Over Christmas break in 1986, I was laying on my bedroom floor, listening to New Order’s “Shellshock,” and sobbing. Heaving melodramatic sobs. The kind that prompted my sister Jeanne to yell “Stop being so dramatic!” I felt my sobs were warranted as my boyfriend Daniel had just informed me that he was in love with someone else. I was bereft of all hope for future love in my life.
Dan had come into my life about a year earlier, at a Mount Saint Mary dance. I went to the one public high school in Nashua, NH but there were two private parochial high schools, Mount Saint Mary for girls and Bishop Guertin for boys. They held monthly dances and opened them to the public kids. When I was in middle school, my father made up a fight song for the Mount and marched around the house, swinging his arms and singing it at the top of his lungs. He desperately wanted me at an all-girls school. We could have never afforded a private education but looking back, I see that he wanted more for me than I had imagined. In the least, he believed that attending the Mount might have slowed my inevitable trajectory toward equating self-worth with how many boys wanted to kiss me.
I’d seen Dan once or twice before, at my friend Lisa’s house when her older brother threw parties. I recall her saying, “Don’t bother. He’s a senior and he’s got a girlfriend.” This information did not deter me. I fell in love with Dan before ever talking to him. He looked like a mix between Bono and Simon LeBon and Sting. Basically hot all over. At the time, I was finishing ninth grade, about to start high school, and a virgin. The tainted kind. I’d done ‘everything but’ on a dare with a neighborhood boy and couldn’t wait to have sex, preferably with Mr. Hot All Over. I wore tight cropped shirts and supremely short shorts and used Jolen creme bleach to be Debbie Harry blonde.
The night we finally connected, I’d smoked too much pot at the adjoining park earlier in the evening, so was spending the last minutes of the dance in the girls’ bathroom, still riding waves of paranoia. What was actually in that bag of shake we smoked? Maybe it was laced with something. I think the cops are going to find me and test my THC level. Wow, I could really use an ice cream sundae. Lisa came in to tell me that she and her brother were leaving, and did I need a ride? I’m not sure what bravery pushed me out of that stall but I power walked across the gym floor, fists moving a hip-to-nip fashion, eyes darting across the landscape of awkward teenagers. When I spotted Dan, his smile caught me off guard so I paused, mid-walk, and felt the clammy sweat I’d been holding in my hands. He walked toward me, while I stayed paralyzed, and asked me to dance. I unclenched and we held each other as closely as teenagers can while being hawk-eyed by chaperones through the last (and best) two minutes of “Stairway to Heaven.”
We spent that entire summer making out. Everywhere. Dan had a little gold Toyota Tercel and we would drive from my house to the church a block away, park in the lot, and rub against each other until the windows fogged and our skin burned. Eventually, though, Dan went off to college and we attempted a long-distance love affair. With no sex. I knew I had to up my game to compete with those girls in college. I believe I referred to them as skanks at the time. So, while he was home for a long weekend in October and his parents were away, we had a party and I lost my virginity. Up until it was over, I thought we were having the most romantic evening. Dan and I were laying on the old, brown plaid, scratchy couch in the Ayotte’s living room, watching MTV broadcast the Police’s Synchronicity concert. A box of Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler sat on the end table, along with a pack of cigarettes and a pack of Hubba Bubba. Our other friends had gone upstairs to explore empty bedrooms, so we had the place to ourselves. When it became clear we were going to have sex, ie the dry humping became too painful and was boring a hole in Dan’s pants, there was no conversation around protection against pregnancy or STDs because I assumed we were both virgins. Yet another painfully naive moment in my existence. Along with the actual sex, which hurt like hell but I convinced myself it was supposed to feel that way. The pleasure with the pain. Turns out Dan was enormously well-endowed, which I only know now that I’ve had a very fair share of partners. When it was over, I began removing a small leather strip I’d had tied around my wrist. It was a ‘virgin bracelet’ that a few of my girlfriends and I were wearing. When we popped our cherry, we were to remove the string ceremoniously and breathe a sigh of relief. But Dan wasn’t having it. He tied it back on my wrist and told me not to tell anyone, because he was 18 and I was 15. Damn those barbaric age of consent laws. He was, and I believe is still, one of the kindest hearted people I’d ever met.
We spent the next few months seeing each in his dorm room an hour away or when he was home for a weekend. And we were madly in love. I have old phone bills with hours of long distance minutes and letters saying I love you to prove it. I trusted him. He called me Pookie, for god’s sake. And held my hand in public. And told me he missed me. But apparently, he was also sharing these feel-goods, in person, with a girl at school named Wendy.
She was short and mousey, and had a pseudo-punk short haircut. I’d met her a few times when I visited and didn’t think much of her. She was just a girl at my boyfriend’s college and like I mentioned, I was naive. She seemed boring and I was… well, I wasn’t cool per se, but at least I wasn’t like everyone else. My new fashion sense was more like a cross between Molly Ringwald’s in Pretty in Pink and Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. I began wearing my father’s old trench coat (or his Army reserves jacket when he wasn’t home to yell at me for taking it,) white t-shirts with the neck cut out, a mini-skirt of some sort, a set of black nylons that I had ever so carefully nicked a thousand times so they would run just so. And knock-off Doc Maarten boots. And black lipstick, of course. My friends, come to think of it, looked just like me, save for an occasional mohawk or bleached blond tail. We were so busy drowning our teenage sorrows with the likes of Morrissey that we didn’t care what anyone thought. That was the point, of course, not caring what anyone thinks. Don’t care, hard. But truth was, I cared desperately. I wanted to be Siouxsie from the Banshees, Suzanne from the Bangles, and Suzanne as in Vega. I wanted to be a hot chick rock star as a teenager, but I was too busy wondering how to keep a boyfriend to actually open my mouth, sing a few notes, and be heard.
The night of the breakup, my best friend Sheelu came over, picked me up off the bedroom floor, dragged me to Rockit Records, and smoked Marlboro Lights with me until we were nauseous. Sheelu was the skate-Betty, Ska-Indian version of me – ripped jeans, big t-shirts, leather and chain bracelets, and a mouth on her that would make my sailor Uncle take pause. Though I’d had my heartbroken and couldn’t see how I’d ever (EVER) love again, Sheelu told me every truth and lie I needed to hear in that moment. That we were young, that we had enough time, that there was more love in the world, and jokingly, that Dan was just one boy in a sea of men that would be my life one day.