The Day The Cartoons Vanished

The cartoons had vanished. This was real life.

When I was a child, I read early, which made life easier for my mother in many ways. The easiest, I think, was when I asked, “How was I born?”

My mother said nothing. The next day, she returned with a stack of thin children’s books, which she set down in front of me. “Read these,” she said.

I did.

The one that made it clearest to me, as the others were slightly out of my range, was a book called “Where Did I Come From?” It was a cheerful book with a lot of cartoons where all the people and objects looked kind of like modified Rug Rats. They had a mommy and a daddy who snuggled, and little cartoon penises, but the thing I remember best were the cartoon sperm and eggs, who danced and hugged and somehow created the magic of life. It was all alien, yet oddly reassuring. Everything had a big friendly face that just radiated a sense of comfort; See? This is where I’m supposed to be.

Though the reading was relatively explicit, the actual “how sex occurred” part was, of necessity, not that detailed. I knew more about sex than any of my friends growing up, since even then I had a fascination with the stranger sides of life – I could tell you very specific details about how sex was created, what conditions were optimal for pregnancy, even the various STDs that seemed so alien to me. I couldn’t imagine even sliding my hands between a girl’s legs, let alone finding something that I could only think was kind of like a cold, which I knew I could get from scummy bathroom counters that weren’t wiped off properly.

How could a girl’s vagina be dirty? It was so clean in the cartoons.

I knew it all, yet I knew nothing. When I looked at Playboy, I masturbated to the breasts, because I couldn’t understand the pubic area; until I was fifteen or so and saw more explicit photos, I actually thought that you inserted your penis in the thatch of hair that was just above the mons veneris, about two inches below the pantyline. (And I was never entirely convinced until I touched my first pussy, at the very late age of seventeen, about two weeks before my birthday.) I was never sure whether it was pronounced “vuh-GY-nuh” or “VADJE-in-uh” – until, thankfully, an entire class began to taunt my friend Regina, which made things crystal clear without me having to ask.

The book was all round lines; Playboy was all airbrush. Between the two, sex was a strange, almost plastic image in my mind.

I did have sex, eventually – and I was surprised to find out how wet and hot it was. There was nothing like that in the cartoons, where everything was warm and dry and organized. But real-life sex was all moistness, from those frantic, husky, mouth-breathing kisses, all the way to the saliva on the neck and the precum in my pants. The entire thing was breath-to-breath, mouths clamped over each other as the frantic grinding became evident, then that delectably smooth, oily sliding into the VADJE-in-uh, where it felt like a warm, tight glove.

That was the only thing that was like the cartoons. That was the one thing that was dry and warm.

But only because of the condom, mind you.

Yet the cartoons, though chipped at the edges, still stayed firmly embedded in my mind. Though I was rapidly exploring my sexuality with as many partners as I could find and sex was now a regular occurrence in my life – to the point where I could look back on my darker adolescent days, the ones where I was convinced that That would never happen to me, and laugh – the internals of a woman were still very cartoonish. There were cartoon eggs, complete with mascara’d eyebrows, dancing about inside a vast ballroom within each girl’s stomach, where somehow, that soapy, icky spurt of stuff that I jetted into her miraculously transformed and became cartoon sperm, complete with hats.

When her period came, it was thanks to little garbagemen shovelling out unwanted pillows in the area. It was all functional, and happy, and safe…

Until her period didn’t come.

It turned out that though I thought I had pulled out in time, apparently at least once I had gotten overeager – or had leaked when I shouldn’t. We weren’t sure, but two months passed before she could admit it to me… And we held our breaths, waiting with hearts pounding, to see what color the strip turned.

It was blue.

For years afterwards, whenever I saw a commercial that touted pregnancy tests, I always wanted to smash the screen; the fucking companies were trying to make them sound like pregnancy tests always heralded happy occasions to be celebrated, when I knew that across America, there were desperate teenagers huddled in desperate silence, praying, don’t be blue, don’t be blue, don’t be blue.

It was blue.

We had to get an abortion, of course.

I remember the clinic, and sitting there, and being told how we’d be having no sex for three months after the procedure – as if we could have sex ever again, now that this had come between us – and how her insides were going to be torn up by the vaccuum, and the scattered crowds of protesters were outside, waving pickets that showed the dismembered, crushed baby heads from abortions, like stepped-on birds.

Across the lobby from me, where we waited with about three other trembling, frightened young women whose faces have been wiped from my memory… Because her father sat across from me, looking at me with eyes that were shot through with pure acid. He hated me. He wished I was dead. He didn’t say anything, but there was no comfort there; every time our eyes met, it was like fists colliding.

This man thought I was scum. And he had fucked her when she was eight, all the way through until she was eleven, and continued to feel her up on visits until she was finally sixteen and put an end to it….

And he hated me.

And he had a right to.

And in that moment, I realized that there was no cartoons; all we were was flesh and meat and leaking fluids, mingling and misogynating with other meat sacks, buoyed by chemicals and hormones that affected every way we felt, and there we were locked in our own bodies and oh God I was about to scrape a dollop of meat out of the meat that was my girlfriend because I couldn’t afford to have a son.

The cartoons had vanished. This was real life.

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