My taste of free love

I always thought my first time would be with my girlfriend. Then she dumped me -- and I met an ex-commune member

Topics: Salon -- After Dark, Sex, Coupling, My first time,

My taste of free love (Credit: AdmissionQuest / CC BY 3.0/Salon)
This article is the first in a series about people's first time having sex.

I did not lose my virginity according to Plan A.

I was supposed to lose it with Diane, my first girlfriend, during my senior year in high school. I loved her. Plus, I had no intention of heading off to college with the word “virgin” burned into my loins.

Instead, I lost my virginity during my sophomore year in college, to a chubby, brown-haired, brown-eyed, patchouli-reeking woman named Meadow. To a woman who, only a few months prior to our meeting, had been a member of a disgraced free-love commune. To a woman I did not love.

The Ethan of those days had been testing some nascent principles, some ideals, some highfalutin beliefs. One of them being an equation I was trying to solve: sex = love. Therefore, I had a hard time rectifying the fantasy of the person with whom I had wanted to have sex, with the reality of the person with whom I eventually did.

Why did I finally take the plunge with Meadow? Because Diane drove her Volvo station wagon across my heart.

Slim and blond, Diane had spiky ’80s New Wave hair, wore fuchsia satin tops, and played volleyball and ran track. A year or two before I had met her, her dad had died on the operating table during a routine procedure. My own mother had been destroyed by a brain aneurysm a handful of years before that. Unlike Diane’s dad, my mom lived, and her stroke-ridden body and mind hobbled through my adolescence.

So, perhaps it made cosmic sense for Diane and me to connect. We did not speak of this. Show not tell, is what we did. We connected.

Yet even after a few months together, Diane and I decided we were not ready for sex. That is, “having sex”: intercourse. Naturally, we did just about everything you can do without actually inserting a penis into a vagina. We’d kiss and fall to the floor of her living room or station wagon, burrow and grind and rub and rub, until I would come or until my dick got sore or her crotch got sore or both, or until she got tired and would wave the white flag. Kleenex and paper towel came to the rescue.

Even though her mom was a member of a conservative evangelical Baptist church, and even though I’m sure she frowned on premarital sex, she gave me and Diane vast swaths of time, after school, alone with the house to ourselves. Her family also had a mustard-colored Volvo station wagon that could be seen (but hopefully was not seen) parked on dead-end roads near cemeteries in rural areas of our tri-town area.



I loved Diane as much as a 17-year-old boy could love a girl for the first time: improvisationally, freakishly, fully. I graduated high school, but she had one year to go. That summer was bliss. Come September, we promised to stay together. I parted for a certain alternative liberal arts college in Western Massachusetts. Diane entered her senior year. This was the age of pay phones and snail mail. We made many sad calls and sent many impassioned letters, but I figured we’d still be together by the time summer came around again. Instead, Diane dumped me at Thanksgiving.

Exit Plan A. Enter Plan B.

The fall of 1986, my sophomore year in college, I was 20. Friends of friends had introduced me to Meadow. I learned that she and her mother had, only the year before, escaped from a ruined, shamed “community,” aka “commune” (what some people certainly called a “cult”), the one founded by none other than the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

You remember the Bhagwan: In Oregon, the Indian mystic and spiritual teacher had bought a ranch and renamed it “Rancho Rajneesh,” where it became the home to some 3,000 disciples. The neighbors were not pleased. The Bhagwan was notorious for his large collection of Rolls-Royce automobiles. According to him, he needed to amass these cars and other riches because their material weight kept him rooted to planet Earth, to reality, to the prime material plane. So he would not float off to Mars or astral project or end up lost on some far-flung ethereal plane. To me, an avid Dungeons & Dragons player, this made perfect sense. Astral projection is a ninth-level spell.

During his time in Oregon, the Bhagwan was said to be paranoid about nuclear Armageddon, and AIDS. Sex was rampant at the commune, but he insisted his followers use condoms and not kiss. He was supposedly hooked on Valium, and dictated his books of teachings while under the influence of nitrous oxide. On Oct. 23, 1985, a federal grand jury issued a 35-count indictment, charging the Bhagwan and several other disciples with conspiracy to evade immigration laws and one count of having conspired to have his followers enter into sham marriages to acquire U.S. residency. In the end, the Bhagwan was given a slap on the wrist, fined and asked to leave the United States. He returned to India in 1985 and settled in Pune.

Back to Meadow. That was the name the Bhagwan gave her. I think her real name might have been Karen. I can’t remember. I do remember I was depressed when I met her, and she smiled and seemed to accept my misanthropic ways. She lived on the dorm hallway a few halls down from mine. I spent a lot of nights plumbing that dark, snowy winter of 1986 with her, at the end of the Reagan Era.

Now, I admit my moral upbringing was suspect. Scattershot. Church teachings were not in the lexicon. Ask me who was Mathew or John the Baptist and I would give you a blank stare. My mores, my blueprint for “being good,” was absorbed from watching “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “Mister Rogers” and “Happy Days.” Not Moses but Yoda. But despite my lack of moral education, I had still painstakingly mapped out in my Dungeons & Dragons-trained mind a series of conditions – charts and tables and outcomes — about that first sexual encounter. That I would love the girl, of course, that was the first condition. That the “sexual act” would be “real” and “true” and “meaningful.” That the heart would be involved as much as the penis. That some hint of long-term commitment or, maybe, even marriage might play a role. Or, that at least marriage might cross my mind.

Apparently these ideals did not apply to dear, sweet Meadow, all big brown cow eyes and expert hands and birth control at the ready. In her single room (and we all had single rooms at this certain alternative liberal arts college in Western Massachusetts), I cast those principles aside, along with my clothes. She would light the candles and anoint oils to her body. On her bookcase she had displayed a small photo of the Bhagwan, despite his shameful implosion. She had a medallion on a string of wooden beads, and on that medallion was also a photo of the Bhagwan’s vaguely smiling, grey-bearded, guru face. She took off the medallion. She took off her clothes.

I had no medallion. I was just a dork. I took off my underwear. She popped in her diaphragm like it was part of a ritual.

“Here,” she’d say. “Let me show you.”

“Uh, sure. Sounds good.”

Show, not tell.

The Bhagwan had taught her well. Eventually, I got the hang of it. I learned how to astral project. I forgot my heartache. Do or do not. There is no try.

I did her.

I spent that entire winter screwing Meadow. Through March, maybe even into April, till the daffodils and the lilacs returned. We had sex often and every night and sometimes until we were awake to see the sun rise. I avoided her during the day. We were not boyfriend and girlfriend. Such designations did not exist at our college.

Summer came. I blew her off. Meadow returned for next semester, but I found ways to be evasive. Invisibility is tricky at a college of 1,000, but I consulted my charts and tables and found success. I wore my elven cloak. Meadow eventually transferred to some normal school. I lost track of her. Today, she’s probably a sports therapist or banker. I never heard from her again.

As for Diane, ironically, she decided to go to the neighboring traditional liberal arts college in Western Massachusetts – about three miles down the road from mine. We kept in touch sporadically, randomly, ill-advisedly.

I had become adept at avoiding Plan A. Plan B became my specialty. I never entirely solved the sex-love equation. But I like to think I have beliefs. One being: I believe I like sex.

Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, memoirist, critic, poet, teacher and 17th level geek. He wrote the award-winning travel memoir investigation “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. More info at ethangilsdorf.com or follow him on Twitter.

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