Recently, I was shaking a tail feather at Q Bar (a very, very fun gay club if you're ever in San Francisco and you like go-go boys and a steady beat). Someone's sister was in town, it was someone else's birthday and together there must have been about 12 of us all swilling cheap vodka and undulating to good-bad Top 40. I had wiggled my way over to the bar and was ordering another whiskey ginger when this statuesque brunette turns to me and says something vaguely witty in a strong French accent. She had lips like a puffer fish.
We chatted coyly, drinks in hand, as we strolled back to the dance floor. That's when she just laid it on me. Before I knew it, I was having a red-hot lady smooch. But suddenly, I felt like a liar. I pulled away and said, "Listen, you're really beautiful, but I'm not gay." She paused and searched my face. "But you're curious." Eh, I shrugged and laughed. "I'm into your top half, but if you took me home you'd be disappointed."
"Unfreaking believeable. No one in this town is actually gay!" And she stalked off. I stood watching her go, getting jostled by dancers left and right... and suddenly remembered *Josie.
I can't really remember meeting Josie for the first time, although she was to become my closest friend. It's as though she was somehow always there -- my entire existence in the backwoods of Chapel Hill, North Carolina feel forged by her flaxen hair flashing through the trees. I think that was the first time I really knew friendship. A conscious choice of taking someone into my life. That's not to say I was some misshapen misanthrope, but I could feel my own being reverberating against hers. I could feel my presence, my very boundaries begin to solidify -- my inner thoughts and desires taking shape beside her. I was 8 years old.
Josie and I were often restless, not bored, because that implies there was nothing to do and there was lots to do (ride bikes, put moles in people's mail boxes, fill a wagon with rocks, shove the cows around in the nearby pasture, collect honeysuckle -- all sorts of things). But we had done them. And done them. We were restless again and wandering through her house strumming the fuchsia strings on her mother's loom (Ann's too-big-for-the-living-room hobby) while Josie read me excerpts from a shitty fantasy novel, namely the "dirty" parts, the sections that said "breast," or "Can't I hold you the way I did last night?" ("No. no," he laughed. "We mustn't.")
Josie's mother was always at the hospital (she was a nurse) so Josie was what my mother called a latch-key kid. Tsk, tsk went my mother's tongue. She wouldn't be home till much later.
"Oh! God!" Josie spit out suddenly. "I forgot, I found this book! I have to show you." She got up from the floor and ran upstairs to her mother's room, returning with a big white tomb. It said "Women" across the front. There, sprawled on her bedroom floor, she showed me its insides. Puddles of blood, dark holes for eyes, backdoor abortions. Pubic hair, tangled, wet with shining pleasure. Big, angry brown nipples. Fathers with their daughters. Girls with girls. Lips and lashes and languished sighs.
There was a feeling of panic, of joy, of realizing that my own body was still a mystery. I was terrified and fascinated -- everything was more cruel and beautiful than I ever suspected.
"But look at this!" Her fingers flipped then, and pointed to a dog-eared page. The book called it "touching yourself." It could happen anywhere, it said. It could happen with the water from your shower-head, from your fingers, from a vibrator, a zucchini, all sorts of things. Some women said they "came" from touching themselves on the inside, some from their clitoris. I knew of this so-called "inside," I was pretty sure it was where my pee came out, and also where I would maybe give birth from. But this "inside" was more of a rumored place, a place I had never, well, been inside. The clitoris had a stranger name, but was more familiar. I recognized its tiny fleshy bulge and the shiny, angry looking bulb hiding inside it. I did not know what "came" meant and the book, not designed for fourth grade eyes, didn't elaborate.
That night I spent the night at Josie's -- we wanted to take another long look at that book of her mother's we found. We ate dinner in record time -- I think I managed to eat two chicken cordon bleus in 13 minutes, wiping my mouth on the back of my hand and then my jeans.
"I've never seen you girls eat so fast. Where's the fire?" Ann laughed.
"We're just tired," Josie shrugged.
"It's not even nine!" She insisted. "You sure you don't want to watch Twin Peaks with me?"
"Nah," I said. "It gives me the willies."
Ann shrugged and stretched. "Alright. I guess it's just me and Pickles." Pickles was their obese cat.
"Love you. Night."
As we closed the door to her bedroom, I could feel all the heat rise to my face, and was glad there was only one lamp on. I felt nervous and I didn't know why. We'd rolled around before. But I'd never kissed her or anything. It'd been more clinical, more exploratory than that; one of our favorite late-night games consisted of pantomiming animal sex, which would basically result in scream-laughing until her mother told us to "settle down and get some sleep!"
It's odd. These days sex is exciting because I know how it's going to feel -- I can anticipate the pleasure at hand -- but then, all the excitement was wrapped up in ignorance, in not knowing how anything was going to feel. Each touch was a a revelation, her hands were incantatory, drawing my limbs into being. This night was a bit different, though. There was that first slippery awareness, darting in and out of my consciousness, white-hot and fleeting. I wanted her but only vaguely, not knowing what it was I wanted, only that she stood in the center of it all.
The book told us about all sorts of different things you could use to touch yourself. We didn't know or didn't have any of its suggestions, so we had gathered a make-shift arsenal of things to experiment with, including a couple old feathers Josie kept on her desk, a Koosh ball, some pine needles and a ball of rainbowed wool from her mother's loom. Josie lit a couple of candles and went into her closet, where we had laid down blankets. We figured we could each take a turn in there, see what happened. She closed the louvered doors.
"Wish me luck!"
I watched and listened. Nothing. 10 minutes passed. I bit my fingernails. Then the doors slid open and she was beside me again.
"I don't know," she sighed. "Nothing's... really happening. I mean it feels good but so what. You go."
"OK. I feel good about the Koosh ball."
I tried my damnedest too, poking there and rubbing here. The feather was nice, but the Koosh ball too pokey, too cold. I wasn't sure what the hubbub was all about either. I bided my time a little more. I bit my nails for a while and then came out.
"I don't know either."
"I told you. Nothing happens."
"What are we doing wrong you think?" I crawled back into bed.
"Here. Let me try."
She slid closer to me. I could feel how warm it was under the quilt. Goosebumps rose between my shoulder blades.
"What do you mean?"
"Just, I don't know. Let me try. Maybe it's like how people can't tickle themselves. Maybe it's the same thing. Maybe you need someone else."
"OK." She slid her hand along my stomach and over my underwear, cupping me against her palm.
"I don't know. I think higher."
"I think it feels good here." She placed two fingers on my small bump.
I felt everything throb a little.
"I felt it move against me!"
"Really? You did not!" I felt it, too. It was moving -- sort of flexing and releasing.
"What about, like, back and forth?"
She moved her fingers across the bump, pressing down hard against it -- it felt like plucking a taut wire.
I draw a sharp breath and she started laughing, moving her hand more quickly now, her hair falling against my face as she moved faster still. She was pressing too hard and it was stinging, but I didn't want to say anything. I didn't want her to stop.
Everything was fading and rising dusty pink behind my eyes, and then I wanted to yell, but I didn't. The light exploded behind my eyes and I was filled to the brim -- red-yellow light pouring out of me. I grabbed her hand in mine.
"Woah. What happened?" I was embarrassed. I didn't know what happened.
I can't decide if it's sad, strange or neither that I don't know when I realized that was my first orgasm. And while I'm happy to report that I've had my fair share of toe-curling, light-filled moments since then, there is something that haunts me about the very first. Innocence flees so fast.
This article first appeared on Ravishly.com, an alternative news and culture site for women.