how to lose your virginity just outside of missoula, MT

When he suggests you try the pillow trick, laugh. Instead, tell your sister where you’re going. She’ll offer to cover without you needing to ask. Make her swear not to tell the parents. Don’t think about a world where she tells the parents. Don’t think about a world where they check both beds. Think about a world where they check both beds, consider the options: an inflatable you-sized dummy. A stunt double. An actor, not only to sleep in your bed; but wear your clothes; take your classes; let the parents stick report cards on the fridge.

         Or, pick a night when they stay in. It’ll be a Wednesday, a school night, no chance of them driving into Missoula. On those- the nights when they drive into town for a movie, or a concert, or wherever parents go when they want to redeem a marriage- your dad checks your pillow two times instead of the usual one. Know they stop at your door on the way to their own. Know, also, that Dad is a heavy, heavy sleeper, but Mom makes tea at two a.m, so pick a full work day, a day when you know she’s been driving and won’t wake till seven the next when it’ll be too bleary and frost-covered out to know you’ve ever been gone.

         Pick a night when the air is cool but the sidewalk just barely warm, sun-strobed, cicada’d. Pick a night when the neighbors are gone and the TV’s fuzz is there to sedate the dog, who won’t bark when you creep back at 4 AM, your underwear a wadded ball in your jacket pocket and sneakers soaked through with morning grass, thick tufted heads of almost-frozen dew you thought wouldn’t crunch, but did.

         On this day, let Dad take you out after school. Let him drive you to the diner with the wet neon and plastic bar-stools and waiter with the good eyes. Don’t talk to the waiter with the good eyes. Talking, in many cases, is known to lead to flirting, and besides: he’s not half as good-looking as your boyfriend (it makes you nearly bite your tongue) whom you’ll be seeing  later tonight. Let your father-with-the-PhD-in-animal-sciences order for the both of you and when Helen Solano squeezes in with the 21 year old she’s been dating for almost as long as you’ve been in high school (hand in hand) don’t pretend not to stare. It’s common knowledge the kid’s never set foot in the student union of the local JC, but as of 3pm today you’ve been rejected from the singular school you applied for, accept the bacon cheeseburger; sundae; ringlet fries and do not grimace when the hot grease burns your fingers. Don’t lick them. Wipe them on your pants, wipe your mouth on your sleeve. Watch the way your father does the same. Let him speak the following. That a college is just a name, and nobody needs that, not you nor him. That he never needed any kind of fancy diploma from any son of his.And- mouth to sleeve, mustard on the cuff- all things considered, it could be worse. At least- eyes pinned to the back of Helen Solano’s neck- his son hasn’t knocked anybody up.

          Eat the last curly fry, then say: That’s not really a concern of mine, dad.

         Before dinner but after receiving news of your rejection: change out of your old jeans and into another, the nice pair without the ripped knees. Breathe, deeply. Say half a prayer. Lace, and unlace, and relace, your boots, shoelace through eyelet, one eye at a time and time again. Consider your T-shirt in the mirror. Leave it.

         In the booth try not to spill your sundae across the front, and when Helen Solano stops by your table to ask about Stanford, tell her to go fuck herself. Oh, wait.

         Someone already did.

         Your father will grunt. This is approval.

         Stare at the seam in her long blonde hair. Want to say: I’m sorry, Helen. Want to say, I take it back, I know you’re only looking for some kind of friend here, me too, me too, me too. Your father with his two diplomas will untuck his shirt, wipe his mouth, ball his napkin. He will stare, thin-lipped, at the soda-fountain; ice-cream tubs under glass; tinkly-belled door and flannel-clad shoulders of Helen Solano and boyfriend, hand in hand, no shame in the set of their shoulders, even with the kid beginning to show. Feel, inescapably jealous. And when your father says Whore, touch your sundae-spotted t-shirt and excuse yourself to the bathroom. The hot fudge looks like a wound. Wash your mouth. Take a breath. Come back, to find he’s finished your fries as well as his own.

         “It’s ok,” he says. “There are so many yeses.” He waits, for you to agree. “So many yeses,” he repeats, like he’s afraid you haven’t heard. “Yes,” you say, “yes, I know, yes.”

         When you leave the diner your father tips the waiter, thirty percent, because, he says, the kid reminds him of you. On the drive back, count the cows against the boxed shape of the tilted house that used to stand pin straight next to the grocery, your dad says, when he was a kid, where a whole family lived but slow by slow all went down, methamphetamine, and the business collapsing soon after, a dust-window’d store w/o tellers, empty-shelved for the next hands to make it profit. Let it pass. Count the heifers and the calves, brown mottled flanks, soft spotted in the gathering grey, the roadhouse dropping from the rearview like you knew it never mattered.

         Let your eyes rest. From far off your home is a small shape. Closer, and there’s your sister’s desk, pricked out against the upstairs window. The cat sleeping on the front porch. The shape of your shoes on the outside mat.

         Do not step into the dining room where the apron of your mother yells at the flannel of your father (For God’s sake, cooked a perfectly good goddamn meal) for taking you out instead of letting her feed the all of you. Let him break the news. When the quiet settles, take your place at the table. Pretend to eat the pork roast and push the potatoes into a perfect hilltop on your plate. Don’t think about California, where you won’t be going. Think, instead, about Daniel, whom you love, and the golden bits in his eyes, a million times better-looking than that waiter your father just tipped, thirty percent.

         Listen to your mother, father, sister, brother eat and gossip about that Solano girl, knocked up and serves her right. Let them try to console you. Bite your spoon and think about tonight. And when the meal’s over, put the rejection letter in the trash and scrape the potatoes over top. Think about his Camino and him in it. Think about the way the ocean’s supposed to sound. There’s a moment, brushing your teeth, when you’re afraid it’ll hurt. Tell yourself it won’t. Tell yourself, he’s been with boys before. Tell your cat, who won’t understand, and your sister, who will. Who will, because the parents never bed-check her, because she’s a girl and even with the jokes about Helen Solano who got knocked up, they’re not afraid, no never, of any unnaturalness on that side, everything good, even at peace.

         When you’re waiting next to the house, stand where the apple tree casts shadow in the daylight, think: your sister is almost as tall as you were, when you first fell in love.    

         He’ll text when he’s five minutes away.

         Listen in the hallway until you’re convinced you know what human sleep sounds like. Go slow down the stairs. If possible, levitate. Stub toes on your brother’s Thomas train set; bite your tongue to stop the yell; bite your cheek until it tastes like blood.

         Listen in the dark. There is the neighbor’s television, mute and glowing from across the clotheslined yard. There is the sound of your brother’s sniffled breath, your sister’s dry cough. In the way-off, the fields beyond this house or the next, there is the sound of a cow lowing, somewhere giving birth.

         In the kitchen, pause. The pots in their smoothly shining rows. The gurgle of the fridge that is two years past needing replacement. Slip an apple in a pocket, the one with the condoms; he promised he’d take care of the rest.

         And when the boyfriend comes to pick you up, say nothing about school or California or the tight peach-pit of anxiety in your stomach. Let him take your hand and squeeze it. And when he asks if you’re ready, the seat-cushion and the tilted house and pinwheeled sky of open-lettered stars, asks the the boy of the boy with the apple in his pocket and the ready and the ready and the sky and the yes, the yes and the yes:


         let him.