June 2013 archive

Baby it’s cold outside

I have an ear worm in my head, a song I heard on the radio last night.  The meaning
of the lyrics are plain enough: in some cold and snowy place in America a young man  attempts to persuade a young woman to stay the
night.  
The man offers many reasons why the woman should not leave, with the unspoken subtext of enjoying sex together.  She offers up
as many reasons as to why she should go.  It’s clear she’s ambivalent.  
‘The neighbours might talk…My father will be pacing the
floor…’ But the young man urges her to have one more drink because ‘it’s old
outside’. 
I used to enjoy this song till
last night.  Last night I listened
to the lyrics again and thought more about the narrative presented here.  A familiar one in which a girl needs to
be persuaded to enjoy sexuality.  
No doubt it’s rooted in the song’s context, the 1940s, pre contraception, when women ran the risk of unwanted pregnancies, but maybe there’s more to it
than that. 
The push/pull of desire: the man
seemingly wants it the most, the woman might or might not acquiesce.  Girls offer it up, their virginity that
is, and boys take it.  Or so I learned
as a young woman on the cusp of sexual desire myself. 
But for me and I imagine for most
of us, women and men, it’s not so simple.  
As a young child I decided that sex between the sexes was too hot to handle so I tried
to put it out of my mind.  I left
my body to itself.  I refused to
explore it, at least not what lay below. I experimented with my younger
sister but we stayed at the top half with our imaginary breasts.  Besides, because I was older she gave me – or I took on – the role of the man. 
I was the one who fondled my
sister’s imaginary breasts.  I was
the one who wore ‘jocks’ as we liked to call them in those days, men’s
underpants.  The word ‘jocks’ set my heart racing, this when I was
seven, eight, nine, ten. 
Then I decided through lathers of
guilt that my antics with my sister must stop. They were wrong, I knew, closely
attached to impure thoughts and therefore only admissible, if at all, in
confession and even then too shameful to admit to a priest. 
I started to find myself excited by
my own body, by the slowly emerging shape of my breasts.  I had a black jumper with a roll neck, which I wore with one of my older sister’s cast off woollen skirts and strode up and
down Wentworth Avenue past the house of an Italian boy who lived a few houses
along.  I imagined him noticing me through his window, both desperate for the thrill of seduction.
The boy was older than me, in his late teens even early twenties, and lived
with his parents in one of those houses whose front garden had been taken over for
vegetables.  Tomato plants on
stakes, green lettuces in neat lines all the way up to the front door.  It seemed to me then an odd use of
garden space, as if the boy’s family had somehow reversed their sense of space and
put the plants that should grow in the backyard into the front.  I did not realise the Mediterranean
migrant’s predilection then of using up as much space as possible for growing
food. 
My young boy/man wrote me a letter one day.  It arrived in our letter box addressed
to me, not by name but by description, to the girl with the long fair hair. 
I must have intercepted it somehow before anyone else could see it.  The paper was pale lilac with
a splodge of pansies in a corner, or was this the paper on which I wrote my return
letter?  His letter was filled with
spelling mistakes and clumsy wording.  It masked an invitation to
meet.
I showed it to my younger sister
for advice, and she was furious. 
Jealous perhaps that I might have given up on her and our time together
exploring each others bodies or playing at dolls.  She wanted me to have nothing
to do with this boy/man. 
My sister destroyed the letter while I
was elsewhere.  She took it from my
underwear drawer and tore it up. 
She told me as much when I went looking for it later.  She had disapproved of this, my first seduction.  
The story ends there except in my memory.  It ended when my family moved house.  

Throbbing like a heart

Yesterday I received a sad letter
from the man who tunes our piano. 
A snail mail letter – not a Face Book announcement – that he has had to
retire early given a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease, only six months
ago. 
This dreadful disease takes away a
person’s muscular capacity slowly and relentlessly to the stage where they can
no longer swallow or breathe.  They
can even choke on their own saliva. 
And it’s one of those dreadful hereditary conditions it seems where the
diagnosis of one member in your family can signal the possibility that others
might be similarly inflicted. 
Which brings me to heredity, and
the degree to which we carry our parents’ legacies in our genes. 
I’ve always been wary of the idea
that something you cop is purely the result of heredity.  What you cop in your genes that is, with
some exceptions, Motor Neurone Disease for one. 
Take a look at my family’s
inheritance for instance. 
Alcoholism and heart disease and a propensity towards sluggish
bowels.  Beyond the physical, some
of the accompanying behaviours, must be learned.
One of my sisters told me the other
day she thought she might have had a prolapse.  That’s one of the ailments that stays with me since I was a
child simply because I could not and still do not understand it.
My mother once received a letter
from Holland from her cousin who had suffered a prolapse on the dance
floor. 
Something in the words ‘prolapse on
the dance floor’ led me to believe that my second cousin’s insides had fallen
out onto the parquetry. I could see them there in my imagination so many red
jewels sparkling on the dance floor. 
I did not take the fantasy further
but if I try now I can see my cousin scoop up her insides under her skirt and
flee for the toilet. 
What then?  Call for an ambulance.  No spilled blood, no membranes burst or
ruptured, only the presence of internal organs now externalised like bunches of
purple grapes interspersed with blue veins and throbbing like a heart. 
I have feared for a prolapse ever
since.  But people tell me it’s not
such a big deal though it can interfere with your capacity to hold off the need
to pee.
Is this a sign of aging, this
preoccupation with a failing body? 
Perhaps it’s not just aging, maybe more a case of ignorance.
I could find out more about the
true nature of a prolapse but for the time I prefer my imaginary
rendering.  It has so much more
promise.  

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