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Dan isn’t fourteen
I met Dan on school holidays at a caravan park. He was a muscular private-school boy, beautiful, tall and had that whiff of pedigree. He was the kind of guy you read about in Girlfriend, with that boyband aesthetic. We fell in love instantly and it was fulfilling that someone that hot would like me, though it was a time of major self-curation: daily straightening, everything shaved, waterproof mascara. He was fourteen turning fifteen and I was fifteen turning sixteen, both Pisces. Distance kept us apart as the holiday came to a close, our respective caravans hooked and rolling away in opposite directions. Dan was from Melbourne and I lived in the country. I was frugal even back then but hammered through my $30 prepaid credit. Sometimes I went over the word limit and one text become two, 25 cents become 50 cents. He was worth it. Months passed and there were only so many pixilated winky faces to get me through. I needed to see him again so I did something I never wanted to do: threw a sixteenth birthday party. Still on the day, he hadn’t given me an RSVP. I tried texting: Hey, whts up? R U coming 2nite? :-). Sadly, no reply. My gut became a tormented ocean, rocking and spitting and crashing. Without Dan, I had to have this dumb party with most of year 10 and most of my family. I remember waiting for a sausage, standing behind a couple in the line. I heard her as she leant on her boyfriend’s shoulder, “This party is boring.” She caught me as I tried to escape. “Oh,” she said.
“Oh,” I said.
I went to the bathroom for some much needed reprieve moments after having a crowd sing happy birthday and then watching my Dad thread a silver love heart sweet-sixteenth chain around my neck. That would be the last time I’d wear it. When I reached the bathroom, any idea of a moment’s solitude was ripped apart. There was a chick crying in the bath.
That night I slept on a mattress with my “best friend”, who scared me, and a guy I’d hook up with the following year. Fletch would come out immediately after dating me at a party where he licked a dead rat. The “best friend” wouldn’t move from the position of middle but I desperately wanted to be near Fletch so I slimed and squirmed, butting my way next to him. That was the most awkward and obvious movement I have ever made. I was unsuccessful in my writhe to get close to a boy and ended up on the floor staring at the bottle of Britney Spears perfume gifted from the “best friend” and the clean glow from my Nokia phone, still no text message reply from Dan. In the morning Dan called me and explained that he had been grounded. I knew this was a lie but I was yet to discover girl power and forgave him. Anyway, the newly arranged plan fogged his absence: we were to meet in two weekends at the movies. A girlfriend who was a year above me came to the movies with us and he brought his cousin and some other girl. We had waited months to be intimate and finally, whilst watching Cloverfield, we made out. It was perfect even with the armrest digging into my ribs. My friend on my right was eating fried rice. I always associate that kiss with the smoky, oily smell of bacon and peas. Dan continued to text me every day but it wasn’t until one night on msn he revealed a secret.
Dan_69: Hey C8, I hve to tell u sumthing
~Lyf is short and so am I ~: Whts wrong babe?
Dan_69: U no how I sed I was 14?
~Lyf is short and so am I ~: Yeah?????
~Lyf is short and so am I ~: ??????????????
~Lyf is short and so am I ~: ?????????????????????????????
Dan_69: Well im not…
~Lyf is short and so am I ~: How old r u?
~Lyf is short and so am I ~: Dan?
Dan_69: im soooooooo sorry babe. Ilysm to the moon n back.
Dan_69: I didnt mean 2 lie to u.
~Lyf is short and so am I ~: Is that y u couldn’t come 2 my party?
Dan_69: And I didn’t wanna catch a vline.
~ Lyf is short and so am I ~ is offline.
Are you having fun?
In year 8 everyone had a crush on Jason Campbell. Well, except the cool girls that dated year 10 boys who chose Woodwork as an elective. Jason was sweet and perpetually happy, raised by his four older sisters who had the same Christian smile. He wore cool storm sunglasses with the orange lenses while playing soccer and in class they’d be pushed on top of his wet spiky head. Jason was without a nasty bone, totally bereft of cynicism, negativity or meanness. In fact, his catchphrase was: Have fun! Four years later we would become school captains together and he would drive me fucking mad. And a platonic sleepover as eighteen-year-olds, talking about sex, would see Jason wildly freaking out at what he might have to do with his girlfriend one day. Though back in year 8, he had written me a note. I was so anxious and excited; I tucked that tiny paper note into my pocket swearing not to read it until the end of the day as a treat. All through History class, English class, lunchtime and the bus ride home, the note was burning in my pocket. I could feel it hot against my thigh. Was he confessing his love for me? What would I reply? I had never seen him give notes to other girls; this was monumental. I ran to my bedroom, closed the door, took a breath. Slowly I pulled the letter from my pocket as though it an ancient artifact. It wasn’t folded symmetrically but that didn’t bother me. I could see traces of his small boyish handwriting through the page, blue ink etched hard. I unfolded the paper once and the note I had been waiting to read all day, nay my whole life read: Hope ur having fun.
Summer time wasn’t easy for a girl with Maltese and Italian blood mixed inside her. Hairy arms, hairy legs, hairy upper lip, hairy stomach, hairy mono brow, nose hair, toe hair, butt hair, tit hair. My mum was beautiful: milky skin with a constellation of brown freckles and soft long curly hair – how the fuck had I come from this woman? I had enough of wearing jumpers on forty-degree days so I locked myself in the bathroom, stole Mum’s Nair hair removal and went to town on my hairy arms. The thick, white paste tingled on my skin, itched a little. Those seven minutes until I could wipe away the spread were encapsulated by my hopes and dreams of beauty. Seven minutes until I could wipe it off, shedding my fur and my shame. I thought about this guy called Phil during the countdown. Looking back he was a piece of shit inside and out but for some reason he had my attention, my total and stupid attention. I was hoping to kiss him at a party that night (and I would do, and it’d be disgustingly wet). The egg timer went off. I washed away the product but to my absolute distress it didn’t look like the chick on the box. My arms weren’t smooth and shiny like the other blonde girls at school. My hair had revealed itself as choppy and looking like stubble. A rock fell into my chest and nearly dragged my body with it, breaking a rib, slicing an organ. Outside my mum was watering the lemon tree, the sun lighting her as an angel. I was always afraid of opening up to her: a lecture, judgment, something mean waiting on the other end of my testimony. I hung around her.
“What?” Mum always seemed irked.
“I dunno.” My shoulders slugged.
“Well then go get the bucket and help me water the garden.”
I started crying as I helped Mum in the garden, lifting heavy buckets to her, dripping water on my pants.
“What’s wrong with you?”
But I just could not – from years of knowing that Mum would make it worse – bring myself to tell her about my arms.
“Aren’t you hot in that jumper?” she asked.
On my Dad’s weekend, he let me go to the Gisborne Fair with my friends for half an hour alone. He said he would be waiting by the Haunted House and if I wasn’t there by 5:30pm he would “rip me a new one.” I spent time thinking about what that meant as my best friend Erin and I went to find my boyfriend Quentin Drew. Quentin was second-tier cool kid, great at basketball and needed help with reading. For the date, I wore my hair in a tight ponytail with a single thread of hair escaping at the front. My hair was so tight that the loose thread came from a strict right angle hairline. My stepmum leant me her mobile phone, in case I got lost at a fair I’d been to every year since I was four. It was a motherly gesture, but the size of the phone meant I was destined for mad bullying. The word brick is an understatement for that mobile: a heavy black plastic chunk that took up most of my Target purse, equipped with an antenna that had to be extended to make a call. It looked like a home phone but with a Tamagotchi screen. Quentin looked at my phone and then at me, holding in a thought. We took a lap around the carnival. Weren’t the sheep cute? I am too scared to go on the rollercoaster! Oh, Dad didn’t give me enough money for fairy floss but you go for it. We even held hands once but I thought I saw my dad fifteen minutes into our date and pulled my palm away from Quentin post-haste. We didn’t see each other over the summer holidays between grade 6 and year 7 but the first term of high school, I saw him strutting around bouncing a basketball. I called out but he ignored me. How could he? I had spent all the holidays thinking about him and how our high-school careers were going to be remarkable together. I saw him again after school so Erin and I took the opportunity to yell out, “Bastard!”
He yelled back, “Well at least I don’t have a shit phone! Loser!”
I turned my face down and ran all the way out the gate. To this day I’ve only ever had two phones: My Nokia brick and the OG iPhone. I like to think it is a giant fuck you to Quentin Drew.
Crash and burn
Matthew was the quintessential grade 2: cute, small, covered in freckles, ready to learn and religiously polite. Since prep, I had the biggest crush on Matthew. Several times throughout the day I would leave my desk, venture to my love and ask to borrow something: scissors, a glue stick, a red Crayola pencil. He became frustrated, “Go away, Caitlin.”
I would giggle all the way back to my seat. I begged Mum to ask Matthew’s mum if he could come over after school. Our mums chatted and decided it was okay. The day of the play date I cleaned the entire house. Dad had just left us and Mum was working three jobs. My brother and I slept on mattresses on the floor upstairs – I didn’t think much of it. Beaming, I gave Matthew a tour of my house: a two-story cottage built on top of a hill so that it looked enormous from the outside but was really small and impractical on the inside. Thanks, Dad, for building this dumb house and then running away to Europe. I led Matthew to my bedroom and showed him my room. His face dropped, he looked uncomfortable. “Why are your beds like that?” he asked, judging me. I could not believe it. My heart sunk. Couldn’t he accept how complicated my life was?
“Oh, Matthew,” I said. “You just don’t get me.”
We went outside and I watched him jump on the trampoline. He was laughing, his navy socks sliding off his feet with every bounce. All I could do was sit on the steps and watch the driveway, counting down the seconds until Matthew’s mum came to pick him up.
A $10 kiss
The Italian dude wasn’t even hot and his mouth smelt like cheap, warm cheese. If I think hard enough, maybe I can remember his name but like most things from that time in my life the memories either stick hard or have completely melted away. There were rumours going around about this exchange student, that he had spent an iPod worth on condoms. That painted everything I considered Europe to be for a while: endless sweaty orgies, tongue smooching, summer-movie romances, spaghetti and mopeds. Maybe the reason this Italian guy took a liking to me was because I was the only Mediterranean-looking girl in the whole district. Maybe I reminded him of home, or his mother. One night at some country-town disco, we were all rocking out to some terrible Scar band some of my “friends” were in. Italy came up to me, we flirted a bit, whatever that looks like at seventeen. He held my hand, leant in, kissed me with his cheese mouth. I remember a pimple on his forehead, risen, red, white on top. It looked painful, like it was pulsating. He pulled away, smiled. I kept dancing but noticed through the mid-pubescent swinging bodies, his friend hand him ten dollars. I never got as angry as I should have with that. I didn’t realise that I was perceived as a commodity, an accomplishment, a bet. It was Italy who initiated the apology, profusely texting and calling to make amends. One text was about the skylight in his host parents’ house and how he looked at the stars and thought of me, how he couldn’t believe what he had done. I text back: Don’t stress, it’s all good xoxo. It was the last day of term 4 and stupidly I kissed him again, once in the gym girls’ toilets and one quick peck by the bus.
“I’ll miss you,” Italy said.
I pretended to feel the same but was so glad not to have to smell his cheese mouth again. He handed me a thick envelop, my name scrawled on the front.
“I just want you to know how I feel about you.”
On the bus, a chick named Sandy ripped it open and read it before me. After a few kilometers down the freeway she gave me her review, resealing the frayed lid. She said he was sweet. She said it was romantic. I didn’t read it until days later and even then I couldn’t understand the handwriting.
There was this guy named Ben who now owns two investment properties and is a builder or a plumber or electrician or whoever else is required at a building site. When we were sixteen, we were planning on having sex, on being each other’s firsts. At the time, I didn’t really put too much of a big deal on “my first time”, probably because I knew it wouldn’t actually happen with Ben. Our dual deflowering did seem promising though, as Ben had made heaps of masturbation apparatuses. Some parts ordered online and then your basic hole-in-a-Coke-bottle invention. It is pretty clear that Ben was thinking about sex more than me, or at least in a practical sense. Though his was the first erection I’d ever felt. Accidentally, when I went to grab my orange juice, and it made me feel weird so I quickly retracted and continued to watch Juno. It was the era of celebrating the metrosexual, so Ben had greased hair to one side and straightened at the back. His room had that constant singed burning aroma mixed with Lynx Africa. Despite the Rod Stewart look, he was undeniably handsome with his dark skin and sparkling blue eyes. Easy to look at, hard to listen to; his voice high pitched and raspy and usually used to speak about cats or motorbikes. Ben was a bit odd even though he was popular – he once carried a mouse around in his pocket all day at school. I wonder how the mouse was so obedient for several hours without food, but that leads me to consider that he was in fact carrying a dead mouse, which makes our whole rendezvous very depressing.
I don’t know why I said, “I love you, Ben.”
He said, “Thank you.”
Then weeks later he said, “That thing you said to me … I do too.”
There was this rundown ’80s pink brick house on the walk to my stepmum’s house and I always thought that if Ben and I stayed together past high school, we’d have that kind of life. Ute in the front drive, boring rose garden, dark house in the country, no philosophical discussions, me making dinner and shaving my pubes so that he’d prefer to fuck me instead of putting his dick in a bottle. Thankfully, he broke up with me in maths class after I said a pack of napkins didn’t make a nice four-month anniversary gift. He said that my bun looked like balls. Years later as I take that same track to my stepmum’s, that house reminds me of a bullet I dodged.
I made Cam on Sims 2 because I had only met him a handful of times and wanted to materialise our relationship in some way. In doing so, I indirectly designed him better because Sim Cam liked my company and had clean hair unlike Real Life Cam. I didn’t Woohoo with him though, sex was still a scary thing to me and our Sims were taking it slow. One day I thought I’d hit save and pause but hadn’t so my Sims were left free to roam on auto. When I returned Sim Cam was cheating on me with our maid. As it turned out, even a guy as a simulation was repulsed by me. So I put Sim Cam in the kitchen, deleted all the doors and started a house fire.
I thought France was exquisite but unfortunately my French companion, Alexandre, was not. Months after my twentieth birthday, I agreed with an apprehensive yes to the question of travelling to the other side of the world with a dude I’d not been with for long. There were many dark moments of destitution, of feeling so foreign and isolated, but one of the worst was a drunken night at a beach party. Aggravated and staggering, miles away from the beach, he hit me across the face and then ran away. On a bridge somewhere, I was left alone nursing the welt on my face with my cold palms. At some point he reappeared, only to find a gang of fifteen-year-olds surrounding me. He started fighting them. A kid heaved a wad of spit at him. Wiping the wet from his cheek, Alexandre pulled me into his car. He drove drunk and rapidly down the narrow dirt streets, stopped suddenly at a roundabout and tried to choke me. His hands were tight but somehow I pushed him off. The next day I was thankful that I found thread and a needle in his parents’ guesthouse to stitch up my dress. It had split open when I was running fast away from him. Alexandre wasn’t even the worst boyfriend I ever had.
I think about this often – do the boys of our past who were ostentatiously rude, who took forever to reply to a text, who were masters of gaslighting, who were the loudest in class aware of how they made us feel? Did they know that they held all the power because we were not yet alive to our rights and the knowledge that the sisterhood awaited? Did these boys ever feel the synch of nerves in their stomachs around us girls and analyse what we thought of them? Did these boys think about me as much as I did about them? I can make a solid prediction that Callum Smith did not. He was a scene kid and played in a band with boys older than him and I thought that was so totally cool. We had been chatting on Myspace:
*~ budgee smuggler ~*: Do you like Kings of Leon? I love the song ‘Fans’
Callum James Smith: hahahah Caitlin
*~ budgee smuggler ~*: ?
Callum James Smith: You coming to my show Friday night at the log cabin? ; ]
*~ budgee smuggler ~*: Yeah! Thanks for the invite! Look forward to meeting you!!! <3
Callum James Smith: cool.
The night we met was humid with a snip of coolness. Gelato skies with ruffles of grey clouds were signs of the summer thunderstorm that filled your nostrils, thick and heavy. The showroom at work was cold so I had been in my skinny-leg jeans. When heading to the gig I changed into my short shorts. I remember thinking that it would be cold and that he shouldn’t like me because I shaved past the knee, rather he should like me because I am smart and funny and earn $12 per hour. At the log cabin Callum gave me the coldest shoulder of my entire life. Not a look to acknowledge my presence. Not even a single hello. My mum and brother still make fun of Callum’s lyrics, which weren’t sung but shouted in an Australian accent: It’s always raining but not outside. Don’t know where to go. Don’t know where to hide.
I will always wonder who Jake is. What he did with his life. What he is interested in. If his name is, in fact, Jake. The only thing I have of this person, wherever they are in the world, is a faded memory: a twelve-year-old boy in a red hoodie, golden tips in his hair, gliding on roller skates. He looks back, smiles. Pink and orange and purple lights flashing on and off in the rink to the sound of Blink 182. For me, it was love at first sight. What was the chance that two birthday parties were happening at the one roller-skating rink? At the time I definitely believed that “everything happened for a reason” and that destiny was indisputably real. My new friend, Ellie, somehow got a number of Jake’s friend and at school for the next few weeks we tried to get in contact to arrange Jake’s and my future. Alas, never a reply. Just a memory. I don’t know the essence of Jake (who could very well be dead) but I certainly know who he was to me, even if it was entirely fiction. The idea of Jake allowed me to project my idea of what a relationship should be. It allowed me to create expectations without compromising. This love at first sight with a forever stranger allowed me to dream of love that is beautiful, respectful and empowering that unfortunately, I would never experience.