I spent my last two years of high school in Shaw, Mississippi. I’ve often written about how racist the town was, but there’s a story I haven’t told. You see, for a white guy to have a black girlfriend was (and still is) strictly verboten in the Delta. On the other hand, for a black guy to have a white girlfriend was quite literally to invite a lynching. But I had two factors working against that particular status quo: (1) we had a small business in Shaw and nearly all of our clientele was black, which meant we personally knew a lot of blacks and stayed on good terms with them, and (2) I was in high school and therefore young, dumb, and full of, well, you fill in the blank.
Before I go any further, I was racist. By our standards then, I wasn’t racist…but hindsight is 20/20. Of course we – my family and I – didn’t consider ourselves racist at all, and you can read about that particular dichotomy here.
But back to the story, One day I made the mistake of confiding to a black friend that I thought a certain girl was really nice and pretty. The next thing I knew, the girl – let’s call her Connie (not her real name) – approached me and said to meet at a particular place. One thing quickly led to another, and we soon made plans to skip school and go to my store on a Wednesday when I knew that it would be closed and my mother wouldn’t be there. I knew this was going to be The Day that I joined the ranks of those who had actually gotten laid!
Connie met me behind the store, and we went inside (I had a key), headed straight for the back room, and started getting naked really quickly – we were teenagers, after all! Of even less concern was the condom that I’d carried in my wallet for the past two years which decided to fall apart when I tried to put it on. I’d never even heard of venereal diseases then, and the possibility that she might get pregnant was of absolutely zero concern to a teenaged boy who was getting naked with a very pretty girl! I assumed the position and prepared to at long last lose my virginity…
…and Willie let me down. Now most men would agree that this is a would-be-oversexed teenager’s worst nightmare. I wondered what the hell was wrong with me, what could I possibly have done that I deserved this worst-of-all-possible, um, downturns that a teenaged boy can suffer? Well, there wasn’t much more that I could do, so we eventually put our clothes back on, went towards the front of the store, and horrors! there was my mother coming to look in the door. We hid behind the counter, kissed some more, and saw with vast relief that my mother had walked away from the door and went back to the car. Now I suspect that she figured I was skipping school and hiding in the store and she probably decided to let it ride since I was normally a good kid, but I strongly doubt she ever knew that I was with a black girl – for that was the kiss of death among whites in the Mississippi Delta.
So I did what too many teenage boys do – I ignored her after that. I was so embarrassed for my failure, and I didn’t dare let anyone know that I was – gasp! – seeing a black girl! That is, I didn’t dare let anyone who was white know about it, for it was known in the black community, and the Chinese owners of the local supermarket also knew, since they caught me groping her (red-handed, or should it be white-handed?) in the back of their store. But the reality of the situation is that I broke her heart, and afterwards I refused to acknowledge that she even existed. I felt like a real heel, and rightfully so.
As the years went by, I got over the psychological trauma of not “getting it up” in the presence of a very pretty and completely naked girl and finally lost my virginity (four years later) and went on to find out that yes, I was virile and yes, I was quite fertile – such things are very important to the male ego. And I didn’t think much about Connie. But about six years ago I went back to the Delta with my youngest son and took a little time to visit my high-school English teacher. She was also black and has since passed away, but in our conversation I happened to ask whatever happened to Connie. She shook her head and replied, “Oh, her. Do you know she has five kids now, from five different men?” I nodded and changed the subject and tried to hide my shock, because I immediately realized that it was probably because of the way I treated her that she wound up being scorned by those she respected the most. I had ruined someone’s life. It was almost certainly all my fault, and there was no way I could ever make it better.
But if there’s something I’ve learned over the years, it’s that if if you can’t undo a mistake, you can at least make sure it doesn’t happen again. After we left I knew that I had to open up to my youngest son. I asked him if I’d ever told him about the second-best thing that ever happened to me in high school. He said no, and I told him that the best thing was that I had graduated, but the second best thing was that, well, Willie had let me down when I thought it counted the most. My youngest son was about 13 at the time and was mortally shocked that his dad would even talk about such a thing, but I felt that he was intelligent and mature enough to handle the truth. I told him everything, and I also told my oldest son and my wife when I got home. But I never told my mother, of course – the knowledge that I had even touched a black girl would probably have caused her to have a heart attack.
I told my sons that yes, I know that no man should admit to such and that not getting it up the first time was a fate worse than death, but there was an important lesson here: I was fertile and so was the girl, and we were using no protection. If the act had been consummated as we had both desperately wished at the time, I might well be just another redneck living Down South in a trailer with four or five used cars rusting in the weeds in the front yard. Not only that, but I would be living a life where I’d be a white raisin in the black sun, since my family probably (and the all-powerful white society certainly) would have rejected me for having a black wife. More likely, I would have been forced by my family to renounce Connie and the child and be forever the subject of gossip: “Did you hear that Glenn Contrarian had a child with that n***** girl from high school? Now I feel so sorry for his mother, but I can’t visit her anymore because it’s all her fault, you know.”
So that was the lesson I gave my sons, that (1) they’d better use protection, and (2) if they don’t get it up sometimes, it isn’t the end of the world, and (3) most importantly, to be aware of how their actions can affect the lives of others, for it may very well be that I ruined this girl’s life by utterly rejecting her and destroying her self-esteem. My sons thought me the weirdest dad in human history for telling them all this, but it was important to me that they learn from my mistake.
So why am I posting this article? Yes, it is partially a confession, an attempt to unload some guilt that I will carry till my dying day. But I’m also doing so in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, a parent will read this and talk with his or her child to remember to use protection – because teenagers will find a way to have sex, one way or another. They do not care that not using protection can not only lead to unwanted pregnancies, but also to diseases that can kill them!
I realize that such a conservation with an angst-ridden teenager would be awkward at best, but in this day and age it is crucial. If nothing else, just forward this article to them, to let them know that “not getting it up” can be a very good thing indeed!