A green and black striped Henley and jeans with a hole in the knee was what I wore right before I lost my girl virginity.
It was about a week after I leaked my secret to Christina, and we were sitting nervously together on her bed; she was more in the middle, I was perched on the edge. The Used was playing in the background. I let her giggle anxiously for a few minutes before I, always the predator, went in for the kill. It wasn’t as scary as I thought. Sort of soft. A stark contrast when compared to Henry’s bristly mug.
We had discussed this very scenario ad nauseum over the span of about 35,000 phone calls and emails, all of which ended with me emphatically stating that we were only going to kiss, nothing else.
But after about five minutes, my inner hussy emerged and was all, “Yeah go ahead, just do whatever.” All of my preconceptions, hang-ups (and standards, apparently) had blown out the window with one big gust from Christina’s duck lips. You know, maybe it’s crazy, but I kind of liked it. She treated me like I was some perfect being and I have never actually been able to see tangible love (or burning obsession, it’s all semantics) in someone’s eyes before, like I could in hers. It was addicting, knowing I had this crazy effect on someone.
The rest of the weekend was filled with delirious giddiness, stolen kisses, goosebumped arms, and nonsensical inside jokes. It was one of the best weekends of my life, because with Christina, I was thirteen again. I could say anything I wanted to say around her, do anything I wanted, be anyone I wanted – like, for instance, myself. She had somehow tore down every one of my walls when I wasn’t looking, and to this day Henry is the only other person who has done that. So I found myself valuing her even more; that I was able to quite literally strip down and still find myself comfortable with her? It was a really big deal to me.
We could spend hours just listening to music, no need for words. And when certain parts would come on, we would look at each other knowingly.
When I was in seventh grade, my friend Liz invited me to take acting classes with her. One of the exercises we had to do was pair up with someone and attempt to mime their motions with closed eyes. I guess the point was that you were supposed to open yourself up and feel that slight electric connection that apparently is meant to happen when two people are just about to touch.
I couldn’t feel it.
“Stop thinking about it too much,” the instructor said. “Just let yourself go.”
Liz and I were bombing the exercise so I had to cheat and peek to see where her hand was so I could follow it with my own. I was so upset that night, that I wasn’t able to connect with my partner like everyone else could. I felt there was something wrong with me. Was I that emotionally shut off that I couldn’t even sense that another human being, and not even a stranger but a friend, was standing inches away from me?
Ten years later, I finally was able to let myself go and feel that connection. I could close my eyes and feel Christina. Sometimes I felt that I could feel her even with 300 miles between us.
Christina took me to a cemetery that weekend, this huge sprawling graveyard in Cincinnati where we got lost almost immediately after parking. We must have spent hours there, harassing ducks, kicking tombstones, me spitting “I hate you!“s, which is Erin code for “I might kinda love you, maybe.” We held hands the whole time. Everything was funny. Everything was special. Everything was big and important and significant. It felt simultaneously innocent and wrong.
I remember an older couple passing us, and for a split second I wanted to let go of her hand. But then they smiled at us and it kind of made me appreciate the day even more.
Somewhere in the middle of the cemetery, we came across this small, gnarled, leafless tree. To anyone else, it would have been just that – a tree. But to us, all hyped up on lust-induced adrenaline, sleep-deprived giddiness, and the sense of sharing some big secret love-thing, it became a very big deal.
With feigned gravity, we declared that this tree needed a closer inspection. We ducked beneath the boughs, which took on the shape of a busted umbrella above our heads; we were just about to make it our new Clubhouse for Gaybos when Christina noticed that there was a dead snake half-buried under a carpet of dead leaves and pine cones. And then – oh, look! – there was a dead bird, too, so we ran out from under the tree, screaming and waving our hands in mock-horror. This should not have been that big of a deal. But for years, that tree came up in conversation. She wrote poems about it; I had it make tiny cameo appearances in some of my stories through the years. Once, we even tried to find it again, before realizing that there were at least fifty other trees in that cemetery with the same bare, arthritic branches.
When it was time for me to leave that Sunday afternoon, we said goodbye in her kitchen and she cried. I couldn’t get her to stop, and I couldn’t stay any longer, so I just left her there, crying against her kitchen counter.
Yes, everything was great that weekend. Like a fucking Twinkie filled with stuff that movies are made of. If anyone would have suggested to me then that in five years, my friendship with Christina would be splayed, broken-hearted and decomposing beneath the Death Tree, I would have punched them in the face.
I wish I could have put it all in a snow globe, because I know I will never get that back again.