FOUR years FOUR months + ONE year TEN months
If it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads,
then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.
–Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
I feel like I’m within the home stretch of a pregnancy; my due date is near, but the guaranteed accuracy is up in the air.
Our move-in date is September 1st. There’s a good chance we’ll be in our new house a few days sooner, but I’m also very aware that things could go backwards, and something can delay the process. What’s left to complete is out of our control, and no matter how many times we visit the property or plan out pretend cautionary scenarios, we must be steady and patient and trust.
Everything has been coming together––all the faucets and light fixtures and flooring have all somehow blended into an aesthetic that looks like mine. And since we last spoke, the house has finally been painted black, and I love the (daring) color I chose. When we pulled up to see it finished for the first time, Everett was astonished, repeating, “Oh wow wow wow! I love this house!” And when he walked around the side to the front door, he screamed with excitement, telling me to come look––that he found an orange door.
I know orange and black sound like a combination for a clown house, but the exterior door color isn’t a Halloween-hue. When debating between two orange shades, I was scrolling through Facebook, and happened to come across a picture of a front door someone professionally painted, in a color called “Spicy Hue.” That was the sample I had just finalized with my painter.
Do you know how many variations of orange there are? So seeing that little sign, was all the confirmation I needed to stick with my decision. And I’m relieved I did, because it now looks like a home where I’m thrilled to live. I’m already imagining wildflowers planted around its perimeter, and the new green grass and a fence and all the life that will soon thrive there: the plants and animals and babies yet to be.
My girlfriend Kayla recently held an outdoor gathering to celebrate her upcoming wedding in October. The shower theme was “she found her main squeeze,” with centerpieces filled with flowers and lemons; it was simple and summer and her.
This was the first party I went to since Covid-19 changed the world, so I was skeptical of seeing so many people and wearing makeup and clothes that weren’t categorized as pajamas. But as strange as it was to be out, socializing felt familiar and normal––at times I forgot a pandemic was amongst us, until someone coughed or I saw yet another bottle of hand sanitizer.
As things were winding down, Kayla had everyone gather and “get close together.” I thought, “Has she forgotten the six feet rule?” And then a video began playing on a little TV screen: it was professional footage from their secret, intimate wedding, held the night before, on the shores of a Pittsburgh river.
Every woman was crying. And she, in her true fashion, said, “That’s right bitches! I’m married!” while pointing to her newly banded ring finger.
I was so relieved she was able to say her vows and become a wife and begin her life. It was evident to our entire group of high school friends, how happy she was––how she made the best out of a complicated and challenging situation…how she took some lemons and made her own kind of lemonade.
In middle school, Kayla and I both got promise rings, and were determined to remain virgins until we got married. I really don’t know what made us do this, but we were both hopeless romantics, watching The Notebook and Titanic at every sleepover.
While I didn’t last until marriage, I came somewhat close. God, it’s so strange I’ve never talked to you about all this before! I can feel my armpits beginning to sweat at just the thought of it.
The first “encounter” I ever had was with a boy from Duquense. We had a strong and strange attraction for one another, and as Freshman year progressed, we became flirty friends. Thanks to the grace of fake I.D.’s and a South Side bar, we walked back to the dorm rooms together one night, drunk and dazed and planning to change my known virgin status.
It lasted for maybe three seconds, and I remember looking at the green digital digits on his mini microwave and thinking of you, then immediately stopping what had just started.
I felt so guilty. Will mom be ashamed of me?
The next morning, I permanently stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, trying to convince myself that I was still the same person. I had on a teal Life Is Good tee. My hair was darker back then. And as I washed my hands, I leaned my head in towards the glass, looking directly into my green eyes, until a girl burst through the communal door, and I was shocked out of my stupor.
That night was enough for me to know who I wanted my “real” first time to be with: Tyler. And I’m going to use his name––I never did in the book because I was scared or felt like it was weird or disrespectful or a handful of all that, but he was real. I don’t have to pretend like he wasn’t, especially now that I’m married or don’t know who he is anymore.
So while home on winter break, he and I were at the same New Year’s Eve party, and I knew it would happen.
These were the years when you drank liquor until you quite literally passed out, so I can only think back to a few details. I was at my friend Peter’s house, and can recall the layout of his basement and that he had pet turtles. And I remember getting into a car with Tyler, both he and I knowing that we were being driven to his parent’s house, which happened to be right up the road. I have one memory of being within that car, of seeing the outside scenery in the dark of night, and then everything else went black.
I woke up the next morning, naked in his bed. He said we had sex and I had no reason not to believe him. I’m making it sound wrong, like I was taken advantage of and left to be. But I had known him since I was twelve. I had liked him since that age. His name had filled my journals for those past seven years. He wasn’t a stranger. I loved him.
But I don’t remember. I don’t remember “my first time.” I want to believe it never happened, because it feels so withered and wasted, especially considering how l’d prided myself in “staying pure,” for every prior tempted opportunity.
I assume that night counts as losing my virginity…does it?
And yet this was another experience that fueled the idea to wait for sex. To really wait. And so I did.
Two years later, when I was twenty, I met Chris. And when I think of having sex, he was absolutely my first. There weren’t candles or all the romantic details I used to imagine as a young girl. I just remember him, being so nervous and us drinking a gallon of Yellow-Tail before we could touch each other.
So with a wine-filled mind and after nine years time, I really just remember my Ikea twin bed, my brown flannel sheets, and wanting him. And finally knowing it was right and it was okay.
I’m making myself sound like a loose cannon, telling tales of some-what sex, mixed with copious amounts of alcohol and losing consciousness.
But if my daughter were to grow up and do exactly what I did and think how I thought about intimacy, I’d be proud of her. I’d be really proud.
So what will I tell her when she asks how old I was when I had sex? Will I tell her her father was my first? Or will I explain that I was once eighteen and so helplessly in-love that I set aside control and just allowed “things” to happen on a New Year’s night?
Because I once asked you. I was in ninth grade. You were making your bed, and I stood in the doorway like a stiff statue, collecting the courage to question, “Was Dad the first person you had sex with?” And you shot your eyes in my direction, as you finished folding the comforter.
You answered with a stern yes. And immediately snapped, “Why? Are you thinking about having sex?”
I got pissed at your tone. Even though I wasn’t even old enough to have a driver’s permit, I believed I was in love with Tyler. And the way you said “you,” made it sound like I had no right to even be thinking about intimacy. Which perhaps I didn’t, but I was methodically thinking about things back then, growing in a foundation that knew my body was special and sacred.
“Well, what about Brian?” I asked. You looked shocked, surprised I spoke the name.
I only knew about him because I had read the letters you kept, tucked away in a keepsake box. And based off their language, I didn’t doubt you were physical together. But you denied it––maybe truthfully, I’ll never know.
I didn’t ask if you loved him. I didn’t ask if you ever loved anyone before Dad. A part of me knows you would’ve ignored acknowledging men prior to him, because Dad was your life. And there was no reason to look beyond that.
But I recently went through some of those letters again, and it seems you did love Brian. At least you wrote it on paper, in your familiar cursive lettering. And I finally don’t feel embarrassed or like the pathetic exception, for loving before my marriage. Because you did, too.
I don’t know. Maybe in another life, he and I got it right. And our lives just collided too young. And burst into a mess that marked me and made me so absolutely sure of the man I wanted to marry: Chris.
I’ve heard women say, “I knew from the moment I saw him, he was the one.” I didn’t have that instant feeling with Chris. But on our first date, when we walked into Murray Avenue Grill and the hostess asked for the name under the reservation, I answered, “Pearlman,” in a way that sounded like it’d been mine all my life. Chris was tucked behind me, probably choking on air, but as we began walking toward our table, casted in moody bar lighting, I imagined what it would be like to be his wife and have his name.
And immediately, I felt safe and taken care of.
I don’t why all this came out; I thought this entry would be more about the new house and the upcoming move. But the keyboard just kept tapping and I didn’t stop. Every time I looked at my computer’s clock, the numbers were telling me to keep going: 1:11, 1:23, 2:22, 2:34. And later in the day, I kid you not, I saw 3:33, 4:44, and 5:55.
Even though it feels a bit strange and private to be posting these stories, I feel encouraged, for whatever reasons and by whatever force, to just get it all out there.
Because I won’t keep these experiences from Marion. I’m not trying to be her bestie and blur the lines between a parent and a friend. But I want her to trust her mother’s words and heart and know that it’s okay to love and for things to turn out different and perhaps better than you once imagined.
And somehow, you did that for me, even without the talks. You kept your heart so surfaced––so hidden from me, but I know there must’ve been deeper depths.
We all have them––every woman does. And it’s time I don’t feel ashamed of mine anymore, because there really are as many types of love as there are hearts.
The next time we talk, our Garden Terrace house will have been packed and moved and puzzled into Shagbark (that’s the name of our new private road, ha).
And I cannot wait to tell you all about it.