From Something Wrong with Her: A Hybrid Memoir

On October 31, 2012 by Cris Mazza


Yes, I was one, all through college. A virgin in too many ways. A virgin whose first kiss had been milestone enough that subsequent occasions for kisses still triggered uneasiness, but not nearly as much trepidation as caused by the virginity itself. Not — as some have assumed — anxiety fostered by relentless itchy lust. If that were the case, then prospective situations would not have resulted in the resistant rigidity with which advances were met.

If I were to enumerate my angst, the bullet points would be:

  1. How was it done? And how would I know how to do it (when the moment came)?
  2. What if I didn’t know what to do and was really bad at it?
  3. What if it hurt/what if I don’t like it?
  4. I’m supposed to like it, I’m supposed to crave it, but all I do is resist and avoid it, what’s wrong with me?

In terms of importance, they shuffled. Sometimes #1 was the most vital, sometimes one of the others. But most often it was #4.


& Not Losing It

I began keeping journals during my last two years of college when I took fiction-writing workshop. (Semesters I didn’t take the workshop, no journal exists.)  I also have a handful of earlier “story” manuscripts — compulsively scribbled out during classes I routinely attended but did not have the wherewithal to pay attention. At one point these MSS got damp, dried out with permanent ripples, and now are brittle as 19th century proclamations. Immature narratives, mostly in first person, spelling the grief of my isolation after leaving some friends behind in high school — namely boys I’d allowed to squeeze my breasts or kiss me in preparation for their first dates. Not long after their dates had developed into girlfriends, the girls had requested that the boys not be friends with me anymore. Their docile compliance was difficult to condemn, but easy to let myself be wounded by. 

Yet in my journals and story drafts, it seems nowhere did I record my unenthusiastic response to three young men who, between 1976 and 1978, shared my company on a single date. 

The first was fall of 1976: A fellow trombone player, a chemistry major, a boy a year younger than me who’d been assigned to the marching band squad of which I was the leader, asked me to accompany him to an academic fraternity dinner/dance. This would naturally negate the conclusion that my playing the trombone made the male trombone-players view me as not enough of a girl to have dating interest in me. I was, however, not enough of a girl to appreciate a dress-up, corsage-wearing occasion where couples actually had their pictures taken. I felt repulsed by the way this boy became a solicitous, polite, car-door-opening drone, leaving the joking, irreverent shirtless college-freshman-in-cutoffs I’d known out on the football field, replacing himself with a suit-wearing Ken doll. Unfair, and not at all his fault. This was a role he had been conditioned to (more…)


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  • Sandi

    I love that Cris included a note about how in 2010 another literary magazine, after soliciting her for work, turned it down for not being “exciting” enough. It is reassuring to learn that even talented and successful authors like Cris receive the equally inane feedback that the rest of us do. To this day, the “best” rejection letter I ever received came from The New Yorker, which wrote of one of my short stories—”This is beautifully written and moving in many ways. Not right for us.”

    I kept that rejection letter for years–at first, grateful that at least one editor at the nation’s foremost literary magazines found my writing beautiful. Later, I held on to it for its irony–the idea that work that was deemed both well-written and emotionally moving somehow wasn’t “right.” What was it that they wanted then–work that was poorly written and devoid of all feeling?

    It strikes me that whatever person rejected Cris’ excerpt likely drank too much from The New Yorker’s fountain–too much of what is published in the top literary magazines seem to favor “sensationalist” writing–stories that play to the extremes, the crazier the characters, the more “taboo” the situation–over universal moments that simply make us remember what it feels like to be 22 when most of us, whether we admitted it or not, were still frightened and confused about sex. Kudos to you Cris. The other journal’s loss is our gain.

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