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If I’ve Told You Once
by Jane Shlensky

“If I was you, I sure as hell wouldn’t let that boy put his hands on me before he put a ring on my finger.” I sigh and wait. She’s just warming up and protest adds to the duration of her relationship advice. “And I’ll tell you something else,” of course she will, “you gotta be careful about what you wear when you go out to parties and on dates and the like. No skirts or shorts, for God’s sake, loose pants and blouses. Boys your age are nothing but horn dogs. Horn. Dogs. Do you hear me? Pretty much from the age of twelve to twenty-four, that’s all they think about—sex, alcohol, fast cars, and violence, not necessarily in that order, but sex consumes most of their brains. They can’t really help it, bless their hearts, awash in hormones as they are, but they can learn to restrain themselves with the help of good girls”—there it is—“and the love of Jesus. I know you are a good girl.” I inhale and shake my head only minutely, my eyes raised upward for divine support, but she catches it. “You think I’m an old fuddy-duddy, I get it, but I’ve lived, do you hear me? Lived and made more mistakes than I’d have liked. Too trusting! That’s what I was and it got me exactly nowhere. Some boys just live to take advantage of nice naive girls who are maybe a little stupid, in love with the idea of love, and presto, you find yourself in a family way. If I was you, I’d steer clear of any kind of necking until after college. Abstain! Abstain and work your brain! There. I’m done.” I nod and smile. No need to tell her I’m gay. She would only fret.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Dancing and carousing in Athens, Greece, at the age of 21, despite the best advice of my elders.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I always found it amusing and instructive to be advised by the elder women of my family about my love life, for they revealed more about themselves than I ever revealed myself. Their “sex talks” were confessions, personal histories, regrets, concerns, and hilarious anecdotes. And they always assumed heterosexuality. I chose to upend those assumptions here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jane Shlensky, a teacher and musician, holds an MFA from UNC-Greensboro. Her recent poetry has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Kakalak, Southern Poetry Anthology: NC, and Poetry Market 2015. She is co-editing a forthcoming book of narrative poetry for book clubs, The Well-Versed Reader, and is a Poet Laureate for Writer’s Digest’s 2016 April Poetry Challenge. Her chapbook Barefoot on Gravel (2016) is now available from Finishing Line Press and Amazon.