When I was about seven years old, a boy asked to see under my skirt.
It was a hot summer day, near the schoolyard. We’d been playing in the grass near the playground; it was long grass, the kind that sings in a good wind, the kind that you hide in. We’d been hiding, we two, and some other children, hiding and running and running and hiding, in and out of the grass, the blades scratching our sunburnt skin. We’d been crouched for what seemed a very long while, hiding, separated by a thin clutch of stalky grass, when I heard him whisper: show me under your skirt.
I didn’t answer him. I remember holding my breath and listening to the wind in the grass and pretending that he wasn’t there.
Show me under your skirt and I’ll show you under my pants.
I still didn’t answer. I plucked a stalk of grass out from the ground by its root and chewed its tip. My legs were sore from the sun, from squatting. I was getting tired of this game.
I have a thing in my pants. I’ll show you.
I stood up.
Show me, I said.
He did. He yanked his shorts down, very quickly, revealing tiny white briefs. He tugged at those, and his tiny appendage flopped out. Small, pink, and quivering ever so slightly, like the squirming, hairless baby mice my sister and I once found, out behind the shed, the baby mice that the cat got and that made my mom shriek and that we knew better than to mention at dinner. It quivered there for a moment, and then disappeared again behind white cotton.
I chewed my blade of grass and looked him straight in the eye.
And then I turned and walked, through the grass, back home, and told my sister: I saw a dink.
She said, what’s a dink?
I shrugged, and went off to find my Barbies.
Why didn’t I lift my skirt? I was as capable of brazen exhibitionism as any precocious seven year-old. I don’t recall feeling shame, or reticence. I can remember the feel of the sun on my skin and the scratch of the grass on my bare legs and the far-away sounds of children playing and parents calling, but I don’t remember what I felt about what I was seeing. And it seems to me that I didn’t feel anything, other than a mild curiosity and probably some measure of disappointment that what came out of his pants was really nothing as interesting as one would have hoped.
I really just didn’t care, I think. And because I didn’t care, because the game just didn’t seem all that interesting, I just left, the question of what was under my clothes, what was concealed within my underpants, abandoned as irrelevant.
I wish that I could say that this demonstrated some preternatural awareness of the sacredness of what was, what is, beneath my skirt, that I became aware in that moment of the power of the skirt as veil, as that which conceals what men desire, what they seek to understand, as that which conceals what Nietszche understood as a metaphor for truth, for what men understand to be truth, that which has made fools of so many men, so many philosophers (supposing truth were a woman, what then?), that which does not allow itself to be won.
I wish that I could say this – that I could identify my pre-pubescent self as possessing an understanding of the force of womanhood, even if only an intuitive understanding – but I can’t. In a different mood, on a different day – if the grass hadn’t been scratching my legs, if his weiner hadn’t been so mouse-like – I might well have hoisted my skirt and flashed my plump cleft and enjoyed the cool brush of the breeze on my parts. If truth is a child, she lets herself be well-known. I didn’t learn modesty until adolescence. I did not learn the power of what modesty conceals until much later. I did not start refusing to lift my skirt out of principle until I learnt these things.
But I wonder now, what was lost when I lost that pre-pubescent whimsy, that careless impulsivity, that thoughtless willingness to say no just because? To say yes just because? To reveal or conceal as the mood strikes, and not for the purposes of negotiation, manipulation, protection?
Did I become, in my maturity, too convinced of the sacrosanctity of what lies beneath my skirt? Did I become too convinced of its exalted status as an object of pursuit, of desire? Did I make the mistake of the philosophers, convincing myself that it must not be too easily won? Did I come to take it too seriously? Did I forget how to not care?
I watch as my daughter twirls in the sand, her skirt hoisted high above her waist, exulting in the dust and the breeze and the sun, and my heart pounds with exhilaration and fear. Fear, for what her openness could provoke. Fear that she’ll lose that openness. Fear that I’ll cause her to lose that openness, because I want her, in some dark corner of my heart, to lose that openness, because I am afraid of that openness.
Exhilaration, because I remember, and because that memory forestalls, if only for a moment, the fear.
Here’s to lifting our skirts. Or not.
Here’s to bare legs and carelessness.
Posted as part of the PBN Blog Blast for Sk*rt - go check out my cross-post on Sk*rt so that a) you can check it out, and b) you can vote for me to win stuff cuz you likes me. Check it HERE. And while you’re there, click the LOVE IT button. I don’t lift my skirt for just anybody, you know.
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