In the fall of 1975, my best friend Trudi was dating the high school basketball star, Mark Covelli. She lost her virginity to him in an upstairs bedroom, and it's a known fact that several of Mark's friends had climbed up a tree to watch her deflowering from an open window. Trudi was a hot-looking girl. We called her Titty instead of Trudi in junior high school because she had been so flat-chested but then, surprisingly, sprouted lush, full breasts in our sophomore year. So lush and so full that she literally caused car accidents when she wore halter tops, short shorts and platform heels.
Trudi was a party girl who loved to smoke grass and hash and drink sloe gin fizzes, whereas Mark was a jock and only occasionally swigged a beer or two. So it was an odd alliance, one not destined to last. After that fateful night they broke up, and I was not surprised. I knew Mark was smart, serious, going places. He was 5-foot-7, muscled, with dark hair, the consummate Midwestern Italian boy. I wanted him. I remembered seeing him walk off the basketball court, removing his jersey to towel off the sweat, and I loved the look of his nipples, like dark pennies on a smooth plane of flesh.
A couple of weeks later, trees turning colors, flocks of geese overhead in the sky, I walked over to my cousin's house for a basement party on a Saturday night. Basement parties were great because they meant no parents hovering around. They meant loud music, vodka secretly mixed with fruit punch, and dark corners for fooling around, swapping spit, French-kissing. And I knew Mark was going to be there. So I walked down the steep incline of Washington Avenue, past the dark green expanse of the golf course, past the forest of trees adjoining it, then past Holy Rosary Church.
And as I walked, I was conscious of the smell of musk oil on my neck and wrists, conscious of my navy blue bell-bottoms swinging around my boots, my fake fur jacket unbuttoned, my small breasts bouncing as I reached the bottom of the hill. Then I turned right on 26th Avenue, walked three blocks and rang the doorbell, which was a series of chimes: bing, bong, bing, bing, bong. My cousin Teddy answered the door with his usual, "Come in, come in. Make yourself homely." I laughed as I was supposed to and followed him downstairs to the basement.
The lights were off except for a lone blue bulb hastily screwed into a flamingo lamp next to a jumbo bag of potato chips and a bowl of French onion dip on a green felt card table. Teddy took my hand and led me over to the washing machine, where a bottle of his father's cherry wine was uncorked, and poured me a glass in an empty jelly jar. As my eyes grew accustomed to the blue darkness, I saw couples embracing: 15- and 16-year-olds wrapped around each other, nearly suffocating. Teddy left to put on Grand Funk Railroad's "Closer to Home," and I lit a cigarette wondering where his parents were; probably playing poker with my parents.
Then suddenly I heard "Hey," and turned around to see Mark. In the darkness, his lips looked bigger than the rest of his face. I said, "I think you should kiss me." And he did. It was awkward, tentative, lips too tightly closed, but sweet. "Mmm ..." he said, and pulled me into his arms. And that was the moment, in that basement, cherry wine staining my lips, smelling the sweat of his neck, his hair, his right foot wrapped around mine, that I knew I would fall in love with him.
He walked me home that night and it was understood that we were already a couple. It was understood that I was his girlfriend, that I needed to ditch my other boyfriend, and I was happy to comply. That was not much of a relationship anyway; Freddy took me behind the garage on Saturday afternoons, French-kissed me, fished around in my panties, and then ignored me. Or we'd drive down to the lake in his vintage Eldorado Cadillac, have a couple of joints, then a hand job, then he'd drive me home. It wasn't a difficult decision. Mark was the kind of boy I could bring home. The kind of boy my mother trusted to baby-sit with me on Saturday nights. The kind of boy who would play basketball with my brothers, teach them magic, help me make popcorn -- the kind of boy that swore he would always love me.
At 16, I didn't need or want anyone else. I told him everything about myself. I didn't leave out a single detail. For the first time in my life, another person knew my life history, convoluted and painful and beautiful as it had been, and he still loved me. We went pretty far in his basement and in mine, but never all the way. There just wasn't the time or the privacy, until we went to the drive-in one Friday night. We agreed in advance that we would "do it." He had a package of Trojans for the big night. I dressed carefully and remember putting perfume not just on my wrists and neck but even between my legs, because I was aware of crossing a threshold. Not only aware, but also eager and even a little bit awed.
I felt shy getting into his father's car that night, a brand-new Javelin, painted bright blue. He bought me flowers and had even procured a small flask of whiskey, which was sweet because he didn't really drink. I sat primly on the passenger side of the car, my legs crossed, a smile across my face as we drove out on the county highway to the Thunderbird Drive-In. We parked way in the back of the lot, completely isolated, and didn't even bother to hook the speakers onto the car window. We started kissing and it wasn't long before the windows were steamed and my pants were off. When he tried to enter me, I was still dry and a little bit afraid, the rubber slipping off, but suddenly glad that I had put perfume between my legs.
He was very patient and loving, kissing me, slipping his fingers up inside me. We were a tangle of adolescent arms and legs and heavy breathing. At one point, I glanced at my face in the rearview mirror and saw that my lips were redder and fuller. I loved him for not pressuring me or blaming me because it just wasn't working. Even though the front seat was lowered as far as it could go, it was still awkward, not to mention cold, and I couldn't relax. He lay back, and I fell into his embrace. Neither one of us was embarrassed or ashamed. We knew we could just keep trying until we got it right. There was no hurry. And that was when the bright beam of light shone into the car.
Mark gallantly rolled over on me, covering my body. He nervously rolled down the window. It was a guard from the Thunderbird Drive-In. The bright light from the flashlight saw everything; we were completely exposed. I don't remember what the guard said to us; I just remember begging him, "Please, oh please, don't tell my mother, please!" When he was finished ogling, he left as abruptly as he arrived. We began to suspect that he wasn't an official guard, merely a voyeur, his job searching out teenagers going at it in the back seats of cars. I'm sure we were an easy and obvious target.
We quickly dressed and drove up closer to the screen, relieved that nothing more was going to happen. Mark got out and came back with hot dogs, popcorn and soda. He hooked up the speakers and we watched the rest of "Enter the Dragon." We were now officially a couple. We had almost gone all the way. We were in love. I nestled into his arms, settled into the leather and wool of his letterman jacket, black and red and maroon, and watched Bruce Lee kick ass and conquer the world.
I liked having a boyfriend, someone who loved me, called me at night, said I was his pulchritudinous girlfriend, and waited for me in the morning on the front steps of our high school. I liked leaning into him in the hallways, giving him an erection. I was jealous of all his ex-girlfriends, especially Jody, who was a cheerleader and had much bigger breasts than mine. I'd see her in the hallway and think, "He sucked on those tits," and it would just tear me up inside. But I never doubted how much he loved me and that was something new in my life. I'd been madly in love with my forever absent father, and doted on my little brothers, but this, of course, was different.
With Mark, I had a solidity in my life I had never known before, tenderness, respect. In my diary, I counted out and marked every anniversary: one month, two months, three months and four days, and I would draw a big heart around these dates, color them with red felt-tip pens. We had our songs -- "Color My World" and "Saturday in the Park." I went shopping with my mother for formal dresses, long filmy gowns with spaghetti straps, satin or silk shawls, low-heeled sparkly sandals. He showed up dressed like a nouveau gangster: wide lapels, a felt hat, polished boots. We were such a pretty couple.
We managed to finally make love on the night of our spring formal. I wore a long, bright blue gown; he pinned an extravagant orchid to my breast. I kissed his cheek. Entering our school gymnasium, with his arm around me, we were the envy of everyone. But we stayed less than an hour. We were anxious to consummate our love, again in the back seat of his father's car, now completely prepared for our tryst. It was equipped with several blankets, pillows, condoms, a destination planned -- the big state park at the edge of the city, less likely to be patrolled by voyeurs, perverts or the police. And with a midnight curfew we had plenty of time, plenty of privacy. There was to be no more shyness or awkward fumbling, no more whispered, "Do you like this?" or "What about this?"
We knew what we liked. We had explored each other's bodies with as much abandonment as is possible with our parents or siblings in the next room, upstairs, or expected home at any moment. At the dance, I saw Trudi, now dating the captain of the football team, wearing a skin-tight gown, her breasts spilling out, catching the eye of every man in the room, including the chaperones'. I pulled her aside and whispered in her ear that I wouldn't be staying long. I was never jealous of Trudi having sex with Mark and in fact was relieved that I wasn't his first lover. At least one of us would know what to do.
Finally, finally, we were alone in the middle of a primeval forest of trees and moonlight. We kept the windows rolled up, the doors locked, but I could still hear the wind, see the bright stars. Finally, finally, I could minutely explore every inch of his ears, his forearms, his fingers, my Italian delicacy. I took my time dipping my tongue in his ear, draping my arms around his shoulders, slowly opening up to him, slowly kissing his lips as his fingers were up inside me, sliding my blue gown down around my hips, easing his dress trousers down around his skinny legs, asking him to keep his socks on, tasting the skin on his calves and thighs.
He put his mouth on my nipples, but reverentially, first the right, then the left, telling me they tasted like strawberries, telling me he loved me while his mouth slid down to my belly, tickling me. I started laughing. His warm breath in my ear, his hands around my waist ... he entered me, finally, finally. I let out a small gasp, and this inflamed him further and he pressed in further until he was completely inside of me. Instinctively, my hips rose again and again to meet his, and then it didn't matter that my legs were scrunched up against the dash, that his left arm was braced against the window, that it was awkward, that our clothes were rumpled, or even that my orchid lay underneath his socks on the floor of the car.
When it was over, when he lay on top of me breathing heavily, he whispered again and again, "I love you, I love you, I love you." That moment became a signifier, an emblem, against which I measured all other intimate moments with all the men that followed. Was there that same warmth, that same ease, that same intimacy? Was or is the man lying next to me as sweet, as funny, as sensitive, as passionate? We closed our eyes and languished in our nakedness, knowing that this was as close to paradise as it gets. The next day there was a picnic at the same park, a group of friends, a bucket of chicken, a bottle of sweet cheap wine, a blanket spread out across the cool grass, the sun high overhead. In his arms, on the blanket, I knew I was home.
Though we stayed together five years, our high school graduation marked the long beginning of the end for us. It became harder and harder to remain faithful. We were both young, good-looking, talented. There was a series of betrayals, lies. Once I knocked on his back door, to be met by his mother, who said he was downstairs with "Mary," his art teacher at the local college. I knew what they were making, and it wasn't art. Once we agreed to a ménage à trois, and didn't speak to each other for a month afterward. I fell in lust with several rock musicians and couldn't resist the lure of sleeping with the lead singer or the drummer, couldn't resist the glamour of snorting cocaine, then having fast, meaningless sex. Again and again, we broke up and got back together. Until finally I moved to Florida, and he to Colorado.
Now, 26 years later, he is one of my dearest and closest friends. He's married and lives in the East Village, but we get together for brunch every Sunday. His presence still calms me down, restores my faith in myself. We talk about our shared past -- we have a bond that can't be broken. He's my first love; we came of age together. I like the fact that he's known me my entire life, that he knew my mother when she was alive, that my brothers consider him their brother because they bonded playing basketball all those years ago. I like the fact that he knew me when I was a girl. I like it when he reminds me of this, because he says he can still see it in my eyes.