After being stood up on my first real date, I didn’t think much about boys until Terry, the fast girl in our clique, announced her brother was home from the Navy. Terry lived in an apartment on Morris Avenue with just her father. She was the only one in our group of fifteen-year-olds who bragged she was not a virgin.
Danny was twenty-one. Within a week of being home he bought a used-but-shiny black 1953 Chevy Malibu. Every afternoon he’d wait outside the Walton High School gate to drive Terry home, and anyone one else who was interested. I wasn’t allowed to go in cars, but I was fascinated by Danny just like the other girls who stood around his car, innocently crunching autumn leaves and flirting.
The October afternoons were cool, but Danny continued to wear his white t-shirt with the sleeve rolled up to hold his pack of Camel cigarettes. His dark hair was slicked back into a ducktail, and a cigarette seemed to always dangle from his mouth. He had a large nose like Terry and a crooked smile, which didn’t seem to matter.
Day after day I stood at the curb watching giggling girls pile into Danny’s car while I clutched my books high enough to hide my flat chest.
One day Danny opened the back door and turned to me. “Want a ride? There’s room.”
“Gee, thanks Danny. I am not allowed to go in a boy’s car.”
Danny smiled an extra-crooked smile. “Well, no one will ever know. I can drop you off a block from where you live.”
“I better not.”
The Woodlawn Express screeched from the elevated train station, but I heard Danny call out, “I’ll be back tomorrow if you change your mind. It’s time to grow up.”
The girls waved as he pulled into the Jerome Avenue traffic. I felt stupid standing there when I could have gotten a ride instead of walking the fifteen blocks to my home.
Two days later I was crouching down low on the back seat of Danny’s smoke-filled car. He started picking up only me and Terry. I experienced a glorious feeling as the other girls begged me for the latest details about my budding relationship with Danny.
There wasn’t much to tell, at first. Danny parked his car in front of the apartment building where he lived, and I’d walk slowly for the last three blocks so as not to get home too early. A few days later Terry and Danny invited me up to their apartment. I was tired of hanging around at the end my street until it was time to go home. I said okay.
We walked up three flights to an apartment where it was obvious, even to a fifteen-year-old, that no mother lived there. A sunken couch and two plastic kitchen chairs on a bare wooden floor was depressing enough, but the abandoned flower pots on the fire escape, outside the sooty window, made me feel really sad for Terry and Danny.
Danny teased me about being a baby when I started to edge toward the door after five minutes.
The next day, Terry’s boyfriend waited for her in front of their building. He and Terry disappeared into her bedroom almost immediately, which left me alone with Danny on the couch. He put his arm around me and pulled me over to him. I smelled my daddy’s Old Spice cologne as Danny lifted my chin and kissed me on the mouth. It was a long kiss, long and hard enough for me to want him to stop. I also wanted to stand up, or push him back, show some resistance, but I didn’t. I just sat there as he kissed me again and slid his hand under my sweater. I knew he would surely stop once he felt my flat chest and the padded bra. Not only didn’t he stop, he slid his tongue into my mouth and started searching around with it. He stopped when I gagged and ran to the bathroom to throw up.
“Boy, you really are cherry,” he said with a laugh.
“Cherry, you know, like you’ve never been with a guy.”
“Sure, I’ve been with lots of guys.” My face got hot. “I just didn’t know that word.”
“Then why’d you throw up like that? Didn’t the other guys soul kiss?”
“Nah, they were just babies.” I picked up my books and moved toward the door. “Sorry. I’ll try to do better next time.” There was no way I was going to stay and get kissed again with the taste of school-lunch spaghetti in my mouth.
I heard Terry’s bedroom door open as I got to the hallway.
“Terry.” Danny was still laughing. “You didn’t tell me your little friend was cherry.”
I didn’t hear her answer, but Danny’s voice was loud and boasting. “Well, we’ll see about that.”
It didn’t take long for one of mother’s friends to see me getting out of Danny’s car. Mrs. Glassberg was going into Sammy’s butcher’s stop on Morris Avenue. I made believe I didn’t see her, but I knew I was in trouble.
To make matters worse, Danny was getting really angry with me. As naive as I was, and even though I told myself I was totally in love with him, I knew not to let him put his hand below my waist. He’d bang around the living room each time, shouting to the walls that if I loved him, I needed to prove it.
It was also around this time that Danny starting picking us up only once or twice a week after school. He had something to do that Terry wouldn’t talk about.
When I got home the afternoon after I’d seen Mrs. Glassberg, she had already spoken to my parents. My mother and Daddy sat pale-faced, side-by-side on the couch waiting for me. Daddy was trembling in a way I’d never seen before. He forbid me to ever see Danny again, and he forbid me to get into any cars. Daddy said he was going to pick me up after school and bring me home himself in the taxi he drove.
I raised my voice for the first time in my life. “You don’t understand. I am in love with Danny and he loves me too.”
“You are fifteen and he is twenty-one. If you see that scum again I will make sure he ends up in prison.” Daddy jumped up and shook his fist. “I’ll kill him with my own hands.”
My parents thought I gave up on Danny and were quite pleased with Melvin, a sixteen year old boy who wore a mohair jacket and a tie and had the worst acne I’d ever seen. Terry had arranged for this lonely boy to pick me up and deliver me to Danny. Melvin and I were supposed to be taking long walks, going to the movies and meeting other kids from the neighborhood at Jahn’s ice cream parlor. The setup was going along smoothly for about a week until the day Melvin delivered me too early. A girl named June, who had a bad reputation even though she went to Catholic School was just leaving Danny’s apartment. Danny said June was Terry’s friend, not his, but Terry wasn’t even home.
We were alone when Danny grabbed my shoulders and shook me. “Well, what do you expect, huh? You hanging on to the cherry of yours like it’s gold or something.”
“But I thought you loved me. You said you loved me.”
“This is not about me loving you. It’s about you loving me.” He searched around in his bomber jacket and pulled out his car keys. “I’m getting out of here.”
“Wait, where are you going?”
“I’m gonna take a ride to Orchard Beach.”
I stopped the door from closing behind him and followed him down the steps.
A brisk wind blew the leaves around our feet on the pavement. I looked up at him. “Can I go with you?”
Danny took a long look at me and smiled that crooked smile. “Yeah, sure. I guess so.”
He didn’t open the door for me like he used to, and he didn’t talk during the twenty minute ride, but Danny was driving like he was crazy. He cut people off with his screeching tires, yelled fucker at every car he passed and repeatedly jabbed his middle finger out the window. I was scared and trapped. Daddy was right. I turned to see if there was a police car anywhere in the isolated area before the beach. I only saw white smoke billowing up from the exhaust pipe as Danny gunned the motor. A few seconds later as he raced over the narrow bridge he crossed the white line with a car was coming right toward us. Danny jerked his car back into our lane just in time.
There were only a few cars in the parking lot as the season was over. Danny found a space in the shadows between trees that still held bright red and gold leaves.
He turned off the engine and looked straight ahead.
“I want to go home. My mother and father will be worried about me.”
Danny crushed his lit cigarette on the dashboard. Red sparks showered over my knee. “So you want to go home huh? And take that little cherry with you too, I guess.”
His cold, angry look made my hand stop moving toward the door handle.
Danny slid over to the middle of the front seat, away from the steering wheel. He turned toward me, put his hands on my waist and lifted me. Before I realized what happened he’d turned me around and sat me, facing him, on his lap with my legs spread open. In the next second his hand was under me, fumbling with the zipper on his fly.
“Stop, please! I want to go home.” Pounding on his chest seemed to make him laugh louder. “Now. Take me home, now.” He caught my fist with his free hand and held it so tight I cried out in pain.
“You’re hurting me. Let me go.”
“I’ve waited long enough for that cherry of yours. Now it’s gonna be mine.”
“I’m going to scream.”
“Scream all you want. Everyone here is fucking too.”
I rose up on my knees to escape but it gave Danny the extra space he needed. He let go of himself, grabbed the crotch of my panties to the side, and pushed me down hard on his erect penis. I screamed as a searing pain shot through my bottom.
Danny smirked. “Now you can go home.”
I walked slowly and painfully from Danny’s apartment back home. I took deep breaths and prayed I would make it to the bathroom in our railroad-style apartment without anyone seeing my red eyes.
My prayers were not answered. Daddy was asleep in his vinyl reclining chair after driving the taxi for a ten-hour shift; mother was on the couch listening to the radio. I passed the living room quickly but not quick enough. She came after me. “What happened?”
“How can you say nothing? Look at you. You’ve been crying.”
“It’s Melvin. He was fresh in the movies and wouldn’t stop. I said I was going to the bathroom, but I didn’t. How could he be so nasty?”
“I am so proud of you.” Mother pat my head. “You did the right thing.”
I washed the blood off my thighs with toilet paper and flushed it all away. I was alone in my suffering. I truly believed that if my father found out what happened he would kill Danny and go to prison for the rest of his life.
Pressed quietly between infrequently worn jeans and the wall of my bedroom closet was a garment bag. It had been there for exactly two years, seven months, and 12 days, but who’s counting? I extracted it from the closet and pulled the plastic up around the hanger and looked at the dress. It was familiar, yet foreign in the same way that the freckles on my back are foreign.
Sliding it from the hanger, fabric splashed onto my bed in a puddle. Bits of material folded erratically like white caps blowing across the bay on a windy afternoon. Which seemed appropriate. The dress is a storm...