When I was on the cusp of womanhood my mother handed me a blue booklet entitled, Your Monthly Menstrual Cycle, What Every Girl Should Know; on the cover was the silhouette of a nude girl with shadows coving the juicy bits.
I devoured the contents, all eight pages in five minutes flat. I remember reaching the last sentence and turning the page for more but only found the index. I was dumbstruck. I had waited so long to begin my journey into womanhood and after reading those eight pages, I was none the wiser. There had to be more, please tell me there is more.
There wasn’t, and when I looked to Patsy for the meaning to life, she swirled her highball glass in my direction. At thirteen I knew how to pour a drink, but hadn’t a clue what to do with a boy. Clearly, she wasn’t going to give me the key to that secret place all girls my age wanted access to. Instead, I learned another lesson, how to get what you need when there is no one around to tell you how to do it. It’s a lesson no one really teaches you, or at least not one Patsy taught me. It was about self-reliance and creative problem solving only back then, jargon wasn’t an industry. I poured her a drink, sulked off down the hall to my bedroom, and flung myself across my bed thinking that Mario, the yummy boy down the street who rippled through his Haynes white T-shirt was going to have to wait a little while longer.
I stewed for a long while on how to get what I needed. I was desperate. I didn’t want to walk into that boy’s arms without having some idea of what to expect. God knows what I thought I’d find in that blue book Patsy had handed me, but it fell short of preparing me for Mario. With him, I knew I had to have the upper hand, with him I experienced twitters and tinges in regions that made me flush and burn with energy I didn’t know existed. I slumped into a funk, and even turned to Debbie Salazar, the DD bottle blonde at the end of the street (I was still in an A cup back then); in our neighborhood, your cup size determined your street cred. She proved to be useless but on my way back from her house I caught sight of the Book Mobile (we lived in the Outer Mongolia) and remembered the top self in the very back corner of the big yellow library on wheels. The one shelf I wasn’t permitted access to.
Stars were blazing in my eyes from the light bulb that exploded in my brain—a flash of brilliance, my first of many more to come. I sprinted back up the street, grabbed the stack of books I left on the maple table in the kitchen, changed out of my cut offs and bathing suit; drug my sister away from the soap opera, Dark Shadows. I walked with determination to my answer that was waiting for me on the forbidden shelf.
I planned to sneak out the copy of The Last Tango in Paris under the bulky shirt I had worn just for the occasion. I had heard Marylou and Trina (neighborhood moms who also read books) talking about the book and how sexy it was. I WANTED SEXY.
I was on a mission and nothing like an age restriction from the top shelf in the book mobile was going to stop me.
It was an orchestrated event. I had my kid sister keep Mrs. Quackenbush the mobile librarian busy while I made like 007, scaled the shelves, and absconded with the contraband.
It took me longer than five minutes to read the book, parts of it I read over, and over, and over again. I remember thinking when I finally had enough of that book how valuable information was, and how I had only myself to turn to when the chips were down, or doors were close to me.
I was ready for Mario after reading that book.
(And yes, I returned the book.)