I was reading The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay, the second book I have bought on my kindle, last night before falling into delicious sleep. My interest in the book was twigged by an interview with the author on CBC Radio.
The novel is told by a 12 year old girl in the 1800’s in New York City. The young girl named Moth is poor, homeless and vulnerable to everybody, but she is an attractive protagonist because she is a tough little survivor. Apparently the author’s great great grandmother was a doctor in New York and this set off Mckay’s interest in the period.
Extensive research has been done by the author to give the real details of the time. All though we see the world through the eyes of Moth, the other voice we hear from is Dr. Sadie, one of the first female physicians, who travels from bedsit to boarding house (or brothel) to back rooms of burlesques. She tries to protect Moth from contacting syphilis; a deadly disease at the time that some men believed would be cured by having sex with a virgin.
I have always enjoyed books with bleak environments and strong characters, I read Mare Claire Blais when I was 13 as if her books were a Nancy Drew series. Last night I was drawn into the story.
Usually I read until I am passing out and I can’t tell what I am reading. The Kindle has confused that process a little because as I become closer and closer to an unconscious being my mind goes into auto pilot and my fingers and hands want to turn the page. Instead I have to train my mind to push a button and if I find my mind is confused by this I know I should be sleeping.
I miss the tactile quality of a book although I did appreciate the immediate satisfaction of wanting to read a book and it turning up in my hand a few seconds later. With an actual book though, when I pause with my reading, I contemplate the cover, or read about the author, or look at illustrations. With the little black book like thing called a kindle, you just put it down.
The narrative of Mckay’s novel is interwoven with bits of literature from the time period: posters, newspaper articles, lists, advice. This might be appealing in a book in the hand, but the electronic version just offers you separate texts that seem to pop up in a jarring manner. The different type or font used for the separate texts just makes it harder to read and it doesn’t have the same effect.
But nonetheless, into the book I went. And just as I was going to sleep, after reading about a young girl being raped in the streets of New York City, my mind woke up. I thought about rape and losing your virginity and my mind went back to my first time, which if I describe it as it happens will sound as sordid and sad as a rape in the street.
Except it wasn’t rape at all, and I don’t think that my experience of losing my virginity was terribly unusual, just completely, and somewhat hilariously, unpleasant. It was the seventies in Victoria B.C. Girls flicked back their hair like Farrah Fawcett and wore huge bell bottoms. I was living with my Dad, and sort of going a little wild. He said all I had to do was keep up my grades in school, that was our deal.
Anyway, I went off with a pack of young people into the dark night, up a highway and through the woods to a cabin the woods. Sigh. And we drank beer and vodka and then later I went upstairs, or up a ladder, to a loft with some guy.
I was extremely drunk, and I took a lot of risks that night. About the loss of virginity I only remember that I really had to pee. I faintly remember the desperate thrusting of some fellow. Afterwards I may have peed on some idiots’ clothes, thankfully not mine. Even in that state of inebriation I have a faint memory of thinking, ‘Ha!’ I went along with the ritual willingly, but drunkenly.
As I lay in my bed last night the non-eventful evening came back to me, in little flashes of memory. We walked back through the woods and decided that a good short cut would be to cross the highway on an unfinished pedway with no fencing or barriers of any kind. As we filed on to the unfinished cement bridge, I thought ‘shit’; I could die if I fall off this on to the highway. So I remember taking all of my mental energy, of which there was very little, cutting out the raucous noises coming from the other teenagers, and walking firmly and steadily across the highway on the cement pathway.
I remember a nice boy, not the one I had slept with I noted, helping me get up when I had decided to take a nap in the middle of the road further along our travels. Somehow, I got home to our idyllic cottage on the side of the sea. It had a little sign over the garden entrance that said “Dieu Donne”. I must have crashed in and gone to bed, with the blood between legs the only sign that I was no longer a virgin. My Dad must have thought, “Oh good, she is home”.
Living in beautiful BC after being brought up in Toronto was odd. All the teenagers were a few years behind in style and schooling. Because I was ahead in my schooling, and separated from my wild and beautiful sisters, I had a chance to be a wild girl myself. The teenagers in suburban Victoria did not appreciate the physical beauty of their surroundings, regularly cursing and throwing their garbage directly into the sea.
I remember feeling the dichotomy very strongly between my mostly angry foolish comrades, and the peaceful beauty of the town. Big city girl that I was, I found the sea and the mountains majestic and fantastic, and realized that my school mates could not see it because they had become accustomed to it.
So I lay in bed with the cold wind swirling outside the window and thought about sex and self-actualization. And I thought about the many people who I know who were sexually abused when they were little, and how their experience is different from mine. How much does it change a person to have that decision taken from them? Being over powered, assaulted and attacked, or being tricked into giving away their inner power.
Although my experience was sordid and unremarkable, at least I was not raped. I remembered another sleazy party where a man started shoving me towards the bedroom and onto a bed. I gave him a hard knee to the balls and got up and left the room. I don’t remember being scared, I didn’t leave the party; I was just saying ‘no’.
I have a very strong sense of self worth. So does the little girl in The Virgin Cure. I wonder how late I will stay up tonight reading, and then thinking, my Kindle slipping from my fingers as I fall into sleep.