It was a cold dark evening. We had been singing Christmas songs in the big red Fairlane that we drove as a family. We had been out to eat and it was a cheerful time. As Dad drove mom called out the song selection and my brother, Ben and I chimed in. I was thoughtful. What did all of these words mean? As a 3rd grade girl, I was filled with many questions. I was realizing that there were a lot of words that I really did not understand that adults used. I was working really hard on growing up. There was really no time to waste. I always had questions. There was Deck the Halls, a song filled with words that were unknown to me: boughs, apparel, yuletide, too many to ask about. Then we sang Silent Night. This I understood. This song was about the night baby Jesus was born. We sang:
Silent night, Holy night / All is calm, all is bright / Round yon virgin, mother and child Holy infant so tender and mild / Sleep in heavenly peace.
Wait, what was a virgin? This I did not know. We finished the song and before mom could suggest another song I asked, “What is a virgin?” There was a strange silence in the car. This was a silence that seemed to suck all the joy out of the car. Mom spoke with confidence, “Well, it is a young woman that has not been with a man in a way that would make a baby.” I felt so convicted. I need to tell them the truth, that I am not a virgin… I began to think back.
It had just been 18 months earlier when our family had moved from Missouri to Ohio. We stayed with my uncle’s family for 6 weeks while we found a home of our own. My cousin, Scotty and I were finishing our first grade year. I had really been thankful to go to a new school with someone that I knew. It had just been my brother and I before and now my cousins became instant brothers. Sam was 4 years older and Scotty was 10 months older. They were always busy playing. I tried really hard to always fit in to what they were doing. I was not always very interested in playing war, Matchbox cars and exploring the field but I did everything I could to be accepted. One day while we were playing up in the tree-house. Sam said, "Scotty's penis will get bigger if you get naked." We were curious. Was this true? Sam said, "Do it. Do it." Sam liked to watch and told us not to tell anyone so I didn't but both of us took pleasure in trying it. We would all sneak into the treehouse a few times to do this. I did not think much more of it. First grade ended and we moved out of their house. I still went to school with my cousins. We had all of the same friends. One day in the fall I was playing on the playground at recess. “You are going to have a baby!” said Carl. As I looked back at him he was smirking, making fun. I did not know what he was talking about. Of course I was not going to have a baby. This was absurd but why would he say such a thing? “What are you talking about?” I replied. “You and your cousin had sex in the treehouse and that is what you do to have a baby!” he said. I was spinning. There were others all around listening and already knew about what had gone on in the tree-house months before with my own cousin. I wanted to disappear. I just said, “No we didn’t! Shut-up!” I ran off and began to wonder if it was true. Did I “have sex”? Is it sex that causes babies? Recess was over and school went on but I couldn’t stop thinking of the embarrassment and confusion of the playground. After school, I entered our house and Mom was starting the dishwasher. She was busy in the kitchen and not looking at me, so I decided this was the perfect time. “Mom, what is sex?” Awkward silence followed. Mom stayed busy, now wiping off the counter-top. She went on to say more words that I did not understand. I heard ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ and then I knew that it was true. The boy on the playground was right. I had had sex with my cousin.
I sat there in the back seat, feeling convicted. When I learned that Mary had been a virgin before having baby Jesus I realized that I was not a virgin. I made the decision to tell my parents as we pulled in to the driveway. Ben, my little brother, went on into the house and then I told Mom and Dad that Scotty and I had sex in the tree-house. They asked a few questions and concluded that we were too young to actually have had sex. I was still very confused but wanted to believe them. It was never spoken of again.
Through Story Group Exploration:
This was an insignificant, lost story in the far back of my mind. At 43, sharing over coffee with three women, before I could create another half-truth, it came out of my mouth. "Sure, I drank and slept around in college, there was even one time, I was completely sober and had sex with two strange men at the same time." I about fell over, shocked that it came out like I'd thrown up. When I looked up at them, two smiled at me and two shook their heads as though they were proud of my courage to let it out. That coffee led me to remembering this story about my cousins. Here's what I learned from exploring it.
I came to see that there is good in this story, 'I was a girl of curiosity, fun and playfulness and had a strong desire for relationship and belonging.' However, there were specific lies sewn deep into me:
My body is something to be used to get attention with guys
Sex is wrong and shameful. This was confirmed at one church after another.
People can't be trusted with secrets
It was my fault for not knowing about sex
Being naked is something shameful
Exploring this story has enabled me to begin to embrace the girl in me without fear or shame.
The Truth: My female body does have a unique power, to bring pleasure and goodness in to this world. All my play with the boys was centered around cars, war and sports. There were no girls to play with. When this game was introduced, something special happened where I was the focus. This was a game they could not play without me. The questions for me now are, Will I boldly step in to the power of my own body without fear or shame? Can I embrace with kindness and honor what it means to be naked? And can I trust some with my secrets? I was not 'healed' that weekend, but the experience changed the trajectory of my journey.