I’m not sure what made me remember this story today, but I thought maybe even though it isn’t what I normally write here, that I would share it.
The back story: Growing up, my sister and I were competitive figure skaters. We trained all year long, but summers were the most intensive. Our home rink was pretty well known for its program, and so lots of kids came to stay just for the summer. My friend Lucy was one of those kids.
This short story is about the year we found a dirty book at the rink — “dirty” only in that way that we knew it was too mature for us, and we knew we shouldn’t read it.
Of course, we totally did anyway.
So here we go. This is: The Dirty Book.
It was July 1990, and I had just turned 13.
My friend Lucy was spending most of the summer with us, but that really only meant dinner, sleep and breakfast the next morning, because our days were spent training.
My mom dropped us (and my younger sister) at the rink at 7:30 in the morning, and picked us up at 6 at night. In between, we practiced figures, jumps and spins. We rehearsed our programs and took “power” classes, which consisted of someone screaming at us to SKATE FASTER around a circle, sometimes while we went backwards.
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Madame Xu came to teach us ballet and openly loathe us.
Tuesdays and Thursdays, we had jazz. In between we did tumbling and attended trampoline classes, jump clinics and spin workshops. A few times a week, we took a small van to the nearby Y to lift weights.
Choreographers were brought in to tell us which way to tilt our heads and point our fingers, and guest coaches would visit in week-long spurts to confuse us and take our parents’ money.
Right before leaving each the day, we had aerobics with a fellow skater’s mom. We would lift our knees in time to Robert Palmer and grapevine to “Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!”, while gaining a clearer understanding of why our teacher’s daughter Rory was only allowed to bring lettuce wraps in her lunch.
Oh the lunches. They were a source of great stress, as they would often be inspected by our coaches; offending items confiscated.
This was an especially big issue following our weekly weigh-ins, when we were put on a scale in front of everyone. Our weights were recorded, and gaining a pound (and the accompanying ridicule) was often enough to send us to the bathroom to cry in a stall.
The irony was that often someone was in the stall right next to you, sneaking food.
One girl, a year older than me, was well known for sucking on candy bars in an effort to avoid the extra calories that came with ingestion, while missing out on the benefit of calories burned by chewing.
Sneaking food and crying were two of the ways we spent some of our free time.
The other two ways were more constructive: making friendship bracelets and playing cards. The two hobbies kept us busy while the ice was being resurfaced, and during lunch, because we sure didn’t eat much.
Most of us had woven bracelets going up both arms and enjoyed the bold feeling that came with playing “Bullshit,” or as we called it when a grown-up was near, “I Doubt It.”
Embroidery floss, card games, public shaming and starvation were all we needed that summer. At least that’s what we thought until we found The Book.
Lucy and I spotted it one afternoon during Days of Our Lives or One Life to Live. Those two shows covered the two-hour break during the day that coincided with lunch and the rink being opened for public skating sessions.
The older girls, the high school girls, all gathered around the big screen television in the lobby, and the younger girls, our age, sat a little farther back, trying to pretend like we followed the storylines.
Someone had left The Book on a bench near the windows, away from the TV. We were drawn to it’s aqua and peach cover — a beach sunset — and the title that had something to do with ravishing or rampaging.
Our mothers had full-time jobs. We had no idea what we were looking at.
I picked it up and scanned the back. There was, of course, a vague reference to all the sex that was going to happen inside, which I misunderstood entirely.
Growing up in a skating rink will do that to you.
Somehow, though, we knew it was bad.
As the day went on, and we put on skates, had our lessons, took off skates, met with Madame Xu’s disapproval, went back out onto the ice, and sweated to the hits of the 80s, we watched as the book silently burned a hole in the bench.
At the end of the day, it was still there, and so Lucy, being a diabolial genius, crammed it under a seat where no one else would find it.
We rode home filling my mom in on the day — who had cried, what sorts of girl-fights broke out and were resolved. We ate only the vegetables out of my mom’s crockpot pot roast, and fell asleep, knowing we had to be up at 6:15, ready to spend another sunny day in the frigid mouth of Hell.
The next morning, the book was still there, and we giggled with glee that our plan had worked.
It was during lunch that Lucy got the idea to sneak the book back into one of the empty locker rooms to take a closer look.
Most of the coaches left during the two hour break to refill on coffee, cigarettes, diet pills, and in one case, cinnamon schnapps, and it was just the “summer school” kids, as we were called, a few random public skaters and bored office staff.
No one was paying attention.
In that locker room, we paged through the book looking for something.
Lucy had a much better idea what to look for than I did. She had an older brother, and that kid was a pervert of the highest order. Lucy had stopped having sleepovers because we would wake up in her basement to find him standing over us glassy-eyed.
We finally got to a page that had what we thought we were seeking, and I read the words out loud. It felt like a foreign language: “His tongue …” it said, and then just pure nonsense for like a page and a half.
Lucy and I tried to piece together the scene, but I was raised in the kind of house where my father fast-forwarded through the kissing scenes in PG movies. Lucy’s parents were not as strict, but had recently dumped HBO because her Brother the Pervert recorded a Nicole Eggart movie over Lucy’s 1988 first-place Regionals performance.
Sneaking out of the locker room with The Book wrapped in a penguin-themed turtleneck, we crammed it into my skating bag and tried to act normal for the rest of the afternoon. We also made a pact. If my dad found out we had it, we would say it was Lucy’s, and hope he would be too embarassed to actually tell Lucy’s mom.
If my mom found it, we weren’t sure what we would do.
Our greatest fear was that she would try to explain it to us and offer to answer all our our questions.
That night, we waited until the house was quiet. In the guest room, we huddled under the covers with a flashlight and flipped through the pages. There were three sex scenes if you didn’t count the skinny dipping (we weren’t sure whether we should or not), and none of them were easily deciphered by two sheltered athletes who had never even been kissed.
The next day, as the sands started passing through the hourglass, we approached some of the older girls for translations.
Lucy was bolder than I was. She was 14, and was sort of friends with Paige, a quiet and uptight 15-year-old who wouldn’t have known a penis from a parachute.
“Do you know what it means when a guy, er, ‘fills you with his excitement?’” Lucy asked, trying to recall the exact phrasing.
“Ew! No!,” she cried, and she went back to her mixing a concoction of bottled water, lemon slices and Sweet n Low, a drink most of the girls drank willingly and referred to as “lemonade.”
We tried Sarah next, because at 14, she was rumored to have both kissed a boy and smoked one of her mom’s cigarettes.
“Hey, where’s a girl’s ‘pleasure center?’” Lucy asked.
Sarah didn’t miss a beat: “Her butt, dork.”
(Sarah was a mean girl when Lindsay Lohan was still in diapers.)
“No, seriously,” Lucy asked. “Is it like … you know, her …” and she pointed down at her frilly skirt.
“Yeah, probably,” Sarah replied. “Why?”
“It was on ‘Days’ yesterday,” Lucy covered.
Sarah turned back toward the TV with renewed interest and we slunk away. This was getting us nowhere.
That was when Lucy came up with a truly terrifying plan — to ask some of the older guys who manned the snackbar, because as non-skaters, they had a higher liklihood of both knowing about sex, and actually being interested in girls. The second part of her masterplan was to have me do the asking.
We stood by the lobby video games, waiting for snack bar traffic to slow. “Ask him about the thing on the boat … when she says they ‘simultaneously reached their sweet crescendo,’” Lucy encouraged.
I finally summoned my courage and approached, feeling my cheeks turn pink, then red, then the kind of purple that normally indictates choking.
And when the tall 17-year-old turned around from the fryer to look at me, I did, in fact, choke.
“Um, can I see my punchcard?” I asked.
He gave me a perplexed look and handed over the pre-paid punch card with my name on it — $15 in small increments, some of the numbers scratched out.
I studied it for forever, looked both ways and behind me, said a silent prayer and muttered, “ReesesPeanutButterCup.”
He silently slid it across the counter and Lucy and I ducked into the bathroom to regroup.
It went on like this for the rest of the week. During the day, we would attempt to ferret out information, and at night, we would huddle under the covers with The Book, a dictionary, and our frightened, virgin imaginations.
It became our mission to figure out sex that summer — two girls on the brink of puberty, with nothing else to do but train hard and wait for the Period Fairy to arrive.
But after a few more weeks, our careful questions seemed to ignite something, and before long, the usual sexual tension created by all that lycra and the 1:12 ratio of males to females escalated.
It was rumored that in the last few weeks leading up to the beginning of the school year, Greg and Shannon, getting ready to start their senior year of high school, “did it” on the golf course behind their coach’s house, and our friend Becca made-out with one of the snackbar boys, letting him get to second base over her skating dress.
One of the Jennifers lost her virginity (and got pregnant, actually being sent away to live with an aunt like it was the 1950s).
Matt and Maddie, just a little older than us, started “going out,” and the public payphone began ringing non-stop during the lunch break, as girls realized they could give that number to boys they met, and their parents and coaches would never know they were getting phone calls and quickly maturing.
That wasn’t the last summer of emroidery floss bracelets and playing cards, but everything did seem to change after we found The Book.
The following years, a lot of us spent those intense school-free months away. We met new boys at rinks in Colorado and Detroit and Georgia — snackbar workers and zamboni drivers … happily accepting minimum wage for the opportunity to ogle girls in tights and spandex.
We all grew up, and looking back, that summer seemed to be the end of something.
Four years later, Lucy moved to New York, disappointed that despite giving up her youth and teen-age years to relentless training, she never made it.
By the next summer I was done with skating too, and ready to try to be a normal college kid.
Packing up my bedroom, I came across The Book in a box under my futon, crammed in with CDs and long letters written on torn-out notebook paper, signed “LYLAS.”
I threw out most of the notes then, but put the book in a box my mom tucked into a corner of the basement.
For some reason, I just couldn’t let it go.
It was too much of a reminder — of card games and fake lemonade, soap operas and best friends; the crisp smell of the ice rink in the morning, and that first inkling that just maybe, there was a little something else out there in the big, wide world.
Photo credits: hourglass by www.flickr.com/photos/bogenfreund and sunset by www.flickr/com/photos/pedrosz