(This was performed live at the "Stories with a Spine" events at Z-Bar in Berlin. The topic for the night was "Be still my beating heart" and it echoes some of the themes of my previous post.)
When I was seventeen years old, at New Year’s eve, I held hands with a boy. I had broken up with my boyfriend some months before and was ready for a new romance. The guy had made me laugh all evening, but then, when he took my hand to go outside and look at the fireworks, I felt awkward and I wished he’d let me go again. And he did. No hearts were broken. However, it would be another 11 years until I would hold another guy’s hand again. It would be another 16 years until I had sex again. Yes, Berlin. No sex for 16 years. There was a short relationship at the 11 year mark. The first boy I kissed in 11 years. But no sex. I did a couple weird things when I was younger. Like having an obsession with The Doors without ever even smoking so much as a joint. Or shoplifting make-up obsessively because I genuinely felt it was a societal injustice that we had so little money with my dad being a small town Baptist pastor and all. So yes, I was raised in a good Christian home, but I still lost my virginity at 16. Coz the only thing less enjoyable than being a virgin, is having unskilled, clueless, missionary-style-only sex with a guy who played the violin with me in orchestra. Because that’s where the cool people at our school hung out. And I thought—a terrible sexual experience?—I wouldn’t want to miss out on that! But then he went off to the military and I started listening to Radiohead and somehow it wasn’t a good fit anymore. You see the truly wonderful thing about unfulfilled sex is that you just don’t miss it as much when you end up not having it for 16 years. Another great thing about no sex is that you get 16 years of good long hours of sleep, because you sleep alone and in your own bed. It means 16 years of no pregnancy scares, or dealing with stupid condoms, or the morning after pill. No forced blow jobs. Basically 16 years of total bliss. No?
Well, it wasn’t just the reasons above that helped me not have sex. It was mostly Jesus that helped me not have sex. He is very good at helping people not have sex. I don’t want to make him sound like a cock blocker because that would have horrified me back then. But he was in all honesty a substitute boyfriend for me. And did you know that praying and mediation releases as much oxytocin as real human contact? So yeah, I guess Jesus was my boyfriend. We hung out and talked. He listened to me and made me feel loved and helped me more patient and caring. And often I fell in love with real men, too. But I never ‘made love’. Now I’m not going to tell you about the first time I had sex again after 16 years, which is more like an edgy little party story at this point. I’m going to tell you about the time I held hands with a man again after 11 years. Because what that means is that no man touched me for 11 years, or hugged me or kissed me, and that is a little more uncomfortable and vulnerable for me to talk about.
I was alone in Mexico. Because that’s how the best stories always start. I was visiting my friend Katie, who had sold all her belongings and driven herself over the mexican border to Reynosa and its infamous Boystown, a walled-in red light district run my the mafia. She had a deep faith and had moved there to be with the prostitures and be their friend and get them vitamins and pray with them when their meth addictions were making them crazy and they were missing their families back home. I was checking out Reynosa to figure out if I too wanted to move there. But instead of hanging out with Mexicans, I was surrounded my conservative American relief workers, all Christians, who were building shelters and clinics. It was not my crowd and I felt the trip was a little bit of a waste. But then, there was Bryan. And Bryan was not even that good-looking, but he made me laugh, he had a dirty kind of chuckle and one evening he played the guitar and sang and my heart crashed to the floor. Because of course he was from Nashville. But then his week in Reynosa was up and he had to fly back to country music city and I was about to fly back to Germany. He was just charming and funny and cheeky enough to ask me if I wanted to fly up to Nashville before going back home. He would pay for the ticket. And because I was a little disappointed with my WASPy Mexico trip and because Katie had just found the love of her life a couple of weeks ago and because I was in Mexico — I said yes. As if this was exactly the kind of thing my adventurous single lady heart would do.
And so I flew up to Nashville and Bryan met me at the airport and in the three days in between I had forgotten that he wasn’t that attractive, which made the reunion a little disappointing. He showed me his little house, with no bathroom because he was in the middle of remodeling, just a toilet. And he took me on my first date in 11 years and told me how he had donated his kidney to his brother who was now not even speaking to him anymore. All the stuff that truly wins a girl’s heart. But that night, we didn't touch and slept in separate bedrooms.
The second day, we went to see a waterfall and watched the sun set over the mountain range and the sunset scared shit out of me because it puts a lot of pressure on humans to do something romantic. But I didn't want to do anything romantic yet. So it was a pretty annoying sunset. And in the car ride home I told Bryan that I really didn’t want to do sunsetty kinds of things. And he just laughed his dirty kind of chuckle and let me have my reservations. We ate cornflakes for dinner because that’s all this bachelor had in the house and watched “I Heart Huckabee”. He was sitting at the reclining end of the sofa and I was lying with my head next to his hips, careful not to touch him. And at some point while Mark Wallberg was questioning the meaning of life, Bryan reached over and took my 29-year old hand with his hand— and I could barely BREATHE. He gently massaged it, every finger and then the palm. It was so overwhelming. Just the warmth of his skin and my skin. All that real-human-oxytocin. And after the film was done, the song of the DVD menu kept playing for another two hours and I laid there, facing the TV, and Bryan, also facing the TV, was gently caressing my hand. And every now and then, I would turn around and look at him, but I couldn’t even hold his gaze. It was too intense. And then when we were finally tired, I kissed his hand and told the hand thank you for being so kind. And then I went upstairs because there was no way in hell I could have handled more than the touch of one body part for the night. And I slept beautifully.
And then, on the third day, we french kissed! And it was better than all the bad sex I had had 11 years before.