Growing Pains


As performed at the Moth Grand Slam in Los Angeles on August 28, 2017.

Several years ago, when my grandmother had a stroke and was in a coma, I flew home to the Deep South to be with family.

My mom and her sisters were not taking it well. One aunt was in denial; the other was in hysterics. My mom remained level-headed and distracted herself by researching potential nursing homes in case my grandmother pulled through, and checking into cemetery plots in case she didn’t.

Being pretty anal retentive myself, I tend to take after my mom: when the emotional pain is great, I funnel my restless energy into problems I can solve - especially things I'm less motivated to do on an ordinary day. Like when I suffered a very painful heartbreak, and I came out of the closet to my closest friends, reconnected with long-lost college friends, and even reconciled with my estranged father all in one week.

I guess we do whatever it takes to feel an illusion of control.

As the week wore on, things were not looking good, and the futility of sitting in the waiting room drove the parents to squabble, which drove all the grandkids to seek sanctuary elsewhere - including myself

Fortunately, I had found just the distraction I needed.

I couldn’t do anything about my grandma, I thought, but goddarnit, I could lose my virginity.

Now, this wasn’t quite as random as it sounds.

I had only been out of the closet for a few years, and I had this lofty ideal I'd only go all the way with a guy for a real relationship. I realize now I was the only gay guy ever to think this. But It was the compromise the recovering Catholic in me made so the gay me could come out.

Unfortunately, same-sex dating wasn’t quite as straightforward as straight dating, and we all know how “easy” that is. On TV, they made gay dating seem easy. You come out of the closet and immediately jump into a long-term relationship with the only other gay in the same zip code. That’s what Buffy and Grey’s Anatomy taught us, right?

Real life, however, is not nearly as tidy as Shonda Rhimes and Joss Whedon make it seem, and I feared I'd never lose my virginity if I waited for a soul mate.

Fortunately, there was a guy back home I kinda had a crush on. We’d met a year earlier and kept in touch. He was in law school at my alma mater. And the more I thought about that possibility, the more there seemed to be a certain poetic quality about losing my virginity to a college guy who was the approximate age of my arrested development. After all, this is something I probably should have done back in college, and I probably would have if I’d have been born a decade later.

So I reached out to my friend, and he immediately replied. We made plans to sync up that Thursday night.

As the rendezvous time grew near, I grew nervous – for multiple reasons. Not just because my family thought I was visiting college friends, or that those college friends thought I was visiting family. But more that he was coming to this encounter with way more experience than I was. Worse, what if he wasn’t into me anymore? I mean, I was kinda pale. I lived in the Bay Area, and we hadn’t seen the sun for nine months.

To be safe, I did a party pump, which is when you do pushups and sit-ups at home so that your muscles look a little bigger. Then, I showered, dressed up, decided I was overdressed, then quickly dressed down so that I looked more casual.

He showed up, right on time. However, I learned he was just on a study break. In fact, he had two exams the following day, as he was graduating the following week. This meant a briefer encounter than I’d have preferred. I admired his dedication, but this was not exactly the intimacy I had hoped for.

So we chatted for a bit, and then he suggested we get busy. So we did.

Rather, we tried. But this little maneuver was quite literally like threading a needle that refused to go in. Between the pressure to perform, his time restrictions, his needing a shower, the thought of my grandma on her deathbed, and the three or four anti-anxiety pills I had popped earlier, it didn’t look like it was gonna happen - no matter which way we tried.

Finally, he said he needed to get back to studying. We talked about trying again after finals, but it was pretty clear that wouldn’t likely happen. So, he returned to the law library, and I returned to my thoughts of inadequacy. Guess I wasn’t as anal retentive as I thought.

The only comfort was knowing that my grandmother wasn’t dead yet, which meant she wasn’t up above in heaven watching this catastrophe play out. It’s bad enough to imagine a dead relative watching you have sex (which my Catholic cousins often worried about), but it’s even worse to imagine them watching you fail to have sex.

I mean, I was supposed to be the successful grandkid. Not the one who couldn’t do anything right – that was my brother.

So I did not lose my virginity that week – or even that year. My grandmother did not come out of her coma, nor did I get to say goodbye, because she passed away a week later while I was on the return flight.

It took me a long time to come out of that grief, because losing my grandmother was now forever tied with not losing my virginity.

The only thing I could do was to try to live a little more fully, and a little more freely, going forward, so that I never have to play catch up on a life that’s already passed me by.

So I've tried to do just that.

And thankfully, by the next time I tried to have sex, if Grandma was watching over me, I’m happy to report, that, at least from her view, I am still the successful grandkid.

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