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The Cow and The Birds

I am lying on a towel at Wrightsville Beach, drifting in and out of consciousness. Amazed that we actually did it. I did it! I did IT. My skin is the copper tone I’d spent entire summers cultivating with baby oil and iodine throughout my teen years and that I now regret as what was once smooth and bronzed is now creped and splotched with freckles and age spots. But back then and well into my twenties, I loved being golden brown. Meanwhile too much Sun-In rendered my hair more bleached than blonde. When combined with chlorine from the pool, it sometimes had a greenish tint. In truth, I resembled an Oompa Loompa. Well, if they were 5 feet 9. I was the Stretch Armstrong of Oompa Loompas.

So I am lying on a towel, the sea grass rustling ever so slightly in the occasional fall breeze, the sound of Starship’s "Nothings Gonna Stop Us Now" is coming from a boom box two or three beach umbrellas over, and I am afraid and amazed and excited and disappointed and somewhat impressed with myself because finally, after nearly twenty one years on this planet, I am no longer a virgin. It didn’t happen exactly as I’d intended, flower petals, candlelight and a memorable song playing on the turntable. But still, it finally happened!

My devout Catholic mother, had done everything in her power to sabotage pretty much every relationship I’d had throughout high school and college, thinking that if I didn’t get too close to a boyfriend, I’d never have sex with one. “Well, you went to the prom with him last year, honey, don’t you think you should go out with a different boy for homecoming? Play the field a bit? You’re too young to settle down!” She’d subtly mention faults with the boys I’d bring home, casually planting seeds I’d never notice were blooming until hindsight revealed her cunning gardening.

Mom believed absolutely in abstinence until marriage and I had found that to be a helpful mantra in many teen and early college relationships or when I wasn’t sure about a boy. It proved to be an easy way to weed out the ones who “were just after one thing” as my mother assured me they all were. “They won’t buy the cow if they can get the milk for free,” she often said, suggesting, it seemed, that, as a cow, my main goal should be to give my milk only to the one who owned me.

As the semesters of college rolled by, I struggled with my inner desires and that albatross of chastity that I wasn’t so sure I agreed with any longer. I mean, I didn’t plan to get married any time soon. I wanted to travel! I wanted a career! I longed for adventure! I had no idea when Mr. Right would show up in this future that was spread out before me like the K&W cafeteria buffet.

So I came up with a plan. A mental trompe l'oeil if you will. I decided that I would wait until I was 21. The same age my mother was when she lost her virginity in Niagara Falls on her honeymoon when she got pregnant with me. I had seven months to go.

I had a boyfriend who I liked fairly well. We’d been dating for a few months and so far he hadn’t balked at not having sex. I hadn’t told him about the plan that was percolating in my head. So when he came to my dorm room one Friday afternoon and we were fooling around in my twin bed and somehow my guard was down and caution was thrown to the wind as the condom wrapper was thrown to the floor and we just did it. And I was surprised by myself, but not as surprised as I was by the first words out of his mouth mere moments later, “Oh shit! I have to go! I’ll be late for work!” and he kissed me on the forehead and said he loved me as he pulled on his pants and rushed out the door.

He called later that night to say he’d gotten a friend’s beach cottage for the weekend and he wanted to make it up to me. This time there would be candles and music. And there were. Roses too. And breakfast in bed. It was a good effort and the sex, well, it was a little more memorable, though I wasn’t sure if it was me or if it was him or if I just hadn’t picked the right person.

So there I am, several hours later, lying on a towel and contemplating this unexpectedly pivotal weekend, drifting in and out of consciousness in the surprisingly warm October sun. The nearby boom box may be playing Wang Chung or maybe its Bruce Hornsby, but suddenly, whatever the song it is is drowned out by the sounds of loud squawking. Getting louder and louder and closer and closer by the second and I peel open my eyes to see the sun block by birds diving right at me, surrounding me in a crazy Alfred Hitchcockian cacophony of wings and beaks and bird poop on my legs and in my hair and they are every where and I can’t sit up for fear of being scratched by talons. I fold up into a ball, covering my face with my hands and pulling my towel partly over my shoulder and legs. And when the racket dies down to just an occasional "caw!” and I am wondering if this is some kind of punishment from God for my terrible deed. I slowly roll over and look up to see my boyfriend, laughing hysterically. He had poured a bag of potato chips in a circle around me inciting the bird riot that left me feeling like Tippi Hedren and I knew I really hadn’t picked the right person.

The next time I gave that milk away for free, I was a lot smarter about it and I never again fell asleep on a beach towel.

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As shared at Story Salon on November 9, 2016, at Storytime September 17, 2017, at Flappers Virtual Evening of Humorous Stories July 12, 2020 and at The Nitecap's Story Night

on June 23, 2022.

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