7951929802_8b9e0459d9Photo from Flickr via Andrea Piazza

I was 12 years old, feeling sassy and on my way to my first party with a boy. It wasn’t a date-date, but there I was, with my friend Skippy, walking down my Brooklyn street in a red sleeveless sheath and little black heels, a white sweater over my shoulders. As we moved down the block, mothers leaned out of apartment windows on both sides of the street, waving. Skippy nearly died of embarrassment but I took it as a kind of benediction. I was pleased with myself and my growing breasts, and up for something thrilling and naughty to happen, without knowing exactly what that meant.

At the party, in a large Victorian house two blocks—but, in some respects, many miles—away from our one-bedroom apartment, kids filled the basement rec room. This was the popular crowd, and I wanted very much to belong. I was nervous but eager.

Crinolines shushed and sharkskin pants chafed as we settled into a circle on the linoleum to play Spin the Bottle, Del Shannon and Bobby Rydell providing the beat on the record player. Okay, this is fun. I even enjoyed the quick, off-target kiss one of the boys planted on my untried lips.  I was feeling happy to be here, accepted into this group, and in a place where I could invent myself.

Next up was a game called Seven Minutes in Heaven. We girls wrote our names on little pieces of paper and threw them into a hat. One by one, the boys reached in and plucked a name. As the others waited their turn, the new couple would disappear into the next room and for seven minutes they were on their own. Johnny, the dreamiest dreamboat and the most popular boy, got me. We went into the storage room. He pushed me up against the wall and kissed me with the skill and grace of a sloppy, wet dog. Still, I was delighted. I am actually being kissed! So this is what it feels like. Nice. But then his two palms smashed into my little breasts and started making circles like he was cleaning windows. It hurt. I did not like this anymore; I was scared and confused, but also feeling something good I didn’t quite know how to name. At the same time, it was about wanting to flee, feeling embarrassed that I was behaving wrong, and wishing I didn’t feel either of those things. I started to cry and ran out of the room, forgetting that I would be facing my restless and excited friends, all waiting for their seven minutes.

“Virgin! Virgin!” they taunted, with Johnny, laughing, leading the chant.

I’m a big, fat zero. They won’t want to be my friends. I ran upstairs and got out of the house as fast as I could, crying in humiliation. When I got home, my mother wasn’t there and, possibly for the first time in my life, it was my father who could take me into his arms to comfort and reassure me.

“What is a virgin, anyway, Daddy?” I asked, knowing only that it was not a good thing to be. There, that night, away from the overpowering presence of my mother in the close quarters of our apartment, I felt the peaceful, powerful, unobstructed, utterly encompassing love of my father. I can’t remember our having a chance to be like that again, and I have missed it. Therein lies a much bigger story.

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