At a dance during my senior year in high school, I hang around the ticket table, where a junior named Gabby is on duty in case there are late arrivals. I have seen her around school and been looking for a chance to approach her. On the table are loose rubber bands, and she offers me one. I put it on my wrist, and she puts one on hers. “We have matching bracelets,” she says, and we talk the dance away.
I call her the next day. My sister has advised me to make some notes, and at the top of the list is “rubber bands.” Her laughing response gives me the courage to ask her out.
In the movie theater on our third date, with my arm around her heavy sweater, I maneuver to her breast and she doesn’t resist. I recall the phrase “her hard nipples” from somewhere, and I try not to smile. I will never again experience a nipple that hard, nor do I experience it now, as I finally realize it’s her elbow. After a few more dates, she allows me under her bra, but no lower.
One night, alone in her house, making out on the couch, we are interrupted by a phone call from her mother. “No, mom, I am not kissing that boy.”
After the senior prom, we go to the beach and I notice blood on the crotch of her white pants. This will not be the night, she says.
The next night she calls to tell me she has listened over and over to the Bob Dylan record I gave her and there is one phrase that makes her think of me every time: “somebody thinks they really found you.”
Found then lost. She told me, early on, that her strategy for getting out of a relationship is to act so badly that the boy will break up with her. It takes a week of nastiness before I put two and two together. Still, I valiantly try to save us. “Like a Rolling Stone” has just been released, which I preview for her by bellowing, in the back seat of a convertible during a double date: “How does it feeeeeel?”
She says she feels like she can’t do it anymore—be nasty, or be my girlfriend.
The rest of the summer I learn how it feels to be on my own, a complete unknown, until I take the direction away from home, north to college.
That winter, Gabby starts to write me friendly letters, hinting that she wasn’t ready for a sexual relationship. She writes that she heard somewhere that people light matches when they’re horny; enclosed is a book of matches, half of them spent and taped back in. I light the rest and send her the empty pack.
Gabby accepts my invitation to Spring Weekend: Louis Armstrong on Friday night and Otis Redding on Saturday. I book a room in the Travelodge. We will stay together; it’s time, she says. The editor of the school newspaper doesn’t have a date and must vacate his fraternity room because his roommate does; I offer to let him stay in my dorm room, more to brag than out of generosity. The editor asks me three times if I am positive I won’t need my bed, and I assure him I won’t. It’s time.
After the Friday concert, Gabby and I make out on the Travelodge bed. She allows my fingers inside her for the first time. As I am putting on the condom, she starts to cry. She explains that it has nothing to do with me, her uncle died the other day, she shouldn’t have come up but she didn’t want to disappoint me, she needs to go home, she’ll take a morning bus, she’s so so sorry but she really needs to be alone.
I leave the motel, stunned, with no bed to sleep in. I sneak into my room, but the editor wakes up and mocks me for being there. “And you were so sure you were getting laid tonight.” Impulsively, I hold my finger to his nose, then curl up on the floor in a corner.