or Neddy Hill, giver of the first kiss,
Bobby Breman, No way, Jose,
Todd Winston, who knows his days of the week,
David Mellor, George to her Martha,
and Joe Telford, bell ringer, initials carver, home-run hitter:
For Mr. Erwin, who will not let her run to the nurse,
and Mr. Jamison, who hangs loose:
For John Everly, second giver of the first kiss,
Barry Smith, who says I Love You and puts a finger inside,
Nick Vernon, who has premature ejaculation,
though she thinks she isn’t sucking/licking/touching right,
and Nick’s mother and stepfather, who drive them to Sabino Canyon and let them drink whiskey from the bottle and tell them if they, she and Nick, would like to have sex in the back of the van it’s fine, they won’t watch–not knowing that they, she and Nick, are still, technically, virgins:
For Brad Lane, who secretly fucks Stephanie after school, daily, standing up in a props closet in the drama building,
Paul Ransom, bodybuilder, trying not to be gay,
Scott Akin, who says it’s too late for Paul,
and Tony DiCosmo, expert on the female orgasm:
For Samuel, who turns out to be The One,
Brad Lane, who realizes too late he would like to be The One,
Nick Vernon and Tony DiCosmo, ditto Brad Lane:
For wealthy Andrew, who claims Samuel is a Test From The Devil,
And for wealthy Geoffrey, who holds her hand and kisses her cheek and says her name because it is the same name as the ex-girlfriend who died when a bus hit the passenger side of his car after he made an illegal turn, and saying her name while holding her hand and kissing her cheek brings him unspeakable comfort:
For Brandon West, with whom she allows herself a pre-wedding fling on the beach, no kissing or touching, just holding one another, nude, wrapped in a blanket, salt-wet skin-on-skin with one last male body before she commits for life; but when Brandon tells her, two weeks before her wedding, that he has fallen deeply, irrevocably in love, and she cannot confirm that the feeling is mutual, he quits college and never graduates and eight years later dies from a brain tumor, still single, his parents and sister at his bedside:
For Donald Neff, who, though she is now married, takes off his shirt and pulls her head into his lap,
For Marcus Ligon, who is unhappy in his marriage and idealizes hers and leaves erotically charged notes, written on the backs of receipts, on her desk at work,
For the trainer whose name she’s forgotten, who tells her she’s his Billboard Client and says he dreams, often, of fucking her on the racquetball court,
and for Richard Stein, with whom she has a six-month affair and after whom she decides she has finished with even looking at other men, she will hereafter teach herself to identify no-fly zones, men with whom she can tell there would be chemistry if she, or he, allowed it:
And for Will Demarest, composer in London, with whom she will take up a lifetime correspondence, always wondering if it will turn into something, which it never will–and while during the early years of their back-and-forth, when she sees his name come up in her inbox, she will feel a liquid heat spread downward from her throat, in a few more years she will have learned to repress that response, maintain equilibrium, will force herself to think of stewarding the friendship, keeping her own letters above reproach, until, far into the future, his name will come up and it will be just a name. And in that far-off time, when his name appears, she will think: By His grace and mercy, in His longsuffering kindness, The Lord has allowed me to move beyond all that mess in my past. All that mess in my past The Lord has, finally, redeemed:
Have mercy. Have mercy.
1. WILL DEMAREST
Redemption uncertain. Composing-of-emails conducted in fear and trembling.
Married twenty-four years to.
3. DONALD, MARCUS, TRAINER, RICHARD
Through whom she discovers that illicit desire is the most charged, most thrilling kind. Through Richard in particular she learns that, after the first erotic hit–removal of clothing, skin touching skin (for the rest of her life she will admit that was otherworldly)–guilt begins to nullify illicit desire. Still: she understands, now, Esau’s selling-of-birthright-for-bowl-of-soup. In that moment, finally alone together after months of build up, Richard on his knees in front of her with his face pressed into her belly, moaning, her own hands tangled in his hair, pushing his head lower, lower–there is nothing she would not have sold, even her inheritance. Meaning (loathing herself) her own children.
4. BRANDON WEST
Film producer with houses in Paris and the Bahamas. (Brain tumor made up.) Married, two kids. She follows him on Instagram. Every so often she allows herself to think, What if.
5. WEALTHY GEOFFREY
No regrets, least she could do, Samuel would understand, etc.
6. WEALTHY ANDREW
Sometimes she wonders: if she and Samuel end up divorced, or one of them dies, or something terrible happens to one of their children, will Wealthy Andrew think, I told her so?
Has four children with.
8. BRAD, NICK, TONY
College, fall break. Each sits in her living room and hems, haws: You’re too young to be engaged, we should date, take it seriously this time. How do you know Samuel is The One. I just know, she says. What she doesn’t say is that she could never be with a guy for whom she feels sorry, and the very act of coming here to express their regrets (too late) makes her feel both embarrassed and sorry for them in a way that means she could never take them seriously.
College boyfriend. Has intercourse with. Becomes engaged to.
10. TONY DiCOSMO
Parents out of town. In his bedroom, she’s lying on top, moving her hips side to side, wearing tight jeans, something overtaking her, dizzy, she shudders, rolls off. Something’s wrong with me, I feel like I might pass out. He sits up and holds her hand. You were just about to have an orgasm. You don’t need to be afraid. If you want to try again I can help. She tries again. He shows her where to touch, first with his hand, then with her own. You were amazingly quiet, he says when she’s finished. Oh, she says. Next time I’ll be louder.
11. SCOTT AKIN
Paul Ransom’s friend, 27. He comes into the yogurt shop after closing. She’s alone, in back, making waffle cones for the next day. I’m going to try something, he says. Lifts her onto the counter so she is seated on the edge, pulls her against him and forces her legs to wrap around behind, kisses her hard on the mouth, runs hand up her leg inside her shorts, beneath underwear. Two, three fingers inside. She feels him hard against her thigh. I knew it, he says. All those steroids Paul takes. He said it was you, that you didn’t know how to kiss, how to turn a guy on. He always blames the girls. He’s ruined himself for women. Delicate brushstroke of pink on her thigh, his fingers. Not that time-of-month, she tells him. You’re a virgin? Shit. I need to go take a cold shower.
12. PAUL RANSOM
He, 26; she, 16. Brings her to his apartment and sits beside her on the couch. I am going to kiss you now. You’re not doing it right. Make your lips tighter. Looser. Use your tongue more. Less. No, like this. Like this. Dammit, you’re not doing it right. What she is thinking: dead fish my brother a pastor an old man a wall a nothing zero door slamming shut.
13. BRAD LANE
When she finds out about Stephanie she forgives him, though they break up. Brad is deeply troubled, his mother committed suicide that summer and he’s the one who found her, in a bathtub filled with pillows, still holding the gun.
14. NICK VERNON
First to ejaculate in front of her. Very little fluid. She assumes he’s stopping short so she won’t gag or get too much of the taste. He apologizes each time. She will learn the term premature ejaculation seven years later, when a newly married friend confesses that her husband suffers, but there is hope, correctional drugs are in development. There is nothing to be said for Nick’s mother and stepfather. Their interest in his sexual activity and his struggles with PE are certainly not unrelated.
15. BARRY SMITH
Cooks pasta for her after, by way of apology, because the finger hurts, and she cries.
16. JOHN EVERLY
A period of awkwardness between sixth grade and sophomore year, followed by braces removal and nose job, followed by the Fourth of July at the lake in Iowa, the day she meets John, with whom she takes a canoe ride along the shoreline at dusk. When it’s dark they jump in and swim. They climb onto an empty dock and he kisses her beneath fireworks–first on her neck, then on her lips–and because he leaves the next day to go home to Minnesota and she will never see him again, the day in general, and the kiss in particular, will remain the most perfect, faultless things in all her life, until her children are born.
17. MR. JAMISON
Fifth grade English teacher, wears short-shorts to play in a faculty basketball game, students seated on the court sidelines, looking up from beneath while he takes jump-shots. She is not at school that day, so when the term begins to circulate, with snickers and wrinkled noses, she thinks it refers to Mr. Jamison’s long hair and flip-flops, the way he sometimes sits on the edge of his desk, swinging a leg in what she would call a hang loose manner.
18. MR. ERWIN
Fifth grade math teacher. Here we enter dark territory. Here we must speak up for the girl who does not understand the term hang loose. It’s near Halloween. Mr. Erwin keeps her and Anne Thomas in from recess to decorate windows with cats, witches, ghosts. They stand on chairs and roll Scotch tape while Mr. Erwin watches. He tells the girls he is going up to his cabin on Mount Lemmon that weekend, and he would like to bring them along for a sleepover. A slumber party, just the three of us. Then he laughs. That’s a little joke, he says. Anne laughs too, and keeps doing the windows. He asks the other girl to come up to his desk. He tells her, in her ear, that if the girls did come to his cabin, they wouldn’t need to bring any clothes, he would wrap them in cellophane nightgowns, and she feels sick, she should run to the nurse before she throws up but Mr. Erwin runs after her in the hallway and grabs her arm. It was a joke, doesn’t she understand adult humor? She must not be as grown-up as he thought she was, if she can’t understand adult humor. How embarrassing for her, Anne understands adult humor and she doesn’t, and she knows Mr. Erwin is right, the nurse will only laugh at her because she doesn’t understand adult humor, she doesn’t understand hang loose and now Mr. Erwin won’t ask her to stay in from recess anymore. The next day he tells Anne Thomas, while the class is in line waiting to go to lunch, that she has beautiful mahogany eyes. He could get lost in such beautiful mahogany eyes. She skips lunch and goes to the girls’ bathroom and stays in a stall. Her own eyes are not beautiful and she doesn’t understand adult humor and Mr. Erwin will not keep her in from recess again.
19. JOE TELFORD
Shows interest in her before she has interest in him. In this way she learns that, no matter how she feels to begin with, if a boy likes her in a certain way, a reciprocal interest will arise. An interest-in-kind. Thus when Joe passes her a note with the names of the girls in fourth grade listed, with boxes beside their names and instructions: Check the box beside the girl you like, and her name is checked–when he passes her a second note with boys listed, same boxes and instructions–a melting responsiveness inside of her rears its head in a gathered peak. She triple-checks his name and adds a smiley face. Initials-carving ensues, followed by This one’s for you, Sweets every time he comes up to the plate. He’s the first Jewish boy she knows. He invites her to his house for dinner one Friday, all the lights turned out, shades drawn to block out the desert sun, his mother and father covering their eyes with their hands while they sing a sad song in another language. She thinks the song must be about God and how He made them wander around in the desert for so long, and the music is beautiful but she is glad she is Presbyterian. After the song and meal, Joe whispers, Let’s blow this popsicle stand. They sneak into the cloistered stucco monastery in the desert behind their neighborhood, all coolness and interior shadow, statues and low-burning candles that belong to neither of their religions. He puts her hand on the thick rope in the bell tower, covers it with his own. Pull, he says.
20. DAVID MELLOR
Requirements for role of Martha Washington, to be played by third-grade girl:
1) Walk across stage while fanning face with fold-out lace-paper fan. Drop glove in front of George. Blush with body language when George picks up glove and hands it back in a way that indicates they will fall in love. Walk must be natural but flirtatious, fast but not in a hurry, lighthearted but intentional.
2) Waist small enough to fit china-blue hoop-dress donated by Heather Nesbit’s mother.
3) Hair long enough to be curled into ringlets and worn in low pigtails gathered at sides of face, in period style.
David Mellor never speaks a word, but lifts the dropped glove and hands it to her, looking at her in a way that she thinks about at night, in bed, listening to her mother pactice La Campanella on the piano, her father dictate his patient charts.
21. TODD WINSTON
She wears skirts and dresses to school. At recess Todd watches the girls do cherry drops from the monkey bars. It’s not Sunday, he says. It’s not Tuesday. She chooses the wrong days on purpose. If Saturday and Sunday are not clean, she has to think very hard about what day of the week it actually is.
22. NEDDY HILL
The story as her mother tells it: It was your 3rd birthday party, I put you in this darling little smocked dress with bric-a-brac on the collar and pockets, you know you looked adorable in green with that bright strawberry hair, and you were sitting on the floor picking tape off your presents, that’s how you were back then, delicate, you hated to make a mess, in fact I remember once you didn’t want to eat the cut-up pieces of chicken on your plate and instead of spitting them out or hiding them in a napkin you placed each piece in one of the seat-holes inside your Fisher-Price school bus–well in waltzes Neddy from next door–you remember the Hills, they moved to Canada–without a gift, hands in his pockets. He walks straight up to you and grabs the present and rips all the paper off. Then he plants a smacker right on your lips. Imagine the sass, only five years old. This story is corroborated by a square picture, bordered in white, in which a girl with flat-paddle pigtails clamped into barrettes sits on the floor surrounded by presents, her face blocked by the back of Neddy’s head, a dark mess of curls. Her first kiss was thus preserved on film. She cannot gauge her three-year-old reaction to Neddy Hill’s older-man audacity, as nothing of her own face is visible, other than one cheek, palest-of-pale skin already dusted with freckles, skin that was, her mother would always say, a soft she’d never felt before, or since, not even in her other children, not just surface-smooth but soft all the way through, firm but yielding, quashy-thick, otherworldly skin, when you were a baby I couldn’t get enough of touching it.
23. BOBBY BREMAN (Another Scene She Doesn’t Remember)
I like Bobby. He is nice. He has freckles. He is taller than me.
Mother: Do you want him to be your boyfriend?
Then ask him: Will you be my boyfriend?
(No way, Jose.)
She refuses to come inside the house after school. She crawls into the oleander bushes bordering the driveway and makes herself very small so that no one will see what she is, a Rejected Girl. Assume tears. Assume mother, a former kindergarten teacher, sits with her deep inside the bushes. Assume coaxing, delivered cookies. Homebaked, why not.
Daddy’s doing rounds at the hospital, do you want to page him and ask him to be your boyfriend?
Assume answer: Of course, darling daughter of mine. Of course.
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