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loose

BOOK: loose
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L o o s e G i r l

a m e m o i r

o f p r o m i s c u i t y

K

K E R RY

C O H E N

Everything always, now, for E. and G.

“Boys. Yes, boys come next. After the blood come the boys.”

— M a r g a r e t W h i t e

in Stephen King’s
Carrie

Contents

Epigraph iii

Introduction 1

Part One

A House with No Men 5

1

I am eleven the day I begin to understand what…

7

2

Before boys put their soft, eager hands on my skin,…

23

3

Gym is the most embarrassing of high school classes. We…

33

4

It’s late spring of my sophomore year. Amy turns seventeen…

51

5

Losing my virginity changes Amy and me for good. Maybe…

67

6

That summer, my dad rents a house on Fire Island…

85

7

In the fall, I head to college, leaving behind what…

102

Part Two

The Other Side of the Glass Wall 119

8

Where before I felt tentative with Eli, I’m now fervent.

121

9

There is a new boy I like. I see him…

141

10

The first week in Tucson, I’m energized. Leif and I…

168

Part Three
Enough 187

11

In my small studio, I begin my new life without…

189

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Credits

Cover

Copyright

Introduction

In the darkness, he touches me, his long, strong fingers moving across the surface of my skin, his breath hot and real near my ear. He kisses tenderly, my ear, my neck, my mouth. Slides my shirt over my head, the movement choreographed with his breath. Then his fingers on the button of my jeans, the hesitation. Will she let me do this?

he must be wondering. And my wordless answer, a movement of the hips. Yes, yes, always yes. He slips off the jeans, the underwear, and then on top of me, his solid body, the weight of him, his movement, all so real, all so there. It doesn’t matter who he is. There are so many of them. Him. Me. Our movement together. Proof, I think again and again, of being worthwhile. Proof of being loved.

K

i s l e p t w i t h close to forty boys and men before I figured out doing so was not serving me well. There were many more with whom I did other sexual acts, like oral sex and petting. To some this may seem like a lot. Others will think it not very many at all. There are girls with lists much longer than mine. In truth, I don’t really


1 •

L o o s e G i r l

know the length of my list. After twenty-five I lost count. Sometime in my late twenties I tried to name them all, starting with my first, but I found out quickly I had forgotten a host of names. A few I may not have ever known, and for the larger percentage I didn’t know their last names. Still, I sat there, chewing at the end of my pen, the pad of paper before me—Tom? Tim? Oh, wait, then there was that guy with the dog. And the one who kept talking to me during sex, as though we were just hanging out, what was his name? For a man this might be a pleasant trip down memory lane, counting up his conquests. But for a girl, it’s a whole other story. I had let these men inside me, wanting that to make me matter to them. Wanting it to make me matter.

Now they were just cross-outs and question marks. At some point, I gave up, disgusted with myself. I crumpled the paper and threw it away.

This is not a list of which I am proud.

Still, it is a telling of my story.

It is the story of any girl who finds herself hurt in some way, who finds herself with pain and then makes a choice to do something about it. Some girls turn to anorexia. Others to alcohol, drugs, cutting, sports, ambition. I chose promiscuity. I am not the only one by far. One of every three girls has had sex by age sixteen, and two out of three by age eighteen. Statistics for 2003 show slightly more girls than boys have had sex before the age of twenty, and casual sex in high school is near equal for boys and girls. A third of teen girls get pregnant before they turn twenty, and 79 percent of these pregnancies are both unintended and to unmarried teens. The younger a girl is when she has her first intercourse, the more likely it is to have been unwanted or not voluntary. Every year about one in four sexually active teens gets an STD. “Friends with benefits” and “hookups”

are terms in most contemporary teens’ vocabularies. A study released by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation revealed that of fifty-five girls between the ages of eleven and seventeen, only the eleven-year-olds did not mention pressure to


2 •

I n t r o d u c t i o n

have sex as an issue. But if you eavesdrop on girls in middle school, girls as young as ten and eleven, I guarantee you will hear plenty of talk about blow jobs and sex.

What statistics can’t get at are the feelings of uncertainty and confusion that surround a young girl’s sexual behavior. They don’t get at how easy it is for a girl to use sex for attention. A boy once said to me, “Boys have to put forth real effort to get laid, while all you have to do is stand braless in the wind.” It’s true. What’s easier for a girl than to get noticed for her body? Using my sex appeal was de-fault behavior. To not do so would have required more effort. Add to this the fact that I was desperate for attention—any attention—and men’s interest in my body was the easiest avenue to being noticed.

Of course, I confused their base interest with love. I needed to believe it meant something.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t see myself as entirely innocent. My story is also about addiction. Addiction to power, to the attempt to control others through my body. It is about how desperate I was to feel loved, less alone, and how, misguided by all those cultural mixed messages, I tried to fill my need with male attention and sex.

How, as with most addictions, I managed to push most everyone away, foiling my greatest intentions. And finally, how I learned to stop.

So I pull that paper full of scratch marks and questions out of the wastebasket, I smooth it out on my desk, and I begin.


3 •
Part One

A H O U S E

W I T H N O M E N

K

1

I am eleven the day I begin to understand what it means to be a girl, walking into the next town as I often do, on my way to browse at the pet store or the hobby store, to do something with the endless, hot summer days that seem to stretch on and on. A semi truck, slow-ing at an intersection, honks. I look up and see a middle-aged man, thirty-five, maybe forty. He is smiling at me, his eyes on my body, dark stubble on his cheeks and chin. “Hello, there,” he says, and winks. For the first time, I am aware of my green gym shorts, which stop at the top of my thighs. My white T-shirt feels tight against my training bra. I am just a girl, but I could also be a woman. The man’s eyes linger on me, friendly, suggestive. And then he releases the brakes, the truck sighing, and is gone. I stand and watch him go, alert, changed, understanding but not quite understanding.

I think to myself, That was easy.

My father moved out recently, another statistic of the 1980s divorce trend, leaving us in a house with no men, just my mother, older sister Tyler, and me. My mother, grief-stricken and frantic, is busy with need. Her need takes up space—so much space there is no


7 •

L o o s e G i r l

room for my own. Sometimes she does physical things with this need, like laying three tons of bluestone to make a patio or ripping out the carpet on the stairs. But more often, her desire weaves through the house like cobwebs. It takes over the house, inch by dirty inch, until there is no air left to breathe that isn’t filled with her longing. Some days I come home to find her crouched in a fetal position in the kitchen, her cries loud and terrible, while I stand, my hands open at my sides. Her need is ugly and messy, mixed up with mascara tears and groaning, overflowing and seemingly endless. It pushes me outside, away from her, left to wrestle with my loneliness, and with my own desire that has just started its stirrings.

It is around this time, when I am twelve, that Ashley and Liz, my two closest friends from private school, and I make a plan to meet three boys in New York City. Liz knows one of them, Milo, because he is her mother’s friend’s son. She knows Milo’s mother, a single mom, will be out of town on business Saturday night, leaving him in their apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Milo is allowed to have a couple of friends stay the night, as long as they promise not to leave the apartment and as long as their parents know they will be there without adult supervision. Liz is a year older than Ashley and me. She has already been to third base with a boy, letting him touch her down there, and because of her expertise with boys we let her take over. According to Liz, we will each tell our parents we are staying at one another’s houses for the night. Then we will make our way into the city to Milo’s house, where he will wait with two of his friends, Geoff and Dylan.

On Saturday, the three of us get ready at my house.

“Your hair looks good like that,” Ashley says after I use the curling iron.

“Those boys aren’t going to know what hit them.” Liz leans into the mirror, her mouth open as she applies eyeliner. My mother is out with friends, so we are in her bathroom cabinet with her mascara and lipstick and eye shadow.


8 •

A H o u s e w i t h N o M e n

“We’re smokin’,” I say, laughing, following Liz’s lead. Ashley laughs too.

“Move over, Christie Brinkley,” she says.

“Here.” Liz bends past me to wipe Ashley’s eye. “Your eye shadow’s a little smudgy.”

My mother owns tons of makeup: Chanel mascara and eye pencils, Yves Saint Laurent and Estée Lauder lipstick, the tubes lined up in rows like little soldiers. No Bonne Bell or Maybelline here. Liz and Ashley are excited that they get to try such expensive brands.

There are other things too—tools for tweezing and bleaching and cleansing. So much I don’t know about yet when it comes to being a woman. Plenty of mornings I sat on the closed toilet seat and watched my mother stand at this mirror, cleaning, removing, and applying.

It struck me as a lot of work to become presentable, but I liked the busyness of it. I liked the idea that I could use these items and become something better than I was. Now it is me at the mirror, applying blush, sucking in my cheeks like I saw her do so many times. We are giggly as we curl our hair and spray it so it feathers. All three of us wear miniskirts and jean jackets. My skirt is denim, and Liz’s and Ashley’s are black jersey. Liz ties her shirt into a knot so it shows off her stomach. She shows me how to make mine do the same. She does Ashley’s, too, but Ashley undoes hers, uncomfortable showing so much skin.

We catch the 7:25 bus, which takes us onto Route 9. At the George Washington Bridge we take another bus to the Port Authority at 175th. From there we walk down the long, graffiti-filled corri-dor to the C train, which we take to West 86th Street. By the time we get to Milo’s, it is ten o’clock. The streets are busy with Manhattan nightlife. Girls like us, but much older, walk along Columbus Avenue with lit cigarettes and duck into bars. Men laugh loudly. A couple kisses passionately against a building wall, the man’s hand tucked up under the woman’s shirt. My friends and I are excited. We are a part of this night, this passion, this potential for deep feeling.

BOOK: loose
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