Without question, Tom was the first man to break my heart. I was too young and naive to know that it was my actions that would cause him to do it. I was also too naive to know that my actions may have caused his to break too.
College dormitories are wild times especially when they are filled with freshmen. Sex, pot, insane amounts of alcohol, keg parties, fights, you name it. And if you’re close enough to Mexico, like I was, you get college nights in Tijuana. At least we did in the 90s.
My freshman year, I hung out with five guys. I had a crush on George, and I had since we’d met earlier that spring at an orientation for a summer program we were enrolled in before Fall semester. During that summer program, we’d gotten very close. Later in the fall, he came with his best friend, Adam. Adam was half Italian, half Irish and looked Mexican. He was the finest boy in the dorm. James and Mike were kind gentlemen. Sammy was a gentle jock. On occasion, George’s older cousin, Donnie, would hang out with us and supply us with alcohol. For the longest time, I was the only girl in our clique. We did everything together from sitting in George and James’s dorm room watching movies to going to tequila bars in Tijuana.
I was still a virgin when I went to college. I wasn’t itching to lose my virginity, but I also wasn’t waiting for marriage. I always knew I wasn’t going to marry my first. That wasn’t what it was about for me. All I ever wanted was for it to be an enjoyable experience.
One night, I went to a fraternity party with a few friends. The guys had gone out because Sammy’s best friend from back home had come into town, and we’d all gone our separate ways. I was doing my bored girl at the fraternity party thing when I noticed a guy sitting in a chair staring at me. He was watching me. It was awkward because I’d look away and look back, and he’d still be staring. He never said anything. I ended up leaving that night expecting never to seem him again.
The next afternoon, everyone was meeting in George and James’s room to watch the big Mike Tyson fight on Pay-Per-View. All the players were there. Sammy introduced me to his friend, Tom. It was the same guy. It was clear he remembered me. He was laying on George’s bed. I sat across the room on James’s bed. Even though he stared at me the entire time, it wasn’t creepy. The match ended. I left. Again, no words were exchanged.
About an hour later, Sammy knocked on my door. He told me that Tom thought I was beautiful and was wondering if I would like to hang out that night. Tom had enlisted in the Navy, and had come down from Bremerton for one last hurrah before his ship left for three months. Nervous, I agreed to hang out with him.
It was easy to fall for Tom. He was 18, sweet, cute, funny and charming. He was more talkative than I would have guessed after two encounters with him just staring at me. He was shy. He loved Bob Marley.
Sammy, his girlfriend, Tom, and I got a hotel room. Tom and I shared a bed. He was the first man with whom I shared a bed. Unlike most 18-year-olds I knew, I was really inexperienced. Tom was only the second guy I had properly kissed. And I did kiss him all night. Eventually, he made it to 2nd base. We continued like this until we fell asleep holding each other. The next morning, I cried as we said our goodbyes. We exchanged addresses. We promised to write. I was crazy about him.
Between writing love letters to Tom, the guys and I would hang out, go to Tijuana and frequent fraternity parties. They all knew I was a virgin. None of them ever tried anything. I had an intense attraction to Adam (most of the girls did). It was obvious that we liked each other. One night, several weeks after Tom had left, the guys and I had been drinking. I had to use the restroom, so Adam went with me. He followed me into my stall kissed me. He kissed my lips, my ears, my neck. It was fantastic. Adam was 18, but he’d been doing this for four years. To my inexperienced self, he was a pro. Heavy making out and falling asleep together in his bed went on for several weeks. Then, one night, I told him to get a condom. I was ready. We had sex in his dorm room. I loved it. We were adamant about keeping our sexual relationship secret from George. I didn’t know Adam’s motives. However, I knew mine. I didn’t want George to know I was sleeping with his best friend since we shared a history of crushes on each other.
Over the next two months, Adam and I were still having sex though rarely. We weren’t a couple. We weren’t dating. We were merely friends with a secret. I was one hundred percent sure we were not going to last forever. I was sure we wouldn’t even make it through the end of the semester. His attention had turned to another girl in the dorm. We would have arguments. One night, it was really bad. It was so bad that I told George about Adam and me so he would understand why I was acting the way I was. He figured something was going on.
During the entire time I was rarely have sex with Adam, I continued sending Tom two or three letters a week. I couldn’t wait to see him again. I didn’t get as many letters in return, but the ones I did receive were long and filled with details and promise and a picture of him in uniform. He was very happy with all the letters and pictures he was receiving from me. In his final letter he confirmed that when he returned, the first place he was headed was my town. I was really excited. Sammy knew it too. By this time, Adam and I were over. I only wanted Tom.
At the time, I didn’t understand the intricacies of all that had transpired over the three months since I’d last seen Tom. I fully understand it now. However, then, all I knew was Tom and I were going to be reunited. I was dying to see him, and everything was great and would continue being great.
Tom came into town. He never came to see me. He avoided me really. I didn’t know why. Did our three months of letter writing not matter? Was he exchanging letters with me just to get him through the three months? These were my thoughts. I was heartbroken to put it mildly. I recall sitting outside the residence hall and him walking by me as though I were invisible. There was no “Can I talk to you?” or “You fucking bitch.” Nothing. It all happened very fast, and was incredibly surreal.
After Tom left, George told me that days before Tom arrived, Sammy had asked him what was going on with me and Adam. It didn’t take a genius to determine that Sammy likely told Tom what he’d observed. Adam and I weren’t overt, but it’s very difficult to hide a relationship of any kind especially when there’s arguing. I don’t have any of this confirmed. I never talked with Tom again. I never talked with Sammy about it.
For 15 years, I have not read the four letters Tom wrote to me. Whenever I hear Bob Marley, I think of him. I even named a character in a story after him. They have nothing in common. It’s just an homage to the man who should have been my first. At 18, I had no clue what I was doing. If I did, I would have known to wait for him.