10. Falling off a half-pipe, age 10. I was never a great skateboarder, but when my friend Eric’s dad built a giant wood half-pipe in his backyard and all the other guys were riding their boards up and down with their accustomed confidence, I talked myself into giving it a shot. Just stay steady, I told myself. Just let gravity carry you up and down. And so it did, but I veered off the ramp on the up-slope and the down was rather sudden. I cried out of pain, and shame. If you think they’ve stopped reminding me of that incident, you don’t know boys, or men.
9. My friend’s wake, age 19. My friend Tom was a year younger than me; we were on the debate team together in high school. The summer after he graduated, Tom was driving to work in Lexington when a Jeep tried to pass on a curve and hit his Audi head-on. I hadn’t talked with Tom all year. At the wake, I didn’t cry until my ex-girlfriend sat next to me and leaned into my arms. We just sat there and cried silently for a long time.
8. After being mugged, age 15. I was walking through Anderson Park, which I’d done a million times before. This time, though, three guys who must have been about my age—maybe a year or two older—ran up behind me and knocked me to the ground. I looked up and saw that one of them had a knife. They were pulling their hoods around their faces. “Gimme your wallet,” said one. I handed it over, and he kicked me hard before the three of them ran off. After my dad took me to the police station to file a report, I locked myself in my room and cried out of anger: anger that those thugs had made me feel vulnerable and weak, anger that they’d taken away my sense of security and freedom, anger that they’d made me afraid to walk alone.
7. Performance failure, age 21. For Valentine’s Day, my girlfriend and I went out for dinner and then back to my room; I’d made sure my roommate was going to be out until at least midnight, but it was after 11 by the time we got back, so the pressure was on. Then, Maggie told me to close my eyes; when I opened them, I saw that she was wearing a lacy red thong-and-bra combination from I don’t know where. “It’s your present,” she said as she climbed onto my lap. I knew I was supposed to have a raging boner, but the whole situation just seemed kind of ridiculous, and I worried that my roommate was going to walk in at any minute, and nothing could coax my anatomy into doing its duty. I was so embarrassed that I started to cry, which made Maggie swear at me, which made me cry even harder. She left, and I kept crying. Eventually my roommate did come home, and asked me how things had gone. That started me crying all over again. Fuck Valentine’s Day.
6. Being lonely, age 18. It wasn’t my first night at college that got me, it was my second night, after my sister called and I realized just how far away I really was.
5. The revelation that I’m not a woman, age 25. This is kind of a complicated story; I’ve already told it here.
4. Being bullied, age 11. The bully in my grade was named Luis. He kept threatening to take my lunch money, but he never actually did until one day after school, when he grabbed my backpack and unzipped the back pocket. He pulled out the maybe two dollars I had left in change. “Should I take your money?” he taunted. “Huh? Should I? Huh?” I told him that was obviously a rhetorical question, which was not the response he was looking for. “What the hell does that even mean, man? You think you’re smarter than everyone. Well, if you’re so smart, why do you keep your lunch money in your backpack pocket, jackass? Anyone could steal it. I should steal it, just because you’re such a dipshit. Here, dipshit.” He shoved it back in the pocket, and shoved me forward. “Keep your stupid two dollars. You’re not even worth it.” I went home and cried because I was afraid, and angry, and I didn’t understand. Why? Why me? I never hurt anyone. Why did Luis have to make my life hell?
3. After being spanked, age 7. I was only spanked that one time, but it hurt. Plus, it was humiliating. Plus, I didn’t think my mom would ever hit me. It was just that once, but she did.
2. My worst breakup, age 21. I adored Maggie. Frankly, I worshipped her. I loved her and everything she stood for, with her acting talent and her sharp wit and her crazy family life and her urbane sensibility. I could never believe she was actually dating someone like me, a meteorology major from bourgeois Brookline. After the Valentine’s Day incident, I saw it coming, but I didn’t know how soon it would come. At least she had the decency to tell me in person, but she didn’t have the decency to refrain from telling me that she would have preferred to just send a text. She watched TV while I cried on her couch.
1. My first sex, age 20. It was with Maggie. When she saw I was crying from happiness, she said, “Oh, that’s cute.” She fell asleep, and I kept crying. I dozed, and woke up, and cried some more, and finally slept.
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