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Love and Air-conditioning

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“Don’t Worry. I’ll Get You Riled Up.”
By Darin Strauss

I’d like to say I was 12 when this went down; I was months shy of 20. Sarah and I were counselors at Na-Sho-Pa, a sleepaway camp in the Catskills. We’d made out once, years earlier, a little light kissing, nothing special. (I was expert at making out, when little beyond making out was available to me.) But neither of us, after our half-hour smoochiad, ever found the will to press play on that track again. For the whole 1989 season we not only hadn’t kissed: We hadn’t even spoken. But one night, as the summer burned down to its last embers, Sarah strode right up to me. “Nobody’s hooking up this whole time,” she whispered. “You as sexually frustrated as I am?”

I said, “I don’t know”—when, of course, I did know.

“Tonight,” she said.

Sarah was young—that age when everyone just sort of has this brand-new varnish to them—but she wasn’t young enough to be innocent about the power women have over men in certain situations, certain moods. She leaned in very close; her breath warmed my neck, just under my jaw: “I really think,” she said, “you should do me.”

Happy words for a 19-year-old virgin. Or, if I wasn’t a virgin technically, nobody would call my one succinct and fumbling bed session triumphant sex. The truth is I was as nervous as I was excited.

At midnight on a warm and clear Tuesday, when she and I rendezvoused at the hill near the roller rink, nothing went well. I was aroused (of course I was) but tense, way too tense. I knew I had little in the way of sack savoir faire; I worried how my haste would affect my—equipment. And she, I swore for years afterward, had angled herself on the grass at a totally unwieldy angle. My body wasn’t able to find purchase, not anywhere.

She took me, you might say, in hand. “Don’t worry,” she moaned. “I’ll get you riled up.” And like that, I got riled up. Too riled up, it turns out. When she said: “Now. Now. Please, now!”—I no longer had anything to work with. I was spiritless; worn out too fast. I think I managed to say, “Sorry,” while she dressed and walked away, fuming. In my shame, I had no idea that there’d be other girls, and women after them, and that such encounters would become easier—and actually fun—before adult love would show up to make the romantic world a nest of thorns again.


Darin Strauss’s most recent novel is More Than It Hurts You.


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