Two nights before the end of Christmas break, I ran into Bonnie McCorkle, my high school girlfriend, at the Black Cat. We bought each other beers, played a clumsy game of darts, and somewhere into her third beer, Bonnie got weepy. College was a bummer, she said. It was senior year, and she had yet to find her people. The only Christians there were nice, she told me, but Korean and Filipino, and mostly majoring in STEM subjects. That surprised me. If you subscribed to Bonnie’s brand of Christianity, it seemed like you should pick a different major. But it was hard to imagine what, exactly. I could understand why college might be challenging for Bonnie, in a way that high school wasn’t. She’d cheered and sang in chorus and been in student government. Her piety hadn’t been a problem then, not a social problem anyway, not a problem for anyone besides me.
Because of Bonnie, I hadn’t had sex until I got to college.
It felt awkward and vindicating both, to see Bonnie McCorkle wipe away tears and wax nostalgic about us. She hadn’t met anyone she connected with, she said, and over the next hour, that “anyone” got more pointed and male-specific. I gathered her virginity, such a fetishized thing when I had known her, something proudly and literally brandished (she’d worn one of those obnoxious saving herself rings) had now become how so many others, including myself, had regarded our virginity: cumbersome, something to divest.
So I went home with Bonnie. Over winter break, she was staying at the in-law apartment over her parents’ garage. Which of course was more private, but there was a part of me that regretted not having sex with her on that princess bed of hers, painted sky blue, in her childhood room, now converted to a sewing and Pilates room. That bed had been the site of so much teenage angst.
Afterwards, I took off. I didn’t want to cuddle, to pretend something significant had taken place.
In the morning Bonnie texted me. “That was so fun seeing you Danny! J Can we hang out today?” I texted back: “Srry busy.” Of course I could have said something else, something that was even true—it was my last day home, I had promised my mother I’d go shopping with her for an eight-foot ladder. I could have been kinder, I mean, but I chose not to be.
Initially, that felt good. I’d achieved what I hadn’t gotten to experience last night, once diverted to the garage apartment—setting the past right, correcting a power imbalance that had been frustrating, though tolerable, at the time, but had rankled afterwards, a bottled sauce gone sour.
But in short order, I started feeling shitty. Bonnie’s text kind of broke my heart—that chipper smiley face, that careful adjective “fun.” I could picture Bonnie taking her time composing it, shooting for a jaunty, cavalier tone. Shooting for and missing it, like the prior night’s wayward game of darts.
When I got my wisdom teeth out senior year, Bonnie had made me toffee pudding from scratch, some complicated Joy of Cooking recipe. She sat on my bed and spoon-fed me. I would never let my current girlfriend Emma see me looking like that, my face all fucked up, my cheeks swollen and bruised.
I’d met Emma in my Modern Art class. She had money and knew a lot of things I was trying to catch up on, not just about art but alternative music, Middle Eastern cuisine, French New Wave, backpacking through Europe. Being with her involved a different kind of pressure.
I felt sad, suddenly, not for Bonnie McCorkle but for myself, the seventeen-year-old me who had loved her, maybe with questionable judgment. It seemed to me that I’d been more ridiculous then, but also a better person; that aging was not, as I’d anticipated, a steady climb to prettier views; and that I’d betrayed not Bonnie McCorkle or even Emma, so much as my own formerly resilient self.