1956: I turn seventeen

A Man Who Never Went to War

Me in high school. Not sure what year exactly.

I am bored in US History class, endless reams of facts, dry and suffocating. I sit behind Nita, thinking of her instead. I would ask her to Junior Prom this spring, but my mother’s disapproval dissuades me. I take a light skinned girl from Peabody instead.

It’s a blind date arranged by my Chemistry teacher and there is no chemistry. In the wake of this prom without romance, Figgy hatches a plan to which I’m drawn. Dorothy, his sweetheart, is a freshman, and like every other girl, Dorothy’s parents refuse to let her date Figgy. They’re happy, however, to let her date me.

The idea was that I’d take her out, and afterwards we’d go to his house, so she and he could meet. It worked. But she and I started meeting sometimes, too, without meeting up with him. We became close. That spring we were in her basement living room, eyes closed, mouths open, touching, caressing, and spasms came suddenly and sperm drenched my pants. I was surprised, embarrassed, and soaked. Could she tell? How would I get home?

I took the stairs two at a time, calling back to her, “I just remembered I’m supposed to be home a half-hour ago. Call you later!” Her family’s kitchen was empty — thank God — and I rushed out, past the swimming pool to my car. Below the steering wheel I contemplated my drenched and musk-smelling pants and wondered what to say to my mother if she saw me coming in the house. I decided to tell her I got wet playing with Dorothy’s dog by the pool. She believed me.

Later that spring I lost the election for class president for the coming senior year. The theory of the Great Eight, my friends, is that fewer girls voted for me because I took a girl from Peobody to the prom. But I won the election for president of student council instead. I still didn’t tell my mother.

When the school year ended, I continued to carry longing for Nita in my heart and desire for Dorothy in my pants. But I was going steady with neither. So dates would happen here and there with other girls. Summer came, and as my mom, dad and I readied Camp for the campers, I invited another girl from church to come visit for the day. I’d known her for years. She’d given me my first kiss, in fact, years ago at a church dance. It had been cold and wet. But I’d seen those same lips kissing a boy at the movies earlier that spring and I imagined the lips warmer now.

I stood in the cove, ankle deep in the leafy mud, steadying the flat-bottom boat so she could get in with ease. She raised her leg to step over the side and in. Under the frill of the bathing suit I could see the soft skin of her thigh and the soft fatty flesh about her knee. This flesh that gave her such a special shape in dresses and skirts suddenly revolted me. High up on her nicely tanned legs, squeezed by the tight elastic hem at the bottom of her bathing suit, a rim of white skin like the underbelly of a fish, a white ripple of fat above her otherwise tanned legs. After she left Camp that day, I never spoke to her again. That fall, a cousin asked me why — asked me on her behalf. I didn’t tell the truth. I felt some shame at feeling disgusted with her body, but I was confident in my revulsion. I was happy to find myself back, again, in the triangle with Figgy and Dorothy.

Reunited after the summer months, Dorothy and I went to the drive-in movies. I felt deep fondness. I imagined giving her my ring, that she would hang it on her gold necklace. We wore matching shirts that night.

I parked the giant station wagon in the shadows, far from the concession stands. We were kissing, caressing, she positioned her back against the passenger side door where she could better guide my fingers to the buttons of the blouse she was wearing over her bathing suit. I pressed my face to her breasts through her swimsuit, pushing my hot breath through the fabric. Suddenly, gently, she pushed me away.

I apologized, thinking I’d gone too far. She said nothing and pulled down the top of the suit and I saw — for only the second time of my life — a woman’s breasts, this special place nourishment and desire. As baby with his mother, I knew what to do with mouth and hands. Her hands made their way, too, and she held that part of me, the piece of me blindly seeking relief and pleasure, seeking the forbidden, the entrance, wanting by also not daring to enter what she was offering as she lay back in the broad front seat.

I tell her, “Later.”

We fondle and touch, fingers going in and over.

Driving out of the drive-in I felt low. I knew she must have done it — and was doing it — with Figgy, and that she loved him more than me.

Educator and Activist