Then there was Nina Perkins. She and I had been classmates since the early days of elementary school, but I didn’t take notice of her in that special way until we were juniors in high school. She had just gotten back from Germany on an exchange program. She came up to me one day right at the beginning of the year wearing a derndl and told me all about how cool Germany was and how much it sucked in the US. I can’t say I was all that into the derndl, but I was well into punk rock by this time – very anti-The Man – so the conversation was right up my alley.
Other than the derndl and the anti-establishment chitchat she was very normal. She had a textbook mid-80s fashion sense with the acid washed jean jackets, puffy shoulder pads and Lady Di hairdo. This somewhat offended my punk rock sensibilities, but on the other hand she was a girl, and she was talking to me, so I had to appreciate the rarity of that. Plus she was a lot better looking than I had remembered.
We had a class or two together and we didn’t live that far from each other, so she suggested we get together to study. She basically lived by herself since her dad was almost never home, and she had a car, so she said she would come and get me and we could study at her place. Va-va-va-voom.
We did study. She was a good student, and after a few sessions I began to take an interest in improving my grades, which I had let slip for the past two years. We also liked each other right from the get-go, and Nina Perkins became the first girl I ever kissed for real. We were studying in my room, and then we were just talking, real close together, and I just kept talking and talking until I finally planted one, and she said, Finally, and I felt a huge sense of victory, especially in light of the infamous Michelle Baker Fail of two years before.
Our study time quickly became makeout time and it wasn’t long before I got my first chance to have fun with boobies. This was huge. I felt like a champion. I felt like Leif Erickson. She already had a couple of years experience under her belt, but it was all new territory for me and I was eager to explore. At 16 I was ready to jettison my virginity at the earliest opportunity.
Sure enough, right around Halloween, my place. Mom and everybody were out of town. Got the wood stove nice and hot, drank a little wine, checked the condom supply, and headed for the master bedroom. It made sense to my teenage boy mind: first time doing it = very special = best bed in the house = waterbed. In mom’s room. Mom’s waterbed. Big mistake.
Once we got started it became obvious that this had been a really stupid idea. As it was, Mr. Jimmy Johnson was letting me know in his own way that he was not happy with the location, and we were evicted to the living room floor. This was not very comfortable, and there were timing problems with the prophylactic, and Jimmy was still holding a grudge, so the whole thing kind of went tits-up, so to speak. Nina was very patient and supportive, which made it better and worse at the same time, and I just wanted to forget about it. Technically I had lost my virginity, but until now I have not spoken of it truthfully.
It was good to get that out of the way though, all that first time performance anxiety. Things went much more smoothly after that, although we learned that we were on very different orgasm trajectories. Hers was like this:
And mine was more like:
But I tried to make up for that shortcoming (wink) by honing excellent foreplay skills and oral stamina.
We kept studying and doing it, doing it and studying, and we had a pretty good routine going for a while. She confessed to being a naughty girl, a really kinky girl. She told me she had been in a threesome with two guys in Germany, for example, taking them both at the same time in various orifices. That was super hot, and although we never did anything that kinky ourselves, we talked about it a lot and it was nice to think that we could get crazy if we wanted to.
As a matter of fact, I was crazy in love with her, and she with me, and we told each other so. She was good-looking, smart, funny, sometimes crass in a way that I liked, spontaneous, and as you know, sexually adventurous.
One time our vigor was interrupted when she began sobbing. She cried for a little while before telling me she had had a flashback to when she was raped in Germany. Zoinks! Not good. Of course I listened attentively and tried to console her. I had no idea what else to do.
I still did not have a car. Unlike most of my friends I was not interested in owning one, even though I lived far out of town and a car would have definitely increased my liberty, not to mention my manliness. Nina had one, a present from her daddy, and she would swing by to pick me up in the morning for school. That was good for me, and in return I introduced her to good music so she did not have to listen only to Wham! and Aha. It seemed like a fair arrangement to me.
One snowy morning she arrived at my house very late. She did not look at me when I got in the car and would not answer when I asked why she was so late. She didn’t speak the whole way into town, but glared ahead with pursed lips. I asked and then pleaded to know what was the matter but got not so much as a glance from her. Inter-coital sobbing and now this. I was definitely in uncharted territory. By the end of the day she was back to normal, like that morning had never happened.
Not long after that she said nonchalantly, I like to play head games. What about you? I said, No, I think head games suck. We didn’t say any more than that, but she clarified her position with demonstrations over the next few months. There were more episodes of inexplicable angry silence, for example, as well as inexplicable absences; there would be no answer when I called, or she would not show up when we had a date. When I pressed her on this behavior she expertly flipped the script somehow so that she was the victim. I was now spending almost all of my non—alone time with her. With no experience to draw from and no friends to compare notes with, it was comically easy for her to toy with me.
Another time she said, from the driver’s seat of her car, Who do you think has the power in our relationship? One person always has the power. I said, from the passenger seat, I disagree. A relationship does not have to be a power struggle. Inwardly though, I knew we both knew the answer to her question. She just wanted to hear it from me.
I also began to hear about her problems more and more. Her mother was a chain-smoking bitch who lived in another state, didn’t call her, didn’t love her, didn’t care whether she lived or died. Her father was a chain-smoking asshole who, when he wasn’t working in the North Slope oil fields, spent all his time down at the Moose Lodge getting drunk. Didn’t love her, didn’t care whether she lived or died.
She was by herself most of the time in this massive house built with oil money that always had the odor of stale cigarette smoke and Pine-Sol, because when her dad was at home he smoked and when she was at home she cleaned fanatically. She like to play Pink Floyd turned up loud while she cleaned. She listened to a lot of Pink Floyd, mainly Dark Side of the Moon. One night I got a call from her. I could hear Dark Side of the Moon playing in the background. All the lights are off, she said. I have my dad’s three fifty-seven. I hurried over there and talked her down.
I had a little party with Charlie, my brother John, and Nina at my place one weekend when my mom was out of town. We drank a little and just goofed around. I don’t remember how it happened but Nina started to freak out, saying she was going to kill herself. She was trying to grab scissors or whatever to stab herself with. We three guys ended up chasing her around the house, disarming her. At one point she shut herself in the bathroom and we broke in to find her trying to stab herself with a pair of eyelash curlers. She ran out to the garage and tried to climb out the window, shrieking the whole time.
A while later she had a big party at her big house. Everyone was drinking and having a great time. Nina said something like, Wooo! Who wants to hot tub? And ran upstairs to get it going. She and I and a couple of other adventurous types stripped down and got in. Charlie told me he had seen a tampon string hanging out. I had seen that too. Disturbing. The other disturbing thing that I didn’t see but only heard about years later was Nina sitting on Charlie’s lap saying, Come on have sex with me. I’m pissed off at Mark and I want to get back at him. I’m glad I didn’t see it because I wouldn’t have known what to do. I knew I needed to get away from her, but I didn’t know how.
I don’t remember much after that, just that I felt bad most of the time. Towards the end of the year there was a party at some friend’s house in Kenai. It was the usual, drinking, smoking and acting stupid. Nina got a game of Truth or Dare going and hilarity ensued as clothes started coming off and outrageous acts were carried out. I’m not sure how it happened but by early morning most people were gone or passed out, and I was in a bed with Nina and our friend Richard Simms. He was a new guy, moved up from the south someplace, soft-spoken with a drawl and a deep look in his eye. Nina said, Let’s have a threesome, and he and I started moving our hands over her body. At one point our hands ran into each other and he shoved mine away. I was instantly aware of what was going on.
In the movie version of this scene that played over and over again in my mind afterwords I drag him out of bed and beat him unconscious with my fists. What really happened was that I was so dumbstruck by this boldness that I didn’t do a damn thing but get out of the bed, out of the room, and out of the house.
I have no memory of any interaction with Nina until the following spring after graduation. She had been away our entire senior year on another exchange, this time to Finland. I was with a nice girl, Bernadette, by this time, and I had a set of wheels too, a little truck, so I was feeling more sure of myself out in the world.
Nina called me up one day and said, Can you come over? We need to talk. I said, Sure thing. I was amused to find out what we needed to talk about; she knew I had a new girlfriend. Turns out she had had lot of time in frozen Finland to think about what our relationship had meant to her, and she had concluded that we needed to get back together. She said, Mark. It’s either her or me, Mark. You need to choose, Mark. Bernadette… Or me. This melodramatic bluster was amusing. I said, I’ll see you later, and I got in my truck.
I have often cursed fate sending me such a basket case as Nina Perkins for a first serious girlfriend, but I am thankful for three things. She got me back on track academically, with positive repercussions all down the line until today. She also told me I was arrogant and wishy-washy, and although I could not fathom it at the time, these were accurate observations. Thanks to her I got an early start attending to these character flaws. The third thing is more amorphous. When I met her I was still a boy, but at the end I was more of a man.