I woke up in the night. I slept early and then woke when other people start going to bed. I woke up for the usual reasons—I was thirsty, I had to pee. Then I realized I was overwhelmed with some feeling I couldn’t name and couldn’t do anything about. Something like confusion.
As I woke up a little, it started to sort itself. I could organize it again some, and I slept.
But in the morning, it’s a mess again. I know what it seems to be about. It’s just the too-muchness of it that’s disorganizing.
It has to do with consent.
I should perhaps say that yesterday was a difficult day. Things kept coming out of boxes. I couldn’t keep them shut. I couldn’t get anything done. I couldn’t feel better about anything.
I couldn’t stop thinking about that one minute after I unbuttoned Natalya’s shirt.
It was unnerving.
I think this particular box is more unnerving because I work at a school, and although I don’t really need to teach these days, there are children running around asking me questions and the girls in my class are around the age of what I am remembering and there is a sense of not the time and place for this thought. As well as not being able to get my head around the idea that such little, little girls can do what I did and feel what I felt and frankly I don’t know if I want to get my head around that. Because the fact is maybe they can’t. I don’t know.
One of the downsides of growing up is we forget what it was like to be young. The longer I teach, the more I am convinced of this. We do not accurately understand our students because we cannot accurately remember being that age ourselves. Everything we remember gets patinaed over with our current, adult perspective and we don’t quite know why they do what they do or how they feel.
But my memories are not processed at all. They are raw and fresh, as if they happened yesterday.
That is not really the point.
The point is I was trying to check notebooks and I could not get Natalya’s half-naked body out of my head. Mostly I could not get the feeling of it out of my head. And this morning is the follow-up of that.
Because a part of what emerges out of my adolescent confusion regarding what was happening then is that what we did involved consent. Not a single instance of consent, but constant consent.
Natalya kissed my neck and then she waited. What would I do? What would I feel? I felt desire. She sat on my lap and looked into my eyes. What she saw there made her kiss me. What would I do? I kissed her back.
I’m trying to break it down, to describe it in a mechanical way, but it wasn’t mechanical. It wasn’t conscious either. It was automatic, assumed, seamless.
We paid attention. Is this comfortable? Do you feel safe? Is this what you want? She paid attention to me, not just to see if I responded, but to see if she still had my permission to do what she did, and the permission came not in words, but in my expression. She saw it looking into my eyes. She felt it in the tension or relaxation of my body.
I had been violated my whole life. No one cared how I felt about what was done to me or what I was expected to do so long as I kept it together enough to comply. That kind of consent—that kind of care—breaks my head.
It seems impossible.
It shouldn’t surprise me, because for years she had been watching me in that way to help me feel less afraid when we had to perform. This was an extension of that. But in the end, what we did in front of the cameras we did not really have a choice about. There were some choices: Will we do this first or that first? Can we slow things down a little? Can we hold hands while we do this so we don’t feel so alone? Can we do this in such a way that we can still keep eye contact?
Those were the kinds of choices we had.
It is not the same as consent.
It does not seem possible that anyone can care. I think it did not seem possible to me then.
And if she can care so much, why doesn’t everyone? Why doesn’t anyone?