Let me go back to 1993…
I would love to tell you it was a long, hot summer, but I suspect it was grey and drizzly. It was the summer I took my GCSE exams, and as they were over by mid June, it was the awakening summer of young adult novels.
It wasn’t that I led a sheltered life. I defy anyone to go to Catholic co-ed secondary school and come out without at least observing a very wide range of experience. At the same time, my then undiagnosed autism made me feel like I was in a bubble, not really part of world I walked through. I was very fortunate to be part of a group of friends. I think at the time I thought they were all friends with each other and I was the hanger on, but now I realise just how much they really looked out for me and included me without realising why I was always the one asleep in doorways at parties.
I was weeks shy of turning 16, and never been kissed, which was why my friends fixed me up with a guy at a local music festival. I’m not sure I’d ever met him before, and probably not since, but he was someone’s much older cousin and I’d had enough cider this seemed like a good idea, so off we went into the woods.
A very few minutes later, I was naked to the waist, exposed on my back in the leaf litter, feet from the public footpath. I remember the sky through the trees, how hot and wet his mouth seemed on chilled skin and the scent and feel of leaf mould beneath and around us. The rustle of other people finding their way into the woods for the same experience. Skin wet with rain. Feeling the strangeness of his hard dick pressing against me, rutting against my thigh.
I don’t think I realised at the time that so much later in my life I would still think of that experience. How much it would filter through everything I’ve grown to enjoy.
It didn’t matter who he was. That was something I learnt about myself that day. Books had been a great source of information and I now knew life was far more Jilly Cooper than Mills and Boon. I wanted the experience, the sensations, more than I wanted a grand romance. I wanted those hard fingers pushing beneath my clothes. Wanted him to use me to get off.
I wanted Lysander’s moment dancing to Blue Pearl in the garden. I was prepared to be that unashamed.
I wanted the risk of discovery.
For an otherwise “good girl”, this was a strange juxtaposition.
Being scientific, I repeated the experiment to try to work out why. As often as I could.
It’s easy to see this through this light of adulthood and think maybe this is how I choose to see it now, but in a box beneath my bed are my diaries and writing from the time in beautifully teenage handwriting. In words I didn’t know I tried to explain things I didn’t understand. I rolled the problem round in crap poetry trying to work out whether I was making powerful decisions or doing things to fit in with what I thought I should be doing.
As a teenager living at home, you don’t have a bed to take people to… but living caught between countryside and coast there were plenty of places to be alone enough. My favourites were open spaces. The beaches, just over the tidal lip from the car parks. The sheep runs in the bracken on the moor tops. The Victorian Park in the sodium orange night.
At Uni I had my own room, but that was my space. Being somewhere untraceable was a type of emotional safety and security of its own, even when it went wrong. And it did go wrong. It was still that strange mix of taking control and risking it all to fate. Of the freedom to roam as a wild animal in the urban jungle as both predator and prey.
The scratches and bruises from being pressed into rough walls were the first marks that made me feel proud.
I’ve been with my husband for a long time now, and we are settled and domestic and middle class. I’m am still the same good girl I was at 15. Which is why, after the kids are safely tucked in bed most evenings, when the temperature is bareable, we can be found naked in the garden.
It feels right to be an animal in its natural environment. We are cautious and polite to our neighbours, carefully cultivating a wall of trees for privacy and a well draped gazebo, but the house is full of commitments and obligations and the garden is quiet of those.
I am a sensory led being and outside there is so much stimulation. Temperature, air movement and scent fill my mind, pushing away domestic worry. A different quality of quiet than inside the home, full of creatures and people making their own way through time and space. People who need nothing from me.
I feel free.
We can just be us. Human animals. Skin on skin, if we want.
We can be exhibitionist whilst not, silently fucking feet away from a busy footpath, safely tucked behind a brick wall. Hidden from overlooking windows by the soft blanket of night.
We can be creative. Whilst heavy duty fixing points would look odd in the house, outside they are just overly cautious fixing points for hanging baskets and washing lines.