pleasure of climbing the tetherball pole at school. I didn’t know what was going on; I just knew it felt good. Aside from that, I had help – lots of it, and at an early age. That makes me wonder what was going on in the lives of my friends who seemed to know a hell of a lot more than I did.

One of my cousins and his family were visiting us from out-of-state when I was seven. My cousin was the same age and we shared a sleeping bag on the floor in the den so the grown-ups could have all the beds. I don’t remember what he and I were talking about, but he reached over and began masterbating me. Either I was simply naïve to the ways of the world or else a lot of kids were way ahead of where they should have been.

I remember my mother used to take a bath with me in the tub when I was very young, probably not much more than 2-years old. She would make a guttural noise while mumbling the word "relax" -- only she would stretch it out, like "relaaaaaaaaxxxxxx." This was probably to try and get me to be still so she could relax.

It's odd that I remember this given my young age. I also remember my complete lack of interest in her body. She was my mother and that was the extent of my interest. Sure, I remember seeing her naked body, but I never recall any feeling of shame for being in the tub with her. It seemed natural, as was her body.

I never felt any shame with my own body, even as a few more years passed. I was notorious for playing out in the yard in only my underwear. And often I wasn't even wearing that much.

What a difference a few years can make. Something definitely goes awry in those five short years between 2 and 7. By the time I started 1st grade I was well on the way to discovering all sorts of things. Without a doubt I was aided by friends who had their own set of influences shaping their "values" at the time.

I distinctly remember being in the school yard at recess with a friend and we were taking turns getting down on the ground and looking up the teacher's dress as the teacher was having a conversation with someone. Obviously the teacher may not have known what was going on since her back was turned to us, but the person with whom she was having the conversation most certainly would have been aware.

At that age, I supposed we weren't thinking things through in a logical manner. Our focus was on the teacher and not getting caught, and I'm not sure it ever entered our minds that the other person was surely watching us. Wow.

I know without a doubt this was not something I would have thought to do on my own and by myself. I don't remember which friend it was who instigated this but I have a really good idea. But it must have seemed like fun staring up into that mysterious world where sunlight was filtered through her dress to reveal a pretty clear sight of some panties. Whatever. We were like daring explorers seeking out new adventure. For me, it just seemed like a funny thing to do. I certainly was not getting any other nefarious pleasure from looking at my teacher’s crotch from an unlikely angle. I’m not so sure about my friend though.

Aside from this unsavory incident, I was still pretty innocent about anything sexual but I was definitely reaching a point in my life where I was about to become more aware of my body, and my sexuality. I had actually gotten both of us in a bit of trouble when my family was over at his for dinner one night, and he and I were playing with toys in the bedroom. His mother came in, probably to announce that dinner was ready, and we were both completely naked and running around the bedroom, just playing. I will confess: I'm pretty sure I'm the one to blame for that episode. We both got a spanking and I really didn’t know why. What was so wrong with my naked body now?

He was a bit of a brat. And he is the one I'm quite sure was involved in the aforementioned glancing-up-the-dress incident. It's just the kind of thing he would have done. He also taught me a few new words I'd never heard used before, and I had very little idea what they meant, but I suspected my parents would not approve. Then one day he did something completely unthinkable.

We were playing out on a dusty road in the cotton field and he told me to come and hide with him in the cotton at the edge of the road. He asked me to pull my pants down. Both sets. And he proceeded to put his mouth around my penis. Let me remind you of our age: we were both seven.

This was perplexing to me. First of all, I'd never in my life conceived of such a thing or why anyone would do it, or want to do it. I'm also not going to sit here and lie to you by saying there wasn't some miniscule amount of pleasure involved, but it was far overshadowed by the shock and surprise of his action. I will never forget what I said to him: "You need to wash your mouth out with soap when we get back to the house."

That leads me to question -- where did I get the idea that my penis was dirty? It was probably from my mother always telling me to wash my hands after having a "tee-tee" as she called it.

It would be years before I would reflect back upon this and wonder how he had so much more advanced knowledge of things than I did. I am sure it can be partially attributed to having a sister and a brother just a few years older than him. My only brother was considerably older than me and I'm pretty sure had already moved out by this time, or was about to leave. He would have been 20.

My friend and I remained close friends for several more years. I would sleep over at his house some weekend nights and he would sometimes sleep over at mine. And sexual activity was rarely off the table. It might not have happened immediately after the cotton field surprise, but it wasn't long afterwards.

I became his.... um... bitch for lack of a better term. We both enjoyed fooling around and exploring our sexuality, but he always seemed to have the upper-hand when it came to knowledge of certain things. When I slept over at his house, we had separate twin beds, but we always ended up in the same bed. And he always assumed the dominant role, and it was my job to play the part of the girl.

I'm guessing by this time we were closer to 11 or 12 in age due to the fact that I was now getting erections during this "game" he would play. I was told to lie very still, and he would slide his hand around my crotch area, and then would do some technique with the tip of my penis that was absolutely not pleasurable, sort of like popping a cork off a beer bottle with his thumb. He referred to this as "ripping out the Kotex." And sometimes he seemed to take great pleasure in making it as painful for me as possible. I will note this was probably the only aspect of this game I really didn't enjoy. And I came to dread this inevitable removing of the tampon. I didn’t even know what a tampon was until this experience.

Even more shocking to me as I reflect back upon this is that both his sister and brother would be sleeping in adjoining bedrooms, and they had to have heard some of this transpiring. In fact, when all this first got started I do believe his brother’s bed was in the same room.

While I never blocked any of this out of my mind through the years, I certainly never dwelled on it either until recently. I started wondering why our early lives were so vastly different. Why did he have so much more knowledge than I did? And why did he need to create all these elaborate fantasies when I would have been perfectly happy if we had just rubbed our bodies together?

I'm no expert in child psychology; never even studied it. But I wonder if there may have been some improprieties of some sort on the home front while I wasn't around. Maybe he had suffered abuse from an early age. Maybe there was some sexual abuse from either a parent or his older brother.

His brother was a bit of an unstable individual with a tendency toward violence. Their father was a nice enough fellow around the dinner table, but I suspect he may have had a temper as well. In retrospect, he reminds me of that military character in American Beauty, Colonel Frank Fitts, played with brilliant and frightening precision by Chris Cooper.

My friend and I drifted apart as we entered our teenage years, and went to different schools. Within two years we were scarcely friends. My parents had enrolled me in a private school when I was 12 and that precipitated our drifting apart. By the time I was 14 we were never seeing each other and I was transferred to another school for my high school years.

He was enrolled in the private school where I attended around the time we were 16, but we had completely changed, and barely spoke. He was into the cowboy schtick and hung around the tobacco-chewing crowd, flirting with the girls and being involved in football activities. I was in a different clique entirely.

Eventually we graduated and went on our way in life. From time to time through the years I’d hear about him with second-hand information from my mother. He had married, had a child, then divorced and possibly married someone else. I’m not sure but I don’t think that marriage lasted either.

Apparently he always asked about me and supposedly once said he missed the friendship we had as children, and that he really loved me. That was kind of a strange thing for a macho cowboy to say after ten years had passed, including four years of high school in which we never had one single conversation. I’m sure he wasn’t using the word love in the sense of being in love, but rather the love you’d feel for a close friend or brother. Still, it was strange.

On my recent trip back to my hometown, I was driving around the town, realizing just how much smaller it really is than it seemed back then. As I drove past a few of the now-crumbling and neglected houses where friends and cousins had once lived, I was flooded by memories long forgotten, of events from 35 years ago which seem almost alien to me, and many troubling questions which will never be answered.

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