First Loves and Other Natural Disasters

***All names have been changed to protect those involved.***

My first time was a natural disaster.

Of course, at sixteen, pretty much everything seems like a natural disaster–from finding the perfect back-to-school outfit to getting a driver’s license. High school, in itself, is the epicenter for all natural disasters–even for someone like me.

By most standards, I was a good kid. I had enough common sense to stay out of trouble. I didn’t do drugs, drink underage, party or even stay out past my eleven o’clock curfew. My idea of a good time was sitting in a quiet corner by a window and reading. I didn’t need much else to be content.

I hadn’t even really dated before. I’d had schoolgirl crushes, of course, and flirtationships with guys that never went anywhere, but a traumatic experience when I was a kid pretty much scared me away from romantic interactions with the opposite sex. I had a strict NO-PHYSICAL-TOUCH policy that most guys couldn’t be bothered with. Testosterone is not the hormone of patience, especially in horny, adolescent boys.

Of course, at sixteen, I wasn’t able to see anything other than the constant rejection and, like most teenage girls, I stereotypically began to worry something was wrong with me. 

The year before, I became infatuated with a guy not unlike the perpetrator of my traumatic experience. His name was Hailstorm. He wore the same oversized-hoodie-and-baggy-pants combo everyday, talked as if he had never - not once in his life - read a book, and had serious mommy-issues that he liked to take out on the entire female population. I was terrified of him. But I was also sickeningly desperate for his approval. I wanted him to be my boyfriend. Perhaps because of some subconscious need to rewrite the traumatic experience of my past or perhaps because I have a thing for bad boys I think I can fix. Whatever the reason, Hailstorm was able to string me along for my entire first year of high school. I was the cat, desperately trying to sink my claws into the string of yarn that was always punishingly out of reach.

“Do you want to be my girlfriend?” he’d sometimes ask during our nightly phone calls.

“Duh!” I’d say, thinking I’d finally be able to catch that yarn after all.

To which he would respond with a fit of laughter and “You didn’t think I’d ever seriously go out with you, did you? I was just kidding. I can’t believe you actually fell for it!”

You’d think I would have caught on to this oh-so-hilarious trick at some point, but he was eerily good at making the request for a relationship seem real every time.

And so, Hailstorm attacked my emotional well-being every single day of my freshman year of high school, but he never physically laid a hand on me. It was the worst kind of battle. I was being attacked and I didn’t even know it.

My defeat came sometime around May when Hailstorm entered an actual relationship with someone else. This was followed shortly by my escape to the rival school, where the only person I knew (besides my dad, who was a teacher and coach there) was Hailstorm’s sympathetic best friend. It was the farthest I could manage to distance myself from the events of the year before.

It was here that I started dating the then-closeted, Jet. I met Jet in my journalism class, and we instantly bonded over our mutual love for Taylor Swift, Twilight, and Hello Kitty. Jet was full of romantic gestures. For our one month anniversary, he stole my digital camera and returned it to me filled with pictures in a slideshow sequence that perfectly captured all the things he loved about me. We got matching Twilight rings, and held hands between classes. Sometimes, we even kissed goodbye, but not like parting lovers as much as like European siblings.

Jet was safe. Everything about our relationship was about safety. With him, I felt safe from harm. With me, Jet was safely in the closet, able to hide from his overbearing, masculine father.

However, eventually I realized that protecting myself with a relationship was like wearing a lifejacket in a kiddie pool. I needed to learn how to keep my head above the water on my own. Besides, it wasn’t helping my self-esteem dating a guy who was more interested in my clothes than what was underneath them. And yes, I really was that shallow and emotionally damaged to base my self-esteem on my sexual desirability.

I wanted to be wanted. I wanted - needed - someone to want all of me. I needed to know it was possible.

It didn’t help that my best friend, Electricity, had lost her virginity in middle school, and enthused regularly about the majestic greatness of The Orgasm, which apparently she had a lot of.

I knew what she was talking about too. I wasn’t so much of a prude that I had never explored my sexual curiosity. But my experiments in curiosity, I just knew, would not compare to real, flesh-on-flesh S-E-X.

So yes, while I could never be swayed to drink, experiment with drugs, or prefer a house full of people to a house full of books, I could consider the prospect of bringing a romantic scene from one of my novels to life. All I needed was to find the right person.

So I broke up with Jet and shortly after, I met Rain. 

He was the best friend and sidekick to the current guy Electricity was dating. He officiated their mock-wedding the night we met, and in return Electricity did the same for us. The mock-wedding was supposed to be a joke, but Rain was as much of a romantic as I was and he took it seriously. He got my number at the end of the night, and texted me immediately to tell me how much he loved me, his perfect “wife.”

I lost my virginity a month later.

Like most virgins, I cared about the details. I wanted the right guy, the right circumstances, the right mood, the right settings. All the little things mattered. I didn’t yet know that it’s not the details that  matter or even the sex itself but rather the reasons for having it. 

So we mapped out the day perfectly. It was going to happen at his house while his father was at work and his mother took his sisters shopping. He had already bought a whole box of condoms, a brand recommended and highly researched by our sexually active best friends. I told my parents I was going to spend the day at Barnes & Noble, and then I left for his house instead.

He tried his hardest to make it special, but in the end, despite his best efforts, it was just awkward. And painful. Both emotionally as well as physically. After the traumatic experience when I was a kid (an experience I don’t think I ever told him about), I was left with some pretty intense scars that the act opened up. I’m pretty sure I cried during the act, and afterwards I curled into a little ball on top of his tiny bed and refused to move until his parents came home and asked me to leave.

It was quite the mess. A disaster, really.

And it wouldn’t be my last.

But the great thing about natural disasters is that they are just temporary storms. They shatter the ground you walk on, and might even destroy the entire path, but then they’re over and you have clear skies again. And you can choose to stay rooted in the destruction and wait for the next one or you can walk through the rubble, take what you need, keep moving forward, and greet the next natural disaster when it comes.

Because it will come.

But it will also pass.

Such is the beauty of natural disasters.

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