Fallback

When fall arrives, Sé, who is in Grade twelve and I, who am in Grade eleven, continue to be a couple. During the lunch hour, he and I sometimes walk from CCH hand-in-hand deeper into downtown towards London’s Victoria Park, situated next to St. Peter’s Basilica, which is a smaller version of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral. The picturesque downtown core, where Catholic Central High is located on Queens Avenue, is a lovely area in which to walk. The large, brick Victorian structures that occupy the surrounding streets are buttressed by massive, centurion maple trees. In the fall, brilliant red and glittering gold leaves still clinging to their branches push back against a sometimes cerulean, sun-filled, cloudless sky. Later in the fall, the sky turns a slate-grey, leaden firmament, while fallen leaves thickly carpet the sidewalks with their crinkly splendor. I love sweeping my boots through the thick mat of leaves that cover every inch of the white cement sidewalks as a cold, autumn rain sprinkles my face. I breathe in the aroma of burning wood from neighbourhood fireplaces pungent next to the bouquet of the rain soaked foliage that I crunch beneath my feet.

On one of our fall walks Sé blurts to me, “I put you on the map, Ange!”

“What do you mean?”

“You were nobody until you met me. I put you on the map.”

I don’t say anything but I do not agree. Many of Sé’s friends chased after me before I met Sé, and he is well aware of all the guys in his group who had tried to date me. I don’t need to remind him of that now. Sé’s own best friend, Sé, had pursued me since I came to CCH, even when I was dating Drew. Sé told me once that he could drown in my big, beautiful, blue eyes. I had no interest in red-headed, red-sneakered, punk-rock, stoner, Sé, and after Sé and I got together, Sé tried to come between us. I came to intensely dislike the way in which he treated me.

“You love yourself,” I says to Sé then. That is what Cissy always says to me. She always accuses me of being conceited by telling me that I love myself and I accuse Sé of this hubris now.

“If I didn’t love myself, there’d be something wrong with me,” Sé says. “Hey? Don’t you think so, Ange? If you can’t love yourself, there’s a problem.” He looks at me and I shrug, but I know that he has a point.

I still will not sleep with Sé and there is no shortage of willing sexual partners for Sé as the high school quarterback. Though I desire Sé, years of Catholic parochial school, sermons from various pulpits, and my mother’s voice remind me that nice girls don’t have sex outside of marriage, and no decent man will want a girl like that. A man will leave such a girl as soon as he gets what he wants from her and will marry a nice girl who knows how to say no to his sexual advances. As with Drew, kissing me is no longer enough for Sé. As a seventeen-year-old boy, he wants sexual experience. I am also not wholly free with Sé as I had failed to be open with Drew. There are parts of myself and my life that I keep hidden.  I never speak of the barrage of verbal and physical assaults I daily withstand in my home. I tell myself that everyone is hit by their parents for misbehaving or for breaking curfew. I don’t discuss it with anyone so maybe I really know that not everyone does get hit at home. I never divulge what goes on at home because it is too painful to address. I am ashamed of my family’s violent behavior and inability to express love tenderly.

Sé and I are at a party in the Sherwood Forest subdivision. The intensity of our yearning for one another that night electrifies the space between us. Sé stays by my side all night, holding my hand in his. I can feel his hot breath on my neck when he leans in to whisper to me. We kiss one another tenderly and laugh together as I rest against his chest. When I finish each of the two beers I drink that night, I ask Sé to hold my bottle for me for a second and he takes it from my hand, realizes it is empty and laughs as he turns to offer the empty to some other unsuspecting passerby. He is attentive toward me and I feels safe with Sé. I want to have sex him that night and know that his parents are away again. We have his house to ourselves if we want it, and we do.

We leave early and run from the party down a small hill to his car holding hands. As he drives us to his place, he kisses me at stoplights and holds my left hand in his right. I run my right hand over his thighs and groin. We want to consume one another though neither of us vocalizes our desire or intent. When we get to his place we sit in front of the living-room stereo and Sé puts on Rod Stewart’s Tonight’s the Night. I know then that he expects that we are going to have sex that night. We start making-out and slide to the floor together, Sé on top of me. I can feel his erection next to my pelvic bone.

“I love you, Ange,” he tells me. He smoothes my hair from my eyes with a gentle hand.

“I love you, too.”

“Let’s go upstairs,” he kisses my neck and massages my full breasts. I let him pull me to my feet by my hands and lead me to his bedroom. I have never been upstairs in his house. I have never been in his bedroom. We lie on his unmade bed and continue to kiss. I undo his jeans and run my hands along his ample member. He takes off my sweater and unbuttons my jeans.

“Sé,” I stop his hands. “I have my period.”

“What do you want me to say? ‘Dear God, please don’t let Ange have her period tonight?’

I smile but I feel uncomfortable. He is not being sensitive to my feelings. He continues to undress me and then himself, and soon we are naked lying on his bed. I close my eyes to the glare of the ceiling light in his bedroom.

“Will you turn off the light?” I ask him. He kisses me and begins to enter me. It hurts so much that I push him away and turn my head so he cannot see my face. “I can’t do it,” I tell him. Annoyed with me, Sé swiftly gets up and begins to dress. I lie there covering myself with his sheet. I am reluctant to stand naked before him and dress. When I do stand I see that Sé’s pale blue bed sheets are stained bright red with my blood. “Oh God. I’m so sorry!” I am mortified.

“I gotta get you home,” he says. “And I need to get back here and clean up.” I think that he sounds repulsed, and feels ashamed that my boyfriend will be cleaning up my menstrual mess.

Sé drives me home in silence, his brow furrowed, as I cry softly, certain it is over between us. I lean over to kiss him a few times and I reach for his hand, but he is unresponsive so I look away. I hide my tears from him, and watch late autumn rain slash the passenger window. Distracted, Sé misses the first entrance of my street and has to drive into the second opening of Cant Crescent. This means that he will pull in front of my house rather than turn into the driveway as he normally does, and will remain pointed in the direction in which he will drive away. It also means that my father, who is waiting at the front door for us looking in the direction that Sé would normally arrive, doesn’t see Sé pull up.

The clocks have fallen back and though my watch says midnight it is really one o’clock in the morning, and I am one hour late for my twelve o’clock curfew. I kiss Sé good-bye and hop out of his car. As Sé drives away, my dad thunders past me across the front lawn and chases Sé ‘s orange Datsun down our street. I race after my enraged father.

“Don’t stop, Sé. Keep going,” I whisper as I run after my dad.

I see Sé ‘s brake-lights burn bright red through the November mist as his shadow leans across the curbside seat to pop open the passenger door and speak with my father.

“That’s you finished, lad! Yer never tae call here or see her again!” my father shouts.

Reaching them I plead with my father, “No dad! Please!”

In one solid motion my father slams shut Sé ‘s car door and turns to smash my face with a callused palm, knocking me off my feet. He pulls me upright by my hair and knocks me down with his open fist again and again. My nose, lip and face are bloodied. My knees are skinned and speckled with bloodied pebbles clinging to open lacerations exposed through my now torn blue jeans. Faded denim is threadbare as my father continues to drag me home by my hair, and my knees scraped along the pavement. My palms are scratched too, as I use my hands to distance my face from the pavement. I flip onto my back as he drags me. My father still holds my hair, and I jostle my feet beneath me trying to move with my father to lessen the pain emanating from my scalp. My eyes dart back and forth as I search for Sé’s car. I spot his taillights as they draw farther from me and disappears into the fog. My dad heaves me through the front door of the house and I fall face down onto the kitchen floor. He batters me again. I hear my mother’s voice rising from the washroom as she flushes the toilet.

“You bloody hit her, Joseph! Bloody kill that lassie. Nane o’ her bloody excuses!” she screams. My mother’s heavy, flat-footed thuds stomp down the hallway into the kitchen. I am on my knees swaying back and forth as though I am going to pass out. Blood gushes from my nose and split lip. I have on a new white coat that I had saved up my McDonald’s crew money to buy. It is covered in my blood and will have to be thrown out.  “Oh my God, Joseph. You shouldnee’ve hit her in the face!” my mother says.

“No. Then someone might know,” I scoff and I am thumped again. I fall face forward and weep.

Sé doesn’t call me the next day, but we speak at school the following Monday. My lip is still swollen. “My father has never hit any of us. And he sure as hell never hit any of my sisters,” he tells me and I am filled with a deep sense of shame for my family.

One of Sé’s buddies tells me that Sé had opened up to him in the hockey change room after their game, and told him what had happened the weekend before. He tells me that Sé is very upset by my father’s actions.

“The funny thing is the same thing happened with me and my girl that same night,” he tells me. “She comes from a strict Polish Catholic family. Her dad didn’t like it that we were alone in her basement and he came downstairs and beat her in front of me. I didn’t know what to do. I mean, he’s her old man, but he’s beating my girlfriend. I know Sé feels the same way.”

Neither Sé nor his buddy did anything to protect their girls because it was their girls’ fathers who beat them. Instead, both boys bore silent witness to their girlfriends’ abuse. They both watched their loves being beaten and then they walked away. That’s how Sé and I end. He says that he’ll call once my dad calms down but he never does. I am alone again.

As with Drew, with Sé I am never able to be free or open. I cannot love nor can I allow others to love me because of all the hitting, shouting, absence of affection, and lack of compassion in my childhood home. I am a prisoner of my upbringing. I can’t break free from the chains that bind my heart. I can’t let go of my pain long enough to embrace my future wholly.

 

 

 

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