The very first time I have sex I sneak out over the lunch hour with the first chair cellist in the high school orchestra. The cellist’s mother works during the day, and their house is across the street from the high school. I am fifteen. I have been reading way too much Sylvia Plath. I am particularly impressed with the scene in The Bell Jar where Esther Greenwood decides to liberate herself from the stifling oppression of her own virginity, then systematically and rather cold-bloodedly singles out Irwin, the math major, to be her first sexual partner. It hurts. I find it to be a singularly unimpressive and disappointing experience overall. What’s more, the cellist is a jackass and kind of a creep, really, in rainbow-colored suspenders and plaid flannel shirts (it’s the early 80’s) and a mullett-y sort of a hairdo. It’s not that I’m altogether unaware of this jackassish quality, but the fact that my parents can’t stand the cellist hugely compensates for the jackassish-ness. Several days after the deed, the cellist goes all Oral Roberts on me, and informs me that we have committed a sin, and, furthermore, if there should have been any screw-up with the condom and I become pregnant, he fully intends to run away and join the military. It is definitely a less-than-ideal sexual experience. At the same time, it is, at least, satisfyingly squalid. I am a suicidal fifteen, and squalor is inordinately appealing to me.
The strangest sex I ever have is with the lead singer in a punk rock band. They are the last punk rock band in town, or so they say, and sometimes, if they’ve had too much to drink, they punch each other out on stage. This is always very strange, because offstage, all the band members tend to be rather mild-mannered. The punk rocker is small and jittery and wiry, like a jockey, with red hair and freckles, and when he takes his tee-shirt off during the set and wraps it about his head like a turban, it means he loves me. I am twenty-two, I smoke way too much pot, and I’m a graduate student in a rather stodgy, Ivory Tower degree program in musicology. I find that the incongruity between my professional life and my private life, my daytime life and my nighttime life, is hugely exhilarating. We play elaborate games. We get kicked out of restaurants. He lets me handcuff him to the bed and likes to be spanked. Viciously.
The worst sex I ever have is the sex that should never have happened. I am nine, and the doctor’s son who lives down the block cuts off my bicycle and grabs the handlebars and won’t let go. He is seventeen or eighteen. He tells me he has a gun in the pocket of his windbreaker. He has his hand in his windbreaker pocket, and there is something shaped like a gun that he points at me through the nylon. He says he will shoot me unless I do what he says. He makes me sit down in the shadow of the porch steps of the nearest house. He makes me pull down my pants. The things he does to me I have no names for yet. I come home crying and when I tell my parents what happened they drag me over to the doctor’s house, and the doctor’s son is called down into the living room. I have to sit in the same room as the doctor’s son and the doctor and my parents make me repeat the things he did to me that I have no names for yet. I have to go to a psychiatrist and repeat to her the things the doctor’s son did to me that I have no names for yet. I describe the doctor’s son down to the color of the stripes on his windbreaker and the shape of the pedals on his bike, and explain that the doctor’s son was the same person who told me he had a gun. The psychiatrist says that I am obviously a very bright child, but that I am confused about the doctor’s son, and that it must have been somebody else. I am not confused. I am not mistaken. My parents are angry. They say that the psychiatrist was obviously a colleague of the doctor. My mother says that I was stupid. She says that I should have made him take the gun out of his windbreaker pocket and show it to me first. Then she tells me that I must never ever tell anyone about what happened. She says that girls are like submarines. When a girl has been “sunk” all the boys will talk about how easy she was to “sink” and nobody will ever respect her. She makes me feel as if I have done something horribly wrong.
The strangest place I ever have sex is with a jazz musician in the men’s bathroom of Morrison Hall. I am thin, and wild, and wear my hair in a Louise Brooks bob. This is what we do together. We find strange places on campus to get high and have sex. Although the jazz musician is the same age or older than I am, I am almost, but not technically, his teacher. I am a graduate assistant for one of the music theory classes that he’s taking, but he’s not in my actual section. I enjoy the sexual tension and slight taboo of sitting near him in the lecture hall. I sit in the row with all the other graduate assistants — most of whom seem well-rested at 9:00 in the morning with decidedly un-messy lives, unlike me — and he sits in the row behind me. There are fabulous parties at the jazz musician’s house . . . they call themselves the Jazz Vandals. They brew their own beer and bake huge pans of pot brownies.
Eventually I swear off musicians. And controlled substances.
The most illicit sex I have is with one of my professors. He is married. He is twenty years older than I am. His voice is soft and thick like honey. It is, in hindsight, the most predictable of cliches, but I am twenty-five, and somehow I think that I am different, that my situation is the exception to something. It is, in hindsight, perhaps one of the ways that I avoid having to deal with a real relationship, though, and perhaps also one of the ways that I avoid having to deal with my frighteningly intense attraction to other women. There is very little actual sex, in point of fact, which is probably for the best . . . mostly clandestine meetings for coffee, or hand-holding over chablis, secret murmured conversations, and dark kisses in parking lots.
Sometimes I tell lies.
Or then again, perhaps the most illicit sex is the time I carry on an affair simultaneously with two poets in the same workshop. The poets do not seem to know that this is going on, even though the three of us frequently go out drinking and dancing together. I have sworn them each to secrecy. The thing is, separately, each of the poets is not enough. Both of them are necessary to keep the balance . . . combined, they make the perfect/ideal poet. The poems in the workshop that semester are incestuous and strange.
Eventually I swear off poets.
And eventually I swear off men altogether.
The first time I kiss a woman it rocks me all the way down to my knees. Later, when I am alone, I burst into tears. I think about it over and over again. I want to go around singing that stupid song that was on MTV for awhile, “I Kissed A Girl.” I lock myself in the bathroom and think about it some more, and touch myself. The first time I have sex with a woman I am terrified that I won’t know what to do. I think that I will do to her all the things that I like to have done to me, for starters, and that perhaps she can tell me all the rest. Her skin is so unbelievably smooth, her breasts so soft, and she is wet and plush-velvety, and red, and deep. Her clitoris rises toward my mouth like a sweet, dark fig. It is the best sex. Ever.
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