She came on the foundation of a great journey of fear. I had been afraid of girls all my life until high school. Didn’t know how to talk to them or be around them. They were supernatural beings, mysterious and exciting, vastly superior to boys. If a girl borrowed my pencil, I felt honored. If she chewed on it, I would meditate on her tooth marks. I had only been able to bring myself to talk to girls after my family broke up and instead of living in houses, we lived in low rent apartments, a precursor of the communal life that would come for me later. I ran into girls my age as often I stepped into the hallway, and in the summer time, there was the swimming pool. For kids, the swimming pool is the great gathering place. Even if you find girls unapproachable, walking to school, and there by the pool side, the girls find you. Even if you’re afraid of them, they come to you and speak to you. Some girls are not turned off by shyness, but excited by it. Breaking through your shell becomes an interesting conquest, as though taming a wild animal that has showed up at their door. You learn that with an effort you can be a little witty, get them to laugh at your jokes. Soon you’re going out with them instead of collecting comic books.
Coming home from the library, I walked into a store called Fin Fare, to find out why it was called that. She was working behind the counter and she told me she knew me. She was in my school. She liked to stand behind me in the lunch line and listen to my voice, watch me talking to my little gang of friends. She thought I sounded smart. She thought I would be interesting to know better. After that I came by to visit whenever I could. So the Fin Fare girl and I became close friends. I met her when she got off work, and we walked. Walking was the door into conversation I had discovered on my own. I had learned that walking and talking went together as naturally as books and coffee. She talked about her family, her feelings, her resentments, her dreams. I listened. It was the one skill I wanted to learn well for her. Look at her face, enjoy her eyes, ask a question. Be ready for a quiz. I have since lost the knack of listening well, having become more solitary after many years on the road. She was interested in ideas, the great adolescent questions. We began to go places together. This was back in the day in Minneapolis when the Guthrie Theater could be a cheap date. We went to see live plays performed, Shakespeare and Steinbeck, and I imagined myself as a playwright someday. She didn’t laugh at these things, she thought it was possible.
My mother moved us to Georgia and she and I wrote letters continuously, almost daily, just as people would email today. My Dad invited me back up for the summer to talk about future plans for college. She was waiting to see me again. We had never left each others' thoughts for a day.
I was allowed to borrow my Dad's old Mercury Cougar, in a time before seat belts and bucket seats, when a kiss and a furtive feel in the dark before saying goodnight, were only a matter of sliding to the other end of the seat and gathering the other in your arms. The conversations and the protests began. That's enough; I think we'd better stop before we get crazy. But I like crazy. See you tomorrow. Okay. Good night. But you'll see me. See you. Miss you.
Another night, sitting in the dark. My hands under her clothes, like a conquering army gaining ground yard by yard, night by night. She pulls my hands away, puts them in my lap. I don’t know. I don’t know if we should. Should? Should what? You know. No, I don’t. I'm just saying. Are you okay? Yeah, I'm okay.
Another night. Sitting in the dark. My fingers have attained her nipples at long last, under the cloth of her T-shirt, having slipped in unopposed under the loose rim of her bra. Did she wear it loose for comfort, or for me? I don’t know what to do with them, how they should be touched. I know nothing. With each progress, my ignorance is miserable, which only fuels my clumsy determination and vanity. Her nipples feel so different from mine. Bigger. Tougher. Purposeful. Real. A girl's nipples are not the same. Pulls my hands away. I'm not ready. It’s okay. I know you're a virgin, she says. Yes, I say. I know you want to lose it. Yes, I say, but I'm okay. I want it to be with you. But when you’re ready to lose it too. I can wait. Then we'll both be ready. I'm not a virgin, she says, but I'm not ready. Not with you. You’re my best friend.
Whoa whoa whoa. Not a virgin?
My face burns. She can't see my face in the dark. Thank God. I've been slugged in the gut and I want to shove her out of the car, dump her on the pavement, call her something but I don’t dare. She has already given to a boy what she will not give to me. I thought I was worthy, but I'm nothing after all. There are better men, men she wants. Men who know how. I am not sexy. I'm not desirable. Easy to refuse. Easy to push away, because I'm a nice boy. The kind you can always talk to. The kind of boy who stops when you tell him to, eager to please.
What happened? I speak with cheerful curiosity, as if asking for a funny story, some old family gossip. I keep the tension out of my voice. No, its nothing. No, come on, tell me, I want to hear it now. You can’t just throw that out there, tell me. It's okay. It happened at a party, that's all. There was this guy. Do you love him? No! - nothing like that. Just a guy. He's a jerk.
Yes, I think, just a jerk - so you took it all down and fucked a jerk. For him you do it.
I was a little drunk. He brought me upstairs. I was just curious. You know what I mean? You get curious to see what it is, and he was just there. So I just let it happen. You just did it? Just like that? Sure. How? Upstairs, like I said. But how? What do you mean how? On a bed. The people who lived there, their bed. You know. You want to hear this? Yeah, I really do. Sure? You okay? I’m okay. This is really great, go on. This is a really great story. So anyway. We went upstairs in a room and got on the bed. It was over quick. So you did it upstairs on the bed. I was drunk, okay? How was it? It was awful. It hurt. Then he told me I was lousy, I didn’t know how to fuck, he said. He said I didn’t know anything. Well, you were a virgin right? I mean, how would you know? Yeah, that's right. You know something, that's right. How would I know?
I couldn’t stop myself wanting her words. All her words. I wanted her story. All her story forever. The more the words hurt me, the more voracious I became to gobble up her story like rat bait. I was changing. The story. I want to know the story. The story! Words are powerful when they’re the right words. Words are demons that can get in your head. I didn’t know that. Now I knew it in my bones, in the yammering of my skull. Words could have a powerful and terrible magic.
are you okay? sure Im okay. I want you to be okay because you're so good for me. I'm okay allright. you don't seem that okay. stop asking me if Im okay if I say I’m okay I’m okay.
There she is spread on a bed. Opening to him, to his boorish claspings. Beer on her breath as he puts his tongue in her mouth. There. And there he is. There, sticking up like a ball peen hammer. I see him! Why are the lights on? Does he insist? Drunk or not, pushing her knees apart, nude, and he has her now, the boy she has chosen for herself.
Climbing on board, really knocking it in there. Get it done, get your hammer in boy, fuck her up one side and down the other, make her yell and bang her up good so she knows she's been done good big buddy, this girl who has chosen you instead of me, this girl who will never ever forget you long after I’m washed downstream - and in my wretchedness I discover I am utterly poisoned with love. Smitten.
I hear his slapping belly on top of hers. Hearing it! Words. Seeing them entwined like worms. I hear his grunts. Her squeals. She monkey-grins at the ceiling. Burn eyes! I see them perfectly. I am there. The bed springs rising rhythm. She digs her nails in his back and I am there beside them, an enraged, murderous ghost.
She smiles at me, her confessor. I feel so close to you, she says.
Well, goonnight. Goonnight. Goonnight. Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Kiss kiss.
I drive down the block, go around the corner and pull over. I turn off the engine and roll up the windows so no one will hear me as I scream and pound the dashboard with my fists. I get out and walk in the dark silent streets for an hour.
I don’t see her for a week because I have been seeing her every moment of every day, splayed on the bed with the boy she chose. Each time it’s a little different, but the ending is always the same. She finally calls me on the phone to see if I'm alright. I'm fine. I thought you might be upset. Upset? Why, what for? Well, you know. No, no. You seemed upset. No, no. Just busy. Let's go somewhere tonight. Let's go eat. Let's go talk.
There is the restaurant. After the small meal, and the last of my money, we walk down Nicollet Avenue. We talk. She’s in the mood to talk "gut level", her phrase for intimacy. I'm grateful to her for reaching out to me. For coming back. I tell her that.
She leans against me, wraps around me, and we walk dreamily, stumbling into each other. I'm so glad I have you. You’re the only one I can talk to.
Back in the familiar dark. Parked in her driveway. The lights of her house are out. Her parents asleep. This time it’s different. It feels different. The fumbling goes farther. She lifts off her T-shirt and looks in my eyes and I am seeing a woman's bare chest for the first time in my life. I don’t know if we should, she says, I want to, but I don’t know. Why? Because if we do, listen, if we do, everything is going to change I just know it will. Are you ready for this? Yes, I say. Are you sure you want this? I'm sure.
T shirt back on. Climbing over the back. Wait. Unfastening. Unzipping. Just a second. Breathing fast. Quick. Quick. She's changing her mind every second. I don't know if we should. Fumbling. I don’t know if we should do this. Hurry. Are you sure? Yes. Oh yes. Jeans off. T shirt stays on. Hurry. If my step-dad comes out and sees us doing it, he'll kill me, I’m telling you. He'll beat me up.
Only half naked for me. Was she naked for him? Half sure of what she's doing. Maybe the guy really was a jerk. Maybe it’s easier for a girl when she doesn’t really like you. Maybe it comes harder when she likes you a lot, because there's more to lose. Everything is going to change – how does she know this? It’ll just get better of course. Won’t it? So confused. I feel ridiculous. This isn’t what I thought. Terrified. But it’s fantastic, because it’s with her, because it’s with her its fantastic. She’s chosen me. Exhilarated. It would be easy to call it off. But I’m always calling stuff off. All my stupid life, I've been hesitating. Afraid. I don’t want to hesitate this time. Not about this. Maybe this will never happen again if I hesitate. This time I want to pull the trigger. Yes, I want this, I say. Let's do this together.
I want to say I love you, to seal the deal but I'm so afraid she'll laugh. She's heard that tacky stuff before, probably. Maybe the clever jerk who got her fucked said that just to get her pants down. Then he told her she was such an awful fuck, maybe to ruin her for other guys. I'm terrified it will sound stupid if I say it out loud - I love you! - at this moment when its all going to happen if I just don't do anything to mess it up. I'm terrified of the power I’ve given her to hurt me.
She reclines on the back seat like an offering on an altar. She knows this thing better than I do. Her upper body is in shadows. Her lower body is in light. She waits to see what I will do with her body, with her feelings. She’s waiting for me to be good. Am I good? Her face hidden in the dark of the door well. Between the lush valley of her thighs, the street light on a rich delta of dark curls. There is where it must be done. Somewhere there. I'm sure that's how it works. That's what it said in the medical dictionary at home. Panic. Do people do this? When the moment comes, it all seems so unnatural. When death comes to me, will death feel like that too?
Once ready, having taken up that ancient masculine posture, hovering over her, I withdraw into a self conscious workmanship. I’m learning a new skill, without a teacher, but in the presence of an audience and judge of one. She opens a little and waits. I hear her breathing; see her belly rise and fall. I touch her, to find the wet spot. She opens more, resolved now, and I lower myself gingerly, holding my breath. Poking and probing, I can’t find the spot. Jesus Moses, this is stupid. This is crazy. I can’t see anything. The other guy, he could probably see everything when he was giving her the time upstairs on a proper bed with the light on and everything. Oh shit. Drunk my ass. She was just making that crappy lie to protect herself. She loved it. Bitch! She loved it and she wanted him bad. She got down on her knees and begged for it and sucked his goddamned dick! For sure - they stayed up all night banging away at it like ferrets and she called him back to beg for it all over again!
She gasps loudly in pain. Jesus. I don’t even know what I just did. It’s all falling apart. No, I can't let my clumsiness hurt her, I will not, no matter what, even if I have to give this up in defeat and call it a night. Anyway, she knows it now, I’m no great lover, I have no confidence, I don’t have a clue about how this works, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing this for anyway, how I got into this. The other guy who fucked her, he's just a better cocksman than me and that’s how it is. Now she knows it too. Goddamnit. Godfuckingdammit all.
In an agony of humiliation I whisper words like a prayer to the shadows where she lurks, "I think I’ll need your help." I feel her hand touching me softly down there. I feel how she touches me. Her generosity. Her patience. Like a tug boat bringing a ship to the dock she takes hold of me there, gently pulls and guides me home. Trusting, I let her lead me. When I arrive, I feel something strange and hot pressing tentatively against me. I give an explorative little bump and I’m startled to feel it sink like a blade, to feel the flesh parting. She lets go of me, like a mother letting her child learn to walk, to let me find my own way now. I impale her easeful deepness, feel it slip further, and there is the strange gross sensation of warm slick meat enveloping me. And all this time I am thinking - am I doing this right? It feels . . . it feels . . . icky. Like raw meat. Is this natural? Is this what people do? Am I disgusting to her? Is this what Jerome kept doing to my friend Terri, until he ruined her life? Is this what my dad did to my mom? This. . . wet meat . . . Like sticking it in raw liver. He did this to her? Like this? Many times? And then I was born?
Her hand on my back, pressing me down all the way, encouraging. Relax. You're shaking all over. Are you okay? I'm okay.
When she had hurt me before, butchered me with her story, I had loved her more in that moment of misery than I had ever imagined possible, but now having arrived in paradise, in this awkward moment of consummation, I just want it to be over.
I settle over her and wait for my racing heart to slow down. I’m covered in sweat like a race horse. She moves under me, then seizes me aggressively, shifts her legs under me, working her hips hard and fast against my groin, whispering "you’re beautiful, you're beautiful". Those are all the things I’m supposed to be doing and saying to her. I don’t know how to speak words like that- you’re beautiful. I don’t know how to say I love you. I never ever said those words to anybody. No one had said them to me. Instinctively I don’t feel this is some reckless kind of passion coming from her, this is something else. Something calculated. She is determined to be The Fuck of The Century, to impress me all the way through, to make sure she is not "a lousy lay" ever in my eyes. Suddenly it all lets go, my orgasm weak and transparent, a sense of something leaving me and that’s all, as she flogs away at me furiously, babbling angry things. She stops. She tries again. She stops. She bursts into tears. I listen helplessly to my girl shaking under me sobbing in the dark.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
“I can’t make you come.”
“. . . what . . ?”
"You didn’t come. I’m shitty at this, I’m no good!"
"But you did.”
"I didn’t feel you."
"But you did. You made me come good."
"It was greatest thing that ever happened to me. You made me come so good. You’re wonderful." I find her mouth by the sound of her sniffles, kiss her and hold her tight. I whisper in her hair "You were really great. I love you fine. You’re the best." I feel false. Selfish. Hollow.
I kiss her beautiful face; I kiss her ears and whisper assuring things to her. It’s what I’ve wanted all my life, ever since I knew there was such a thing, and it’s all going wrong. But there’s one more thing going wrong, the worst thing of all. The revelation. I get it now.
Now that we’ve both eaten the apple, the realization, the thing we can’t ever talk about is growing. She is right. She is right about everything. We’re not in the garden of innocence anymore. We’ll never get it back like it was. How did she know? It's all going to change now.