In the days before you realized you were “slut-shaming,” before the #MeToo movement and feeling confident about who you were, whatever that was, there was Caralyn in college, who most of my classmates called a whore. I was drawn to her mostly because she was mysterious and beautiful. Although I wondered about her frequent disappearances too, I didn’t assume they meant she was being sluttish with men because who would want that? Not much was known about Caralyn save she was from Texas, an only child whose father was in the military and that she had traveled a lot as a kid.
Caralyn and I were among those lucky enough to have singles on the second floor in a dorm at our all girls’ Catholic college. A single meant you could keep to yourself, live in your own world despite the one tall window with two vertical bars each room had that made you feel any time you looked outdoors that you were in fact in a kind of prison.
Our classmates assumed Caralyn was a whore because she was rarely in her room, which was often left wide open and, as she was from Texas and our college in the northeast, it was not likely she was going home weekends when she took off.
Whenever Caralyn was in, she would be getting ready to go out and making an erotic show of it, caressing her legs sensually as she put on stockings, or applying lotion on them if she was going bare. If I happened to pass by, she called out a “hey, what’s going on, Keri,” batting her long-lashes at me. One time I hung at her door finishing a smoke. She wore only a slip, no bra and swung her legs up and down on her desk chair as if testing their agility. Her straight brown hair cut in a bob fell partially over one eye, accenting her high cheekbones and creamy complexion.
She was not like the other girls I knew, especially in her utter lack of self-consciousness. I questioned myself constantly—Was I being modest? Appropriate? Lady-like? Too outspoken? When I could no longer keep up the front behaving in ways my body and mind could no longer tolerate when I landed in college, those questions were replaced with—was I successful in appearing modest, seeming ladylike, and so on. My true thoughts and feelings I kept secret. I imagined this was not uncommon for anyone like me who did not fall into the classic Catholic girl mold.
“Are you going?” Caralyn asked.
“Where?” I took a long drag of my cigarette, flicking its ash around her door in the hallway.
“DKE party. I’ll introduce you.” She said the last like a question, like someone wanting company, then turned to an oval mirror on her desk and began applying eye shadow.
She had converted the small narrow desk each of us had in our rooms into a Vanity. On top, instead of books, were a razor, a brush, a compact, and bottles of perfume--a bottle of Tatiana and Charlie cologne. She sprayed the Charlie around and asked me to come near to sniff it, which I did, even though the familiar fragrance reached me at the door.
Friday nights after dinner most of the girls in our dorm hung downstairs in the foyer, rollers in their hair, enveloped in bathrobes, the TV on as distraction while they compared notes about upcoming dates with all the seriousness of diplomats discussing world events at the UN. This was the favorite occupation of the girls I knew then—fantasizing about the kind of husband they would catch and swearing to one another and themselves they would remain virgins until they found “the one.” This was the scene I flashed on while watching Caralyn and weighing whether I wanted to stick to my regular routine or deviate for the night?
I hungered more than I admitted for the refuge of my single room and the handful of books I held dear and the journal in which I wrote poems that represented the only source of knowledge I had about my true feelings and self then. I had been lost in a riveting biography of dancer Isadora Duncan and working on a poem about Dana, a senior I had a crush on and was sleeping with whom I generally saw Saturdays. The idea of hanging with Caralyn seemed innocent enough, and a practical segue from obsessing about my upcoming rendezvous.
Caralyn slipped on a pink red dress, well-worn flats, and grabbed a short coat, which seemed bare covering for the November night. “Let’s go,” she said as if there was no question I was coming along.
“Give me a minute.” I replaced my flannel shirt with a turtleneck, slipped on clogs and a pea coat, ran a brush twice through my long hair, grabbed my room keys and dwindling pack of Marlboros and ran with Caralyn down the winding dorm steps to the cab in front she had summoned.
In the back seat, I slid out of view, paying no mind to where we were heading while engaged in my favorite occupations--smoking and ruminating. It occurred to me Caralyn’s family probably had more money than mine. I was attending college on full scholarships. Money in my family had been on mother’s side. Father worked for a plastics company mostly overseas and my older brother was in Vietnam. My one other sibling, Mary, who had attended my high school graduation, was married with two children in DC, and we saw one another only at Thanksgiving, when I visited her. Mother had been a successful journalist before passing away unexpectedly when I was five and she, 40, leaving a void I had not found a way to fill. Outside of loving Dana and wanting to write, my heart was like the night, a dark room I knew well and lived in alone and comfortably.
Who knew where we were headed that night. Caralyn gazed out the window seemingly riveted by the sheer blackness beyond. Presently, the driver turned off the main drag, made a series of quick turns, a left, then two rights, stopping before a well-lit building filled with partyers. “Sympathy for the Devil” reached me before I had even opened the cab door.
Caralyn paid the driver and we went indoors, where it was body to body, too loud and too bright. As if following a choreography, Caralyn went straight upstairs, and I followed, turning left, then into a bedroom, tossing her coat on a pile of others on a bed. I decided not to relinquish mine.
“Have you got a smoke.”
I gave her one, which she inhaled and exhaled like a movie star.
“Come, let’s get a drink,” she said in a Lauren Bacall voice like it was the greatest plan in the world.
Downstairs, we stood at the end of one of two lines to a beer keg, for what I figured would be a long wait, but presently two large plastic cups filled to the brim were passed back to us.
“I know you’re not looking for a steady guy,” I said testily as we toasted and drank.
“God no. I never want to get hitched. I just want to find the handsomest man in the world and fuck him,” she said, giggling as she finished her draught. My eyes widened. She was fresh all right, but missing something the other girls had, a drive for security, which I had not yet plumbed, having newly discovered my own sexuality. I wanted only to be in love. But what hooked Caralyn?
I pondered this while simultaneously realizing the drunken hollering was getting out of hand with the ratio of males to females about three to one. What was I doing? The last thing I wanted was to spend all night avoiding guys who expected you to perform fellatio on them just because they had been nice enough to give you liquor. The girls I knew hung in cliques to avoid just that.
Presently, three guys came over to Caralyn, surrounding her, each one chatting as if he was the only one there. She smiled and sipped from a fresh drink one of them handed her, her glance catching mine as if to say, “watch me. It’s this easy.” Not once did I see or hear her speak a word.
A guy with horn-rimmed glasses and a beer in each hand headed toward me with intent and I turned away, momentarily engaging someone nearby too sloshed to reply with anything but mumbles. When I turned back to check on Caralyn, she and her Musketeers had gone and the guy with glasses and two full cups was still heading toward me.
I backed away then, hiding near the entrance, then made my way upstairs to the more benign second floor, where I had a brief fantasy of napping on the nest of coats. I stepped into the bedroom and there was Caralyn, lying back on the bed, the tall guy with long hair on top fucking her, the other two, standing behind him massaging their tools. Caralyn’s face, eyes mostly closed, turned my way wearing an expression of remote ecstasy and pain, her little girl dress bunched at the waist, her stockings in a soft pile on the floor.
“Caralyn.” Her name caught in my throat. “Caralyn,” I said loudly, as if my voice could bring her to and whisk her away, but she and the others ignored me. It was as if we were in different worlds separated by an unseen wall. I had only one imperative—to go—and was lucky to find two others from my dorm also leaving the party as I ran out onto the sidewalk and enveloping night.
In the wee hours, unable to sleep, I tiptoed over to Caralyn’s room to see if she had made it back. The light was on and her door closed. I rapped lightly. She opened it groggily.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize you were sleeping.”
“I always sleep with the light on. Did you have a good time?” She rubbed her eyes like a little girl.
“Not very. You?”
“It was nice,” she said. “I met some nice guys.” To which I could only reply, good night and glad you got home all right.
Was this what she wanted I asked myself whenever the image of her getting gang banged returned. I would try then to replace it with the other image I had of Caralyn sitting at her Vanity basking in an aura of petulant innocence and confidence which had drawn me once, making me feel briefly that among so many lost and misguided souls, here was someone at least who was sure of what she wanted and where she was going, a story a part of me held onto even when it was clear this was not really so.
Arya F. Jenkins's poetry, flash, short stories and creative non-fiction have been published in many journals and zines. Her fiction has received several nominations for the Pushcart Prize and one nomination in 2021 for the Best of the Net Anthology. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, a short story collection, Blue Songs in an Open Key (Fomite, 2018) and a mixed genre novel, Punk Disco Bohemian (NineStar Press, 2021). A second collection of short stories is due out in 2022.