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.