I have spent most of my life playing catching up. There is nothing genetically wrong with me, and to the best of my knowledge I have never been mentally deficient. My fate seemed far worse; I lived many years under the crown of thorns that comes with being a late bloomer. The vast majority of my junior high nights involved stringent prayer for a deeper voice and even a hint of “hair down there.” Instead, I had the ignoble distinction of being the kid who lost his last baby tooth during freshman baseball practice. Humiliating.
Eventually my body caught up to its years, leaving me slightly taller than John Q. American and with a pretty decent baritone. But because of this stutter step in my physical development, I didn’t get a good firm jump on dating until college. This seems to have sent ripples into my adult life.
The first semester of college, I wasted a great deal of my time binge drinking malt liquor in my dorm room while somehow managing to pull straight A’s; I went home at Christmas to a proud family – due primarily to the latter. But, in spite of my success in my studies, the only question I was greeted with was, “Do you have a girlfriend yet?”
My family, my high school friends and my distant relatives all seemed hellbent on knowing the intimacies of my private life. Even my dentist must have been waiting months for my return, licking his chops and imagining me drowning in collegiate orgy. I don’t know if they were genuinely concerned about my solitude or simply living vicariously, but their eagerness overwhelmed me. Each face shook with disappointment when my perceived chastity let them down.
This trend continued over the next two semesters, until I was determined to end the cycle my sophomore year. I returned to school that January resolute, and with the advantage of having an established target: an older sorority girl I had met just before Christmas. We had bumped into each other at an ugly sweater party; she was shorter than me and beautiful in the way that women are during the holidays. I drank too much and ended up pawing at her like an animal in the bathroom while a line of drunks swore they were going to piss on the rug if we didn’t hurry up. After a winter break of exchanging text messages, I was determined to make her my girlfriend – if only to silence my smug fucking dentist.
Dating while sexually naive is complex. There is a lot of angling necessary to simultaneously distract your partner from the fact that you are an inexperienced virgin while convincing her to unknowingly strip you the title once and for all. It is a ritual dance that would seem right at home on Animal Planet.
Against all odds, I eventually conned her into being more than my bathroom playmate and we began dating in January of my sophomore year. It was surprisingly easy – we went to dinner at places I couldn’t afford, took walks across campus and drank in excess together. Eventually she started sleeping in my bed at night, staying up late reading before tucking herself against me and dozing off. She took my virginity on Valentine’s Day, which felt only half as cliche as it sounds.
At a theme party in an unfinished basement I decided to tell her I loved her. She was dressed as a naughty teacher, with fake glasses and her hair in a bun. I was wearing a candy necklace and an “All-Star Dad” t-shirt. It was a weird party. We split a bottle of vodka and made the rounds, talking to mutual friends and complete strangers while I waffled between desperately horny and pathetically sincere. At the end of the night, we had piled into my bed and started undressing each other when I finally said it. It wasn’t remotely true, and I could tell she didn’t believe me. But the words set fire to her; I could feel it on her lips, behind her shoulders, in her hair.
Two weeks later was Spring Break. She had made plans for us to have dinner with her parents and spend time away from school together. Instead, I filled a pillow case with a few t-shirts, my swim trunks and five Keystone Lights and packed into a GMC Jimmy with some fraternity brothers. On our way out of town, I called her to cancel dinner. Twenty-six hours later, I was waist deep in the Gulf of Mexico, wondering what in the hell I was going to tell my dentist.