The first time I ever roamed was in Chicago. After babysitting cousins all day, I needed to get out of the house and walk around, alone.
Thus began a lifelong habit.
At fifteen, I thought about sex. A lot. My mom gave me a book called Sex and The Believing Girl, to help me understand normal and not-normal. According to the book, I was not normal.
I thought about oral sex, anal sex, and getting-tied-up sex. I explored myself and did exercises to grow my breasts. I read dirty books and was curious about all of it, but boys smelled funny and I suspected they did not know what they were doing.
Two weeks into summer, my best friend wrote to tell me she’d been felt up.
“How’s your summer going?” she wanted to know.
I’d finally gotten my period – while standing on my Nana’s front porch, talking to a boy.
That was how my summer was going.
Now I was in Chicago and looking for an experience. Something. Anything.
I’d walked around this pond a few times before and spotted Andrew almost immediately. A skinny boy, probably about eighteen years old, with long brown hair and a scar above his right eye. He sat on the same bench every night, reading Howl and judging everyone.
Definitely my type.
I sat down next to him and stared straight ahead. He recognized me from a few days earlier, when I’d worn a Runaways t-shirt and he told me to get some taste.
I made a crack about Ronald Reagan. Andrew smirked. I was a terrible flirt. At fifteen, I already knew that I knew nothing about boys, girls, or human nature. Flirting only works if you can manipulate people. I would never nail that skill.
Had to go with honest.
Besides, I would be returning to Tampa soon. Andrew and I would never see each other again, so I felt brave.
“All my friends back home are having sex,” I said.
“All but you.”
“Give me some advice. I don’t want to ask my friends, then they’d know I want to. What am I doing wrong?”
I held my breath. He was going to be mean.
He closed his book and looked at me.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon. It’s not your hair or the way you dress. You’re not that gross. Lots of girls, way worse than you, are getting laid right this second.”
I’d noticed that.
“You’re not getting laid because you talk about shit that’s weird,” he continued. “You don’t laugh out loud. You stare at people when you talk and you don’t act silly or nervous. You don’t make guys feel good about themselves. That’s the main problem.”
I sighed. He kept going.
“Look at the way you walk. No one wants a girlfriend like you until maybe grad school. You might want to think about becoming a lesbian. Don’t go back to Tampa and act dumb or stupid just to get laid. Come here.”
He took me behind a cluster of trees, dropped his book and backed me up against a tall, grey building.
“Close your eyes.”
I did. I tried not to cry.
He kissed me, moving his tongue around and moaning a little. I moved my tongue, too, but kept my hands firmly at my side. I tried to float on air, like the women in my books, but was distracted by the taste of pepperoni pizza coming from Andrew’s mouth.
He felt my breasts, first over and then under my shirt. He put his hand down my pants, fingers poking like he was an impatient executive pushing buttons for a slow elevator. It hurt a little.
He stopped, backed up and smiled. It lasted two minutes, tops.
I could do that a whole lot better myself, and not feel sore afterward. I wanted to tell him that, but didn’t have to. He stopped smiling, handed me Howl and said,
Then he walked away.
I looked down and traced the author’s name with my fingers, mumbling from memory, “…yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death.”
I left the book on the bench by that pond.