55 :: what's going on in there :: 7/9/01
It's the first time that they've gotten together in a while. They're sitting out on Janine's tiny back deck. The evening is uncomfortably humid, but it's even more stuffy inside the apartment (no AC). At least outside there's the faintest thinnest breeze. They're each working on their second Corona. Lime pulp swirls cloudily in the necks of the bottles. Cervesa mas fina.
So, says Janine. How's Lydia?
A pained expression crosses Thomas' face. Um, he says, and then he falls into silence. He looks down at his beer, runs the ragged shred of his fingernail over the printing on the bottle. I don't know, he says. I don't think we're seeing one another anymore.
What? Janine says. Really? Why?
I don't know, Thomas says.
Oh, poor Thomas, she thinks. Jesus, Thomas, I'm sorry. Did you guys have a fight or something?
No, no, nothing like that. And then he looks up and stares out at the confusion of garages, alleys and fences.
She reaches out and touches his arm. Thomas, she says.
He nods. He looks miserable. His face is all tightened up as though he is holding back tears. He half-looks away.
Thomas, she says, what's going on in there?
In a very small voice he says: I just got scared.
Scared? she says. Scared of what?
I've never, he says.
She cranes her head to listen. He takes a deep breath.
I'm a virgin, he says. I've never slept with anyone before.
He looks up at her now, straight on, mouth pursed, prepared to receive ridicule. But none arrives: her face and her pose convey nothing but sympathy. He breathes.
Oh, Thomas, she says. I didn't know that.
I know, he says.
It makes a lot of things make sense, though, she thinks. It explains why Thomas breaks apart in conversation the way he does. She believes that sex is a form of communication between people, a system of exchanges, and she believes that learning the vocabulary that happens between bodies helps you in your life, enriches your ability to communicate in other ways, other languages. Some strange sadness dawns within her.
It might be none of my business, she says, but... was this a conscious choice? Sometimes people might
Yeah, Thomas interrupts, I know. No, though. It wasn't. Deliberate, I mean.
Look, she says. Is it just something that you want to be rid of?
He feels like it is something that hangs around his neck. A weight that he has carried for nearly thirty years. He can't imagine what his life would be like were that to crumble.
In part that is why he is afraid to lose it. Losing it will mean entering the world of people who are sexually active. He knows that this will introduce him to new sets of problems, anxieties, difficulties. In that world he is a novice; he will not know, at first, how to surmount those obstacles. Whereas in the world of the virgins, he is a veteran.
Janine's hand is still on his arm.
Because, she says, I could help you. It doesn't need to be some huge deal, all serious like that. We could have fun with it.
He feels blood suddenly rush into his face. He looks at her. He wants to be certain that she means what he thinks she means