Author’s note: This personal essay was originally written for the Literary Mixtape Reading Series in December of 2015.
Kristen and I were smoking Kools together in her room. Curling iron plugged in and resting on the formica top of her dresser where there were several scorched divots already. Wearing t-shirts and underwear and waiting for the last possible moment before laying down to zip up our acid wash jeans.
Kristen was beginning to tease her hair around her face like a fan, covering one eye, the left one. Her black and silver double deck boom box silent before she flipped the empty tape case to me and pressed play. Kristen was gorgeous and dark. Dark in a slashed jeans kind of way. Dark in a melting the tip of her eyeliner with a lighter kind of way. She used White Rain hairspray because Aquanet was for pussies. She may have already had capped teeth.
The night of the seventh grade dance, when I heard Purple Rain for the first time, when Darling Nikki came on, winter of 1988. I smoked. Poorly (never any of my own, holding them like a dork between first two fingers instead of pinching between thumb and forefinger), but it was enough to give me a little cred with the kids at the pool hall down on Central.
Kristen and Polly, a blonde with the most beautiful bow lips, a cold sore perennially on her upper right bow, and Jeff Puschner. Puschner was a skater—Vision Street Wear clothes from head to toe, a high top buzz cut with long bleached bangs and another bleached weft of hair cascading from the nape of his neck. Puschner would say his name to ladies- explaining it like, you know, Push N Her???
We’d all lean around on the pool tables together. Smoking cigarettes and annoying the old guys that were actually playing pool. A couple arcade games- Pacman and Galaga. Told there was fiberglass in the filters of the Kools, I imagined tiny ice crystals forming in my lungs with every inhale—the crackling of frost spreading across a fogged up surface. Wisconsin that far north so cold during the winter it wasn’t a stretch to freeze a lung through menthol or frigidity.
We were always in trouble, us trucker’s kids and doctor’s kids. That’s all there was in Marshfield. Truckers and doctors and the occasional preacher.
My first love, Jason Binning, eventually went to prison for murder. I don’t know that I ever met his dad.
That night, I brought the empty Listerine pint bottle Polly filled up from the Southern Comfort fifth her parents had stashed somewhere. I hadn’t rinsed it all the way clean and there was a minty overtone to the caramel. Not very pleasant but that hardly mattered.
Wasn’t the point.
And we weren’t fooling anyone, but that didn’t matter either. Because it worked. Because the grown-ups were just that tired. Because when we were buzzed in the middle of the darkened gym with damp rolling down the walls and Billy Idol’s version of “Mony, Mony” came on and every one of us howled FUCKING BULLSHIT over and over at the chorus, that worked, too.
At eight I told my mom that I’d figured out a way to make myself feel really, really good. She told me I was robbing my future husband. Cyndi Lauper had talked about masturbation for chicks as a normal occurrence already the year before Purple Rain was released, but I was young enough to only hear what slowly slowly would trickle up to the tiny grey town I was living in and land in the local ShopKo. Not a lot of ways of getting exposed to anything up there, why I was hearing this album the first time when Sign O’ The Times had already been released, possibly Lovesexy, too. I heard the line where Prince says she was rubbing one out in public before propositioning him to a hotel room. Now, to my grown-up ears, this sounds like a violation no matter who it’s coming from or to. But twelve year old me put down my Kool in the ashtray, sat down on the burgundy shag carpet, took a slug of Southern Comfort, and memorized that goddamn song.
It was the first time I’d heard that I was the one in charge of me. A little drunk on SoCo, melted black eyeliner raccooning its way around my eyes, in the tightest acid washes you ever did see, I had a divine visitation that night.
Prince was the one singing, but all I could hear was Nikki.
Sex wasn’t something to be given up. To be had and used. To be once and done. No sloppy seconds and loose cooches.
It was mine. It hadn’t been taken from me no matter how many times that had been attempted. According to Prince, Nikki had it all the time, whenever she wanted, because it stayed with her.
Took me another twenty some odd years to understand that moment—to stop drinking Southern Comfort, to quit smoking Kools, to quit fucking the Jeff Puschners. That this body is shaped in the me of the space I take up and it is mine to deny or give pleasure to at will. To this day, when I hear the crack of that snare, my pupils dilate.
Nikki, the only person who could school Prince.
This piece was translated into Spanish and is being published in both Spanish and English in Gobshite Quarterly, Issue #21, Winter 2016.