“I like your tattoo,” I told him. That was the first lie I told him; I just wanted this man, twice my age, to come closer so I could touch the roaring lion on the smooth skin of his shoulder.
I was fifteen, and I was fascinated by older men, especially the ones with bad tattoos and facial hair, the ones who looked like they wouldn’t mind talking to a teenage girl. Cars would sometimes honk at me outside, and I wished they would slow down and let me get a look inside. Lion-Tattoo taught swimming lessons to a group of little kids at the pool-school where I worked, where it was my job to babysit the locker rooms and run the vacuum in the afternoon. This was a sweet gig; there was a television with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on a loop and a vending machine for snacks, and I could slip out back for a cigarette, and Lion-Tattoo worked there. At night, adults came in for their scuba certs, but I only worked during the afternoons. I was old enough that I had just gotten my braces off, but not old enough to have picked up all the bad habits I was destined to accrue in my teens like barnacles. Lion-Tat asked me if I liked to get high, and I told him truthfully that I had never gotten high. He asked about my boyfriend, and I told him we had had sex (my first time) and then broken up; that relationship had lasted about two weeks, or about as long as the cut flowers you buy at the grocery store if you took the trouble to keep the water fresh.
I was in the boy’s locker room vacuuming when Lion-Tat came in wearing his wet swim trunks from a lesson, and suddenly he was right there in front of me. He kissed me, the way grown men will: no preamble. I had no idea it was going to happen until it was happening, and after that, I kept trying to make it happen again. I would linger in the boy’s locker room, vacuuming the same swath of carpet. I thought maybe it was something about the outfit I was wearing that day, some alchemical mix of black miniskirt, black opaque tights, black tee-shirt, and White Musk from the Body Shop. I wore the outfit over and over, but the magical thing did not happen again.
Today, I get that he was probably struggling to keep away from the 15-year-old kid who had such potential to get him in trouble. I never told anybody, though. Not my friends, not anybody. It wasn’t a shame thing, it’s just that I knew it was weird, and I had enough markers of weird already.
I didn’t have a very clear idea of what I wanted him to do to me, but I knew I wanted him to pay attention to me. One day I went to sit next to him; he was watching cartoons with a kid on his knee, and while Raphael and Donatello celebrated a victory with pizza, he took my hand and placed it on his crotch. To a girl that hasn’t been around much, adult male equipment feels very, very different from that of the teenage boys I had fumbled around with in dark backseats, the way that all dogs are derived from wolves but a dachshund is radically different from a bloodhound.
That was it. I touched it through his pants, and a kink was born. But when he asked me if I could get my mother to drop me off there on the weekend, after his last scuba lesson, I told him she wouldn’t let me. I wanted to do things with him, but it scared me too, and the I liked all the little kids around like a sticky safety net that kept things from going too far.
I didn’t work there much longer. I went to work at a record store at the mall, where I could flirt with older men with reckless abandon over the cassingles table. I teased my middle-aged manager to such an extent that he never remembered to search my bag on my way out of work, and I walked out with half my music collection. One day Lion-Tat came into the store. He was with his wife and his young son, and he looked startled to see me.
I didn’t say anything. He watched me the way you would watch a coiled snake if you weren’t sure whether or not it was rubber.
Of course, even at 15, I knew that it was not right for a grown man to put his hands on an underage girl, but I knew this by rote, not by personal experience. I’m not trying to justify anyone’s predatory behavior; I’m just saying that for me, this was not an experience of victimization, although that would have been a valid and understandable reaction. I could manufacture some outrage, but it would be fake to try and write that sort of a narrative around it. The truth is, I wanted this grown-up with the bad tattoo to see me and talk to me and touch me. I wanted him.
As I am working on this blog post, I go poking around the internet to see if I can find him, but he has a common first name, and his last name is lost in the tar pits of my memory, if I ever knew it at all. I’m not sure what I think I would do if I found him. I guess like everyone else, I just want to find out if he remembers me, and if he feels guilty about what happened.
I don’t find him, but the place where I once touched his dick through his pants is still there, still scuba-certifying adults. They have a Facebook page, and there is a meme of a diver in a shark-cage, a Great White circling, predatory and mock-helpful. The caption reads: There is a human trapped in this cage! Don’t worry, buddy, I’ll get you out!
Maybe this is the year I learn to scuba dive; I like the idea of it, I like the whole “self-contained” idea of scuba. I can imagine the steady sound of my own breathing in my ears. I can imagine the weight of all that water on my back. I can imagine seeing predators down there, and not being afraid, even though I should be.