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A Short Trip for Bread and Toothpaste

It will teach me how to carve a six pack with forty minutes a day and how, with a left turn and hook up, to find the g-spot that gives a woman a superior orgasm; it’s all that easy. And one day you’ll understand, Freshman: you’re better right now than you’ll ever be.

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I’m in gray sweats browsing toothpaste at the CVS when a kid in khaki pants saunters towards me with a fluorescent orange sports drink and a baby-blue box of tampons. I can tell kid’s a first timer, a freshman. Short, some would say a runt, his eyes are round and wide as dinner plates. His mouth is glued shut in a sharp slant as hyphen-stiff as a poker player’s with aces in the pocket, but there’s the hint of an impish tweak at the corners. Freshman can’t decide whether to advance or retreat.This is a landmark moment. It’s not that I see the act of a young man buying tampons as some common male right of passage, something that might appear between two men conversationally and sound something like, Speaking of, Howard, remember the first time you bought a feminine hygiene product? Ohh-hohohoho…yes, yes. I certainly do too. No. Not the case. I’ve never bought tampons. In my history with women I’ve purchased: pregnancy tests, condoms, lubricant, lingerie – he’s got me thinking about first times, initiations. Maybe one in ten males are thrown into his particular. Perhaps there is a girl who lives in his dorm, two floors above; she has decided she likes the freshman – she is his first. They like to lay in one or the other’s twin bed and nuzzle and nap, and listen to slow, dripping rhythms layered with wheezing accordions and pianos that seem to echo over glaciers, that music from Iceland. After CVS, because there is no cabinet or drawer space in the dorm bathroom, the box of tampons will sit eyelevel on a naked shelf above the sink. He will prop it up there, like a diploma on which something like, Women Have Been Here would be written. But for other more sensitive girls, it will be seen jutting from the wall not much differently than the way the severed, stuffed head of an antelope might. Reaching the toothbrushes, he passes a man, whom he can only describe as too tall, too skinny – sloppy – that’s me, holding a loaf of bread and a box of toothpaste. And that’s it! His hypothalamus activates. Something inside compels him, laughs out huh, a-huh, in sudden understanding, in recognition of this moment when the female organ, the vagina, the subject of dreams, of desire, lust, of countless masturbatory sessions, has become something akin to a tube of toothpaste or a loaf of bread. During college orientation, he received a complimentary, welcome-to-the-wide-world-of-sex baggie containing lubricated and un-lubricated condoms, astro-glide sexual grease, and a pamphlet on venereal diseases and oral sex. And good thing. His first physical relationship is moving fast; so fast in fact, his female asks him to buy her tampons before he has a chance to exhaust his condom samples and needs to stand at a checkout counter, eye to eye with the woman working there, a thirty-eight year old mother of four, accomplished smoker of 5,430 packs of Newports and 8,678 packs of Marlboro Lights, with nothing between them but a pack of Juicy Fruit and a lighter, and pointing he asks for Trojan Ultra-Sensitive Ribbed(s), and he, not yet the master of his own face, feigning eyebrows, mouth, cheeks, chin, scalp, nose into a shape of stoic nonchalance that inaccurately winds up looking, no, sounding, something like, oh la-dee-da, oh dum-da-doo. And that night, when the roommate leaves and he and his mate are left alone to indulge in the numbing, although protective and reassuring recreations inside the colorful new package, they’ll be nearing three sheets courtesy a handle of Captain Morgan, and only then realize that he mistakenly, in the haste of discomfort caused by the accomplished womb/smoker of 15,000, was relayed un-lubricated condoms that have the effect of razor blades inside, and rather than stopping, tears the rubber-skin off and pushes forward, naked, into the vulnerable unknown beginning with what he assures her will be just the tip, just for a second, just to see how it feels, but winds up feeling too utterly sublime for both parties to stop, and sensation erases all apprehension and hesitation, and is instead the whole thing for five minutes, enough motion for him to ooze, an ooze, which in my past – for me – contained the spark of a small life she discovered seven weeks later, a spark at the apartment they have shared for two years, for two years being real adults out of college playing house, taking bubble baths together and carving pumpkin caricatures of each other’s faces that sit side by side on the porch, jack-o-lanterns, real adults making adult decisions, decisions like remaining silent when she tells him there is a pill called RU486, but leaves a grand canyon size lacuna for him to jump in, to fill with adult words, adult decisions that she is asking him to make, but he, still under the impression that life is cracking open all around him, that him, he is changing and tomorrow is never quite the same as he was today, and we are just playing and sometimes when all the blocks you’ve stacked to the sky fall there is nothing to say so he says nothing and five days later something goes wrong, it happens early and he rocks on the edge of the empty tub while she sits on the toilet, and he will never see anything so fragile as her eyes at that moment, and they will stand on separate sides of the bowl looking down amidst a thick fog of blood and tissue, so much blood and a smell like dank earth, and even though she flushes quickly they see too much for any more bubble baths or pumpkins, and in dreams he will look down at a membranous orb, like some prize you get for a quarter and a twist on the handle of those junk machines at the supermarket, a clear plastic egg with a little astronaut inside. But that will happen in the future; today is more important. This is just the beginning for Freshman. I bless him with bread and toothpaste. I bless him with the flip-flops on my feet and my cozy gray sweatpants; bless him with the tomato soup and coffee stains of six days wear; bless his brimming face – I can’t tarnish it; I can’t touch him. So the grass is green. And because toothpaste’s on sale I save a dollar and fifty cents and have an excuse to buy a junk magazine with a lot of female skin on the cover. It will teach me how to carve a six pack with forty minutes a day and how, with a left turn and hook up, to find the g-spot that gives a woman a superior orgasm; it’s all that easy. And one day you’ll understand, Freshman: you’re better right now than you’ll ever be.

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