The roughness of Frank’s tweed jacket and the scent of my father’s cologne that he wore produced contradictory feelings, yet I buried my body into his as the Four Freshmen filled the dark basement of the Sigma Pi fraternity house. Bob-the smartest kid in the class always- came over and made a comment to Frank, laughing and moving across the room away from us to spread his message elsewhere. The pretty rose colored Slow Gin Fizz offered when the guests arrived had brought the level of excitement to the party. Just 18, I was crossing a boundary, I was having a drink, my first, in the Sigma Pi fraternity house. I felt my cheeks and body warm and the familiar, stale beer smelling dark cavernous basement felt warmer as well. The song ended and in the corner, a couple could be seen making out in the shadows. At the table, a round of drinking songs was enthusiastically being sung by the brothers of the fraternity. A tradition that happened right around the time the party was winding down. With the warmth I felt the release of me being more me, loosened not just by the alcohol but letting down the barrier of sobriety.
Frank opened the door Plymouth Sedan for me after we left the party. I sat in the chilly Plymouth with the beaten down leather icy cold seats that gave off the scent of something past. Past its prime, past its value, old. As Frank came in and put the key in the ignition, he in one full swoop brought his body over to mine and pushed me against the seat with an intensity that had me wonder what was going to happen next. I knew the deal, it was to have him want me, kiss me, merge our bodies, but never, never go all the way. So week after week, we parked and came to the boundaries of that and had long hot sessions with frosted windows resulting. He undid my bra, I didn’t resist but moaned slightly to encourage him and communicate I liked what he was doing. His one hand cold and dry was on my breast over my dress, and his body was pushing me even further onto the car seat as if he could fold himself into me. Time went on in the silent October chill that had the car itself get even more cold. But as he pulled me over to him, I felt the hardness of him against her leg. I’d actually never seen that hardness, but he encouraged me gently as he had the week before to place my hand on him. It felt foreign, brittle, even breakable. He moved my hand up and down showing me how much he liked that by his moaning and body movements. Then he pulled my head, pushing it down toward this area.
It felt to me like they were the only two people on the planet who would be doing what seemed like a peculair thing they were doing. The car radio was on and Bye Bye Love was in the background as the session went on finally with him pushing her back to the passenger side of the seat, raising up my skirt, feeling my stockings and caressing my leg as he placed himself on my leg beneath his body. Pressing and moving on me now, my role was to not encourage or discourage what was happening, but at this point it felt out of control. Now driving his body as I lay as still as I could and moaned in chorus with him not knowing exactly what would happen next.
And then he stopped moving and buried his face in my neck and was motionless breathing deeply and more slowly. In the next instant, the thought was-was that sex? I immediately felt bad; I felt that I had failed some standard even fully clothed as I was, and felt truly disappointed in myself. Just last week I had confessed to the Father James about this type of incident in confession. Father James looked very serious through the grill of the dark confessional booth, his head down and weary as he spoke about the “occasion” of sin. Being in cars with boys was the occasion of sin because things could happen that were sinful. My skin burned as I felt the shame of once again allowing this to happen and having again to go to the confessional. My sinking emotions isolated me from Frank who said nothing, but walked me to the door getting me in at my curfew 12 midnight, then driving off in the squeaky paint starved Plymouth.
The next day on the way to school, like a wave, the regret about what I had done and what would happen if anyone knew what happened sent me to despair. I endured my classes, and all the way home was convinced that Frank would never call me again and wouldn’t invite me to another fraternity party. He spoke of girls that go all the way in a certain way and so did his friends. Disdainfully. It could be that I would be all alone with nothing to do and nowhere to go on the Saturday night my parents let me go out. All the while I was thinking what I would say in confession again to Father James. I kept trying to figure out how I might get a confession from a different priest. That was how Mondays had gotten to be. But by Wednesday Frank would call making my world right again with an invitation to another fraternity party. My despair would go to joy and for the rest of the week, I would plan what to wear. By Saturday I was again in a state of anxiety about how the date would go.
From what I could tell from my girlfriends, sex was the issue that all the girls dealt with though we didn’t really talk about it directly with each other. My closest friend Kay talked incessantly all the way to school about making out with her boyfriend, how crazy she was about him and their near misses, but even she gave few details.
This was how it was for girls in the 50’s. ‘Peyton Place’ was the rage on television and the subject of girls going “all the way” was a huge and dreaded scandal. The lucky girls were the ones whose mom took them to their family doctor and got pills that “regulated their period.” Anyone who knew about that knew that these pills were used to help women get pregnant by controlling ovulation, but for some, they were deliberately gotten by parents to keep their daughters from causing embarrassment to their families from unwanted pregnancies. Most of us just knew we were not supposed to have sex and if we got pregnant our life would be ruined. Plain and simple. The shame of it was like a potential disaster waiting to happen. We didn’t talk with our girlfriends, we didn’t talk with our teachers for sure and for sure we tried our best to convey to our parents we were beyond reproach in not letting a boy bring shame to us. You never even heard the name of the boys who were involved if there was a pregnancy scandal. It was all framed in the context of the girl had not done as she should and now she was being punished with a pregnancy, would be out of school and far away perhaps never seen again in the case of Sally Jones, a classmate.
That was just how it was. The shifts that occurred in 1964 would change all that, but none too soon would birth control reach into the behavior and morality of the sexual revolution and bring the light of day and the option of choice to girls and women.