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Chapter One: The Facts of Life
Pamela Drury was twelve years old the day her mother caught her trying to burn her underpants in the backyard incinerator.
"Pammy? What on earth are you doing?"
Pamela turned guiltily. "Nothing!"
Her mother leaned into the incinerator and prodded around with the wrought-iron poker, managing at length to spike the singed underpants through the elastic waistband. She pulled the poker out and held the soiled item in the air, which flapped ungainly in the breeze. Pamela burst into tears and ran into the house.
Clearly, Mrs. Drury had left their little talk a little late, and it was with much back-pedaling that she explained to Pamela the facts of life.
"So, really, you should be pleased. It means you're becoming a woman."
The words were said with as much conviction as could be realistically mustered. Pamela sat glumly on the edge of her bed, staring at the wall until her mother had left the room. Tears streamed down her face as she contemplated another forty years of messy underpants. How could God be so cruel? Why had everybody neglected to warn her that being female was an unfortunate exercise in personal hygiene? How could she ever lead a normal existence with a surfboard wedged between her legs, and wearing three pairs of underpants for safety?
Pamela came to dread P.E. lessons, swimming carnivals, and school excursions with a pathological fear, and she swore that in her next life she was going to be a boy. She hated being a girl. She simply was not cut out for that.
And then, in Pamela's thirteenth year, God said, "Let there be libido."
Life was full of surprises. The first time a boy stuck his tongue down her throat, Pamela was surprised. The moment she'd been feverishly anticipating turned out to involve more saliva than a trip to the dentist, and it didn't come anywhere near the nightly fantasies she shared of being with Robert Redford under the privacy of her Flintstones blanket.
Philip O'Rourke was not an entirely unattractive boy, though he was blighted with more than his fair share of blemishes and could have afforded to wash his hair on a more regular basis. He had an extremely long and active tongue and permanently damp underarms, and he really had no way of competing with the Sundance Kid in the smoldering stakes. The relationship lasted three and a half weeks, which, by the teenage calendar, was considered a decent run. After one school dance, five phone calls, a James Bond movie (The Man with the Golden Gun), and multiple diary entries, Pamela sent word via her best friend, Terri, that she just wanted to be friends. All went according to plan. She never saw Philip O'Rourke again.
So it was with a great sense of satisfaction, and not a little relief, that Pamela chalked up her first real boyfriend. Now that she had scored on the board, she had the confidence to set her sights a little higher. She called him Sebastian, but she didn't know his real name. He had clear skin, golden-blond, clean hair, and Pamela adored him from afar. That is, he sat at the back of the bus, and she always got on too late to make it much past the driver's seat. The bus arrived at Pamela's school first, and she would push and shove her way down the aisle to disembark through the back door, in order to pass a little closer to her object of desire. Every day they made fleeting eye contact, and Pamela thrilled to the undeniable electrical charges that flew between them. She was sure he had dry underarms. At night, Sebastian's face blended with Robert Redford's, and each diary entry described in detail the morning bus journey and its intricate erotic tapestry.
Pamela carried her obsession close to her breast. Even Terri was oblivious to her secret passion. Pamela was waiting until she and Sebastian graduated to the next level of their relationship before she went public. And for the moment she was savoring the nonverbal courtship. Weeks passed. A whole term went by. The relationship was never consummated. Words were never exchanged. Sebastian never knew Pamela existed. Some years later, she was to find out that Sebastian's real name was Kevin, and he had been two years her junior, a reality which, in those days, bordered on the obscene.
She had just turned fifteen when her less-than-eventful love life took a dramatic turn. It was a stinking-hot day during third semester when Terri delivered the message that Tony Rafter liked her. This marked Pamela's auspicious entrée into the Group. The Group from the Girls' School was an exclusive clique of friends who inhabited the social middle ground between the Dags, Try-Hards, and Rejects on the one hand, and the Druggies and Toughs on the other. The Group was made up of attractive, intelligent girls with an uncanny talent for appearing stupid if there was a boy in their vicinity. The corresponding Group from the Boys' School were attractive young men with lower-than-average IQs and a talent for appearing intelligent if there was a girl in their vicinity.
Pamela had been known to linger on the fringes of the Group, but usually she swung dangerously close to the Dags. She was not well versed in the Group's social mores, did a little too well in class, and had yet to perfect the acting-dumb thing. But when Terri announced that Tony Rafter liked her, her hopes rose immediately. Tony not only ran with the Group; he had a high rating. Pamela felt a rush of excitement. She couldn't quite picture him, but she was sure he was good-looking and, at the very least, would make a prestigious entry in her diary.
Terri was an honorable member of the Group even though she fit none of the criteria. She was short and chubby, covered in freckles, and cared not a hoot for impressing boys, having been raised with four brothers. But she lived along the bus route to the Boys' School, and she had great contacts. It fell to her to transmit messages between the two Groups, and she became adept at facilitating budding relationships, as well as their often abrupt demises. The other girls trusted her implicitly with their love lives and rewarded her by including her in the Group as a kind of royal gofer. They tolerated Pamela only because she came with Terri -- until Tony Rafter noticed her, of course, and then she became acceptable in her own right.
Pamela and Terri had been best friends since the third day of kindergarten, when Terri found Pamela alone in the sandbox crying. Pamela was dealing with the realization that kindergarten was not just once but every day and that her privileged life at home with her mother was completely and truly over. It was a nasty shock, and one she was convinced she would not survive, with the same sense of doom she was to suffer through every other transition in her life. Terri was the opposite to Pamela. Already extroverted, she couldn't resist a rescue mission like Pamela. She plonked down in the sand opposite the sobbing four-year-old and watched the tears stream down Pamela's face.
"My name is Theresa Gallagher. I have four brothers, and now Mummy has stopped. Do you want to be my sister?"
Pamela shook her head fiercely. "Go away."
But Terri wouldn't take "no" for an answer.
It had been decreed that Pamela and Tony Rafter would get together at Rebecca McDonald's fifteenth birthday party. Pamela begged her mother to make her a new dress especially for the occasion. It was a bright, striped summer shift with shoestring straps that tied at the shoulders. Pamela spent all her pocket money on a pair of bright yellow cork platform shoes and green eyeshadow. She felt like a million dollars.
As soon as she laid eyes on Tony Rafter, she remembered what he looked like. She had actually been thinking of Tony Pellizari, but it didn't matter. This Tony wasn't the crème de la crème. This Tony had a kind of square head, creepily translucent eyes, and was slightly shorter than Pamela, but he was definitely attractive, in a reptilian kind of way. They mumbled a hello to each other. Then Tony put his arm around her. The other girls looked on with approval. When he kissed her, about ten seconds later, Pamela felt a surge of physical euphoria. Tony's technique washed away the memory of Philip O'Rourke into a dribbly blur. She knew she was in the arms of an expert. She could have made out with Tony all night. In fact, she did. Scintillating conversation certainly wasn't on the agenda. He led her into the garden, laid her down on the grass and stuck his tongue in her mouth while expertly untying her shoestring straps. Then he slid a hand under her dress, up her thigh, and proceeded to explore territory that Pamela's own hands had not yet charted. Pamela promptly snapped her legs shut and guided his hand back above her waist.
She was in a state of permanent excitement for days after that. She knew it wasn't love -- they'd hardly exchanged words. But they had exchanged an awful lot of saliva, and that must have counted for something. Pamela also knew she was playing with fire. Tony obviously wanted to exchange more than saliva, and she would have to be on her guard. But wasn't it perfectly reasonable that they should stick to making out, which surely was the best bit after all, and completely risk-free? Look at what became of girls who went all the way -- like Jacinta Caley, who disappeared from school last semester without a trace. No, Pamela wasn't going to let an imprudent moment of lust ruin her life. She was destined for better things. So she happened to have her period whenever she saw Tony, and that, naturally, meant the underpants zone was out of bounds.
Although not an intellectual giant, Tony did manage to work out that a three-week-long period added up to an awful loss of blood. Finally, while in the throes of slobbery teenage passion one day after school behind the Girls' School oval, Pamela had to concede that she was no longer unclean, but she protested that now was the worst time to have sex, in case she got pregnant. Tony had come fully prepared for that argument -- a strip of Lifestyles was discreetly tucked into one of his socks. He pulled out one packet, unwrapped it, and feverishly fumbled it onto his overexcited appendage. It was then that Pamela realized with utter clarity that there was no way she was going to lose her virginity to a desperate specimen like Tony Rafter. She'd got about as much experience from him as she needed, and more than enough for a good diary entry. Besides, this whole affair was interfering with her schoolwork. She stared at Tony's rubber-clad penis, which stood at the ready, and wondered how she was going to let him down gently. She also observed how unappealing the male genitalia really were -- this being her first time witnessed up close. She tried to commit it to memory so she could draw it in her diary. Her disenchantment must have been evident, because it wilted under her scrutiny.
The next morning Terri jumped off the school bus bearing the message that Tony just wanted to be friends. Pamela was furious. She had wanted to tell him first.
Pamela never got so much as a nibble from the boys' Group after that. She later discovered that, in the spirit of friendship, Tony Rafter had put the word out that she was frigid, which was at least preferable to having VD, which was what Mark Steadman said about Tina Walsh after she refused to go all the way. Pamela decided that she was not cut out for running with the Groups, and instead she turned her attention to her career. She was going to have a brilliant one after all, and she'd be rich and famous and travel the world, while the Groups would end up in dead-end jobs, married to one another, with three children before the age of twenty-five.
So as Pamela neared her sixteenth year, she threw herself into her roles as editor of the school magazine, chairperson of the school council, and captain of the debating team. She took Robert Redford off her bedroom wall, replaced him with John Travolta, and gave her Flintstones blanket cover to the Smith family. She even got herself a boyfriend -- the last speaker for the affirmative in the "Youth Is Wasted on the Young" interschool debate. Colin was good-looking, intelligent, witty, considerate, respectful, and earnest. Being studious himself, he didn't take up too much of her time; he never once suggested that they go all the way, and he never once implied that she was frigid. The perfect boyfriend.
Terri, on the other hand, had hooked up with a boy at the end of year ten and was content to finish school with average grades. Her boyfriend was the son of friends of Terri's parents. They had met at church one Sunday, and they had been fucking like rabbits ever since. As far as Pamela knew, Terri was the only girl in the Group who was actually having real sex instead of pretending to. Keith adored Terri, freckles and extra pounds included, and they swore they would be together forever. They were a serious young couple and extremely responsible -- Terri could recite the pros and cons of ribbed versus sheer versus peppermint-flavored, and she claimed she could apply a condom with her eyes shut. Pamela was very impressed, and quite content to consider herself sexually active by association.
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