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03/08/2004

To think in such a place I led such a life

envelopeThis morning I was over at Jo's alluding delicately to the promiscuity of my college years. This afternoon's mail brought an appeal for money from my university's alumni association. The back of the envelope says it all — not, however, in the way they meant.

When I arrived on campus as a freshman, I was not entirely sexually inexperienced. That is to say that while my high school classmates were larding their college applications with sports and meaningful volunteer work, I was engrossed in extracurricular activities of another sort. There I was at fifteen in the front seat of a Fiat convertible — the car had no back seat, and the front was so cramped that to this day I'm still not sure whether I lost my virginity to a red-haired senior who played in the band or the goddamn gearshift knob.

(Okay, even for me, that was coarse.)

By the time I arrived at college, I was an accident waiting to happen. No sooner had my parents dropped me off at my dorm than I was rifling through the phone book in a frantic search for the number for Planned Parenthood. Registering for classes could wait — I knew what was important. Important: birth control pills so that I could avoid unwanted pregnancy. Unimportant: condoms so that I could avoid STDs.

I knew about them, of course; always a good student, I'd held my ninth-grade health class spellbound with my compulsory oral report on syphilis, which I delivered in verse. Either they were speechless with revulsion or awed by my brilliant enjambment; I admit it was a masterstroke to rhyme chancre with ...skank. Her...

In fact, now that I think about it, that little vignette foreshadows my college years nicely: a love for formal poetry and a flair for heedless behavior. Like Browning's duchess, I liked whate'er I looked on, and my looks went everywhere. And I do mean everywhere, from the earnest pre-med who tried to give me a thorough breast exam the next morning, frowning thoughtfully as he searched for lumps; to the out-of-towner twice my age with a red Mustang, a bottle of Jack Daniel's, and no ironic appreciation whatsoever for the cliché he embodied; to the brilliant bipolar who wooed me with a villanelle and liked me in leather; to the drunken bodybuilder who could achieve an erection only by concentrating very hard and rubbing himself between the soles of my naked feet; to the poor sad bastard I was maladroit enough to ask, "Is it in yet?"

And so on.

Aaaaaaaand so on.

I knew about STDs, but I didn't behave accordingly. While I was slightly concerned about AIDS, I thought the risk was minimal; I was only theoretically concerned about herpes, and not at all concerned about anything else. I can't really account for my cavalier attitude, apart from the irrefutable fact that sex without condoms felt really, really good. And that I was twenty, and attractive, and bored nigh on to death in a tiny Midwestern town. And feeling quite immortal, thank you.

Oh, how we all did laugh, then, when a routine checkup showed I had chlamydia. And oh, how we chortled when a later Pap smear showed I had HPV. Yeah, it was a riot when I had to notify all recent partners — those whose names I knew, anyway. And, sweet Jesus, did we almost wet ourselves when I had to tell my parents, whose insurance would cover the necessary cryosurgery.

Things changed after that.

A year of embarrassed celibacy followed, in which I eventually stopped feeling contaminated. I learned to take pleasure in prolonged flirtation, developed a renewed appreciation for the humble handjob, and spent most nights alone. I met the jackass, graduated, grew up, moved on.

Even at the time I knew I was lucky. It could have been so much worse — the only real price I know I paid was humiliation and inconvenience. I don't know whether any aspect of my infertility can be traced to the decisions I made in those days — and I can't quite bring myself to care. I know a lot of "former slutty girls" spend anguished energy regretting their behavior, convinced that their inability to conceive is some sort of punishment. But I can't quite condemn the bright, impulsive girl I used to be. I could have been different, more prudent, less shameless. I just wasn't.

I can't even claim I'm contrite; I learned a lot, got off a lot, and amassed dozens of heartwarming stories to tell my grandchildren one day. ("Tell us about the time you did it in a crowded bar, Gran!" "Oh, no, not that one again!" "Pleeeeeease...!" "Oh, all right. Well, it sounds old-fashioned now, but in those days, it was the style to have seven or eight drinks with a man you barely knew...")

Beats the hell out of Pat the Bunny.

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