Before I left for college, my friend Kevin prepared me for what he said would be the best years of my life. "Stay in school as long as you can," he said. "Get as many degrees as you can. Be a doctor. Get your law degree. Just stay in school." He was 33 at the time, and I believed him. At least I wanted to believe him. Truth was, I knew about as much about myself and what I wanted from a college education as I did when I was 14—which was nothing. College simply prolonged my adolescence; it was a protracted version of high school that began with egregious social—and sexual— blundering and ended with such monotony that I left early.
In the late 1980s, Kevin went to college a virgin and, by the time he left five years later, he claimed to have slept with over 100 women. A handsome guy—boyish, blond, a littler shorter than average but well built— Kevin was a tough Staten Islander with a particular, insulting humor. And he was my informal brother-in-law turned collegedeviance advisor. He recounted stories in which he had gone from one dorm room to the next, entering multiple coeds on a single night; stories about "going brown" and finding "chocolate milkshakes" in the toilet. I would listen attentively, quip and encourage, as a good student would.
The night before I left for Boston, we sat in his basement and sipped Johnny Walker Blue, a gift from his father on his wedding night, and he told me what he wouldn’t give to switch places with me. In what has become a recurring theme in my life, Kevin had appointed himself my mentor (had even offered to adopt me in my remaining months of adolescence) since I’m a good listener. Though, ultimately, I realize it’s because I am quietly in search of a father figure. It’s a vulnerable position to be in, one that has gotten me into more trouble than I care to admit.
A month had gone by and, though I was not a virgin, I was dry—not "getting my dick wet" as Kevin would say—and smoking incessantly, nearly a pack a day. I was smoking so much even before classes began that one of the girls I met during orientation playfully dubbed me "The Smoker," which upset me so much I smoked even more.
I left my dorm room for another of my nervous smoke breaks but had forgotten a light, so I walked across to the other dorm and met another smoker, a small brunette. Her name was Erica and she was wearing a puffy, purple jacket. I lit my cigarette, and we exchanged phone numbers.
The following day we had lunch in the cafeteria. She was wearing a baggy, pink hoodie that draped over her torso to just above her knees. We grabbed trays, piled them with food and chose a table. Between bites, I asked her how life as a college student was shaping up.
"OK, I guess," she said, slouched and glaring beneath her furrowed brow. I felt the scrutiny. She laid it thick and didn’t hide it. I couldn’t figure out why, but that didn’t stop us from scheduling another lunch rendezvous where we agreed to go out on Friday.
That Friday, I was invited to smoke some pot with a fellow frosh. Afterward we went to lunch, and I watched him choke on and regurgitate his food. Gripped by a heavy bout of paranoia, I left him and met Erica in front of her building.
As I sat by her and her friends, the paranoia slipped away and I relaxed. I started getting a grip; I started feeling cool, suave. When their conversations hit a lull, I gave Erica a nudge.
"So why are you doing that to your sweater?" I asked her.
"What do you mean?" She was wearing a black, knit sweater and had pulled her arm into the sleeve as someone chilly does to conserve body heat. Or maybe it was one of those cute, nervous tics. "I like your sweater," I said. "It’s nice. You shouldn’t stretch it out like that." I was complimenting her attire. I was courting her.
She scrutinized me, smiled softly and then frowned. "I always do this," she said. I could tell she was confused, and so was I.
She elevated her shrouded arm, and I looked at it, noticing through the gaps in the stitching that the lower half of her right forearm was missing.
For a moment, time froze. She was missing an arm. I was stuck inside a vacuum. No right arm. Side conversations continued unbeknownst. I lit a cigarette. Nothing below the elbow. When my cigarette was finished, I stepped on it.
I told Erica that I needed a power nap. "That’s lame," she said. "We’re still going out, right?" "Yeah sure," I told her. "I just need to rest a bit beforehand."
I returned to my closet-sized dorm room and phoned my best buddies from Jersey who were now, as I was, dispersed in various locations along the Eastern seaboard,
receiving educations for some reason that none of us were quite sure about. But I could only reach two people for advice: my roommate from Greece who couldn’t quite grasp my dilemma and who was rolling a spliff (which he invited me to join him on but I declined); and Kevin, who told me, among other things, to "use her stump."
I left my apartment relieved, with an air of indifference. Relieved because I did not plan on having sex, which thus spared me from the ills of performance anxiety—a problem that plagued me throughout high school, from playing basketball in front of a crowd to fornicating.
I met Erica in front of her building, and we trekked to my friend’s apartment, a stunning bachelor pad in an old Boston brownstone. We had a few beers. Not much of anything was said, so we walked home. On our way back, I casually asked about her arm, or lack thereof. She was born that way, she told me.
"Oh, OK," I said. As we neared her building, she invited me in.
"Ah, I’m beat," I told her. "I’m gonna call it an early night."
"Oh, come on," she said. "I have liquor.
Let’s have a drink."
We had two or three drinks each, in rapid secession, and then our clothes were off. Suddenly there it was, nude with the rest of us, in all its grandeur—her abbreviated limb. She had an elbow joint, met by a small, mobile protuberance no bigger, in girth or length, than half a pinkie. I quickly redirected my gaze to her wholesome, normal breasts and neat brown nipples. She had a rather stunning figure, otherwise, something I hadn’t expected because of the baggy sweatshirts I was accustomed to seeing her in. We then proceeded as any two naked, horny college freshmen would. She mounted me and—in the blink of an eye— her limb disappeared past my periphery, her breasts hovering before me like a pair of soft goggles in need of focusing.
On any other such encounter I would have been a flaccid failure, but not this time. Her stump empowered me—represented the solid emotional foundation of trust I required for an erection. I had the upper hand this time. Had she been whole, I think I would have surely fumbled. But no! I was not soft and useless—I was quite sturdy, actually.
I then realized that I would not be living Kevin’s version of college—that I preferred quality, not quantity, and even struck a tune to it which repeated in my head. And so I would sleep with 95 fewer women in college than Kevin had.
But then I did as any dirty, rotten scoundrel would and never spoke to Erica again.
Call it karma, but my next sexual encounter turned out to be with an old perverted man, a rapist posing as a student—a BU sports trainer—who caught me exiting the gym with a proposal: a homework assignment that paid volunteers a dollar for every minute his examination lasted.
I made $14—enough for some beer and another pack of smokes.