May 09
Lorraine Berry lives in the Fingerlakes region of New York, although it's her transplanted home. On weekends, she can be heard throughout the area, cheering on her beloved Manchester City F.C. When not writing at Does This Make Sense? or Talking Writing, she can be found hiking with her two dogs, hanging out with her two daughters, eating what her beloved Rob has cooked for her, or teaching creative writing at a small college in the area.


Editor’s Pick
MARCH 11, 2009 9:00AM


Rate: 35 Flag

I tried to find meaning in being sexual. I wanted that knowledge, that secret knowledge of what it felt like when penises were inside vaginas. After I lost my virginity at 15, there was no one else for a while. As a senior in high school, I had a fast food job. I was 16, because I had skipped second grade and was therefore a year ahead.

I had been told that I would have to work once I turned 16. There would be no money given to me for college. I was expected to go to college, but I had to pay for it myself. That was the rule. I had to prove how much I wanted to go to school by paying for it myself. It's one of the reasons that I didn't dream big of private schools on well-manicured campuses. I didn't dream of those historical places where ivy grew on the walls. I focused on what I thought I could afford. A state college nearby.

And I worked. I worked in jobs that left me coated with animal fat at the end of the night from the constant fryers. I wore polyester uniforms. I worked with people who had no such dreams of going to college. Many of them were already out of high school. They took their breaks out back, smoking on the stoop. The women wore heavy black eyeliner—the symbol, then, of a woman who was not serious about school.

Serious girls did not wear eyeliner. They might wear mascara and eye shadow, a bit of lipstick, but eyeliner was a marker of something different. And yet, those girls were my work friends. One of the those girls and her husband would gain notoriety in my hometown when, a few years later, they would beat their foster child to death.

I hung out with them at work. And when the manager of the place where I worked, a 24-year old guy with a wife and two kids started hitting on me, I reveled in it. He became my secret. He would give me rides home from work—that way I didn't have to ask anyone at my house to come out and get me at 10 or 11 o'clock, and he and I would drive somewhere. For some reason, we frequently went down near the ferry dock.

It was at the end of the road my parents lived on, and from their house, you could see Puget Sound. If you traveled a few more miles down the road, you came to the ferry dock that would take you to Whidbey Island. The ferries stopped running around one a.m., and on Friday or Saturday nights, when it took us forever to finish cleaning the kitchen after customers had left, this is where I would go, with him, in his car.

The sex was awful. It was unmemorable. I do not remember pleasure. I just remember furtiveness. My own sense was that I was doing something forbidden and wicked—sleeping with a married man—but there was a disconnect between what my body was doing and what my mind was doing. My mind was engaging in something very grown up. My body was reaching for an affection and love and physical touching that it was starving for, but didn't dare ask for at home.

But the sex, as I remember it, was quick and uncomfortable. And guilt-producing for him. Only later did I realize that he must have been all of 18 when he married his wife. They had two children, and he was 24 and she was 22 and there they both were, working at some fast-food place, even though he had the exalted title of manager. He was a kind man. And she was lovely, truly beautiful in that delicate strawberry-blonde wispy way. But I cannot imagine how hard their lives must have been.

The affair ended when they decided to move back home to the southern state where they had grown up. Maybe they needed the support of their families again. As far as I knew, she did not know that he was cheating on her. I certainly never gave it away, and I marvel at my 16-year old self's ability to work with that woman on a regular basis and never tell her that I was screwing her husband. But he couldn't give me the thing I needed.

A few weeks after they left, I had an early shift. A Sunday shift, where I had to show up early enough in the morning to prepare lots of "side dishes” in anticipation of the folks who made the fast food we served their Sunday midday meal or early supper. I remember that it was a cloudy morning, a typical Puget Sound day, overcast, slightly damp, and the smell of the paper mill hung down low. That smell—of rotting wood, of sulfur and rotten eggs—permeated everything on those days. Unless a stiff breeze came in to move it away, you just felt cloaked in it, a reminder that you lived in a working class town north of Seattle, a town known as one of Seattle’s armpits (the other being to the south—Tacoma). Not Seattle itself, but a town with a storied history of labor unrest, and massacres, and fights and big log trucks and only two ways to make a living: Boeing or working in the pulp mills.

But on that particular morning, I had already made up my mind that I was quitting my horrible fast-food job. I needed to do something else this last summer before I went off to college.

My parents were letting me take the car to work since no one wanted to get up that early to drive me. I remember that just as I opened the driver's-side door I heard two enormous booms. Blasts. I felt the vibration move through the air. I looked on the horizon for some sign of fire; I assumed that one of the pulp mills had exploded, that to the north, down by the water, something would be on fire. But there was nothing. No other sound. No sirens. And so I got in the car. Turned on the radio.

On the news was the announcement that Mount St. Helens had just erupted. 20 minutes previously, the announcer said, the top of the mountain had blown off. I did the math. The speed of sound and the distance from my house were about right. I had heard the mountain blow its top.

It was a month until my high school graduation. The seismic shift didn't happen in my life on that day; it would have been a nice poetic metaphor to claim if it had. But things were shifting.

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i so enjoy reading your writing. this piece made me think that out of rebellion and sex emerged an artist who'd give back to the world through the imagery of the written word
Something had shifted already that day. The volcanic eruption seems to be to be punctuation to your decision to change your life. And I think that all of us at one time or another search for some missing intimacy in our lives by having sex with the wrong person or in the wrong circumstance. There's something vulnerably human about wanting to be close to another. highly rated
Nicely done!

I went to see Mt. St. Helens a few years afterwards...amazing.

But your piece was a nice evocation of that period in our lives. I don't mean the era of the eruption, but that late adolescence time when we're (the lucky ones) erupting out of our lives.
Very nicely told...I especially liked that mind/body split you felt, and self-consciously registered: mind, doing something very "adult"...infidelity! adultery! deliciously deep moral waters...
body, still a woman-child's, plunging into physical intimacy without a clue...following the rhythms of pleasure and "craving...affection"...

boom! goes the volcano...perfect ending..
rated, Jim
I think my smile is a mixture of memory. O, Empathy.
I even chuckle my sincerest giggle with the moist tear.
Before I knew, O, a happening, I made love on a beach.
I spent three days in a beautiful Place. She was a lover.
O, bye. Washington state. Snow cap. Mt. Saint Helens.
The news was:` Senator Kennedy drove off bridge`69.
That year was:`I was DRAFTED. I flew over to see war.
O, the high school lover was capable of intimate Love.
I wrote hand written letters. I say:`love you. I still do.
Then. O, bebop-o letter? My o day. Smile. She where?
She became one with a baby child (bump). O, baby cry.
I saw a Baby when I came home from war. Who Dada?
her marriage ends in failure. No reconcile? Life's short.
I don't have any idea where She is today. Just memory.
fingrlakewanderer. The photos yesterday.O, Cornell?
I thought of Nature artist, Goldsmith. Good thoughts.
Goldsmith taught art @ Cornell. My son met him there.
He does beautiful Nature landscapes in Nova Scotia too
Michael gathered twigs, green leaves, moss etc., Cranky?
Life is short. Truth is beauty. Beauty is truth. Be joyous!
I remember? Goldsmith's same-same-Ya? A good google?
You leave nothing untold. Hey? Keep a treasured secrets?
great have kind memories
I love your soulful stories too, Lorraine. Well done!
A blow-up on a day of reckoning for you Lorraine. We all need one of these sometimes.
The writing and descriptions are wonderful.
Your writing is very moving.
rated very high by me!!
send us many more, my friend
you as volcano

I love the soothing voice associated with notions usually held as wrong ... not outrage, no condescention ... what just is ...
you are the best at that!
You and the volcano changed together. Thanks. Great post.
Fingerlakes, I didn't know you were from the northwest. I'm still here, though in a different place than where I grew up.

I heard the boom too, about 500 miles south.

Years later, when I met my husband, I found out he summited Mt. Hood that day, and his group watched the eruption from the top of Hood.

Great writing. Thanks for the memories.
Fingerlakes, I didn't know you were from the northwest. I'm still here, though in a different place than where I grew up.

I heard the boom too, about 500 miles south.

Years later, when I met my husband, I found out he summited Mt. Hood that day, and his group watched the eruption from the top of Hood.

Great writing. Thanks for the memories.
first i have to ask, how does one go from seatle area to upstate new york.. i would have flown south as fast as i could giving that option..

second that was amazing.. it wasnt long winded *like i tend to be* you got to the point but you described things, all it needed was great lighting and some background music and would be hooked!
Yeah, it was quite a day, huh? May 18, 1980. Never forget that sound. My ex-husband lived in Portland at the time, and he remembered it raining and raining ash for days. I remember the trains coming up from the south covered with ash. My brothers would go down to the tracks and, when the cars were parked, would scoop up the stuff and keep it in jars.
My little mill town has lost all its mills. It's a navy town now. Scoop Jackson, the senator from Boeing, grew up in my town, and I would go past his house sometimes.

This piece is from the memoir I've written. It's a book-length manuscript and it's out with an agent right now. Waiting to hear back. A conversation I had with someone sparked my posting this. Just remembering how hard it is to be neither child nor quite adult, and yet, being in adult situations.

I'm so grateful to this community, all these comments. Thank you.
barbara--my journey was necessitated by graduate school. there's a certain ivy league grad school close by where I put in my time. now i teach close by, too.
Fingerlakes, you are such a marvelous writer. I always feel so involved in your stories - I can see the girls with their eye makeup and smell the sour air. Daughter is 14. Thanks for helping me remember just how chaotic and confusing this time is. Highly, highly rated.
Seismic. Funny how some events in our lives can be emotionally seismic.

The teen years are definitely tectonic in nature, aren't they?

Thumbed. Marvelous writing. Marvelous. :-D
I loved this. You are an eloquent wordsmith.
Enjoyed this piece. "Memories, in the corners of my mind". Keep us posted about the book.
The first times are never to pleasurable nor remarkable. I was flying in a helicopter 30mi south coming out of Portland IAP and not only witnessed both explosions, seeing and feeling them while trying to control a helicopter whose gauges were going screwy, no doubt a memorable experience. O/E
Great Post.
Wheeler 75
Beautifully told. Hard truths bravely told. That boom was your wake-up call, and it seems, the beginning of your awakening.
When we drive down from Bellingham to visit the kids in Portland, we look out their 22nd story apartment off into the distance, in the direction from which we've come, and on a clear day and we can see Mount St. Helens.

Everett has really, really changed. One thing that hasn't changed is exactly how it feels to have sex with someone who doesn't really turn you on. Really, it's a wonder we ever do it again after those experiences.

I've ridden that ferry to Whidbey Island to walk around in Langley and drive the length of the island to Desolation Pass and home through Skagit County to make my way to Bellingham. It's so beautiful, but logging has left scars that will take centuries to recover. It's great to read about what it was like back then.
Wonderful coming of age story, artfully told. Hot-as- lava sex came later I'm sure........... Rated.
The Clinton/ Muk, Ferry was it? Liked that you have nothing bitter to say about the time. Told in a way that makes me admire your kindness. rated
Sex, like fine wine, just gets better with age.... I think.... somebody told me that....

I'm trying to remember....