The guy I lost my virginity to found me on Facebook a few months ago. I opened my inbox to read, "Is this Teri? If so, hit me back." It was an absurdly casual message, as if he had no idea I associated him with puking from anesthesia in the parking lot of an abortion clinic. The shock I felt when I saw the name Jeffery* in my inbox is a testament to how successful I had been at forgetting everything that happened between us.
I dumped Jeff a few weeks before our sophomore year of high school, because, according to my diary he was "bad" and was suffocating me. I was 14. He was a year older. We had met in homeroom four months earlier, after he transferred to my school from a big city in Florida. He was unlike anyone else in my small town — a skateboarder and punk rocker who special ordered his band T-shirts and baggy jeans out of catalogues I'd never heard of. I was fascinated by him.
Jeff moved back to Florida a few weeks after we broke up and I never saw him again. I also never told him about the pregnancy. I didn't even consider it. There was too much at stake. I come from the rural deep South, where having sex at 14 was just about the most taboo thing I could have done. We were a church-going town — hundreds of kids at my school had signed virginity pacts with God, including me. We punished the girls who'd had sex or even just fooled around by talking about them behind their backs, de-friending them and telling our pastor or their moms. It got much worse than that though: the other girl who had gotten pregnant at our school was sent away to the country (I had no idea where that was, since we lived in the sticks), while her younger sister dodged rumors at school by claiming that the sister was sick.
I never asked Jeff to use condoms, mostly because planning to have sex felt a bit like planning my own exile. Not to mention buying condoms in my town would have easily gotten back to our parents. So, the sex — we liked to imagine — happened spontaneously, accidentally, every time. Afterwards we'd just hope for the best.
When school started that year I was hit with dizzy spells and a positive pregnancy test landed me a trip to the abortion clinic one Friday morning with my mom. We had to drive across the state line to find a doctor who'd do the procedure. The distance ensured that it was kept hush-hush. Afterwards, I stuffed the two photos I had of Jeff in the back of my desk drawer, and went back to school on Monday as if nothing happened. I carried that secret for the rest of high school. If Jeff's name came up, my cheeks would burn and my stomach would fall to the floor. Eventually, I went to the doctor complaining that my throat was closing, only to be diagnosed with panic attacks.
With all those memories in my head, I accepted Jeff's friend request on Facebook and clicked through his pictures. He's an incredible-looking man now, with the same vaguely Italian good looks (he looked really exotic among the Scotch-Irish blood in my town) and intense black eyes that I remember, plus new, enormous biceps and an interest in philosophy and art photography. The site of his face, stunning arms and familiarly nerdy pursuits made me rethink history: Were we good together and driven apart by only the repressive atmosphere of a small town? More importantly, were those four sordid months we spent as kids actually, you know, normal?
It didn't take more than a few messages before we were digging it all up. Jeff wrote, "I had a funny memory today. Do you remember when we went on a walk and found that model home down the road from yours, and it was unlocked?" I did remember. We had snuck inside the house, stepped into the shower stall and — just as his hand went down my pants — a real estate agent walked into the house and busted us.
I have a million memories of the two of us sneaking around, desperately hunting for places to have sex — the various houses under construction in my neighborhood, ditches off back roads where there weren't many cars, on top of the A/C unit behind my house, on a deck chair inside my aunt and uncle's pool house — but until now they've been buried under a landfill of shame. Suddenly, the thought of us locked together on a deck chair in the throws of first-time orgasms seemed sweet. Hot even.
For about two months, Jeff and I became totally engrossed in writing to each other. Every message was longer than the last, more flattering, and more suggestive. I told him he looked like something out of a men-in-uniform pin-up calendar (I like to show my friends his picture of him stretched out on top of a tank reading Nietzsche). He wrote back, "I thought you were the most beautiful girl I had ever seen when we met, and amazingly intelligent. And I still think that after 15 years." When we weren't writing to each other, I was daydreaming about reuniting with him.
I had to revise my fantasies after I found out a few days into our exchanges that Jeff was in the Army, stationed in Iraq until the next summer. The impossibility of our reunion made reconnecting even more like a fairy tale. He told me he was planning to buy a Coachman RV and travel the West Coast when he was released. We decided that I would jump on board for a few cities, and "who knows what'll happen," he wrote.
Jeff wrote to me between his policing duties, which involved going out in four-man teams to track down insurgents and disengage IEDs. If I didn't hear from him for a day or two, I'd worry that he'd been injured or killed. But he always resurfaced unscathed — and, amazingly, with me on his mind.
Over the next few weeks I pieced together what Jeff's life had been like between the time I left him in my driveway to sitting in a bunker in Iraq emailing me. He'd gotten badly into drugs after transferring high schools, went to art school for a bit and dropped out, couch-surfed for a while, traveled the country in a camper, moved to Wyoming and married and divorced a woman who had a child from a previous marriage.
Even though he does not support the war in Iraq, Jeff joined the Army to straighten himself out. It hadn't worked out as planned. His rebellious nature continuously got him into fistfights with his superiors, and then knocked down in rank. The more he told me, the more he still seemed like a romantic, but ultimately self-obsessed bad boy — the kind of guy who conveniently never carries a condom.
When it came to me unearthing my own life with him, there was one glaring omission — the pregnancy. I didn't even consider telling him. Jeff would never be able to understand the maddening and contradictory rules I was expected to follow and the judgment I experienced as a teenage girl in the rural South. If I tried to explain he'd probably tell me to just 'f*ck what people think.' He could not understand what it was like to get morning sickness before school, or what it is like to have your insides vacuumed out by an old, lecherous-looking doctor.
He will never know what it was like to be consumed with anxiety that I was one secret away from being rejected by everyone from my pastor and my grandmother to my best friends. The way I see it, I was given the chance to continue being accepted and loved because of that abortion, to go to college and have a life, and that is not something that I will ever regret or even offer up for discussion.
But by reconnecting with Jeff and remembering our time together so many years ago (I'm 28), I have been able to dust off and put on the mantel the goodness and normality of my first sexual experiences. I now believe that I made the decisions I did because I simply wanted to be touched, loved, and gotten off. And if I'd grown up somewhere where women who have sex aren't treated like lepers, I might have been on a friendlier terms with condoms.
After about three months of writing to Jeff, the thrill of reconnecting started to wear off. Our exchanges trickled down to a message here or there, and our plans to cut across California in an RV fell by the wayside. Then I started dating someone and I no longer needed to rehash distant memories of someone desiring me. I told Jeff that I met someone, and since then his messages have been little more than frigid, one-line responses. I guess he was really serious about that RV trip. I would feel bad for him, but I'm still getting over the ride I went on after the last time the two of us got together.
*Names have been changed.