Miss Jane carried. She missed the carriage. The young miss had a carriage that took her prince away. Miss Carriage. Miscarriage. Blighted anticipation. A lapse of conduct; a misdemeanor, a failure, a blunder, a mistake. The great rejection by the unborn, the expulsion of a fetus from an uncertain womb, the loss of the unnamed. Or, in Jane’s case, the mixed relief staccato-ed by contractions. The preemptive strike to an abortive decision. Her teenage body lay on the sterile table, in the process of misconduct: hiding the blunder. She bled for days; hadn’t even known she was pregnant. She was glad when she wasn’t anymore. When she went home, she threw away her sheets. She came back to school the next week.
These things happened to girls at our quiet, small, high school boarding academy, just like they happened in the surrounding public high schools. But we had the distinction of keeping it secret. With three-hundred-and-sixty-odd students discovering their sexuality more or less in unison, there were bound to be mishaps. Our time was regimented to prevent those possibilities, but we found ways to bend time enough to sneak away to improvised nests in the dusty storage sheds in the corners of campus, or the springy beds of pine needles nestled under the tree-line that marched up the rolling hills the school was situated on. Stray condom wrappers marked any place that fostered an aura of darkness and seclusion, along with the faint musk of teenage hormones tinged with the smell of fear. Not that the possibility of getting caught, and quietly expelled from school, really stopped anyone.
Abhor, shun. To regard with disgust, to loathe, to shudder at. An outright rejection. Pearl was my best friend in high school. We hung out with Jane, who had her own car, on the weekends. On prom night, Pearl’s boyfriend’s eager seedlings fought the swirling current of the hotel Jacuzzi and the maze of her underdeveloped fallopian tubes to seek motherly shelter in her body. For our AP Composition class that year we practiced the art of debating current issues. She was assigned the pro-life position. So, while she negotiated the art of quietly erasing the only child she might have ever been able to conceive, we worked in the computer lab at school, assembling our arguments. She read the pro-life arguments ceaselessly, looking at the pictures the pro-lifers use. The alien embryos curled on a quarter, tiny digits curled around a pinprick thumb. Small enough to fit in a quarter-machine vending capsule. Pearl presented her argument and won. The next day she went to the clinic by herself and paid to leave a piece behind.
What could we do with such unplanned results of our dark gasping? Even at sixteen we were deemed old enough by the state to participate in legal germination. We, lauded as the best and the brightest, were handpicked from the wealthy elite and the intelligent poor. Our sexuality was ignored in the privacy of our nonpublic education. We were only smart enough to hide the signs from the adult satellites, installed for our protection. They were as efficient as the alarm systems on our gender-regulated dormitories. There was always a way around them.
So we writhed in the syncopated night. We proudly thrust our chests and bellies at the sky and tried to imagine what the other saw in us. We looked for the lust we saw on the movie screen, heavy-lidded and rippling, but instead found discomforting emptiness. We had no concept of pleasure, only the idea that it must be there somewhere, amid the want.
Officially, there was only one avenue as far as sex was concerned. Don’t have it. If you do, don’t mess up. Don’t foul the name of your family, your school. A college preparatory academy sends promising young men and women to colleges around the country. Not unpromising young fathers and mothers. If caught, you would be spirited away in the night and never see your tentative friends again. For many, boarding school was the step before boot camp.
Homosexuality was not mentioned. It quietly pattered about the halls on socked feet, slipping into this room, that bed, early in the morning. It was much more easily hidden. Nobody knew to know, and thus label and define. Or perhaps only I was innocent…no, not innocent, uneducated. I discovered much later, through a fellow classmate, just how many girls tiptoed down the halls to offer each other the sheltering solace of their bodies. Had I slept lightly I surely would have heard the giggles, and later, the gasps.
Homoerotic taunting was much more common. The grabs, the twists, the bare-skinned slaps were taken for granted. My roommate, Christie, had a habit of running across the room as fast as she could, arm aloft and prepared for a swift and startling descent upon my unaware derriere. She left red, raised handprints through my thin jeans. Try as I might, my return barrages delivered with my heaviest hand did not faze her enduring course of attack. I stopped reacting, which did nothing but increase the frequency of her slaps. One day, I discovered that if I challenged my demure aggressor by mocking a kiss toward her exultant face, or squeezing a little too long after a return slap, I could see a switch in her eyes from a teasing zeal to a dread panic of overstepped boundaries. As I squeezed her cheeks and brought my puckered face closer to hers, she balked and flinched, letting out a vigorous “Eww!” She never resumed her beeline of attack. Ew. You. An exclamation, a subject. A complete statement firmly closed with a mark that demands no further questioning.
There was a firm underground network in place that supported heterosexual contact; this network was completely and successfully managed and machined by high school gossip. Monica rode horses. We all knew her boyfriend snuck through the open back door of the dorm to her room just across the hall during her free class period. She offered her room to other girls in the dorm for similar sequestering. There were those of us who did not use the room, many because they had no Romeos to visit. I had a Romeo, but no interest in the visit. His palms were damp when he held my hand. I would watch perspiration spring from the pores in his nose. He mentioned wanting children some day and was gone by the end of the week.
“Sex is the closest you can ever be to someone, to knowing them,” said Pearl, to my question about the importance of sex. I interviewed my peers, probing their lustful psyches. We traded whispered carnal revelations of the workings of our bodies, of places and positions, of ever-elusive orgasms, of the fallacies of men, and eventually of pregnancy, abortion, and miscarriage. We found the solace of questions in each other, because there was no one to volunteer the answers. We practiced to become women in a network of silence.
Two months later, as I watched a salty bead fall from a gasping boy’s hairline onto my shoulder, I disagreed with her. He didn’t know me, and never would. I used him as I imagined men must use women, grimacing in counterfeit passion. I counted the headlights that swept over us through his apartment window. We never spoke again.
I lived in dread for the next ten days. My womb was a loaded weapon and I its hostage. I did not trust the flimsy latex that promised to deliver me from the horror of his seed. David Lynch possessed my mind as scenes from Eraserhead played on a loop, with its incessantly weeping embryonic bundle. My body was a machine of calculated betrayal, accommodating hips to cradle and spread in welcome; breasts slung from clavicles, to swell and nourish. I considered my options were I to conceive. I had no money for an abortion, and no desire to recontact the other half of my tryst demanding his. His little sister went to my school, and when things like this happened, word spread like tuberculosis, with no discrimination, jumping from student to student to administrator. In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara suffered a miscarriage after falling down a flight of stairs. Cigarette packs warned that smoking might induce the same. I haunted stairwells and smoked two packs of Marlboro Reds, counting the days on my fingers, again and again. On the tenth day, relief flowed red.
Each subsequent encounter brought the same dizzying morning-after sickness. The knowledge of my friends’ unborn had settled in my abdomen, turning and kicking with every fumbling grasp. The soft pop of the buttons and the metallic music of a zipper composed the soundtrack, a requiem of unease, to my tentative kisses and further explorations with the boys, and eventually men, of my choice. My heart beat faster with each successive gesture, not from excitement but dread. I was haunted by the spectre of pregnancy.
I thought if I found the right person, my fear would dissipate. Pearl’s words still echoed in my head, years later in college. I flipped through men, trying them on, then discarding them for the next, while searching for the promised grail of intimacy, of knowing, that so many around me seemed to have found. In the process, I became convinced that I was impervious to the flood of emotional bonding and attachment that sex brought to the young women around me.
Women. Denizens of creation, beget upon begat settling in our wombs in resigned lassitude. Six billion strong, courtesy of our bodies. Smooth, stretching bodies of breast and hip and thigh, dancing, running, singing, swaying. Women held no terror in their catalogue of movement. There was nothing incomprehensible in the mind of a woman, only delicate layers to coax apart, to ask admittance to her most secret regions.
The female body, couching the feminine mind, held mystery and allure to me. The song of sirens lured me, breasts swinging gently from architectural collarbones—smooth, naked masterpieces of shape, line, and form, undisguised by the coarse and curling bravado of the male physique.
I held the female form in artistic reverence, considered it with aesthetic delight, envied with peculiar potency. There is a nearly imperceptible line between envy and lust. It is curious how slight a difference we hold between those tricky verbs, to be and to have. I later came to realize my own discrepancies of desire—those that I wanted to be like were instead those I wanted to be with. To be is to exist. To have is to own or to bear, as in alms, or offerings.
Bear. Bare. Bear children. Bare shoulders. Bear with me. Bear witness. Barren. Shoulders taut, soft shine of apple skin. Eve bore an apple, her burden of lust. We are borne of its cider, however sweet and strong.