My parents and I had lived with my grandparents for a year and half when it happened. It was summertime and family was in and out of the house continuously. As a little kid I believed that there was no place better than my grandparents’ house. Plenty of space to run around in. Lots of cousins and neighbors to play with. Gardening and general dirt related work in the morning. Swimming every afternoon after Grandpa’s requisite post-lunch nap. Each evening I’d set the table for dinner, my family indulging my adamant demand for an extra place setting for my imaginary friend, a talking wolf named Elmer. Sounds like an ideal summer for a kid, right? As the baby of the family, I looked up to my older cousins with a sincere desire to be as mature as them. This specific weekend included a visit from my mom’s oldest brother, his wife, and two children. The eldest was a girl of fourteen and the second a boy of eight. I was approaching my fifth birthday. Both of them were homeschooled by their mom, a woman my mom and I now fondly refer to as the wicked witch of the west. By homeschooled I mean sort of, kind of educated and kept in isolation from peers while she ragged on the girl, Renee, and babied the boy, Johnny. As I’ve gotten older I’ve tried to rationalize their isolation as the reason for what happened. Surely if she’d been able to act upon her newly discovered sexuality with others her age, her brother and I would not have been the victim of her games.
Like any other child I was always looking for someone to play with. Renee was more than happy to entertain both Johnny and myself while the adults worked. One game became her favorite. It was called cheetahs. A simple game really. We acted like the cheetahs on National Geographic. Which included, under Renee’s direction, imitation of mating habits. Which provided her a segue into human sexuality and her decision that Johnny and I should kiss. And touch each other. And further the kiss into what she called a French kiss. Eventually Johnny was disgusted by the idea of touching a butt and ran off. That night as the three of us camped out in the living room, Renee decided she wanted to give it a go. She had me climb on top of her. She then kissed me and ran her hands under the back of my pajama pants, kneading my butt as she pushed the kiss into one of those French kisses. I remember innocently asking if she planned on touching the front. She said we should save that for Johnny. When they left to return home, she instructed me to practice tongue techniques on my arm. So I did. When they returned later that summer, we played cheetahs again.
Renee only ever got us to play cheetahs that one summer. Right before I started kindergarten, my mom overheard me making my Barbie and Ken dolls French kiss. She wanted to know why I knew what French kissing was so I hesitantly told her Renee. By the way she was acting I knew something must’ve been wrong. She told me to stop and that that type of kissing was only for grown ups. Of course, she promptly contacted Renee’s mother to figure out what was going on. I never knew what resulted from that conversation.
As I’ve grown up, I have struggled to first admit, then accept what happened for what it was. I spent many hours trying to find excuses for my older cousin. To a certain extent, I’m still not sure she knew what she was doing as a fourteen year old. For me, the results have been problematic. An interest in sex fairly early juxtaposed against a very prim and proper belief system caused a lot of tension as I developed my first crush, dated, dressed, ate, lived. In short, the experience resulted in a distorted sense of self and sexuality. The older I’ve gotten, the less it has affected me, but I’ll always know my limitations when it comes to sex and how allow myself to partake in it.