She nods. “That’s good. So your boyfriend helped you realize what was considered safe for you personally and what was not?”
“I guess so.”
“And you had the willpower to stop.”
I shrug. I never thought I had much of anything other than hope. Willpower—that seems like a strong word.
“You don’t think you have willpower?” She must see my hesitation and insecurities. My weak shrug must have given me away.
“I’m not any better, am I?” I tell her. “I let Lo sleep with me during Christmas Eve, and I knew he shouldn’t have. I masturbate all the time, and I just threw out my porn. I’m not even sure how long that will last.”
“Lily,” she says, edging forward on her seat. She stares at me for a long moment. “You wrote on here that you’ve been monogamous the entire time you solidified your relationship with Lo. That is an achievement that you can claim. I have patients who’ve spent years with multiple partners, and they still struggle to stay faithful. You spent those same years with different men, and yet, you’re here, telling me that your problem is not cheating but rather compulsive masturb**ion, pornography, and intercourse. That is a huge hurdle.”
My chin quivers. No one has ever told me that I’ve done something good. This whole time, I thought I failed Lo in a huge way, I thought that my problem hindered my ability to help him. Maybe it still did, but Dr. Banning is telling me that I tried to be healthy for Lo. And I succeeded in a large way. “Oh,” I mutter under my breath, not able to form any other words. I wipe my eyes before the tears come.
“You love him,” she tells me. “But your situation is incredibly delicate. Rose tells me that he’s enabled you your whole life, and in turn, you’ve enabled him.”
I nod, pain weighing on my chest. “I’m going to change.”
“Good. In order to become healthy, you’re going to have to do the reverse. Instead of enabling each other, you’ll need to help each other.”
The only problem that stands in my way now—I’m not so sure Lo’s willing to come back and help me. What if he’s set on his own path that no longer involves me? I won’t force him to be a part of my life if he chooses not to be in mine. Even if…even if it kills me a little, I’d do anything that Lo wanted.
Obviously that’s been our problem so far.
This isn’t going to be as easy as it seems, I realize.
“Was Lo your first sexual encounter?”
“What…what do you mean by that?”
“Was he the first person to touch you?”
I cringe a little, trying to draw my brain back to those early memories. “Yes…we, uh…were nine, I think.” We played “doctor” and I sprawled on the leather couch in his game room. Naked, not knowing any better, I suppose. But maybe we did…we knew a little about sex by nine. He touched my breast. I touched him. And then I grabbed his hand and put it in between my legs. We separated after that and never played the game again. Buried the moment like it was some embarrassing story. I explain this to Dr. Banning. Briefly.
“It was consensual from both of you?”
“Yes. Is that weird?”
“It’s a little old for children to be playing doctor,” she informs me, “especially since, by that age, you have somewhat of an understanding of sex or at least sexuality. I would call it experimenting. Did anyone interrupt you?”
“No one ever came in. Lo’s nanny was kind of a flake. She used to sit on the couch and watch soaps all day. So…it’s not abnormal?”
“If something like this happens, it’s best if the children get caught and then hopefully the parents can sit down with them and explain appropriate behavior. It’s unfortunate that you didn’t have that guidance, but I wouldn’t fixate on it too much. Between nine and twelve sexual experimentation is a normal part of child development. You and Lo are roughly the same age, neither of you were coerced or forced into it, so I wouldn’t consider it abnormal.”
I try to take in her words before she asks another question.
“And after that, did anyone else touch you?”
I shake my head. “No, I touched myself a lot. And then, I had sex.”
I sink in the seat. “No, not with Lo.” I knew I was going to talk about the loss of my virginity—as though it solidified the rest of my nefarious acts for the future. The buried memory has already surfaced these past couple of days as I mentally tried to prepare for this discussion. “I was thirteen.”
“Was he older?”
“Not much. He was a fifteen-year-old kid, the son of my mother’s friend. I was at his house for his father’s surprise birthday party. It was during the day, and everyone mostly stayed outside by the pool. Lo was supposed to be there.”
“Why wasn’t he?”
The memory hurts a little because if Lo’s plans had changed, I know, without a doubt, that I wouldn’t have lost my virginity that day. But I believe I still would have gone down this road. Even if my first wasn’t mind-blowing, I still loved the sex. The way it exploded my nerves and rocked my body to an ultimate high. Once I felt a glimmer of it for the first time, I was sold.
“He didn’t want to go to the party. He wanted to find booze and hang out by the lake. But Rose begged me to go. She didn’t want our mother to be focused on her the whole evening, so I went to keep Rose company. And in the end, I left her to go hook up with some guy that paid me a little bit of attention. We went to his room, and what’s done was done.” My stomach hurts as I admit the rest. “Rose forgave me. She always does, but I can’t really ever forgive myself, you know? I’m a horrible person, and I convinced myself that it was better if I wasn’t involved in anyone’s lives. If I just stayed away, then they wouldn’t be hurt by me and I could do what I wanted.” I nod to myself. “Yeah, so that’s how it went afterwards. But Rose doesn’t take lightly to being ignored. She never allowed me to push her away completely.” I rub my eyes quickly.
“And Lo?” Dr. Banning asks, not missing a beat. “What happened to him that night?”
“I snuck from my house to his. We lived down the street from each other, so it wasn’t so hard. And I climbed through his window. I found him passed out on his bed. So I shut away all of his bottles before his father found them, and I tucked him under the covers.” I nod again, as though accepting the memory for what is. A painful reminder of our f**ked up relationship. “The next day, we just acted like nothing happened.”
She stares at me with dark eyes, a sort of worry that I think therapists are not supposed to possess. It flickers away before she scares me more, but I realize that she’s beginning to understand just how deep our tangled, messy, destructive relationship actually goes.
“After you lost your virginity, how did your relationship with Lo change?”
I squirm a little in my chair before I say, “I mean…we’ve always been friends.” I’m about to say nothing changed. But I can’t muster the lie. After I started hav**g s*x, everything changed.
“So take me through your sexual experiences between the day you became sexually active and now. How did things progress? Especially with Lo.”
My mind spins as I think about eighth grade and feeling like utter trash for losing my virginity so young. I didn’t tell anyone for months, and even though I was hooked to the feeling—I refused to do it again for a while. Too scared of the obliterating guilt that haunted me like a shadow. The second time happened at a graduation party. A public school kid threw it. Lo and I barely knew them, so it had the right requisites to attend. We both liked the anonymity. As years passed in prep school, people often grouped us together because of our friendship and status. We were Fizzle and Hale Co., and the more they wiped our identities away, the more we clung to each other.
The party was like any other, except for bedrooms upstairs. They were open and available, and so was the fifteen-year-old soccer player I met. It felt better than the first time, and I devised this theory that it would just keep getting better and better the more I tried.
I remember leaving the party with Lo braced on my shoulder. We couldn’t hide the fact that he’d been drinking from Nola, but she kept her opinions to herself and dropped me off at the Hale house. It was that night, with Lo sprawled half-asleep in his bed, that I asked him if he was a virgin.
I wanted him to tell me no. To ease my shame.
“I’m waiting,” he mumbled sleepily.
My eyebrows furrowed. “For marriage?” But he fell asleep before he could answer, but I think I knew it anyway.
He was waiting for me.
I began hav**g s*x every few months, nothing serious. Mostly I spent my time with p*rn and self-love. The day Lo found out I lost my virginity wasn’t even a monumental one. We were reading comics together during a rainy afternoon, and I complained that Havok and Polaris needed to just f**k and get it over with. Their sexual tension was killing me.
Lo looked up at me, and out of nowhere asked, “Have you had sex?”
It was like someone vacuumed the air right from my lungs. “What?” I squeaked.
He pulled his knees up and shrugged, like it was nothing. Maybe he was just trying to make me comfortable. “When we go to parties, you disappear. And when we leave, you’re always a little different.”
I didn’t know how he’d react. If he’d call me a slut, kick me out for being dirty. But I had never lied to him before, and I couldn’t bear the thought of starting. So I spilled everything in the briefest way possible. I didn’t want him to think I had been taken advantage of, so I made sure to emphasize that I’ve been seeking out most of the guys lately. That I liked sex.
His first question was, “Does Rose know?”
I shook my head, told him that I didn’t want to tell anyone else.
“I can keep a secret,” he said, but his words didn’t ease the panic in my chest.
He knows, I kept thinking over and over.
He sensed my alarm and gave me a reassuring nudge in the side. His warm amber eyes met mine, a little concerned but more understanding. I let out a small breath of relief.
“Just…can you let me know if you’re going to do it at the parties? If someone hurts you—”
His eyes darkened. “Still. We look out for each other. Okay?”
So I did. We reveled in our acts and hid our secrets from other people. To everyone else we were Fizzle and Hale Co. To each other, we were safety, love, and free from judgment and scorn. At fourteen, Lo finally lost his virginity.
One sloppy night that we buried with our hedonism.
We moved on like always, and by sixteen I was hav**g s*x at least once a month. Senior year, we became a fake couple and everything changed yet again. He kissed me. I kissed back. And I believed all along that we were pretending. But there were times where I questioned it. Where our “practicing” and the teasing turned to sinful touching. More than we probably should have.