Virginity is like a shiny, new BMW. Its value goes down the longer you have it.
I held onto mine for 19 years, which—by today's standards—is way too long. I'd be lucky to get a trade-in. It wasn't that I was saving myself for marriage or even for "true romance." I just hadn't met the Mr. Right.
"You should sleep with Billy," said my best friend Cookie, who knew what fellatio was and how to spell it. She once demonstrated with a banana in the college cafeteria, causing the boys at the next table to be late for gymnastics.
Cookie was what Jimi Hendrix would've called "experienced," which was why her suggestion carried so much weight. We were both art majors and my virginity (in our sophomore year of college) was a problem to be solved, like having bad breath or mono. I hardly knew Billy. He was just a member of the herd that trailed in Cookie's wake. I had absolutely no idea why she thought he was The One.
To me, the most attractive thing about Billy was his given name—William Holden. Just like the tall, dark, handsome Hollywood star. Except our Billy was short with a scruffy beard and a halo of kinky brown hair. In his favor, however, Billy was a biochemist, smart and funny.
In retrospect, Cookie never implied that Billy and I would be a romantic couple. Just that he could get the job done. I didn't ask how she knew this. Not long after nominating Billy, Cookie arranged for him to call me for a "date." At the time, couples our age didn't go to trendy restaurants or to the movies. No one had money or interest in such things. Instead, we hung out. Smoked weed. And let nature take its course.
But when I got to Billy's apartment and realized that the only furniture he owned was a mattress, I got cold feet.
"You really are a virgin?" he asked. "I thought Cookie was kidding."
Billy didn't push his, er, advantage. He zipped up his pants and stared at me in wonderment as if I were a specimen under his microscope. I left feeling embarrassed and confused, more worried about Cookie's reaction than my own predicament.
As it happened, Cookie couldn't have cared less. She was dropping out of school to join the Peace Corps—spreading good will and free love to the Third World. Without her relentless campaigning to solve my Problem, I feared I would die a virgin, an absurd belief for a healthy, reasonably attractive teenager in the late 1960s.
Several months later, I found myself at a party with Billy. He was friendly but reserved. As the night wore on, I decided to make my move.
"Can I go home with you?" I asked.
Billy blushed, weighed his options and then, responded in a Groucho Marx voice, "You're in luck, young lady. Tonight, we're giving away a set of dishes."
We went back to his apartment. I took off my clothes and laid down on Billy's bed, as if in a doctor's office. Other than in anatomy books, I had never seen a penis before. Certainly not one with an erection. It was as red and inflamed as the kosher salamis my mother brought home from the deli. The procedure didn't last long. I couldn't wait to get home and look in the mirror to see if I had changed.
I had expected to see a worldliness in my face, a knowing look that would signal I was no longer a child. All I saw was bewilderment.
Billy called me the very next day. He wanted to see me again. I turned him down. The operation had been a success, but I didn't want to go through it again. In retrospect, I was wrong. Billy Holden was a nice guy. A caring guy. A jerk wouldn't have called so soon. But I was too inexperienced to know the difference.
I never saw Billy again. That was my loss. Sometimes when I'm on the commuter train and see a short man with a halo of gray hair and an intelligent expression, I am tempted to say "Billy?" He probably would not remember me. But I'll never forget him. Or that set of dishes.