When I was seventeen, I thought I should kill myself if I didn’t succeed in getting laid by the time I turned eighteen. I hadn’t had a girlfriend since I was fifteen. So I stopped spending all my spare time reading and writing science fiction, and started going places where I could meet girls.
I met Julie at a meeting of Mensa, the high-IQ society. Julie was short (an advantage to a short fellow like me), extremely attractive, and quite bright and lively, a contrast to most of the Mensans who took themselves very seriously and were generally a morose lot. She also had a pronounced British accent, which I found inexplicably enticing.
Julie shared some of my interests, including classical music, foreign films, walks in the park, even science-fiction. She accepted my invitation to see a Bergman film the following weekend. Later I spoke with a couple of the livelier guys in the club, and they told me Julie had a reputation for having Done It with more than one guy. I think they expected this to turn me off. Instead, it suggested that I wouldn’t have to convince her to Do It altogether, just to Do It with me.
We went on a few dates, all cultural events. I liked her company, and we found plenty to talk about. One of our dates was going to see a Saturday matinee of an off-Broadway play starring Jean Shepherd, the radio talker whose work we both loved. After the show, I took Julie backstage to meet Shepherd. I introduced us, saying, “Hi, Mr. Shepherd, my name is Leslie Gerber and this is my friend Julie.” Shep immediately realized what was going on, a teenager trying to impress his date, and replied, “Oh, yes, Leslie, of course. How are you doing? How are your folks?” He went on for a couple of minutes pretending he knew me. It was the finest act of spontaneous kindness I’ve ever received from a stranger, and Julie was highly impressed.
One night I brought her home to her apartment in Queens, an hour an a half away from my Brooklyn apartment. She was pleased that I was taking all that trouble, and she gave me a very tasty good night kiss.
The next weekend, we went to a party and drank a fair amount of wine. I told her about Ted’s place, a basement apartment in the Village which a bohemian friend of mine used as his writing studio. In exchange for paying a share of the rent, I had a key to the place It had a bed, although a somewhat grungy one. I invited Julie to join me at Ted’s place the following Saturday afternoon, when I had reserved time. She acted huffy about it, treating me coldly for the rest of the evening. But I still took her home, and at the door she kissed me again and said she would think about it. Thinking was hardly what I was hoping for, but I was encouraged when I spoke with her during the week and she said she was still thinking about it. Anyway, she would meet me for a movie Saturday afternoon and then we’d see. The next day I braved the embarrassment of going to a drug store to buy condoms, the brand an older friend had recommended because you could feel everything just fine with them. I even wasted one to make sure I knew how to put it on.
We met in the Village, and I told her Ted had left some interesting new jazz records at the apartment. We went straight there, and as soon as I had put a record on, Julie took over. She removed her shirt and bra, revealing a pair of exquisite breasts, and began kissing me. I became so excited I didn’t know what to do, but she guided me, undressing me gently, turning down the lights, and even helping me on with the condom.
My friends were right. Having sex, feeling that indescribable touch, was the most wonderful sensation I had ever experienced. Julie had saved my life. It was a week and a half before my eighteenth birthday.
Afterwards, Julie lay back on the bed and looked at me, smiling. “Was this your first time?” she asked.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“Well, it was very nice.”
I carried that sweet expression of approval as a beacon through decades of adversities.
The doors to bliss remained open. Julie and I spent every weekend together. She told me that her experience had not been as extensive as I had heard; she had just had a couple of lovers for brief periods. Ours was her first real “relationship.”
Often we went to Ted’s apartment. If one of our apartments became available, so much the better. We spent as much time as before talking, going to movies and concerts together, helping each other with our college homework.
I didn’t show any of the symptoms I later learned as meaning one was “in love,” lying awake nights, having trouble concentrating on anything else, needing to feel like I was constantly in touch. Those unpleasant sensations came later. Life with Julie was idyllic. I thought about life after college, and whether I could settle down with Julie in an apartment of our own in the Village.
One afternoon, we had what started off as a particularly wonderful encounter. Julie’s parents were both off at work for the day. She called me in the morning and invited me to come out to her apartment for the afternoon. I was there by noon. I had brought lunch, and we sat eating quietly, without much to say for the moment. Then she took me into the bedroom, and we had our usual passionate encounter, which, if anything, seemed even sweeter than usual.
As I lay beside Julie, floating in post-coital bliss, she suddenly got out of bed and got dressed. Then she said, “I want you to leave.”
“Why?” I asked. “Is something wrong?”
“You bet there is. I never want to see you again. You’re horrible.”
“But why, Julie? I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Yes you have. You’re a monster. I never want to see you again. You’re a monster!”
I asked what was bothering her. All she had to say was that I was a monster and she never wanted to see me again. I gave up and left.
I was certain we could talk things out on the phone, but I was wrong. That evening, her mother, who liked me, said that Julie couldn’t talk to me. I waited a day and called in the afternoon. When Julie heard my voice, she said, “Don’t keep calling me. I never want to see you again. You’re a horrible monster.”
“But Julie, what did I do? I really don’t understand.”
“Oh, yes you do. You know what you did. You’re a monster!”
I tried calling a few more times, but she wouldn’t speak to me. I knew where I could find her, so I went to the next Mensa meeting. She was there, as beautiful and appealing as ever. When she saw me, she said, “I was afraid you would come. Get away from me, you monster.”
“Won’t you at least explain what you’re so angry about? I really don’t understand.”
“Of course you do. You’re horrible. You know what you did. Leave me alone.” She wouldn’t say anything else.
We had a mutual friend in Mensa, the red-haired siren Marilyn who later got me under her spell and then broke my heart. I enlisted her aid in finding out why Julie was so angry with me. Julie wouldn’t explain anything to Marilyn either.
Julie was out of my life. I even stopped going to Mensa because it hurt me so to see her, laughing and talking and acting as if I didn’t exist.
Decades passed. I fell for Marilyn and suffered when she eloped with her psychiatrist. I married and raised children. One of my best friends killed himself. I left New York and settled in the country, more than a hundred miles away, where I could see the stars at night. I was divorced, and didn’t see my children for a couple of years.
One day, I got a call from Marilyn. She too was divorced, and she had found herself thinking about me. We met for lunch at the Metropolitan Museum of Art restaurant, where the food is almost as impressive as the surroundings, and we talked for hours. She told me about green light meditation and her delight in her ten-year-old daughter, and about what a perfect bastard her ex-husband had been, that shrink she had left me for.
She said that Julie had asked about me a couple of times. She was married and living in Maryland, managing the real estate affairs of a recreational complex. Marilyn thought that Julie’s husband was rather aimless and dependent. I thought how sad it was that her wild spirit sounded so tamed these days, but then, who was I to talk, no Dostoyevsky as I had dreamed of being in college but a small business owner instead. Marilyn asked if it would be all right to tell Julie how to get in touch with me, and I said I would be delighted to hear from her.
Two days later I received a call from Julie. It was the middle of summer, and she said if I were interested it would be the perfect time to visit. A friend of mine, a concert pianist, was giving a performance near her home in a few weeks. We agreed that I would come for a visit then, and that we would surprise my friend by showing up at his concert.
I wondered if I would even recognize Julie. But when I arrived at her home after a day-long drive, she seemed hardly to have aged. Her accent and her bouncy spirits were intact. She brought me inside her modest house and introduced me to her husband, who reminded me of a cartoon beagle, friendly but lacking in energy or conversation. He and I exchanged very few words that evening, or during the three days of my visit. Julie took up the slack, full of enthusiastic talk about her surroundings and her work. I was tired from the trip and went to bed early.
The next morning Julie took me to see her development. She even made a few gestures towards interesting me in buying or renting a place, although the age of my car probably made it obvious that I was in no position to take on a second house. We all had dinner together and went to see a movie. Her husband again said hardly anything.
On my last day there, we went back to Julie’s development and I watched her bustle about, then retired to a cabin and read a book until the end of her day. Back at her house, she changed her outfit. I took her out for dinner. Her choice was a mediocre Chinese restaurant, which she picked because she rarely had the chance to eat Chinese food. Then we went to the concert, at which my friend played as splendidly as always. I was pleased to notice that Julie appreciated his playing.
It was past midnight when we got back to the house. Julie’s husband was asleep. She took out a bottle of red wine, and we sat at the kitchen table, sipping wine and talking. Julie told me she was still devoted to her husband, but she despaired of his ever succeeding at anything beyond his modest work. They had no children and were not likely to have any. She sounded miserable. I was feeling the impact of my failures in life and love, and I told her frankly about them.
Sunlight was hinting outside when we started making our parting gestures. But curiosity finally overcame my reticence, and I told her, “Julie, there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to know from you. When you broke off with me, you suddenly got very angry with me.”
“You said I was a horrible monster. You said I knew what I had done, but I swear to you, I really didn’t. It would set my mind at ease if you would tell me what I did to make you angry.”
“Heavens,” she said with a perplexed look. “I’m happy to tell you anything, but I swear, I haven’t a clue.”
(Note: This memoir is as accurate as memory permits, but a few details have been deliberately altered to protect the innocent.)