I hoped to slip past other areas of inexperience with subtle inferences and knowing looks suggesting more practice and maturity than I actually possessed. What had once been the golden insignia for a ‘good girl’ now felt like a blistering brand for uptight attitudes or just plain undesirability. But on the very first night on campus I was bluntly questioned with no way out of a yes/no answer. “Are you a virgin?” I almost lied to create a guise of sophistication. The Pill, along with the expectation that accompanied it, was readily available. The arrival of AIDS was a decade away. It seemed the only reason to say “no” was for moral values that had been deeply charred in the fire of free love. Rectifying this state was high on my to-do list. But my feet stumbled at the threshold of a door thrust wide open, even though my brain screamed: “just get it over with!” I was getting better at exchanging glances and the casual “Where are you from?” conversation. I practiced that little tease in my voice and eyes. But progress always came to a halt further down the line when the deeper attraction I needed to pull me forward was missing. A long term relationship was not part of the plan. I had just attained freedom! But I hoped for a ‘first time’ that could at least be fondly recalled.
My best friend from High School was attending college in New York City. She was the person who knew more about me than anyone else in the world. We had grown into the turmoil of the late 60’s and early 70’s together. We had struggled to grasp what was taking place in the world around us: Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, the hippie culture, free love, flower children, the Woman’s Movement, clothing and hair styles, drugs and music, Woodstock. Where did we fit into this explosive time of change? We had been on the fringe, not quite old enough to actively participate, yet knew we were heading to the front line in a world with rules that were rapidly changing. We listened and pondered and speculated about our futures. Which, of course, included sex. New permissiveness pressing against old limits along with the hormones racing through our bodies fueled conversations that led to both dreams and nightmares.
As important as having a friend to sift through the barrage of confusion was, she also played another critical role in my life. She believed in me, inspired me, helped me unravel the knots that threatened to tie me down. She was the one who pushed me to explore who I could become, to step away from the confines of the known and stretch into my imagination. Her route was more clear cut, included family expectation and encouragement, had been traveled by her parents and older sister. She helped me find my way to entrance exams and through applications and even took me to visit the college I was now attending. A family member was a senior there and we stayed in her off campus apartment. I remember the constant flow of people in and out the door, the intense conversations about politics, couples disappearing behind closed doors, rice fried with vegetables and soy sauce and white lumpy tofu. I watched and listened but don’t remember saying a word to anyone but my friend. Everyone seemed so hip and cool and mature. I had never met people like this before; was terrified they would all start laughing at this silly quiet girl who sat in the corner and knew nothing of the world. I was relieved that my friend barely left my side. When we visited the campus I was struck by the modern castle of concrete created by Edward Durell Stone. Arched columns three stories high reached upward to support a massive flat roof that connected the open spaces to the buildings that bordered the rectangular main campus. It was the largest structure I had ever seen. I felt like I had landed on another planet. I knew immediately that this was where I wanted to go, this was where I wanted to plant new roots and escape the small enclosed house in the woods.