When I lived in Ecuador, the difference between the Spanish and the Ecuadorean school systems caused me to be advanced three grades, so that when I was twelve, my classmates were fifteen-year-old girls. I didn\’t much like them. I thought they were ridiculous, with their whisperings and their hairbrushes and their bizarre obsession with boys.
I didn\’t know any teenage boys, (mine was a girls\’ school, run by nuns) but I was sure I wouldn\’t like them if I did. I did get to see boys on a daily basis, however, when they followed the school bus on its rounds.
The pupils of the boys\’ schools had invented the sport of following our school bus on its comings and goings through the cobbled streets of Quito. They didn\’t follow us in cars, but in motorcycles, which was much more exciting. Motorcycles allowed a clear view of the riders, and offered them the opportunity for daring maneuvers.
I watched the boys revving up their engines and the giggling girls on the bus with a kind of clinical detachment. My only concern was with Sister Imelda, only recently out of the novitiate, who had been given the task of maintaining decorum in the bus as a test of her vocation. She was young and pretty, graceful in her cream habit and black veil, with a small face and enormous green eyes. When the first Vespa came bouncing on the cobblestones, I could see Sister Imelda stiffen up. Soon the Vespa was joined by the roar of a Harley, with two riders at that, and then it seemed that from every corner little scooters and big black motorcycles would swing out and join the cortege, until there were seven or eight or a dozen behind us. As the motorcycles increased in number, Sister Imelda\’s face would grow red, then redder, then purple. Her green eyes would flash. I would watch in horror and embarrassment as at the next stop she leaned out the window and shrieked “Imbeciles! Asesinos! Vayanse!”
The boys would laugh and gun their engines. The girls would titter and speculate about who was following whom. And Sister Imelda would subside in humiliation, to do it all over the next day. I hated the whole thing: the pimply, yelling boys, the preening girls, the clueless nun. I kept wishing they would put another nun on bus-duty, and give little Sister Imelda a break.
At about that time, I was invited to a party given by friends of my parents\’. There, among a crowd of children my age, I found myself noticing a blond, blue-eyed boy who, in turn, seemed to be noticing me. We ran and shrieked and played games until dark. I remember wondering, after the party, why I had had such a terrific time.
Several weeks later, there was another party, and the same group was invited. By then I had figured out the reason for my good time at the first party. In hopes of more delirious fun, I allowed my mother to shampoo my hair and put newly-ironed ribbons on my braids.
Unfortunately, this time HE wasn\’t there. I was miserable. My former playmates seemed pathetically young. The party went on and on and I felt unhappy, uncomfortable, and unattractive. I couldn\’t wait to go home.
That night, in my bedroom, I had a revelation. The reason the party had been so awful was that HE hadn\’t been there. Therefore, if HE, or others like HIM, had such power over my state of mind, my future was not nearly as much under my control as I had assumed. I thought with a shudder of the girls in my class, reduced to their idiotic state by pimply males. Did I want to be like them? No! Did I want to enjoy myself at parties regardless of who was or wasn\’t there? Yes!
It was a no-brainer: I would simply give up men. I remember quite clearly saying “men,” not “boys.” But, no problem. I could do it. I would do it. I would never let a single day of my life be spoiled by a man. I would be free. I would be me. I made my vow of celibacy, felt much better, and went to sleep.
My lovely descendants are evidence that I did not keep my vow. So is the diary that I kept from ages fifteen to nineteen. By that time I was living in the U.S., going to a co-ed Catholic school, trying to learn a language and a culture and how to be at ease in a body that seemed to mutate from week to week.
It is a wonder to me, reading that diary now, how I ever managed to learn English, or anything else, in those high school years, so besotted was I by the various HE\’s who hove into my horizons. The hormonal tides into which I had merely dipped my toes in Ecuador had rushed in and engulfed me so that not just my body, but my very brain was soaked through and submerged. I had turned into one of those idiots I had ridiculed just a couple of years earlier.
Thinking back, though my teenage self embarrasses me, I have a great affection for the pig-tailed, tree-climbing me, who managed to feel shame and sympathy for an adult, and who felt victorious and unassailable in her own innocence–a kind of baby Artemis hunting alone in the woods, blissfully unaware of the coming storm.