There's One Story Left to Tell

Tue, 02/05/2013 - 12:16
Submitted by Carlin Ross

Writing about my childhood has been healing. It forces me to dig deep and contextualize my past. Once I hit that "publish" button, I feel liberated like it's all behind me.  Last night I had a dream where I was yelling at my mother about how deeply she'd hurt me and realized that there's one story left to tell.

When you're home taught, you don't have many friends and you don't have many love interests. I think at some point my parents worried that I'd never date (or that I was gay). Once I'd been accepted into the Young Scholars program at Stony Brook University at 15, they knew the cat was out of the bag so they instituted a dating policy: I could go out with anyone I wanted as long as they signed their name, address, and phone number in a black book my mother purchased at the Christian book store. They literally kept it in a draw by the front door. Taking me out was like signing out a library book.

I didn't know anyone in my neighborhood. I didn't know anyone I would have been friends with if I'd gone to junior high. Basically, I didn't know anyone my own age. And the guys who started buzzing around were all 5-10 years older than me. For some reason, my parents had no problem with me dating older men.

I'd been raised under a rock: no television, no school, no pop culture, no anything. What did I know about dating and sex? I think I would have been fine if I'd lost my virginity to someone my own age - I could have navigated that relationship. But I lost my virginity to a man who was 25 (I was 16) and I had no idea what I was doing.

We met the summer before I went off to college. I had a cashier job at the concession and he sold ice cream on the beach. He was a nice guy. He took me to the movies and out to dinner. Once we started having sex, I was ravenous and he loved that. We shacked up at motels which felt very grown up and seedy (to this day I still love hooking up at cheap motels). He was fun until I started classes that fall.

He didn't like that I was pre-law and started competing with me. Like most insecure men he inflated his ego by cheating. There was one night when he showed up at my parents house - late - while I was studying. Everyone was in bed. He begged for sex...he didn't have a condom...I had my period...I gave in...it was the first time a man came in me.

The relationship ended a few months later. At this point, my parents thought I was still a virgin. The mandate was that I was to remain a virgin until I married. Premarital sex was a sin. If I gave in to my hormones, I risked eternal damnation.

My mom liked showing me off. She liked telling people that I was starting college early...that I'd been home schooled...that I was still a virgin. There's this weird thing that happens when you're an attractive teen girl. Your family starts to trade off your beauty. It becomes a part of their identity. It's like the sudden round-the-clock male attention says something about them. It could be biological, some sort of I-have-amazing-dna-for-breeding thing but it's still super creepy. I hated it.

It was time for my first gynecological visit. I was 16 and my mom liked taking me to doctors. Of course, she asked to sit in the room and announced that I was a virgin during the initial consultation. What was I going to do...tell her that I'd been deflowered? I remember the doctor remarking how if his sons were older he'd want them to date me. My mother smiled. I was smart, beautiful and chaste or so they thought.

The doctors office called with the results of my first pap smear. My mom hated that they would only speak with me. "Your pap smear shows pre-cancerous growths on your cervix. We need to schedule a colposcopy", I couldn't breathe. My mom was staring at my face...at my reaction. I handed her the phone and went up to my bedroom.

I had to wait two weeks for my appointment. It felt like my life was over. I couldn't help tearing up in class. What was the point? My parents were upset too.

Finally, it was time for my appointment. I remember hearing my name called and walking towards the exam rooms like it was in slow motion. Right before I was about to enter one of the rooms the doctor took me aside, "Carlin, you have genital warts on your cervix - before surgery you need to contact everyone you've ever had sex with to prevent it from spreading.  Make a list". His words hung in the air. It was the standard std speech and I was frozen in disbelief. I'd only had sex with one person and I used a condom every time...except once.

The colposcopy was painful. All I wanted to do was go home and curl up in my bed but my mom wanted to pick up some things from the store.  I spent an hour in the supermarket on my feet still reeling from my std revelation. I wanted to die.

The surgery was pretty routine. It was the first time I had anasthesia. At this point, everyone thought we were dealing with cancer. I couldn't take it anymore and I admitted to my mother that I had genital warts. I'll never forget the look on her face...like I was poison. I had a new boyfriend. We hadn't had sex yet so there was no risk there but he thought I had cancer too. I had to tell.  Suffice it to say that relationship ended. I really liked him.

Foolishly, I thought the worst was over and being honest meant something. Even though I'd had surgery to remove the growths on my cervix with 3 rounds of clear pap smears I was a leper in my own home. My mom went out and purchased color-coded underwear, towels, eating utensils, plates, and drinking glasses for me to use. My color of shame was purple. My clothes had to be washed separately. Anything that touched my body was bleached or boiled. If I took a bite of something or touched any food, it was thrown out. I wondered what would have happened if I was HIV positive.

There's nothing that can prepare you for this kind of physical rejection. How it felt is almost indescribable. It's like layers of your body have been stripped away and every inch of you is exposed...raw...bleeding. I went from being my parents prized jewel to a piece of garbage in one instant - one careless decision.

I was talking to my mom on the phone the other day and she kept asking about my law license - if it was up to date and I could still practice. "Yes, it's all up to date", I told her, "it's just that you worked so hard for your degree and you're not using it", was her lament. I guess law is better than sex.

It's no surprise to me that I've dedicated my career to educating women about their bodies and pleasure. There's so little of it for us. Before I hung up the phone with my mom, I grew the clit and just said it, "mom, I chose sex because of my childhood so...I should thank you." There was a long pause.  Then I heard a quick, "you're welcome".

Editor in Chief & Keeper of All Things Betty Dodson

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What a sad story...

Wed, 02/06/2013 - 14:49

Carlin: I feel so sorry for you having to endure the trauma wrought by parents who were otherwise, probably, well meaning. The lesson in all of the this is that we can overcome and we can make it better - as you have proven through your own achievements! By the way, you made a note in a prior column about your mother wanting you to have the "experience " of giving birth while you are still (biologically) able. I don't know your mom and don't want to condemn her, but I really don't understand this comment. As the parent of three, I can assure you that having children has nothing to do with the "experience." Taking the Staten Island Ferry is an experience. In theory, a woman gets pregnant because she and her partner decide to make the lifelong commitment to bring another human being into the world (i.e. to become parents.). And there is no greater responsibility, in my mind, than being a parent. The decision to do so is monumental and life changing. While I may have misunderstood what your mother meant by "experience," I see tinges of the same woman who color-coded your underwear when learning of your HPV infection. While it may be too late for your mom to ever really change who she is and how she sees the world, be grateful that you are all the wiser and will, surely, never repeat her mistakes. I write this with all due respect to your mom, as she's produced a very bright, accomplished and sexy as hell kid. Luv Ya!

Carlin's eloquence and honesty

Wed, 02/06/2013 - 19:44

Carlin's eloquence and honesty speak for themselves. Such a level of rejection from the people one is closest to, so little understanding and compassion . . . Your mother's fears of contamination were deeply pathological; I'm sure you know that. That was such a sick thing to do to you, in so many senses of the word. It probably doesn't make it hurt much less to know that, but it was true nevertheless.

I once knew a woman who was a 'born-again Christian'. She told me that if her 15-year-old daughter ever became pregnant, she would throw her out of the house and never speak to her again. I was incredulous---abandon your own daughter at the most difficult time of her life? And this coming from someone who was supposedly trying to live a Christ-like life, yet was unable to look in the mirror and see the cruelty of her own thoughts. Carlin's story is that of a survivor, a survivor of many things including her family's pathological shaming and rejection. Very few people could have come out of such an awful situation so well.

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