We had seen pictures of naked women before, as children. We discovered a weather-beaten issue of Playboy in an alley when I was in elementary school, the pages whitened by sun and rain. There was discussion and argument about who would take it. I don't remember who did. There was also Jason, who lived with his grandfather a couple blocks over, said grandfather being the owner of what we would still now consider a large collection of skin magazines but what back then appeared to be an almost terrifying amount. Some of these were rougher than others, offering images whose effects would scar over and dull the parts of us that needed tending.
We had seen the pictures, but actually finding a way to own the pictures was another challenge. (Sex itself was to most of us a bump on a distant and fogged horizon, a place to possibly be reached but not without a long and arduous journey through as yet uncharted territory.) I took driver's education at the local mall, and on dinner break one night walked into a store that sold memorabilia, sports cards, movie scripts, and various pop culture items that didn't go together.
They also sold old magazines, including back issues of Playboy, that name revered by the pubescent and yearning. It was winter or spring of 1998, and among their plastic-bagged and retagged issues was December 1997, boasting pictorials of Miss Canada among what could only be a wealth of glories. The centerfold that month was Karen McDougal, who would go on to become Playmate of the Year; apparently my subconscious wanted a good one. I was too young to even drive, let alone buy the magazine, so I did what any 15-year-old would do when driven to frenzied madness by his hormones: I stole it.
I slid it into my red 1-inch binder and went back to class, keeping it behind the paper as I took notes and waited. I don't remember which parent picked me up, but I do remember the ride home, holding the binder as still as possible on my lap, praying to the God I was sure I was dishonoring to not let the notebook slide or fall. I was even so terrified of being found out that I kept it in my backpack and took it to school for days, as if it were a grenade without a pin, something that could detonate and destroy my life if I didn't keep constant watch.
The pictures lodged themselves deep in my brain, the way songs or movies do, only really making their hold known over time. I would see more, but these remain the first I ever owned, and in some weird and kind of nostalgic but also admittedly not good way, I've never forgotten them. I got rid of the magazine at one point, either plagued by fear or swept up in a fit of righteousness I likely regretted hours later, but I don't remember when or where or how it left. I didn't have it when I went to college.
It took me a while to even realize I wanted to tell the story, even though I'm still not sure what the point of the telling could be. I guess it's just one of those high school things that eventually processes itself and needs to be spit out.