I stayed on my uncle and aunt’s farm one Christmas vacation, when I was eleven. I learned a lot about falling off horses, and I learned two things about sex.
What I learned about falling off horses was that although you seem to be very far from the ground up there on horseback, hitting the ground doesn’t actually hurt that much. In fact it struck me as quite a bit less uncomfortable than staying aboard a trotting or galloping horse, at least until I learned to move with the horse and got used to the saddle.
The first thing I discovered about sex involved my horse-riding, spray-on jodhpur-wearing cousin Samantha, who was sullen, moon-faced in a pretty way, and thirteen. She was an older woman. Eleven year old boys mostly don’t go after thirteen year old girls, and I knew that it was unlikely that she’d see me as a serious sexual contender.
But lust drove me to try, and ignorance drove me to try by hanging around gazing at her, trying to find ways of being “helpful”, and being too tongue-tied to say anything amusing. So I dropped, in her esteem, from irrelevant to irritating to revolting. I told myself, once I understood that, that the age gap, in that direction, made the whole thing impossible.
That saved my pride until Greg, a boy from the nearest city, also turned up to stay. He was eleven too, but a couple of months younger than me. These things matter when you’re eleven. Anyway, he started going riding with Samantha, and I smirked to myself about how much his failure was going to embarrass him, because I’d be there to see it.
So I came in from swimming a couple of days later, and there was Greg, sitting on the old couch on the veranda, with Samantha curled up on his lap. They were kissing. I noted with the precision of jealousy that he didn’t have his hand under her shirt.
But I knew better than to hang any remnant of my pride or hopes on that. It was only a matter of time.
My heart and pride snapping was the quietest and least important sound in the world. I’d got too close to back out without being seen so I came up, pretended not to notice their position, and enthused about my swim. I was as cheerful as anyone might seem to be, under the circumstances. There was, after all, nowhere else for me to go.
But Greg was a terrible person. He was in trouble at school for bullying, and he used to beat up his younger brother. He crept around the neighbourhood after dark and peered in the windows of women living alone. He stole things and blamed others. I found it hard to believe that he was good to Samantha. I, on the other hand, was a reasonably good person. I was gentle with people smaller than me, though I stood my ground with bullies. I had a lot to learn about riding, but at least I’d been brave about falling off horses, and got on again. I liked helping people. So clearly, being good, gentle and brave, I deserved Samantha more than Greg.
So I learned that the desire and affection of girls is not something you get as a prize, by “deserving” it. I had more to learn than that, but it was a start.
The second thing I learned about sex will have to wait till the next post.