Catty-cornered across the weedy vacant lot that bordered all the houses on our street, was an abandoned automobile that had been claimed as play property by kids we barely knew on the other block. Sometimes they would let us foreigners sit in their car. Sometimes they even let us drive it. As we drove along, we'd tell what we saw by the road. In order to get invited again to go touring, one was pressed to see the most outrageous things.
"There's a purple cow."
"I see a woman with two heads."
"One head on each foot!"
"There's a man with no clothes on."
The inventor of that line learned that in this company, one doesn't talk dirty. Caution ruled these kids who lived around the big white church, the one we called the Holy Rollers' Church because on Sunday anyone walking down the street could hear the hollering accompanied by some of the best piano playing most of us ever heard. All these once-a-week sacred sounds must have changed the whole neighborhood because with these kids we were subdued to saying in a voice hushed with awe:
"I see a tree with peaches, so good to eat."
"I see the sun."
"I see clouds." The thrills were outlawed. To make up for our loss, we'd sing the dirtiest naughtiest song we knew, which we also knew was not really dirty the way we sang it:
Helen had a steamboat,
Steamboat had a bell,
Helen went to heaven,
The steamboat went to Hel
en had a steamboat,
Steamboat had a bell...
One day as we were driving along, someone suggested that they thought the old car might still run if it only had some gasoline. Who would give us gas? No one.
"Maybe it will run on pee!"
"Do you think so?"
"Let's try. If we all make as much as we can, we'll have enough to at least start the engine." Seriously, in an orderly line, we trooped into a near-by garbage, all dim and dusty, already smelling of oil and little boy's afternoon pee. The girls stood huddled together, pretending they couldn't see in the faint light. The boys found some cobwebby canning jars. They unzipped their pants, smirking and gloating as they expertly directed their sparkling streams into the jars.
Then it was the girls' turn. We were ashamed because we knew we'd have to take our pants clear off or risk getting them wet. We were embarrassed not to have such handy plumbing.
"You guys go put that in the gas tank. We'll fill the peanut butter jar."
Dutifully, we made our contributions, frowning at having to touch the wet warm jar.
"I wish I had a thing like boys do!"
"I wonder how it feels"
The oldest girl took the jar out to the boys and returned with several sticks. "If you put one of these between your legs, you'll know how boys feel."
Pulling our sagging underwear to one side we, one after another, stuck the sticks in the ready made crack. It felt very good, at first. But the underwear pushed the wrong way and made it hurt. We took off our pants, hanging them on a nail, to keep them clean, and began to prance around with the sticks poking out our dresses in front of us. Walking with the sticks between our legs gave the twigs an independent feel. When our skirts swished, it felt as if someone else was moving the stick. We began to laugh and wiggle about, playfully bumping into one another. Two of the braver girls used one stick between them, playing they were at once the boy and the girl.
All kinds of silly phrases and naughty words were flying up with the long undisturbed dust. It seemed to be getting darker. One of the girls said she had better be going home. Besides, those twigs were rough and our pleasure was beginning to hurt. We laid the sticks reverently on the workbench, sorted out our underwear to go back into the world where the boys had given up trying to get the old Ford to run on pee.
This stick trick appealed to me. I enjoyed it whenever I could sneak into our garage. I even shared the discovery with Marlene and Ronda. We made an improvement in the design by stealing three birthday candles. The candles were kept in a paper bag, laid behind the assorted cans of dried up paint. One day we went to get out our candle fun, only to discover that mice had been chewing on them. With that we lost interest in the game of being boys.
Winter, with its demand that we wear so many clothes, so that your mother could be looking at you before you got back into the pants, the wrinkled longJoes, the knee socks, the corduroy pants, plus all that went on the top, curtailed our interest in sex. Also, there were mothers in all of our houses and they listened closely when we whispered and opened closed doors very suddenly.
Sex waited until summer. Evening. The world was hushed, waiting on the excitement of darkness. David and I stood together in the fenced in enclosure that hid the garbage cans, among other smells, from view. Our pants were down around our ankles. Pressing and panting, trying to lean back and not touch the cold metal bins with our bare backsides, we were trying to get David's penis in my small slit. We were both both chunky kids, so our stomachs were very much against us. We'd inhale, tuck in our tummies, maneuver into position.
"Ah, that was better than the old stick or the candle." But, we'd get so pleasured, one of us would begin thrusting, or forget and breathe out, and the thing would fall out again. Patiently, we'd inhale to start again and be at the attainment of the aim when...
"David, come in now. We are ready to have prayer service."
"David, you'd better go."
"David, where are you? Answer me!"
"David, you'd better go."
"We almost had it."
"David, you come out from wherever you are right this minute or I'm coming after you with the switch."
"Oh David, don't let her find us here."
"Be quiet. She'll go back in now."
David was right. She went back into the house. We pulled up our pants and sauntered off in two directions.
David figured that if we could do it on a bed we could do it right. He had a plan. On Sunday, as the family was ready to leave for church, David would complain of a stomach ache so they'd leave him home alone with me and his bed.
We never reckoned they'd leave Grandma home to take care of him. I sat on the curb outside Springer's house while David stood at the upstairs window bumping the bare middle third of his body on the wire mesh of the screen. Only the week before my parents had taken me to the zoo, and the monkeys were there and here. Recklessly, I laughed out loud. David didn't have to wait long to get his revenge.
One evening, four forgotten friends and I had gone over to Ronda's. She was still eating supper so we sat on her porch swing to wait. When that got boring, we started to play "Carnival" by putting our knees on the seat of the swing and leaning over the back so our heads hung down. As we swung, we'd get so dizzy the whole world swung in circles while the swing only went back and forth.
Without warning, the chain holding up my side of the swing broke. When we unscrambled ourselves my mouth was spurting blood. I ran for home, leaving the stunned bunch motionless on the motionless swing.
It was Mrs. Springer who held the bath towel to my face while mother drove through rush hour traffic to the doctor's office.
"Look, she bit clean through her bottom lip! I can stick my finger clear through the hole. Lucky none of her teeth were knocked out. The hole I can mend."
"Dorothy, you seem pale. I'll help you into the waiting room. Let me stay with Jane. It's easier when it isn't your own child. I remember when Marybelle..."
To this day I remember sitting on that black examining table looking down at the doctor's fat white fingers pulling the black threads in and out, hearing them squeak through the skin, feeling the cold scissors touch my face as they clipped.
"Dore, I thought we told you to stay out of here. This gal is braver than you are. She hasn't even whimpered."
"Doctor, will she be badly scarred?"
“No, I think she'll find a man someday to marry her." Rough edged laughter. "But not tomorrow! She's got a clot of blood the size of a goose egg under her chin. Better keep her quiet till that dissolves so it doesn't break loose and clog something. By damn, her eye is turning black, too. She is not going to be very pretty for a few weeks."
The next morning I sat on our front step to hold review. Alone, or in pairs, the kids in the neighborhood walked by on the other side of the street. Storing up their information, passing on without a word. Not David. He walked right up to me, scrutinized the nearly shut eye, the wiry black strings lacing my lower lip together and the clot that pulled my chin into an purple mass. He leaned over to say, "You are so ugly, I don't love you anymore. I'm going to love Marlene!" His haughty back walked down the street toward her house. I would have cried at being told I was ugly but I had cried all I could with physical pain. There was no water left for a wounded vanity. Besides, I found it amazing that with all our sex play, David thought he had loved me. I had never associated sex and David with love.
By the time I was in the second grade, the strings were out of my lip and the bruises had been forgotten, but the thick scar was still very much a part of my face. I think that was the reason Patrick, the tall thin boy with thick glasses and a harelip fell in love with me. The word "love" was the extent of his written vocabulary. He was forever scribbling that word on bits of tablet paper, wet with kiss marks, handing it to other pupils to pass along to me, several rows away, complete with all their giggles. Once he grabbed me behind the cloakroom door to kiss my scarred mouth, much to the raucous delight of all the kids watching. I liked Patrick okay, but I didn't like being laughed at.