From Something Wrong with Her: A Hybrid Memoir
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:
- How was it done? And how would I know how to do it (when the moment came)?
- What if I didn’t know what to do and was really bad at it?
- What if it hurt/what if I don’t like it?
- 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 play, on dates, especially formal dates, and possibly had been further trained by the mission of this new fraternity — purely academic without its own house, striving to establish itself as a serious brotherhood of educated men at a known party-school. When, later that semester, he asked me to accompany him to the band banquet, I told him I wouldn’t be attending the banquet. How much intelligence does this take: I did go to the banquet, alone, and can still clearly remember the boy’s round face, his blank also-round eyes, his small expressionless mouth, when he saw me there.
And why was this young man not “good enough” for me? While some may boil it down to me turning up my nose for shallow, frivolous, conceited reasons, in retrospect I can claim a mixture of social immaturity, societal conditioning, and gender-role defiance. I played a “masculine” instrument; I was his squad leader; I was a year older. How could I then appear on his arm as “his girl,” how could he be the Prince Charming I contradictorily, without using that term, was seeking?
Just before fall semester the following year, he died in his apartment, slumped over a chemistry experiment on his kitchen table — flagrantly messing around, as boys will do, with chemicals and gas and flame. Not making a stink bomb to pay retribution to a girl who’d discarded him in a cowardly way. Just creating, exploring, feeling invulnerable, and, unlike the girl who’d rebuffed him, plunging into hands-on involvement with the world outside a stewing adolescent brain. I was called to the band office and told about his demise, because I’d been his squad leader. They assumed I would be distraught. I don’t remember my outward reaction. I’d lied to him, evaded him, rejected him. I presume these things were not major issues for him, months later, at the time of his death. To assume he’d been mortally hurt by me is self-absorbed. As is the response, to his death, of guilt, remorse, shame… which is the only reaction I had. Guilt I did not share with anyone, not because I recognized how selfish it was to feel that way, but because I assumed other people would view me in the same appalling light: the girl who jilted him before he died — or nine to ten months before he died. What others might have viewed as encasing my emotions to protect a fragile psyche was actually guarding my fragile ego. I don’t even remember his last name. Alan Wilson. It just came to me as I typed the previous sentence.
In 1977, the football team ranked in the national top 20, so they earned a televised game the last game of the season, in San Jose. Because it would be broadcast, the athletic department paid to send the entire marching band to that game, twenty band members on the team plane and the rest in
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