50 Stories, Week 6: My virginity, a break-up, and my BFF.

Over Christmas break in 1986, I was laying on my bedroom floor, listening to New Order’s “Shellshock,” and sobbing. Heaving melodramatic sobs. The kind that prompted my sister to yell from the kitchen, “Stop being so dramatic!” I felt my tears were warranted as my boyfriend Laurent* had just informed me that he was in love with someone else. I was bereft of all hope for future love in my life.

Laurent had come into my life about a year earlier, at a Mount Saint Mary dance. I went to the one public high school in Nashua, NH but there were two private parochial high schools, Mount Saint Mary for girls and Bishop Guertin for boys. They held monthly dances and opened them to us public kids. When I was in middle school, my father made up a fight song for the Mount and marched around the house, swinging his arms and singing it at the top of his lungs. He desperately wanted me at an all-girls school because he knew I was trouble and assumed an all-girls school would put me on the straight and narrow. We could never have afforded a private education but looking back, I see that he wanted more for me than I wanted for myself. In the least, he believed that attending the Mount might have slowed my inevitable trajectory toward equating self-worth with how many boys wanted to kiss me.

I’d seen Laurent once or twice before, at my friend Lisa’s house when her older brother threw parties. I recall her saying, “Don’t bother. He’s a senior and he’s got a girlfriend.” This information did not deter me. I fell in love with Laurent before ever talking to him. He looked like a mix between Bono and Simon LeBon and Sting. Basically hot all over. At the time, I was finishing ninth grade, about to start high school, and a virgin. The tainted kind. I’d done ‘everything but’ on a dare with a neighborhood boy and couldn’t wait to have sex, preferably with Mr. Hot All Over. I wore tight cropped shirts and supremely short shorts and used Jolen creme bleach to dye my incoming mustache Debbie Harry blonde.

The night we finally connected, I’d smoked too much pot at the adjoining park earlier in the evening, so was spending the last minutes of the dance in the girls’ bathroom, still riding waves of paranoia. 

What was actually in that bag of shake we smoked? Maybe it was laced with something. 

I think the cops are going to find me and test my THC level. 

Wow, I could really use an ice cream sundae

Lisa came in to tell me that she and her brother were leaving, and asked if I needed a ride. I’m not sure what bravery pushed me out of that stall but I power walked across the gym floor, fists moving in a hip-to-nip fashion, eyes darting across the landscape of awkward teenagers. When I spotted Laurent, his smile caught me off guard so I paused, mid-walk, and felt the clammy sweat I’d been holding in my hands. He walked toward me, while I stayed paralyzed, and asked me to dance. I unclenched and we held each other as closely as teenagers could while being hawk-eyed by chaperones through the last (and best) two minutes of “Stairway to Heaven.”

We spent that entire summer making out. Everywhere. Laurent had a little gold Toyota Tercel and we would drive from my house to the church a block away, park in the lot, and rub against each other until the windows fogged and our skin burned. Eventually, though, Laurent went off to college and we attempted a long-distance love affair. With no sex. I knew I had to up my game to compete with those girls in college. I believe I referred to them as skanks at the time. So, while he was home for a long weekend in October and his parents were away, we had a party and I lost my virginity. Up until it was over, I thought we were having the most romantic evening. Laurent and I were laying on the old, brown plaid, scratchy couch in the living room, watching MTV broadcast the Police’s Synchronicity concert. A box of Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler sat on the end table, along with a pack of cigarettes and a pack of Hubba Bubba. Our other friends had gone upstairs to explore empty bedrooms, so it felt like we had the place to ourselves. When it became clear we were going to have sex, ie the dry humping became too painful and was boring a hole in Laurent’s pants, there was no conversation around protection against STDs because I assumed we were both virgins. Yet another painfully naive moment in my existence along with the actual sex, which hurt like hell but I convinced myself it was supposed to feel that way. The pleasure with the pain. Turns out Laurent was very well-endowed, which I only know now that I’ve had a very fair share of partners. When it was over, I began removing a small leather strip I’d had tied around my wrist. It was a virgin bracelet that a few of my girlfriends and I were wearing. When we popped our cherry, we were to remove the string ceremoniously and breathe a sigh of relief. But Laurent wasn’t having it. He tied it back on my wrist and told me not to tell anyone, because he was 18 and I was 15. (Damn those barbaric age of consent laws.)

We spent the next few months seeing each in his dorm room an hour away or when he was home for a weekend. And we were madly in love. I have old phone bills with hours of long distance minutes and letters saying I love you to prove it. I trusted him. He called me Pookie, for god’s sake. And held my hand in public. And told me he missed me. But apparently, he was also sharing these feel-goods, in person, with a girl at school.

She was short and mousey, and had a pseudo-punk short haircut. I’d met her a few times when I visited and didn’t think much of her. She was just a girl at my boyfriend’s college and like I mentioned, I was extremely naive. She seemed boring where I was… well, I wasn’t cool per se, but at least I wasn’t like everyone else. My new fashion sense was more like a cross between Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink and Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. I began wearing my father’s old trench coat (or his Army reserves jacket when he wasn’t home to yell at me for taking it,) white t-shirts with the neck cut out, a mini-skirt of some sort, a set of black nylons that I had ever so carefully nicked a thousand times so they would run in a somewhat random pattern, along with knock-off Doc Maartens. And black lipstick, of course. My friends, come to think of it, looked just like me, save for an occasional mohawk or bleached blond tail. We were so busy drowning our teenage sorrows with the likes of Morrissey that we didn’t care what anyone thought. That was the point, of course, not caring what anyone thinks. Don’t care, hard. But the truth was, I cared desperately. I wanted to be Siouxsie from the Banshees, Suzanne from the Bangles, and Suzanne as in Vega. I wanted to be a hot chick indie rock star as a teenager, but I was too busy wondering how to keep a boyfriend to actually open my mouth, sing a few notes, and be heard. And Laurent, well, eventually he decided it was better to be in a relationship with someone his own age, and zip code.

The night of the breakup, my best friend Sheelu came over to my house. After some niceties with my parents (who were always in love with her and would have traded us in a heartbeat,) she picked me up off the bedroom floor, dragged me to Rockit Records, and smoked Marlboro Lights with me until we were nauseous. Sheelu was the skate-Betty, Ska-Indian version of me – ripped jeans, big t-shirts, leather and chain bracelets, and a mouth on her that would make my sailor Uncle take pause. Though I’d had my heart broken and couldn’t see how I’d ever love again, Sheelu told me every truth and lie I needed to hear in that moment. That we were young, that we had enough time, that there was more love in the world, and jokingly (and uncannily prescient,) that Laurent was just one boy in a sea of men that would be my life. She knew what song to play to get us singing at the top of our lungs, what piece of juicy news to share about our friends, and always, always listened without judgement. When I think about my broken heart over the years, it’s less about the men who broke it and more about the friend who was there to help me mend it. One cigarette, and one song at a time.

Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 9.52.19 AM

 

Sheelu + Me 1986

Sheelu + Me 1986 selfie

*Name has been changed to prevent any potential embarrassment

 

50 Stories, Week 1: A Fistful

Today is my 50th birthday. Many people reach this age and start thinking about their bucket-list. A sense of urgency creeps in with the realization that there are only so many vacations left, books to read, friendships to make, and adventures to have before it’s all over.

I’ve decided to share my reverse bucket-list, or things I’ve done. I’ll do so by way of stories but also a few ramblings. Maybe I’ll also write a poem or sing a song, who knows? Some will be polished and some will be off the cuff. I hope you forgive the format and enjoy the content. 

Every Sunday, for the next fifty (50) weeks, I’ll do my best and aim to get better as I go along.

My first story, A Fistful, goes like this…

When I was 12 years old, my father taught me how to throw a punch with a roll of quarters. We were living in suburban southern New Hampshire, on a cul-de-sac with a dozen families. The neighborhood kids all played together – games of hide-and-go-seek and tag, ice skating on the small creek behind the houses, riding bikes up and down the street all summer long, and also: football. While I played the game every weekend on my next-door neighbor’s lawn, the only thing I have ever known about football is that you want your team to have the ball, and you want to run as fast as you can to the other side of the field. Period. This wasn’t the NFL, it was basic neighborhood tackle football.

One Sunday afternoon, I’m heading out to play and I see all the boys already in a huddle. I run over to get in but they’re tight and laughing while one of them is telling a story. Turns out Tommy Nicholson heard from Eddie Sullivan* that I was ‘easy.’ For a brief moment, I thought this had something to do with the game but then he went on to say that Eddie had ‘felt me up’ and that I was ‘looking for it’ so any of the boys could ‘do it’ with me. My cheeks started to flush and I felt a weird pit in my stomach. I didn’t understand what this all meant but clearly, they must have, because they kept laughing when they turned and saw me there. I ran home with shameful tears and told my Dad what happened. He didn’t say a word but immediately put out his cigarette, put his shoes on, and walked out the front door. I realized too late that he was going to have a word with the boys, so I stood by the living room window and watched, holding my breath and feeling the urge to pee. When he came back inside, he walked toward his bedroom and yelled for me to meet him on the back porch. I thought he was angry at me because I wasn’t always an easy kid. I was super curious and that generally meant trouble. But when he came out with a roll of quarters in his hand, I was just confused. 

“Ok, pretend to hit me,” he said.

“Um, why?” I asked.

“Just throw a punch at me!”

So I did. He caught my fist mid-air and said “Good, now try it with this,” and handed me the quarters. My hand wasn’t big enough to conceal the full roll but I knew instinctively that I could deliver more hurt with this in my swing. 

“You have to protect yourself now. Understand?” 

I nodded. 

“Ok, try again.”

The added weight gave me confidence and I swung hard. He stepped back to miss me but my knuckles skimmed his beer belly and he let out a yelp. (This wasn’t the first time I’d accidentally hurt my Dad – when I was about four years old, I jumped up to kiss him goodnight and broke his nose. But that’s a story for another day.) Then he smiled and left me to go inside and light up a cigarette. 

The real problem with Eddie Sullivan spreading rumors about me was that my mother was friends with Eddie’s mom. She was a real scary lady who was in a perpetual state of sweating, and carried a tall glass of iced tea everywhere she went. They lived across the street from my best friend Laura, and Eddie was a few years older than us. While I thought it was cool that my Dad taught me that secret punch, I knew that I wasn’t going to be carrying around a roll of quarters all the time. So, later that week, when my friend Laura and I were sitting on her front lawn and Eddie was in his driveway greasing his bicycle chain, we had an idea.

“Hey Eddie,” we yelled. “Wanna see something?” We giggled and lifted up our shirts, just past our belly buttons. He looked at us with that pubescent boy face – awkward and excited – and put down his WD-40. 

“Lemme see again!” he hollered. So I took the bottom of my t-shirt and twisted it up to tuck between my non-existent breasts. Laura and I stood up and did a little dance. 

“Why don’t you come a little closer, Eddie?” I asked, more quietly. He crossed the street and approached us. Laura whispered in my ear, then disappeared inside. 

We stood there for a moment, Eddie and I. He wasn’t a bad looking guy, blond, kind of freckly.

“Come on, you gonna show me some more?” he asked while taking a step closer. 

“Maybe…” I put my hands on his shoulders. 

Then with all the might of a 12-year-old girl done wrong, I kneed him in the balls. He fell over instantly, crying and writhing. I’d never intentionally inflicted pain on someone and I felt awful, of course, but oddly satisfied at the same time. I wish Eddie was the last guy who ever said or did an unkind thing to me, but he was just the beginning. So I’m grateful my Dad taught me to protect myself, because no one else could – even if he wanted to.

After Eddie crawled his way home, his mother called my mother and there were words. I’m not sure what they consisted of but you can bet your ass I kept playing football after that (until I got boobs and then it was all over.) 

*names have been changed to protect the ego

 

Be the adult.

I joined a meet-up for Stepparents. I’m not a joiner, so this was difficult for me. I like to try new things, see what sticks, but once I decide to do something with regularity (re: yoga for the last 25 years,) I end up hating the joiner culture that surrounds it. Most would call this community, I do recognize that.

So, last night, I went back and forth in my mind of all the reasons why I wasn’t going to go – I would have to drag my ass at night to Manhattan, it was in a crap part of town, I didn’t know anyone, they would surely be lame, or god forbid, they would think I was lame (I wasn’t, FYI, I was hilarious.) And then, like magic, Jason called from his business trip to ask my what my plans were. I had a choice to lie, which in these circumstances I just call not-sharing-every-detail, but decided to tell him I was conflicted about going. He reminded me, as always, that it is good to push ourselves out of our comfort zone yada yada. He wasn’t the one going into a room full of strangers. But he is my mirror and he was right, so I went.

They weren’t lame. I mean, they were a little weird, some of them, but not lame. I did my brutally honest, self-deprecating schtick and they laughed out loud at points. Over the course of the two hours, though, I realized that despite all of our stories and backgrounds being very different, we did actually have a connection. A feeling of not being at home in our homes. A feeling of selfishness and helplessness. And a desire to learn skills and hear advice to make it work.

One thing that resonated with me was the moderator relaying a story about the conflict between her and her step-daughter. She was feeling frustrated and petulant (the stepmom,) and things were deteriorating, and she had to keep reminding herself of the golden rule – Always be the adult. Be. The. Adult.  I heard those words and immediately got grumpy and defensive. But I don’t waaaaaaant to always be the adult. I am, always, the adult! I had to be an adult before I was an adult, before I had a child of my own to parent. I am independent and responsible (despite what my ex always feared,) and now, at 45, when I’m constantly having my buttons pushed by a 12 year old who mostly hates me (and herself,) I don’t want to be the adult!

And yet. I have to. I will continue to fuck up. My relationship with the girls may or may not get better or worse, but I still have to remember that until they are adults, I have to be the adult. Their mom and dad don’t actually have to be the adults all the time, because they are forgiven for their indiscretions and foibles and even their resentment or antagonism. Its built in, this forgiveness as children. Not me, though, not the stepmother. Even when I apologize, I am not forgiven. It is remembered, and it is shaping our relationship. So, do I continue to start each week with them walking on eggshells? Deciding to see how long I can not engage with them, for fear of saying the wrong thing? Forgetting how to be myself because I know the person I am isn’t the person they choose to be with?

I don’t know. I do know better, though.