My First Downtown

On the night of my first downtown, I ran into a parked car. 

My roommate and I received a text from an upperclassman about a so–called “downtown” at this club, Recess. I immediately went from feeling like shit to hot shit and in a matter of seconds was ripping shots out of a plastic cup.

We chucked our cups out the window as our taxi rolled up to a five–story parking garage. I was expecting scene–y, not the scene of a crime. We obnoxiously cut through the mosh pit and presented our IDs with no problem. 

And then it hit me (the alcohol, no car yet). Next thing I knew, a security guard was physically removing me from my elevated surface. Shortly after I threw up on the dance floor, my friend dragged me out of Recess and into an Uber with three seniors. 

When we pulled up to Pine, for some reason I whipped open the door, sprinted out of the front seat, and ran full–speed into a parked car. Sadly this collision was not fully videotaped, otherwise I would definitely be YouTube famous.

I emerged from my car-induced stupor on a senior’s bed as she poured vodka on my wounds. Meanwhile, another girl checked my mouth to ensure I still had all of my teeth. I then threaten that “MY LAWYER WILL FUCK YOU UP” if she tried to steal any of my teeth.

As I iced my head with a bottle of rosé back in the Quad the next day, I realized my life had completely spiraled out of control in a Philadelphia club, and I had the brain damage to prove it. Having learned my limits, I was ready to start pregaming for the A’s day party.

My First Time Sleeping with a Friend

I knew we shouldn’t have done it. You should’ve returned to your messy Quad double. Instead, you came back to my room to share the Vlad I stole from a party. Lonely, sick from cheap alcohol, we started to make out. I didn’t want to sleep alone. And you wanted to have sex. 

Our friendship was so perfect. Boy and Girl. Beating the odds of sexual attraction. In that moment, you on top of me, I thought maybe our late night study sessions or Wawa dates meant something. I wanted to answer the “what ifs.”

You woke me up at 7am, tripping on our crumpled clothes as you tossed the condom into the trash. We decided not to tell anyone and hugged. 

After you left, I knew we lost. We lost the barrier of silk-screened pajamas and smoked-filled dorm rooms. We lost because of our own selfishness.

Yes, it was awkward for a bit when I’d see you. We stopped sending each other five texts in a row and talking about our crushes. 

I don’t know if the sex killed our friendship, but I stopped being amused by your bad fashion sense. When I texted you “help me,” you didn’t respond. 

And I found other friends.

My First Failed Midterm

In high school, the concept of failing was alien and laughable. The only grades to complain about were the eighty-nines that really should have been nineties. Needless to say, I was shocked to realize the red forty at the top of my first midterm at Penn was not, in fact, a score out of forty. In college, a forty is supposed to refer to alcohol, not an exam grade.

No one told me, as I struggled with Penn InTouch, that “intro” doesn’t mean “for freshmen.” It also never occurred to me that the only people who get to rate a class on Penn Course Review are the students who finish it.

I did step on the compass before the test, but that’s the only part of this story I look back and laugh at. Before the midterm, I received low As on all the quizzes and labs. The professor told us that the class might be curved, but he wouldn’t decide until after the final. The average on the first midterm was a 54%. The professor stood in front of a room of almost two hundred students and told everyone who received the average grade or below to drop while we still could. We were probably not going to pass.

I rushed to my TA, shaking with held–back tears. I tried to review the questions with her, but she told me I was being stubborn and advised me to drop.

I did, and I don’t regret it. But I still struggle with the fact that at a school as amazing as Penn, I was discouraged from taking a class I was interested in because of one grade. Outside of the admissions office, it didn’t seem like my genuine interest in learning has gotten me very far.

My First Drexel Hookup

By the time we were making out in my common room, it was becoming painfully obvious that the Drexel kid I'd brought home didn't know what he was doing. The only thing clumsier than his lips were his bra removal skills. The fog created by the pitcher of beer we shared at Smoke's was starting to wear off, but sending the kid home on a half hour walk to Powelton Avenue seemed cruel.

I figured (hoped, wished, prayed) maybe the sex would be better than the foreplay, so I let things progress into my room.  Clothes came off and condoms were located, but I found myself waiting longer than usual for things to get started.  "Hey, uh, what's going on there?" I asked.  No response.   

I waited. I offered to help. Still nothing.

Then he mumbles: "a lot of beer," "my friend was turning 21," "so drunk."

What now? Additional fooling around didn't seem to be helping the situation.

I pretended to fall asleep. When I heard his rhythmic breathing, I slithered to the other side of the bed.

I woke up to him staring at the ceiling, the sun illuminating a face I had remembered being cuter the night before.  I felt an arm slide around my waist and panicked, trying to figure out how get him and his clumsy Drexel hands out of my apartment. I put my clothes on.

He got dressed, then walked over to me, lingering. He took my hand.  I braced myself. He kissed me, prying with his tongue—7a.m. tongue.  I opened my eyes to see his scrunched.  He finally pulled away and said, "We should hang out again." I smiled halfheartedly. "I need to go to work."

My First Blackout

The first thing I remember are the ice cubes that slipped between my slack lips, dribbling down my chin. A nurse—faceless, genderless and anonymous—asked me my name and if I remembered being hospitalized for intoxication. I didn’t.

In that moment, I knew with absolute certainty that it was all my fault. I knew that my head was swimming and in an hour I’d be diving head–first into a skull–crushing, side–splitting hangover. It was my nineteenth birthday, and the ambulance bill was going to be upwards of a grand.

The night began with two innocuous words that fool me every time: Sunset Blush. After returning from Banana Leaf, I staggered around Beige Block with a group from my hall searching for frat parties in true freshman form. Eventually we found a party and crawled towards the bar, squeezing our way through the sweaty bodies. I ripped six shots before realizing no one was matching my pace. That’s where my memory starts to fail.

Here’s what I was told: We made it to Allegro's, barely. I was struggling to walk. The people I came left. Someone from Penn Walk called MERT, and my roommate waited at the hospital all night.

I got lost on my way back—heels in hand and hospital bracelet attached—before a senior pointed me towards 34th and Walnut. I stopped at Starbucks, still drunk but not immune to the judgmental smirks. When I finally reached my dorm, the Hill security guard asked if I was okay. I attempted a smile before walking upstairs.

My First Time in Therapy

“Dude, I think you need to go to CAPS,” says my fraternity brother, who would ordinarily rather get peed on than talk about human emotion. “I just—” he pauses to pick his way through the shattered glass on my bedroom floor— “think that little performance might not be…uh…might not be you?”

“Isn’t there at least a 600 year wait?” I respond, groping for an excuse to avoid a trip to the loony bin.

“Not for people like you.”

I spend the next few days wondering what he meant. People like me? Sometimes I lose my cool, but I’m normal. It’s just getting more tiring staying that way.

So I call up CAPS, they ask me a bunch of personal questions (“How do you feel about your weight?” “Uh…ambivalent?”) and, sure enough, the man on the line says they’d see me in the next couple days. People like you.

Two days later I’m there. The elevator ascends as I fixate on what a social clusterfuck it’ll be if I recognize someone in the waiting room, which, of course, I do. My immediate reaction is to marvel that she—senior, campus leader, effortlessly cool—of all people is nuts.  

She calls me to the seat beside her. I give her my best “Who, me?” look before settling into Seventeen. True to form, I lead with an overshare: I was terrified of making an appointment, I didn’t want to see anyone, I can’t believe she of all people is here—

“Me? Why shouldn’t I be here?”

“I dunno. You just seem to have it together.”

“Maybe I don’t. Maybe I do. But there’s no shame in it either way.” She pauses, “People like us gotta stick together.”

People like us.

My First Pap Smear

The morning after I finally told my mom that I’d lost my virginity, she sent me the text I had been dreading: MADE YOU AN APPOINTMENT WITH JENNY. Jenny being her gynecologist, Jenny being someone I know on a first-name basis because Jenny and my mom are doctor–friends. The woman who was going to be elbow–deep in my uterus was the same woman who would also be serving up hamburgers and Mike’s Hard Lemonade at the Labor Day barbecue.

After changing into a gown as rough and flimsy as generic toilet paper, I told Jenny I was ready. She did not start, as I thought she would, with downstairs foreplay, but went straight for the boobs. “Just feeling for lumps!” she said cheerfully, batting around my A–cups like she was beating egg whites for a sponge cake. I distracted myself by looking at the tray of silver instruments at my feet. They looked painful and evil, not unlike the object that got me here in the first place. 

Pleased with my lump–less bosom, Jenny moved down to the serious stuff. First, she jammed her fingers up my vag and felt around like an inexperienced tenth grader. Next, she replaced her hand with a cold, metal speculum and cranked it up to access my cervix. Then, Jenny brandished what looked like a dish brush and stuck that up there too, swabbing for cells, like she was Bert the chimney sweep just trying to make a living.

Thankfully, it was all over in a manner of minutes. Jenny sealed up the specimens and told me my results would be ready in a few days. I dressed myself and hurried home, where I peed in mild discomfort for the next twelve hours. Being a woman is hard fucking work.