When I said that I was never naïve about sex, I mean it. I was ignorant, but never naïve.
Remember I was the child of Holocaust Survivors. Not a day of my childhood went by that I wasn’t reminded of the losses we had suffered at the hands of monsters who committed unfathomable atrocities against millions of human beings. I can’t remember learning about Concentration Camps because I can’t remember a time I didn’t know they had existed. I can’t remember learning about mothers having babies killed before their eyes, and people thrown into mass graves, because, again, that knowledge was fed to me with my pablum and into my marrow.
I knew. I always knew. I knew that anyone, any time, even the person who was the best parent or fiercest animal lover could – because of some unrevealed moral flaw – turn into a murderous beast. I can’t say that it bothered me much either, because I just accepted it the way you accept earthquakes or floods. It wasn’t personal. I couldn’t stop it. Predators were part of the treacherous landscape of life. Your only choice was to keep your guard up and be ready to run at a moment’s notice.
I would say, all in all, it was that kind of Holocaust-preparedness that suited me quite well for a life of sexual misadventures and arguably was why I survived.
A early as I remember, sex was part of my life. I didn’t actually know it was sex when I was little, I just knew that soft sensations between my legs felt amazingly great. I was very fond of straddling a hard chair and riding it like a pony for hours; I really enjoyed squatting under the dripping faucet in the bathroom too to feel the icy drops slithering down over my perineum. That there was a place on my body that gave me instant pleasure the minute I touched it, and that I could control my moods and personal happiness just by touching it, was the most wonderful discovery for me. My vagina was like a drug pump – a couple of taps and I felt better.
I don’t know when encounters with strangers began. I could, I supposed, date it from the spanking party affair at my elderly aunt’s house during a Passover Seder when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I was the oldest of the young children, but still several years younger than the adolescents, so I got locked away with a pack of rambunctious second cousins. It was awfully boring until one of them suggested that we have a spanking party, and that each of them would take a turn being spanked. This sounded like the stupidest idea I’d ever heard until they unanimously decided I was the one who should do all the spanking. That was better and I was curious, so I sat in a chair, while the three or four cousins lined up, dropped their pants or raised their skirts, and propped their tiny behinds on my lap. I remember that one child had a particularly clammy bottom and my palm sort of stuck to it a little, which disgusted me and brought the spanking party to an end.
I realize there are some who would qualify that as their first BDSM experience. Honestly, though, I scratch that off to “the crazy stuff kids do without adult supervision.”
But memories of the things older boys did with me go back to about age nine. For much of my childhood, my parents and their weird clutch of fellow Holocaust Survivor friends hosted a rotating party every month. Until I was about 13, and old enough to babysit myself, I was dragged to such events. As was their European custom, children were segregated, and encouraged to hang out in the host’s children’s bedrooms. At cramped Brooklyn parties, this sometimes meant that parents closed us into a room while they drank so much vodka they broke out into songs of their youth in Poland and Russia.
It was in one such bedroom that I recall being semi-annually assaulted by the pampered but excessively horny wrestle-maniac of a son of one set of friends, a boy just one year my senior and thankfully my own size. Every time his mom hosted a party, I knew my fate was to spend the next couple of hours wrestling him incessantly on his bed until I had either completely subdued him (I always won) or my mother walked in, carrying my coat. She never seemed to notice that my hair was a mess, my clothes awry, and my face red with exertion. It was actually interesting to wrestle a boy, and feel his body tensing under me; I always took unfair advantage and hurt him any way I could too. In the end, I was probably a little too rough for him.
In another such bedroom, the far far older son of another set of friends convinced me to let him rub my breasts and lie next to him while he kissed me. I liked him. He was handsome and gentle. But he was about 20 and I was about 11 so I knew there was something weird about it, even though I was not harmed in any way. From what I knew of his family, his politically zealous father, his schizophrenic mother, I mainly feel sorry for him, and whatever incredible loneliness led him to kiss me.
Most times the children of my parents’ friends were reasonably normal and sweet but their emotional boundaries were questionable. They mistook me for an adult, which is how I wanted to be mistaken, of course, but it led to uneasy situations. They confessed their sexual secrets, they showed me their porn collections, they touched me too affectionately, they confided things that I could barely understand. I remember only one older boy, by far the nicest of the lot, who treated me as one should treat a child. He showed me his airplane models and taught me to play Go. I thought he was a god.
But in one Brooklyn bedroom, when I was about 10 or 11, there was a 17 year old son who was morally empty and in the grips of a hormonal tsunami. He had the most severe acne as I’d ever seen. Pustules surfaced even as we spoke. High on testosterone, his eyes moist with lust, he abruptly decided he would be my guide to the world of adult sexuality.
He began by showing me his small collection of nudist magazines hidden in a drawer of his desk. They’d been handled so many times, the pages hung off the center staples like broken wings. He had to lay it flat so I could look at the pictures.
It was the first time I saw a naked adult male penis and I was absolutely stunned. Far from my expectation that a penis was a proportionate aspect of the male body, the guys in this magazine had dongs that dangled below their knees, and, in one alarming case, literally to the ground. I was flabbergasted. How in the world could they fit inside another human body.
“Are those real?” I asked my horny host.
(“Because,” I said silently to myself, “if that’s how all men are built I am NEVER having sex.”)
“Look!” he held up a small tool that pushed a tiny rod into a hole when you pushed it on the bottom. “What do you think?” he murmured, staring at it raptly, his pus pimples glistening in the neon glow of his desk lamp. “Do you get it?”
“Get what?” I was so grossed out I went and sat on the bed. I was troubled by the giant penis I’d just seen. I didn’t know what to make of it. To my exasperation, he immediately dove beside me, grabbing my shoulders as he clumsily landed, and pinning me down under him. I wasn’t afraid but I was really annoyed.
I was wearing a very stiff, uncomfortable and ill-fitting dress that my mother had bought for me. It had a stiff lining that itched like hell and made the skirt bell out. She also insisted I wear stockings for the party. My garter belt was a hand-me-down that had seen better days – days when, for example, the elastic still had elasticity, and the metal clasps did not leave claw marks in your thighs when you fell backwards.
Before I could dig the claw out of my leg, he’d managed to peel down my panties and poke the tip of a finger inside me.
“Do you like that?” he asked in an oily voice.
“Not really,” I said.
He didn't know what to say or do then. It ended quickly after that when a sudden surge of noisy people needing to piss lined up outside the bedroom door, and we both jolted upright together.
All these odd encounters never frightened me. They made a strange kind of sense. Being intimate didn’t seem unnatural, and boys who wanted to touch my magic spot and give me pleasure didn’t seem like enemies. Inside, I knew they shouldn’t be doing those things with me. I knew if I was their age, I would never do any of those things with a child. But my desperate impatience to grow up and break away from my parents made me eager to be viewed as an adult, and to be treated as one by males. I knew that I could fake my way until I was a real adult, and that’s what I wanted. I never wanted anyone to treat me as a child.
There was only one person who really made me nervous. He was the mentally challenged caretaker at a secular Jewish center my parents periodically attended. Everyone both loved him and mocked him – loved him because he acted like a trained monkey when he was around them, and then, when his back was turned, snickered at his simple ways. He was fat and bald as a bowling ball, a eunuch with a humpty-dumpty appearance that made him seem harmless and sweet.
To my mother, he was the perfect on-premises babysitter, and she sent me off with him to wander through the janitorial back-corridors of the building. He always fussed about checking the furnace, and made it our last stop every time. The furnace room was dungeon-like: pitch-black, warm, seemingly impenetrable. He would come up from behind and hug me, clasping his palms over my newly sprouted breasts as he did, and holding me tight that way for a few minutes.
He never did more than that. His touches didn’t scare me either. But after a couple of visits to the furnace room, I wouldn’t go with him anymore. I knew he must be crazy to treat a child that way. He was in his 30s or 40s and he was crazy. It was too risky. There were no built-in protections – no parents lingering outside the door. In fact, I wasn’t sure if they could even hear me scream from the furnace room. Being alone with this man meant only one thing: under the right circumstances, he could turn into a Nazi too.
And there it is, one of the saving graces of my youth. I never thought sex was bad but I always knew that people could be.