What I Wish I’d Been Taught

On a damp April morning in grade eight math
Mr. Ondrik stood at the front of the class
and explained the concept of as low as

it was the end of term, and we had made our way through algebra
through heavy fractions
through a gentle slope of angles
and the concepts of linear equations

and it was then that he stopped
and tucked his hand into the open cauldron of practical application
sitting between him and our desks
and talked about the sorcery of as low as on sale signs
about the lures of advertising
about salesmen doing whatever it takes to get you into a store
how you follow a commercial jingle, which in itself is a kind of promise
and find yourself rummaging through a bin
only to find a sales clerk telling you the last one that went by as low as that price
was sold ten minutes ago

but now that you’re here
why not shop around?
Why not stay a while?

I remember the look on our faces as the as low as lesson landed with each of us
as we pocketed it, knowing exactly where to put it
exactly who to tell it to
exactly which part of our life to fit into.

I remember how math 9, 10, 11 proved to fold itself like origami in years of jean pockets
as different teachers had their own as low as lessons,
and how they’ve come up at different moments of my life
at the counters of bank tellers
scrolling through Craigslist ads
face to face with landlords.

I have pulled these lessons out
I have smoothed out the creases
I have read them over since.

This could have been my Sex Ed, too, you know.

Instead, I had a biodome. An eco-system. A precise taxonomy.
I had years of biology strung together across a classroom of expressionless mannequins amounting to images of either a baby or a virus
and I was to avoid conjuring either with the powerhouse that was my body.

My Sex Ed could have been so many powerful
beautiful things.

What I wish I’d been taught:

The basics:

I wish I’d been taught condoms
were more than just open and go
like maybe there were eight more steps to doing this properly
I wish someone had told me that needing to look away
wasn’t one of those steps

I wish I’d been taught what it means to bleed the first time you have sex
I wish I’d been taught what it means not to bleed the first time you have sex
I wish someone had come out from behind
their expressionless, anatomically correct mannequin
made use of their laser pointer
and said loud enough for those in the back
that the hymen is fictitious
that virginity is a social tissue, not a scientific one.

One step above the basics:

I wish the teacher had stepped in and corrected us
when we learned the word ‘vagina’ and thought it was enough
I wish I’d been taught that euphemisms, not just slurs, euphemisms
meant being sent to the principal’s office.

Two steps above the basics:

I wish I’d been taught that porn is just moving pictures & rare body shapes
in a room nobody can find
I wish I’d been taught to stop looking for that room
I wish I’d been taught that these angles are a lighting cue
the distance between those bodies are a fiction
people do not ask to be let in
only to push each other away

I wish that I’d been taught that it is simple
and heavy
and complex
but women have an organ in their body devoted solely to pleasure
and to this day it is left out of most anatomy lessons –
a blank space in most textbooks

I wish I’d been taught that sex can be beautiful
without needing to be a story
I wish I’d been taught from the beginning
to see sex as a need my body had
that I could feel empowered enough to ask for
without building a castle around whomever gave it

I wish I’d been taught
that it means something to reach for someone
to touch them
that touch helps us grow, heal
I wish I’d been taught what it meant to be held
that it can catch you off guard
until your nose is against their chest in the soft hours of twilight
and you wonder if their laugh was a colour, if you could paint it

I wish I’d been taught that touch can change who we are
I wish I’d been taught that we hide part of ourselves in other people
that part of other people hides in us
that so much of sex reveals our true shapes
there’s a type of raw that can only happen
skin to skin

that sex can look like so many things

and that it’s all risk
all of it
driving
learning
leaving our houses

that so much of our body carries ghosts that aren’t even ours
they’re houses, closets, attics we inherited

our families, our parents handed us down these chained up chests

how would this all have been different
if I’d learned from the beginning that that weight was not ours to carry

if I was taught that what happens between two bodies
is not just biology.

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