Girlfriend

Sé and I go to the wedding of one of my McDonald’s managers. It is the summer when I am sixteen going into Grade eleven and he is seventeen going into Grade twelve. The bride invites every crew member to her wedding. I am not singled out as special or anything. We are asked to the church and the reception but not to the dinner so a group of us go to a steakhouse to eat after the ceremony. Sé, who rarely finds himself employed, never lets me pay for anything. He pays our dinner bill that night with pocket change. He does the same when he takes me to the movies. He loves the film Apocalypse Now and each time it plays at the New Yorker Repertoire Cinema, Sé takes me and pays our two dollar fifty cent tickets with pocket change. He becomes discomfited if I reach for my purse, and I am self-conscious when he counts out his change from his pockets to pay for us though I admire that he never lets me pay. He always laughs as he does it too. It doesn’t seem to embarrass him.

We go for a walk after our dinner and before the reception, and I break the heel off of one of my stilettos as I try to scale a hill in Springbank Park. Sé dies laughing. It is less funny to me because they are Cissy’s shoes and I have taken them without her permission. Cissy has a lock on her bedroom door so I snuck the shows out when I knew that she wasn’t going to miss them. Cissy was going to be at the wedding too but I hoped that she wouldn’t make a scene publicly if she realized that I was wearing her shoes at the reception. I rarely borrow anything from Cissy. It is she who always wore my expensive outfits for dates, but I give them to her willingly. That lock on her bedroom door hurts my feelings especially considering that my dad installs it as though once again conspiring that I am the family problem. It is true, however, that I took the shoes without asking, which seems to prove them right. I feel entitled to the shoes because I loan my clothes and shoes to my sister freely. I know that it is wrong to sneak the shoes, but I do it anyway because I know if I ask to borrow the shoes Cissy will take great pleasure denying them to me.

After I snap the heel off of her shoe, I stick the pair in my purse and spend the entire reception in my stocking feet. Sé and I have a lot of fun dancing to the Stars on 45 Beatles Medley and The Manhattan Transfer The Boy from New York City. Sé rolls his fists to either side of his torso when he dances, acting the clown, and I die laughing. Cissy approaches me on the dance floor. “You’re making a fool of yourself!” she spits. My feelings are hurt but I just carry on. Cissy leaves early and at the end of the night I sit on Sé’s lap, hanging about his delectable neck as he smokes an Old Port cigarillo in the banquet hall. We leave the wedding and Sé drives to a secluded construction site and parks. We climb into his backseat and start to kiss one another passionately. I had never felt for anyone before what I am feeling for Sé. I am in love for the first time in my sixteen years. I unbutton his pale blue shirt and he slips the spaghetti straps of my ivory dress from my shoulders and unhooks my bra. It is the first time that I have ever been bare-breasted with a boy and it feels magical though my Catholic compass works overtime to tell me that I am doing wrong. Sé pulls me underneath him and I lie on my back, closing my eyes as I delight in our skin-to-skin contact. When I open my eyes to drink in more of Sé, I see through fogged up windows a light dancing outside the car window just over Sé’s shoulder. I can’t tell Sé about the light because his lips are pressed into mine, devouring me. Suddenly we hear a tap, tap, tap on the glass. Sé climbs out of the car and I draw up the straps of my dress.

“Everything okay, son?” a police officer asks him.

“Everything’s groovy, officer,” Sé says.

“Well, just keep grooving, son. Get a move on.”

“Yes, sir.” Sé climbs back in the car and sits next to me. “Fuck. All you had to say was, ‘I’m fifteen, officer!’ and my ass would be in jail right now.”

I laugh.

He takes me home and as I undress for bed I realize that I have forgotten my bra in the backseat of his car. This is before cell phones or email, and I cannot call his house phone at three in the morning to ask him to retrieve my bra. I barely sleep a wink thinking someone in his family will find it and think me a slut. After Mass the following morning, I lie on my bed and watch the minutes tick at a snail’s pace on my eight-ball clock radio, waiting for a reasonable time when I can call his home and warn him that my bra is in his backseat. When the hour approaches noon, I call Sé’s house and he picks up the phone.

“Sé!” I am breathless.

“Yeeeeeeeees?”

“Oh my God! Sé! Thank God you picked up! My bra! It’s in your car!”

“I know. My sister found it,” he says. His tone is playful. “She was getting in the back seat to go to Mass with my mom and she grabbed it before my mom saw it. After Mass she flung it in my face like a slingshot and told me to get it back to my girlfriend.” I was silent at the other end of the phone. My heart dropped and I felt sick to my stomach. “H-e-l-l-o?” he says. “Are you still there, girlfriend?”

I am overjoyed that he has called me his girlfriend, but I moan, “I can never meet your family.”

He laughs. “Whatever. You’ll meet them alright. Just wear a bra when you do.”

I eventually meet all of the siblings in Sé’s raucous, Irish-Catholic family. His brothers love me and his sisters hate me. I am Jackie-O to his Kennedy-esque sisters, never rough-and-tumble enough to fit in. Sé’s parents invite me to go with them to Toronto to their family reunion. I am nervous about his parents, who live in a big house in affluent west London, driving to working class south London where I lived, and seeing my small house and meeting my working-class parents. The friends I make at Catholic Central live in the more prestigious west and north London. There are a lot of rich kids at CCH because parents have to pay tuition for their children to go to a Catholic high school in Ontario at that time. Each time my mother meets one of my Catholic Central friends, she inevitably asks me if that friend lives in a big fancy hoose. I grow self-conscious of my humble abode and of living in the south end of the city. Some of the senior boys call Lina and I ‘the highway girls’ when they learn that she and I live in the south end where the highway exit to the 401 lies.

As I wait for Sé’s parents to collect me for the weekend, my father stands shirtless, washing dishes at the kitchen sink in our little bungalow. I keep waiting for him to go and put on a t-shirt with his jeans, but he doesn’t, which is unusual for my ordinarily modest father. I finally ask him to put on a shirt.

“Who is this guy? God?!!” he bellows.

He does put on a t-shirt and comes outside to meet Sé’s folks when they pull into our driveway. I notice that my dad is very self-conscious as he shakes hands with Sé’s parents, and I am sentient of my Scottish father’s strong Glaswegian accent as he speaks to them.

“Pleased tae meet ye!” my father says before he says little else. He still has sleep in the corner of his eye. He has just come off the night shift at the Ford plant.

I am relieved when we drive away in Sé’s dad’s car and head to Toronto. Sé holds my hand in the backseat and teases me in front of his parents until I flush colour. At the reunion we stay in Sé’s grandmother’s house. I shuck corn in the backyard with one of Sé’s sisters-in-laws. Cheryl is married to Sé’s favourite brother, Teddy. I notice that she and I look alike just as Teddy resembles Sé. Cheryl and I might be sisters. She is warm and friendly to me and makes me laugh. I notice that she is not popular inside the Keen family. She keeps to herself and I like her a lot. I like Sé’s brothers too. Teddy is very handsome and is in the military. He graduated from the Royal Military College in Kingston. Sé’s other brother, George, is fair-haired and has blue-green eyes. He too is very good-looking. He is an engineer, but he also plays football for the London Beefeaters and Sé often takes me to watch George play. George’s wife, Terry, is slender and beautiful though she has a slight overbite. and seems stuck up. They were high school sweethearts while they were at CCH in the ‘70s.

While at their grandmother’s Toronto home, I am to sleep in a room with Sé’s sister, Meggie. She and I share a double bed while Sé sleeps alone down the hall. I change into my baby-doll pajamas, which are white with light blue flowers embroidered on the bodice, in his grandmother’s washroom. I don’t want to disturb Meggie who is always already in bed by the time I manage to tear myself away from kissing Sé and turn in myself. When I emerge from the toilet, Sé is waiting for me in the hallway. My face freshly scrubbed, I feel self-conscious in front of him. I hold my clothes in my hands in front of my bosom, which is visible through my cotton pajamas, and Sé walks toward me and kisses me passionately. I feel myself get wet.

I desire to go with him back to his room instead of climbing in next to Meggie, but I don’t. Nice girls don’t climb into their boyfriends beds and they don’t have sex before marriage. I fear that Sé will think me a slut if I go with him to his room. “A boy doesnee buy the coo if he gets th’ milk fer free,” my mother always tells me. Her voice resounds through my head then but I am also afraid of sex. I have no idea what to expect from sex. My concept of sex is vague at best. I am afraid to be intimate with Sé in all the ways I desire to be for many reasons. I kiss him goodnight, pry myself from his embrace, and go to my assigned bed. I lie awake thinking of him in a bed just down the hall from me, as I listen to his sister snore softly next to me.

The next day we go to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), an annual fair in Toronto, with rides and concerts. Sé has arranged to meet some of his friends there. As a group of about twenty, we take the train out of the Exhibition grounds and go for drink in a downtown Toronto bar. Before we enter the pub, Sé grabs me and holds me outside.

“Just wait a minute,” he tells me.

I stand next to him while the others file in. Once they are seated, Sé takes my hand and walks me to the other side of the bar where he and I sit alone together. Sé guesses that he and I will get served and his friends will not, which is what happens. None of his seventeen-year-old friends, who are a year older than I, can pass for nineteen and they have to leave the bar. Sé and I pretend not to know them as they are escorted from the tavern and call out good-bye in our general direction to tip off the bar owner that we too are minors. I am glad when they leave. I preferred to be alone with Sé though I like his friends well enough. Sé and I spend the afternoon by ourselves drinking and kissing softly in the Nag’s Head Pub before we have to take the train back to meet his parents at the fairgrounds. I feel a little tipsy on the train ride back and have to lean into Sé, close my eyes and rest my head on his chest.

“Ange. You gotta sober up,” he says. He worries that his parents will know I have been drinking.

“I’m okay,” I smile, my eyes closed. I do sober up enough to fool his parents once we meet them at the fair.

I go to Mass with Sé and his family that Sunday. I continue to be shy and self-conscious in front of Sé’s parents because I don’t feel good enough to be with them. Sé is a west-end London boy who lives in a big house and whose father wears a collar and tie to work, as my mother says.

“Some folk think they are somethin’ because they wear a shirt and tie tae their werk!”

It bothers my mother that my father doesn’t wear a collar and tie to his work. She feels ashamed of him. Whenever we have to fill out my dad’s work description on a school form, my mother writes ‘mechanical engineer’ or ‘tool and dye engineer’. I know that my dad is not any of these things, and wonder why it matters.

Sé’s dad work in one of the few sky scrapers in downtown London, Ontario. Sé takes me to visit his father there at lunch on occasion when he needs to tap his old man for a few bucks for lunch. His father always lights up when he sees me and gives me a big smile. He seems less fond of Sé at times.

During Mass that Sunday in Toronto, after Sé’s family reunion, I continue to feel anxious, and though I go to church every weekend, I kneel in Mass at the wrong time.

Sé leans into me and whispers, “Go to Mass much, Ange?”

I giggle into my praying hands.

 


 

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