Grade five. A slumber party. Marcy’s house, in the basement wreck room.
Truth or dare.
We’d played lots of truth or dare and spin-the-bottle before this night, at Matthew’s house on Wednesday afternoons after his dad taught us about science. My first French kiss was in a closet there and it was like sliding a slug over my tongue which was both exciting and totally unimpressive.
But this time, it was just the girls. It was the first time I was aware of ‘group energy’, of the feeling of a collective altered state. In my memory we were all high but of course we weren’t, we were ten. We were giddy and drunk on pre-teen spirit and the cult of LA Gear. We played truth or dare as though we were a sacred society akin to the babysitter’s club. The space felt so alive, connected, playful and joyous.
When I accepted the dare to run around the wreck room (our Red Tent of wee-women delight,) buck-ass naked to cheers and encouragement, I had no way of knowing what that heightened state of liberated bliss and the fullness of collective acceptance would turn into.
It never occurred to me that ridicule would ensure, that confidentiality wasn’t a given. It never occurred to me to ask for it because no one had warned me that a pubescent body was a hideous thing. Of course it’s absurd to think that this could or should have been private or sacred, my wild nakedness. And yet what felt so painful about what was to come was that there was something I’d felt in that room that night, with these other little beings, that I can only describe as soulfully intimate. It imprinted my heart in a way that felt like a memory of lifetimes, a ritual of embrace that was pure and divine.
I was one of the only girls with budding breasts, widening hips, pubic hair. Pubic hair. This was the early nineties, folks, pubes were still in fashion. And they seemed like a totally normal thing to have growing. Certainly some of the other girls present must have been sporting a sprouting minge? But they were dared to do other silliness that didn’t make the elementary school news.
Bush. It was my new nickname. Not just amongst those girls who, at the time were curious and open and warm, and not just spreading to my classmates either. No, even the seventh grade boys would holler it after me in the hallway. The teachers knew. I’d be referred to as Bush as though it was my given name, as though I’d consented to this, as though I was in on it and cool with it and not descending into a deep pit of self-loathing, hating school, hating my hideous body, feeling rejected and isolated, humiliated and ashamed.
But let’s face it, kids can be total assholes. We know this. When we’re kids and are sharpening our moral compass and building empathy, we do all sorts of things to each other that hopefully we learn not to do when we’re older. And it’s usually through our own hurt and feeling the hurt of others that we get a sense of right behaviour with one another. It’s not like name-calling itself that was the betrayal; it was the contrast against what it felt like we’d shared that night. It was the contrast against what I now knew was possible in collective shared space.
And while my naive heart concluded that my body was unacceptable and disgusting, that boys were insensitive, immature and wouldn’t respect my body and that girls are two-faced and not to be trusted, I’ve never stopped seeking the evidence that these conclusions are delusions. Evidence I’ve found over and over.
I just kept aching for that space, for that collective experience of coming home, divine communion through our human connection.
I’ve searched for it on mushroom trips with high school girlfriends, in yoga classes and on spiritual retreats. I cultivated it in the culture of my hair salon by inviting vulnerability and trust from an all woman staff in a safe container with a no-gossip policy. I’ve practiced it year after year in a women’s spiritual group, with colleagues in ‘we space’ dialogue, through the education I’ve chosen, the friends I keep and the ritual I engage with.
My first betrayal was a portal to truth, to my own longing, to how I know I want to be with people. I didn’t learn that I shouldn’t be wild and naked and real, but rather that I must clear out the barriers within myself that rejects this very nature within me. From here I may invite in those who are trustable, who are many. These seeds are within all of us. And as I continue to find and create and accept invitations to commune and connect in embrace with my fellow humans, the less I feel the separation, isolation and contraction that comes with the betrayal of denying what’s real, what’s really going on and what’s deeply longed for.