The summer of 1983 I was nineteen-years old. I was very muscular and very blonde and had nice features. Girls liked me. I was lousy in bed but that wasn’t important back then.
Anyway, I was traveling in Europe that summer with my best friend from Princeton. I had saved money working for a lawn-service in my hometown in New Jersey for two months and flew to London with my friend in early July. We then took a ferry to France and hitchhiked to Paris. In Paris, we were planning on staying with another Princeton friend whose family was in exile from a country in the Middle East. This fellow’s father had been an oil minister and the family was considered to be royalty, though they would never be able to return to their home.
After hitch-hiking for many hours, we arrived in the fanciest part of Paris and went to our friend’s apartment. At the door we were greeted by a young, dark beauty—the sister of our friend. She took one look at me and her face lit up. She and I were photo-negatives of one another: she had jet-black hair and mine, from mowing lawns for two months in the sun, was red-blonde; and her eyebrows were thick and black, and mine were freakishly white and rather lush.
So she was smitten with me and I, in turn, was smitten with her. She was sixteen and had a perfect, young, blossoming figure. Her face was exotic to me and she had a gorgeous mouth, as red as a new fire truck.
That night she got me alone in one of the many rooms of the apartment and we made out. It was wonderful.
My friend and I stayed with her family for several days. There were elaborate meals every night with numerous guests, and the girl would always sit next to me and secretly touch my leg. I learned that she was not supposed to be dating or kissing or doing anything with boys. Our little affair was highly clandestine and I felt like a cad since her parents were being lavishly generous to me. But the girl and I kept making out—going no farther than her shirt coming off. We bought a single to make out to and played it over and over again on her little record player—“Every Breath You Take” by the Police.
One night close to when my friend and I would be leaving, the girl told me that she wanted me to take her virginity. I said that I couldn’t do it, that if her father found out he would kill me. She insisted that he would not find out. Her brother even came to me and told me that he would like me to be the one to take his sister’s virginity. It was all very odd. On one hand the brother was being very modern, but his statement that he ‘approved’ of me felt somewhat medieval, befitting the country of his origin. The thing is I really was scared of the father—he was a kind man, but he was very much from the old world and I kept imagining him taking this sword that hung on the wall of the living room and plunging it into my back. In his country he had been a powerful prince, and so who was I, a strange blonde Jew from New Jersey, to deflower his precious daughter, a middle-eastern princess-in-exile?
So my friend and I left Paris, and I didn’t take the girl’s virginity. We went to Montpelier where we enrolled in a French course. I grew friendly with this sweet blonde Dutch girl who was seventeen and very innocent. We kissed a few times, but that was it. She, too, was a virgin.
I left Europe and returned to Princeton for my sophomore year. The princess and the Dutch girl wrote me many letters. At some point in our correspondence the princess urged me to return to Europe to take her virginity. Then the Dutch girl wrote to me, asking of me the same service. In fact, both girls though English was not their native tongue, used the phrase ‘the one.’ I have to say, the old ego swelled up quite nicely. Two beautiful girls—without any knowledge of each other—had chosen me to be the one!
I decided to take the following year off from school to travel. I spent several months making money as a male-model to fund my adventure, and then headed over to Europe in late August of 1984. I had never been with a virgin and my whole traveling agenda was dictated by this call to deflower. I figured I start in the north with the Dutch girl and then work my way down to the princess.
I flew to Amsterdam and took a train to the Dutch girl’s small town. When I arrived, she informed me that she had lost her virginity ten days before and now had a serious boyfriend. I took this news in, and I figured I could at least be the second boy to have sex with her. After all, hadn’t I come all the way from America? So I made a pass at her and was duly rebuffed.
I spent two days in her family’s house: I was put in her little brother’s bedroom. She spent the nights with her new boyfriend. Her parents were quite permissive. Each night, I lay there listening to the shallow breaths of her young brother and I felt like a fool. On the third day, I told the girl that I was leaving. I was supposed to have stayed for a week. Oddly, she was hurt that I wanted to go, but I had to get to France. I had to get to the other virgin who was waiting for me.
I took a train to Paris. I was no longer worried about the princess’s father and was willing to risk getting that sword in my back. But when I got to Paris the princess told me that she too had recently lost her virginity and was in love with her new boyfriend. This was all before email, when slow-moving letters were the only way to communicate (and international long-distance was far too expensive), otherwise I might have been informed by both girls to change my plans.
But once more, I hoped to at least be number two if I couldn’t be ‘the one,’ and I suggested as much to the princess, and, again, like with the Dutch girl, I was quickly rebuffed. I spent two nights on a couch and then left, my tail, literally and metaphorically, between my legs.
This had to be the most pathetic start of a trip to Europe in the history of trips to Europe. I had crossed the Atlantic anticipating thankful, loving virgins—it was one of my chief motivations for taking a year off from school; I was like a suicide-bomber but without the bombs or the suicide—and I ended up with nothing. I went from feeling like a valued, golden penis-bearer to an easily replaced and dismissed little eunuch.
From Paris, feeling rather low, I headed for Barcelona where I met an American merchant marine on shore-leave. We started talking at the train-station bar—we were both having a beer—and in the way that Americans abroad sometimes become instant friends, he took me under his wing. I was twenty and he was in his late-thirties. He had ten-thousand American dollars on him—his pay for six months at sea—and he was looking for a companion to ‘party’ with. We both got rooms at a cheap hotel and then headed out. After drinking for several hours, we went to a brothel. There were two women to choose from. Since he was paying for it, he got the prettier of the two and I got a very plump middle-aged woman. She had fierce onion breath. I couldn’t bring myself to make love to her, and so she just held me and put her enormous breast in my mouth and nursed me like a baby. She was far from a virgin but it was a soothing experience. She stroked my hair and cooed to me. Later, outside the brothel, I thanked the merchant marine for treating me. From Barcelona, we went to Morrocco, where I got dysentery and other strange things happened.
Twenty years later, I was on a book-tour in the Netherlands and one of the assistants at the publishing house found the number of the Dutch girl for me—she was still living in her small town. I called her. She was shocked to hear from me and we talked for about ten minutes. She was divorced and had a young daughter. She had some kind of office job. She sounded depressed and defeated. We didn’t get together. I have no idea what became of the princess. I imagine I could find her in Paris, next time I go there, but it’s probably best to leave well enough alone.
This essay will appear in the collection The Double Life is Twice as Good, published this week by Scribner’s. © Jonathan Ames.