As the lights came up on the sold out crowd inside the Eric Penn-Jersey Theater in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, the loud, pubescent movie-goers made their way up the aisles while OMD played over the rolling credits behind them. If you leave don’t leave now please don’t take my heart away.
We’d been to the 8 o’clock showing of “Pretty in Pink” on its opening night. It was February 28, 1986. Habitually staying in our seats until the union emblems, my mom and I turned to each other and gave that look, That was like looking in the mirror! She sews her own clothing!
(My mom and I gave each other that same look fifteen years later, after seeing “The Royal Tenenbaums,” She doesn’t love her husband and is remorseless!)
I was the only teen to bring a parent to the movies on a Friday night. I liked hanging out with my mom. I knew that was radical. I knew that owning it made me a cooler kind of cool.
As the wave of adolescence continued to wash past us up the aisle I noticed a boy in the surge. He was very pretty. He was Jewish, like most of my town (I can still sing the Haftorah after helping 17 friends prepare for 17 Bar and Bas Mitzvahs in a single season). He had a Duran Duran haircut.
As he shuffled to the doors I pointed to his back and said to my mom, “Him.” Skipping the scroll of Teamster nicknames, we caught the wave going up the aisle and managed to keep the pretty boy in sight but at an anonymous distance. Emerging onto the sidewalk we watched him say goodbye to his friends and get into a waiting Country Squire station wagon.
The post-show bottleneck allowed us the time to get into our own red Cavalier and follow the wood-paneled wagon out onto Oxford Valley Road and toward our neighboring town of Yardley. We tailed it to Yardley Hunt, one of the new developments that we called Yardley’s Cunt for its cheap construction and cookie-cutter architecture. Yardley’s Cunt was a place where they chopped down all the trees before building the houses.
They pulled into the driveway of a beige house. We drove past at an inconspicuous speed, watched him and both his parents disembark and we moved on toward my own house a few miles away, one with real wood siding, in a neighborhood without an equestrian name.
I had recognized my pretty, Semitic John Taylor and knew that he went to my middle school, Pennwood. I knew that he was in seventh grade, like I was. I knew that he was in a band. I went to sleep imagining us kissing in a foggy parking lot and my purse dropping to the pavement.
I had started my own theater company, the Lower Makefield Youth Ensemble. We’d swept the awards at the Bucks County Playhouse Drama Festival with our inaugural production, “Children of the Rainbow,” and were preparing our follow-up original, “Constellations.” I was author, choreographer, costume designer, star, and casting director. I phoned a member of our ensemble and bargained that I thought we needed a new male voice. I’d heard that that kid in that band, Jake, yes Jake! might be a suitable addition to our troupe.
Jake came to our next rehearsal. I conceived a new scene for the two of us to try out, a Delia Ephron sketch from the book, “Teenage Romance: Or How to Die of Embarrassment.” A boy and girl like each other and sit next to each other on a park bench but they’re too nervous to say anything they really feel! So they share their inner thoughts with the audience and it’s funny. That was to be followed-up with a duet of The Beatles’ “If I Fell.” Cause I couldn’t stand the pain and I would be sad if our new love was in vain.
Then I wrote in a kiss.
Soon we were Yardley’s artsy punk-rock misfit couple, all suspenders and “Young Ones” T-shirts and fake eyeglasses and men’s suit jackets with the sleeves rolled up. We won all the awards again at the drama festival.
Our first off-stage kiss was under a newspaper as water fell on us from squirt guns at the ten pm showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the Pennsbury dollar theater. There’s a light, light in the darkness of everybody’s life. We usually chain-smoked through those shows. It was April 11, the day that would, for the next four or five years, be our anniversary.
Jake and I were both fourteen and both virgins.
We did the big new stuff together. The fellating came first. That happened at my family’s lake in Virginia while a friend was (to this day I hope) asleep on a cot in the same room. I don’t remember planning it. I don’t remember how I even knew how to do it. I do remember crawling from my twin bed to his.
I’d sucked a pacifier until I was eleven. I had enough willpower to leave the binky at home while I went to school but reportedly I was overheard returning home to say, “I need a suck!” My mom often and inappropriately remarked, “She’s going to make some man very happy some day.”
For the summer of 1986 I had committed to an exchange program in France. I was to spend five weeks living in a chateau in the Loire Valley as part of my cultural enrichment. When I applied to the program in the early fall and won such a choice slot it seemed like a good idea, but by late spring I was feeling very Audrey Griswold about it. It’s a long way down the holiday road.
We were fourteen. We were in love. I was leaving for the summer. We had to do what any teenage couple brimming with angst and hormones and living their own John Hughes movie would do. We had to have sex. Like penis-in-vagina-heterosexual-intercourse sex. In my world in 1986 that was how you lost your virginity.
I wore my new cotton, peach, baby-doll, wrap dress that was bought as my traveling outfit. He had a condom under the mattress of his twin bed in his brown house. His parents were at work. His brother was at a friend’s.
I don’t remember anymore the fumbling that must have taken place on that small bed. I remember sweat and effort and trying and failure (it just hurt too much). When we’d given up and put our clothes back on, we grabbed a bag of Doritos from the kitchen and sat on the sofa in front of the TV, waiting for his parents to come home.
I picture this part of my life as summertime at the beach or at the lake. It was like the air was childhood and the ocean was adulthood and we were in some reverse evolution. We spent most of our time on the surface of the water in inner tubes but as the weather got hotter we couldn’t help diving down to see how cold we could get. But the water wasn’t yet our home. We still needed a lot of air to breathe, to be safe.
And we were safe. Jake and I were together for four or five years. He was my boyfriend throughout high school, even when I transferred from the middle school we attended together and even when I transferred to prep school from the Performing Arts School at which he had eventually joined me.
Though I was an amorous little fucker, anxious to know and to have sex, I was lucky enough to have a relatively safe place from which to explore it. We did eventually manage to do it. And we did it everywhere. Suburban Station, the alley behind the Wawa, in the apse of a desanctified church on 42nd and Spruce, on Septa trains, parked in his parents oatmeal-colored Honda Accord on the Delaware. I could have lots of sex in lots of different ways without the emotional consequences of being a promiscuous teenager or the reputation of being a slut.
We were found out once parked by the river where there were often other sexual vagabonds like us in other parents’ cars. Everyone tried to stay as far from another car as possible on a small blacktop next to the water where in daytime fishermen let their boats into the current.
This night I was unburdened of my sheer, floral, Betsey Johnson, babydoll dress and the white unitard I wore underneath it, when another car pulled up directly behind us and shined its brights into the back window. Almost immediately a fist was pounding on the window and a voice yelling, “Get out of the car! Get out of the car now!” It became too clear too quickly that it was the police. I cracked the back door and asked if I could put my dress on and groped to find it. I got out of the car not much more clothed than naked, given how sheer my outfit was and the search light on me. There were two of Yardley’s finest waiting and they interviewed us barefoot on the pavement. Was I there by consent? How did we know each other? After a few minutes and a check of our IDs their aggression softened in a way I had not thought possible from bored suburban cops. They had arrested and abused my male friends so often that by age 16 the police were already a natural enemy. But that night they were paternal, making sure I was there by choice, telling us that we didn’t need to leave but that we were to lock the car doors and that I was not allowed to drive it home, as it was after midnight and I had a Cinderella license.
I had been told by my parents emphatically and often that they would rather know bad things and help me with them than to not know and have me make the bad things worse trying to make them good in secret. I tested their commitment to this parenting philosophy, not a lot but enough. Jake drove my family car to my house where I woke my parents, explained to them what had happened, and my mom drove Jake home. We were relieved to have done so as we passed the cops on our way, sitting, waiting for our recidivism, by the side of the road.
Jake was nervous and neurotic. I was the one with the balls in that relationship. So of all the experiments -- including butt sex (that happened by accident, like it can when you are going at things from a certain angle) -- the most amazing and intimidating was definitely the cunnilingus.
Cunnilingus was the last letter of our sexual alphabet when winter came around. Jake could avoid it scarcely longer and surprisingly decided to have a go while we were in the back seat of his family’s car, after a snowstorm, in Core Creek Park, not far from my new boarding school, where I was a day student. I don’t know if it was planned or spontaneous but not long after he’d begun he stopped abruptly, opened the car door, and pushed me naked into the snow. As I tumbled out I could see that his face was covered in blood. Horrified and thinking what you’re thinking I checked myself and quickly realized it was not what any of us thought. I hadn’t gotten my period. Jake was so nervous he’d had a bloody nose. And he was more worried about staining the Honda’s biscuit velour than he was of my degradation and frostbite. Though it was affronting to be pushed naked into the snow in a dark public place, it was hard to be mad when I realized how brave he’d been to try it when it had made him that nervous.
I’m sure we didn’t laugh about it like I do now. We were teenagers and like Delia Ephron knew, life was so embarrassing it was possible for a teenager to die from it. Being cool -- staying cool -- was everything. So it’s sort of a weird combination. You have to be vulnerable to have sex. Literally sometimes naked. You’re even more vulnerable having sex when you’ve never done it before. And most of us try it out when we are most insecure, most self-conscious, most embarrassed.
Thinking about this now I am surprised that Jake ever put his face in my vagina again but he did. Thinking about this now I am amazed that either of us ever had the guts to have sex with anyone else and open ourselves wide to new humiliations. But we did. I don’t know how many times Jake did before he built a sexual nest with someone and decided to live in it forever. Or if he did. As for me, well, you’ll see.
She turns herself round and she smiles and she says this is it that’s the end of the joke and loses herself in her dreaming and sleep and her lovers walk through in their coats...