Sex, Love, Brooklyn: Coming of Age In Canada

07/01/2013 10:00 AM |


I was 18—a late bloomer to some and right on time to others. I was losing my virginity. Yes, losing. It was a process. And there was one rule to this process; she could never catch us. She hated me.


I tried to make conversation with her, inquiring day after day how she was doing. I was always given the same unmoved response: “Fine.” She cornered me once, bobby pin in hand, a single, long, black hair still dangling from its grip. “Who do you think you are?” she asked. “Leaving your articles all over my house? Do you think you live here? Go home.”

I woke up several mornings later and saw that same bobby pin resting on his bedside table. The thud of footsteps coming down the stairs jarred me awake. My first thought was, “Where am I?” Then I started praying, “Please, please do not open the door and find me sleeping next to your spread-eagle naked son.” I looked down at him passed out helplessly next to me and thought “How could your body be such a turn on the night before and now be so disgusting?”

She pushed the door open, probably hoping to catch a glimpse of her sleeping baby, but instead she saw me—no clothes, with bedhead and smeared eye liner. After an eternal second she finally slammed the door shut. It was this sound that finally woke him up from his drunken slumber. We both sat there, mortified and now hating each other.

I remember putting on my blouse and pants, and how he passed me my sheer, black bra. I realized I had forgotten to put it on in our rush to get dressed and out of the house. I had been about to leave it on the floor amid his dirty laundry. Any other time this would have given me great satisfaction, imagining him picking it up and keeping it somewhere special and secret. In that moment though, when he passed me my bra, all I could think of was how much he needed to clip his nails.

I got out of there as quickly as I could, not even waiting for a taxi to show up. I walked the two miles back to my parents house, constantly looking over my shoulder to see if his parents would drive by in their kelly green Camaro on their way to church. I thought everyone on the street could tell what had happened to me. My face was a mess: smeared makeup, acne, and puffy eyelids from crying on the way home. It was my first walk of shame. I passed a closed bar and saw the message, “Slutty Whore America Go Home” graffitied on its outside wall. I slid my hand into my back pocket and held fast to my black bra, making sure it hadn’t fallen out along the way.

My parents had been in the Foreign Service and for their final tour they were given Canada as a kind of “thank you” for all their hardship posts. They were what’s known in the biz as “disaster junkies.” They loved living in war zones and developing countries and had spent the last 4 years in Bosnia. I hadn’t been with them. Children weren’t allowed to go, so I went to boarding schools and summer camps. I had turned 18 in April and was about to spend the summer with my parents, the most time I had spent with them since I started high school.
They got me a summer job at the American Embassy in the Public Affairs section. “It’s the section that throws all the great parties,” my mom said when I asked what kind of job it was. I had visions of wearing cocktail dresses, serving martinis to all of Parliament. I would make elegant small talk and whip off witticisms with the ease of the sophisticated woman I knew myself to be. Instead, I broke the industrial size shredder (which was as large as a tractor) by accidentally feeding it paper clips. Then they put me on the Embassy hotline where I fed information to hysterical parents whose runaway kids had crossed over the border to the States. I was as unqualified for that job as you could get.

This was 2002, the first anniversary of 9/11, and the first time the G8 Summit would be held in Canada. We would be at war in less than a year.

The G8 summit meant anticipating riots, so it was decided to move the venue from Ottawa to an almost inaccessible camp in the tundra of Canada. The protests, however, went ahead as planned in the capitol. We were asked not to go to work that day. I was fine with that. The last thing I wanted was to be seen walking into the American Embassy.

I was expecting something great from the protests, and for awhile it was a giant party.

“Man, this must have been what Woodstock was like,” I said to my Dad. He told me he didn’t know, he hadn’t gone. But then, the punks, hipsters, no-beats, and activists tried to set fire to the American flag outside the Embassy. It was raining and no one’s lighter would catch. It was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. The party was over.

That summer I felt like I was being asked to chose between two identities: my adventurous, diplomatic childhood with ties to the evil state department, or joining my peers as they fruitlessly marched and got high on crack, the en vogue drug in Ottawa then. Neither sounded appealing, so I focused all my energy on my first real boyfriend, the one who I would lose my virginity to, the one whose mother hated the sight of me.

I spent the entire summer ignoring my family, and hustling between the bar and his single bed in the tiny room in the apartment where he lived with his parents. In spite of the tension between the conservatives and liberals in the government and on the streets, politics was just background noise.

I was in love.

All that mattered to me was this boy who put his hands on my body and smelled like Marlboro Reds and Old Spice. His scent clung to the backs of my knees and hid in the crevices of my clavicles. We would go out to clubs and pretend to listen to the music but I thought only of the night that lay ahead—the duvet on the floor, my sweat mingling with his sweat, and of all his curious freckles—his skin so different than my own.

Our first two months in Ottawa my family lived in a hotel. My sister and I had our own suite, and my parents had theirs. I would spend hours standing on the balcony, looking out at the city. “A real city,” I thought. It was so different from Nairobi or Traverse City, Michigan, where I had gone to boarding school. This place had restaurants, museums and so, so many bars. It was close to the end of my parents’ careers. After Canada, we didn’t know where we would go, or if I would even go with them.

Looking back, it’s clear that I was naïve to think I could remain a liberal teenager and work for the US Embassy. I was also naïve to think I could have sex for the first time and feel nothing. When his Mom caught us naked and drunk, I felt ashamed. It was a new feeling, something ominous that lurked in the pit of my stomach. I thought I was some wild child who didn’t care about or trust anyone over 40. But at the end of the day all I really wanted was for his mom to like me.

He took me to my first bar and we both ordered bourbon on the rocks. I thought I knew what that summer was going to be about. I had no idea he wouldn’t be the defining element of my coming of age, that it would, in fact, be his mother who would play the lead part in my little drama, supported by Johnny Canuck and Uncle Sam.

It made sense when we decided to end it several days after she caught us. Now that his house was off limits we had no where to go and fuck. We had run out of fun and were left with nothing but each other. He handed me a box containing all the bobby pins that had fallen out of my hair and made their way into his belongings. He found them in ashtrays, in his pockets, and stuck to his shirt buttons. I still have the small ivory box with a gilded lining. I keep it in my memory trunk next to a button that says, “Die Yuppy Scum.”

Follow Lacy Warner on twitter @laceoface