At almost 22 years old, I wasn't used to guys who were invested in my orgasms and never tried to get away without using a condom. My love life up to that point consisted of unrequited crushes and a few random hook-ups, my virginity zapped by a guy who’d told me I'd be hotter if I worked out. Next time I saw him he’d introduced me to his girlfriend.
Bill (not his real name) seemed immediately different. We met at a bar just before Halloween, him with slightly crooked teeth and a sprinkling of gray at his temples. When I bravely told him he could kiss me if he carved the mini pumpkin decorating our table, he pulled out a Swiss Army and jabbed it right in. In actuality, he was gentle and calm, so unlike the roaring college boys I knew. He'd just turned 31 and owned a trailer on Lake Champlain. The next morning I awoke to him leaning against my bed with the newspaper and two steaming hot chocolates.
A few weeks after Bill and I got together, I had a week off of school for Thanksgiving break and joined my dad, stepmom, and four younger sisters on a trip to Iceland. I flew across the Atlantic blasting The Cure on my headphones, visualizing every song as a movie montage of my time with Bill—him reaching for my hand on icy sidewalks, morning talks in bed, pancakes at the diner. Though I'd just seen him the night before, I pined for him as I'd pined for Dylan McKay and Rob Lowe and some aloof upperclassman for years—only this time my fantasies were based on actualities, and my gut tingled with excitement.
A couple of nights later, lying on the hotel bed watching TV with my sisters, I suddenly felt itchy below the belt. I scratched—and it got way worse. Ew, I hope whatshisname didn't give you some grody STD. Typical Jilli: she was 16, the next oldest, and I was used to her ribbing. I shaved off all my pubic hair and then told myself the itch was from that, but now my gut churned with worry that she might be right.
Darkness settled in by 3 pm, and the cold was just like Vermont, jeans like razor blades when you pulled them on. We explored geysers and hot springs, circling the island on its one main road, an eerie sparse moonscape unlike anything I'd ever seen. My interior landscape, too, felt new—missing someone who might be missing me back, whom I could drop details about in the rented van.
I was floating in the Blue Lagoon—huge and touristy and yet somehow still mystical, the black sky strewn with milky pink and green clusters of stars—when a slow spool of thoughts unraveled. Was I sure that I was the only person Bill had been greeting with morning donuts? Were there STDs that condoms didn't protect against?
I toweled off away from my sisters, embarrassed of my clean-shaven look, weirdly like a little girl again. The itching had mostly subsided but something was still off. I remembered Bill chuckling at the piles of books around my bedroom, how he'd said, I'll make you a bookcase. How many shelves? Him doing carpentry for me, him fucking another woman—both like screwdrivers into my heart.
Two days later, when I was back at my apartment (full blast heat, ruptured suitcase) I couldn't make my fingers dial his number. By noon I was at Planned Parenthood. In the small exam room I said it aloud just before she did: Crabs.
The nice, slightly bewildered nurse—You were in Iceland? You tried to shave them off?—patiently answered my questions. No, I didn't infect all of the Blue Lagoon; those suckers clung tightly to me, their host. She told me exactly how to get rid of them and patted my back on the way out.
I bought the stuff and scrubbed in an anxiously long shower, rueful with the realization that yes, there was at least one STD with no regard for condoms. He called, finally. Come over, he said, and I couldn't find my keys fast enough.
Still rosy from my shower, I surged with anger most of the drive, knowing that Bill had been dishonest somehow. I'd already worked out that I didn't give them to him because I hadn't been with anyone else since summertime. My mind swerved—was the whole toilet seat thing real?—but quickly righted (I always, always squatted!)
It felt natural, toeing open the cabinet under the sink while peeing in his bathroom, and there it was—the exact same bottle of RID now hidden under my bathroom sink. A half-answer that gave rise to more questions: When did he realize? And why hadn't he said anything? I sent the door closed with a kick; time to confront him.
Then his voice, silky from down the tiny hallway—Are you coming to bed?—and maybe it was the anticipation of his laundry smell and worn fingertips, the way he pulled open the sheets and smiled when I reached the doorway, the sweaty beating-heart tenderness that was the best thing I'd known in 22 years, but I heard myself crooning, Yep. I'm coming.
Jess D. Taylor's writing has appeared in Creative Nonfiction‘s Sunday Short Reads, Wraparound South, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Little Patuxent Review, Pidgeonholes, KQED, Superstition Review, Mutha Magazine, Traveler’s Tales, and elsewhere. She teaches college English, edits Made Local Magazine, and raises her two girls in Santa Rosa, California