The boys offer me sips of their beers with close-lipped smiles that do not reach their eyes. Their hands are three times as large as mine and the clink of their glasses sound like the triangles in orchestra practice, but I do not tell them this. Nobody likes a loose cannon, don’t you know? Nobody wants to hear about the empty vases, the dust on the blinds, the way schoolboys are afraid of their shadows. I am just trying to pull my skirt down, trying to button up my blouse, trying to reduce the patches of my body they can amuse themselves with like a child’s playground.
I am fourteen when it happens and he is not the first I have kissed. The difference this time is that I was looking for light in the face of a man rather than a boy, that I fell asleep in the bathtub that night and still woke up feeling dirty, that my voice broke the next morning when I remembered how he put his hands between my legs and I sat still and said nothing. That he is one of the boys with closed-lipped smiles and a beer in hand and I let him kiss me anyway.
He tells all his friends the next day with a laugh and they all whisper, Lolita.
I haven’t read the book yet but I understand the premise, understand that it’s not a compliment. I used to be one of those girls who read more than they actually spoke, but I never cracked open Nabokov until the name of his starring little lady began to follow me like a bad smell.
They whisper, “Lolita, baby, unbutton that shirt. Let me see what’s underneath.”
“Lolita, honey, you’re killing me, come and dance with me.”
“Lolita, darling, you taste so sweet, you’re like pepsi-cola from the corner store.”
My friends think the same way: they think I am lucky. They think this attention is wanted. They think I’m so cool, that the twenty-somethings from university want to talk to me and kiss my lips and share their drinks with me. They think I’m to be envied when they stroke my face and hike up my skirt. They think I should like it – being treated like my body is not my own. Like my budding, growing, fourteen-year-old body, with its lumps and bumps and quiet imperfections, belongs to whichever boy is kind enough to toss me his attention, like an old dog being thrown a bone.
“Lolita,” the boys beckon from across the room, shadows in the corner of all the lights and the dancers. The triangle plays distantly. “Lolita. Lolita. Come over here.”
I obey because no one has told me yet that I shouldn’t have to. They stare at me like an ice lolly, like I am to be devoured, and I remain in their laps and I let them; I am young. I am young and broken and I’ve already been through the war and think it’s amazing anyone even still wants me when I’m coming apart at the seams.
“Lolita, sweetheart, don’t look so sad.”
“Lolita, sugar, we’re your favourites, aren’t we?”
They act like they know me. Like they know every inch of me just because their hands have roamed my unsure, trembling skin. They do not. They only know of my painted lips, my wandering fingers, my awkward, drunken sways as I try to blend in with the older kids. They only know of Lolita, Lolita from the party, Lolita in the dress. They do not know of Lolita’s nervous breath, Lolita’s love for blueberry bubblegum, they do not know of the time I got up in the middle of the night and walked up and down the block for three hours in my pajamas because I was convinced I’d finally find the missing pieces of myself lying on the side of the road. They don’t know how I cry about books, about people who lived hundreds of years ago. They don’t know that I so desperately want to feel alive and sometimes fear I never will.
“Lolita, cupcake, can I kiss your sticky-sweet lips? I promise I won’t bite.”
I do not say yes. They kiss me anyway. They put their hands on me anyway.
“Lolita, this body does not belong to you.”
“Lolita, this body is not yours to call the shots for.”
“Lolita, this body is a thing for boys to play with.”
I am fifteen when I slap their hands away and the law dictates that I am still not even old enough to have sex. I am fifteen and Lolita was fifteen and I have finally read the book and I did not enjoy it.
My body is not a playground. My body is proof that I have been through a battle: here are the cuts made to look like stretch marks. Here are the burns from when I stubbed out matches on my skin. Here are the freckles the sun left splattered on my cheeks. Here is the scar from the time I broke my leg.
Here are my knees, hips, waist, chest, this body is proof that I am a girl still growing, that I have fought a war with myself and that I am still here, I am still goddamn here. I have survived a mind that wanted me dead and braved a world that demanded I hate myself, and no: my name is not Lolita, I am not your playground, and you cannot fucking touch me anymore.
Lara is a native New Yorker currently finishing off high school in the Outback. She invented the question mark. She has a scribe. She is terrified of pigeons. She is entirely mad, but I’ll tell you a secret: all the best people are. Persephone’s Daughters is currently her first publication.