She sat beside me in calculus class, and she wasn’t that pretty or anything, but something about her that no writer in the history of the world has ever been able to articulate, except for maybe Duke Miller, inspired my bathroom stall fantasies. Eventually, she picked up on it because during class on the day of my eighteenth birthday she passed me a folded piece of paper that contained a sketch of two people engaged in an atypical act of sexual congress. Just below the sketch, in an elegant cursive, it said: I’m ovulating, so you’ll need some protection. I could feel her eyes on me as my initial surprise putrefied into paranoia. I had never been the object of a girl’s desire. I’d had guys stare at me a little too long in locker rooms, and then there was that time my second cousin took his penis out and asked me to suck it, but I had never been propositioned by a girl. Naturally, I wondered if it was some kind of a set-up. Maybe she was the first female serial killer. Maybe she wanted to get polaroids of me naked and then use them to extort money. But I had no money, and she didn’t strike me as the serial killing type, so I sloughed off my paranoia, wrote when? on the paper and passed it back to her. Lunch was her laconic response.
After class she found me in the corridor and asked me if I did in fact have condoms. Not wanting to appear like the eighteen year old virgin that I was, I told her that I had an entire carton in my locker because I went through them like some men go through ammunition, and for the record, I have no idea where that came from. I’m guessing it was my cloistered version of what I thought a vivacious young woman might want to hear. Fortunately, she laughed. But her eyes weren’t smiling when she laughed, and this made me reconsider my serial killer theory. I was seriously considering backing out of our arrangement, when suddenly she leaned in to my ear and whispered that she had been having dreams of her death for the past six months, and that she had made a bucket list in case the dreams were prophetic, and as it turned out, I was number eleven on her list. I wondered if numbers one through ten contained the names of other boys, as she pulled back from my ear and stood there blinking at me. In between her blinks I saw something in her eyes that will always stay with me. There was an old person inside of her young person’s body. And I think she was ready to die.
I didn’t have any condoms and I didn’t have any money to buy them with, but I wasn’t about to let a trivial shortcoming like that prevent our liaison, so I gave her a kiss on the cheek and told her to meet me by the bleachers at lunchtime, and then I turned and marched directly over to the drug store across from the school, where I took matters quite literally into my own hands, got arrested, and spent the remainder of the school day and part of the evening dealing with the cops and my parents and the unforgiveable sin of having committed theft under five thousand dollars.
For the next two days her seat in calculus class stayed empty, and then on the third day an announcement came over the PA system. Apparently she was crossing the train tracks near her house while listening to music on her Walkman. I hope she was listening to her favourite song.
Sometimes I think she’s always been my first love.
And I’ll never know if she knew it was my birthday.