Early in the school year I made my virgin venture into New York City to visit Barb. Fear and excitement bounced from my brain to my gut on the bus ride into Port Authority. How would I find her? What if I didn’t? Who would I ask for help? I had her phone number but the convenience of Cell phones was decades away. I exited the bus and was immediately engulfed in a forest of people. There was no clear indication of which direction to head in. But as I turned to leave the unloading area Barb was there to greet me. I felt like grabbing her and never letting go, but restrained a display of relief in the name of coolness. We exited the station onto a sidewalk choked with people. At first I hesitantly wove my way through the oncoming bodies that whipped past me as if I was invisible. It didn’t take long to realize I needed to follow Barb’s lead and charge ahead into the flow to avoid becoming an obstacle! We walked past lane after lane of cars on the streets, past buildings that stretched towards the clouds and past people sleeping on cardboard boxes on the sidewalk. We soon joined the swarm that descended out of the sunlight, into the glare of bright overhead bulbs. After scrambling through a revolving gate we landed on a congested platform. Rumbling and screeching announced the arrival and departure of long sleek trains – without wheels and unlike any I had ever seen. We plunged through sliding doors before they swooshed closed. I couldn’t help wonder if anyone ever got trapped when only part way in. Barb moved without hesitation as she guided me along this strange maze of people, pavement and passages. How had she transformed this foreign terrain into the familiar so quickly?
When we finally arrived at her building we climbed endless stairs to her apartment. The door opened into a room smaller than my dorm bedroom. It was hard to imagine fitting an entire life into such a tiny space. At one end a toilet sat one step up in a separate cubicle with a door. A tub was in the kitchen area along with the only sink and the tiniest stove and refrigerator I had ever seen. At the other end was the cramped living, sleeping, anything else area with a window that framed a view of the brick wall a couple of feet away. I fell onto the couch/bed, relieved to be there. Barb wore a new sense of ease. She seemed at home here, as if her arrival into this life had been as natural as the budding of a new leaf in springtime.
I had just settled when Barb began to move around the room and speak using the increasingly rapid pace and partial sentences I had witnessed many times before. She seemed ready to burst with news she also wanted to serve on a platter of self control. Then she revealed her most important achievement, the education of a more personal sort we had both left home in search of. In a flurry of fragmented details she divulged the where and when and who and how. She made it sound so simple – a plan made and executed. Done. Maybe I really was uptight and undesirable after all! Maybe they would pin a giant scarlet ‘V’ upon my chest to let the world know my disgrace as a modern woman of the 70’s!
There were more visits to ‘the city’ – as I quickly learned to refer to New York – throughout the semester. The boyfriend of one of my roommates lived on campus there and we shared a ride from the ride board. Following my visit with Barb I made my way to the campus. I would spend the night on the couch outside the boyfriend’s door and catch the shared ride back the next morning. A dorm party, with the expected magnitude of alcohol and drugs and whatever else could be bargained for, filled the evening. My roommate’s focus was on her boyfriend so I faded into the farthest corner, trying to emulate the passive pose of the inebriated. I was in a strange place surrounded by strange people in an overwhelming city I knew little about navigating. The invitation of intoxication to ease my nerves was tempting, but fear of losing my way and never finding a path back was enough to dilute my intake. My eyes flicked across the small crowd until I found myself gazing at a young man across the room. His wild, curly red hair and easygoing manner, mixed with the merriment in his eyes, grabbed my focus for a long moment. Glances bounced from him to me and back again. He had a nice smile. My roommate appeared and it ended there. A few days later she mentioned that the man with the curly red hair –a friend of her boyfriend – had asked about me after we left. We arranged to speak the next time my roommate telephoned her boyfriend. Then we arranged to meet on the next trip to NYC. It was unstated but easily understood that the arrangement included sharing a bed if I so desired.
It was not what I had expected. My intended had indulged in multiple inebriants. He talked of silly things and I laughed. There were fumbles and mumbles and I wasn’t quite sure if anything had actually been accomplished. I knew the basic mechanics, or at least thought I did, but began to doubt even that had occurred. Much later I would understand that the indulgence had left him incapacitated for this venture. He slept while I lay quietly, wondering if this was what all the fuss was about. Next morning I was up and out the door before he rose – in any form. My roommate looked at me with questioning eyes as we stood on the subway heading to meet our ride. I returned a non- committal smile. I never saw him again. But I kept a picture of him I had cut from a brochure for decades after. It reminded me of my ‘first time’ – even with all the confusion and disappointment. The first time I had felt a mutual desire to move forward; had opened to intimacy – with not just my body but with a bit of my heart. Sometimes I am still able to conjure a fond memory.