I guess all relationships are weird. One way or another. I figured out this much: the weirdness comes from people seeing the same things different.
Like Gus thought of himself as my friend. But I hadn’t done or said anything so great to become that good a friend that he’d go to all that trouble for. Usually you have to go through a whole thing with someone about being their friend. Giving hints back and forth, picking up vibes how you think of each other. So you both start thinking at the same time that you’re friends, then good friends, then best friends, without actually talking about it, so no one gets embarrassed. Guys anyhow, maybe chicks are different. But I don’t remember Gus and me ever going through all that. He just started acting like I was his best friend.
Funny I’m even thinking of that now. I kinda forgot how we got there, until now. Sitting here in this, whadya call it, in this grove I guess. These trees and bushes. Sitting here on the ground, telling you all this stuff, and coming out of nowhere with this thing I’d never thought of before.
Petra and I came here, like almost this very place, the first time. After our first time, I mean. First time we balled —
Ah. That isn’t right. Can’t talk about Petra this way. The first time we made love I should say. Though I dunno that’s the right words for it either
My first time and it wasn’t at all like I’d imagined, like I’d fantasized about through all those mixed-up teenage years. Some powerful thing, some conquering kinda thing, that would make me feel all lifted up in the clouds, like in an opera or in a horny story. Nothing like that
It was Petra and me slipping into her room, careful not to wake her roommate Loren on her piece of foam. Everyone in that house slept on chunks of foam, like big yellow sponges scattered on the floor. We’d been talking pretty late at Morley’s and I wasn’t sure Petra and I were gonna do anything besides lay together in the dark for a while, like we’d been doing. I had the feeling we were both on edge about something, like she was mad at me
But in the dark I could make out Petra spreading a white sheet over her foam bed and laying down on it and I got down beside her. Both of us with all our clothes on. After a minute I slid my hand under the back of her sweatshirt and felt the bones up her spine. She didn’t move at all. I couldn’t see her face in the dark, to tell if she was angry at me or what.
She said out of the dark, “I don’t take this lightly, Mark.”
I froze. She went on, “You must know me by now, that I don’t take intimate social relations frivolously.”
Only Petra could talk this way in bed. Intimate social relations. But somehow it didn’t seem strange. Maybe I was just used to her by then. We’d been hanging out together for a month or so. She said, “I’ve thought this over for some time. About us.”
She talked like my fingers weren’t halfway up her back. I mumbled something like “Yeah” and tried to inch my hand out of her shirt without making it obvious.
She was half-whispering. Each sentence was careful and separate like she was thinking hard. “People shouldn’t go around messing up each other’s lives by mixing sex in with everything.”
I waited for the next thought. My horniness was dying fast.
“I try not to do that any more,” she said. “I wasn’t like this a couple of years ago. I used to be quite self-indulgent. But my thinking on social relations has grown with my thinking on everything else. I have to lay this out for you, Mark. We can go on as buddies who talk and help each other without sex confusing it. We haven’t gone too far for that yet. Or we can go ahead and be intimate and then we’ll be something else forever. That’s how it works.”
I didn’t speak.
“I’m sorry if that’s not your idea of a revolutionary,” she said. “The community of women and all that.”
I didn’t know what that meant. But it wasn’t my idea of a lover. It was so strange, this super-serious voice coming out of the dark a few inches from my face. Talking right to my brain like in a dream. A grown woman was going to this effort, in this situation, to talk to me so painfully serious.
I loved it. Her I guess. But all I could think to say was something like don’t worry about it.
“I’m sorry if you’re cursing your luck for knowing me a couple of years too late.”
“I recognize we have built up to this awfully slowly. Are you convinced it’s time for this step? It’s right for us?”
“Yeah.” My voice didn’t come out as convinced as I wanted.
But something musta come through. After a minute she said, “All right,” and she hugged me.
“So can we have intimate social relations now?” I said.
“Yes, Mark, my love.” She was laughing. I put my hand back up her shirt. But she took it away gentle-like. She sat up in the dark and took her clothes off, laying them out on the floor beside the foam. I did the same and she pulled me down on top of her.
She seemed to draw something around us, like a dark cloak, so afterwards I would always feel that what had happened was very private. Not for anyone else in the world. Even telling this much — after all this time — seems sacrilegious or something.
Not that there’s much to tell. My first time and I didn’t really know what I was doing. All the lovemaking scenes I’d seen in movies and read in books, they were no help. None of them had anything to do with being with Petra. Afterwards I wasn’t even sure that we’d gone all the way. I know it seems impossible that I couldn’t be sure but my head was separate from what was happening elsewhere. I guess I wasn’t very good. I really wasn’t sure we’d done the whole thing until afterwards — afterwards when we went walking and she was clinging on my arm like one of us would fall into a pit if she let go.
I didn’t know if she realized it was my first time. My nose might have given me away. We’d done it and were still in bed, we were laying in the dark and I was tasting her kissing me and I was all dreamy and thinking how she tasted warm and wet and salty, when she stopped kissing and pulled her head away.
“You’re bleeding,” she whispered.
“Must be my nose.”
She found her sweatshirt and held it up to my face to staunch the flow. She tried to look at me close without turning the light on which would wake up Loren and she wiped a smear off my chin. She said we should leave some blood on the sheets to prove our union was consummated. That mighta been a joke about me being a virgin. Was I that bad?
She felt for cigarettes in her clothes on the floor. She gave us each one.
“You’re supposed to be quitting,” I said.
“Cutting back. I’m down to one a year. Only after sex.”
We sat on the bed in the dark, using the foil from the pack as an ashtray. Our legs rubbed together as we smoked in silence. It was the best cigarette I’d ever tasted.
Loren on the other side of the room didn’t stir. If she had woken up, she was pretending she hadn’t.
After our smokes we laid down like we were gonna sleep together. But we couldn’t. We kept waking up to squeeze each other. And to kiss. So we squeezed and kissed and got all wide awake and thirsty.
And so we got up and went out for a walk to get a drink. But everything was closed cause it was two o’clock in the morning. So we walked further. Our arms were linked tight and our collars were up against the night breeze. I wasn’t chilly though. Like when I used to walk home from school right after gymnastics practice and my body would be radiating, so I’d be the only person strolling down the street in the middle of winter with mitts off and coat open.
Petra and I stopped at every corner, looked at each other and laughed and kissed and forgot about getting a drink. And we walked halfway around Stanley Park that night and stopped right by here and sat together awhile in the dark. Just like this, like here.
No. That can’t be right. We never came this far. We never crossed the bridge to this side that night. I must be thinking of another time. Another time Petra and me passed by right over there, past the trees on the path over there. Along the water’s edge on that boardwalk thing, watching the lights of the boats floating out there at night. Another night.
I forget where I was going with all this anyhow. Sorry about that. But you gotta take the story as I think of it. Probably already gone past an hour. So one more hour. But that’s it. I can’t go past that for real.
I should take the first tab now. One of the big ones that look like purple aspirin.
But I’m not far enough yet. Just a bit further first so I can be sure of finishing.
So … oh, yeah. We were heading west in a car, me and Gus, with this guy Wesley.