Some college classes push students’ personal boundaries.
Some push them past their comfort zones.
Welcome to college!
“What’re you going to write about, Tony,” Kevin asked, a wicked smile on his face.
“Of all the assignments! Good God!”
“You going to make something up, then?”
“Screw you! I can do this. Just not really my cup of tea, though, is it?”
Kevin laughed. “Like asking an octopus to skip rope. I won’t have a problem with it, but then, it just gives me a chance to tell it like it is. So, what are you going to do?”
I took another sip of my coffee after biting into my sweet roll. I chewed and swallowed. “I’ll do what she wants. I just won’t like it much.”
“What if she makes us read them in class?”
That made me sit back. I couldn’t imagine that. “She wouldn’t, would she?”
“With her sense of humor? She just might.”
“Damn! I think I’d simply refuse.”
Kevin and I were friends who’d met at the community college we both attended. We signed up together for a creative writing class that met every Tuesday night. There were only three more classes before the course would be finished. Tonight, Mrs. Bloom had given us our final assignment. We were to write about the first time we’d had sex.
I was 19 years old. My parents had dreamed about their son matriculating to college. I’d never been that excited about education and had drifted through high school. My grades hadn’t been good enough for college. But I hadn’t really wanted to enter the working world. I was no more ready for that than I was for a four-year college. Community college was a good place for me while I was still figuring out who I was and what my future might look like.
I’d been raised by a very old-fashioned set of religious parents. Sex was never, ever spoken about in our house. It was at the top of the list of taboo subjects. Neither of my parents had given me the talk. I often wondered how I’d come into being.
No references to anything sexual were made at home when I was growing up, and I had been allowed only very straight-laced friends that had had to receive parental approval. The strict Catholic school I’d attended wasn’t a place where sex was talked about by the students, either. It was only when I was taking community college classes and mingling with the other students that I heard about what boys growing up got into, and how young teens shared adventures involving mutual masturbation and more. I learned how most boys talked openly about sex with each other. I’d never had friends like that. If the few friends I had masturbated, they kept it to themselves. At least they didn’t talk about it around me.
So I’d grown up very inhibited and very naive. I had heard about the birds and bees in sex-ed, but the version of the subject I got in my school certainly wasn’t the same as was given in public schools. I got the approved Catholic version. Sex was for procreation and only procreation. Masturbation was a sin. Thinking carnal thoughts was a sin. But that education was all I had to advise me on the subject. It was no wonder at all that I had skewed views about sex when I left my high school.
I was unprepared when I went on to community college, and it didn’t help that I went to one where I could live at home during those two years. I still found the subject of sex confusing, embarrassing, and more than a bit dirty. That was how I’d been taught to think. Nuns did manage to get into your head, and through silence, their views were reinforced at home.
I was astonished when I learned that in public school, boys were taught that masturbation was shame-free, healthy, universal, and okay. Imagine that!
Here I was now, 19 and as virgin as it was possible to be. I’d only begun masturbating out of need when I was 16, and even then thought it was wrong and that I was too weak to submit to the urges. Accordingly, I didn’t do it often. Sex just wasn’t a part of my life, and any thoughts I had about it were all negative.
So how was I supposed to write about my first time having sex? Though she didn’t specify, I was sure she meant sex with someone of the opposite sex.
Kevin got a kick out of my attitudes and naivete. He was a new friend, and a good one, better than the ones I’d had earlier in my life. Why he’d latched on to me, I didn’t know, but I was glad he had. I liked him, too, and I spoke more frankly to him than I ever had to anyone else. He knew I was still a virgin, and he knew how limited my education about sex had been. He found my situation very amusing, but was compassionate, also.
Mrs. Bloom told us she didn’t want porn from us. She didn’t want stories that were graphic as to the details of the sex itself. She wanted to know how we felt leading up to the event, why the time was right, the thoughts we had, how we approached it, our anxieties and excitement, how we felt afterward, that sort of thing. Just the sort of thing I’d been taught never to communicate with anyone because of how aberrant it was. Sex was to make babies, and that was all it was; anything tangential like pleasure was to be totally forgotten and never discussed or even thought about.
So I was to be writing about my first time. Oh, my God, this wasn’t going to be easy. I hadn’t had a first time. But I certainly didn’t want to admit that to the teacher who seemed to think for college students, having had sex was a given. And for all I knew, maybe it was.
So I pondered and worried and chewed my nails. But then I had a thought. This was creative writing. Creative was the key word. I could do this. I could create an episode out of nothing. I wasn’t supposed to write an essay. I was supposed to write a semi-factual, or even nonfactual, entertaining story.
I could do this!
I’d read books and magazines, seen movies, overheard conversations. I’d even had a crush or two, although we were taught how nasty that was and to eschew them, to pray to God to deliver us from that evil and to take confession and ask the priest to forgive us, so I’d tried hard to minimize them. But I did know the feelings.
It was amazing to me, once I was out of my house and into the real world, to discover how much sex was common to the world where we all lived in. I might not have had first-hand knowledge of it, but I certainly knew enough from just being aware of what was around me to write a creative piece about it.
I set to work. I wrote quickly, edited it, decided it wasn’t good enough, and started over. I did this for a week, and ended up trashing four different versions. They were easy to write, but not very good.
So I started a fifth version. That’s was when I met Marcie.
I was at a Starbucks. I couldn’t write at home. The atmosphere was too stark, too sterile, too reminiscent of my sexless childhood. Too much occupied by my parents who might want to read what I was writing. No way!
I was well into my fifth draft when I realized I wasn’t alone. Standing behind me, reading my screen over my shoulder, was a young woman. I realized she’d been there quite a while. I turned to look at her.
She didn’t seem embarrassed. I was to learn that there wasn’t much that could do that. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Marcie. I’m in your class. I’m writing the same thing.”
“Oh,” I said. I wasn’t very verbal with anyone, but especially girls. I didn’t know what to make of them. My schools had been separated by gender. I guess the Catholics didn’t quite know what the make of girls, either.
“I was reading what you have there. You don’t understand girls much, do you?” After saying that, she sat down next to me. Uninvited, but there it was.
She laughed. “Didn’t think so. The way the girl is acting in your story, that isn’t how girls are. I know, this is creative writing, but verisimilitude is important in a story. If you write about a teacher in a classroom, and you have him carrying an Uzi and putting a burst into every kid who misbehaves, readers won’t find it credible, and probably will do the worst thing a writer wants: they’ll stop reading.”
I didn’t know what to say about that. So I kept quiet. I realized she’d think I was shy if I didn’t respond, but, well, I was, and if she misread me, so what? I didn’t see any reason to worry about that.
She went on, oblivious to the fact I was ignoring her.
“Your girl is all naive and innocent and guileless. Girls might have been that way when Jane Austin was writing, but probably not even then. Your girl has no idea what sex is and that the boy wants it and whether she should want it or not, too. Your boy—my God, I’ve never met a boy that straightlaced, that stuffy, that, well, I can’t think of the right word, but he’s like no boy I’ve ever met. Boys are either shy or outgoing. They all want sex, though, no matter their personality quirks. Your boy seems almost asexual. I guess there are boys like that who exist, but I’ve met a lot of boys, and I’ve never come across one of those. Maybe they’re just made-up creatures. Boys and sex go together like chiggers and itchy. You’re a boy. You want sex, don’t you? All boys do.”
She stopped talking, actually stopped talking, and looked at me. I was still ignoring her. Well, I was a bit shell-shocked, so maybe that was why I couldn’t speak.
She didn’t seem to mind and started right up again. “I guess you don’t know me well enough to answer that, though I don’t see why you wouldn’t. It’s just normal to want sex. It’s like admitting you have freckles on your butt. So what? Nothing demeaning about that. Now, if you have them all over your penis, that’s different. That would be interesting. I’ve seen lots of penises and never seen freckles. Hard, soft, no freckles. You don’t . . . no, if you won’t even admit to wanting sex, why would you want to discuss abnormalities with regard to your penis?”
“I don’t . . . .”
She laughed. “Knew it! Knew I could make you talk! But you know, while we were shooting the breeze here, I got a great idea. The boy you’re writing about is amazing. He’s in college and knows nothing at all about girls and less about getting one to have sex with him. Now that could be because he’s terribly shy, or it could be because he’s gay, or it could be because you can’t write a character for shit. And your girl is so unrealistic as to make me weep. Real tears, too. And I haven’t wept in over a decade. So I got an idea. What if your boy met a girl I can write? We could make a great story about that. Combine our talents. Then we could hand it in as a joint project, and we’ll both get an A. What do you think?”
Why I went along with this, I don’t know. But we were now working together. What she’d convinced me to do was simply be spontaneous. We were going to write about a quicky pickup. Were there such things? She looked at me like I had two heads when I’d voiced my dismay at that.
“Girls want sex as much as boys do. Do you think it’s only boys? Crazy! Ever heard of women’s lib? Of emancipation? Boy meets girl, they have sex, and who makes it clear it’s going to happen can be either. So, what we’re writing here is a pickup in a coffee shop between two kids who are mutually attracted. You’re writing the boy from your perspective, and I’m doing the girl from mine. You want to start, or me?”
I was the boy. Boys take leadership, don’t they? That’s how my world worked. Catholic leadership seemed to advocate that, and that’s where I’d learned behavior. “I’ll start,” I said. I wished my voice were a bit more commanding.
She nodded and waited. I had to write something to get us started. Well, coming up with this first part wasn’t hard.
“Hey. Hi. Aren’t you in my creative writing class?”
She frowned. “Not very imaginative, is it? But okay, if that’s the best you can do. I’d have made it our robotics class, or our sex-ed class, or they’d met up in a unisex bathroom at the same time, but if you want to go boring at the beginning, I can cope.” She began keyboarding.
“Yeah. I’m Taylor Hedges. I don’t know your name.”
“Tyler Abrams.” I’d almost written Tony Higgins, but caught myself just in time.
Marcie looked at me, saw I was done, and hit her keys again.
“You come here often?” Then she laughed and laughed.
I frowned. “What’s funny about that?” I asked.
“It’s an old-fashioned pickup line, usually said by a guy trying to hook up with a girl. Maybe in a bar. Everyone knows that. Your boy, dumb as he is, would know that.”
“Hey, my boy isn’t dumb. Maybe a bit sheltered, perhaps even naive, but dumb? No!”
“So write his response. We’ll learn who he is in the story. Don’t explain him to me here.”
I said ‘grrrr’ to myself, then typed. “Often enough to know a pickup line when I hear one.”
“What? You don’t want to get picked up? You liked what you saw when you looked at me. Anyone could see that.”
“You think I liked you at first glance?”
“Not just liked me. I think you want to go to bed with me.”
“Hey. That’s way too fast, isn’t it?”
“Write it, don’t complain to me. Complain to Taylor if it bothers your sensibilities, not me.”
I looked at her, then suddenly smiled. “Go to bed with you? What do you think I am? I don’t even know you?”
“What’s that got to do with anything? You liked me. I saw that. Well, I liked you, too. You looked kind of shy and timid and awkward, and that’s a turn on for me. Like you need someone to show you the ropes. I’d like to do that. Why? Aren’t you interested?”
“It’s just a little quick, don’t you think? Shouldn’t we get to know each other a little?”
“Why? What, you want to know how many sisters and cats I have? The color of my first car, or boyfriend? My GPA? Look, I’m an equal opportunity bedpartner. I’m horny. Aren’t you? That’s enough, isn’t it?”
I had to look up at her again. She was grinning at me. I’d never done anything like this, talked out of someone else’s brain. I was decidedly uncomfortable. At the same time, I realized I was enjoying this. Uncomfortable, but pleasantly. Maybe this was what creative writing was all about. Becoming someone else and not having to deal with any personal consequences.
“But just jumping in bed with someone I don’t know at all?”
“What, you’ve never done that? Hey, I’m getting a bad vibe here. You’re not a virgin, are you? I don’t know that I’d want to sleep with a virgin. They don’t know shit about screwing and making me happy. They mostly think about themselves and want to get naked and into bed too fast.”
I blushed. I couldn’t help it. Marcie saw and laughed, then tried to stop. I guess she realized it could hurt my feelings. I think she was getting to know me. I looked down. I didn’t really feel good about looking at her right then.
“So, are you a virgin?”
I had to take myself in hand and not write what I almost started to. Instead, I wrote: “My God, no!” Then I had to work hard to keep myself from shuddering.
“Oh, good. Whew, that’s a relief. So, your place or mine? Maybe you’ll be a lot better than I thought!”
Yikes. Talk about moving too fast. But I seemed to be committed now. How had that happened? Did people actually do this? Did girls act this way? I could barely believe it. Well, I had a fake boy to support, so I needed to do that. I needed to get him to the tip of the peak of a first time, and then over to the other side.
“Uh, yours? I mean, yeah, yours. I still live with my parents, and they’d not just be shocked, they’d be flabbergasted by you.” There! Maybe that would slow Marcie down.
Oh, wait. It was Taylor that needed slowing. Marcie was just her mouthpiece.
I didn’t need to wait long.
“Okay, my place. But let’s go right now. I’m getting hot and bothered and don’t like waiting. You’re way cute, even if you act as odd as a gay rooster in a hen house. Let’s go.”
I almost pushed my chair back. Then blushed again, realizing what I was doing. This was fiction! A story! Stop taking it so personally, me! If I didn’t stop, and we—uh, if Tyler and Taylor—got into real sex, I’d probably pass out, the way I was internalizing all this. I needed to build a bit of distance for myself.
I got an idea and smirked. It was a good idea. “I have class in a few minutes. It’ll have to wait.” There!
“We could cut. But when’s your next class after this one?”
“I just have lunch and nothing till three then.” Oops. Why was I relating all this to me? Tyler could have anything I wanted him to have. Maybe he had labs all afternoon. I should write that.
But it was too late.
“Fine. We’re in the same class. I was going to cut. I guess I want it more than you do, but, okay, we’ll do it your way. Let the anticipation build. I’ll be even hotter then. I’ll meet you at the classroom door after class.”
Then Marcie stuck in a scene break. I guess she thought we’d wasted enough time already and didn’t want to go through the class-time and then to get to the scene of the crime on paper. But what it was in real-time was just a scene break in the story. No break in real-time for me at all.
“Like my room, big guy?”
“Very nice. I like your curtains. Is that pink? It’s so dark in here I can’t really tell.”
“Who cares? Here, help me with the catch on the back of my bra. And why are your pants still on?”
“Hey, wait a second. She said no details of the actual, uh . . . of the romp. You have me, uh, I mean, you have them getting naked already. What next, the bed?”
Marcie was grinning at me. “Well, if you want to slow it down, you can, but where’s the fun in that? This is just getting good!”
She was right. It was up to me to take control here. Just like if we really were in the bedroom. Why hadn’t I thought of that?
But then I realized I had no experience with this. How was I supposed to have Tyler slow things down? I thought for a moment, and realized—I was doing a lot of realizing here—that I could take my time. No reason to rush like Taylor was doing. I had all the time in the world.
So I used it. I became Tyler in my head, which I’d already been doing, and thought about where he was, what he was doing, and the situation he was in. It was easy to relate it to myself. I realized, another realization, that Tyler was a lot like me. Tyler actually was me. That made it easier. I took long enough to begin writing that Marcie started tapping her fingers on the table.
Long enough to figure out where I wanted this to go.
Long enough to figure out how to get there.
“Uh, sorry. My fingers just got a cramp, Taylor. Damn, that hurts. But I can’t get them to do anything just now. Unhook a bra? Forget that! Ouch! I’m trying to straighten them out, but they’re in both hands. Damn! I have to sit down. There, that’s better.”
“Are you okay? Hurry up; I’m waiting; here, I’m doing the bra myself.”
“Sorry. Maybe we should have come here before and cut that class. I’m so excited that I’m cramping up all over, and the cramps are killing me. One’s in my leg now. Owie! Hold on.”
“Wait for what?
Pause. Long pause.
I wrote those pauses in, hoping for a particular response from Marcie. And I got it!
“What are you doing?”
Just what I’d been hoping she’d ask! Hoping Taylor would ask Tyler. Marcie seemed to be into her character as much as I was into Tyler.
“Calling my friend, Kevin. I need a massage. When I get these, that’s how I get rid of them. That’s the only way. He knows what to do. OOOWWW! That really hurts. Oh, he’s answered. Kevin, come quick. Cramps. AHHHHH! Wow, these are bad! Where am I? Do you know Taylor in our class? Huh? What’d ya mean, everyone knows Taylor? Anyway, I’m in her room. What? Everyone else has been there, too? Hey, stay focused here. Okay, you’ll be here in two minutes? Hurry. Make those a fast, fast two minutes. Ouch!”
“He’s coming here?”
“Yeah. He’ll have to strip me down. Maybe you should leave.”
“Why? That’s part of the fun, seeing boys naked. I’ve seen lots of naked boys. I like naked boys.”
“Yeah, but the way he’s going to give me a massage, you might not have seen that before. He’s always wanted to do a special kind of massage to loosen me up, and I’ve always said no, but these are really bad cramps because you’ve really got me in the mood. Ah, that’s his knock. For my first time with this, I want to be alone.”
Marcie didn’t type anything else. She just looked at me, a question in her eyes.
“Well, we didn’t want it pornographic. I found a way to keep it okay for Mrs. Bloom.”
“Someone I made up for the story.”
“I don’t think so. I saw the expression on your face when you wrote that. I think you realized something when you wrote that.”
“Well, I did realize a lot of things, writing this. Thanks. Now all I have to do is talk to Kevin.”
“Is he gay?” she asked.
“He’d better be!”
As always, my sincere thanks to my editors.
You do a marvelous and mostly unsung job.
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