BY BILL RATNER
I was nineteen, and it was a long time ago, and the only thing I really had to go on back then regarding courtship and intimacy was what my friends said was okay to do and how my parents had behaved long before that. The rumor was, my friend Terry and his girlfriend Caroline were slapping each other around in his dorm room at night, or at least Terry was slapping Caroline—as a thing—more than once. In my memory of it I’ve probably added the part where she slapped him back, because that way it would have at least been even. Caroline was beautiful. She wore backless gowns to the dorm parties and didn’t care how her hair looked. She and Terry were together all the time. I guess she loved him. Terry’s father was a preacher in a large southern town. Perhaps they were the slapping kind.
Rumor had it that each time Terry slapped Caroline, she went back to her dorm room and told her roommate Julie about it. Then I went out with her roommate Julie. On our first date Julie and I ended up in the woods at night on a dirt path out behind the dorms where coyotes and raccoons ran. Julie wore a trench coat. After talking for a while we lay down on the path and made love, her hair and my hands in the dirt. And she whispered, “You can hurt me if you want.” I didn’t know there was anything about sex that was supposed to hurt. I was confused. It was as though she had whispered, I have saltwater taffy; do you have a bicycle? I thought about my friend Terry and his girlfriend Caroline and their slapping. In my Psych class we had read about folie à deux—a madness shared by two. Did Terry’s girlfriend Caroline appear so beautiful and somehow so noble that her roommate Julie, with whom I was now having sex in the woods, wanted to be like Caroline or at least do whatever Caroline did, and did that include asking me to engage in copy-cat slapping? I thought about my parents; I don’t think they ever slapped each other. My dad went to my mom for advice, not slapping.
So now, as Julie and I lay in the woods, we were in a kind of holding pattern, both of us waiting to see how I would respond to her invitation. I didn’t want to appear indecisive. So I slid my hand down her back and wedged it between her bare bottom and the dirt. With the small of her back and my knees grinding into the path I opened my hand under her left butt cheek, and I pinched it—hard. She said nothing. I’m not sure what she hoped I would do, but I don’t believe this was it.
We finished having sex. We stood up. There was a small crescent moon to the west. I brushed leaves and twigs off of her. She put on her trench coat, and we walked back to the dorms. We didn’t hold hands. I don’t think either of us felt like it. I don’t know if she was disappointed or embarrassed or just numb. We never spoke about it. I was a lover, not a slapper.
Bill Ratner is a nine-time winner of The Moth Story Slam. Bill’s spoken-word performances are featured on National Public Radio’s Good Food, The Business, and KCRW’s Strangers. His personal essays and short stories are published in The Missouri Review, The Baltimore Review, Hobo Pancakes, FeminineCollective.com, Blue Lake Review, Spork Press, Niteblade, Papier Maché Press, and Wolfsinger Publications. He is the author of the book Parenting for the Digital Age: The Truth behind Media’s Effect on Children and What To Do About It from Familius Press. Bill one of America’s premier voiceover performers on movie trailers, documentaries, commercials, and cartoons. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from University of California Riverside/Palm Desert. More info at www.billratner.com