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BOOK: loose
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I make friends with the Jennifers’ peripheral friends too, especially Rebecca. We share a sense of humor and a love for pot smoking.

And soon, as spring arrives, I find a boy. Heath, Rebecca’s boyfriend’s friend from another town. Heath is round-faced, funny, and gregarious. He is just OK-looking, but he is one of those people whose personality is so great and his confidence so strong that he is magnetic.

Heath sees me first at a party. Rebecca tells me about it on the phone, excited at the idea of it, her and Jeff, me and Heath. We’ll have so much fun.

Two weeks later, the four of us go together to a party. Heath makes jokes, trying to impress me. He watches me with admiring eyes. On the ride back from the party, people pile into the car, leaving little room, so Heath pulls me down on his lap. He holds his arms around me in a hug. I feel light and breathless. Elated.

The next day he calls me, and the next and the next. He goes on a vacation with his friends to the Bahamas, and he calls from there, too.

“I miss you,” he says.

I grip the phone, letting myself feel this, a boy missing me, wanting to be with me. The truth is I don’t miss him. I barely know him.

We saw each other once since the night of the party. We made out on my bed while Jeff and Rebecca were in the other room. It doesn’t matter. I like the idea of him, of what he will be for me. So I tell him I miss him, too.


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When he comes back he brings me a woven leather bracelet he bought at a stand on the beach. I put it on, loving it without question. It’s proof he thought of me, he likes the idea of me, too.

Finally.

A boyfriend.

We have sex for the first time that night.

When I tell the Jennifers, Jennifer C, the one I connect with the least, the one who frightens me with her harsh, cutting laughter, says, “I appreciate you telling me first, but I’m fine with it.”

I don’t say anything, confused.

“We only went out for like a week.”

“Oh,” I say. “Good.”

She flips her curls back and makes a face.

“He annoyed me pretty quickly.”

I nod, unsure what to say.

“Some stupid comment about how he liked I knew how to drive stick.”

I nod again. He made the same comment to me, except I had liked it. It made me feel sexy and powerful. I didn’t tell her that.

“He says stupid stuff sometimes,” I say.

She laughs, that mean, high-pitched laugh. “If you can stand him, I wish you guys the best.”

I laugh too, hating myself for laughing. Hating I can’t be myself with the Jennifers, I’m so bent on being one of them. This is one of the reasons I like Rebecca so much. She doesn’t care what the Jennifers think about her. If she were in my shoes right now, she would tell Jennifer she likes Heath just as he is.

Rebecca comes over after school and we get high in my bedroom.

I shut the door, but that’s just a courtesy. My father knows I smoke pot. He doesn’t care. Once he even joined me and my friends in the living room as we passed around a joint. He had walked in the front door, and everyone froze. But he just introduced himself, and then


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A H o u s e w i t h N o M e n asked for a hit. When he went into his bedroom afterward, my friends were in awe.

“That’s so cool,” one said.

“My dad would fucking kill me if he saw me smoking pot,” said another.

“And yours smokes with us?” This one shakes his head. “Dude.

That’s awesome.”

I smile and nod, but lately I’m thinking sometimes I’d rather have a dad who would kill me for smoking, who would never smoke with my friends. Having a dad like mine can make me feel out of control and anxious, like I’m standing on a high wire hundreds of feet aboveground. It makes me feel like no one will catch me if I fall.

Heath and I talk on the phone often, and on the weekend he and I get together with Jeff and Rebecca. We laugh and do bong hits and listen to music. We go out for dinner and to the movies. Sometimes, Dad is home and he jokes with us in the living room. One time he even brings out a joint for us to share. Later he tells me how cute Rebecca is, with her long blond hair and her adorable figure. When I tell Rebecca, she jokes I’ll come home one day to find her and my dad in bed doing bong hits.

“Shut up,” I say, laughing. But really, I don’t think it’s funny at all.

Once Rebecca, Jeff, Heath, and I go to a Japanese restaurant where the chef chops and cooks the food on a burner on the table, and Heath is so hysterically funny imitating the guy that I laugh hard enough to choke. At the end of each night together, Heath and I get alone and have sex. We begin to build our own private jokes. Like once, after sex, we go to my kitchen to get water. We are quiet, careful not to wake my dad. He pours the water from the dispenser on the fridge, and then he turns on and off the little light in there.

“Isn’t that cool?” I say. “I love the way that light looks.”

From then on, whenever we go to the kitchen, he says, “Let me get the light,” and he turns on that stupid little light on the refrigerator.


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L o o s e G i r l

Another time, after a great round of sex, he asks me what I’m thinking.

“I’m thinking I just had a fucking religious experience,” I tell him.

From then on, we call sex “going to church.”

I am sure I’ve never been happier.

Only once do I go to Heath’s house, and only after much cajoling from me. I take my sister’s old Honda and arrive in the afternoon after school. I park and ring the doorbell, but no one comes. I listen for footsteps, watch the doorknob, willing it to turn, my heart beating too fast, that old rush of nervousness moving from my feet up my body. The uncertainty. Has he decided he is done with me? A cry makes its way from my stomach to my throat. Then I think I hear something. Talking. I walk down the front steps and listen. Yes!

Heath is talking on the phone! He’s in the backyard! Relief floods me as I see him there, lying on a lounge chair, facing the other way.

“Welcome,” he says when he sees me.

I smile, trying to look nonchalant. Like I wasn’t just on the verge of tears. I want badly for him to kiss me, to hold me in his arms. I want to yell at him. He knew I was coming, why wasn’t he listening for me? How could he let me feel like this? Everything unsteady and angled.

He hangs up the phone, but he still sits there. It’s a nice day, one of the first warm, sunny days of the season. Irises and daisies blossom on the other side of the yard. I know his parents are divorced and he lives with his mother and younger sister. But he doesn’t talk about them. Even that information I had to wrench from him. Many times, I find, I feel like I just did on his doorstep, knocking at the door, waiting for him to let me in.

“Aren’t we going inside?” I ask.

He frowns slightly. “It’s so gorgeous out,” he says.

“I want to see where you live.”

He looks off into the yard where his cat is chasing a flying bug and laughs. “She never catches anything,” he says.


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

“Heath,” I whine.

He looks at me. “Oh, all right.” He stands and I follow him to the back door. He moves slowly, leaning down to greet another cat lounging on the back porch. “We don’t have much money,” he says as he opens the door and steps into the kitchen. “Don’t expect much.”

I laugh. “I don’t care about that.”

He walks me through the small kitchen and den and up stairs that are carpeted with brown shag. “Come on,” he says when I stop to look at pictures of him and his sister as little kids. There’s a hint of anger in his voice. We go up another flight of skinny stairs leading to an attic room. Half of it has a twin bed and fish tank. His clothes are scattered on the floor. The other half has an easel splattered with paint, rags, and a card table covered with tubes of oil paint. He explains his mother paints on one side, but the other is all his. I sit on his bed and smile, wanting him to join me. He’s acting weird and distant. I need him to touch me, to get close, inside me. I need to know he’s still mine. He starts to pick up his clothes from the floor.

“Forget those,” I say. I take off my shirt and dangle it over the floor. “I’m only going to mess it up again.”

He hesitates, but he looks at my chest. I straighten my back a little, pushing out my breasts. I smile again. He drops the clothes on a chair and comes to me. It’s so easy like that sometimes to get what I want. We have sex, using a condom. When it is over we lie together a moment. I bury my nose into his neck, smelling his scent. A car beeps, and Heath jumps up, pulling on his boxers, and looks out the open window.

“Denny,” he yells. “What’s up?”

“We’re going to Riverside,” the friend yells.

“I can’t, dude,” Heath says. He gestures back toward his bed, and me. “I’m busy.” He laughs, and Denny laughs too.

“Ah, OK, dude. I got it.”

I smile, liking this, being the object of Heath and his friend’s attention. Being the one Heath has sex with. When his friend leaves,


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though, Heath doesn’t come back into bed. He starts pulling on his clothes. I get up and do the same, figuring it’s what he wants.

When we get down to the second floor, I ask to use the bathroom.

Heath points to it.

“It’s small,” he says uncomfortably.

I go in and close the door behind me. The bathroom is indeed tiny and cluttered. There’s a brown stain in the sink. But I don’t care about that. Why does he think I care so much? I pee quickly and flush, then run the water and wipe my hands on a damp bath towel.

He’s in his mother’s bedroom when I come out, but when I join him he quickly makes for the stairs again. He waits at the door.

“You better go,” he says. “My mom’s going to be home soon.”

“I’d like to meet your mom.”

He grimaces. “Maybe another time,” he says. “I’ve got a bunch of homework.”

I nod. “OK.”

I wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him.

“I’ll miss you,” I whisper.

He pulls away first. “I’ll catch you later, OK?”

In the car, I try to shake off the feeling he’s going away. His words echo in my head. Maybe another time. There will be another time. He said it himself.

K

s i n c e i c a n ’ t be with Heath as much as I would like, I fill the rest of my time with friends. I go to one of the Jennifers’ houses and do cocaine or we sit in the smoking sections of diners and drink coffee for hours. Jennifer B and I, it turns out, have many of the same interests. We drive together up Route 9W to Nyack, New York, a small, artsy town that has cute little shops full of goods made by local artists. We buy beads and handknit hats. We gossip about people at school. She has a boyfriend too, a cute Filipino boy a grade below us, and we exchange stories from our relationships. She’s been seeing


76 •

A H o u s e w i t h N o M e n her boyfriend for close to a year, so her stories are more dramatic, funnier. They have a lightness to them I can’t get to with Heath, aware as I am of this constant nagging feeling he’s about to end things with me. But I keep this to myself, laughing along with her when I talk about the weird way Heath doesn’t want me lingering in his house.

With all the regular sex I’m having, I start thinking about birth control. Until now, I know, I’ve been lucky. Only once or twice has a guy not initiated the use of a condom, and usually only because there were none around. I am rightfully scared about pregnancy. After one of those condomless nights with someone I barely knew, I was terrified I was pregnant. When my period came a few days late, I promised myself I would never ever do that again. But I did, leading to another pregnancy scare.

I’m afraid of pregnancy, but I’m not really afraid of STDs. I should be. This is the eighties, when AIDS has begun to destroy person after person, taking them down as if with a machine gun. One of my mother’s good friends has been diagnosed as HIV-positive, and another is already dead. But in the eighties, adolescent girls aren’t afraid of such things. AIDS is relegated to gay men and IV drug users. It will be a number of years before females, and then African American teenage girls, become the groups with the highest rate of growing AIDS cases. Being a young girl, I don’t think STDs can touch me. I assume, as many teenagers do, I am impervious to diseases like herpes and chlamydia. Those things just don’t happen to people like me.

I’m more concerned about getting toxic-shock syndrome from tam-pons. Media hype has convinced me this is the thing to worry about.

It’s the pregnancy worry that makes me call my mother one evening. She’s doing her residency now in gynecology in Chicago. She’ll be able to get me what I need.

“The Pill?” she asks when I tell her why I called. “You’re having sex?”

“I have a boyfriend,” I tell her, defensive. I sit cross-legged on my


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bedroom floor. I assumed telling her would be no big deal. She’s the one who pushed all those books—What’s Happening to Me? and Our Bodies, Ourselves—on Tyler and me when we were younger. She’s the one who told Tyler and me, too much actually, that sexual feelings were normal and healthy and even nice.

“I just want you to be careful,” she says.

“That’s why I want the pills.”

“Not just that kind of careful, though,” she says. She hesitates, and I wait, a sick feeling starting in my stomach. “Boys don’t like girls who give it away too easily.”

I set my mouth. “I told you, I have a boyfriend. We’ve been together for over a month.”

But inside, that sick feeling spreads.

She doesn’t say anything.

“Forget it,” I say. “I’ll just go to Planned Parenthood.”

“You should get an exam anyway.”

“To look for diseases?” I ask. I feel like I might cry.

“Everyone should get an exam before going on birth control.”

“I thought my own mother might help me out,” I say.

“I want to help.” Her voice is calm and steady. She’s using the tone she gets when it’s obvious my feelings are growing out of control. It’s patronizing and fake, and it’s one of the reasons I usually hide my feelings from her. “But I would never prescribe pills without an exam.”

BOOK: loose
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