I lost my virginity when I was fifteen to a boy who stayed alive on raw cookie dough and who shared my enthusiasm for the The Cure. We met in a Sam Goody record store. How to explain what it feels like when you’re fifteen and some boy likes you back? Immediately, nothing else mattered—not my parents and their curfew, not the friend who came with me, nothing. I have mainlined cocaine and felt more connected to consequences than I did in that moment. The boy had a friend, and I had a friend, and the four of us went to the movies: The War of the Roses. It was a movie with an R-rating, and when my mother found out, she grounded me, but it didn’t matter. This cute boy had kissed me.
The next day, I needed more. I snuck a phone call to the boy, and we arranged to meet at the library. I told my mother I had to do some work at the library, and he picked me up there. I wore black underwear; I knew this was it. He brought me home and had sex with me for forty-five seconds. Billy Joel was the CD he had selected, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” the soundtrack to my first fuck. There was a fang of pain, some blood on the condom that surprised him, even though I had told him before that it was my first time. It was exactly like underage sex everywhere, only it made me feel swollen with love and power and attention. I felt like Godzilla, like I could clear city blocks with my spiky tail.
He asked me afterward how many orgasms I had had, and I told him nine, which I thought was the normal amount. But orgasms were beside the point. I had fooled around with boys in the back of cars or in basement rec rooms before, but it was the first time I was completely naked in front of one. I got the giggles. We were moving in towards another round, when his phone rang and he answered it.
He put his hand over the receiver. “It’s your mother,” he mouthed. I laughed at first, because that was a good one; clearly, my mother did not exist here.
But it was my mother; my sister had handed over the guy’s phone number, which I had been foolish enough to wave braggily in front of her. He drove me home, and to his credit, he didn’t drop me on the sidewalk, and peel away. He walked me to the door, where my mother commented on the state of my hair: you look like you’ve been rolling around in the sack. The marathon of yelling and lecturing began, as utterly appropriate, and I rebutted with “But I LOVE him.” To me, this argument was check and mate.
Of course, I didn’t love him, or know him, and this would be the basic pattern for the next 25 years. Because it feels like love. What argument can you make against your own feelings? I would meet a boy, he would touch me, and I would want to give him my favorite CDs, I would want to do all his homework. I would jump out of windows to get to him, lie to my parents, abandon my friends. It was worth it, for the biochemical payoff.
This is how it happened with Bummer, whom I can’t even attach a verb to, because he didn’t do much of anything except smoke from his bong and long for fame and pretty young with girls with an intensity that was heartbreaking to witness. To this day, I’ve still never met anyone unhappier, and I run with some damaged people. He was five years older than me, a perfect age difference at 40, but at 15 and 20, respectively, a red flag. We would be together for 5 years, while I put in my time at home and waited until my concerned parents could no longer stand between me and my next hit of attention.
Bummer told me that all men wanted was to have sex with as many women as possible. Women had not been possible for him in high school, a time when he didn’t leave his room for eight months and his codependent mother left a tray in the hallway so he wouldn’t starve to death. So now he had me, but he still wanted other girls. He told me that all men cheat, they just don’t talk about it. Did I want to be one of those clueless and unenlightened girls who gets lied to, or did I want to be one of the cool girls who knows the deal and is fucking cool? I didn’t think long before answering. I was fifteen. I wanted boys to think I was fucking cool.
He arranged for a partner swap with his best friend, who had herpes, and his best friend’s girl, who had a waterbed. I wasn’t given these details until later. We just smoked some pot and did the thing; I could see Bummer thrusting away in the blue light of the stereo with this girl, her all big tits and blond hair in curls crunchy with styling gel. I didn’t hold it against her—she was nice.
In college, I cheated on Bummer with abandon; he had dropped his classes at Rutgers and pocketed the money his parents had laid down for tuition so he could buy pot and turntables, and his company was getting increasingly depressing. He wanted to be a DJ. I came home later and later and drunker and drunker; the room always spun at night like a box rolling down the stairs. I brought home friends he would ply with Quaaludes and attempt to date-rape with varying levels of success.
When I left for the last time, he and I had moved to New Orleans. It had been a long run of not making decisions, or not making good ones; we didn’t discuss the pros and cons of moving there, just sort of wandered down in a blackout like migrating animals following the water supply. The river of my alcoholism spread out like a delta; New Orleans was a place where you could get a margarita at a fast-food restaurant, provided you didn’t put the straw in until you reached your destination. I felt right at home.