Asked her view of Oscar Wilde’s 1895 obscenity trial, Mrs. Patrick Campbell remarked, My dear, I don’t care what they do, so long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.
Every horse-crazy girl hears the same thing: When you meet the right boy, you’ll grow out of it. Like it’s a developmental phase girls go through, like growing breasts or getting acne or hair sprouting up in all sorts of places. Like one day we’d be out riding our horse on the street-side trails of Miami-Dade County’s Horse Country, and that guy in the Camaro who is always slowing down and shouting out his window, Hey Baby, I’ve got something better for you to ride right here, will slow down and shout out his window, only this time we will finally come to our silly-goose girl senses and abandon our horse on the side of the road, ripe and ready for the ride of our life, and fingers crossed hoping he doesn’t mind that our hymen’s already been broken.
I have always been part rider, part horse. Ready to bolt, a sucker for a sugar cube, and I like to be groomed. I like to sit between someone’s legs while they pull a brush through my hair from scalp to split ends, untangling the snarls along the way. The pleasure so full-bodied I lose my equestrian posture.
Summer of ’86. I worked as a waitress at Pizza Hut back when Pizza Hut still had table service and a salad bar with dinosaur kale tucked between the bins of iceberg lettuce and dressing and toppings, back when kale was universally considered inedible and strictly decorative.
My uniform was brown and orange polyester, and smelled like pizza when it went into the wash, and smelled like pizza when it came out.
When I wasn’t waiting tables, I was at summer school, earning a high school diploma that was one lousy math credit out of reach.
When I wasn’t learning how to solve algebra equations, I was at the barn, trading my labor for a chance to ride every day and to show whenever I’d saved enough money for entry fees.
When I wasn’t mucking stalls and feeding and watering and cleaning tack and grooming other people’s horses and brushing out their tails and braiding their manes into a long row of teensy-tiny braids tied in place with an elaborate criss-cross knotting of yarn, I was at the beach with my girl (space) friends, blasting Heart on the boom box and drinking Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers and squeezing lemon juice into our hair.
When I wasn’t working on my tan and talking about horses while my girl friends worked on their tans and talked about boys, we were shaving our sun-bronzed legs smooth (except for those three hairs I always miss on my kneecaps) and fake ID-ing our way past the bouncer into Club Metro to drink Russian Roulettes and smoke Benson & Hedges Menthol Lights 100s, and fling around our manes of hair on the dance floor until we sweated out the mousse holding our 80’s bangs architecturally aloft.
When I wasn’t at any of those places, I was at my co-worker’s apartment, babysitting her two young sons for $7 an hour while Caryn waitressed a shift for $2.10 per hour plus tips so she could spend some time around people who could cut their own food. When Caryn’s husband came home, he’d grab a beer, and we’d chat about the boys and his construction job and whether replacing David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar was a net loss or a net gain for Van Halen.
I didn’t know it was wrong for a husband to brush the hair of a woman who is not his wife.
I didn’t think Those boys exist as human beings because of this hairbrush, exist because of Caryn’s husband pulling that brush through her hair until she leaned back between his legs, leaned into the erection crowding the zipper of his jeans and the opening in his briefs where he pulls it out to pee.
I didn’t imagine—not even for the teensiest, eensiest moment—Caryn finding strands of my sun-bleached hair caught in her hairbrush, her face blazing with shame, the hot shriek of her rage, her sudden, stony distrust, or never working another Pizza Hut shift together ever again.
I didn’t worry about leaving evidence behind because I didn’t know I was committing a crime.
I didn’t know I would one day soon frighten the horses. They’d never been scared of me before.