Love & Sex

Female, 17, Boston

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Female, 17, Boston

             I developed early. At twelve, I had the same B-cup and modest height I’d have for decades. But back then, my figure—thin-waisted and hearty-assed—drew attention. Men as old as forty would eyeball me at a Red Sox game. It seemed I had two choices: either cower and slouch, or relish and strut. The latter felt less shameful.

            At thirteen, I became brazen. I adored guys—their rough lips and searching tongues; the knot of a tricep and the triangular dip toward a pelvis. But I never went all the way.

            Why not? a flushed-faced classmate groaned in the corner of some house-party basement.

            I wasn’t religious. My parents had never really discussed sex with my sister and me. Our dad, the CEO of a drugstore, said, “We stock condoms. Don’t be stupid.” It must have been the line between pure pleasure and esteem issues that I was loath to cross.

            But then I graduated—not from high school but from its parties.

My sister had started her freshman year at Tufts. Every few weeks, when homework and cross country allowed, I’d visit. I envied her, her dorm room in its bland anonymity. Hang posters to personalize where a hundred had thumb-tacked before. Giggle while watching some other girl’s walk of shame across the quad. College seemed a place to explore and to falter, without being scarred.

            And there were so many guys: in her dorm and on her floor. Tom was right across the hall. High-cheekboned, mild-mannered and over six feet of compact muscle, he’d made the varsity football team as a freshman. In the dorm basement, a sailor eager to impress, I guzzled too much gin in a drinking game. “I’m sorry I’m a bad potato!” I blubbered while my sister and Tom carried me back up the stairs. I never touched gin again. For a year, each time I’d visit, Tom would swing by my sister’s. Assuming he considered me an immature lush, I stopped trying to be ballsy. We’d talk and wonder: What was it like to live like Thoreau? If we each had another life, how would we spend it?

          Sophomore year—my sister’s—I ran into Tom at a frat party. (He’d since moved into a different frat, for football players.) I’d flirted my way to behind the taps and was serving. Spotting him, I left my post, red Tumbler cup in hand.

Tom seemed sober and I was barely buzzed. I mentioned heading back to my sister’s, and a blush spread across his high cheekbones. His voice became guttural and hesitant, “Why don’t you come home with me?”

            “Why not?” I said without bravado.

            I remember the firmness of his fingers as he took my hand, the stirring in my stomach. It was a brisk fall night, the kind for which the blood seems to search after one moves away. Quietly, we strolled along the leaf-strewn pathway to his frat. We neared a standard blue mailbox. As if he’d been waiting a year to kiss me, Tom hoisted me up at the waist. Somehow I fit comfortably where the mail tray pulls down. I wrapped my legs around him, crossing my ankle boots, and he leaned in. It felt idyllic: leaves skidding across the concrete, wind seeping beneath my leather jacket, contrasting with the solid warmth of him.

            Tom’s room was on the frat’s second floor. I remember dark wood paneling, a navy-and-white-checked bedspread on the twin; shelves of books—studious like me—football helmets and football pads. I told Tom I was a virgin, and he didn’t seem surprised. I’m not sure how we decided that he would be my first, but I remember his attitude didn’t feel precious or rapacious either, but a comforting why not space in between.

            He laid me back onto the bed and put on INXS’s Kick. Quickly we undressed each other, but then we moved slowly. He rolled on a condom. The pressure was intense, followed by a fullness. His touch was responsive, his gaze tender. Even decades later, I can’t hear “Never Tear Us Apart,” its vaulting violins and plaintive opening line—Don’t ask me what you know is true—without thinking of him.

            Tom and I slept together a few more times. But then he got a girlfriend and I got a boyfriend. I went to college in Manhattan and rode the train back once when we were unattached. It was Eric Clapton’s Greatest Hits that last time.

            Recently, a friend asked how I’d lost my virginity, and I said, “In a frat house at my sister’s college.” As if acknowledging the truth for once, I winced at the images those words convey. But I’m not sure that’s fair to either of us, clutching and sighing in the fall of our youth.