Talulah was the first friend I ever had who made my life seem simple in comparison to her own. While I was dealing with a father who would fly into unexpected rages, Talulah had something vastly worse that she had lived through and could talk about with a detached voice.
"Where did you grow up?" I remember asking once.
"Everywhere, really," she said. "Anywhere that my mom wasn't, anyway. Dad's been looking for her like a dog looking for a lost bone. He still loves her, you know. He won't admit it to anyone, but he still loves my mom."
"Does Jodie know?"
Talulah snorted. "There's a heaping shitload of things that Jodie doesn't know, but she knows that much. Why do you think she was so quick to get pregnant?"
"I don't know."
She looked at me and laughed, not unkindly. "Yeah, I guess you wouldn't know, would you?"
We were quiet for a while. I looked off in one direction, she in another, but she was the one who broke the silence.
"Your folks haven't really given you the talk, have they?"
I looked at her, and she was smirking mischievously. "Well, have they?"
"No," I must have been blushing. "I mean, kinda. I know that men and women do stuff and then there's a baby."
"Do stuff," she snorted. "What sort of stuff?"
I hadn't the foggiest idea, but I didn't want to seem stupid. "Well, they rub their stuff together, that's it."
"Oh Rorie," she said. "Get up."
"Get up, I said."
I followed her instructions, but I wasn't sure what standing had to do with the birds and the bees.
"Okay, I want you to strip down."
"You don't trust me? Ohmygod, Rorie, just strip down to your underwear, you crazy. You wear a training bra, I reckon. It's like wearing a bathing suit."
"I don't like this."
"It's for your own good, so quit your squawking."
So I stripped down to my Hello Kitty undies with matching training bra. At least I had bothered to match for once. I never suspected that my mom would be right about such an absurd thing as matching your underwear. "You never know" she'd say.
Talulah, not to be outdone, was also now standing there in her bra and underwear, though her bra was much more filled out. Her underwear didn't match either, but that was not the most shocking thing to behold. She was wearing lacy panties like a grown woman, and something about that seemed right to me. Even though she was a little bit younger than I was, Talulah acted a lot older, had seen a lot more things as I was about to find out.
"Okay, so the thing to remember is that all of it is between the legs. On us, we've got this hole called a vagina."
"I've heard of that," I said helpfully.
"Yeah, but do you know what it does?"
"Umm, you pee out of it?"
"Not exactly. Well, we'll get to that. Have a feel on up there."
"You're crazy." I was getting nervous now. What did she want exactly?
"Just do it!"
With squeamish uncertainty, I took my index finger and poked on up there, trying to feel at it. It felt itchy, and there was hair there where there hadn't been about a year or two earlier. When I looked up, she wasn't doing the same as me--in fact, she was just staring off in the distance.
"Is there a point to this?"
"Of course there is. Just feel around for a while. I won't look if that's what's worrying ya."
So I felt around for a while, but I didn't understand what I was feeling around for. I had a working knowledge of what this internal part was doing there, but Talulah obviously had another agenda beneath this exercise.
"Okay, I think I get it. I felt it. It's kind of wet and mushy."
"Good. Pay attention to that," she said.
"Lu, what's the point of this?"
"You're a girl, ain't ya? You should know what that thing down there does and what it's for and why men are gonna be after it."
After it? I had no idea what that meant, but her face told me she was dead serious. How could any guy get that out of me. I mean, wasn't it attached?
Talulah slowly put her clothes back on, signaling me to do the same, while she explained the reason behind her methods.
"When I was little, I was raped by my grandpa. Rape is when someone has sex with you even when you don't want to. Sex is when two people, sometimes two men, sometimes two women, sometimes a man and woman, decide to do things to each other with their penises, vaginas, fingers, tongues, whatever.
"I was a baby when my grandpa fiddled around in there with his fingers. He hurt me, so my daddy says--daddy says I'm not a virgin anymore because of what he did to me. I didn't want him to do it--I was a baby. Then there was this boss my daddy had who actually stuck his penis right up my vagina, and did some real damage. Nearly ripped me apart, even though I was screaming and bleeding.
"That was rape, too. That was not right. And it ain't just the vagina that gets you in trouble either. They can go for your bottom, too. They can try to force themselves on you any way they want to. So you need to know what that thing can do. It's for making love, but it's also for making babies, having periods, peeing, and all kinds of pain if you don't know enough about it."
She was dressed and I was only in my jeans.
"Lu. What did they do to you?"
"Nothing I asked for," she said. From there, she got on her bike and rode off without a word.
I put my shirt back on and tried to follow her, but she was already to the levee before I could get to her. I grabbed my stuff and hopped on my own bike, determined to follow her, but then decided against it.
I only really understood half of what she said that day, but I knew what it meant by looking at her face. She had been victimized by strangers, by members of her own family, so no wonder she didn't trust anyone. That's why she was so protective of me that summer. That was why she was so protective in general. It was her instinct to protect since she had not been protected herself.
I rode my bike home, the place between my legs even stranger to me than before. I felt certain that I was riding home with a ticking time bomb between my legs, one that was going to go off any second. I was to get my period about a month after that conversation, and that was when my mother gave me the full talk parents give their children on those occasions.
When I asked about rape, she wanted to know why. Had anyone done anything to me? No, I said, but I knew what it was, and I wanted it to not exist.