Published on December 2nd, 2016 | by Jade Sanchez-Ventura0
THE PORCH: Jade Sanchez-Ventura on When Women Join Together
The summer I turned sixteen I experienced two momentous events. I had sex for the first time, and I left home to work at an all-girl’s sleep-away camp. At this camp, I found…The Porch.
About the sex. I was still fifteen. It was June and my idea. A hot, still Brooklyn afternoon and I was in love and it was wonderful. I didn’t have an orgasm (of course) but I discovered that there was an edge where pain and pleasure meet. Afterward we showered together and washed the swaths of blood from my inner thighs. We kissed. I rode the subway home feeling like the blood in my veins had been replaced with molten gold.
And then, just a few weeks later, I left home for the summer, to work as a CIT, a counselor-in-training, at an all girl’s sleepaway camp in Bear Mountain, New York. There were nine of us, and a staff of about twenty more women all under the age of 25. The whole apparatus was overseen by a set of actual grownups; also women, the director, assistant director, nurse, head counselor, and so on. These adults lived in the Den. The fridge was stuffed with 2-liter bottles of soda with our initials written in black marker on the caps. There was a pay phone in a closet lined with cubbies where we kept our wallets and cartons of cigarettes. Next to the phone closet was a dry erase board covered with phone messages. Whose boyfriend, mother, best friend had called. And attached to The Den was the Porch.
Ah, The Porch. I love it to this day. It was a screened in, narrow rectangle, lined with rickety lawn furniture, the air cloudy with smoke. We gathered there when we were off duty and at night it was standing room only. A stereo with a tape deck on a table. Ashtrays scattered. And on the porch we talked and we told. Lydia the Cowboy gave me careful instructions on how to be on top, and when I went home on a time-off and tried it, I ran to the porch as soon as I was back to find her and report how it had gone. (Not well. That one took a few tries.) On the porch, we coached Melanie on how to insert a tampon and where in fact her clitoris was, until we gave up with talk and went to the bathroom together and stood outside the stall talking her through it centimeter by centimeter. Later, after she had found privacy, she reported back on her search. (“I think I found it. I felt warm and kind of nice.”) On the porch, June told the story of the day her father threw her mother through a glass shower door. And Jennifer of having sex at age 12. And Crystal told about tripping at a Dave show. And Margot about winter camping, pitching tents on moonlit snow, and sipping whiskey. And Essie about not having ever kissed anyone. And we talked and we told, and we talked and we told, and over those eight weeks The Porch taught me the perils and pleasures of living in my body.
All the while, we were working. We carried canoes, and stacked benches, and coached swim class and climbed up and down rocky slopes. We planned skits and treasure hunts and bombardment tournaments. We walked with seven years olds to the bathroom at night, and coaxed ten year olds to jump into the lake, and sang loudly after dinner, and caught bugs for fourteen year olds and chased away skunks from the tents. We were muscled and usually dirty and we were raucous and we were proud. On the last night of every two-week encampment we walked down to the lake after the closing fire and placed candles stuck into paper plates on the surface of the water and stood on the hill and watched this simple act become magic, and most of the girls and most of all of us cried, and we said it was because we’d miss the ones going home but I know now it was something else too. This was our only place away from the voices and the gaze of Men. They could not dominate or intimidate us here; they couldn’t steal the attention, or be the loud ones, because they were not there. It was only us. And we were glorious.
If the Locker Room is where men—straight, white, muscled, and sexed—celebrate being men, then the locker room has, in fact, always been everywhere. And now it’s our national policy.
Last year I was my child’s primary parent. It could be impossibly hard, but now that I work outside the home twenty, thirty, hours a week and share his care with my mother and partner, I’m discovering how much I miss it. Yes, because I miss my hours with him, but also because that was, with few exceptions, a woman’s land. Daily we walked our children on nonsensical paths through the park, in all weather, and we nodded at each other and shushed our kids when we passed the silence of a snoozing bassinet and we helped when we could: snapped carriers shut, picked up dropped bottles, simply nodded and smiled in encouragement when the child was howling and the stroller full and home a long way away. And in this land, we made all the major decisions. This felt good. This felt safe.
Around 10 pm of election night my son stirred from sleep. I left the couch, where the disbelief in the faces of the news anchors were confirming my fears of recent weeks, and went into the bedroom and lay beside him. He rolled over to nurse and I curled around him and felt like I was fourteen years old.
And when I say, I felt fourteen years old, I mean that exactly. It was like two decades of living a life of my own choosing were dissolved, and suddenly I was the girl discovering that men were watching me; discovering that the streets were no longer safe for me, transformed into a gauntlet of calls and stares that I had no power to prevent; discovering that my worth lay in how much I turned them on.
There was no porch of muscled girls, no park of tireless women, that evening the Locker Room was all there was, and as my husband watched the numbers tallying in the other room, I lay there wondering, “How on earth am I going to protect this boy? How on earth am I going to protect myself?”
Ah, the Locker Room. It’s not like we didn’t know. I’m right that it has always been, but wrong that it’s been everywhere. There are and will keep being the words living rooms kitchens marches fists sarcasm wits bread hunger strikers celebrations resistance post its memes rap music with which we carve out our own well being.
In the last few weeks, I’ve answered my question many ways:
As best I can.
I don’t know.
I’m not alone.
Because I have to.
For this is my flesh my period my baby my pussy you want to grab my breasts that are too big or too small and dear lord, I have a son. A tiny son who blew raspberries into my armpit this morning and who pulls my breast out of my shirt everywhere because it feeds him because it comforts him and yes just because it delights. Who squeals with that delight when I am changing clothes, not because he wants to nurse but just because. My body is glorious. As am I.
This is the second piece in Jade Sanchez-Ventura’s “The Locker Room” triptych. Read the first, published on The Establishment. Follow Jade on twitter to find out when the final installment appears. And it’s part of her ongoing column, Sling City, where she writes about her experiences in the first year and beyond as a working writer with a new baby in New York City.