The elegy began as an ancient Greek metrical form and is traditionally written in response to the death of a person or group. Though similar in function, the elegy is distinct from the epitaph, ode, and eulogy: the epitaph is very brief; the ode solely exalts; and the eulogy is most often written in formal prose. The elements of a traditional elegy mirror three stages of loss. First, there is a lament, where the speaker expresses grief and sorrow, then praise and admiration of the idealized dead, and finally consolation and solace.
It is some twenty-years gone, that tight-lipped innocence, held close out of social expectation. My sweet-sixteen fingers wrapped around its neck, choking it back.
Like an experienced hunter letting the younger bucks pass, he held onto a hope more important than bragging rights.
At night, in a trailer park far from my mother’s polished kitchen, he closed his bedroom door and told me I was his first. He cupped my face and leaned me back onto a mattress on the floor.
Slowly, steadily, he pushed himself into me. Thankful for the cover of darkness, I screwed up my face in pain, bit my lip and faked pleasure. I hummed and moaned and sighed and convinced myself I would learn to like it.
When he was finished, he walked me, naked, into the bathroom, drew a bath and held me in the water. I could hear his parents watching television in the other room, and I couldn’t stop staring at the cracked vinyl floor.
He laughed and called me “lucky 7”. Confused, I asked him why. So much for the first. So much for honesty. So much for all that was lost. And yet, the boyish sweetness was not wasted on me.
Somehow, I looked past the lie, the sound of his father’s wheezy laughter and his mother’s complaining whine. I romanticized the dingy tile and rusty drain. In the flickering light, I found myself, not a woman, per se, but changed.
The small yet immense act of opening my legs to a boy who, unbeknownst to me, lied, but indeed loved me, stepped me gently but realistically, into the world of lust. I knew then, lying in that water, propped against his chest and squeezed between his knees, why women offer themselves up and why men swallow their pride. There is nothing on this planet quite so tantalizing as sex. Nothing quite so addictive or destructive or uplifting and freeing.
I wondered, that night, alone in my own crisp white sheets, why we put so much importance on protecting our virginity. I was already a better person, more aware, and softer, and real.
Lessons like this linger and become part of a mythology we carry with us throughout life. Like a religion, our sexual past marks us, filters through our dreams and comes out the other side in a fog of fantasy. We look back on it, through the ether of time, remembering it, or not, the way we want to.
That girl, biting back her cries and wiping away tears she would not show, is the queen of my physical memory. Like a first wife, she sits atop her throne ruling with the quiet wisdom of experience. She can raise the red lantern or not. But, she will always hold her place: stoic, undefeated, and resilient.