It’s Thursday night in Lititz, Pennsylvania and Woody Clarke wants to see my pubic hair.
I can tell because in the last hour he’s said some variation of “c’mon, show me your bush” at least three times, and my unwillingness to show him what I’ve got under there must be wearing him down because this last time, between sinking the 9 ball and the 13, he just pointed at my crotch and whispered, “She’s on fire! Let me see it.”
As a redhead at the age of fifteen, this is not the first, second, or third time a guy wanted to know what was up with my body hair. Psh, Body Hair. I don’t mean for it to sound like they’re asking why I stopped – or ever started – shaving my arms, or about my mole hair. No. These guys are asking about my pubic hair. The kind I keep in my underwear! My bikini area. My none of your business. Usually, it’s phrased in some super unimaginative way like, “Does the carpet match the drapes?” But sometimes it’s super unimaginative AND clumsy like, “So, are you a fire crotch, or what?” (In England they ask, “Does the cuff match the collar,” which also sounds gross but … dignified.)
In this instance of the burning question, Woody Clarke is playing pool in his basement, flicking cigarette ashes all over the place like some goddamn animal and getting more and more frustrated that I’m not exposing myself … on a Thursday … in a basement … in Lititz, Pennsylvania. But it didn’t start out that way.
For a teenager with a name like Woody – and who knows if it’s because of or in spite of – he could be pretty smooth. A low rent Matt Dillon in Rumble Fish with buck teeth and pale skin, Woody Clarke ran this side of the greater, and non-Amish, Lancaster County region. And here he was, asking if he could see MY pubes in a way that didn’t end with me wanting to die. He began with, “You’ve really got beautiful hair …” Yeah, ok, it’s not groundbreaking, but hey, I was fifteen.
Anyway, then things devolved to Woody aggressively chalking his cue and getting annoyed. “Look, I said I’d show you my dick. This offer is about to expire. C’mon fire crotch. Show me.” I roll my eyes but I also kind of … smile a little bit. Prat Bowman, a ‘roided up, teenaged John Pauper and Woody’s right hand man, cracks open a fresh Yeungling lager and laughs, slurping foam and saying, “Everyone knows Woody’s got a big dick, so someone like you should definitely take him up on that.”
I learned pretty quickly that it’s best to stay quiet in these situations. Typically, in a conversation like this you end up with one of two things: power or humiliation. You know, how most things end in this world.
Now I’m trying to remember what it’s like even to want to see pubic hair, which makes it seem like I’ve seen so much in my life. But seriously, it’s just this big fat tract of ungainly hair that obscures the very thing you even got those pants off to mess with in the first place. It gets accidentally pulled, stuck in horrible places, and they just don’t make underwear, bathing suits, or sexual expectations these days with non-trimmers in mind.
Look, at the age of fifteen I didn’t know anything about anyone’s pubic hair except mine. And I hated it. I thought it made my vagina look like a goat. A goat that would one day eat a penis, sure. But a goat nevertheless.
Woody and Prat play pool and talk about the women in Hustler magazine. It’s typical guy stuff about how this one’s tits are nice or that one has an ass like a Lego man, but I’m cool – I’m not like a regular teen girl, I’m a cool teen girl, you know, so I stay quiet. “I like when they’re bald,” Prat says. He means vaginas. Then, he flexes his muscles and blows a kiss at me. Woody scoffs, “Gross, dude. That’s like … that’s like sleeping with a baby. I’m not a pedo, man. You know what’s hot?” He looks right at me. “When it’s shaved like a little landing strip.”
I go home that night and carve my beautiful bush into a tasteless topiary.
I trim the hair and knick my labia.
Here’s a fact: Your eyebrow color has nothing to do with your pubic hair color. That’s one of those stupid things that teenagers make up to sound like they know fucking anything about anything, but guess what? They don’t. Or, who knows, maybe it’s something they hear from disreputable adults who like to talk to teenagers about how you can tell the color of a woman’s pubic hair, and who have only had sex in the dark, and who believe that Joe DiMaggio killed JFK because Marilyn Monroe showed JFK her pubes.
“I’m telling you, man, she’s not a real firebush. Look at her eyebrows. Brown,” Prat says. They both walk over to me like they’re gardeners in a minor dispute about whether or not I, a supple and kind of cute plant of some sort, need more water. Woody shrugs and smiles at me, “It’s kind of a sexy mystery, huh?”
Prat scratches on the 8. “The real mystery,” he says, “is why she’s being such a fucking prude.”
I feel special because I am a trophy. I am a trophy because I am rare. I am rare because I am weird.
I don’t show Woody Clarke my pubes.
Not that night.
And when I do it’s not a like I’d imagined. It’s not like that scene in Pulp Fiction where Pumpkin and Honeybunny open the briefcase – the inside a beautiful golden glow, the secrets of the world revealed. It wasn’t like that at all. It was just a girl showing a guy her pubes. It was literally just an excuse for me to take my pants off and for Woody to get my pants off and the rest was teenage magic.
After my teens, no one commented on the color of my nether furs until I was old enough to get a job with health insurance and adult enough to make responsible decisions about my personal care. Power.
I lay down on the gynecologist’s table, cold and uncomfortable in the blue gown. The gynecologist relaxes me into the stirrups and lifts the fabric draped around my knees. “Oh!” she squeals. “So you are a real redhead.”
Courtney Algeo is a writer and semi-pro TV aficionado living in the frozen tundra of Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and son. She is the former editorial director ofPaper Darts magazine, former marketing manager at The Loft Literary Center, and current brand communications specialist at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.