Sometime in the early months of 2014, I was sixteen and in my first romantic relationship. That ended more or less than a month, I think. I was a junior in the Marshall Islands High School.
It started with, “Do you want to go out with me?” Of which I thought meant just us getting to know each other beyond the friendly and easy-going banters, my definition of going out/dating. When I was asked several days later where my boyfriend was, I denied having any. I was not lying, something I strived not to do daily. My cousin then, in the likeness of someone ‘experienced’ goes, “The one you are going out with. That is your boyfriend.”
I was honestly upset. “He did not ask me to be his girlfriend. He only asked if I wanted to go out with him of which I said yes.”
Quickly followed with, “This is not America Selina. This is the Marshall Islands. Going out equates to girlfriend/boyfriend type of relationship.”
By America, he meant the United States and the longest I had been in the US by that time, had been a little over a month. I saw teenage relationships around me but they were the furthest thing from my mind. I was too caught up with trying to please teachers, worry about my pronunciation and grammar, making friends, and mooning over the fact that in the summer program I was in, academically, I was below average. Having kept a streak of straight A’s throughout elementary, middle, and freshmen year of high school in Majuro, it was a hard pill to swallow.
Till now I get embarrassed when I am asked what books I enjoy reading. On the tip of my tongue rests, romance novels. In the back of my mind, I have also seen the look on people’s face and few have said it, “I think it’s time you start reading more literature, more meaningful books, you know.”
I do not like explaining my reasons because that often means revisiting unpleasant memories and cueing the waterworks and sob stories. I started reading romance at the age of 12, far too young, but once I came across a light romance, I consumed with a zeal to brutal survival. For all the woes and silent cries of anguish around and in my life, it was love and happy ending prose that wept in each of the pages I read. 12 year old Selina rationalized that if there are people who wrote these stories, even if they are fictional, they had to have drawn inspirations from somewhere. From themselves or from others. That meant that love and happy ending, as a whole, did exist so I needed to be resilient more and be persistent.
Despite never being in relationships then, my friends sought my advise. “If you do not know, then what does your book say.” I saw through the eyes of my books and I made understand with it. But when it came to being in one, everything was blown out of proportion and I was at loss.
At 16 I had my first and last relationship until now at the age of 22.
- How it started was wrong
Despite being a hopeless romantic, no thanks to the abundant reading of it, I did not want to be in one. Even when I developed crushes.
Why? That is a story for another time. 😉
I was peer pressured into it. I had recently got a scholarship to attend my last two years of high school at UWC Robert Bosch College in Freiburg, Germany. My well-intentioned and ill-guided cousin and friends worried over my zero expertise in relationships. Apparently “European boys are very charming.” And I needed to know how to navigate through and around that. I was “too innocent”, therefore vulnerable to their machinations. I was told two of my friends will ask me out that night during the Fiddler on the Roof theatre rehearsals we had at the International Convention Center (ICC). The plan was for me to go out with one of them in order to practice. I acquiesced.
He shall be named Zane. Zane happened to be the first to come that night with his uncertain, chin thrust up so his eyes looked down on me despite our being the same height, “Do you want to go out with me?” I said yes and walked back into the room. I saw from the corner of my eyes two of our friends walking over and I did not want to be teased unnecessarily about it.
Later that night, rehearsals were done, my cousin walks over and with the ease of a snake encouraged/pushed me towards Zane to go walk with him. I was annoyed. Why must I go to him? I was not the one who did the asking out. He was also literally seven steps away from us. I was looking at Zane, or maybe I was glaring at him hoping he saw I was acknowledging him and he can come but he did not. So I begrudgingly walked over to him. Yanked my arm through the crook of his and started walking.
Sometime in the walk, I looked back and realized our friends were quite a distance away from us because we were walking fast. It might have also been them intentionally slowing down to give us space. We then went up the stairs of Awa Zero to wait for them.
Suddenly, I hugged by his lean muscular frame. This was not a hug you exchanged with friends. That much I knew because I have exchanged and experienced those. It was a hug of touching and caressing. Brown hands traitorously sliding with posessiveness from my side, across my withdrawn abdomen to locking up. I was stunned. I had never been touched with this kind of intimacy. I did not know what to do. For a moment, I stopped. My body was reacting to it. Now that I understand my body more, I know my body was getting aroused.
But my heart and my brain. They were on high alert. My heart started up a familiar drumming rhythm. I was taking light deep breaths to hide the fact that I was scared. My brain was looking for means of escape, words to say and excuses to disentangle from the abrupt embrace, fret over how long it will take till our friends arrived so I can run away to them.
I laughed and in what I hoped did not give away my discomfort, moved away and walked over to the other side asking out loud when the others will arrive. Again he walks over and with a light caress, traced down the length of my arm and moved to hug me again from the back. This tug of war went on for some of the longest minutes in my entire life.
Where were they who had thrust me into this. No one told me this was suppose to happen on the first day. Was I suppose to accept it? Was I suppose to be okay with it because I was not? Is this what people going out normally do, this fast? That I was going to be approached with such familiarity, that I only ever received with welcome from babies. My mind, my body, and my heart did not see them as a threat.
Thinking about it now, Zane and I were probably on the same boat. None of us was ever taught consent, about consent, nor even knew what that meant. I don’t think my cousin and my friends knew either. They probably would have giggled and gushed about how cute it was while their eyebrows starts dancing. That he was totally head over heels for me. He was “the one” and I had found him. I was now a “big girl”.
Not soon enough, we finally caught sight of them and I immediately went down the stairs towards them. He was back to being so well-behaved and I did not mention anything, did not act as if I was ready to abandon sense. Berate all of them for not keeping close to me.
To be continued…