The Gift of Abstinencebyrpsuch©
I probably don't have all the details exactly correct, but this conveys the essence of a relationship I had in my freshman year of college. I have changed her name because if any of her family should stumble across this, they would have been very likely to recognize her.
Like the overwhelming majority of guys, I was a virgin when I got to college many years ago.
In that I admitted it, I was in the distinct minority.
Most of us set about assiduously to correct that deficiency. It was certainly on my to-do list, but I was so shy with girls it was a struggle to get a date, let alone get into a situation where sex was a possibility.
I would have concentrated on schoolwork anyway. While I had been a world-class underachiever in high school, the freshness of the situation motivated me to excel, and my first semester grade point was 3.85 despite taking time-consuming, honors chemistry and physics.
My disillusionment with the supposed freedom and openness of college life set in the second semester, climaxed by my cutting a final in a five-credit course to earn a grade point average of 2.2.
Despite this performance, or perhaps because of it, my parents allowed me to pledge a fraternity in the final semester of my freshman year. It was a small, bookish fraternity with the second highest grade point average in the Greek community, including the sororities.
For those of you not familiar with the pledging process, it is a milder version of boot camp. The object is to harass, humiliate, degrade and generally make life miserable for the pledge class so they can form a bond by fighting a common enemy.
It works. The bonds forged can be very strong.
One of the weapons used by our actives was to require us to carry cigarettes for their use upon demand. This was both annoying and expensive since there were many more of them than us and, it seemed, most of them smoked.
I don't know how he came upon the method of our liberation, but Jim, who smoked himself, was the one who disseminated the information.
"I've bought my last pack of cigarettes for those guys," he announced.
"And how did you manage that?" I asked.
"You alter them. Take out the cigarettes and mist them. They dry them on the radiator. They taste like dust."
"Did you try them?"
"Didn't you hear me coughing?"
"That's all we have to do?"
"Would I mislead you?"
I remember the conversation accurately because it was a game we played. How long can you keep up a dialog consisting only of questions? The first declarative sentence loses.
Jim's contribution lifted our burden and restored our finances.
Fraternities have parties where, I know you will be dismayed to learn, drinking alcohol is commonplace. So is bringing dates.
The actives had begun to notice I sometimes showed up alone. I thought they might be empathetic and take me under their wings to bring me out of my shell. After all, I was to be one of them in a very short time. Bill was the one chosen to help me.
"At the next party, I expect you to bring Margot."
"Margot?" I feigned ignorance.
"Margot the Magnificent."
Not possible! Of course I knew of Margot the Magnificent. There were 40,000 students on this campus and at least 38,000 of them knew of Margot. She, too, was a freshman.
But she was blonde and gorgeous and she had curves and legs and breasts, all of which and had been assembled with meticulous attention to detail.
That alone should have made it obvious that I was as likely to lift off the ground in flight as I was to get a date with Margot. But, in addition to being an immensely desirable woman, Margot had a reputation.
She reportedly adored sex. She reportedly enjoyed it with a wide variety of partners. She reportedly did not require an elaborate dating ritual before making herself available. All of the hottest seniors, juniors and sophomores lined up for a chance to go out with her.
In contrast to this physical goddess, I was 5'6", 135 pounds of flesh and bone. If I were lying down in the rain without my shirt, a considerable pool of water would have collected in the concavity of my chest between the bottom of my ribcage and where my pectorals should have been.
My body looked like Mahatma Ghandi's in the early stages of a hunger strike. Had you been able to obtain a picture of me with my arm around Margot, the caption would have read, "What's wrong with this picture?"
I had trouble asking out girls who were attracting so little attention their faces might have been found on milk cartons below the caption "Have you seen this girl?"
Bill was telling me to get a date with the no-second-place, most sought-after girl on campus.
"No way," I argued. "There is not the remotest chance I can get a date with her. You couldn't get a date with her."
"No, I probably couldn't. But you will if you don't want to be a pledge the rest of your life."
This was so unfair. Had they just chosen this task for their amusement? Or had they figured out the way to exact the maximum psychological impact? This was my worst fear, like Winston's rats in 1984. But I had to make the attempt.
Margot lived in the next dorm. I went over there for lunch and saw her sitting alone by the window. That was not necessarily a surprising thing. It might not be every day that predators would descend upon her.
I started in her direction. My legs wobbled and I had to grab a chair for support. I took a deep breath. It didn't help.
My body temperature rose rapidly. Perspiration poured down my face. My shirt began to get damp and stick to my body. All my fluids must have been used to produce the perspiration, because my mouth was so dry my tongue stuck to the roof.
My heart rate increased to the point where it felt like it did when I was rushing toward the goal with a soccer ball just in front of my foot, trying to escape pursuing defenders. I hadn't eaten, but I felt nauseous. I took small steps to keep from stumbling or crumbling.
As I approached her table, my intention must have been obvious. A faint smile flickered across her lips and then flamed out. Her expression seemed to be saying, "Oh, good. Another one," without a hint of enthusiasm.
"Is it okay if I sit here?" I managed to get out.
"Sure. Why not?" Her voice was devoid of affect.
"I'm Margot." She knew I knew. I knew she knew I knew.
A brief silence ensued. I wasn't very good at this. I had a conviction that silence was the enemy. I have since learned that it can be valuable and comforting. At that age I had to find something to say.
"This food isn't very good, is it?" I asked.
"It's okay. You have to eat something."
"I like the fries." Hamburgers and fries were at the top of the food pyramid in the school's cafeterias. I don't know whether it was from ignorance or capitalism.
"I don't eat them. They have too many calories."
It's impossible for me to eat too many calories, I thought.
"So that's why you're so thin," she said.
I guess I had thought out loud.
"How kind of you to point that out," she added. She had a nice laugh.
She shrugged. "That's just who you are. It doesn't have to be a bad thing."
"What's your major?" De rigueur in a college setting especially for someone as conversationally challenged as I.
"History. What about you?"
"Let's see, it's spring so I think it's math."
Again that laugh. "You've changed majors?"
"I picked MSU for music. By the time I got here it was physics. This term I changed to math. Who knows how many more majors I can rack up in the next three years?"
Campus lore was that freshman boys don't get to date anyone who has been here more than a year. Freshman girls get to date anybody they please. Occasionally that might include a freshman. I had established beyond any doubt not only my bona fides as a freshman but my naiveté as well.
"I love history. I love to learn about the sweep of what moves civilizations. I want to understand what impels people to make changes in their social structure."
"You sound so passionate. Maybe I'll have to take another look at history. In high school, history was dates and names and as interesting as watching air," I said.
"That's bullshit history.
"History is about what was important enough to move them to make changes; who resisted and why.
"The French Revolution took place after the American Revolution and before the end of that century. The exact date is not important. The general time period helps you know what forces were going on around them. What were the social pressures and conditions? What could have been so important that they took their lives in their hands to change the only system they ever knew; to change the only system their ancestors had known?
"That is what is interesting about history."
"Wow. You make history sound like fun."
"I think this is the best lunch I've had since I got here."
"Oh. Are the vegetables tasting better?" Margot teased.
I blushed. "No. It's the conversation. It's the company."
I'm terrible at maintaining small talk with women. I am exceptional at sincerity. I had better be. I'm very transparent.
"I have to agree with you. This is the best lunch I've had since I got here. I have to get to class now but can we do this tomorrow?"
"12:30 it is."
It didn't occur to me until that evening that she had asked me for kind of a date. I quickly dismissed it. It seemed inconceivable.
What I did realize immediately after she left was that the rumors were untrue. They must have been started and perpetuated by some jealous coeds.
This woman was physically sensational. She had a lovely sense of humor. She was very intelligent and passionate about knowledge. Jealousy would be entirely justified if she was the competition.
In addition to my clothing, I wore a smile the rest of the day.
Lunch became a regular thing with Margot and it was the highlight of my day. We met at other times as well to enjoy each other's company and conversation.
It detracted from the time I could spend at the fraternity. That didn't bother me at all. It bothered Bill.
"You haven't been around much. Don't you want to join us anymore?"
"I've been spending time with Margot. I've kind of been distracted."
"Good try, pledge," he said.
"No, it's true. In fact I'm supposed to meet her at the grill in her dorm in around half an hour."
"You're telling the truth, aren't you?" he asked, incredulous. "You sound way too sincere to be making up something so ridiculous. So, have you gotten laid yet?"
"She's not like that! She is a really nice girl. And smart."
It sounded indulgent, like he recognized that I was deluding myself. But I wasn't. He was mistaken.
The conversation did serve, however to fill me with fear. Margot was quickly becoming my best friend up here. I was expected to take her to the next fraternity party. I would have to ask her.
If I asked without revealing my ulterior motive, that could poison the relationship. If I revealed my ulterior motive, that could poison the relationship.
It turned out to be a very easy decision. I could not live with the guilt of deceiving her. I met her at the grill.
"Margot, I have a confession to make."
"I didn't just meet you at random. I'm pledging a fraternity and they ordered me to bring you to a party."
She was still smiling but her eyes moistened a bit.
"As a date?"
I didn't understand the question.
"Of course as a date."
She put her right hand around the back of my neck, leaned in and kissed me on the right cheek.
"It would be my pleasure, pledge."
There was considerable silence this time but it was not uncomfortable. It seemed to wrap us in a warm, comfortable blanket where we wordlessly enjoyed each other's company. I realized I was starting to feel much more than friendship towards her.
Eventually, she spoke.
"You're the nicest thing that's happened to me here. I've been so lonely. The guys are after me for only one thing."
I knew what that was.
"The girls hate me. They won't even talk to me. My own roommate barely even talks to me and I know she doesn't like me. It's awful.
"But you've been wonderful. I know you had an ulterior motive for meeting me. But you've been spending time with me just because you like me. It has nothing to do with your fraternity. You can't hide that."
"Why would I hide that?" I asked.
"You're so naïve, aren't you? I love that."
"I don't understand," I told her.
"I know. That's what I mean. I bet you're even a virgin, aren't you?" She looked at my face. "You are. You don't have any idea how special you are, do you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
She leaned in and gave me a hug. I enjoyed it.
We parted to take care of some of the other things required as part of college life.
But the conversation wouldn't leave me. I was her only friend here? I was what separated her from the loneliness she had been suffering until we met?
Part of what drew her to me was I had made no moves and had no designs on her. That had been true then, but I had designs now.
I was falling in love with her. But I couldn't.
I was her friend. She needed me to be her friend. I couldn't fail her. I would have to suppress my feelings. It wouldn't be easy but what other choice did I have?
She looked great when I took her to the party, but then she always did. We were greeted upon our arrival with looks of incredulity.
She was close by my side early in the evening. Many of the actives came over to be introduced. I was no longer "pledge". For the first time, they used my name.
As the party wore on she would wander off now and then and I could see her engaged in conversation with one or another of the actives.
Even here, the girls shunned her.
All too soon the evening drew to a close. She had to be back before curfew or the dorm would lock her out.
She seemed a little sad when we got back there so I asked her, "Is something wrong?"
"No. Everything is fine."
I always wonder how many times to ask someone what is bothering her before I just let her tell me in her own time. I did not press.
She wound her arms around me, buried her head into my neck and held on tight until we heard someone announce that the dorm was about to be locked up. She kissed me on the cheek and went in.
We still got together for lunch most days but I didn't see as much of her at other times. She told me she needed to get ready for finals. I certainly had to, having left most of my reading for the end.
Before finals we had hell week, the culmination of our bonding as us against them. We spent most of our time at the fraternity house so I didn't get to see Margot much.
I noticed uncomfortable interactions with some of the actives during hell week, but in that harried environment in the midst of studying it was hard to ascribe it to anything specific other than hell week.
We all survived and I got my pin and learned the secret handshake.
Finals ensued immediately thereafter and still I did not get to see much of Margot.
When we did get together she looked much more like the girl I had seen that first day in the cafeteria than the one I had come to know.
At one point I did not see her while I pulled a three-dayer to cover all the material I had put off while class was in session.
I finished finals first and rushed over her dorm to see her but she wasn't around.
I was not allowed in the living area of a girls' dorm and she didn't answer her phone. I delayed returning home for the summer until I could see her.
Finally, I did. She sat alone in the cafeteria as usual. She smiled when I approached, but there was great sadness in her eyes.
It could have been anything, grades, family, our relationship or something entirely unknown to me. When I sat down, she took my hand, squeezed it and held on as if it were keeping her from plunging over a precipice. We did not speak for quite some time.
"I'm going home," she said.
"I'm not coming back."
I was stunned.
"I can't make a life here. You're my only friend and I have no real hope of making any more. People treat me ... disrespectfully. I have to make a fresh start somewhere else."
"How do I contact you? I'll come visit over the summer." I was enthusiastic.
She said it quietly. It was not a panic reaction but something she had clearly thought about.
"It's too complicated. It's too difficult to talk about."
"That's not good enough. You don't just blow off a friend with, 'It's too difficult to talk about. Goodbye forever.'"
She stood and whispered, "I'm sorry." She put her arms around me and squeezed.
I hugged back. It should have felt good, but I was numb. I tried to make sense of it, but this was not something from which any sense could be made.
I tried to mount arguments against her decision, but "No" is not a sufficiently detailed exposition against which to develop a compelling argument.
I could think of only one thing to say. "No."
We stood there.
Eventually she started to release her grip although she continued to hold her hands against my shoulder blades. She positioned her mouth by my ear and said very quietly, "I love you." Then she released me and walked away without looking back.
Several guys stood around enviously watching our exchange. I would gladly have traded places with them.
In July I got a call from a good friend from my pledge class. I was pleased to share a friendly voice. He lived near school and had the latest gossip.
He was obviously aware I knew Margot the Magnificent. I had taken her to our party, after all. I guess that's why he told me. Some of the actives had been hitting on her at that party. She went out with a few of them.
I was appalled their behavior. They had taken her and used her selfishly and thoughtlessly.
In return, she had given them the gift of gonorrhea.
I finally understood her decision not to return. I also understood why she had refused to allow me to stay in contact with her.
She had given me the gift of abstinence.