In grade seven, long before Degrassi and fights over boys, my parents invited Clare and her mother over for dinner. It was one of the first times someone my age had ever entered the house. As strict as my parents were when high school started, they were that much worse when Sav and I were younger. Social engagements at that time were strictly for homework and necessary school functions. The first time Clare walked through our front door, I remember feeling sorry for her. Here I was, complaining about wearing long sleeves in the summer time, while her mother wouldn't even let her change out of her Catholic school uniform for dinner at a friend's. While my mom and hers were talking, I reluctantly led her upstairs, neither of us really seeming to know what to do.
"Your parents make you wear that uniform everywhere?" I asked, when the door was safely closed.
Clare was much shyer then, and looked down nervously at her feet. "They don't make me," she said.
"But there's drama if you don't," I said, thinking I had the situation pegged.
She shrugged. "Not really. I just like not having to think about what I wear. At a public school like Darcy goes to, people get judged for how they dress. I just think it's stupid."
I didn't agree with her, but the thrill of having someone my age at my house was enough to obscure the issue. "Yeah," I said. "It is pretty stupid."
It wasn't long after the initial dinner that my mother started insisting I have Clare over more often. That she was such a nice girl. About four months into our friendship, my mother decided to amend the "no staying over" rule, making Clare the exception. Sav was instantly jealous and wanted his own friends over. Rules were bent, changes were made, and it was all thanks to Clare.
The awkward girl who wore her uniform everywhere wasn't just my best friend. She was my first real friend. As time passed, we started talking less about homework and more about ourselves. We talked about big weddings: cakes, dresses, shoes, champagne, kids, everything. A few sleepovers in, the tone changed a bit.
"Sometimes getting married sounds nice," Clare said one night, "but other times it sounds really scary. I mean, if you're saving yourself, what happens if you get there and," her cheeks started to flush.
"And what?" I asked.
She shook her head. "This is really perverted."
"Lay it on me," I said.
"Well what if you don't do it right?" Clare asked. "You spend your whole life wanting it to be some beautiful, magical thing, but what if it isn't? What if it's really awkward and uncomfortable? How do you know someone's right?"
At that age, the question had never really occurred to me. Sex was good because it was good. If you were right for each other, you'd figure it out. "I think you just know," I said, feeling confident in my answer.
It was only a few months later when Clare told me she had a secret she couldn't tell anyone. "Darcy...she was raped."
My eyes widened with shock. No one I had ever known (or known about) had been raped. If they had, they certainly never told me about it. "That's awful. Is she okay?"
"I...I don't know," Clare said. "She's really different now. She's acting out and threatening to hurt herself. I'm just so scared."
I couldn't blame her. "Obviously," I said.
"It's just so scary that something like sex can be so dangerous," Clare continued. "Like...one night can change a person so much."
"Yeah, but Clare, that's not sex," I said. "That's rape."
"That's not the point," was her final word on the matter.
Even with our differing levels of rebellion, Clare and I shared one thing in common. We were both afraid of sex. Of course, Clare would never admit that her feelings were rooted in fear, but it was always obvious that she saw it as something life-changing. Almost like an alchemical process where once you did it, you would never be the same person again.
It was part of why I bit my lip to keep from crying when Johnny drove me home from the ravine the day we had sex. Part of it was that I didn't want to have to tell Johnny that I wasn't ready for sex. That I had no idea what I was doing and was too self-conscious to tell him so. Really, though, I didn't want to have to tell Clare that it wasn't remarkable. It wasn't heartbreakingly beautiful or torturously awful. It wasn't really good or bad. It just was. It was for about ten minutes, and then it was over. There was no beautiful connection. No new clarity and vitality in my relationship. No added security or feelings of love. Just a few moments of kind-of pleasure that were overridden with nerves and awkwardness, and a painfully tense conversation afterwards.
"I thought we both wanted to be virgins," she told me one day, back when she was still in her happily chaste relationship with KC.
Nodding slowly I said, "so did I."
"I just don't get it," Clare said. "You just seem...the same."
"Well what did you expect?" I asked glumly. "I'm the same person."
She frowned like someone trying to solve a complicated math problem. "Didn't it change you somehow? I mean...you're not a virgin anymore."
"Yeah," I said. "I know that."
"That came out wrong. Just...well..." she said, struggling to ask the question she didn't want to ask and I didn't want to answer.
"It was boring," I said. "Awkward. Kind of weird. It didn't last all that long."
She made a half-laugh, half-smile and said, "but...well...you guys just weren't connected enough. When you're really ready, it'll be better. I'm sure."
Two years later and I'm still not sure. Two years later and I still haven't been sexual with another boy. Other boys have shown interest, but somehow I know the reality of sex will never live up to the fantasy. No matter which guy I'm with, I still picture Johnny all the time. Chasing after him with sexy photos and desperate reconsideration of personal morals. Letting him ignore, belittle, and disrespect me over what losers would think of us over and over again but still going back for more. Then I'd picture the fantasy weddings Clare and I used to picture together and try to imagine Johnny in a tux. In my imagination, he still had his long, curly hair and a cap. The image was almost hilarious. Then I'd imagine it being Drew or even Dave. Drew had a smile that could make any girl melt, and Dave at least cared about making a girl feel special. Both of them were better long-term than Johnny could have been, but neither of them really had it in them to be with me. I longed for the rush of being the bad girl. Now that my parents were easing up on me, I had to look for new ways to break out of the "good girl Alli" mode. My latest vices were gambling and kissing my best friend's boyfriend. I knew the latter was a low-blow, and to this day couldn't really understand why I did it. Being the "bad girl" was one thing. Helping someone break Clare's heart was entirely another.
I could still picture her outside his cabin, screaming at me, demanding an explanation. She wanted to know why I did it, and I realized my issues with Dave weren't really an excuse.
When I thought about it, I discovered that my real answer was far more sociopathic and cruel than I wanted to admit. She could still meet guys and feel excited about the future with them. KC and Eli both hurt her, yet she was still able to approach each new guy with a certain open-minded innocence. She wasn't still hung up about some stupid mistake she made two years ago. I wanted her to see that love wasn't all it was cracked up to be. That in the end, it was all a game.
I knew it was stupid. I knew I should probably talk to her. I also knew it was awful of Jenna to move in on Jake the second he broke up with Clare. I knew that eventually either Clare or I would have to apologize and life would have to move on. Even knowing that, I wasn't ready. As nasty as Jenna had been to Clare, she was safer for me. I could tell her "I lost my virginity to a bad boy who didn't care about me" and see her nod with understanding. I could tell her I sent naked photos around of a skank who ruined my relationship, and she'd give me a cheerful pep-talk about how I needed to remember my own worth and not sink to that level over a guy. Jenna gave me smiles and encouragement where Clare gave me harshness and judgment. Still, Clare was the only one who knew what it was like to feel your body pulling you away from everything you had ever believed or been taught. Clare knew what it was like to have a habit of falling for extremely unstable boys, thinking you could fix them. Clare knew what it was like to try to do the "normal" thing with a normal guy only to have it crash and burn. I needed her back. As stubborn and frustrating and self-righteous and impossible as she could be, I needed a hopeless romantic in my life. Someone who was just as repressed and angry and ready to scream as I could feel, yet believed in things I was terrified to give another chance.