The Saturday Rumpus Essay: Night

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I am eighteen. I have my own place and I’m in my first semester of college. I go to get birth control pills from the same clinic my friends have told me about. They told me that it was easy. When they said “easy,” I pictured myself gliding out of the office with the pink plastic circle of pills in hand.

I fill out a health history form and undress from the waist down. I wait with the paper sheet over my naked lower half. This is my first wait like this. I do not yet know how many paper sheet waits just like this one will be ahead of me. The doctor is a white man about thirty-five years old. He reads my chart and then begins to do a digital examination. I don’t know if this is normal or not. I become very aware of the coldness of the room, the heat in my face, the brightness of the lamp above me.

“I thought you said you weren’t a virgin.” He says this like I’ve done something wrong.

“What?”

“It says on your intake form that you’re not a virgin.”

“I’m not,” I say, feeling a tangle caught between my heart and my throat, a fever rising in me. Does it say the word “virgin” on the form?

“But you’re so tight,” he says, his finger moving deeper in me.

I’m afraid that if he thinks I’m lying I won’t get the pills. But why would I say I wasn’t a virgin if I were a virgin? Wouldn’t the lying usually be the other way around?

“Are you sure you’re aren’t a virgin?”

It takes me a minute to unpack the construction of his question: Am I sure I am NOT this thing that means I have NOT done something?

Yes, I am. I am sure.

But am I? My mind goes back to my first boyfriend, my only boyfriend. We didn’t have sex just one time that might not have “counted.” We had sex a number of times. But maybe something is wrong with me. Maybe my body refused to lose its virginity. Maybe my body that does not do some of the things that my friends’ bodies do—like catch a speeding ball or leap triumphantly over hurdles—also has failed in this way. But I suspect not. I suspect that I have, in fact, lost my virginity.

“Yes,” I say, finally. “I’ve had sex before.”

“You feel like a virgin.”

I don’t know what to say or do. I don’t know if something is wrong or it isn’t. I don’t know why this is hard. Why can’t it be easy for me? Why am I the one getting all these questions?

The next few minutes are a black corridor I cannot recall. I don’t know what he said as he left the examination room. I’m not sure how I made it to his office, where I sat across a desk from him, waiting for him to write the prescription. I remember waiting and waiting for him to write it. I had this sense that he was angry and disappointed with me. As I remember this moment, I wonder if he said something like, “Here’s your prescription. I hope you’re happy now.” But I don’t think he did. But that’s how I felt: I hope you’re happy now.

 

I am twenty-four. For the first time in a good while, I have a big group of friends. We are all waitresses that work at a hot spot. I love my friends, but I’m also aware that hotness is an uncanny common denominator of this group. I feel like an imposter, like I’m passing for hot, when I’m with these friends. Decades later I’ll hear the term “cheerleader effect.”

I’m also aware that being with this group is the closest I’ve ever been to power. Seas of people part for us when we arrive at the club downtown. But at the same time, I also feel this odd vulnerability. With these young women, I no longer slip in and out of places undetected. With them, my cloak of invisibility—my only known superpower—has been removed. When we encounter young men on the street, we stop and talk because everyone wants to talk to us, or at least to some of us.

One time we stop on the sidewalk and talk to two guys I suspect are trouble: a French guy who will die in a year from a heroin overdose and a guy who I will remember instantly years from now when my eyes first land on Eminem’s face. Eminem is talking to the main girl in our group. The conversation is winding down. He turns and looks me in the eye and wordlessly grabs my crotch. Did I object? In my memory, I say nothing. I walk away with the group, wordless.

Later, when I complain to one of the friends, she tells me that it isn’t that big of a deal. I wonder if that’s true.

 

I’m twenty-five. You and I have met for a drink at the Sylvia Hotel on English Bay. Your idea to meet up. My idea to meet up at the Sylvia. It’s a hot August day. We drink two tequilas with ice and then go outside to sit on the beach. I look as good as I ever will in my men’s surfer shorts and ripped black tank top. You took pictures of me and now, looking at those pictures, I can see that I looked beautiful that day. I can also see that I still loved you and that you still loved me. I know now that we won’t be together, that we had given up on each other, that neither of us possessed the skills to portray how the other has hurt us and to work that hurt through.

A woman in a yellow bikini walks by. She is gorgeous in every way we women are supposed to be and in every way that I have struggled that I am not. She could go directly from here to a magazine shoot. Her breasts are doing everything breasts are supposed to do in their golden triangles of fabric. The bikini bottom pulls across the perfect slope of her hips. We both watch as she passes across the hot sand in front of us, for how can we not?

“For the man with pots of gold,” you say. And then the sun is eclipsed, blotted. It is night.


Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of Writing Is My Drink (Simon & Schuster) and How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed (Crown). Her blog is WritingIsMyDrink.com. More from this author →