A long time ago, a girl met a boy a month before they both left home for college. The girl and boy lived in the same city, but their two colleges were far apart. So they had to correspond furiously all that year, because they were not able to be together except on school vacations, at which time they made up for lost time with prolonged kissing and strenuous battle over each separate item of the girl’s clothing.
By the end of the following summer, the boy had managed to remove the girl’s upper garments during kissing sessions and was fingering the outer rim of her panties. By Christmas, the panties were off. By the end of Easter break of the second year, they had agreed to lie to their respective parents about when break was over and spend the last evening of it together in an inexpensive hotel. To prepare, the girl bought a twenty-five-cent gold-colored wedding ring at Woolworth’s. The boy bought a package of Trojans.
Their hotel was in a commercial part of town. The room they were given was on the third floor and looked down on the street. It had two single beds which could not be pushed together because they were in diagonally opposite corners of the room. However, the boy didn’t ask for another room because they were only going to use one bed. There was no shade on the window either, but that wasn’t a problem because there was no building across the way. Just a blinking red neon sign advertising a storage facility. The girl later remembered that it said, “Store your valuables.”
Although they had each read books of advice, neither of them had done anything like this before. They assumed everything would just happen naturally. After they had taken off their clothes in the dark and the girl got into one of the beds, the boy opened the package of Trojans and tried to put one on in the weak red light of the blinking sign. The girl watched. She felt tense and overexcited and wished he would start already, so as to get the first part over with, that was supposed to hurt so much.
How funny he looked, hunched over himself trying to see what he was doing without his glasses. The girl giggled. It was nervousness. Really it was. Suddenly, the boy straightened, looked at her as if she had stabbed him, and flung the Trojan away. Then he stalked off to the other bed.
“What’s the matter?” the girl ventured. She was so innocent.
“Forget it!” the boy growled, from under the covers. He had never growled at her before.
“Why are you over there?” She still didn’t get it.
“Why did you have to laugh?” he asked.
The girl got out of her bed and into his, to comfort him. The boy sent her back to her own. He said coldly they’d sleep better apart. She heard him start to snore, or pretend to snore. Then it was the next morning.
The boy didn’t say much in the morning, except about train schedules. He took an early train to his college, she took another train to hers, and they never gave themselves a chance to try again. That summer the girl went to Europe on a student bicycling tour and the boy went to Woods Hole on an unpaid marine biology internship. While there he may have picked up some much needed experience. Or may not have. The girl didn’t know. While on her bicycle, she thought mainly about him.
In the fall, the boy sulked, and stayed away, and came back, but only to go to the movies. They broke up on New Year’s Eve, after the girl agreed to a tepid date with someone else because she hadn’t heard from the boy in four weeks and then he called at the last minute.
Even when the girl finally understood what had happened, she usually felt it had been her fault. Why did she have to giggle just then? Why hadn’t she been more sensitive to his state of mind? But sometimes another part of her would ask why hadn’t he been able to soldier through? Why hadn’t he known she wasn’t criticizing, she was just nervous, she had been counting on him to know what to do?
The girl finished college a year and a half later. During that time, she dated a few other boys, but none of them seemed worth seeing more than once or twice. They were all too boyish. After graduation, she moved away from the city where she and the boy had lived and settled in another city where reliance on public transportation was a pain and one really needed a car. Although she had taken driving lessons and had a license, she did not yet have a car.
One might add that she could now be called a young woman instead of a girl. She was also gainfully employed in a behind-the-scenes job in television and had decided to take a night course in television production at a local university to see if that might speed her way up the career ladder. It was a long ride on two buses to get from the television station to the university.
There were just three women in the course, but she was clearly the youngest. The instructor came over to give her special help. She was only shaking an open box of Ivory Snow in front of a photograph of the Swiss Alps while another student trained a camera on the soap falling in sprinkles on the Alps. Who could possibly need help with that? But even if the “help” was a ruse, that was all right, because the instructor was quite a nice looking man. And he wore a tweed jacket similar to the kind of jacket the boy used to wear when the young woman was still a girl and was laying her cheek against the boy’s lapel after they kissed.
The man asked where the young woman lived, and then whether she had a car. When she indicated that she did not have a car, he drove her home in his ’37 Plymouth sedan.
Long story short, there were two dates, during which the young woman found out the following about the man. He was thirty. He came from New York. He had a degree from Yale. He did some acting, but also wrote plays and was working on the first draft of a novel. Teaching television production was just a way to put extra bread on the table until the writing began to bring in real money. He was tall, he was slim, he had a very nice smile. And he had that jacket.
On the first date, the man’s kiss was chaste and respectful. On the second date, the kisses were less chaste. The young woman enjoyed them thoroughly. It seemed a long time since kisses like that. She sat back to catch her breath. “Oh my,” she giggled. (This time the giggle was purposeful.). “Look what you’re making me do! And I don’t know the first thing about you. Why, you might be married! With three children!”
The man also sat back. He regarded her gravely. “As a matter of fact,” he said slowly, “I am married. And I have four children.”
After a pause, he added, “Do you mind?” Can you guess the first thing the young woman thought when she heard what the man had said? We should note that this was a young woman who as a girl had been described by some of her college professors as having “a mind like a steel trap.”
The young woman with the mind like a steel trap thought, “Oh, he’s done it at least four times. He will know what to do.”
The man did know what to do. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to do it because he couldn’t bring her home where his wife and four children were living, and she couldn’t bring him home because she was living with her parents. The man pointed to the rear of the ’37 Plymouth. “Do you mind the back seat?”
The young woman did mind. “I’m not as experienced as you may think,” she said.
“Do you mean you’re a lesbian?” the man asked.
The young woman was taken aback. “Why should you think that?”
The man said that she was twenty-one, and how could she be “not experienced” with men at twenty-one unless she’d only been with other women?
So then the young woman had to explain about the boy, the blinking red light, the giggle and the disastrous result. She felt as if she were being unfaithful to the boy in telling someone else about what had happened. But she didn’t want to lose the man at this critical juncture. The man became kind. He said some unpleasant things about the boy, but didn’t blame the young woman. He was even soothing.
That weekend, the young woman rented a furnished one-room studio with a pull-out Murphy bed for $50 a month. She justified this expense to herself as educational. Once the man had taught her what she needed to know, she could move on with confidence to someone else more suitable. She didn’t want to go to a cheesy motel room, and she knew the man wouldn’t be able to afford studio rent, since he had five other mouths to feed and instructors don’t make much. But she had savings. And God helps those who help themselves, doesn’t he?
In the months that followed, the man showed the young woman everything he knew, which was more than she had ever read about. The young woman also learned that the man stretched the truth. He was from New York, but upstate New York. His degree was from Yale, but it was his graduate degree; his undergraduate degree was from the University of Rochester. He had never acted for money (although he had once recorded a public service announcement for a radio station); his plays had been written as an undergraduate and never produced, even at Rochester; and he wasn’t really working on the novel. In the fullness of time, he got a divorce, but alimony and child support gobbled up almost all the bread he earned as an instructor. He wasn’t even on the tenure track.
He was nine years older than she was. There were religious differences as well. When she broke a silence of three years to write to the boy about how her life was going, he wrote back at once that it was great to hear from her, that he was pretty sure the man wasn’t the right man for her, and that she should get her ass on a plane and come back to the city where he was still living. But she didn’t have money for the plane, or a job or place to live when she got there, and by the time she wrote back that she wouldn’t be able to come right away, he had written again — their letters crossing in the mail — that he was getting married, and he’d love it if she came to the wedding.
The young woman broke up with the man for a younger man, but the younger man turned out also to be married and to be expecting a first child in a few months. The younger man explained that he was married only because he had knocked up a seventeen-year-old girl on the beach the previous spring, and she had been a virgin, and they were both Catholic, and what else could he do but marry her? Also he was just starting out in life, economically speaking, and had even less money than the man with the four children. He said he wished it had been the young woman he had met on the beach the previous spring. But what good did that do her?
The young woman eventually went back to the man with the four children because — in spite of all the problems her mind like a steel trap could foresee — there was no one else on the horizon, and she did like what went on in the Murphy bed. Then the man’s wife remarried, he didn’t have to pay alimony any more, and he proposed. The young woman was already twenty-four, in another year she would be an old maid, and the boy was married to someone else. She asked her father what she should do.
Her father thought about her question, inquired if this was the divorced gentile man she was asking about, and then said it was time she got away from her mother. He later denied he had said this, but the young woman wouldn’t have got married if he had said not to. She had so many misgivings of her own that all she had needed was a push in the other direction not to go through with it.
She didn’t really love the man with the four children. He was just okay. But by now she was used to him. All the same, she promised herself the night before their city hall wedding, for which she wore a grey linen dress from the year before, that if it didn’t work out in two years she would get divorced.
It should come as no surprise that in the end, the young woman did divorce the man with four children. But it took her six years, not two. By that time, her twenties were over.
X leads to Y leads to Z. One way or another, it seems to happen a lot. And before you know it, you’re thirty.