June of 1990 was a rough one, for me.
I dropped a baby. Like dropped, dropped. Onto cement. From my shoulders. Because in June of 1990 I thought one’s shoulders were an appropriate place to sit a baby. Even if one had absolutely no evidence of well-developed upper body strength. Even if one had irrefutable proof that one’s upper body strength was complete rubbish according to several years’ worth of school-issue Presidential Physical Fitness tests. Seriously. Truly god-awful moment. You don’t want to be born of the only black family on your street, and out in the world dropping white women’s babies from your shoulders onto the pavement.
June of 1990 was also the start of what would become my inadvertent flashing of all adult family and friends. My mother apparently needed everyone in Christ’s earthly kingdom to co-sign on the matter of my breast development. Maybe you just came to the house to have Sunday dinner. No matter. Sometime after the potato salad but before the cigarettes you were pretty much guaranteed a viewing of my budding girl-swells.
But no matter how horrifying or embarrassing June of 1990 was for me, at least I wasn’t Mary-Kate Bell. Mary-Kate Bell had the worst June of 1990 in the history of American pre-teens. I know this for certain. Because in June of 1990, I ruined Mary-Kate Bell’s whole life.
Let me start by saying that I firmly believe one must determine one’s course at a young age. Granted, experience and passage of time will serve to impact our various life trajectories, but by and large, you gotta know who you are from the start. For instance, I have always been a leader. Eight times out of ten I am blessed with the gift of self-assurance. Even when I’m wrong. Fuck it. ESPECIALLY when I’m wrong. And while I’m never quite certain of what I will do (a necessary by-product of my soul being “black as the pit from pole to pole”), I have a concrete grasp on what I won’t do.
Like pour Cutty Sark up my vagina.
In June of 1990, Mary-Kate Bell had no such grasp.
I had taken to reading my father’s old stockpile of Penthouse and Playboy magazines. And I was fascinated. Like, truly riveted by the finds. And while I was certainly intrigued by the pictures of naked women in risqué poses, wet mouths parted in an obvious display of ecstasy, I was equal parts riveted by the stories and letters wedged between. There, before my very eyes, were these elaborate tales of seduction—in glossy print, utilizing profanity never so much as uttered in my home. It was a whole, new secret world.
But the more I read, the less I seemed to know. I knew what “sex” was. I had pieced that together. I knew that when sex was particularly good, people had “orgasms.” The pursuit of “orgasm” was a particularly constant theme in all of the reads. I just wasn’t entirely clear on exactly what one was. Or how it felt. And since a woman apparently needed a man to have one, I reasoned I’d never know. Or at least I wouldn’t for years and years to come.
And I despaired.
Until that fateful June of 1990.
I’d happened across it so casually. A brunette woman in cascades of yellow, diaphanous silk scarcely covering anything of relevance. Her long, chestnut hair had been brushed out, and the length of her spanned three pages in the center fold. She was laughing into the camera, lips ruby with color, a teasing gleam in her eyes. Her legs were spread, and she gripped a bottle of champagne in her right, pouring rivulets of the alcohol between them.
I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t fathom what she was doing. I reluctantly turned my attention to the inset. The model claimed to derive orgasms from champagne. She noted that it, “burned at first,” but then “felt amazing.” I was FLOORED.
For days I could think of nothing else. “Champagne gives you orgasms” was a recurring thought through camp, through dinner, and interrupted every book I attempted to read and every movie I tried to watch.
My mom had invited Mary-Kate Bell over. Not in a legitimate way that could really be seen as an invite. In one of those casual, by-the-by-stop-over-any-time kinda ways. We were in the same Girl Scout troop, and she lived in my neighborhood. But I hated her. Truly. Her dad insisted on singing my name in that stupid bo-berry-fo-fina name song, and Mary-Kate’s mom was generally not warm. Marrying insult to injury, the Bells could always be counted on to have the absolute shittiest snacks at their home, as if in open defiance to the juvenile taste bud, and Mary-Kate had once refused to let me borrow her brush. “The last black girl I let borrow my brush got hair grease in it,” she’d said, nastily.
So, right. I didn’t fuck with Mary-Kate.
But there she was, in my play room, sighing dejectedly at her lack of sufficient amusement. “I’m bored,” she’d said over and over.
I bit my lip, as I glanced at her from the corners of my eyes. She was haphazardly dressing a Barbie as I played Nintendo. My father had just prepared to mow the lawn, and my mother was at work, so I knew we’d have the house to ourselves for the duration.
“We coullllllld look at my dad’s dirty magazines,” I said, coyly, never taking my eyes away from the television, feigning disinterest.
I didn’t really expect Mary-Kate to go for it, as she was generally a goodie goodie of the highest order. I could barely contain my excitement when she tossed the doll aside with a whole-hearted, “Okay!”
I knew I would have to be subtle if I wanted my plan to work, but I was almost undone with anticipation. I took her to the guest room closet where my father kept his old things. I knew I’d have to let Mary-Kate thumb through a few of the magazines, herself, before I could show her the champagne centerfold. So I waited, patiently as she did just that, busying myself with issues I’d read three times over.
She was on her fourth magazine before I asked, “Mary-Kate. Do you know what an orgasm is?”
She scrunched her nose at me, briefly, before returning to her magazine. “Of course I do. Don’t be a baby.”
I wanted to punch her, right then, but I knew if I called her on her snobbery, I’d never get what I needed to know from her.
I gingerly pulled out my now-cherished volume from the bottom of the stack. “Look at this,” I said, turning the pages carefully. “This woman says you can have an orgasm if you pour champagne down there.”
“No, you can’t,” Mary-Kate said matter-of-factly. “You have to have a boy.”
I took a deep breath. “I thought so, too. But look. She says so, right here.” I showed Mary-Kate the inset. And then waited.
Her cyan eyes widened with bewilderment. “Do you think this is true?” she asked.
“How would I know?” I answered. I could tell she was considering it. I took my shot. “Dare you to try it.”
Mary-Kate looked at me, for a moment, not saying anything. My heart faltered, for a second, worried that she would not only decline, but tell on me as well.
“What will you give me if I do?” she asked, unexpectedly.
“Nothing. It’s a dare, dummy. You don’t get anything for a dare,” I said, talking to her as if she were slow.
“I get to borrow any three games I want. ANY three. For a week,” she said, her mouth curving into a snarl.
It was a small price to pay to unearth the great orgasm mystery. And Mary-Kate was a shit gamer. She would tire of them long before the week was out.
“Fine,” I relented. “Any three games.”
“YES!” Mary-Kate exploded. “Okay. Where should we do it?”
“Go into my bathroom,” I told her. “I’ll grab the champagne and a towel. Take your pants off and stand in the tub.”
Mary-Kate paused. “You can’t stand in there with me, lezzy.”
I, again, considered punching her in the mouth. “If I don’t stand in there, I won’t be able to know for sure that you did it, stupid. Besides, I don’t have to watch. You can draw the curtain.”
Mary-Kate still looked unsure.
“Any three games that you want,” I sang.
“Fine! Hurry up,” she responded, saucily.
I ran downstairs to the wet bar area of our den. I searched bottle after bottle, but there was no champagne anywhere. Not even in the mini fridge. I was crestfallen. I had come so close, only to be defeated by an inventory failing on the part of my parents.
Then, it hit me. I scanned bottle after bottle, holding each one to the light to examine the liquid inside. I settled on the Cutty Sark. Of the other choices-which consisted largely of gin and vodka-it seemed the closest in color to champagne.
I rushed back upstairs to the bathroom, stopping only to get a towel. When I entered, Mary-Kate had folded her shorts and undergarments and placed them neatly in a corner.
“What’s that?” she asked, reading the label, and looking at me warily.
“Whisky,” I answered, dismissively. “My parents don’t have any champagne, but this is the same color.”
Mary-Kate frowned, briefly, but could tell from the determined expression on my face that I was no longer in a place to brook refusal.
“Sit down,” I commanded.
Mary Kate sat down. I pulled the curtain the length of the bathtub and handed her the bottle behind it.
“Okay. Cross your leg over the tub. Like, spread out,” I instructed.
One summer-tanned leg appeared beyond the curtain, over the ledge of the tub.
“Okay, Mary-Kate. Whenever you’re ready,” I said, calmly.
“How will I know if I’m having an orgasm?” she asked.
I hadn’t really considered this.
“You’ll just know. You’ll probably scream out and shake, I think. But you’ll know,” I assured her.
The truth of the matter was, I kinda knew I’d made a critical miscalculation from the moment Mary-Kate opened the bottle.
The smell of the whisky hit me, even though I’d cleared a distance of a good two feet. It occurred to me that nothing that smelled that rank should be ingested through any means, LEAST of all down there.
But a dare was a dare.
And it was just Mary-Kate.
I heard the liquor spill out in a WHOOSH. I could tell from the sound of the splatter that she’d poured way too much.
“OH MY GOD!” she screamed.
“Are you having an orgasm?” I called out, staring at my guilty reflection in the bathroom mirror.
“IT BURNS!!!!!” she yelled.
“That’s fine. It’s supposed to at first. The magazine said,” I rejoined.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. IT BURRRRRRRRRRNS!!!” Mary-Kate started to cry.
I started to panic.
“Turn on the water! Turn on the water!” I shouted.
She did, but the cries continued. She sounded like a pair of cats fighting.
“Stop crying!” I shouted. “You’re gonna miss the orgasm!”
But Mary-Kate sobbed and sobbed. Even after she climbed out of the tub she cried. I didn’t really know what to do, and nothing seemed to calm her.
At some point she wanted to call her mom. I immediately put the kibosh on that. I turned my back to her as she slowly got dressed.
Sniffling, she walked, defeated, to the door, her austere pride humbled tremendously by our failed experiment. I felt a pang of guilt as she slumped a leg over her bike seat, grimacing in obvious discomfort.
“Wait,” I called out. “What about the video games?”
She only turned her bike around and rolled out of my driveway in reply.
Mary-Kate Bell never came over, again.
June of 1990 wasn’t a particularly exceptional moment in time for me, this was true.
But I sure as fuck wasn’t as bad off as Mary-Kate.