I was at the mall earlier doing the last of my Christmas shopping (now DONE, woo hoo!), when I was reminded of a rather memorable day in high school. It seems a bit of a random connection, but it only took a moment to send me back to that day. And naturally, that left me giggling in the aisles of the drugstore, which never leaves you looking particularly sane. I will leave out the details of what reminded me in the first place, since it isn’t my story to tell. (Nor do I know whose story it is to ask permission.)
When I was in grade 12, I got to be very close friends with a girl that sat next to me in band. We’d known each other sort of peripherally all through high school, but both of us were a bit at loose ends that year – her friends having mostly graduated already, my friends having drifted in directions that didn’t interest me much. (Mostly of the illegal variety. And while I was fond of the occasional drunken binge, I wasn’t much for the smoking lifestyle they were adopting.)
One of the unusual things about this friend was that she had been dating the same guy since the very beginning of grade 10. He was two years ahead of us in school, although not that much older than my friend, as she was significantly older than me. (Having come from Britain, I was young for my grade. She’d come from the U.S. and was a little old for our grade.) It was pretty impressive in those days to manage to date an out-of-high-school guy for that long, and their relationship was pretty much a given.
But even a nearly three year relationship had its challenges. And the most memorable example of that was the day we went to buy condoms.
Although I had a boyfriend at the time, we hadn’t been together very long and the sex conversation was still a few weeks away. (It also ended in a “maybe not so much” decision, which, given the later end of our relationship, was probably for the best.) However, being the good friend that I was, I agreed to accompany her to the drugstore to make the fateful purchase.
We went after school one day to the London Drugs near our school. She had a car, which was very convenient, and drove me home every day if I wasn’t going to her house, usually stopping for slurpees or something along the way. This time, we were stopping for condoms.
It took a while for us to scope out the right aisle – we didn’t want to seem like we were looking for anything in particular in case somebody asked us if we needed any help. So we wandered the aisles for nearly half an hour, trying to look nonchalant and probably totally failing.
When we found the fateful aisle, we stood in front of it for a moment, trying to appear immensely interested in the tampons that sat next door. (I can actually also remember the moment that I bought tampons for the first time. It was a similar experience.) Every time anyone walked past the aisle, we scurried away, hiding around the corner in the hair accessories until the coast was clear.
Once we finally had a chance to check things out closer, we were totally overwhelmed with the possibilities. There were so many kinds! Brands, styles, sizes…for two virgins, age sixteen and eighteen, it was an intimidating prospect to choose one kind. And when you’re running away from the display every two minutes, it’s hard to get a good sense of your choices.
We made a decision eventually, choosing as basic an option as we could come up with, opting for the brand with the most name recognition. (Although to this day, I don’t understand why anyone thought Trojan was a good name for a condom. Why name your supposedly imperturbable fortress after the guys who managed to sneak in past the guards? That doesn’t really inspire me with confidence.)
We tried to be as inconspicuous as possible as we walked nonchalantly up to the cash register. I seem to recall that I had to do the buying, as my friend was too embarrassed, which in retrospect seems rather unfair – I had to suffer and didn’t even get any action out of the deal. But we picked up a few other things along the way – nail polish remover, I think, and probably a snack. But oh, how we giggled. We made it out to the car and sat for a few moments, delighted with ourselves and amazed that nobody had tried to stop us, nobody had seized the condoms and declared that we were clearly not old enough to be buying such things. And it was that day when the world opened up a little further. It was the first step in realizing that I did have freedom. Sure, it was limited by a lot of things – parents, school, society in general – but it was then that I recognized just how many of the limits I’d always thought existed were self-imposed.
My horizons were broadened that day. I hadn’t thought of it for a long time, but even now I smile to remember that moment of clarity where we felt unstoppable.