No one talks about their other first time.
Thomas taught us how to masturbate, but he didn’t call it that. Rory told him about it. Rory was a full year older than us, and I recall him being somewhat of an asshole. It was only me and Thomas and Michael outside my house that day, though, cross-legged on just-laid asphalt. Daylight withdrew from dusk as Thomas hurried to recount the art and science of “jerking off.” We acted like it was all no big deal, tossing pebbles at the curb. He had our full attention, though, and Michael and I were shocked. We were in on the secret.
Thomas and Michael’s parents arrived, one after the other, in two tidy sedans. We said our goodbyes over high-fives and they were off. Before long we were all in our respective bedrooms, eager to discover Rory’s secret.
Funny, the favor he did us.
“Jerking off.” The idea was that if we were to rub our penises in a certain way, kind of pulling back and forth, it would feel really good. It was unrecognizably strange, we were forewarned, but it’d be worth it. We were twelve or so.
Our secret was passed ear-to-ear until, I assume, every boy in our class knew. Bedside lamps would go out one by one as each of us confronted our anatomies in search of that strange yet ecstatic release, equal parts scared and excited and clumsy. Our bodies raged, and we masturbated like it was religion — even if the Church was the one trying to hide the act from us in the first place.
Strange to think what a kid, ignorant of his own biology, would make of such a curious phenomenon as his own ejaculate matter. I think Thomas neglected to mention that a byproduct of our mischievous act was a white-ish translucent pulp of sorts, neither fully sticky nor liquid. That it would gather in little pools on our hairless stomachs once our labors rendered us exhausted, and that our mothers would pretend to never notice when we’d christen our bedsheets with the stuff. That we would have questions.
Gym classes had been interrupted a few times so that we could sit, indian-style, on the shiny gymnasium floor and watch videos that sought to update us on the normalness of our sweaty, fast-morphing bodies. Illustrations of penises that looked vaguely familiar to our own would animate themselves from their somber state of default flaccidness to a newly familiar, hilariously erect form. Then came another VHS tape, the female variation on the theme. Holy shit.
A girl once told us that the taste of cum reminded her of buttered popcorn-flavor jellybeans, which was funny but sort of breached the honor code of our beloved act, as it was our own terrain for exploration. It also ruined buttered popcorn-flavor jellybeans for me.
These early forays into sexual education made it seem like the female body was a machine. Apparently, a series of things shifted around inside of them in stages and then they bled. They accepted some fluid from our penises and a tiny human was formed, and then they expelled that, too. I was in awe, to be honest. But I also remember feeling sort of sorry for them.
Above all, however, I felt like I knew too much. My own gender seemed less purposeful — simple, even. Girls were suddenly these governesses to some complex process of life-creation. Exquisite. Meanwhile, us boys just piss white and feel tired.
In short, we were pitiful. The more we’d find out about our fairer halves, the more mysterious everything became. I’d often wonder if girls were carrying menstrual pads on them at any given moment, or if they’d even had their period yet. The girls’ pink-lit bathroom boasted a machine that gave out tampons, and there were these small, secondary garbage bins on the floor for “female napkins”. I recall a long-standing dare us boys had, encouraging someone to look inside those bins or buy a tampon. We really were pitiful.
One of Thomas’s brothers was much older than him, which translated to him knowing about really cool stuff really early on. Sex. Music. The World Wrestling Federation. Unsurprisingly, Thomas could get any girl he wanted to. A girl in our class named Jessica had breasts of earth-shattering beauty. Large as they were, however, they were certainly out of my reach. Thomas probably got to see them, I thought. Maybe even touch them.
I only cared about one girl, though, and she — like the rest of them — loved Thomas.
I obsessed over her from 3rd grade until 8th. To me, she was perfect. She had long, dark hair that was usually cut into bangs. Her eyes opened too wide and she smiled with her mouth wide open. She had a brilliant laugh, was quite smart, and had nearly Jessica-like breasts. And she was Mormon.
I stuck close to her on class trips and during recess. I lingered at school dances. I showed off during gym class and made jokes during all others. She kept my attention to admirable — albeit maddening — depths.
When she was 14, “my Mormon girl” was diagnosed with melanoma. During the time she received chemotherapy, she seemed to have a distinct scent — one I attributed to her treatments. Predictably, I sat near her in every class I could. I hated that smell because of the pain she must have gone through. I hated her cancer because it was unjust. I hated the chemotherapy because it drowned out the scent of her shampoo.
It turned out the scent was just the soup she carried around in a thermos. By the time it was too warm to eat soup, her body had been ridden of cancer cells. I was an idiot, but I was in love. I was growing up, too.
The boys in class had a trampoline wrestling league in Thomas’s backyard. With no shirts or shoes, we faked fights until they became real ones. We built a six-foot half-pipe and skateboarded until holes were worn into the wood. Paramount to all, we skipped baseball practice every time someone learned how to sidestep parental controls on the Internet.
Internet porn was meticulously categorized, it seemed, and I could offer no explanation as to why this was. Naked people touching seemed pretty all-in-the-same to me, and it was equal parts thrilling and horrifying. Softcore was pretty hardcore. Teens looked old, mature women seemed young; regardless of age, most of them were treated pretty poorly. It was like a bad TV show. Still, we huddled around a computer, feverishly searching for cheap, foreign thrills.
Each discovery came in thirty-second clips. We saw black girls and fat men and redheaded girls dressed like they go to Catholic school but definitely don’t. Leather whips and weird piercings. There were girls whose cars broke down and others who seduced gardeners. Bad cops and pregnant women. Some were yoga teachers and others were history teachers and others weren’t teachers at all, but they still seemed intimidating. We brought this upon ourselves, but it was a bit too much. A lot too much.
Still, we’d commit these nervous forays to memory so that we could reconstruct it all come nighttime. Once a parent came home, we’d scatter to clear our digital footprints and settle with conversation about real girls who — compared to porn stars — we had at least slight chances with.
Up until then, those was our solitary means of dealing with hormones. Bruises. Truancy. Pornography.
“My Mormon girl” ended up being my girlfriend for a week in 7th grade, which didn’t amount to much. She dumped me when I opened up my Yahoo mail account and a mutual friend saw an affectionate email from her. Our relationship was supposed to be our secret, and when that was spoiled, I was no longer her boyfriend. There was one place where she remained mine, however: in my head.
The first time I masturbated, I didn’t think about the nude contortionists I saw online. I didn’t conjure up my friend’s older sister who I once accidentally saw get undressed. Neither my classmate Jessica nor her adult-like breasts ever came to mind. Even Martina Hingis, a Slovakian tennis player whom I long adored, was missing in action.
I thought of my Mormon girl the first time I tried to masturbate. She was fully clothed.
She even had a backpack on. Just standing there, on a basketball court, smiling slightly. It was simple. Sufficient. After all, this was my first time. I had no idea what to expect, but I wanted to do everything I could to feel comfortable. It didn’t matter that I had a different girlfriend at the time. If a little emotional infidelity was what it took to make this work, I was okay with it.
For reasons which elude me, I went to sleep in a sleeping bag that fated first night. Perhaps I was afraid, or maybe my bedsheets were in the laundry. I thought about what Thomas told us earlier that day, still unconvinced anything would happen. Still, I closed my eyes. There my sweet Mormon girl stood, perfectly still.
It was a sloppy version of that sweet old song “Tonight, You Belong to Me,” where she was a little ventriloquist doll I made to sing to me as I laid alone on my bedroom floor, pajamas around my knees.
Little as I knew, I understood what I was about to do was a rite of passage. For us boys, sharing this secret act was as much a challenge as it was a sign of adolescent brotherhood. I considered how I should start, marveling at how awkward a moment I’d arrived at. “Will this do anything?” I wondered whether my Mom would come upstairs and hoped for the best. I relented. I held my penis in my hand and tried to understand what I was doing. The silky inner lining of the sleeping bag kept brushing against my skin, and I liked it.
My Mormon girl was dancing circles around my head, and I fell dizzier and dizzier with excitement.
I made great efforts towards an outcome I wasn’t sure I’d even recognize. Had it already happened, whatever “it” might be? I thrust and fidgeted in place. Nothing. I tried harder, then softer. Faster. Slower. For a few minutes, nothing. Then something happened. I felt like I was going to pee. Instead, there was a sharp sensation I’d never felt before. A quick shock, and then a flash of numbness. God, that must have been it. Rory was right. It was awesome.
Like nothing I’d ever felt.
Holy shit. I just laid there, motionless, and felt strangely thankful. “What if Thomas never told us about this…”, I wondered. “…and who told Rory about it?”
I fell asleep confused, but a little bit more of a man.
My Mormon girl moved away from our town the following year (due, in no part, to my antics), which only made me think about her more. Her religion didn’t mean much to me at the time, particularly as I had always felt indifferent to my own. My sole encounter with her faith was this giant Mormon temple that was just off to the side of a highway we’d take to get to a local amusement park. It looked like a ridiculous castle, and some kids spray-painted “SURRENDER DOROTHY” on a nearby overpass. I loved that.
I loved her.
But I never had any real chance with her. My pathetic heart didn’t know that at the time. I kept hoping for years to no avail, but my efforts surely weren’t wasted. My Mormon girl got me through that night and — well — many nights thereafter.
She was mine, in a way. If but for a few minutes at a time.