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As a teen, I was obsessed with my knickers, whether to allow boys into them and getting them in a twist. My mother instilled in me the importance of ensuring my knickers were always on and clean because “God forbid you should have an accident and end up in hospital.”
I had three types of knickers: everyday cotton briefs, pairs with dodgy elastic for period days, and my convent school regulation grey granny pants. When I got a Saturday job at Marks and Spencer’s underwear department, I discovered knickers could be sexy. With my discount, I purchased a pair of yellow lace panties. My mother put away my washing one day and must have thought the lacy string knickers were a hairband. I found them wrapped around my hairbrush handle.
My best mate Patsy claimed to be a feminist. I was intrigued by her strident stance and short peroxide hair. Feminism was a mission, she explained. I understood we were in the second wave and up against the patriarchy. “We have to be free to do the zipless fuck,” Patsy said. I imagined the zipless fuck was doing it with jeans on and the zip down, but I couldn’t work out whether your knickers were on, and I wasn’t sure how any of this would be freeing. I was pondering the technicalities when I told Patsy we should take action. I heard the lads were going down to the pub that night. Tone Williams would be there, and I fancied the pants off him Maybe I could try out the zipless fuck with him to see if it worked. Patsy was all for it, but she had to babysit, so I went alone on the exploratory mission.
I cycled to the pub and went straight to the ladies to conceal my zits. I’d just had a perm that had gone fizzy. I looked like a poodle with an electric shock. Nevertheless, I persisted. I felt sassy thinking of the lacy knickers hidden under my drainpipe jeans like a naughty secret. The boys arrived in Grub’s Ford Cortina. They all had four-letter nicknames, Grub, Kipp, and Tone. Lady Di had just got engaged to Chaz, who didn’t know what love was. Kipp said he couldn’t imagine them doing it, but I was just thinking about Di’s knickers, practical cotton or sensuous silk?
I drank beaucoup Babycham and went out back to the car park with Tone. He didn’t get into my knickers because as soon as we started getting it on, Mr. Gunner, from my street, arrived at the pub with his wife and shone his car lights right at us. Mrs. Gunner tutted in my direction. I turned away and yanked up my drainpipes, but the lace of the knickers got caught in the zip. Never mind the zipless fuck, the zip was fucking fucked. My bladder was bloated, but I couldn’t get the zip down to go to the loo. I sat on a barstool, legs tightly crossed with the yellow lace poking out, my hands cupped around my privates like a codpiece.
The boys wanted to go to the chippy. I wasn’t going to risk being given the four-letter nickname – SLUT – so I said my mum wanted me in by ten, and I best be going. As soon as they left, I skulked outside and wet my pants. I cycled like fury to get home to release myself from the soggy drainpipes. It was pitch black on the backroad. I must have been hit by a car head-on and knocked out cold. The culprit left me for dead. Grub dropped the lads at the chippy and happened past in his Cortina. He saw me lying in the ditch and drove to my house to get my mum.
I was unconscious for hours. When I came round in the hospital, mum was there with Patsy.
“You nearly died for the cause,” Patsy wailed and came over to hug me.
Mum was frowning. She had that kind of disappointed look that mothers get.
“They had to cut them stupid smelly jeans off you,” mum said. “Why did you have a hairband under your jeans and no knickers? If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, and you arrive at hospital with no clean knickers on. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the shame.”
I remembered nothing. I looked down at my bruised and battered self. Under the hospital gown, I was wearing my regulation grey school knickers – clean, of course.
Caroline Grobler-Tanner is a British-American writer based in Washington, DC. She works in public health emergencies in the world's hot spots and practices yoga for healing trauma. She writes on matters that are often silenced with an element of humor. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Intima, Motherwell, HerStry, Women on Writing, Brevity, and Flash Fiction Magazine.