Mar 1997


by Melissa Miles

The first time Paul and I slept together, we actually slept, at least at first. Before we slept together that night, we sprawled out in the courtyard of Darcey Hall and just stared at the sky. The stars illuminated us, a lighted ceiling, which made me feel as if we were in our own private room, with the grass as our rug. We didn't touch, at first, we just relaxed, while staring intently at the sky.

I remember I turned to my side and anticipated his touch. And it came, tentatively. I tried to remember every moment of the touch, imprinting in my mind the various sensations of his fingers, my skin, the closeness and warmth. It was one of our first moments of physical intimacy.

We had only kissed twice before, and once he had laid on top of me for a moment, after watching Northern Exposure, and then rolled off, just staring silently at the stars on my dorm room ceiling. That had, so far, been the extent of our physical interaction. Of course, I had silently wished for more—silently screaming "More!"—but, for some reason, I was determined not to make the first move. It was as if I was intent on making any physical intimacy his responsibility. If he rejected me, I would be able to say to myself, "He is the one who wanted all this, not me."

When his hands kept moving, and began to feel my breasts—over and then under the shirt—I didn't dare move. Or speak. I believed if I did move, I would make him aware of my presence, of my consciousness, and then, for some reason, he would stop. And yet he did stop, and I was filled with frustrated rage. He explained he should go back home. I asked him why, nonchalantly shrugging off the sting of rejection. He answered he was uncomfortable doing this beneath the stars in a courtyard, where anyone, if they chose to, could see us.


Paul and I had met at a party, in fact, a party I hadn't wanted to be at in the first place. Classes hadn't started yet, orientation week had just finished, and since my friends and I had nothing better to do, we ended up at a party where the guys outnumbered the girls, four to one. We walked to the party together, just to check it out, however, I could tell our solidarity was only superficial. It was clear we would only stay together as long as we were too scared to do otherwise. So, when we went up to Berkwood Dorm's second floor balcony, my friends and I simply nervously stared at the people with alcohol in their hands. They were just leaning, pressed, against the balcony. We were perplexed, our tentativeness suddenly subsiding, asking each other, "This is a party?"

Loud music played from one small crowded dorm room, which contained the drinks, and served as the origin of the party. Josephine found a guy we had met before, at some Orientation event, and he tried to explain to us why all these people were crushed onto a small balcony, while no one was on the large and open first floor. "You see, a party is delicate system. A party must never look too small for its space, therefore, as more people come up to the balcony, people must slowly and casually stroll down towards the first floor. The party must seem so cool, so big and wild, that it outgrows the balcony. Finally everyone, after slowly making their way down the stairs, would be on the main floor. You see, if everyone was on the main floor to begin with, the party would look dull, the crowd even smaller, and the party would never become a success."

We decided to circumvent this system and loudly, obnoxiously, hurried down to the first floor. We sat together in the courtyard, on the grass, and looked up at all the people who were somberly drinking on the balcony. We began entertaining ourselves by doing the can can, spinning around, falling, and laughing loudly, drunk from boredom. We were five women, trying to entertain ourselves without the aid of even a single man. Finally, Josephine's acquaintance lead a few male friends over to us. That's how I met Paul.

I didn't think much of him, since his hair fell in front his face, his eyes were sort of dull looking, his body thin and his clothes too big. I pointedly ignored him until he mentioned one of my favorite authors, and then I suddenly noticed the attractiveness of his svelte body, the gorgeous texture of his hair, and the deep green color of his intense eyes. We ended up talking the whole night, first at the party, and finally in the Darcey living room. We spent the next day together, talking until morning, watching the sunrise from the bell tower.

Even though we spent the whole weekend together, we never touched, and after classes began, we didn't see each other for another two weeks, until the night he called.

"Can I come over?" I listened to his voice on the phone, suddenly very excited. After I hung up, I rushed around, taking a shower, putting attractive clothes on, trying to make myself look presentable. When he arrived, I calmly lead him to the Darcey TV room. He sat on a stool beside a piano, while I sat across him on another stool. I sat there quietly, refusing to start the conversation, trying to seem half there, unreachable, tantalizing, perhaps a sensual mystery. A cute puzzle, at least. Dramatically, he looked at me from under his hair, "I feel some kind of a tension between us, don't you?" I happily nodded in response.

"Maybe I enjoy the tension," he continued, "It is like a musical tension," he pushed a key on the piano, "the notes build up, and the audience listens until they can't take any more and then, suddenly. it releases. But the tensions what makes them enjoy it."

"Like an orgasm," I said, shocked I had revealed my longing in one sentence, afraid he would slip away.

But he only looked up surprised, "Yeah. To come to think of it. Yes."

He went on to ask me why I thought there was a tension, and, without my answer, he announced it was due to the fact that we had never touched.

"Literally, there is always a space, a distance, between us," he said, waving his hand in the air between us.

"What should we do?"

"Why don't we get rid of it?" He sat beside me. He hugged me.


After Paul pulled away in the courtyard, I asked him to sleep over. I was afraid if I just let him go home, without saying anything, he would never call me again. I wasn't concerned anymore that I would become less tempting if I made the first move—I couldn't just lay there and let him leave. So once we were in my room, I started to take my clothes off—not to have sex with him, but to go to sleep. I always slept naked, and I asked Paul if he minded, of course he said no, and he agreed to sleep over. That night, we slept a little, and then we kissed, and then I slept and he rubbed my nude body, and then he slept, and I kissed and played with his hair. Finally, since he had class early that day, he left at five in the morning.

We slept together a few more times before we ever had sex.

The first time I saw his nude body was the night before we had sex.

After the night in the courtyard, we did everything fast, without really knowing each other. But we didn't care.

One night, we were alone in his dorm room, and he announced, "I decided if you want to have sex, I'm ready. I even got some condoms." He dumped a bag full of condoms on the bed.

"Where?" He suggested the bunk bed, but only the top bunk, since the bottom was his roommate's.

"No, I'm afraid I would fall off."

"You move a lot?" he said, surprised.

"Yep. And I make a lot of noise, too." Then I suggested the floor.

"The floor? But it is dirty," he exclaimed.

"C'mon. Be creative. Haven't you ever done it on the floor?"

"Yeah," he said dubiously, "Ok, well, veto on that idea. How about the balcony?"

"But the floor is hard. We'd have to use your comforter."

"I don't want to get that dirty, either."

"Well, wash it afterwards."

We kept bickering, until I finally gave in and agreed to do it on the top bunk. I informed him, "I'll just have to restrain myself."

He put on John Coltrane, and then we had sex. I don't really remember much about the sex act itself, except it did feel different from past sex. Before I had only had sex with my boyfriend in high school, who I had been "in love" with. Afterwards, I remember him, distinctly, saying, "It didn't change much between us."

I was so mad, our past few weeks together ruined with one sentence. What did he expect? For us to be suddenly so intimate, in love or something, because we had sex? The first few weeks in college wasn't the time to fall in love, but just to make a transition, from high school sex to college sex. Yet, Paul and I were stuck in the middle, not quite a one night stand, not quite lovers. We had sex exactly ten more times, and we never grew closer. We were still strangers. We slowly drifted apart—no longer anticipating. His calls became less frequent, until finally they stopped. The tension had been extinguished, and we were too busy to try harder to regain it.

Sometimes, I see Paul walking in the halls, or at a party, and I am tempted to go over to him and say hi. Whenever I see Paul, his eyes just glance over at me, drifting right past me. I feel invisible, and the temptation to greet him, to go up to him and hug him, subsides. I tell myself, "You only even remember him because you wrote about him in your journal."

I suppose, deep down, I only want to have a sort of nice—sort of romantic—memory, without taking the risk of ruining it with small talk. And yet, when we do see each other, I think there must be some connection between us, at least an invisible thread that delicately binds people who have had sex. Even though now Paul and I never talk, I am insistent on imagining some tie that must bind us, a tie between strangers. Strangers who, in some small way, know each other.


Melissa graduated from Scripps College with a BA in Philosophy in 1996. Since then, she has been getting used to being out of school while living on the Internet and working on a novel.