“Katherine… I’d like you to meet Ralph… Ralph, this is Katherine. She’s a very good friend of mine.”
I borrowed Judy Blume’s “Forever…” from the library the other day. I wanted to read it because the theme of this month’s show is “Penis”, and while my experience with real life penises is limited my experience with fictional penises is, um, more considerable.
I wanted to read “Forever…” again because I think it’s a beautiful and bittersweet story about first love. I wanted to read “Forever…” again because I think it’s always a good idea to read and re-read the work of Judy Blume. I read “Forever…” again because I always thought it was hilarious that in this book there was a girl named Katherine who had a boyfriend named Michael who had a penis named Ralph.
Ralph! The name in and of itself is not ridiculous. But when it’s a penis, the first penis you’ve ever read about, it’s crazy. And the idea of naming a dick was, to 10 year old me, funny enough that my stomach would cramp from laughing every time I thought about it.
Let’s just say I laughed a lot.
Years later, when I got to college, I thought it was funny to ask my dude friends what they named their balls, and I did so frequently because I found a lot of dudes who liked to joke about their testicles with me.
The first time I read it, a copy of “Forever…” had made its way to me in fifth grade, passed around my classroom under the nose of our teacher. The pages with mentions of Ralph and Katherine and Michael “doing it” were dogeared so you could skip to what we called the good stuff before you had to pass it on to the next kid.
I remember a lot of knowing looks and giggle but not a lot of talk about the book. Like, Katherine’s family spent all their time hooking rugs and I remember wondering if that was something people did in New Jersey when they were bored. Would I go out and get drunk when I was 18 like Katherine and her friends did? And the “rubbers” Michael and Katherine bought when they started having sex, I thought they were like those rubber things the secretaries in the school office wore when they collated papers.
When I think of “Forever…” now, I remember Ralph as a benevolent sort of presence. Like Charlotte in “Charlotte’s Web” or Winnie-the-Pooh.
It’s weird to think I am now the age of the parents in the book when I feel like I still identify so much with Katherine’s feelings now. Weird but somehow consoling, though, as I can return to “Forever…” this year and in more years to come. Maybe to remind myself that those first feelings don’t have to go away, and it’s probably kind of great that they won’t.
And that Ralph is a perfectly lovely name, though I probably won’t be naming any of my future children Ralph (sorry, Judy).