Not all teenage boys are assholes, but I was. I thought I was a nice guy, but walking away from my first girlfriend at a moment when she’d been completely humiliated made me realize I was, in fact, an enormous asshole. Diana was my first “serious” girlfriend even though we mostly had a long-distance relationship. And by “long-distance” I mean we lived in different parts of town, but since I was just fifteen and not even old enough to apply for a driving permit yet most of our relationship was over the phone. We also wrote each other letters. Eventually they became erotic letters, or at least as erotic as fifteen year-olds can get. Anyway we met at church. Diana didn’t attend the same church my parents dragged me to every Sunday, which would have made advancing our relationship a little easier, even if there would have been some weird guilt about hiding out in some part of a church to make out. We wouldn’t have been the first to do so, and I’m sure a lot more than just make-out sessions have happened in that church. In fact our heaviest make-out session would have seemed innocent compared to the time a kid from my Scout troop used the church phone to dial a phone-sex number. And he did it with my mother watching under the pretense of calling some other members of the troop who were supposed to show up for a car wash that day, but that’s another story.
Diana was the best friend of my Andi and tagged along when Andi’s family came to church. And for some lucky reason there was a post-service social gathering that gave all of us kids plenty of time to hang out together. Andi and I had both gotten hooked on Doctor Who and it turned out Diana was a Doctor Who fan too. Yes, she was almost as big a nerd as I was, and she wore glasses. That was a bonus because I kind of had a thing for girls with glasses at the time. It wasn’t so much the sexy-librarian thing as it was the there’s-someone-I-might-have-a-chance-with thing. It was when she and Andi sang a song about autopsies, though, that I really said to myself, holy crap, I’m falling in love with this woman.
So like any other fifteen year-old I waited until the next Sunday to shyly talk to Andi about her friend. This was unusual because normally with Andi I was anything but shy. Most of our conversations started with something like, “Hey, is that your face or did your neck throw up?” and descended into “You look like something from science class after we dissected it”. These witty repartees usually ended in a draw when we were both in tears from laughing so hard. Anyway I discreetly asked Andi if there were a way I could contact Diana.
“YOU LIKE DIANA? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”
And it turned out Diana felt the same way, which Andi found both hilarious and annoying because she knew it meant her two best friends were going to become unbearable. That didn’t really happen. I briefly swooned over Diana in Andi’s presence, but quickly got over it because Diana and I carried on almost our entire relationship over the phone. Neither of us had a car, or a license, so the only way we could get together is if our parents drove, so our first date mostly consisted of eating pizza with her mom. We did then go see Short Circuit by ourselves, but we were both extremely shy and holding hands seemed like a really big deal.
On the phone it was easier to get around to the subject of sex and to make vague plans for eventually losing our respective virginities to each other, and it was also easy to write letters that included short stories in which we imagined leaving a party for a quiet secluded area or, more bizarrely, being stranded on a desert island, or, even more bizarrely, being characters in a sort of pseudo-medieval fantasy world.
Making out during The Karate Kid II was probably the least nerdy thing we did. Coming in a distant second would be making out at a Doctor Who convention.
The convention was a one-day affair that brought together my two obsessions at the time—Doctor Who and Diana—and it was hard to see how I was going to balance them, but there were lulls in the events that allowed us to sneak away. It was held in the Tennessee Performing Arts Center which is a complex of theaters that also holds a historic museum. Somehow we couldn’t quite get comfortable, or alone, near displays of how Native Americans survived in the area thousands of years ago, and the log cabin exhibit was strangely popular with tourists that day. Finally we found a vacant upstairs room. We retreated there two or three times to go at it. And by “go at it” I of course meant “hug and kiss each other”. Yes, we’d agreed we wanted to have sex with each other, but having sex was like getting married, which we’d also decided we were going to do. It was going to be a special occasion. I wanted it to be romantic and wonderful, sweet and tender, and I wanted us to fall asleep smiling in each other’s arms. I’d gotten the impression that most peoples’ first time was furtive and clumsy and even painful. I wanted it to be a wonderful experience for both of us, and neither of us wanted to do it on the threadbare carpet of an unused conference room.
We went back to the convention for a bit and then, because it was getting late, headed back upstairs for one final session. We were in a hard embrace when I heard the voice behind me.
“I hope you guys realize you’re on videotape.”
He was a tall, skinny blonde guy dressed in the TPAC uniform: black vest, black trousers, white shirt. He was in his early twenties. He might even have been eighteen or nineteen. He wasn’t old enough to be intimidating, but old enough to be in authority.
“I wanted you to know. I think you need to get out of here.”
He went down the stairs and we quickly followed. I walked a little ahead of Diana, but that didn’t seem strange to me at the time. I was a little unnerved but not too upset. We’d kept our clothes on. Even for the time what we’d been doing was about as innocent as you could get. Diana and I went down to the lobby and sat down on a bench to wait for our parents. I laughed and said, “Well, that was interesting.”
And then she started crying. She wasn’t just crying either. She was sobbing and kept repeating, “It was so wrong, so wrong.”
I was so stunned. All I could think was, please, please, please get it together before our parents get here. We’re not in any trouble and if we don’t say anything they’ll never know.
When I saw my father approaching I got up from the bench without even saying goodbye and walked toward him, smiling and saying, “Okay, let’s go!”
“What’s wrong with Diana?”
“Nothing, really. Let’s go.”
My father sat down on the bench and asked Diana what was wrong. She pressed her lips together and shook her head. The guy who’d caught us in the room walked by and looked back. His eyes widened and his mouth opened, but then he kept walking. Finally I convinced my father that everything was fine, that Diana would be fine, that we should go and leave her to recover by herself. My father wasn’t happy, but he didn’t give me a lot of grief about it.
Later that night I called and apologized to Diana for going off and leaving her. Over the phone it was easy to say I’d been careless, even cruel. I didn’t say so at the time but how could I have given her all that romance I imagined when I was so selfish I’d walk away from her in the midst of a crisis I helped create—and a pretty minor crisis at that.
She told me the guy had come back to talk to her after we’d left, that he was incredibly apologetic, and that he’d assured her that no one but him would see the videotape and it would be erased the next day. I’ll never know who that guy was, but I’m grateful to him.
After that my relationship with Diana lost its momentum. It wasn’t just that night, but I think we both realized the futility of how we were carrying on. We’d talked on the phone every single day, but then one day I called and she didn’t pick up. And then I didn’t call the next day. On the third day she called me and said we needed to break up. I was sad but felt a sense of relief too. Later I’d learn that she was seeing some guy she went to school with, and I was glad. I was glad she’d have a boyfriend she could see every day. And I was grateful Diana had been my girlfriend, a better one than I deserved, because I still had a lot of growing up to do. I was fifteen and still an asshole.