Shannon and I had just had a fight, one of many that year. I was nineteen; she was seventeen. I was in love, but she only wanted a friend.
I say “love,” but a large part of what I felt for Shannon was lust. In the time I’d known her, she’d blossomed from a bug-cute but somewhat dumpy freshman into a senior with long brown hair, an exotic face, and (most earthshaking of all to a sexually inexperienced guy like me) big breasts. I became obsessed with her body, and dreamed of being naked with her; she replaced the women from MTV videos in my masturbation fantasies. The fact that she was my best friend — that we went to movies together, ended our evenings with hugs, and periodically told each other, “I love you” — only tantalized me more.
In the aftermath of that afternoon’s fight (sparked by yet another variation on “If you love me, why don’t you sleep with me?”) I asked if we could hold each other. She said yes. We moved to the window seat of the apartment she shared with her divorced father. The radiator warming the backs of our legs, we slipped our arms around each other and sat silently. She was probably wishing things could be normal between us again, while I was wishing she would give herself to me.
I sighed deeply and turned so that my mouth was right next to her ear. Her hair, smelling of shampoo, tickled my nose. “Can I touch you?” I asked.
“You are touching me.”
“I mean, can I touch your chest?” I had an erection, and my heart was beating so hard I was sure she could feel it. “Please, Shan.”
I waited, then let my right hand slide down from her shoulder and creep underneath her arm until my fingers brushed the firm weight of her breast. She stiffened.
In a hoarse imitation of a bedroom whisper, I said, “Is this it?”
“Don’t do that,” she said, and twisted free.
“OK,” I said, gathering her back into my arms. “I’m sorry.”
But a minute later my hand was back on her breast, cupping it through her scratchy sweater. The sensation burned itself into my memory: the heft, the warmth, the sweet pressure against my palm.
“Damn it, I said stop!” Shannon jerked away and threw herself on the couch, angry, and maybe a little scared. I remained in the window seat, marveling at what I’d done: forced my way into a place that was denied me; claimed what I’d felt to be rightfully mine.
As the winter light died outside the filmy curtains, Shannon started making dinner. I could have stayed to eat — our patterns of fighting and forgiveness were that erratic — but I decided to leave. I didn’t have much to say to her; I was lost in my own world, replaying again and again the electrifying moment of contact.
Before I left, she said, “You know what hurts me the most? Not that you did it, but that you don’t seem sorry.”
She was right. I felt triumphant.
Sorry came later.
At twenty-five, painfully shy and still a virgin, I decided to go to a prostitute. She told me her name was Desirée, and we went to a motel in the industrial part of town. Weeds poked up through the rocks of the gravel parking lot. Rooms were ten dollars an hour.
Inside Room 3, Desirée took a seat on the bed and, with filmy eyes, watched me strip naked as she tucked my twenty-five dollars into her black bra. She produced a colorful packet, deftly opened it, and placed the thin, transparent condom on me, then began sucking. After about a minute she stopped, wriggled her stockings down, raised her miniskirt, and lay back.
When it was over, I collapsed next to her, but she immediately rose, pulled up her stockings, and dropped her miniskirt back down. She checked her appearance in a mirror, reapplied some lipstick, and quickly left, never once turning her back to me.
If Desirée is still alive — and from what I’ve heard about prostitution, that’s a big if — she surely doesn’t remember me, but I can still feel her fear.
I was sixteen. We’d met at summer camp. Now it was October, and we were having a small reunion in upstate New York. The seven of us were close, piling on the same couch while the one across the room sat empty. At camp, we had each given and received a few dozen hickeys from anyone and everyone — that summer’s fad.
She was short, barely coming up to my collarbone, and had shaved her head. She had just learned a new trick, which she taught to my friend Max and me — ear sucking. We sat outside on the porch, huddled on the wooden swing, switching hands while we smoked because the one holding the cigarette would turn blue from the cold. From time to time, we warmed the ear of the person next to us with our mouth. It was quite a sensation: your cold, frosty ear in a warm, slippery kiss.
When, at three in the morning, we’d finally run out of cigarettes, we crept into the dark living room to sleep on the floor. She lay so close I could feel her little heart beating fast against my body. When I peered through the dark at her eyes, I thought they looked scared, but I put my hand behind her soft, shaven head and kissed her anyway; her mouth tasted pleasantly smoky. Though we would roll apart before the others woke up, she and I watched the sun rise together in each other’s arms, two trembling girls on a hardwood floor in upstate New York.
I don’t know whether it was a TV program, an article in one of her women’s magazines, or perhaps a painful personal experience that inspired my mother to sit me down one day and declare, “If a man ever hits you, then you must leave him. Don’t believe that the first time will be the last time. It won’t be.” I was only fifteen then, and dating a timid Catholic boy.
Although I’ve never had to comply with this, or any other of my mother’s many warnings, somehow they’ve always made me feel safe, armed with know-how. They’ve also, however, deceived me into thinking that knowing what to do is as easy as following a simple formula.
Now, not quite two years into my marriage, I long for a formula to tell me when to walk out. Do I leave when the magic starts to fade? When he starts touching me less and criticizing me more? When I hear his footsteps on the stairs and hope that he’s only going to the bathroom, not coming to join me in bed? When I can’t look in his eyes because I’m not sure whom I’ll find there?
No, he hasn’t hit me, threatened me, or cheated on me. In a way, it would be easier if he had, because then I’d know it was time to pack my bags.
The first time Maria told her mom I’d molested her, her mom asked me if it was true. “Yes,” I said. Then I cried. She told me she never cut someone off without giving him a second chance.
A week later, Maria told her I’d done it again. This time her mom took her and moved away.
Now I’m in sex-offender therapy, and realizing, for the first time, all the harm I’ve caused.
To celebrate my grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary, my parents decided to take the whole family on a luxury Caribbean cruise. I had just turned sixteen. The weather was hot, and the ship confining. I thought it would be a terrible vacation — until I met Mike, an eighteen-year-old Texan who worked on board the ship. By the second night, Mike and I were alone in his cabin, kissing.
“Do you go down?” Mike whispered.
I had no idea what he was talking about. “It depends,” I said, hoping my answer was vague enough to be safe. But all safety went out the door as Mike pushed my head toward his lap. Later, as he mounted me, I shyly informed him that I was having my period. He said it didn’t matter. I was too afraid to raise any more objections.
The next day, I walked back to his cabin, fighting waves of trepidation, yet excited to see my “first” again. To my horror, our bloody sheets were out in the hallway, left in a heap for the cabin steward to take away. Mike was not in his room.
Later that night, I watched my grandparents renew their vows. It was a touching ceremony, but I sat there in my flowered sundress feeling sick inside. I imagined what their first date must have been like. How disappointed they would be if they knew what their smart, wholesome granddaughter had done.
Mike avoided me for the rest of the cruise, except for once, when I was with my entire family on deck and he walked by. “That boy smiled at you,” my mom teased. “I think maybe he likes you.”
I was just a little girl, maybe six or seven, riding with my mother in our beloved, beat-up olive green Datsun. We sang loudly together — all our favorites and some for which we couldn’t even remember the words. It was hot that day, and the heat shimmered magically above the pavement.
The moment was interrupted when, with a shout, my mom suddenly accelerated, chasing after a pickup truck that had passed us doing eighty. When she finally caught up, she honked her horn and waved the truck over onto the shoulder. Before I could even ask what was happening, she had leapt from our car and was laughing and hugging some man I’d never seen before, and whom I knew nothing about except that he drove too fast. They spoke briefly, and she pointed to an exit up ahead. Getting back in the car, my mom gently explained who this was she was so excited to see. I pulled my knees tightly to my chest, chewed my lip, and focused on the truck’s billowing exhaust.
We followed the truck into a gas station, where I firmly decided to stay in the car. The man peered in at me through his loads of hair and said hello. I wasn’t afraid, just terribly shy. After all, this was the first time I’d ever met my father.
After school, Kristen and Kim and I remained on the school grounds to play on the bike rack. We somersaulted through the spaces left by missing rungs, scrambling and twirling, our skinny, bare legs twining around the slender bars, our endless chatter ringing and echoing off the brick building.
The parking lot was deserted but for a single car, and the woods surrounding the school were quiet. Wrapped up in our game, we hardly noticed the car enter the parking lot, and looked up only when it screeched to a stop near where we were playing. The door swung open, and I beheld a skinny, hairy man in the driver’s seat, his pants and underwear down around his knees. He was stroking a long pink pole in his lap and grinning.
I’d seen my brother’s penis when we took baths, but this guy had something different in that spot. Why would he put a long pole there? Unaware that I was viewing my first hard penis, but captivated by the sight of real live underwear, I pulled Kim aside and loudly said, “I need to tell you a funny joke.” I was concerned that this stranger might feel embarrassed if he knew we were laughing at him. At a safe distance, I whispered, “I see that guy’s underwear!”
“I know. He’s weird,” Kim replied. Then, louder, she said, “Yeah, that’s a funny joke!” We giggled nervously.
As we returned to the bike rack, the man said edgily, “Isn’t it big?”
“Nooo,” Kristin answered.
“Come over here, girls. I have a present for you.”
“Nooo,” Kristin said.
“Don’t you want to touch it?” He looked down at the pole, which he was still rubbing rhythmically with one hand.
“Nooo,” said Kristin.
I began to sense trouble. The man’s eyes were darting around, and he was sweating. I wished the school building were unlocked. I tried to think of a way to get back home; maybe this was one of those times when I was allowed to knock on a neighbor’s door.
Just then, the school door clanked open, and a white-clad cafeteria lady emerged. I whirled around to catch the strange man’s reaction, but the car door had slammed, and he was tearing out of the parking lot. The cafeteria lady stopped a moment and gave us a quick glance, then walked hurriedly to her car.
Rummaging through my parents’ attic on a weekend visit, I happen upon my childhood dolls. Wedged in among the others, in all his purple-satin splendor, is Donny Osmond, my first male doll.
Grandma gave me Donny and his sister Marie for Christmas when I was ten. Donny soon became the stud of playtime. All my other dolls — sometimes even lonely Marie — took turns being his girlfriend. Regardless of what innocent scenario I began with, the dolls always ended up naked and kissing.
One rainy day, lying on the floor in my room, I orchestrated a lovemaking scene between Donny, doll stud, and myself. Under my careful direction, Donny kissed me wherever I wanted to be kissed: Here. There. And finally all the way down there, where those “feelings” persisted. Wearing nothing but his signature purple socks, his head buried deep in my crotch, Donny gave me my first orgasm.
After that initial discovery, whenever the urge arose, I would close my bedroom door, and Donny and I would play our secret game of plastic-meets-flesh. It wasn’t long, however, before I realized Donny wasn’t required to experience this sensation. When I turned twelve, I packed my dolls away to make room for more grown-up interests.
Now, looking into Donny’s plastic eyes again for the first time in eighteen years, I can honestly say he gave the best head I’ve ever had.
As a girl in Camden, South Carolina, I shared a bedroom with my older brother, Lee. When I was eight, Lee came down with measles. Seeing him propped against his pillows, playing with his army men and calling out orders for ice cream, I became jealous, and talked myself into being sick, too. “I don’t feel very good,” I whined. “I want to lie down.” Soon I was propped up in bed with Mama and Daddy handing me dolls, books, crayons, and ice cream.
About the time Lee recovered and returned to school, I really did break out in measles. But by then Mama had to return to work, so I was left at home with Minnie to care for me.
Minnie ironed and cleaned for us, and Lee and I were fascinated with her. We loved the way she murmured sweetly to herself, “Now, Minnie, don’t forget to get them clothes off the line.” I found great comfort in being near her. Minnie made me feel as secure, protected, and cared for as I did with Mama or Daddy.
One day, near the end of my illness, Minnie came into my room to check on me, and I noticed she didn’t look well. She was breathing heavily.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
“Minnie’s just tired, baby,” she said. “Minnie’s just tired.”
Frightened by her unnatural breathing, I pleaded with her to lie down on Lee’s bed to rest.
A stunned look came over Minnie’s face, and she said gently, “Oh no, Missy. Minnie can’t get on your brother’s bed.”
“Oh, yes you can,” I said. “Mama won’t care.”
Her eyes turned sad, and in a soft voice she explained, “Oh, Missy, I can’t mess up your brother’s bed. We have a smell, you see. Minnie’ll just lie down here for a bit.” And she folded her sick, tired body onto the floor next to my bed, like a dog. For the first time, I knew there was something terribly wrong with the world.
Mason Morgan Sisk
We were both committed Christians, sheltered, naive, and inexperienced, even by the standards of the day. He was lying on his bed in his dorm room, studying for an exam. I was sitting in his steel-and-plastic armchair, reading Joseph Andrews. His roommate was at the library for the evening.
His right hand hung over the side of the bed, and my left dangled from the arm of the chair so that the backs of our fingers kept brushing together. When it became clear that neither of us could concentrate, I moved across the room to his roommate’s bed. After a while he closed his book with a sigh, walked over, and stretched out beside me.
At first we just lay there talking, looking into each other’s eyes, and touching lightly. I teased him, and he stuck out his tongue at me like a small child. I persisted, and he did it again. This looked to me like an invitation, so I stuck out my tongue and touched it to his. We both immediately drew back in disgust, but within moments we were touching tongues again, and then discovering the new sensation of exploring the insides of each other’s mouths.
I have no idea how long that first kiss and the ones that followed lasted — maybe five minutes, maybe twenty-five — but when it was over, and we were once more just lying there, gazing into one another’s eyes and breathing heavily, I felt his hand on my thigh. It moved slowly upward over my flannel slacks, brushed lightly across my crotch, and came to rest on my belly. “Now I’ve loved all of you,” he murmured.
That was all. The first time I actually had sex was years later, with someone else, and I barely remember it. My real first time, the memory that’s lasted more than three and a half decades, is of that night when I lay fully dressed on a bed in a college dorm room, with another man.
The summer I was sixteen I visited my older sister at college. She had a job as a research assistant and spent long hours in a laboratory castrating male hamsters, pureeing their tiny gonads in a blender, and dabbing the noses of prepubescent female hamsters with the crushed testicles — all to prove that females develop differently in the presence of male hormones.
Young and curious, I had plenty of time to do some experimenting of my own. One night while my sister was working late, I walked to a bar with a blinking blue neon sign shaped like a bulldog. The bouncer there, a chunky guy in his thirties named Larry, let me in. Several hours later, after the bar closed, he walked me home. We kissed in my room for a little while; then he excused himself to use the bathroom. He stayed in there an unusually long time. When he returned, he pushed me over on the bed and lay on top of me, pinning my hips down with his big belly. I tried to reason with him: “Uh, Larry . . . I thought I said I didn’t want to do this.” But he paid no attention, instead yanking my clothes out of the way and shifting his weight higher, until he was between my thighs. His eyes stayed closed the entire time.
I was frightened, but I didn’t scream. In fact, it never even occurred to me to cry out, even with my sister sleeping in the next room. Screaming would have meant I’d lost control, and losing control wasn’t an option. Instead, I convinced myself — just as Larry put his full weight behind his stiff penis — that losing my virginity to a balding bouncer I didn’t know or especially like was something I should want to do.
After he’d finished, sweat covering his face, Larry asked if I’d liked it. I had the nerve to say no, and he made a big show of having his feelings hurt. He decided we should try again, because sex was supposed to be enjoyable — he was certainly enjoying himself. “Something must just be wrong with you,” he said with a chuckle. So I lay back on the mattress with my legs open and let him push into me all over again. When he finally crawled off, a bunch of pennies fell from his pocket. After he was gone, I found the small pile of change in the bed, along with a gooey condom and a spot of blood.
The first time I ever got drunk was as a little kid. I drank some wine out of a gallon jug in the pantry and threw up everywhere. But that didn’t deter me, and I continued to abuse alcohol for many years.
The first time I took LSD I was only ten years old. My older brother was scared to take it, so he tried it out on me first. I put on huge, rubber Halloween feet and watched the trails they made while I danced. It was beautiful.
The first time I had sex was with an older girl in an institution for emotionally disturbed children. It was awkward, because of both the clumsiness of youth and the high doses of psychotropic medication I was taking.
The first time I was raped I was more insulted than hurt. It must have bothered me more than I recall, though, because I blocked the memory of it for almost ten years. It came back to me with utter clarity one night when I was lying alone in a jail cell.
Now I’m in a maximum-security prison serving twenty-five-years-to-life for stealing a pickup truck and two bicycles: I was sentenced under California’s new three-strikes law. Thanks to a good attorney and some changes in the law, however, I was recently granted a new court date for resentencing. I went in with high hopes of a reduced sentence, but the judge gave me twenty-five-to-life all over again.
The first time they gave me a life sentence, I was filled with anger and disbelief.
The second time, it broke my fucking heart.
Crescent City, California
I had just attended Hebrew class at the Jewish Community Center to prepare for my upcoming bar mitzvah. Everyone had left, and I was waiting for my father to pick me up. To pass the time, I zigzagged down the hallways, running my finger along the grooves in the cinder-block walls. When I came to the men’s-room door, I went in, even though I didn’t have to use the bathroom.
Inside, I began rolling my entire body along the wall. Then, to make it more interesting, I took off my T-shirt. The grainy cinder block against my chest felt strange, but sensual. So I took off my pants, and then, boldly, my underwear. Naked, I just stood there for a moment, letting a dark excitement come over me. Then I climbed onto the sink, wedged my feet between the hot and cold faucets, and examined my naked reflection up close in the mirror.
Now wildly aroused, but still not sure what I was doing, I climbed the pale green metal stalls and crept along the top of the partition like an animal. Then I sprang down to the floor and lay on my stomach, pressing my hard penis against the cool tile. I pressed harder and harder until, at the height of my frenzy, something happened. Something serious.
Getting up, I saw a small spot of milky fluid on the tile. I scrutinized it, trying to determine whether it had come out of me, and if so, how. Suddenly, I was scared. I threw on my clothes and ran out to the lobby to find my father’s brown Buick waiting outside.
When my father asked what I had learned that day, I said, “Nothing.” But in truth, I had learned a lot. No matter what claims they make about bar mitzvahs, I knew that little spurt of milky fluid was my real passage into manhood.
J. B. Berg
We were both virgins, eighteen and nineteen. I’d never seen a penis before (and still hadn’t after it was over, because I’d been too scared to look). We were too shy to buy contraceptives at the drugstore, so I borrowed some spermicidal cream from my roommate. It’s a wonder I knew where to put it. I hadn’t even masturbated since age seven, when I’d been caught by my mother, who would sneak into my bedroom after the lights were out and smell my fingers.
Once he and I were between the sheets, I didn’t have a clue what to do, so I didn’t do anything. He was six-foot-four, and I pressed my cheek into his bony, naked chest. He laid his long weight upon me and rubbed cautiously. Finally, breathless, he asked: “Could you show me where to put it?” I reached down and found his surprisingly long, hot, and heavy penis. How on earth was I going to fit it inside me? But I did what I had to do, and when he finally broke through I bit the pillow to keep from screaming. Strangely, I came.
When I found out I was pregnant, I walked across the campus, listening to the crunch of my boots breaking through the crust of snow. I stood behind him with my hands on his shoulders and told him the news. I couldn’t see his expression. I was sure I wanted an abortion, and sure I didn’t need him there. (I’ve never been so sure of anything since.) I told him he could leave for Christmas break. He went along with my decision.
This year our child would have been twenty-one. In September, the two of us met in a Greenwich Village cafe — I trailing ribbons of loneliness; he carrying the heavy load of wife, family, mortgage. “I wish I had asked you to keep it,” he said.
I sat in the hard chair, swinging my feet and staring down at my knees, while the school counselor and my parents spoke across a desk.
“Your daughter is a genius,” the counselor said. “It would be a shame to hold her back. She can do anything she wants to do.”
“I’m not sure,” my father said. “School isn’t everything. She needs to be with kids her own age. She needs to slow down.”
In the end, my parents signed some papers, and I skipped first grade. I didn’t know what genius meant, but I understood that I could do whatever I wanted.
Soon, I came to see my parents as roadblocks. Their rules became ropes that strangled my creativity; their moral and religious beliefs crutches for inferior minds. Throughout my childhood, I bore their attempts to control me with open scorn. I spent the last months of my senior year of high school in a mental hospital, and the following fall, at seventeen, I ran away with a boy I had met over the summer.
Years later, I was at the laundromat because my electricity had been turned off for nonpayment. Desperate for something to read, I approached a counter littered with flyers and notices. Among them was an assortment of bookmarks with religious messages. I picked up a blue one that said, “Like a child, confide in God, your Father. He will respond and work in you. He will do more than you ask.” Though I was still too smart for religion, I tucked the bookmark into my wallet.
A few days later, as I was pulling out my last three dollars to give to my boyfriend, I spotted the bookmark and read it again. I put the money back in my wallet, took back my car keys from my boyfriend, used those last three dollars to buy gas, and went to see my father.
He sat quietly, his fingers over his lips, as I told him my troubles: My ex-husband was terrorizing me, trying to get me to come “home” where I “belonged.” My unemployed boyfriend afforded me some measure of protection, but he had either taken or broken everything my ex hadn’t. With the chaos the two of them created, I had virtually stopped working, and my grown son had moved out in utter exasperation.
When I had finished telling my father this sorry tale, I asked him for money.
“You’d better learn to take care of yourself,” he said, “and forget about everybody else.” And he loaned me not just the money I’d asked for, but more: enough to allow me to move someplace where my ex and my boyfriend couldn’t find me; enough for me to buy a new car and start a business. I even went back to school.
Now my business is doing well, I pay my bills on time (including monthly installments to my father), and my son and I are dear friends again. And I often wonder where I might be had I not, for the first time, at the age of thirty-nine, gone to my father like a child, and willingly obeyed him.
Mary Beth Mallory
The summer after I graduated from high school, my divorced father took my younger brother and me to Mexico for a vacation. When my dad found out that the Miss Universe contestants were staying in a hotel in Mexico City, he and I went to get a glimpse of them, leaving my brother behind. We found the beauties, then had a few drinks in the hotel bar. I was seventeen. On the way out, I went to use the bathroom, and in the hall I happened to make eye contact with a Mexican man. The way he looked at me made my skin crawl.
When I emerged from the bathroom, I found my dad talking to the very same man. He introduced us, telling me about the man’s influential connections, which meant a lot to my father. At my dad’s suggestion, the three of us went back into the bar and drank some more. At one point, the man asked me to dance. On the dance floor, he said something about “making love high up in Mexico City,” and I knew I was in over my head. A little later, my dad announced that he was leaving us two “lovebirds” alone.
The man and I had one more drink, which I paid for, and then hailed a cab. I assumed he would drop me off at my hotel, but he didn’t. That was when I started to panic. We went to a small hotel where he joked in Spanish with the desk clerk. I froze like a rabbit caught out in a field. OK, this is it, I thought as I followed him down the hall in a daze.
I decided at the outset that I would feel nothing below my neck; I was dead from the neck down. The silver crosses he wore clanked against my chin as he thrust into me. I felt like puking, but I didn’t fight him once. Afterward, I thought, I deserved this. I must have wanted it.
There went my virginity, handed over by my father to a stranger in a foreign country.
Years later, I worked up the courage to tell my father what had happened that night. He admitted that he had suspected as much, then got mad and asked whether I was going to use that night as a crutch for the rest of my life.
A crutch for what, Dad? For being afraid to actually feel a penis inside of me? For still feeling dead from the neck down?
I’d known Frankie all my life — we were second cousins several times removed — but the attraction began when I was a teenager. He had just returned from Vietnam and was living nearby. He made me laugh and feel good. Sometimes he’d show up in his fast car, and we’d go for a ride and play handball at the beach. Sometimes he’d show up at school, and I’d cut class to go get high with him. That our family talked about us behind our backs only made it more fun.
Frankie got deep into drugs. He said he didn’t want to live past thirty. Sometimes he would call in the middle of the night and ask me to come meet him. When my mother asked where I was going, I’d tell her it would only hurt her if she knew. She did know. My father had just left us. Frankie was a lot like him.
One night, Frankie and I went to an after-hours club in Harlem. There was cocaine and heroin. We walked out into the glare of the morning sun and went to the apartment of a friend of his. I knew Frankie was going to make love to me, and told him it would be my first time. “My cousin, the virgin,” he said. I was scared. It was quick.
I didn’t tell him about the abortion.
Later, I quit college and left the country. When I returned, he came right back into my life. He would come see me every payday, but that was OK. I loved him and would do anything for him. He had a good heart, but his addiction was getting worse and worse. When I went on business trips, he would show up at the hotel. In the morning I would find syringes in the bathroom. One time, when the Lincoln Tunnel was closed, he imagined it was because the police were setting a trap for him. We made love a few more times, but usually he was too stoned. He even said that he loved me — once.
Then it was all over: seven shots in the back during a drug deal gone bad. He had just turned thirty. I still miss him.
New Rochelle, New York
As a sophomore in college, I still hadn’t managed to lose my virginity. In the drama department, where image was all-important, my nice-girl reputation was cramping my style. I needed to be hip, jaded, bored — anything but nice. I needed life experience. I needed to get laid. Still, it had to be special, I decided. It had to be different. No back seat of a car at the drive-in — in fact, no cars, period. Maybe outdoors somewhere, on a beach, like in From Here to Eternity.
I took to wearing sandals and low-cut blouses, but at four-foot-ten and only ninety-seven pounds, I wasn’t big enough for men to take me seriously. Just when I was about to give up, Clive, a hulking, handsome black drama major, called my bluff. He wanted it; I wanted it. And the fact that Clive was black satisfied my desire that my first time be different. So we did it.
Clive was amazed to discover that I was still a virgin. I was apologetic, but elated — not by the act itself (having one’s maidenhead punctured is not the sexiest experience) but by the fact that I was now a full-fledged woman.
Clive and I never became a couple. In fact, we saw each other only a few times after that. The last time I saw him, at a bar about a year later, I asked, “Why did you hit on me when we hardly knew each other? Was I enticing? I didn’t seem wanton, did I?”
Clive toyed with his beer mug, considering his answer for a moment. Finally, with a broad grin, he said, “To tell you the truth, I just thought you needed help.”
It was my first day as a tree planter, working for a company out of Burns Lake, British Columbia. I was riding in an old, converted school bus with twenty-odd other rookies, on my way to learn how to plant.
We were in a boisterous mood that day, young and lean and bright eyed. Drawn to these woods by the promise of good money, we thought we knew enough about the world to kick around in it and not get hurt. We were talking and acting big, yet beneath it all we were scared and a little lonely and not quite sure of ourselves. We laughed and joked to hide our fears. Then we came around the last turn, and all our big talk was forgotten.
It was the first time any of us had seen a clear-cut. We fell silent, staring at the moonscape before us, trying to make sense of what we saw: an endless expanse of compressed earth and charcoal stumps. Blood drained from the faces around me; mouths hung open without any words. All I could think was This is wrong. This is horribly wrong.
When the bus lurched to a halt, none of us moved at first. Then we filed out, looking as if we had just lost a hockey game. There was a big clearing where dust devils swirled and a pile of slash was plowed fifteen feet high. The foreman was handing out seedling bags and shovels. “Welcome to the future,” he said.
Argenta, British Columbia
I grew up in a small Colorado town surrounded on three sides by the Rocky Mountains and on the fourth by desert. Our yard bordered 2 million acres of national forest, and it was there I often found the peace I could not find at home.
One snowy spring afternoon when I was fourteen, I set out for a walk. I’d gone only a couple of blocks when a pickup pulled over and two smiling men inside called to me. Innocently, I approached the truck. When I was within a few feet, the passenger’s smile vanished, replaced by a look of hatred and panic. Before I could react, he got out of the truck, grabbed my arms, and pushed me in.
Most of the events of the next ten hours or so are locked away in my brain somewhere. I remember being dragged into a house. One man held me down on a dirty couch while the other pulled the shades over all the windows.
I remember pain. Until then, I would never have believed that I could feel so much pain. It would have made perfect sense to me had I died from the intensity of it.
I remember fear, too. What frightened me most was not the threats to kill me, or the knives held against various parts of my body, but the possibility that, if they didn’t kill me, this pain might continue forever.
The next thing I remember is being pushed out of the truck, into the snow. I had blood all over me and was dizzy and disoriented, but after a while I managed to walk. Leaving red stains on the beautiful new-fallen snow, I made it home to find my parents waiting for me. My father punched me in the face and screamed at me for the trouble I had caused him.
For many years, I bitterly thought of this as “my first time,” angry for all that had been taken away from me, and certain that the experience would define my sexuality for the rest of my life. But after a long and difficult healing process, I met and married a good man who treats me with absolute love and respect, something I never thought anyone would do. I learned to lie with him without feeling afraid, without seeing or smelling the rapists. With him, I made love for the first time.
It was a gray afternoon in early spring, still cold enough that there were plenty of covers on the bed. I wrapped them around me out of shyness. Gently, Will touched me in places even I’d never touched. Avoiding his penetrating gaze, my eyes fell on pictures of his wife and child.
Will stopped often to ask, “How does this feel?” and, “Are you getting off?” Cheeks flushed and body squirming, I could only nod my head. “Tell me when you’re ready,” he kept saying. What, actually open my mouth and utter the words at a moment like this? Part of me wanted to yell, “I will never be ready!” Still, I mustered a squeaky “I . . . I think I’m ready now.”
I could almost sing the praises of Will’s tenderness: not one sudden thrust or jerky motion, and he didn’t come inside me, even with the condom. It would have been every girl’s dream initiation into womanhood — if not for Jane.
She was playing on the bed beside us, laughing and giggling and, worst of all, watching, as if our lovemaking were as ordinary as a diaper change. I couldn’t bear her eighteen-month-old eyes upon me, reminding me of what I was doing, and with whom.
I must have said something, because before it was over, Will put her in her crib in the next room, where she began to scream. And so my first time was accompanied by the wailing of an angry child held captive — along with my better judgment.
When I was twelve, late at night, after everyone else had gone to bed, I used to lie naked in an inner tube in our above-ground pool. I would hold on to the edge of the pool and rock so that the water lapped up and over my body, again and again. Sometimes I did this for hours. Finally, I felt something I’d never felt before: somehow I knew I was going to have an orgasm. Afraid of leaving traces in the pool, I jumped out just as I was coming.
Afterward, I felt guilty. But looking back, I realize how rare it was: to be made love to by water, to come in midair.
It was 1949, the hotel was near Times Square. The sailor was from Kansas City. He was leaving. South Pacific had just opened on Broadway. Somewhere a radio was playing “Some Enchanted Evening.” It was the first time I’d heard the song, and I knew I would never forget it. I can’t remember his name.
My father and I never had much of a relationship. He was always distant and uncomfortable with expressing any emotion except anger. Truly a man of his generation, he played the role of provider and left the child-rearing duties to his wife. I felt invisible around him, as if I wasn’t worth his time and attention.
One summer afternoon when I was sixteen, I visited my dad at his office. He introduced me to everyone we passed in the hallway, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of them knew me by name and were familiar with my interests. Until that day I’d often wondered if his colleagues even knew he had a family.
When we reached my dad’s work area, right away my eye was drawn to a little piece of clay displayed prominently on his desk. It had a tiny handprint in the middle, and my name carved in thin lines along the bottom. I had made it for him in kindergarten, more than ten years earlier. I was at a loss for words, overwhelmed by this unexpected discovery. For the first time, I realized that my father loved me.