I saw my first pornographic image before I was in kindergarten.
We were on the way to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. We’d stopped for gas, and while Dad checked the oil, Mom sent me to use the bathroom.
There was a picture. Torn from a magazine. Taped to the wall. The photo – a woman with hair down to her knees – seemed sad and alone. Silent. Staring out into the space of that darkened stall, the ragged yellow edges of her world.
I washed my hands.
Outside, I told my parents I’d seen something bad. And as we drove away, I wanted to know why. Where were her clothes? Why did someone take that picture? What did it mean? What was her name?
Although most of that conversation has been lost to time, I remember one point that my parents made: the woman in the picture had done what she ought not to have done. She’d taken off her clothes. For attention. For money. To make others think she cared.
That woman was a liar.
I wasn’t old enough to argue. Didn’t know how to put into words what I felt was true. But I did know this: I’d seen the picture. And that woman’s eyes – staring into mine – weren’t full of pride or desire.
They were afraid.
Now, more than 30 years later, I can still see that picture. I carry it around in my head. From time to time, I think about that image – the things we do, the things we do to each other. And the truth is, my parents might have been right. That woman might have been a liar. She may have been greedy, selfish, and shameless. She might not have cared for anybody but herself.
And she might not have really been afraid.
People, after all, are complex.
But if I could go back in time to my five-year-old self, I think I know what I’d ask my parents in the car, on the road to my grandparents’ house: Who took that photo? Who paid the woman? Who printed the picture? Who tore it out and taped it to the wall?
How do you know she’s a liar?
And if my five-year-old self had met the woman instead of her picture.
I think I’d just want to know her name.
But if I could go back in time to my five-year-old self, I think I know what I’d ask my parents in the car, on the road to my grandparents’ house