It is 1975 and I am 15 years old. I am 15 but I look 21. I wear low-slung hip-hugger pants, baby-doll tops, platforms, smoky eyeshadow. I flip my hair, I gloss my lips, I wear love beads around my neck. I am a thinking, dreaming beauty queen in a small Midwest town on the banks of Lake Michigan. A town where men are men and work in the automotive factory after graduating from high school, and girls grow up to marry them and have their babies. For every Catholic church there is a tavern proffering Budweiser, boilermakers and Pabst Blue Ribbon, all-night pool games, poker games and a jukebox blaring the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin. Summer days are hot, especially in July, and in the evening heat lightning streaks across the sky, punctuated by floating iridescent fireflies.
I am 15 years old, and I have an 11 o'clock curfew in the summertime. I am never late. Mostly I saunter down to the park, which is bowl-shaped, with a public swimming pool at its center and a pleasant smell of chlorine and sun-tanning lotion. In the evening, there is an outdoor concession where I buy ice-cream cones or soft drinks in paper cups. Spreading out along the periphery of the pool is a small forest of trees and some stairs, set in stone, leading up the hill and deeper into the woods. This is where I kiss the neighborhood boys and smoke joints, my hair still damp from the pool, now bleached platinum from the sun and the water. I wear a modest two-piece bathing suit, lime green and white; the top has a small padded bra with white ruffles across my small breasts. And when I finish swimming, I just pull on a pair of cutoffs, slip on flip-flops and carry my bathing cap and hairbrush rolled up in a bathroom towel that I take out of the dryer in the morning. One night I meet a boy at the pool, and we arrange to meet on the hill adjacent to the pool when we are finished swimming. I like him a lot. He chews peppermint gum and when he tells me his name, he whispers it in my ear and I like the smell of his breath. It is a mix of peppermint, chlorine and root beer.
I get out to the hill before him and spread out my towel and lie back and look at the stars, brilliant and shining, because they have just flicked off the fluorescent lights. The night air feels fresh and welcoming and I am pleasantly tingling from the sun and water, but also in anticipation of possibly kissing the impossibly cute boy I have just met. He is from the south side of town, so he is a foreigner, exotic. We go to different schools. Finally, I see him loping up the hill toward me, his hair damp, slicked back from his forehead. He sits down next to me, so close I can feel the hair on his forearms, so close I can see his toenails, cut short and gleaming pink by the light of the stars. Suddenly, he leans over and begins kissing me. He reminds me of a bird swooping down from the sky. He descends over me, and begins kissing me with mouth and lips and tongue and teeth. Slowly I slide back, until his arms and his chest, his wings, cover me. He kisses me and kisses me and kisses me. It is heaven. But it gets to be 10:30 p.m. and, with great reluctance, I tell him I have to go. We exchange phone numbers, but I never hear from him.
But then I start to notice a silver Corvette parked on the street one block from my house. This car is so sexy looking I feel it between my legs. And then one day I see that it belongs to a very good-looking man, at least 25 or 26 and married. He is dark, Latin looking, but not Latin, perhaps Italian, with that wiry black curly hair that is irresistible to me. He is out there every day polishing that Corvette, and when I walk by, he says, "Hi, beautiful." This makes me so nervous I automatically hold my breath until I walk past him. Sometimes I am so self-conscious, I trip on my too-long bell-bottoms and stub my toe and feel like a complete and utter fool. It begins to feel like I enter a "zone" whenever I come close to this man polishing his car in circular, sensual, repetitive motions. A zone that is distinct and separate from my world, just one block away. A world where I am just another gawky teenager, with brothers and sisters, a harried, overworked mother, living in a small one-story brick house. But as I approach the car, and enter the zone, that world melts away, like a movie, and I become a sophisticated grown-up woman. The air is always so charged by his attraction to me; it bounces off the gleaming metal of the car and hits me in the eye, in the mouth and between my legs. I am not used to feeling this way. It feels strange and wonderful, and I begin to have a sense of the power I posses. This is heady stuff for a 15-year-old small-town girl.
One day as I walk past, he says, "What ya doing tonight?" I say, "I have a date," trip, stub my toe and keep walking, my face burning in embarrassment. I hear him call out, "I wasn't asking ya on a date, I was just asking what ya were doing tonight, dumb bunny." And the way he says "dumb bunny" is sexy and adorable and confuses the hell out of me. After a couple of days, we are talking, having conversations, flirting. I tell him my name and I find out that he's the uncle of two brothers with bad reputations whom I know from junior high. The more he talks to me, the more dangerous the zone feels, but also more irresistible. I am being pulled into something I am powerless to stop. This is nothing like the way I feel when one of the neighborhood boys sticks his tongue in my mouth in the woods at night. I am in control of that. They kiss me, their hands move toward my breasts and I push them away, light a cigarette and say, laughing, "Get out of here!" But this older, married man with the silver Corvette is different, dangerous. I feel things I have never felt before, things I don't understand, things I feel compelled to follow.
One day he says to me, "We ought to go for a ride one night" and, breathless, I agree. So the next night, Saturday, I meet him in the driveway. He keeps the Corvette at his grandmother's, so his wife and children are always somewhere else, home, wherever that is. I never ask him, and he never offers to tell me. Before our assignation, I take great pains to dress and put on make-up. I steal my mother's green eyeshadow, her red lipstick. I wear a pair of hunter green bell-bottoms with a matching halter top. My hair falls in platinum curls around my face. This is my first real adult date and idealized visions of us cruising down by the lake swim through my imagination -- my hair is blowing in the breeze, the water alternating silver and blue in the sunset. We stop by the concession stand made of stone down by the beach and he buys me a Coke and tenderly brushes the hair from my face. But that is as far as it goes in my imagination. That is as much as I've seen in the movies, as much as I know about what happens between a man and a woman: close-ups of lips barely touching, whispered words of love, an achingly beautiful backdrop of tall pine trees silhouetted against blue sky, the air smelling sweet. His wife never figures into these romantic fantasies. She barely exists. I never even consider what it means that he is married. I am 15, the year is 1975 and I think I am in love for the first time in my life.
When I walk toward him, on this Saturday night, his eyes light up and he says, "Baby, baby, baby!" I smile proudly and I feel an expansive warmth spread through my body. My brand-new body, which I've barely had time to get used to, so smooth and so new -- like that car, aquiline, shining, glinting in the sun.
It is early twilight and sprinklers cast arcs of cool water over emerald lawns. Children ride by on jewel-colored stingray bicycles. But all I hear as I walk toward him is the sound of my footsteps and the beating of my heart. I am acutely conscious of my breasts, my nipples aching. He holds open the car door and says, "After you, my bunny." It is strange to sit in a car so low to the ground, with its soft white leather interior. I sink even lower into the bucket seat. I've ridden only in the family station wagon, with faux wood, plastic seats leaking stuffing, the interior studded with candy wrappers and dried-up pieces of chewing gum, crammed in next to my brothers who smell like sweat. He, on the other hand, wears cologne that is spicy and sweet at the same time.
He wears a tight black T-shirt, emblazoned with a picture of the Rolling Stones. He hasn't shaved and a dark sexy shadow covers his chin and the sides of his jaw, and I can tell his hair is freshly washed. In my heart, I know I am his woman. We shoot off down my street, heading east toward the lake, and my heart is singing. His body is inclined toward mine, and when he downshifts his right hand grazes my knee. After a while, it remains there and I do not object. We pass a group of kids I know. I say "kids" because at this minute, I am not one of them. I have entered another dimension where I am grown-up, driving in a grown-up car. I cast sidelong glances at his forearms, his wrists, his hands, so muscular, covered in a fine net of black curly hair. I can't get over how good he smells.
He leans over and says, "You having fun, bunny?" And I love it when he calls me that. I struggle to adopt a pose of sophistication, worldliness. I sit up straighter, smile back at him and say, "Yeah." In response, he guns the engine and veers sharply to the right, and then we are cruising on Lake Shore Drive. The lake to our right, the road twisting and turning, we drive underneath a canopy of fragrant pine trees. The air wafting across my face is so fresh, and the night so like my dreams, I am breathless. I tell myself to remember this moment, remember his profile, so strong and assured as he maneuvers the car around hairpin turns, remember the light pressure of his hand on your knee, that delicious feeling of ownership. Remember how when he turns sharply you are thrown against him, and when he quickly moves his hand from your knee and pulls you in closer, how you stay there, his arm around your shoulder, pulled tight against him as he drives.
It is just like in the movies, but it's somehow better than the movies, because it's your life. And maybe, just maybe, you are cut out for something better than this one-horse town on the banks of Lake Michigan; maybe this is just the beginning of an unending chain of events in which someday soon you will land, famous and rich and beautiful, in New York or Los Angeles or even London, the small-town days long forgotten, the days and nights of swimming in an overchlorinated pool, being groped by little boys in the bushes, getting straight A's, but with no hope of escape because your mother only wants you to learn how to type. Remember that this night is magic, and the stars over your head are magic. Remember that this man wants you, has you pulled close to him, so close your chin rests on his chest, muscled and taut beneath the T-shirt. Remember all these moments so that you can string them together like a necklace of diamonds and rubies, so that you never forget.
He abruptly pulls onto a deserted promontory on the south side of town. He parks his car in the gravel, practically at the tip, the lake a dizzying swirl beneath us. He pulls me close and begins to gently, gently kiss me. Now it is night, the sun far below the rim of the western horizon. First his lips barely touch mine, then his tongue delicately explores the inner corners of my mouth. I have never been kissed like this before! I don't even really know what to do with my mouth. I just follow his lead, as if I've been kissed like this a million times. Whatever he does, I do. After a few chaste kisses like this, which feel as if a butterfly has landed on my lips, he says, "Come on," and gets out of the car. I follow with a small satisfied smile and watch while he pulls a brown leather pouch and a blanket from the back seat.
I get out and see that the silver Corvette continues to gleam even though the parking lights are not on. It must be the moon, I think, it must be the moon that lights up the car so that it seems to shine with its own interior secret light. In front of the car, skirting the edge of the promontory, he lifts the blanket high up in the air with a snap and it magically floats to the ground. He sits down and motions for me to follow. It's not very comfortable because of the gravel, but the blanket is thick and I settle in next to him while he extracts marijuana from the pouch and begins to roll a joint. When he is finished, and when he is sure I am watching, he puts it in his mouth as if he is sucking on it, and pulls it out with a twist.
He lights the joint and passes it to me. At least this is something I know how to do. I have been smoking marijuana for a long time, at least two years, and I expertly draw on the lit joint. I draw long and hard, the tip flaring, glowing in the dark. I inhale deeply and my lungs fill with smoke, and I pass it back to him. We sit in companionable silence, knees drawn up, close together, alone in our little world. Alone with the stars and the car and the summer night. The marijuana is potent, more so than I expected. My mouth gets very, very dry, and suddenly I am so stoned I'm not even sure that I want to open my mouth to ask for something to drink, sure the words will come out all wrong and that I will sound stupid. So I say nothing, but after a few minutes, he jumps up and gets a six-pack from the back seat, and even though I don't really drink and in fact hate the taste of beer, I gratefully take the can from his hands. I pop the top and drink long and deep. He laughs and says, "Easy does it bunny." But I drink the whole thing, I am so thirsty, so wrecked from the joint.
He looks right at me, his face distorted in the darkness, and when he says, "Whatsa matter, cat got your tongue?" his voice sounds far away. I manage to say, "I'm just really stoned." He replies, "Yeah, it's good shit, man." Then he lies back and whispers, "Far out." A second later he pulls me down to him, but now I don't like kissing him. Now I want the movie to be over, the credits rolling, so I can be home in my bedroom, on the phone with my best friend, telling her all about my big, glamorous adventure. I want her voice to be filled with envy, with awe. I don't want to be strewn across this strange man's body, paranoid and uncomfortable. Now his kisses are not delicate little butterflies, but big and wet and devouring, my face covered in saliva. He presses me so hard against him, my breasts hurt. Then with a little flip I am on my back, the gravel digging into my spine and my shoulder blades as he lowers himself onto me. He begins kneading my breasts and I say, "Ow," but he doesn't hear me. It's as if he's been transported to another world and is not with me anymore. I am no longer his bunny.
His hand roughly grabs my hand and leads it down toward his erection. I rub up and down and he begins to moan, and this really scares me, because the moaning is insistent, driving. I move my hand, and he grabs it hard this time, and keeps it there. Then he pushes my body forward until my head is draped over the edge of the promontory. "Wait, wait," I say, terrified now of falling into the water. I know that the currents here are fast, that the water is deep and cold. He replies, "Then stop fucking around and do what I tell you." "OK," I say, "OK." "That's my girl, that's my bunny," and then he eases me back away from the edge. After a few more sloppy kisses, he unzips my pants and tries to slide them down over my hips, but they're tight, and don't go down easy. He says, his voice rough, "Godamnit, help me." Obediently, I do what he says. I arch my back and slide my pants down around my ankles. I look away from him, not sure when it got ugly, not sure when the romance went out of the night. But I am sure that this is all my fault.
He rubs between my legs until I feel raw and chafed. But I don't make a sound; I barely breathe, sure that if I remain as still as possible nothing bad will happen. His breathing now is ragged, uneven, as he pulls my underwear down. I try to stop him, but he pins my thighs with his knees as he spreads my legs. I struggle briefly but he pushes my head until it is over the edge again, and then I remain perfectly still, like a bird trapped in someone's hands, and then I understand what is going to happen. He stands over me and unzips his pants, pulls them down and then hooks his thumbs into his white jockey shorts and pulls them down, too. I remain still, spread-eagle, naked beneath him. He enters me quickly, forcefully, in one long stroke. "Ow," I say. "Ow, that hurts." "Shhhh, bunny," he says as he enters me now again and again and again, with short, fast, hard strokes. His thrusting has pushed me perilously close to the edge of the promontory, and I concentrate on not falling over.
I am dry, I am a virgin, it is 1975. It's a hot summer night in late July. I am 15 years old, but suddenly I am no longer a virgin. It really doesn't last very long. I keep my head inclined away from him, still dangling off the edge of the promontory. With a gasp and a sigh, he rolls off me, looks down and says, "Shit, bunny, I popped your cherry." Again he gets up, naked from the waist down, and grabs fast-food napkins from the back seat, tenderly placing them between my legs. "Thanks," I say. He replies with an edge, "Anything for my bunny," and then lights a cigarette. I dab the napkins between my legs and, without sitting up, say, "Am I still bleeding?" In response, he looks at me and winks, "You're fine." I place the napkins to my side, I cannot look at them. But now I notice, as I sit up to put on my pants, that the headlights of the Corvette look feline, predatory. He looks over at me, smiles and says, "We should get going." "Sure," I say. He flicks his cigarette into the lake, and I watch it sail out over the water, suspended in midair for a second, and then follow its trajectory until it is doused in the cold, dark waters. Meanwhile, he has gathered up the blankets, has thrown the beer cans into the trash and is impatiently waiting for me behind the wheel of the car. I get in quietly, close the car door without making a sound.
We drive all the way back to the north side of town, and still I do not say a word. He turns on the radio to a loud rock 'n' roll song, his hand thumping the steering wheel during the drum solo. I desperately want to redeem the night from this ugliness; it's the only thing I can think of as we drive. I practice saying things to him in my head, things like, "Well, that was a little rough," or "Next time you should ask," or "I'm really not that kind of girl." But I don't want him to get mad, gun the engine, slap me or never speak to me again. I'm not sure what I fear most. So I say nothing, absolutely nothing, except when we are a few blocks from my house, I quickly blurt, "Right here is good." The car screeches to a halt and I am thrown into the dashboard. He says, "Right here is good for me, too." He leans over and kisses me on the forehead. He says, "Be good." I nod and get out of the car, closing the door behind me. He roars off into the night, home to his wife and children.
I look at my watch and see that the crystal is cracked, but it's still running: 10:30 p.m., right on time to make my curfew. It is painful for me to walk, so I walk slowly. My neighborhood is quiet and deserted, all the kids in bed now sleeping, or watching TV, eating blueberry Popsicles, the juice dripping onto their chins, spilling over their summer cotton pajamas, their stingray bicycles thrown at odd angles on the sidewalk or in driveways, as if stopped in midmotion. At my house, the front porch light is on, but I dread facing my mother. So instead I walk up the driveway and over to our swimming pool in the backyard. I cup my hands, dip them into the cool, blue water and wash my face over and over. Then I walk up to the screen door and holler, "Ma, I'm home. I'm smoking a cigarette on the back porch." She yells back, "OK!" I light a cigarette, sit down and realize that I have never noticed the yellow halo cast from the porch light, and how it's always clouded over by large moths, the blue-gray color of the sky at twilight. And I have never noticed how the swimming pool casts an aquamarine glow onto the side of our garage, or how the trees seem to whisper as the wind passes through them. I have never noticed how quiet it gets out here at night.