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The First Time
by Martin Green


In one minute the firefighter and the nurse met at a bar and in the next minute they were in a motel room tearing each other’s clothes off. That was quick, Paul Lerner thought. He and his wife Sally were watching a television show. He noted that there was the obligatory glimpse of breasts; also, throughout the program there were the obligatory f-words. The show, which came with the usual warnings of violence, bad language and nudity, actually wasn’t too bad. It showed how much times had changed.

After the show was over, Paul asked Sally, “Where was that motel?”

“It was that place in Monterey,” she said

“Right.” They’d been seeing each other for how long by then, six, eight months. It had been their first time. “We thought we were pretty daring.”

“We were. You ripped my clothes off right away.”

“What? I don’t remember that.”

“I’m teasing. We folded everything very neatly.”

Shortly after, they went to bed. It was eleven. Most of the other people in their retirement community were probably asleep by now. Many were up by five or six in the morning. Paul thought of that motel in Monterey, their first time, then, suddenly, of another first time. Her name was Marjorie Stern. God, he hadn’t thought of her in ages. They’d met at high school, in New York, the Bronx. He couldn’t recall exactly how but it was because of a book assignment in their English class. It was George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” pretty advanced reading for high school freshmen. At that age, he’d been almost pathologically shy so she must have made the first move. However it happened, they both liked the book and also other books, which they’d excitedly discussed together. So it started as a literary friendship.

Marjorie. She wasn’t short but just below middle height, as it was then. She couldn’t be called pretty. She had a round serious face and wore glasses. Her eyes were brown, no, gray. Paul wasn’t that tall himself and he also wore glasses. They started going to movies together. Maybe the first one was based on a book they’d read, he couldn’t remember. After that, it became a regular thing, almost every week. Although they went to the same high school, they didn’t live close to one another. He lived in the South Bronx, not yet the notorious battle zone it would later become, but still not the best of neighborhoods. His building was pretty shabby. Marjorie lived near the Grand Concourse, in a ritzy apartment building. They always went to the Loew’s Paradise, on the Concourse, which showed first-run pictures. He didn’t know how long it took but he finally got up enough nerve to put his arm around Marjorie in the movie house. She didn’t seem to mind. In the street, they’d walk hand in hand. They took it for granted that they’d see each other every weekend. They’d become a couple.

Paul didn’t know anything about girls. To him, they were a foreign species. Growing up, he knew that they were in general smaller and softer than boys and that they didn’t play the rough games boys did. The one or two who did like to play ball were known as tomboys. He also knew that when girls became teenagers they changed. He was aware that they developed breasts and other things. He supposed he had a romantic view of Marjorie. He treated her as if she was somewhat fragile, like a China doll. He opened doors and pulled out chairs for her. He carried her books. He never used bad language when he was with her. If anyone had assaulted her, physically or verbally, he would have sprung to her defense. Sometimes he imagined her in some dangerous situation, maybe trapped in a burning building. He’d come to her rescue. At other times, he imagined the reverse, that he’d been wounded somehow and she’d nurse him back to health. She’d hold him against her soft breasts.

In due time, Marjorie asked Paul into her apartment and introduced him to her parents. The apartment was almost twice as large as his, his parents, that is. Her father was, he recalled, an advertising executive; his was a plumber. Her mother, as he could see, wasn’t too enthusiastic about her one and only daughter going out with a plumber’s son. Eventually, usually after seeing a movie, they’d go back to Marjorie’s place and engage in long necking sessions in the living room. That was as far as they could go with her parents in the nearby bedroom.

At the end of the school term, Marjorie told Paul that her father had been offered a great job in California, something to do with the aerospace boom, and that they were moving to Los Angeles. She didn’t want to go, but she had no choice. They’d write to each other of course. He remembered that they had a tearful farewell. Then she was gone. They did write to each other, once a week at first, then less and less often. Then, in the middle of their second high school year, she wrote that she’d met someone. Shortly after that, he also met someone.

So, Marjorie represented Paul’s first time. They never did get as far as having sex, and this seemed a little absurd now; still it was a first time and, looking back, he wasn’t sorry that it had all been so relatively innocent. He was glad that she’d been something mysterious to him and that he hadn’t known all the ins and outs of her body. He was glad he’d felt that what they had was something special and not commonplace, that his heart raced whenever he saw her, that he felt lifted up by her presence, that he’d known what the phrase “walking on air: meant. He was glad he looked upon her as a maiden in a courtly romance, someone who was gentle, modest, feminine, and that he wanted to be her knight. Oh, well, that was all in the past. He wondered if teenage boys nowadays felt even a fraction of what he’d felt way back then. No, of course not. He closed his eyes and fell asleep.

The next evening they turned on one of their favorite TV shows. The show was well-written and the acting good. There was the usual violence, bad language and nudity. Once again, the image of Marjorie Stern came into his mind, then he became caught up in the action, a shooting, a sex scene, another shooting. The image faded; it belonged to another time and another world.



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