The following story was inspired by “We Didn’t,” by Stuart Dybek. Its purpose is to provide the perspective of Julie, the girlfriend of the narrator in this tale. The first paragraph is almost identical to the first paragraph of “We Didn’t,” but has been slightly adapted. In a way, this story serves as a prequel to “We Didn’t.”
I didn’t let him in the light; I didn’t let him in the darkness. I didn’t let him in the fresh-cut summer grass or in the mounds of autumn leaves or on the snow where moonlight threw down our shadows. I didn’t let him in my room on the canopy bed I slept in, the bed I’d slept in as a child, or in the back seat of his father’s rusted Rambler which smelled of the smoked chubs and kielbasa that his father delivered on weekends from his Uncle Vincent’s meat market. I didn’t let him in my mother’s Buick Eight where a rosary twined the rearview mirror like a beaded black snake with silver, cruciform fangs.
I didn’t let him any of those times, but I’ve promised him that tonight I will. I’ve told him that tonight is “the night.” Tonight is the night when he finally gets to rip open that Trojan condom he’s been carrying around in his wallet for the past several months- the one he thinks I don’t know about; but which I often see it peeking out at me when he opens his wallet to pay for my dinner or movie ticket. Tonight will put an end to his frustrations.
In the beginning, I barely let him kiss me. For the first month of our relationship, we did nothing but talk. Instead, he would plan PG rated nights for us: a movie and then dinner at Rocky’ Italian Beef (one of my favorite restaurants), bowling and pizza at the bowling alley, or a night of card games at my house — always under the watchful and disapproving eye of my mother — where he taught me to play poker, playfully sulking when I beat him. During these nights we would talk and laugh and he would pretend that it didn’t matter that the sexual element of the night, the piece that would elevate our “just friends” status to lovers, was nonexistent. He must have sensed my hesitation, he must have noticed the way I nervously fingered my gold cross whenever our bodies drew too close to one another. He knew that I went to church every Sunday and that I was a “good girl” — I was almost seventeen before we began dating and had never even kissed a boy. He knew that my mother had forbidden me to date before college and that the only reason he was allowed over to my house was that I had convinced her that he was a friend and agreed that we would never leave the living room — which of course, allowed her to watch our every move from the kitchen.
But even a “good girl” wants to experience the things that other teenage girls experience. I wanted to find love just as much as the next girl: and there it was staring me in the face. Before I met him, I had always thought that I’d save myself for marriage. My mother and grandmother had trained me well. Between years of Sunday school, my grandmother’s shrill warnings that “intercourse before marriage is the greatest of all sins,” and my mother’s constant reminders that “a pregnant teenage daughter would no longer be a daughter of mine,” I was scared to even talk to boys, much less kiss them or let them feel me up. But, as they say, love does crazy things to people, and I was the perfect example of that.
There was something irresistible about him, something alluring. He had that devilish gleam in his eyes that so many teenage boys have, and yet he was wonderfully sweet and patient with me. One night, after we had been dating for a little over a month, he planned a surprise evening for us. He made me close my eyes on the train and wouldn’t let me open them, even as I almost fell into the tracks and then proceeded to stumble all the way to our mysterious destination. When he finally did allow me to open them I saw that we were at the beach, which although strewn with other couples, seemed to be the most romantic spot in the world. He had even packed a picnic dinner for us. As we sat side by side on the sand, sharing secrets and listening to the waves lap gently against the shore, I let him kiss me.
It’s all history after that. Once I took the plunge into that first kiss, I couldn’t get enough. Oh, what I had been missing! I was thrilled by each secret rendezvous–in the backs of cars, in the alleys behind our favorite restaurants, and even outside, in the midst of nature. And yet, at the same time I was horrified by and ashamed of my actions. The haunting warnings of my mother and grandmother were with me at all times, weighing me down. I wondered how something that felt so good could be so bad. How could actions of love be considered evil and sinful? Every night, after he dropped me off, I would walk up the stairs to my apartment trembling with fear, worrying that my mother might notice the fresh hickey on my neck or the rumpled condition of my blouse. Sometimes, I almost wished that she would notice; that she would realize what was going on and forbid me from ever seeing him again. Sometimes I wished she would end it all, therefore saving me from a complete transformation into my new self and from the complication and confusions that came hand in hand with my experience of first love. It had all happened so fast. Within a period of a few months I had gone from being a reserved and pure Catholic girl to what I couldn’t help but think of as a slut. I relished my new, wild, self and yet at the same time, could not ignore the teachings of my upbringing, which instructed me to despise and be ashamed of it.
Last Wednesday marked the six month anniversary of our first kiss. We decided not to do anything special, but instead went to our favorite Chinese restaurant, the House of Dong. We had spent blissful nights there over the winter, sipping tea and having some of our most meaningful conversations. It was after a night at the House of Dong, as we sat on his stoop, huddling together to battle the cold, that he first told me he loved me. Because it had a special place in our hearts and was attached to so many of our favorite memories, we figured it was the perfect place to celebrate the six month anniversary of our first kiss.
It was on this Wednesday night that he brought up the subject of sex and taking our relationship to the next level. It was not as if it was a complete shock to me that such an idea might be going through his mind. After all, he was an eighteen year old boy, and I knew for a fact that most of his friends had lost their virginity a year ago or more. I was not so naive as to think that eighteen year old boys don’t think about and expect such things from a girlfriend of six months (the truth is that I myself had even considered the idea once or twice, although after doing so I immediately felt ashamed and dirty, and of course would therefore never admit to the fact that such impure thoughts could ever cross my mind). However, this night — a night which for me was a celebration of my first kiss and my first experience with love — hardly seemed an appropriate time to discuss such an uncomfortable and terrifying topic. Hurt that sex was on his mind on what was supposed to be our romantic and innocent night, I immediately felt uncomfortable and became frosty towards him. As is often the case when I’m upset about or uncomfortable with something he has said, I tried to pick a fight with him. I lashed out at him, declaring that I was appalled that all he could think about on our special night was sex. I demanded to know whether our entire relationship had simply been a ploy to get laid and claimed that he was using me and didn’t actually love me. But even as I spoke the words, I was aware that there was little truth to them. I knew my accusations would hurt him, and I wanted them to. I wanted to blame him for everything that had happened in the past six months, for every change that had occurred in me, for every impure thought that had entered my mind, and for every moment of passion that I had delighted in. I wanted it to be anyone’s fault but my own. At first, he attempted to calm me down by denying all of my ridiculous accusations. But I wouldn’t let up, I kept on pushing him, becoming crueler and crueler, testing my limits. I didn’t blame him one bit when he finally stood up and walked out of the restaurant, leaving me alone with my feelings of utter mortification and regret. I paid the check and left as quickly as I could, desperate to escape the bewildered stares of the House of Dong wait staff.
Even though it had begun to rain, I chose to walk home the long way, avoiding the muddy puddles on the sidewalk and wishing that I could crawl into a sewer grate and never again have to face reality. By the time I had reached my apartment building, completely drenched, I had made a decision. I had realized that I would do anything to avoid losing him. I knew that there was only one way to make things better between us and that if I didn’t do something quickly, our relationship could never be salvaged. He was more important to me than anything or anyone else. Our relationship had stirred up my world and created a new one, and now that my eyes were open to this new world, I understood that I no longer had the option of turning back. I could never again be the na’ve, obedient, Catholic girl that my grandmother had once taken such pride in and bragged to her friends about. Without him, what would I do? Who would I be? He was the only one who understood the new me, and without him I would be alone, completely alone. In my state of fear I decided that I was willing to sacrifice anything to make up for my ridiculous and cutting tirade.
And so it was, on that rainy July night, that I chose him over my family, over my religious upbringing, and over the old me. It was on that night that I promised away my virginity. I rode the train to his apartment building and declared that I was going to give up my virginity to him, and that there was nothing he could do about it. When I said it, I really and truly meant it. I wanted to sacrifice something for him, to prove to both him and myself that I actually was the new woman that I thought I was. If I was going to turn my back on my old life, than I had to embrace my new one. I felt triumphant that night. I was proud of myself for making what I thought was the mature decision. On that night I felt so certain, so womanly. However today, as I stare at my image in the mirror, I see only an immature girl wearing a golden cross; trembling with both fear and excitement because tonight, she must let him.