Felt the healing fingertips
For almost nineteen years I have been a liar. When asked about this, I have never told the truth about these events. Not even once. For about two months after it began, I thought about this all the time. After September 28, 1992, I have not let it cross my mind more than a dozen times.
Teenage boys spend a lot of time thinking about “First _;” “First Kiss,” “First Base,” “First Time,” …and we anticipate them in that order. I was no exception, but the summer before my Junior year of High School I still felt like I was a lifetime away from any of those. I’d had a couple of girlfriends in the “chaste hand-holding and going-steady when there’s nowhere to go” sense of the word, but nothing serious enough to even warrant a reasonable shot at that mythical moment of lip-locking that some of my friends talked endlessly about.
I constantly felt behind, which I know now is a pretty normal state of mind for a teenager. Personally, I had almost no first hand knowledge about “serious” boy-girl relationships; and all my second-hand knowledge was either bragging or hearsay, neither of which were particularly reliable even when coming “from the source.” Compounding that, in a private/parochial/conservative Boarding High School in the early 90s, no one who knew better was actually telling us “the truth.” It was like there was a big secret out there that we were all searching for, and none of us were smart enough to actually compare notes. How much we REALLY knew was a closely guarded personal secret, and discussing it put you at risk for exposing what you didn’t know, and the social tragedy that would ensue. Falling to the status of complete-social-outcast always felt like it was just one mistake away. No one makes a mistake if no one talks about it…so silence was the rule of the herd.
What is odd about this, is that I stood apart with a bit of a reputation. Not a reputation as a “ladies man” but as “someone who knew about IT.” This was due to a combination of two facts:
First, my mom wrote romance novels for a living with sex in them, and my family was pretty up front with the fact that we weren’t ashamed of that like the “great white fathers” in charge of our church expected us to be; and I had read those books. Essentially, what was an act of solidarity with my mom brought about an exposure to “it” that had the side effect of creating a perception that I was the only one of my peers who had “read the manual” so to speak.
Second, I had not yet learned to pull my punches or pick my battles. The most notable example (from an unfortunately long list) was that I argued for an entire semester of my Sophomore year the shocking position that the “Song of Solomon” was, in fact, about sex. Being willing to debate the merits of sex poetry as sex poetry vs. an allegory for the sacred passion God has for Christians (as opposed to say, “Jews” or even simply “humans”) created a group perception that I knew enough about the subject that I was confident enough to debate it. Sadly, that was not ACTUALLY true. I was simply a contrarian button-pusher and shit-stirrer without the good sense to know better; and I had enough speech and communication training (from working on-air at the radio station) to hold a reasonable position and debate it effectively.
Now, the perception of “knowing about sex” wasn’t necessarily an advantage. In this environment the traditional conservative values of “purity until marriage” and “waiting for your spouse” were not just recommended, they were in fact the rules. Any student who acknowledged sexual activity (of almost any kind) was subject to sanction up to and (usually) including expulsion. Which just doubled the taboo in both the risk and curiosity categories. Western culture is rife with references to things made more desirable due to their being placed off-limits: Pandora’s Box, the Golden Fleece, Helen of Troy, Delilah, Bathsheba, and of course the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (which is what was really at stake here); and teenagers are no more resistant to things forbidden than the heroes and demigods of old.
Which brings me to late July, 1992. I was working on the maintenance crew for my second summer, living at home, and commuting every day in the Smurf-mobile; a
1974 [Web Research, two phone calls and a three way debate plus insurance forms from the early 90's have revealed that it was, in fact, a 1977 Dodge Sportsman 220" 15-Passenger MaxiVan] Dodge van with two huge captain seats, a single bench seat twelve feet back, tires so narrow it’s a miracle the whole thing was freeway-legal, and a paint job that had originally been “Robin’s Egg Blue” but had faded to something more akin to powdered cartoon character.
I enjoyed working on the maintenance crew. I’d already learned journeyman plumbing, electrical, framing, drywall, automotive repair (if by “automotive” you mean a ford pickup truck and a GMC Garbage Truck), plus dozens of other skills; and had access to power tools, a fully functional shop, the privilege of driving on and off campus, and a relatively high level of autonomy as long as the needed work got done.
And there was a lot of work. Teenagers are particularly hard on the dormitories they spend nine months in, and the maintenance crew often felt like we spent the entire three months of summer break just trying to put them back together. I’ve patched holes with a clear imprint/outline of a freshman, replaced something like a thousand screens and windows and at least several hundred doors, fixed countless sinks, used sulphuric acid to melt the copious amounts of hair that a dorm full of girls wash down the shower drain, and rewired something like ten miles of wiring and replaced more circuit breakers and fuses (and fuse boxes, and breaker boxes, and…) than I care to think about.
Which is exactly what I was doing on a sunny Thursday afternoon when she flounced, as only a sixteen-year-old woman-child can, into the corner dorm room I was putting back together.
“Nick!” she squealed as she half-hopped/half-skipped up to me, “the dean said you were up here working! I’m so glad you’re here!” and then she threw her arms around me and stood on her tiptoes to give me a hug that barely came halfway up my chest. A hug that I returned with a level of force that surprised me. She was staring up at me with a huge grin and I found myself staring into her eyes for so long that our hug began to come perilously close to turning into an embrace.
I was confused, and I think it showed on my face. We had spent a lot of time in the same clique last year, but I had thought of us as being two bodies in a similar orbit without any direct gravity to each other. As far as I knew, she had spent most of the year mooning over my roommate, and I had just been one of the guys who gave her an excuse to spend time in his proximity.
She broke our hug, but only stepped back a half step, keeping her hands resting on my arms. I didn’t pull away, I didn’t want to pull away, but I didn’t have any context for this conversation, or this level of contact. My eyes were on hers, but my mind was on her lips…just mere inches from my own.
“When I got home from the hospital Jamie told me Toby wasn’t coming back this year,” at the mention of my former roommate I’m sure my face clouded with suspicion, “when she told me that, I was so afraid you might decide to go somewhere else too! If you’re working here this summer, does that mean you’ll be staying for the year?” she asked.
“Yeah…” I was so busy trying to figure out if I should still try to lean in for a kiss, or if I had already missed some kind of invitation during our extended hug, that I couldn’t manage to come up with an answer and instead just latched on to the first bit that had processed, “…I…uh…I didn’t know you were in the hospital! What happened?” as smooth subject changes go, this one was horrible.
She laughed softly and looked down for a moment, “I had my appendix taken out. I started feeling sick on the drive home and we ended up going straight to the hospital in Reno. It was an extra week before I finally got home and slept in my own room.”
“Oh!” I said, “I’m so sorry! That really sucks!”
She looked back up at me, and there was a distinctly naughty gleam in her eyes. “It’s ok, it’s been more than a month now. Would you like to see the scar?”
She whirled away from me and shut and locked the door. As she took the two steps back to me, a part of my brain immediately began to sound warning sirens and emergency alerts. *DANGER* *DANGER* *DANGER* Being alone behind a locked door with a co-ed was grounds for suspension at the very least.
As she unbuttoned her shorts and slipped them down over her slender hips and dropped them in a pile around her ankles the warning sounds became much more distant. As she slid her pastel polka-dotted white cotton panties down below her hips the sound of blood rushing in my ears drowned out everything.
The scar went from about an inch above her hipline down at a slight angle halfway to the top of her thigh, still concealed by her lowered panties. I have no doubt that my face portrayed a perfect mix of shock and desire, and it was all the encouragement she needed.
“Would you like to touch it?” she asked as she stepped closer and took my hand in hers. Without waiting for the obvious answer she guided my fingers from the top of the scar down below where it ended.
She giggled. “That tickles” she said with pleasure as she continued to slide my hand lower. Once my fingers slipped below her panties and found their intended destination, my brain largely shut down and instinct took over. What little practical thought process that continued, only worked through a haze of confusion. I was still trying to process my chances of kissing her, and this was rapidly taking an entirely different direction and I wasn’t quite able to keep up.
Without waiting for encouragement or finding any resistance on my part, she unbuttoned my jeans and put us on an equal footing.
Pulling me forward, she slid her underwear down and sat on the thin mattress behind her, never breaking our mutual contact. Then, in what was a rather clumsy and inexperienced effort on both of our parts, she guided me to that part of her and we began to do what instinct dictates.
I was incapable of saying anything, or asking anything, or even forming a single syllable of speech; but my brain was screaming that something was wrong. This was out of order…this wasn’t how this happens…this…this…this was not right!
My eyes refocused and I looked at her face. Tears were falling from the corners of her eyes. I didn’t know if something was wrong, if she was upset, if I had done something wrong. I must have done something wrong…I had no real idea what I was doing.
Her continuing tears unnerved me, and I stepped back, breaking contact.
Her eyes flew open and she was stunned. “Why?” she whispered.
“WHY!?” this time it wasn’t a whisper. She looked angry and confused and hurt. I stepped back again, completely befuddled and speechless, my mouth opening and closing but not a single sound coming out, like some idiot fish transported to the heart of a desert without a drop of water for a thousand miles.
She dashed off the bed, pulled up her underwear, pulled on her shorts and then dashed out of the door, her crying becoming sobs as she dashed down the hallway.
No sooner had I buttoned up my pants than my best friend and fellow maintenance worker leaned into the doorway. “What was that about?”
“I…I don’t know.”
He gave me one of his trademarked incredulously-raised-eyebrows, but didn’t pry any farther. “Boss wants the front lawns mowed before the end of the day. Do you want to do it, or would you rather finish up here?”
I didn’t want to be anywhere near there, so I gladly took the mowing job. I replayed the entire thing over in my head countless times while I rode the John Deere over a couple of acres between the parking lot and the campus buildings, including the dorm I’d just been in. As I was coming back up towards the Administration building on one of my passes back and forth, one of the yearbook photographers snapped a shot of me just trying to finish my day so I could drive home and hopefully puzzle out what had happened. I didn’t think about that photo again until the end of the year when it showed up in the yearbook with some corny caption about my “calm hand on the wheel.” I assure you, I was anything but calm.
I drove home that night and collapsed into bed within minutes of finishing dinner. I didn’t get even five minutes of sleep. I didn’t know what had happened, but whatever it was, I wasn’t saying a word about it to anyone. Round and round in my head ran the whole scene…and even though I knew I had made a mistake, I couldn’t figure out what it was.
I had clearly done something wrong, and honestly, I really didn’t want anyone else to know. And I deeply wanted to apologize to her for whatever I had done wrong.
One thing still puzzled me, in the world of teenage boys becoming “men” (at least by one questionable definition of the word), I wasn’t sure where I stood. On the one hand, important bit A had been inside important bit B…but on the other hand, neither of us “finished” the process…and the whole thing had come off like some kind of cosmic joke. It was out of order, and I still had to have a first kiss, and get to first base…and…
And I decided if one thing was true, it was that “that time” did NOT make me a man. It just left me feeling more like a confused little boy. A confused little boy who just wanted to say he was sorry.
Unfortunately, it would be another month until school started, and more than a week after that before I finally spoke to her at all. And I was nowhere near being any less confused. In fact, I was just getting started.
She actively avoided me for the first two weeks of school. I’m pretty sure she even cut a couple of classes to avoid being in the hall at the same time, and I know she skipped meals to keep from meeting in the cafeteria. All of which managed to make me feel even worse. Whatever I had done wrong, I would have performed almost any act of penance to earn her forgiveness.
Which is why it surprised me when she came up behind me in the Library and whispered in my ear, “can we talk?” I wish I could say I was even somewhat controlled about it, but honestly my neck snapped in her direction so fact our noses bumped and I think I had whiplash.
“I’m…I’m so…” I began but she shushed me before I could even begin to apologize.
“I thought Matt and Hauss and Chris would have known everything. But you didn’t tell them, did you?” she asked.
I just shook my head no, my face showing my complete lack of understanding.
She looked at me for a moment and then sadness broke into her eyes again, “I’d never…never done…” she began to whisper, “I didn’t want anyone to think…”
“NO,” I said too loudly for a library and several people turned to look at us. I waited a few moments for the attention to move on. “No, I wouldn’t…I didn’t…I’d never…I just wanted to kiss…”
She looked down, “Sorry…”
“No, that’s not what I meant…I liked it…a lot…I just…”
Her eyes flashed back up, hurt again on her face, “then why did you stop?”
“You were crying…” I couldn’t explain that I didn’t know what I was doing, that I was just scared. “I…I didn’t know…”
“Sorry” she said again, and looked away, out towards the glass wall that separated the library from the main hallway. “Look, would you do me a favor?”
I had no idea what she wanted, but I’d have cut off limbs at this point if it would clear things up between us.
“My cousin…my roommate isn’t doing so well. She’s having a hard time. I’ve talked about you some, about last year, and she would like to go out with you. Would you do that for me?”
Now, I was officially confused. And a little deflated. A small part of me had hoped to “fix” things with her and try for a real relationship. One that went in the right order. Or any order. But clearly that wasn’t what she had in mind.
“Sure. I’d…I’d be glad to.” I owed her, and there are certainly worse ways to make something up to someone.
“Um, who’s your cousin? I don’t think I’ve met her.”
“She’s out in the hall. Her name’s…”
Let me stop and explain some context here. My high school had a pretty high attrition rate for new students. It takes a certain type of person to attend classes for six hours, work for six hours, have a break for lunch in the middle, spend the early evening at intramurals followed by vespers, and then study period. Every day.
I’ve heard it compared with Juvenile Detention and Boot Camp more than once, and while I don’t think it’s quite that rigid, there are certainly those who disagree with me.
While exclusive co-ed romantic relationships were “officially” forbidden, and PDA of almost any kind would get you placed on Social Probation (at a minimum), there was an unwritten understanding with the faculty that some students needed extra incentive to adapt to the school environment. Usually, that was a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Life is always a bit easier when the routine included something that made the heart beat a little bit faster, and as such, “going out” (in a place where there was literally NO WHERE to go) was more a social status declaration than anything truly serious.
This was not an exceptionally unusual request. She wasn’t trying to make a lifetime romantic match, she was trying to help her cousin figure out how to integrate into the school, and she wanted to have some input on WHO her cousin ended up dating in that process. It should also be pointed out that her cousin was a Sophomore, and still three weeks away from turning fifteen.
The cousin and I were not built to last. A year-and-a-half isn’t a lot of age distance, but between fourteen and sixteen it’s a rather wide gulf. Add to that the fact that she was more…aggressive than I expected and you don’t have a good mix. Our relationship reached its natural conclusion on the Saturday morning following her birthday, when she had received a Polaroid Instamatic Camera and promptly took polaroids of herself wearing only a lace bra and panties. I couldn’t deny that the one I received was “hot,” but I was not ok with the fact that she gave similar snapshots to three other guys.
That wasn’t the act of someone who wanted to be in our particular school environment, and it was no surprise that on the following Sunday afternoon her dad helped her pack up her things and drive her home.
I did take some mild ribbing for dating “that crazy Sophomore,” but nothing that lasted more than about 48 hours. Just in time to run into the girl who had set us up in the first place while I was moving chairs into the band room from the Small Gym via the back hallway.
“Hey,” she said through the doorway that led out to the main entrance, opposite from the way I had just brought in another set of chairs. “I’m sorry for how that turned out.”
I chuckled and unfolded the chairs I had just brought in. “I don’t think I was exactly what she was looking for in a boyfriend.”
She cocked her head to one side, “uhhhh, no. She thought you were a prude. She gave up when she couldn’t even make you jealous.”
“Oh, I was a bit jealous, but…well, she wasn’t exactly taking it slow. I just wasn’t able to keep up.”
“Yeah, I appreciate that. I wouldn’t have set you up with her if I thought you would rush her.”
“Me rush her??? Um, not the problem” I said.
“Sorry, I didn’t know that when I was telling her about you.” It was her turn to chuckle. “She might have misunderstood some things.”
We were now well past my understanding. She was the one who had set us up, for reasons that were becoming less clear by the second, and the fact that it didn’t work out seemed to upset her less than I had expected.
She looked up through the glass windows at the piano practice rooms a floor above and behind us. “I have to practice before my lesson. Can we talk later?”
“Sure, I’ll be moving chairs and then working in the Small Gym for the next couple of hours. Or we can talk at dinner.”
She smiled and then walked off to the stairway and up the stairs. I watched her as she walked the length of both hallways, finally going into the furthest practice room down the back hall. I had no idea if she had an hour or two booked, so there was no point in waiting around. I trudged back through the back door, down the back hallway, and across the Small Gym to grab another stack of folding chairs.
I had been working for no more than 20 minutes, perhaps three more sets of chairs at most, when she stepped out of the back doorway and into the back hallway, right as I was walking up in the opposite direction, blocking my progress.
“I thought you had to practice for your lesson?”
“I was too distracted” she said.
“Sorry if I was making too much noise, I have to get this all put away before heading to Bake’n'Slave for my shift.”
She was looking up at me in the dim light and the shadows hid her facial expression, “It wasn’t the noise that distracted me. Put those down and come with me, I need to talk to you.”
I leaned the chairs I had in my hands against the wall and she took me by the arm and marched me down the back hallway, into the Small Gym, up the small stage stairs and behind the curtains. She spun to face me as soon as the curtain had closed behind us, and I could see her eyes looking up at me in the near pitch black as my vision adjusted from the glaring sodium lights that had been shining on the other side of the velvet barrier.
“Did you want to? That day? Tell me, did you WANT to?” her voice quivered near breaking.
My brain processed slowly, a part of me had anticipated this topic as we walked down the hallway, but actually talking about it and not ignoring it…I struggled to put words to the hurricane of thoughts spinning in my head. “Yes! More than I could tell you. More than I could ever tell you!” I said. Her eyes narrowed, so I charged on, “Look, I was surprised, and then you were crying…and I didn’t know what to do!” I said, frustration at not being able to explain what I meant was filling my voice.
She put her fingers on my lips and stopped me from continuing to dig another hole.
“Then I only have one simple question, do you want to…” her eyes implied there was an obvious rest of that sentence, but I was so confused about everything that I honestly had no idea where that was supposed to go, “…again…you know, not stopping this time?”
A part of my brain now registered a trap. I’d just gotten accustomed to “nothing happened, nothing was ever going to happen” as I saw it, and this was absolutely the complete opposite, and completely out of the blue.
“I…are you…” I began, but she pressed her fingers against my lips again, silencing me once more.
“Yes or no. What do you want?”
Her face was no more than four inches from my own, and I tried to lean in and kiss her as a response. First Kiss, First Base, First Time…all at once.
Her fingers stiffened against my lips again and she turned her head away from me. “NO. I’m not your girlfriend. That’s not what…” She looked at me again, “was that a yes?” I mutely nodded my head, more confused than ever.
The next few moments were completely detached for me, like I was watching through my own eyes but someone else was controlling my body. She led me over to the stack of folded gymnastics mats up against the wall, undid my pants, and I pulled her skirt up above her hips. She wasn’t wearing panties, and I let out a startled “oh!”
She smiled, “You were distracting me, so I came down prepared.” And with that explanation she laid back on the mats and once again we fumbled with mutual inexperience as she guided me to where she wanted me to be.
In the darkness I wouldn’t have been able to tell for sure if she cried again, but I was absolutely not going to stop before she was finished. Unfortunately, that led us to the next point of complete confusion: I had no idea how to know when or if she was finished. In fact, I had only a romance novel perspective on the female conclusion to sex, and it wasn’t remotely helpful in this situation. Aside from Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally…” I’d never heard even a remote approximation of an orgasm, and as she wasn’t making even the slightest noise beyond heavy breathing below me, I began to worry again that I was doing something wrong.
Her voice, out of breath like she was running laps, startled me “Tell me when you have to finish. So you don’t…” her voice trailed off.
This, is the worst thing you can say to a sixteen-year-old boy. Coming from a culture where “self-abuse” was a complete taboo, my grasp of my point of no return was basically non-existent. Predicting when I was going to finish was not a skill I’d even considered until that point, which was about two heartbeats too late.
“Uh…” and then I shuddered from head to toe. I wanted to keep going, but after a few more moments my ability began to disappear. I rolled over and sat back on the mats next to her, and she sat up with her legs crossed in front of her. She sat there for what felt like forever, and I had no idea what to say now.
Then she did the one thing that I didn’t expect, but probably should have; she put her head in her hands and began to sob. I sat up to try and…I don’t know…console her or something. This had a very negative effect, she turned in a flash and pushed me back with both hands as hard as she could. Then she got up, grabbed something out of her book bag on the floor, and began to wipe vigorously at the fluid between her legs.
She stood upright, walked over to me and leaned in just inches from my face and yelled “Don’t. You. Ever. Tell. ANYONE!!!” And then she threw the wad of cloth in her hand in my face and stormed away. I didn’t move until after I heard her footsteps go all the way down the back hall and then the back door slam closed behind her.
I pulled on my pants and slipped out between the curtain, into the glaring lights that left me as blind as I had been on the darkened stage. When my eyes finally adjusted I looked at what she’d thrown at me. It was a pair of white cotton panties with pastel polka-dots. I doubted that was coincidence, but I had no idea what it was supposed to mean. I had no idea what had happened at all.
I wrapped the panties in some paper towels and tossed them in the trash in the guys locker room. I splashed some water on my face and stared at myself in the mirror. A scared little boy looked back.
I walked out the door, climbed in my van, and drove home. I called in sick that evening for my shift, and spent another sleepless night trying to figure out what I had done wrong.
There would be no rescue this time, she didn’t avoid me, she completely ignored me. From that day on it was like she couldn’t see me in the halls, or in the caf, or when we sat next to each other in class.
Two weeks later, I met someone at a birthday party. Someone I ended up marrying three years later. Someone I had a relationship with. A first date, a first kiss, and eventually my first time. I kept the secret of that afternoon on the stage in the small gym for nearly two decades. I didn’t tell friends, or family, or even spouses. As far as anyone has ever known, my first was with the girl I eventually married.
Teenage guys want this moment to be awesome. We expected it to be this incredible moment where we became men. That was not what it felt like for me.
About six weeks after I met my future wife, about eight weeks after that afternoon on the stage in the small gym, she talked to me for the only time for more than a year afterwards.
Once again, I was sitting in the library and she walked up and simply said “Hey, I’m back.” She’d been feeling sick for a couple of weeks and ended up going home for a week. I must have been the first person she looked for on that Monday morning. “I’m better now,” she said, and her hands reflexively crossed in front of her stomach.
“I’m glad” I said, “we missed you.”
She reached her hand out and ran her fingers down my cheek, and for a moment I knew that whatever had passed between us, that “thing” that had left her crying on the mats, was forgiven. She smiled faintly and turned and walked away. We would be half-way through our senior year before we spoke again; forgiven is not the same as forgotten.
As I turned back to my books I saw Miss V sitting behind me, staring at me with an unreadable expression.
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