In high school, Shelly’s dad kept anal beads inside of a jar of Vaseline tucked under the couch he slept on in the living room.
The first real porno I ever saw was at a sleep over at her house during my freshman year of high school. It was a VHS tape her dad rented featuring hardcore anal sex. At the end of the scene- watched with my hands over my eyes- the man pulled his penis out of the woman’s ass and a smear of feces followed. They were so ugly and the sex was so brutal. I couldn’t believe bodies could do this, that bodies could be so grotesque. I wanted to cry. (A couple years later and perhaps more numb, we would visit that same video rental store together and rent pornos of our own for kicks. We were still underage and the owner would let us run around the store playing with the gun he kept behind the counter. Bang! Bang!)
Shelly lived in the basement of her family’s tiny middle class home. Still, it was bigger than the home I grew up in with my grandparents and way bigger than the trailer I had lived in with my mom and way way bigger than the tiny apartment my dad shared with his roommate that had no room for me. So it felt like a real home to me. Her parents were even still married! Anal beads in Vaseline be damned! At least she didn’t have a crackhead step-dad in her life to fear like I did! This house was almost wholesome to me. I thought it was kind of cool that she lived in the basement, like she had her own personal apartment at just 16 years old. But it also felt kind of sad like she was banished from the rest of her house. The basement wasn’t refinished to be a livable extension of the house. It was a dark, cold, cobwebbed, cement floor room with piles of the entire family’s laundry strewn everywhere waiting to be washed. Her mom bought her cartons of cigarettes just like it was a normal household item you buy for your teenage daughter. Like maxi pads or toothpaste.
The walls of her basement dwellings were covered in hand drawn pink triangles and rainbow flags and pictures of celebrity crushes that she cut out of magazines. We would sit in her basement and listen to Type O Negative and smoke cigarettes. Mine was a stolen pack of Pall Mall non-filter, my grandpa’s cigarette of choice. (He had open cartons in a cubbyhole in our dining room wall and never noticed a missing pack here and there. I would store them in a fancy cigarette case that never stayed clasped shut and it would leave little piles of tobacco at the bottom of my purse.)
We met in a creative writing class at an all-girls Catholic high school. She was a loud-mouthed and obnoxious punk rock fat girl. I complimented her on her boldly shaved head but I was too nervous to make direct eye contact with her. She was always getting kicked out of class for attention seeking, rude behavior. I was an instant fan girl. I wanted to be everything like her and absolutely nothing like her. I abandoned more innocent childhood things, all of the sudden irritated that anyone held anything in life precious and sweet and lovely. I wanted all the ugly things to finally rise to the surface in a rage.
She was two years older than me, which in a 14 year olds mind means no one has ever been more experienced or cooler. I cut my long brown hair and dyed it My-So-Called-Life-Red because she told me I needed to let go of the Little House on the Prairie look. Throughout the sordid history of our relationship, she was my first everything. I was always the third wheel to her and her girlfriends or boyfriends. She was overtly sexual and had no qualms about aggressive flirtation and rejection. She wasn’t a typically attractive girl. She was almost ugly in a way. But she was magnetizing. I remember asking her why she always got hit on and asked out by random people and she told me “It’s because they can smell the horniness on me”
I stayed with her the night she had her abortion. I made her what I thought was a comforting mix tape that included an Ani DiFranco song about abortion (which one, right??) and when she heard it she yelled at me and told me to turn it off and I was embarrassed. I fell asleep on the floor next to her bed.
When I moved into her house my senior year of high school (after getting kicked out of my dads bachelor pad apartment for being generally unruly and “too hard to handle”) and into that chilly and uncomfortable basement I was curious and excited to be in that strange house. Once, we found garbage bags of discarded porn in her wall. Garbage bags filled! There was hidden porn all over the house actually. Her father was privately a perverted monster of sorts, leaving that shit all around the house with young daughters living there. But when you met him he was almost timid and seemed like a bumbling Homer Simpson. He was a man of the law but more Barney Fife than Robocop. I remember leaving for school early one morning in my Catholic school uniform and turning a corner only to walk in on him stepping out of the pants of his police uniform. He guffawed and huffed and stumbled in shock. This was a man that kept anal beads in a jar of Vaseline just a few feet from the family TV. How quaint, the little things that embarrassed him.
Shelly told me that once while on patrol, her dad got a call about a man who was reported to be molesting a young child, so his partner and he took matters into their own hands and went rogue, showing up at the mans house and kicking his teeth in. I didn’t realize it then but now I think that maybe that she was trying to convince herself and me that her dad was a hero and maybe everyone had easily accessible hidden porn all over their house. In my world, it was a very real possibility. I, too, had found porno magazine pictures crumbled up and stuffed into the heating vents of my room in my mom’s trailer park home. I always assumed it was a gift from my step-dad, because I knew he hated me, always calling me a little bitch from as early as I can remember. But I never told anyone. As long as the real predators were having their teeth bashed in, all was going to be okay in the world.
While I lived there, I loved sitting in their bathroom and smoking cigarettes. And taking long baths in their giant bathtub, pulling out the tucked away, lesser offensive cartoon porno book her dad kept in a vent above the bathtub. It was a graphic novel of a Victorian courtesan getting reamed by men in white tights with laughably giant cocks wearing powdered wigs. It was almost innocent compared to the porn that filled the crevices of the rest of the house. Smoking cigarettes and orgasming in the bathtub, I tried not to think about the fact that her dad probably jerked off to this same book.
I would buy cans of cheese ravioli to heat up for myself for dinner after school between the fast food meals I lived on. When no one was around I would sneak pieces of her family’s Wonder bread and margarine and savor the sweet relief of being done with school for the day before I had to go to work. I remember Shelly’s mother turning to me early one morning, it was still winter time dark before school, and saying “You know, you really are a very pretty girl” as if it just occurred to her out of no where and she just had to tell me. I held onto that compliment for years. No one had ever said that to me before and I felt a surge of warmth for her mother in an instant. Her mom and her sisters bought me obviously cheap Christmas gifts from Walmart to open on Christmas Day with her family. Even though I spent my paycheck buying them all nicer, name brand gifts from the mall wrapped in department store boxes. Still, I felt love towards her mom even when she kicked me out of her house just before the end of my senior year. I understood that I was, again, too much to handle.
After I graduated from high school (barely), Shelly and I would go for months and not talk and then we would reunite in a fury and catch up on each other’s lives exclaiming “You are the only one who gets me!” and “I love you the most!” One time we both got so high in my room that we sat on my bed crying and hugging and I swear she read my mind when she said “You were molested, too!” That was our bond. We were in the same club. We rarely ever spoke about it again.
We would go on to write many more tumultuous chapters in our friendship, well into our adult years. Sometimes I’m shocked we never got arrested or went on a bank robbing spree together. I would have been the driver. I always was. Sometimes I think we were trying to kill each other.
When I think of her for long periods of time now and again, I get a little queasy feeling. I hate that she informed so much of my youth. I wish I had gone to school regularly and that I had a normal home life. I wish I didn’t have to work so hard to be independent when I was so young. I wish everything didn’t become so sexual so fast. I was so exhausted every day of my life. Maybe I would have joined French club or learned to play violin or a sport. I wish I had been a good kid. But we don’t get to choose our stories or our temptations. I don’t even think we get to choose our friendships. We gravitate towards one another. Shelly smacked the faux innocence game I was playing out of my hands and made me realize I was just like her. Only I wanted to be nothing like her. Over 20 years later and I still shudder to think we are the same person because I’m still trying to escape those memories.