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SexPlusDeath: 'Our relationship was more romantic when you were dead'
Sonya JF Barnett on the demise of a dramatic first love

Illustration by Francis Foster

When I was 15, I hooked up with boy two years my senior. I was the skinny Canadian among a sea of Brits and islanders on a tiny plot in the middle of the Atlantic. He was the dark and mysterious American, visiting his father who was a member of the US Naval services. It was destiny.

There was a fateful evening on his living room floor. Up until then, I was a (fairly) innocent young girl, whose most heinous crimes were letting a boy feel me up, and drinking too much Bartles & James. After that, all was different, with The Cure’s “Kytoto Song” and New Order’s “Elegia” on permanent repeat in my head, forever triggering memories of that dark summer night.

We became inseparable. The two of us constantly challenging the prim & proper society of British island living. We did not conform by wearing pastel coloured knee-length shorts (we’d rather die), by obeying school rules (not sorry about the graffiti!), by having our hair clipped the right length (turns out, ‘below the collar’ does not mean ‘automatic pregnancy’). Instead, we thumbed our noses at them all. His spiky mohawk and ripped Dead Kennedy’s Too Drunk To Fuck tee were the Sid to my Nancy’s new kohl eyeliner and black leggings.

In between our visits into town, shocking all the locals by our mere presence, we partied on beaches and fucked wherever we could. By sunlight, by moonlight, in the salty ocean, behind headstones, on park benches. Our raging hormones mixed with our desire to say “Fuck you!” to all who thought we were nobody important were an elixir that made us unstoppable. We were in love. We owned it all.

Until we didn’t.

Our teen angst became too unbearable for those around us, our enviable rebellion wasted on the tut-tutting, sideways-glancing elders. We were nothing but a blight on the fluffy island paradise, with our threatening hair gel and menacing black clothing.  I was shipped off back to Canada, and he returned to sunnier, seedier California. Back to his bigger parties, darker corners, sketchier friends.

Despite failed attempts at rekindling debaucherous fires, the only things that remained were memories, traces of pink sand and piles of poorly written letters (his, not mine). I moved on, matured, had lots of better sex, and loved many more times. But, as is with everyone who had a first love, I wondered what became of this dark, swarthy rebel.

Over the years, the internet developed and my curiosity would every so often be piqued enough for an AOL/Classmates/Google/Facebook/Twitter/WhateverNewSocialMedia search. These produced zero results. Who, in this day and age, has zero search results? There were only two possibilities for this. Those who have been in prison since before the dawn of the interwebs, or worse (read: ‘more dramatically’) those who are long dead.

How befitting that a socially reprehensible yet heated love affair would end like this. My first real (and only) Bad Boy. A tortured soul, with his impressive music collection, LSD flashbacks, and insatiable sex drive. It was never meant to be, and my James Dean’s fire eventually extinguished. It’s a tragic ending, him having been arrested time and time again for drug trafficking, or dying in a fiery motorcycle crash, or succumbing to the elements on one of his nomadic journeys across the desert. At least, that’s how I pictured the story ending. Fade to black.

Until a very curious missive appeared in my inbox this year. Through LinkedIn, of all places. (Cruel foreboding: dramatic romances never involve LinkedIn.)

There was his name, blinking at me from my screen, with queries as to my life and well-being. Could there be a considered prologue after all? The next chapter in our torid love affair? How exciting! This could mean a new friendship, a mature and flirty connection, full of reminiscing and laughter.


Turns out, he wasn’t still the cool and collected Bad Boy, with a jetsetting career and supermodel wife that I created in the 3 seconds between ‘You’re supposed to be dead’ and ‘oh, how fascinating that you’re not’. He was curiously cryptic, and sent photo after photo of him in various states of undress. And should I not have been able to garner his adult physique under those white tank tops, he sent yet another photo, sans shirt, just so I could be sure. And that’s where the story unravels.

Our brains are amazing things. They create fantastical tales, spinning and respinning histories until they are what we want them to be.  Our memories and fantasies become selective and seductive. My sentencing this old flame to prison and/or death was way sexier than his lurid and creepy photos, bizarre invitation to go swimming, or his request for sending commemorative coins. We all want our teen histories to be a thrill-ride through adolescence, ending in a climax that hurls us into extraordinary adulthood, shaping who we are. If only we could all be that exciting. No 90210 for me. I wanted modern Shakespeare. Romance and tattoos with a splash of tragedy (that splash on his behalf, of course, not mine).

But realistically, we don’t actually want past loves to die horrendously (at least, not all of us), and as a result, the truth is more boring than fiction. So I’m going to rip out that recently written last chapter in our sordid story, burning the pages in an elaborate bonfire, and go back to feeling sad for his untimely death on a California highway (you could see the flames for miles. Miraculously, no one else was hurt). It’s just a story with spicy fiction sprinkled in, as I’ve always preferred my plotlines with a bit of heat.


Sonya JF Barnett, also known as “The Madame,” is the founder of an erotic arts community called The Keyhole Sessions and the co-founder of SlutWalk Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @KeyholeSessions

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