“You don’t know how much better it gets, babe.”
by Eleanor Kriseman
If you Google the man I lost my virginity to, you will find five mug shots, spanning nine years. In the first one, his hair is dyed blonde and he is giving the camera a smirk, one eyebrow raised. His weight is listed as 164 pounds. His charge: DUI W PROPERTY DAMAGE OR INJURY, AND LEAVING THE SCENE OF A CRASH. I was eleven when this picture was taken. In the most recent one, nine years later, he looks bloated, unkempt. His hair is long and his weight is listed as 190 pounds. The charge: DUI W PROPERTY DAMAGE. When I was thirteen, he was arrested for BATTERY (DOMESTIC VIOLENCE). When I was fifteen, he was arrested for DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE. When I was nineteen, he was arrested for BATTERY (DOMESTIC VIOLENCE).
I did not know any of this then, though my judgment was so poor at the time that it might not have even deterred me. This was what I did know: he worked full-time as a dishwasher at the pizza restaurant where I answered phones after school and on the weekends. He didn’t have a car. He had a girlfriend whose eyebrows were tattooed on and gave me nasty looks every time she came to pick him up. He gave me a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and a card on Valentine’s Day with the message “Your pretty” scrawled on the inside. He was the first guy to call me pretty in months. It didn’t matter how he told me.
So for three weeks we sat in my car in the Panera parking lot every night after work and I let him put his hands underneath my shirt and down my pants. The morning before I left for a college visit, I lost my virginity on the futon mattress in his girlfriend’s spare room. The mattress was made of the same patterned fabric as the duvet covers on the twin beds in my grandmother’s beach condo. Years ago, in a room that existed two hours away, I had slept underneath that same garish pattern I now lay naked on.
“You don’t know how much better it gets, babe,” he said afterwards. He was right about that, at least.
“There’s nothing like the d,” C’s mom said. She was driving us somewhere. We were fourteen. “Mom!” C shrieked. C’s mom was going fast down Westshore and she was taking us to the mall. Or she was picking us up from the mall. Moms were always taking us to the mall and picking us up from the mall. “I mean it,” she said, turning away from the road to look back at us. “You’ll know what I mean soon.”
We met the boys at the taco place where you ordered from the counter and ate at the picnic tables in the patchy grass. The taco place moved to a bigger location years later, then closed for good. I can’t remember any of the boys’ names, or their faces. What I remember is desire, bare arms, armpit hair, black jeans, tight. All of us biting our lips, squinting our eyes at the brightness. Sun still pounding down hard at six in the evening because it was summer and it was Florida. I let my friends do most of the talking and tried to fill in the gaps, but I was never fast enough. One of the boys uncapped a water bottle, topped off his soda with vodka. I shot out my hand before he could touch my cup. “I’m driving,” I said. I was sixteen.
He shrugged. “Lighten up.”
I silenced the voice in my head and shrugged my own shoulders. I could be cool, too. “Yeah,” I said, “actually, I love vodka.” He tilted the water bottle over my soda. It disappeared into the deep brown, settled around the ice. I put my straw to my mouth.
I made the drive home from C’s after parties so many times I could have done it in my sleep. But mostly I did it hungover, hair matted on one side from passing out on the couch, eyes bloodshot and smeared in the creases with the remnants of Maybelline Great Lash Mascara, the one with the pink bottle and the green cap, the one everybody used even though it was kind of clumpy and caked your lashes together.
After C got her license, we’d ride to the thrift store after school in her Cabrio with the busted sound system, a boombox perched on your lap that skipped with each bump in the road. Later, a woman ran a red light and crashed into the passenger side, totaling the car. C’s father, under whose name the car’s title was registered, spent the insurance money on alcohol and oxycodone.
The man who was my first kiss seduced me through Myspace messages almost ten years ago. He recently bought a house with his fiancée.
We went to see Radiohead on a school night and ran into our teacher and his wife, stoned out of their mind. Our class period was dedicated to silent reading the next day.
On the first day of tenth grade, he’d played the Flaming Lips for us and asked us to write how the music made us feel. To this day I cannot hear a song from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots without thinking of him. We all thought he was cool. This was because he gave a shit by not giving a shit. What I mean by that is that he treated us like adults. If we didn’t want to do our work, fine. If we didn’t want to show up for class, fine. He wouldn’t stop us. “Nobody can make you do anything,” he said. “You’ll learn in time.”
Years later, I went back to my high school to visit him, still nursing the remnants of a futile high school crush. I was a good ten years older than some of the students I passed in the hallway. He was no longer thin as a rail, and his hair was turning from dark brown to grey. He had two framed pictures on his desk, one of each of his young daughters. “I’ve been teaching for fourteen years now,” he said. He motioned at the empty desks in front of him. “I can’t be the cool young teacher anymore. I’m twice their age.”
In retrospect, there were red flags everywhere around the man I lost my virginity to, if I’d decided to pay attention, if I hadn’t zeroed in on that grammatically incorrect compliment on my appearance and ignored all else. We made out in my car because he didn’t have one. His girlfriend drove him to work because his license had been revoked. I waited around all Saturday for him to call, only to find out at work on Sunday that his girlfriend had broken his phone in two when she saw a text message from me.
As I unwrapped a condom from the box in his girlfriend’s bedroom, I felt a bump on the otherwise smooth surface of the wrapper. It was a pinprick. He dug through the box. She’d poked holes through every single one of them. So it was me who drove to CVS, me who laid the box of condoms on the counter and paid for them with my tip money while he stayed put in the passenger seat.
I only slept with him two more times after that morning. I never experienced his wrath, never found myself calling 911 at ten in the evening to report that my boyfriend had been so abusive to me that no longer felt safe alone with him. I was lucky.
So many of us survive our adolescence in this way—barely; blindly foolish but managing not to make that one bad decision that destroys us, clinging to some thin thread of luck until we come to our senses. Here is what I know: you only have one adolescence. We are all products of our bad decisions as much as our good ones. Time is relentless. Either you learn to show up on time and do your work or you don’t. Either you change, or you end up at central booking yet again, staring blankly into the camera as you get arrested for the same crime you committed nine years and twenty-four pounds ago.
Eleanor Kriseman is a Florida native who now lives in Brooklyn and works as an assistant editor. Before that, she worked for years as a bookseller at an independent bookstore, where she met a lot of really great dogs and humans. She has been published in NYU’s undergraduate literary magazine West 10th, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Joyland Magazine, and Bennington’s online journal Plain China, among other publications.