Book Two: I

Sweet 16

Now it’s my birthday, and I have been grounded for about four months already. All is drear. Burning cold and black outside with no snowflakes, and boredom inside. I am watching television in darkness. Mom went off to see Bonnie at college five hours away . . . She said I’m not allowed to have any friends over while she’s gone. This was the only weekend she could get there, and Bonnie really needs her right now. We can celebrate my birthday next weekend, she said. 

I don’t know if I’ll feel like celebrating it then — but when Mom decides something, it happens. So here I am, sweet sixteen and no party, no friends, no nothing. Of course, Mom made sure to mention the moral lesson of this, before she headed off to the boondocks of Manitoba. The consequences lecture again. 

“I’m not punishing you, but . . . This is the direct result of your lying and drinking last fall. You know that I can’t trust you to have friends over anymore. Sharla will be checking up.” Luckily she had to get on the road, or that harangue would have gone on forever. 

Sharla did check up on me, earlier this evening, and was in her kind mood. She seemed to feel sorry for me. “Maybe you can just have one friend over,” she suggested as a peace offering, wrinkling her nose and looking around at the empty living room and its big shiny TV. Mom even took the dog with her, so it’s just me. I shook my head — “Mom said no friends.” 

Sharla said, “Do you want me to stay and watch movies with you?” But her head moved sideways as she said this and I could tell she had other things to do that night. Plus, it would be weird to hang out with her on my sixteenth birthday. My mother’s best friend. 

I wanted my own best friend. 

I’ve been aching for Myname, in fact. Almost trembling, — knowing I can never expect what I want to come true, unless I blatantly disobey my mother’s command — I phone her. 

Her mother answers and there are crying babies and kids in the background. 

Then: “ELLA”

She comes to the phone, “Happy Birthday, Myname!” All sweet. Asks me what I’m doing. 

“Nothing.”

“Gah, it sucks that you can’t have anyone over! I want to party with you on your sweet sixteen,” she says. She seems distracted.

“Yeah, it sucks. What are you up to?”

“Oh, Kelly came over. We’re just lying around. Putting makeup on and stuff.”

The fire of jealousy tinders in my belly. Somehow it stokes my rebelliousness. Somehow, I must have her away from Kelly even if it costs me everything.

“Well, I guess you could come over,” I suggest. Feeling dark inside, troubled, knowing how much trouble I’ll get in. Feeling like I should just take it back. But needing her to be with me, all the same.

“Are you sure? . . . I’ll check with Kelly. Kellllllyyyyyyy!”

My guts freeze. I do not want to spend my sixteenth birthday with Myname’s old bestie. “Uhhh, sorry. I can only have one person over,” I stutter. “And that is you.”

Her voice falls flat. “Well, I’m already hanging out with Kelly, now.”

“Maybe later, then, if you want.” I put it out there, knowing that my true wish is that she sneaks in and spoons me all night, leaving before dawn. This way, it won’t be my fault and I won’t even be sure it happened . . . So technically it won’t be disobeying my mother.

“Okay, we’ll see,” she responds non-commitally, her mind already bouncing back to her visit with Kelly. “Happy birthday, again!”

I ache hard around that knot of tension with Mom, who is far away but feels so close. I feel her gaze on me, looking across expanses of snow and ice, traveling along the hard-edged highway cutting a swath through the boreal forest like a majestic all-seeing owl, closing in on her little home, on me nesting down there. I am trying to hold her out. 

I ache to be close to Myname, right now, an ache in my heart and body. And somehow this ache is related to the one about Mom and the same, but different. 

Much later on, Myname does come knocking at my window around midnight, with a big smile on her face and a bottle of beer in hand. I let her in, I’m sleeping in my mother’s bed because it’s on the main floor. We sit up on the bed and drink beer with the moon shining on the snow outside. Myname lays me down on the bed and holds me, one arm under my neck, the other around my waist. She’s lying on her side looking at me. 

“Happy birthday to youuuu,” she begins to sing very softly in her off-key voice. “Happy birthday, dear Myname . . .” And kisses me on the mouth. No tongue. This time I really feel it, the wanting more, a hard piercing in between my legs that shoots down to my feet and up into my chin. I kiss her back, longer. Then she removes her face from mine with a simple little laugh and squeezes me tighter, but with her face away. 

She stays for about an hour, holding me close.

In the morning I am so triumphant that I have once again defied the witch, who doesn’t have any way of knowing what feelings I just experienced in her very own bed.


Eventually she forgets about my being grounded, sometime in May. Luckily I test it out before the penultimate school dance of the year. Sidling up to her in the kitchen, playing it nice for the twenty-four hours before, biting on my tongue, forcing myself to breathe . . . It takes such courage to ask my own mother for anything. I am so afraid of her. 

“Can I go to the dance in two weeks?”

“I don’t see why not,” she says, perusing the PennySaver with her glasses sliding down her nose.

“Well, I’ve been grounded all year,” I say.

“I figured that was done with by now,” she mumbles. 

I’m wondering how long this has been the case, but decide not to pursue it. It does feel done. The grounding has done its job: solidified in me the absolute understanding that I must be extra-careful whenever drinking with friends. That I must always hide from my mother.

Chance has it, she’s working a night-shift on the night of the dance. She’s forced to decide between letting me stay home alone afterward, or letting me sleep over at Pammy’s. Or, letting Myname stay over here. 

I don’t even know myself what I want most. I’ve been flirting with this tall handsome guy in my drama class, named Jimmy . . . He is mixed Scottish and Ojibwe blood, with black eyes and black spiky hair. It’s his charming smile and red lips that I really like, and his tallness. He looks like a real man, if there ever was one at my high school. He’s the one I want to see at the dance, whatever the case. I told both Myname and Pammy about him, and they both approved. He’s no one anyone else would choose, and yet a good choice because he’s very handsome and I’m the first to notice it. 

“He’s a nice-looking guy,” Pammy said, checking him out as he played basketball in the gym, and my chest swelled with pride to have her approval. “Isn’t he with Andrea, though? They’ve been together for like, two years.”

“No, they broke up three months ago,” said Myname, beaming on my behalf. “He’s all yours now, Myname!”

Jimmy has two First Nations buddies he hangs out with in one corner of drama class. They all live on the reserve together, so they stay tight at school. I’ve finagled it so that I get to do group projects with them, just so I can be close to him. They aren’t very fun for Girl #2 to work with. They don’t care about the assignments and they’re not good actors – they’re the kind of kids who take themselves too seriously to really let down and have some fun. I’ve always been the kind of person who gives it my all. Girl #2 likes school, and prides herself doing well at it. That’s one of the only ways she’s showing up these days.

But I’m willing to temporarily sacrifice this dearly-held value for an increase in opportunities to lean against Jimmy’s manly chest, or feel his hand jostle me “accidentally”. I can tell by the way he smiles at me that he’s into me.

The dance is our first opportunity to spend any time together. I am wearing a black and white off-the-shoulder top and lots of make-up. I feel very high and excited. Something’s got to happen tonight. All my friends are here, it’s springtime, I am sleeping over at Pammy’s, so we sat at her basement bar for a rye and coke beforehand . . . Well, a couple of them actually.

First I’m dancing to all the fast songs, waving my body around like a ribbon in the wind, congregating with my friends. Then I find myself looking out for Jimmy, glancing around the corners of the room. Finally I exit the gymnasium where the dance is taking place, and go into the foyer where people are socializing. You have to get a stamp if you’re going in and out of the dance, and they’ll check your bag for no alcohol. I’m looking around the foyer when I see Jimmy and his buddies outside the door. They’re lingering out on the campus. It seems like they have no intention of coming in, either.

My heart squeezes. But I must see him, feel him next to me, kiss him. Tonight is the night.

I make a desperate search through the girls’ washroom, the foyer again and the gym, finally locating Myname who is snuggled up on the bleachers with her latest heartthrob, Mike. For a second I want to pull her away to help me go outside and fetch Jimmy; then for another second, I am taken by how sexy she looks all folded into him like that, and I experience a pang of jealousy again.

I decide not to bother her. Next I find Pammy, she’s just sitting with a group of boys around her, regaling them with jokes. One of them has her foot in his lap. The mean streak in me thinks, No wonder rumours got around about Pammy. Voted most likely to have sex with the whole hockey team at once.

Then I feel so guilty because of Pammy’s loyalty to me; why would I be that mean in my head toward her? Pammy’s not even that slutty, she’s just a super easygoing person. Anyway, she doesn’t mind coming with me and getting the stamp on our hands and going outside. By this time, Jimmy and his friends have left and they’re already at the edge of the school ground.

“Jimmy!” I squeal, and run after him.

“I’m going back in,” says Pammy immediately, as the brisk spring wind claws at her hair and face.

“No, just wait!” I beg her. So she hugs herself and stands there.

Jimmy and I meet in the middle, where Pammy is waiting in exasperation for me to have my moment, and his posse are lingering near the gutter trying to appear like they’re not gawking at us. Jimmy puts his arms around my waist and gives me what I want: that feeling. He is a full head taller than me and looks down at me with that smile, his eyes crinkled at the corners, and says: “I really do like you, Ellen, are you gonna call yourself my girlfriend from now on?”

Of course I mumble yes and he kisses me, but it’s quick and very tidy, not at all what I need or expect on this raging Friday night after being grounded for six months. I grab him and kiss him again, then whisper fiercely, “I’ll be staying at Pammy’s all night, come see me.” Somehow I think that because he’s half-First Nations he is allowed to roam the streets at night, more so than I would be.

Then he gives me a nip of whatever they’ve been drinking as they were hanging out all evening. “I was waiting for you to come out,” he says.

I pout. “I was waiting for you to come in.”

“I don’t like dances.”

“Well, I wanted a slow dance with you,” I say, now feeling warm, blushy and confident. He starts an awkward slow dance with me, no music, while Pammy is huffing with impatience in the background.

“Let’s gooooooooo, Mawmouth,” she hollers. 

Jimmy chuckles. “Mawmouth? What the heck does that mean?”

“Nothing,” I say.

“It means she never knows when to shut up,” shouts Pammy.

You shut up,” I tell her, and start backing away from Jimmy.

“See you later,” I say to him, winking, meaning TONIGHT.

“See you, Mawmouth,” he says. 

And he does not come over to Pammy’s that night. Later, he tells me got really drunk with his friends and passed out.


We are an item, me and Jimmy. Three weeks and counting. First I was afraid I’d get the creepy feeling, but it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it’s because he’s such a man, compared to all the boys I’ve been with. He is a sexy kisser, and has this way of moving his hips against mine. We don’t hang out all the time, which I think is best since I’m still managing my double life of church and work and youth group and perfect grades, as well as being a bad girl.

The most fun part is that I can tell Mom I have a boyfriend. There’s no way she can stop me now, and she knows it. Mostly I see him at school, and after school when she’s still at work, and then on weekends when I’m hanging around with friends. I’ve been to his house twice. It’s a double wide trailer. One of those times it was my mother who dropped me off, even!

That night, I went farther than I ever have before. When Mom picked me up later, she waved her hand in front of her nose and said, “Whose crazy cologne are you wearing?” This is the farthest I’ll ever go with anyone besides my husband. I mean, according to my own will. 

I’ve never really been a virgin, you know that. Mom told me that before I can even remember, I had an uncle who poked his fingers and god-knows-what-else inside me. Only you do know, since he died shortly after. Sorry to say it, but I’m glad he died! He got hit by a logging truck or something. Imagine if he’d stuck around, what he would have done to me. Maybe he did that stuff to Charlie too, and that is why Charlie did things to me. They say these things go in cycles. 

Anyway, I was right about Jimmy’s family, they are very permissive and yes, he does roam around at night, and he smokes pot, and he drinks pretty openly with his parents, and they don’t care how many hours we’re alone in his bedroom while I’m there.

We’re making out on Jimmy’s bed for all those hours.

He is such a man. His voice is deep. I like and am afraid of his strong chest and belly and the hair there when he takes his shirt off. Then he tries to take mine off, too. I say No, and pull it down. He slides it up again, just over my tummy, and kisses my belly button. I can’t believe how much it makes me tingle and writhe.

By the end of the night he is sucking on my nipples, it’s a little numb and a little sore and overall pleasant, and he keeps pushing my legs open with his hips. I feel his hardness; I haven’t really felt a guy’s dick before, with my hand or pressed up against me. Now this is an interesting feeling. I know definitely I don’t want it inside me. Though I’m curious about what that must feel like.

I realize suddenly that Jimmy and Andrea were fucking. I just know it by the way he moves with my body, what he obviously wants. I can’t tell he’s been fucking for a long time and his body knows what it wants.

It’s like when Mom informed me about sexual intercourse, and I knew immediately what Charlie was getting at with all his molesting. I knew right then and I still know now that Charlie wanted to fuck me. That’s what Jimmy wants to do to me, too. In a theoretical sense, I have a certain amount of curiosity about the feeling, the motion, the energy, but the desire to do it is foreign to me. My fantasies have more to do with tongues and fingers.

I think to myself as he rubs against me: I will not be able to keep this man for long.

We make out until my lips are red and raw, and he is obviously sexually frustrated with just kissing, but not impolite in the least. I haven’t even touched his dick once.

After awhile of lying there side-by-side, I say casually: “What if I told you I don’t want to have sex till I’m married?” 

“Till you’re married?”

“Would you still like me?”

“Well yeah, I’d still like you,” he says, “but I don’t know I could go that long.” His black eyes looking nervous.

“Well, maybe not that long,” I respond, feeling anxious. I like him so much.

“Maybe . . .” He starts kissing and nuzzling me again.


It’s only a few days later, and Jimmy stops coming to school. He stops phoning me. I’m so sweet on him, and we’ve had several make-out sessions, and I don’t have the sick feeling yet. Until he doesn’t phone me for three days in a row.

Then my stomach begins heaving with fatal knowledge. Rumours go around that he is dropping out. Rumours go around that he’s back with Andrea. A full week after last hearing from him, I’m walking through the stairwell when I see them – Jimmy and Andrea together. He looks at me, nods and says hi with a smile. She glares at me and takes his hand. I think of them fucking each other. I think they make a pretty sexy couple, actually.

He is dropping out of high school, though. He is seventeen and failing everything, and he’s going to go work for his uncle in construction. I heard Andrea thinks she’s pregnant.

Suddenly I realize that you’ve saved me once again from certain disaster. Thank you!

That night, I phone him one more time. This time, he doesn’t avoid my call.

“It just wasn’t working out for me,” he chokes. “I really do like you, you are really sweet, I’m an asshole. Nothing is working out for me.”

I understand, and even a part of me is relieved.

We hang up without too much emotion. But I so liked his strong chest and shoulders, his man smell, and those belly kisses that were forbidden. A great grief seizes me; I sob and cry loud as can be on my bed. My first simple heartbreak.

Mom comes in, sits down, wanting to share it with me. She’s hugging me as I’m sobbing. She is genuinely sympathetic, for once, and it’s a strange feeling that I can honestly cry instead of lying to her.

“I can only imagine how you feel,” she says.

I think, You don’t know the half of it. You don’t know anything at all.

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