By Sally Fraser
I remember I had these weird acrylic nail extensions. My mum had paid for me to have them done so that I would stop biting my nails. I had painted them a pearly pale green colour. He had a bald head and I liked the way it felt under them. He had a hairy chest and I liked that too, under my fingers, under my tongue, wiry and salty. He was really sweaty and I’d never seen anything like it, and I remember him taking his glasses off and me asking ‘can you still see me’ and him chuckling and saying yes of course, I was very close up. He was stubbly, rough against my ghostly white skin. But he touched and kissed me perfectly, it was blissful. Yes, yes I definitely wanted this. Not just consent, I actually asked. Please. I want you.
I kept my clothes on, I wouldn’t have been confident being naked in front of someone until years later. My first proper bra. My most grown-up clothes. But still children’s clothes.
The pain was excruciating, it caught my breath and I wondered if I was going to be able to bear it till the end. There was one moment when he let his composure or whatever his not entirely genuine demeanour was slip and sounded frustrated, impatient: just relax. But I couldn’t, so I gently bit his shoulder and held tight.
Afterwards he asked if I felt safe, and warm and loved and I said yes I did and meant it, maybe for the first time. Over the months and years that would follow I would revisit that moment, I was foolish, I had believed someone who said they loved me, that I was beautiful and special. I only ever thought of it as heartbreak, his only crime was deception, not loving me, disappearing.
Until a few months ago, when I heard he had gone to prison. It turns out as you got older the girls didn’t, if anything they got younger. And money started changing hands. Suddenly everything looked different. Maybe I hadn’t been the incredibly mature and sophisticated young woman who had attracted an older man. Maybe this wasn’t a romantic tale of sexual awakening and empowerment at all. I started desperately trying to sort through my memories. Listening to his friend get angry with him and talking about statutory rape, and not knowing what that meant. The time, years earlier, sitting on his knee and him saying I was going to save myself for him. There’s a name for that isn’t there?
Now there is usually a time in the wee hours of each morning when I can’t stop re-visiting that unfolded sofa bed. It’s almost as if I am trying to look over that man’s shoulders and see into my own eyes, trying to trust what I was feeling. Genuine desire, love, lust; on my part even if not on his. But I keep watching and asking: was that a woman or a child? I had always believed it was a woman, the woman I became, I just became her earlier than most people. But if it was a child, then who am I now?