Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Thing of Beauty

By Lisabet Sarai

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

-- John Keats, Endymion

“Slide your hand across my stomach, baby!”

“Oh, fondle my breasts!”

“I'm hot all over when you touch me...”

The taunts pursued me down the halls of junior high school. There were quieter, more insidious whispers, too, suggestions that I join some boy or another in the back parking lot or under the bleachers. I tried to ignore my tormenters, but for weeks I suffered from a permanent blush. I was paying a heavy price for hormones and imagination.

It all began in study hall, when Bobby intercepted the letter I passed to my friend Nona. It was a draft of an epistle I planned to send to my “pen pal” Glen. I'd never met Glen. He was an older guy Nona knew from her summers at “the lake”, where she had carnal adventures that she hinted about but never really explained. She hooked me up with Glen long distance (this was long before email, of course) and somehow, with his encouragement, we started writing steamy fantasy letters back and forth.

How did I get into this? Honestly, I don't remember. I'm astonished now that I could have been so easily manipulated. But then there were all those hormones...and I wanted Nona to think that I was hip, sexually speaking. Writing to Glen, receiving his notes back, sharing them with Nona, it was all incredibly exciting. It was fun. At least it was until Bobby snatched the folded paper I held out under the desk for my friend to grab.

I realize now that Bobby was probably trying to get my attention, that he probably “liked” me. At the age of thirteen, I was shy, nerdy and really quite clueless about the opposite sex or sex in general, although I thought about boys all the time. Bobby was louder and a lot more confident than I, a smart kid but also a joker. He and I had something of an adversarial relationship in our classes, competing for grades, but I doubt that he really wanted to hurt me with his prank.

It did hurt, though. Overnight I went from being the school egghead to a girl with a “bad reputation”. It didn't matter when I protested that the letter was all imagination. Nobody wanted to believe me.

Normally I'm not the vengeful sort. Nevertheless, I was determined to pay Bobby back for the misery he had inflicted. For days I pondered an appropriate revenge. I wanted to embarrass him, show him that I was smarter than he was, and make him sorry for what he had done.

Finally I hit on what seemed like the ideal strategy. I enlisted the help of my friend Nick. He was one of the only guys who didn't tease me about my dirty little scenarios.

In those days, both boys and girls had to wear uniforms for gym class. Each of us had a locker in the changing rooms where we kept our things. Nick agreed to spy on Bobby to find out the combination for my tormentor's padlock.

Once Nick had obtained this information, I purchased a bottle of cheap perfume at the local Woolworth's. I inscribed the above lines from Keats on classy linen stationery using my most elegant calligraphy and signed the note. On gym day, just before that class, Nick sneaked into the locker room and dumped the whole bottle of scent onto Bobby's gym uniform. He left my message behind so that Bobby would understand who was responsible.

Alas, I didn't get to see the immediate consequences of my stratagem but Nick told me that Bobby's face turned bright red when he opened his locker. The gym teacher forced him to wear his reeking gym clothes for the entire period, much to the amusement of the other guys. A day or two later, Bobby actually came up and apologized for spreading the contents of my letter around. We became friends, though he still enjoyed teasing me. Meanwhile, Nick and I remained close, though our relationship was always platonic. I understand now what a risk he took for me.

I hadn't thought about this experience in a long time, but it popped into my head when I was thinking about this week's post. I had intended to write something quite different, but looking back on this episode from my teenage years I realized that it said a lot about me:

  • I've always had a dirty mind. I've been writing sexy stories almost forever—-certainly before I had any sexual experience. And you know, it's still exciting.
  • I've always used words to get my way.
  • Even when I was shy and insecure, I never allowed myself to be a victim.
  • Having a bad reputation, ultimately, might not be so bad after all.

I wonder whether Bobby, Nick and Nona recall these events. At the time, the experience was intense and somewhat painful. Now, burnished by memory, I find that it's a thing of beauty.


  1. Ah, sweet revenge. I admire the way you handled the situation, and the fact that you chose to focus on the positive aspects of that memory and how they shaped your craft.

  2. Hi Lisabet!

    I wish I'd known you in high school. We would have been natural friends, unless I was completely intimidated by you. Maybe if you;d lived in my low rent apartments we'd have met around the swimming pool in the summer as kids and I'd be writing my dolorous sentimental blogs about you today. Timing is everything.

    This was a fine post. I loved it. Some memories are beautiful and revealing. Some are painful and revealing.


  3. It's fun to be transported to a time in our lives when everything seemed so important, especially our relationship with boys. I was gawky at thirteen then blossomed into a va-va-voom 16 year old. My poor parents! But I survived it all. In retrospect, I'm kinda glad I was a late bloomer. Two of the 'hot' girls I knew got pregnant and were teenage moms, something I never could have handled.

    I was a good writer, even then, although I never thought I could make a career out of it. I still have my 7th grade essay that won a National contest in the top drawer of my desk where I write, I love looking at the curled letters and seeing my teachers 'A+' neatly printed in the tattered corner.

    The actress Scarlett Johansson once said 'Adults are always underestimating kids. The person you are at 12 or 13 is the person you always are.'
    When I read that, I thought, eeew, not so for me.
    But now you've helped me remember that my mind was fully formed then, it was my body that needed a bit of catching up. Thanks for the post, Lisabet...
    Mary Kennedy Eastham, Author, The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget and the upcoming novel Night Surfing

  4. Hello, Aurora,

    As I said, I'm not really the vengeful type. This was as much one-ups-manship (or one-ups-womanship??) as revenge.

    It worked out so perfectly, I'm planning to turn it into a story (all characters over 18 of course!)


  5. Hi, Garce,

    Yes, I think we would have been as good friends as we are now... Actually I had very few boyfriends back then and thought that it was because I was fat or shy or something. But some guys, I'm sure, WERE intimidated.


  6. A Va-va-voom sixteen year old. Wish I had known you...

    I was nearly as shy at sixteen as I was at thirteen. Didn't blossom until I was in grad school, really.

    Thanks for joining in the fun.


  7. Lisabet,

    Elegant revenge. I often hear people saying that kids are cruel but I don't think this is true: I just think they can be incredibly thoughtless, and that's a statement that can be applied to too many adults as well.

    Wonderful post,


  8. Good post, Lisabet - I admire you for even recalling jhs moments. I made a concerted effort to forget my most painful ones as soon as I could.

  9. Hello, Ash,

    I agree, I don't think that kids think things out before they go ahead and do something that might be painful to someone else.

    But then, lots of adults do not, either.


  10. Hello,Tina,

    Thanks for joining us at the Grip!

    I probably have forgotten the more painful moments, or covered them up. Also, I've often noticed how even horrible stuff looks quite different in retrospect. There was the time that my husband and I were nearly killed by a landslide on a vacation to Peru. Back then it was terrifying but now it makes a fabulous story...


  11. Great post Lisabet!

    A few years back I was going through a box of school stuff, and found a "sex quiz" I'd made up and exchanged with a male friend (with benefits). Amazing to see our takes on it all back then, and I guess that was my first foray into erotic fiction. :)

  12. It sounds like you went to the same school I did ;)

    It also sounds like you were quite beautiful even way back then. Thank you for the little peek into your teens!


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