This is not an advertisement.
This is not a plea.
This is not a bitter plaint.
It’s just a part of me.

Jess Cox

In anticipation of a brisk afternoon in late April, a puma clears his stony throat.

Or legend has it so.

I still have hazy memories of a drowsy beefcake in a yellow poncho who, under a warm July rain, led my orientation group around the University campus.

His rocky shoulders were, as I recall, cause of some salacious whispers amongst the female half of the audience. I don’t remember much of what he said, but I do remember that he pointed to a pair of statues outside the Natural Science Museum and said this: “Legend has it, every time a virgin graduates from the University of Michigan, these pumas will growl.” At this, I heard some muted snickers emanating from beneath a few umbrellas – mostly male laughter – snickering, presumably, at the very thought – a virgin? Post-college? How ludicrous an idea.

In my bitter little mind, the laughers were the lucky males who, at age 16 or so, had lured the local pony-tailed floozy to a secluded hammock somewhere, had sighed a few sweet nothings into her tiny porcelain ear, and had consummated their boyhood dreams, then and there, in sweet and sweaty triumph. I hadn’t done that. But I laughed too. A little.

I didn’t want them to know.

At 22 years old, and as a senior, I’m a little reluctant to admit my virginity. So why publish this in The Michigan Daily, you ask? Because fuck it. I’m graduating.

Much of my reluctance stems from the fact that some of the people that are “in the know” choose to, for lack of a better phrase, be dicks about it. One dude, for instance, has opened a betting pool about who will lose his virginity first out of a group of three gentlemen from high school. I am one of these gentlemen, and, while this may sound somewhat arrogant, my company isn’t very flattering.

That said, my friend has still bet against me (as it turns out, smartly). “Man,” he drunkenly stammered one evening, “you could lose your virginity tonight, if you really wanted to, if you would just grow some balls. You could just go to a frat party and point. And I know (contestant one) couldn’t do that. But I bet on (contestant one), because he isn’t a pussy. He would take an opportunity. Just be a goddamn man. Jesus, (contestant two) is going to get laid before you.”

I don’t know why I let this hopelessly intoxicated schmuck get to me that night, but I did. His words still echo around in my cranium every now and then, and occasionally, his ideas are compounded by someone else.

My co-worker, for one, actually laughed in my face when I told him a few months ago. He tittered and said, “Are you kidding me? You dated this last girl for how long? Like over a year, right? You must have some unearthly patience, man. If I’m not in her pants in 72 hours, I am gone.”

I get this reaction of disbelief quite a bit. I tell them that “the situation has not presented itself,” which might be a little bit of a lie. But then comes a series of questions:

“Are you like a super-Catholic or something?”

No.

“Are you really awkward in private?”

No.

“Do you have bad breath?”

Only in the morning.

“Are you gay?”

No.

“Did you make some promise to your grandma before she kicked the bucket?”

No.

“What the fuck, then?”

Well, two reasons: First, I screwed up my first kiss, and I don’t want to screw this up in the same way; and second, I’ve been pretty terrified of asking. Let me explain.

I kissed my first girl at 18 years old. It was my best friend’s older sister. Did I have romantic feelings for her? No. But she was 20. And she was OK-looking. And she allegedly found me attractive. So I figured, why not? Let’s get this over with; I am fucking 18.

So, one night, my sleepy best friend heads upstairs to his bedroom, and the two of us decide to stay in the basement to watch “The Mask of Zorro.” About midway through (about where Catherine Zeta-Jones looks around the wall in the low-cut dress with her boobs all pressed together), she grabs my hand. This is it.

Then, after Zorro has done his thing – after all the swordplay and the flipping and the swinging, with the credits rolling and the flame-bursts bursting and a Latin guy crooning about how he wants to spend his lifetime loving “you”- she turns to look at me. And she says “you know, I don’t bite.” How nice it is of her to reassure me, I think, and she jams her rubbery tongue into my unsuspecting mouth.

For years prior, at idle times of the day, I’d been making out with the back of my hand in anticipation of this moment. But I’d never used tongue. I’d romantically presumed that my first kiss would be soft and slow – with warm, moist lips that would stick a little bit when you would pull away like the caramel strands of a broken Twix. Well, kind of like that. Yeah. I know. Too much “Saved By the Bell.”

But this is nothing like Twix. This feels as if someone has shoved a pink hand-held eraser in my mouth with a sweaty palm.

We never kissed again.

As it turned out, I could’ve simply waited another month or so. Because then I kissed a girl whom I’d bumbled after for over a year, and that was everything I’d ever expected – goose bumps and shit – and I staggered back to my Bravada in the moonlight, dizzy from what had just happened.

So there’s this desire to hold off for something “special,” as womanly as it may seem to some people. That’s why I don’t want to “go to a frat party and point.” I’m convinced I could wait a little and do better, as I should have done for the kiss.

However, the “holding off” thing doesn’t really qualify as an excuse, because I did find myself legitimately in love – twice – and I refused to apply any pressure. And by “apply pressure,” I mean ask. Why? I don’t know. Fear of rejection? Maybe. One girl was profoundly frightened of getting pregnant. The other girl was just as frightened about pregnancy and also not too excited about the pain involved for the female party (she was also a virgin). And I didn’t want a “Yeah, I guess. If that would make you happy” response. I was looking for a “Yes. Please do me.” I guess that doesn’t happen.

Girls aren’t the only ones who feel pressure. Males are bombarded, too, with pressure to lose our virginities – mostly from the media. Virility, like it or not, is directly correlated with number of times laid. There are movies. There are television programs. There are Snoop Dogg albums. Often, watching something like “Springer Break,” I feel as if there are very few of us left.

But I take comfort in the few. In fact, I live in an apartment in which seven of nine people are virgins. And we are a happy bunch for the most part. Nothing is wrong with us – well, you know, nothing major. We’re all a little weird. One of us doesn’t like cheese. Another farts frequently. Another writes biographies of cross-country runners he’s never met. But we’re all happy. And we’re all seniors. And we’re all virgins. So I’m not completely alone.

Maybe it’s a perceptual thing, then. Maybe not everyone on the street has reached this supposed culminating act of adolescence. Maybe those guys chortling at orientation were just the same as me. Maybe there’d been no floozy and no hammock and no obscuring foliage, and maybe those guys were laughing with nervous eyes and turning stomachs just as I was – with reddening cheeks in warming rain. Maybe I’m not weird. Maybe it doesn’t even matter.

Some will read this and think it’s laudable. Some will read this and think it’s lamentable. Some will read this and think it’s a thinly disguised personal ad. But no matter what they think, I’ll know that college has been an awesome ride for me. Maybe it could’ve been better with some sex thrown in, but I can’t worry about that.

The pumas outside the Natural Science Museum can growl all they want. That is, after all, what pumas do.

– This column, in different form, was originally written as an essay for John Rubadeau’s English 425 course. E-mail Eicke at dramone@umich.edu.

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