“When I was 17, I fell in love for the first time. His name was Dylan. I had first noticed him when he performed the Elvis Costello song ‘Alison’ in the Beaver Country Day School Talent Show. His voice was thin and cracked in places during the song, but something about him up on stage playing the guitar with his eyes shut and his head thrown back got to me in a way nothing ever had before. He rocked along as he played, spastically dancing in a mustard-colored suit that he wore with a skinny black tie. He looked goofy and exposed and I felt like he was singing to me. I approached him afterward and told him I thought he should have won instead of the girl who twirled batons to the Star Wars theme. In a few days, we were going out. And a few months later, I was ready to have sex for the first time.
I drove to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near my home in Belmont. In the waiting room there were a few middle-aged women and some young couples who were holding hands, some married and some not. I took a chair next to a hugely pregnant, crying girl who was a few years younger than me. Her mother sat with her, frowning sternly and ignoring the girl’s whimpering. I wondered what my mother would do if she knew I was here.
My mother wasn’t like other mothers. She didn’t bake cookies or go to PTA meetings; she wore a mink coat and always had a lit Dunhill plugged into her cigarette holder. She had slept with too many men, and some women, and she didn’t like dogs or children. The last time I had confided in her about romance, I’d told her I thought the boy who mowed our lawn was cute. She’d delivered a lecture on 'hot-blooded Latin types’ and the next week seduced the lawn boy in our backyard pup tent. He never came back.
Despite my mother’s long history of promiscuity, I had very little actual knowledge of what happened between men and women, and I was grateful to have access to someone who could help me. When I heard my name called, I followed the nurse down the hallway to a small examination room.
I sat on the padded table in a paper dress waiting for the doctor to come in. I had left my socks on because I was cold. I stared at the brightly colored oven mitts with a kitty-cat pattern on them that covered the stirrups at the opposite end of the table. I wondered if the oven mitts were meant to keep the stirrups warm or to help catch a flying baby. On one wall was a large medical drawing of the female reproductive system with everything labeled in large red letters, as if issuing a warning: Danger, Uterus Ahead! On the other wall was a travel poster advertising the Swiss Alps. I pondered the possible connection between the vagina and all that snow and ice. Would losing my virginity be exciting like being transported to the top of the highest mountain, or would I be frigid, feel nothing, and wish I’d stayed home? There were no magazines to look at in the room, so I bit my fingernails while I worried and waited.”
Read the rest of Wendy Lawless’s original essay on the Powell’s Blog.