I remember being fifteen and being what I thought was “in love.” I remember Thomas and his denim-blue eyes and floppy sandy blonde hair, and even his belt buckle with a ship on the front and the grosgrain ribbon. I remember Thomas’s long summer legs entwined with my own coltish and tanned legs; I remember us young and finding the ways of the world and though perhaps Thomas knew a great deal more than I, he was a patient boy, and all a girl could hope for in a summer romance while she is young.
I met Thomas by chance. He was hired to watch the parking lot at the private beach where I used to swim. Making sure no non-tenants invaded the water, he guarded the perimeter for the wealthy of the town and I laughed at him when he told me I could not swim there because I had been swimming there for over a year and windsurfing too, so who was this prep who was so smug, I wondered, to tell me what I could and could not do.
And so our relationship or friendship began. We sat down under the shade of the parking lot’s nearby tree where Thomas offered some of his blend of iced tea and lemonade and I drank greedily, hungrily from the bottle, slaking my thirst. Then we spent the afternoon reading and he read Tennyson to me as we sat on the grass, shoulders touching imperceptibly and I felt the thrill of the new. He seemed to me a soul mate, for who else at our age, or his age even, was reading Tennyson besides me, besides him.
Later, after his shift was almost over, Thomas asked if I would go with him for a walk to the Sanctuary. I said yes, why not, and we crossed the street and climbed the wrought iron fence and began our way up the hill through the graveyard. Problem was the sanctuary was part of the graveyard but you couldn’t get to the sanctuary at this hour. The gates were locked and unscalable.
We settled for the graveyard – an old one with stones from 1700 and 1800 and lots of shady, scented linden trees and the smell of fresh cut grass. There was one grave with a giant monument and chain around the grave itself. Perfect, Thomas said, and pulled me down with him to the fresh snipped grass.
Could I really lay down with this boy, I wondered and could I do it here? I didn’t have to wonder much because I did. I lay down with him and I knew what would happen next, more or less. I knew he would kiss me lightly at first, then he would kiss me on the mouth, full on; it all depended on how well the first kiss was received. The first kiss was well-received and soon I felt the weight of him on top of me and then offering gentle, the wafer of his tongue – a communion tablet, and I was absolved of all sin. I felt pure and light as a statue at Notre Dame. I felt “lovelier than air” as a friend would say, and I felt other things too that I had not expected.
For the remainder of that long, hot summer, Thomas and I would meet every day at the same time, toward the end of his shift at 3 p.m. Always hand-in-hand up the walk way and always to the same grassy area behind the monument. The kissing was fine with me; by fine I mean great because I didn’t want or expect more than this, but Thomas did. He was a young man and vital and in his sexual prime (or so I’ve heard, but I can’t confirm this – only a man could and I haven’t polled). He certainly seemed “primed” one afternoon when we had been kissing for over an hour and he ran his hand over the breast over the Lacoste then motioned to lift it and take it off, which I let him. I let him because I was wearing a bra, which surprised him, and yet he took in good stride.
Our relationship was, as I put it to him, strictly over the bra. We could kiss and he could touch me over the bra, but that was it. And as for me touching him, all I recall is straddling him (this was how he liked to kiss) and feeling a hardness between my legs and wondering what it was (this was truly how naïve I was). I remember Thomas asking me if I wanted to see, and being young and curious I both did and I didn’t. I remember how he unzipped his tennis whites, how in one simple gesture he had it in his hand and it was like nothing I had every seen. How his blonde hair trailed down his belly button like an arrow pointing to what surely would have been Nirvana. Damn that 20/20 hindsight.
Perhaps I was still too young and I was afraid our summer would be ruined if we did more. If I lost my virginity. So, we still met every day and Thomas ever the good sport made no mention of it and even came to like my lacy bras, which I think had by then become fetishistic to him and me both. No matter. We are allowed our peeves and perversions in life.
As it turned out, I would lose my virginity but not until later and definitely to the wrong guy. An older man who lacked the sweetness of Thomas and who befriended me, it seems now, simply because I was a virgin and that would make him feel like “the man.” After, after the awful ordeal with this man, I wished for Thomas and those sweet summer days and I hated myself for not doing what would have come and did come so naturally to both of us.
How we had weathered multiple bug bites on the backs of our legs, how we both got a rash from something sprayed on the lawn, or the time we got poison sumac all over our chests and how the doctor told my mother, ‘You can only get it where it touched you’ and I wanted to kill him. I had it, as did Thomas, in my mouth, my hands, my back, legs (front and back), my fingers, my chest, my face, my shoulders. It took a month or so of cortisone shots to make it go away. Yet all of it seemed worth it to me. It was all worth it because Thomas and I had the summer that would define our youth.
Now, I watch as those younger go about arm in arm, awkward in their newfound adulthood, finding their way along the corridor of being sexually comfortable with each other as they reach to each other with complete inexperience and ignorance. The land of what is not known.
We’ve all been there, and somehow, most of us find our way through it and to the other side. I even know people who are now married to that first girl they met in junior high school and had their first experience of love, of sex, and remained in that place forever, and happily so. It’s always somewhat bewildered me. How is it possible, I thought, to just know in that way that you need to know, to never want to experience another person, to just be so solid in that love that this is the One, the Only, the person who will always be there.
Perhaps it’s not so simple. Perhaps you just hook up and the years tick by one by one and the next thing you know you are fifty and still with that girl or boy from junior high that you took to the prom and who found you in the backseat of his or her dad’s sedan and you knew then that nothing would ever be this pure, this good, this visceral. After all, let’s face it – there is little in life that we allow ourselves that is as absolutely visceral as those first, early experiences of sex and love. But every day I read stories about couples who met in high school and are still madly in love and kudos! Surely if I had gone to school with Thomas, maybe things would have worked out differently.
After we get older, we enter the world of should and ought (sadly) and desire becomes a mixed bag. We shouldn’t want another because we are pre-engaged or because our faith tells us so, or because we are taught that promiscuity is wrong, or because social roles tell is a girl should have X number of partners and a boy Y number and that number will vary from generation to generation, town to town, country to country, and so on; it’s always shifting, moving, like youth itself, so changeable. But no matter where you are or who you are, there is that meter that clicks over at just around thirteen or fourteen, or for some, a bit earlier, that says that the moment is Now. That it is now that we must go out and seek that person and that our classmates or third cousin or the boy at the beach is the person with whom we will venture into this unknown land. In short, a person who is at the same age and stage and who is willing and ready to go on the voyage with us.
I remember those early experiences, and I remember that for me, they were perhaps a bit too innocent. That my girlfriends were doing things that for me didn’t yet feel right and I waited a few years longer, but I remember vividly the desire and the yearning that I felt for one boy in particular, and feeling in that summer that no one, anywhere, would ever measure up in the way that Thomas did. That Thomas with his tennis racket and his sandy blonde hair and his lavender-blue eyes was the only boy I would ever “love.” and I do mean love.
I felt certain that I was deeply in love with Thomas and so when he left to go to college at Yale, and away from the more reachable Phillips Andover, I felt that a piece of me had been taken away. It didn’t help that the popular radio songs at the time were “Every Time You Go Away” and “Missing You” and the like. I listened to them with great pain. Went out of my way to avoid them, and yet I would be sitting in the backseat of the car and suddenly, there it was, all the old pain (and it was pain) and that fucking huge blackness that I felt was left behind when Thomas left.
All I could think about was the way he kissed me and I knew in my heart, I thought, that nobody, anywhere, would ever kiss me that way again and I would never want to be kissed like that again because a desire like that was impossible.
To be clear – I didn’t want to get fucked, not at that age. Not literally, not metaphorically. I wanted to be made love to, or my idea of what making love was anyway, and although I had fantasies in which we did it, I had been reading Plato and his ideas that sex drained the mind of its creative energy and Aurelius who was a real Stoic (as we know) and so I stuck by my “only over the bra” rule (much to Thomas’s frustration and my own, for that matter.)
Yes, I wanted to know what that hardness in his tennis shorts was all about; often when we kissed, I straddled him and felt him beneath me, moving gently in the summer grass, the mosquitoes nipping the bare backs of my leg and my ass under my tennis skirt. The truth is, I was afraid. Whatever it was that he had there felt strong and firm and good but at the same time, it felt grown up and foreign and slightly terrifying to a young girl my age, my size, a little petite at the time, and he was a bit tall. The confluence of such factors made this a no go, and we left it at more or less relatively heavy petting, and I’m deeply sorry about it. Sorry that I waited.
I watch my own step-son navigate these waters now, and like any good step-mother, am highly suspect of girls who come sniffing around or those he takes on dates. I trust him but I don’t trust their feminine ways. At the same time though, I want to tell him to just live. To not wait and let it all pass you by because it will be gone in a blink and you or she will be off somewhere like Thomas at Yale and the time will have passed.
I want to tell him to, like me, remember everything. Remember where you are or were the same way I can still smell the grass-clippings and the scent of Thomas’s neck after we had played a good game of tennis (of sweat and laundry detergent), how when we kissed he always tasted of lemons because he was always drinking lemonade from a large bottle he carried around.
All I’m really saying is don’t be the sap who sits in the car listening to sad songs and applying each lyric to yourself. Do what feels right in the moment – but don’t hesitate or the moment will be gone.