Berry Patch

Paul Klee, "Adam and Little Eve," watercolor and transferred printing ink on paper mounted on cardboard, 1921, The Berggruen Klee Collection, 1987, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

We eleven-year-old girls sat through the film in the cafeteria and watched a movie about pads and how you could menstruate at night lying down. We all worried about the blood that might go straight to the sheets, but in hindsight, that was not important. What was important was desire. The mechanics of the sex “act” were thoroughly covered. Desire, not at all. To my way of thinking, and to my cousin Cynthia’s, that was the important part. So, as we got older, it became an important topic.

Desire was the juicy stuff, said Cynthia, that your nipples got hard, showing through your shirt. Desire was the longing between your legs when a boy held your hand. When I was fifteen, Cynthia asked me to go out on a double date with her and her boyfriend Brad, and they were going to set me up with one of the twin brothers at their high school in Washington. I couldn’t believe Cynthia’s shenanigans, which she told me from the nest of her princess pink bedroom. She was so seemingly innocent, with blonde hair and sweet blue eyes, but from her cotton candy mouth would spew the same stuff I was covertly reading from my parents’ copy of Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, hidden on the top shelf of the kitchen cabinets back in Oregon. My parents tried, but weren’t keeping anything hidden from me. I read everything and knew all the hiding places.

One day, Cynthia said, “My sister lets our dogs jump around between her legs, and she puts lunch meat down there to lure them in. She’s too fat to get a boyfriend!” I was shocked, and she invited me to watch through the little trailer window where her obese sister was inviting the dogs to play on her ample pudendum. Bizarre. Even at fifteen, I knew very well that the family dachshunds should not be romping around in those pastures.

Cynthia showed me photos of the twins at her high school. Both were tall and slender with dark hair and large dark eyes, and one of them was incredibly attractive, staring forward with a look of confidence. The other one looked like a goat, his mouth slightly open and his eyes a bit glazed over, like he was getting ready to bleat, or perhaps to complain about being the less attractive twin. I realized as soon as Bradley and the twin came to the door that my date was going to be with the goat guy, not the good-looking one. Well, we were on our way to the drive-in movie, and there was no turning back. I looked at my cousin Cynthia and rolled my eyes to let her know how I felt about being set up with the less attractive twin.

We got there and paid our money and then we were in. Drive-in movies were the place to go for sex, and I was nervous. This was a double date, and could get weird. Because Cynthia and Bradley had been going together for a few months and had an established sexual relationship, we switched places with them, giving them the back seat of Brad’s Chevy Camaro with black leather seats. The twin and I were in the front seat, and we sat closely together so Cynthia and Brad could watch the movie from one side on the back seat. He held my hand, playing with it as though it were serious foreplay, sliding his fingers through mine and stroking my palm with his thumb. Right around the time the car began seriously rocking, our hands were so sweaty together that it felt horrible. I glanced into the rearview mirror and saw my cousin sitting on Bradley, facing him. The car began slightly moving as she began riding him. He leaned his head back with his eyes closed. I’d had enough. I decided I better go to the ladies room at the drive-in, as I didn’t want the ugly twin to get ideas and go any further with my hand than he already had. I have kissed some less attractive guys in my day, but I did not want to kiss this twin. I may have kissed the cute one. Aside from that, I was disgusted that my cousin and her boyfriend thought it was okay to have sex in a car with me in the front seat. I went into the stall and sat to pee.

I was only fifteen, and hadn’t meant to get excited with the ugly twin, but I was dripping wet. The sexual energy of the car had been unbelievable, but I escaped going further than holding hands. I was careful. I’d already made the big mistake the year earlier.

While I was hearing sweet stories of girls babysitting and losing their cherries to nice, gentle boys, I lost my virginity to a vicious older boy who later murdered his father. He was a sociopath. In fact, just thinking about him in the stall made me sit there and shudder a little bit. I dried myself thoroughly with the toilet paper, wadding it into a ball and plunging it in and drying myself. The murderer ruined sex for me for a long time, sadly. I knew it then, I know it now.

We were picking strawberries at one of the local farms, all of us kids. That was a year when us girls started developing some serious breasts. No longer in trainer bras, we were becoming women. Shannon, a big girl who lived down our country road, wore a C cup bra, and took to standing in the berry field and intentionally bouncing her boobs with her hands holding up her long blonde hair. She was a spectacle that summer, probably causing most of us to lose $100.00 or so in berry picking earnings. We all watched her, also waiting for the berry boss to turn around, the fat middle-aged woman who would shut down Shannon’s berry field antics. Shannon was that wild girl who paid no attention to courteous conventions of any sort.

Shane, the sociopath, was the best-looking boy in the berry field. He was loud, laughed a lot, and had great arms with long, straight hair. We were all in love with him, but none of us girls really talked about it. We were competing for his attention constantly, but none of us had Shannon’s audacity. She was the one who had joints in her cigarette packs. She started stealing packs of her foster mom’s cigarettes at the age of thirteen, and was wild as fire at sixteen. She talked nonstop about how horny she was, chirping, “honk if you’re horny,” quoting nasty bumper stickers, “if you don’t like my peaches then don’t shake my tree,” and making everything downright nasty. We girls rolled our eyes as she morphed the mundane berry field into a hotbed of steaming sensuality. We couldn’t stop listening! If we tried to ignore her, she got louder and louder, and we didn’t even have headphones back then.

One advertisement of the day was “it’s rich and red, it’s moist and meaty, but it’s not hamburger!” She would say the words slowly, with her dark brown eyes narrowed, and when she got to the last two words “not hamburger,” she’d tilt her pelvis forward and rock it back and forth with her hands clenching her C-cup breasts, holding them and squeezing them slowly, looking like the Princess Indian maiden on the Land O’ Lakes butter box, if you fold it so that the knees open up under the shuttered screen to show the boobs.

The rest of us young girls stared at her, transfixed. How could she do this in front of other people? We were much more innocent than this girl. She admitted to us one day, “My stepmom says that the best thing for a woman’s boobs is a man’s mouth!” and as she said that, she rubbed her own breasts and smiled. She was unabashedly excited about her new body. When she would do these displays of jiggling, pelvis thrusting, and massaging her own breasts, the boys would stand up in the berry field and stop everything, and more than once, I saw them harden up right in front of everyone, showing in their tight jeans or sweatpants. And, of course, she was coming on to Shane in a big way.

Finally, at the end of the berry season, things came to a head. She forced Shane to choose, knowing that he was attracted to my long legs and long hair. She was a big girl, and very available, perhaps too much for him. The berry-picking boys had been enjoying her all summer long, and she went behind the outhouse and let them suck her hard nipples as she masturbated. It’s just who she was. No one had told her that it was wrong, and she was happy to take advantage of the boys, even those in middle school. They would come out from behind the small wooden outhouse, and she came out from the other side, stopping to rinse her hands in the faucet. She didn’t pick a lot of berries that summer, but she entertained all of us with her sexual escapades. The last day of picking, we all went to Shane’s house nearby.

“Choose,” she ordered Shane, while we were all over at his house. “Her, or me. You can’t have both.” This was a surprise to me. I had never considered that Shannon would be jealous, but she seemed jealous of me all of a sudden. I was completely innocent, and incredibly naïve.

“Her,” he said. He chose me. We berry picker kids all got drunk on cheap red wine. Shane’s parents were in a different part of the house, and all of us were upstairs. He asked me to lie down with him on his bed. I remember being incredibly drunk. It was only my second time drinking, ever. The sun went down and it was dark. I suddenly realized that my clothes were coming off. It was like I was a little girl again, being put to bed by someone.

Suddenly, I realized this was not cool, not cool, not cool at all. I was in trouble.  I started protesting, “No, stop….” I felt his knees between my legs, and he suddenly forced them apart, wide. He went in me hard and fast, and laughed when I screamed. I was torn apart, and the pain was instantly sobering. I remember crying. A neighbor boy came in quietly while Shane raped me, and held my hand, and whispered, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” Later though, the boy told others about it, and I was whispered about throughout the neighborhood of berry pickers, and then my school. It ruined my self-esteem for a long time, and I wrote about it in my diary. I didn’t know how to explain what had happened, and I was young, so I left out the facts. He raped me. He was older. He was cruel, and he hurt me. He boasted he was so big women screamed when he went in.

It’s only now, years later, I realize hiding out in that drive-in movie bathroom for thirty minutes was one way I took care of myself back then. I’m glad for that. After some time, my cousin came in and said, “Hey, want to get some popcorn?” and I said, standing at the mirror and doing my lipstick, “Yeah, why not.” So that’s what we did.

When I was in college, I heard Shane murdered his dad. He drove to his dad’s house, angry, and held a gun on him. He forced his dad into the trunk of the car and drove him to a park in Oregon where he shot him execution style. I can imagine his dad knowing about some of us girls. I pitied his dad, considering the fear just before the gun went off loud, the bullet going in so fast. His father was alone on his knees in the summer grass, kneeling in his old blue work jeans, feeling the damp Oregon ground with his thin knees. No one was there to whisper, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” It wasn’t okay for his dad, and it hadn’t been okay for me.

We started walking back from the snack shack.

“The twin felt really bad that you just took off,” Cynthia said. “He didn’t have anyone to hang out with, and I don’t think he liked being in the car alone.” I smirked at her and shook my head, laughed and ate popcorn. That twin didn’t even know what bad felt like. That was the summer of 1975.

*Note: This piece was originally published under Debra Groves Harman’s pseudonym, Valerie D. West.

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