Back in 1999 I had a ponytail, wore lots of Hawaiian shirts, and went to an art school called SUNY Purchase College. Purchase wasn’t technically an art school – one could theoretically go there to study biology or history – but the bulk of the students there were majoring in dance, theatre, poetry, film, or some other field that typically ignores the possession of a college degree. It was there, outside the Farside dorm building, that I met a girl named Sandy, although I had heard about her several times before I actually had the pleasure of saying ‘hello.’
This is because Sandy had a rep. She had apparently slept with about half of the campus in the first week of the semester and, as a result, the skinny girl with short curly hair had become notoriously known around campus as a “slut.” Now to be labeled a slut at, say, a Christian school, is not hard. It’s a real accomplishment, though, to obtain that status at an art school, where people are sexually liberated and don’t judge others. At an art school, the word “slut” is supposed to sit on a shelf with other obsolete words like “dame” or “flapper.”
The interesting thing, to me, was that Sandy could achieve this feat without being particularly good looking. She had a small head and a large nose and wore an oversized pair of black rimmed glasses that made her look like a caricature. I was 21 at the time and had virtually no knowledge in the ways of the woman. I was lonely and intensely embarrassed by my lack of sexual experience. While others at our school seemed to look down on Sandy, I looked at her and saw nothing but hope and opportunity.
In the following weeks I small talked her helplessly. She was friendly but didn’t seem very interested. My one chance would eventually come on Halloween night, when she came over to my dorm room dressed up as the Y2K bug, an outfit that consisted of a short, tight dress and the words “Y2K” written on both her arms in glitter. There were a lot of people in my room, and she climbed up onto the top bunk bed. Her legs dangled down and a friend of mine, sitting next to me, whispered, “Look, she isn’t wearing any panties.”
I gulped. As the night wore on, Sandy somehow ended up sitting next to me on my bed. I didn’t know how exactly it happened – I hadn’t done anything to orchestrate it. Then, as if fate wanted me to get some lovin’, everyone left the room except for the two of us. We were alone and just sitting there. Me, nervous. She, commando.
Not knowing what to do, I engaged her in a blustered conversation driven by nervous energy. “I was watching The Man Show,” I said, “and they were talking about how someone can have sex if they just walk around a city asking people to have sex with them. Eventually someone is bound to say yes.”
“That would be me,” she said, laughing.
It was bewildering. I told myself to do something. Make a move. Ask her to have sex. Kiss her. Jump on her. I didn’t know. It would be like shooting a gun blindfolded and hoping to hit something. I sat there with my finger on the trigger but couldn’t pull it.
Minutes passed and I hadn’t done anything. I wiped sweat off my forehead. We were still talking and, the more it went on, the clearer it started to become that nothing was going to happen. Talking, I learned, is the worst kind of foreplay there is.
“I had an AIDS test yesterday,” she said. The comment came out of nowhere and, in an instant, everything crumbled. “I’m terrified to hear the results. I feel terrible about myself.”
She went on. There was some guy she liked, but he didn’t want to be her boyfriend. It hurt her. She didn’t understand why. What was wrong with her? He’d sleep with her, sure, but that was it. We talked until there was nothing left to talk about and, at the end of the night, she hugged me, teary eyed, and thanked me for listening to her. Guys usually didn’t sit and talk with her like that, she said. I told her it was cool and, if she was comfortable, to let me know how the results of the AIDS test turned out.
Inside, though, I was wracked with disappointment. If guys didn’t talk to her like that, then I must not have been much of a guy.
Just like the real one, this Y2K bug turned out to be all hype.
About a week after that night, I ran into Sandy in the courtyard. “Everything okay?” I asked.
“Yup,” she said, smiling. “Everything’s good.”
There must be something about how we act, and how our behavior is interpreted, that causes others to react to us in such particular ways. Sandy slept around and seemed carefree and content, and maybe that caused her guy, whoever he was, not to take her very seriously. Something about the way I acted, unaggressive and asexual, caused Sandy to see me as someone she could talk to. And in doing so, and by NOT sleeping with me, it caused a part of me to resent her, although I didn’t like admitting that to myself. By hugging me and saying goodbye, and by being my friend, she made me feel immature and inadequate.
Sandy walked by me, through the center of the courtyard, passing all the liberated women who spoke so poorly of her. That talk didn’t change her a bit. Sometimes a chorus is just a chorus, telling a back-story that’s only really interesting to itself.