Chapter 26. Sex Bad at the Asian American Retreat/Marianne
Marianne picked up her large pack with her sleeping bag attached and walked across the rocky ground towards the cabin. The sky was lowering, with rolling dark grey clouds. This place looked primitive to her. She wondered if it had a decent bathroom where she could put on her makeup.
Inside, there was a whole wall of bunks, four bunk levels stacked up, rising two stories high, with ladders leading up to them. College men and women of every possible Asian extraction sat all over the lower bunks, chattering in English and scattered other languages. She decided to choose a bunk on the second level at the end near the bathrooms, spreading out her purple sleeping bag and laying her small white silk pillow at the top. She put aside the big pillow they had given her so she could use it to muffle sounds of people going up and down the ladder later. She set her pack on the bunk to keep it out of the way.
Marianne went from the bunkhouse to a larger cabin that served as the kitchen/living room. She looked around and recognized no one. A professor she had seen but didn’t know was carrying in a huge box of food. “Get out of the way. Move! Don’t you see I need some room?” he snapped at Marianne.
“C’mon, don’t block me. I’ve got a heavy load here!” Marianne backed away, and he rushed past not even stopping to glare at her. She picked at the back of a chair in the living room area with her long fingernails. After watching people rush around for a while, Marianne walked back to the bunkhouse. A tall girl with a downturned mouth and short hair pulled back on top by a clip-on comb threw Marianne’s things on the floor to take over her bunk.
“Hey, stop that! I have that bunk!”
“No, not any more.” The girl pulled down her short red T-shirt and glared at Marianne.
“No way are you getting my bunk,” Marianne scrambled up onto the bed, scooted in along the wall, and pushed the tall girl’s things off onto the floor. “I’m here.” She crossed her arms and put on the toughest face she could, thinking how her mother froze teachers with a look at parent-teacher conferences.
“It’s mine now.” The tall girl tried to put her sleeping bag back up. One of Mr. Lim’s helpers from the Asian American Resource Center heard the argument. She walked over, looked at what was happening, and said, “No, Rose, you will have to go up. I saw the other girl’s things there earlier.”
“I had this bunk, not her,” Rose said, collecting her things from the floor. “I wanted it. Don’t I have any rights?”
The resource center woman looked at her for a minute. Then she said, “Yes, of course you have rights. But not at her expense.”
Rose gave Marianne a venomous look, grabbed her things, and stomped off to the other end of the room. Marianne was shaking when she picked up her sleeping bag and pillow from the floor. The resource center assistant helped her.
“I’m Mei Ling Wang. What’s your name?”
“Hi, I’ve seen you at the resource center. I’m Marianne Wu. My middle name is Mei Ling.” Marianne ran her left hand through her hair. She breathed deeply, trying to calm down.
“Marianne, it’s fun to share a name with you. You need to calm down. Maybe this will help: we’ll do yoga in about a half an hour. Let me know if Rose gives you any more trouble.” Mei Ling moved away to check on other areas, and Marianne thought she was glad a few “adults” were along on this trip. She worried that Rose would try to get back at her in some way. If only someone she knew would come along. Why had she come along on this retreat anyway? Wasn’t she trying to be more American, not more Chinese? But they had been so insistent, and it did offer her a possible chance to engineer a Sex Bad.
Sharon Chang said, “Marianne! Liu and I have been looking for you all over, and here you are in the bunk house. We have to take top bunks.” She scaled the ladder next to Marianne’s bunk to the fourth level up and dumped her sleeping bag on the bed, then came down. “Let me take up my pack and then let’s talk,” she said. Liu stood there watching his sister. The sun picking out the tips of his spiked hair. He smiled at Marianne, making her feel hot and embarrassed, but attracted, too. He went to the other end of the room and took his bags up the ladder. Marianne was glad that the sun had broken through the clouds outside and felt that it matched her feelings perfectly. Now she’d be okay. Now she had friends.
They walked back over to the main lodge after they claimed their bunks. Sharon walked right up to the professor who had spoken so angrily to Marianne earlier. “Professor Lin, here is my friend Marianne Wu. I’m her mentor. Marianne, he’s the best professor of Chinese history at our college. He’s world famous!”
“Hello, Dr. Lin,” she said, almost inaudibly, putting out a limp hand.
Dr. Lin just touched her hand, without meeting her eyes, and said, “Weren’t you the young woman I almost ran over with my box of groceries? I apologize. Not used to physical labor.” He picked at his cuticles.
“I’m fine, no problem.”
“Well, your mentor is a very fine student. You couldn’t have a better role model,” he said, smiling at Sharon.
“I appreciate all the help she gives me,” Marianne said softly, not sure that he was listening.
“I’m sure she’ll win the senior thesis prize in History next year,” Lin said. “Anyway, I didn’t mean to run over you, and I hope the good food will make up for my mistake.”
“Yoga this way, we do it outside. No need to change clothes,” Mei Ling sang out as she passed through on her way to the bunkhouse to gather more students. Sharon, Liu, and Marianne went outside. The sun had just set and the tall pines smelled like vanilla. Marianne breathed deeply. There was a paved square and Mei Ling had laid out mats. About twenty of the thirty students on the retreat did yoga. Rose did not participate. Afterwards, Mei Ling herded them inside to help make dinner.
As they entered the main room, Liu whispered to her, “I found a little room upstairs where we can go later on.” He moved on ahead of her and joined a crowd of boys over by the sink. Marianne felt a little chilly. She was scared, but sex with Liu seemed like her best chance for the Sex Bad. He was experienced according to his sister, and he seemed to like her. She didn’t have the same feeling for him, but probably that didn’t matter. She thought sadly it would have been nice to have her first sex with someone she loved. That wasn’t going to happen, so she needed to be ready. She touched the condom package in her pocket lightly. She had explored the CVS drug store down in North Hollywood until she found the condoms, up high on an out-of-the-way shelf. She went into the bathroom, got out her journal, and jotted down a few notes about how she felt: nervous, excited, scared, curious. She tried to capture the physical feelings that went along with each emotion. Hard but interesting, she decided.
They ate dinner at a long table. Marianne sat next to Sharon, and met a few of her friends who were interested in literature. “I like Sense and Sensibility best, her writing is very mature by that time, and her themes are still relevant today,” one was saying when she sat
After dinner, Mei Ling and the other organizers called them to form a ring in the big living room area. Everyone had to participate this time, the resource center staff didn’t take no for an answer. When the ring was formed, Mei Ling said, “Now, if you’ve ever been ashamed of your parents because they did something too Asian, take a step back.” Almost everyone took a step back, even Rose. Next Mei Ling said, ‘If you can think of one thing you have in common with your parents, take a step forward.’
No one moved for a while, then Sharon took a step hesitantly. Then Rose did, then many people stepped forward. Marianne sorted through all of her negative ideas about her family for something they shared. Her fingers touched the smoothness of her jersey and she stepped forward. She shared their love of luxury. She wasn’t exactly proud of that, but it was true. She had been immersed in the finest things money could buy and she did enjoy their quality, the way they pleased her senses. Mei Ling continued to call out experiences, and people moved forward and backward in response, for about a half an hour.
Then she had everyone sit down in chairs and on the floor, and they talked about the prompts. Some had very moving stories related to the questions, others said hardly anything. There was a lively discussion but Marianne noticed that almost none of the students in the first year class were saying anything. She thought the ideas were interesting, and it was a surprise to find how similarly almost everyone had reacted to having immigrant parents or grandparents. She contributed one comment about how wealth-oriented her parents and their friends were, and BeTuck Ma said his folks were the same. Several others agreed.
After three quarters of an hour, Mei Ling said, “Take a break for ten minutes, and then come back here for another get-acquainted activity.” She kept them involved in activities for another hour, then said they could play games, make brownies, or discuss things with others. Marianne joined a group making brownies in the kitchen. She liked cooking with lots of people. After they had made the batter and put it in pans, she drifted back out to the living room area. Liu was standing by the door. “Let’s go upstairs,” he said to her.
Rose came down the stairs as they went up. She said, “Hi, Liu! Let’s talk about Econ after while.” Marianne thought Rose sounded interested in Liu, but he just said, “Okay, I guess,” in a neutral tone. Liu led Marianne down the hall to a door, which he opened to reveal a tiny room almost completely filled with a queen sized bed. As they went in, he wrapped his arms around Marianne and kissed her, closing the door with his foot. They fell backwards onto the bed. Liu held her tight enough that she had trouble breathing for a few minutes, but she wriggled a little and got to a more comfortable position. He began to unbutton her shirt.
She felt nervous, but told herself that she wanted the Sex Bad. Too late to think up objections now. Liu had a lot of trouble with her shirt buttons. He finally got enough unbuttoned so he could feel her left breast. He barely touched it. Does he think I’m breakable or what? He spent a long time gently fondling that breast, then moved to the other one. Okay, this is nice, but is that all there is? It seemed like forever before his hand went down to her right leg and started to move up under her skirt. He slid it slowly up, just a light feathery touch, until he got to the elastic of her low-slung panties.
He touched the elastic, touched the skin above it. All of a sudden, Marianne couldn’t get her breath. Maybe he’s right to go slowly to build the excitement.
Liu took hold of the elastic with both hands. He started sliding her panties down. She felt almost like he was tickling her, but it was exciting, not funny. When he got the panties all the way off, he tossed them on the floor and unzipped his own pants. He guided Marianne’s hand to his penis, which was surprisingly hard. She touched it tentatively. Just then, the door burst open and Rose and another girl appeared.
“Eeewh, he’s trying to fuck her, Mary,” Rose squealed. Mary turned white. Marianne scrambled to get her panties and pull them up. Liu zipped himself, scowling at the two girls. When Marianne and Liu were more or less reassembled, Liu grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the room. Rose and Mary were left to follow slowly. Marianne saw them looking around and wondered if they planned to tell some of the adults about the sex. She didn’t see anyone they could tell.
Marianne and Liu sat together on a big couch in the living room. Liu looked upset. His carefully spiked hair looked messy instead of cool. Marianne felt like she was observing herself from a weather balloon. She didn’t feel connected to her own body. Rose and Mary circulated through the group and she wondered what they were up to. She looked around for Sharon, but couldn’t spot her. Liu said, “Don’t pay attention to those poison girls, Rose Chao and Mary Ho, Marianne. They’re nothing but troublemakers.” He squeezed her hand.
The brownies were ready, and Liu got up and got a big one for them to share. She broke off a corner and bit into it. Chocolate was such a powerful flavor. She remembered reading the chemical structure was similar to some drug and could stimulate the same parts of the brain that sex affected. Will I ever really get to have sex? I guess so far I can write about embarrassment perfectly. But not sex itself.
Professor Yang called out, “In ten minutes, star gazing up on the meadow behind the house. Dress warmly!” Liu looked at Marianne and raised his eyebrows. She smiled. He spoke to Professor Yang briefly. They would go out to see the stars. She watched to see if Rose or Mary would approach Professor Yang, but they didn’t. Maybe they didn’t know him well enough.
After the stargazing crowd saw Saturn and Venus and looked at the moon through Professor Yang’s telescope, Liu took Marianne’s hand and pulled her slowly backwards until they were in the woods. They slipped back farther and farther, then came to a little path. Liu pulled a flashlight from his jacket pocket. Marianne breathed fast with excitement as they walked along, holding hands. After a while, they came to a small lean-to that had some bales of hay piled up haphazardly in it. There was a space behind them next to the wall. Liu took off his coat and put it down in that space. He and Marianne lay down on his jacket.
This time, he was much faster. He didn’t bother with her breasts, but went right for the panties. He pulled them down below her knees and quickly unzipped himself. His penis felt big against Marianne’s bare stomach. He guided his penis between her legs with his right hand. It pressed backwards against her and seemed to be trying to bore a hole in her. “Ow!” she said softly.
“Just relax!” Liu said. You aren’t letting me in.”
“That hurts,” she said. Then his penis found a pathway and went deeper inside of her. It was stretching her a bit, but it hurt a whole lot less than the pounding had. “That’s better,” she said.
“Mmm. Relax more.”
“I don’t think I can.” His penis felt less hard inside of Marianne. Liu pulled out. Marianne felt wetness between her legs, gooey mess. She took a tissue from her pocket and wiped herself off.
“You didn’t use condom,” she said.
“You can’t get pregnant the first time anyway,” Liu muttered. He got up and zipped his pants.
Marianne pulled her panties back up and rearranged her clothes. It wasn’t as good as I imagined. Why do people go so crazy over sex? It’s not so special, kind of hurts. Liu picked up his jacket and put it on. They walked slowly back towards the cabin, not holding hands, not talking. They went in, and joined the game of Cranium on the living room floor. Rose and Mary were playing chess on one of the couches. Rose whispered something to Mary. They stared at Marianne and Liu but didn’t say anything.
Marianne leaned back on against a couch and let her mind wander. Maybe this time I found the down side of the Bad. It wasn’t fun, and Liu doesn’t seem to have any reaction to it at all. I feel angry towards him. It was my first sex and it wasn’t special at all. I feel like crying, but what for? Liu doesn’t mean anything to me really, I was just using him for the Sex Bad. Why did I build it up so much in my thoughts and dreams? Why does it even matter? I am sure if I wrote about these reactions, people wouldn’t believe them. They expect some kind of threshold experience with your loss of virginity. But not for me. My insides feel a little bit stretched, not very good. Oh, well, there are always books. Lady Chatterley didn’t have this problem. This Bad Project has made me appreciate reading more, not less.