There are generally a few more ''firsts'' for a gay man than for his hetero counterpart. The straight boy can lose his virginity in -- as far as I understand the mechanics -- one way. But as a typical American gay fella, my first loss of virginity happened with a girl my age. In the bathroom of a Days Inn motel room, while my hooligan friends drank wine coolers on the other side of the door. My technique left quite a bit to be desired, and I recall just being thrilled when it was all over. I was happy that I'd never be bothered by a lingering argument insisting that I try straight sex before dismissing it outright.
Then came losing my virginity as a ''bottom.'' My first attempt -- in my high school bedroom -- left me doubled over in pain. Despite the initial, painful jab, I knew I was onto something, and tried again moments later. Eureka. I was beginning to understand what all the fuss was about.
Finally, a few weeks into my freshman year of college, an eager partner made me Top Daddy. Confused by stories of guys not lasting for more than a few seconds during their first sexual liaisons -- and never getting anywhere near an ''end point'' at the Days Inn -- I was not prepared for my physiological response. I doubt I lasted a minute. The revelation was amazing. This, I finally understood fully, was why sex could make people crazy. This was the thrill central to so much human culture, like Woody Allen movies and Hooters. At 18, I was in on the secret that (ideally) marks the border between childhood and adulthood.
But when we honor St. Valentine, the occasion is not so much about sex as romance. These first three liaisons were more about exploring biology than affairs of the heart, even if I remember them all fondly. Instead, for my first romantic memories, I turn to David. It might not have been an affair to remember, but it's nonetheless one I'll never forget.
We met in Charlottesville in February. I was 19, taking a semester off from the University of South Florida to work in London. I spent four days before London visiting a dear friend at U.Va. -- my queer compatriot I've known since kindergarten in Springfield. This friend introduced me to David, and things got torrid immediately. I was smitten by this handsome, Massachusetts Mayflower WASP majoring in architecture. He was so painfully charming that I completely missed the pretension.
Once I was in London, the best part of this relationship flourished: the correspondence. He knew just what to write to allay my fears about being impetuous. He looked forward to our first fight, he wrote, just for the drama, knowing we would weather it easily, such was the depth of our late '80s love.
In July, I returned to Florida. Though we'd only spent a few days together in Charlottesville, David and I hammered out plans in our letters to cohabitate. When I landed in Tampa, he was there to pick me up. Within a few weeks, we had a common address. Unfortunately, day-to-day domesticity could not live up to the promise of the love letters.
I don't know what I did to piss him off, although I'm sure there was plenty. But the first solid indicator of trouble ahead for me was when he erupted after our dog chewed one of his shoes. Granted, it was an expensive leather loafer. But the red-faced anger that had this loveable German Shepard-pitbull mix hiding behind me and growling at David as though he were some unrecognizable monster was not good.
Our juvenile marriage shouldered perhaps its greatest burden in that David, 21, could hit the bars. During our year together, I was only 20. I could gauge the disintegration of the relationship -- which began just about the time we signed the lease -- at ''all-ages'' nights at Tampa Tracks. I would join David at Tracks those nights, as an ever-greater number of cute guys seemed to know him too well.
Nearer the end, in March, I spent a few spring-break days visiting another friend at American University. My flight back was changed, getting me home just a few hours ahead of schedule. David was nowhere to be found. Alarms were going off, so I began moving into our guest room -- something we'd already discussed, to give us some ''space.'' He told me later he'd spent the afternoon at a hot-tub party, exchanging hand jobs with a tourist named Chip. Priceless.
Not long after, I was sitting in the living room around 1 a.m. watching The Year My Voice Broke. I'd just gotten off work from my barista job, so I was probably a little jumpy from all the caffeine. David walked in with one of his Tracks buddies -- the cutest of the pack I'd met. They were both pretty drunk. I was pretty stunned. David proceeded to give the guy a tour of our apartment. The last I heard of them that night was, ''And here's the bedroom.'' Oh, how my young heart was breaking. I spent that night in the guest room, staring at the ceiling.
The next day was dedicated to revenge. I called an old Frenchman who had slipped me his number at Tracks. As luck would have it, another guy -- a Benetton model, which still held some cachet in 1990 -- was to be joining us for the day. Nothing sexual ever happened, but this model and I both spent the night. I asked if we could run to my home for a toothbrush and change of clothes. I insisted they come into the apartment with me, hoping to make David crazy with all sorts of imagined permutations.
Mission accomplished. Till our lease ran out in early summer, we basically hated each other. We both found temporary housing apart from one another. Apart, we still found ways to attack the other, though. We'd each return to the apartment alone, taking multiple trips to collect our various belonging. Each trip provided a chance to sabotage what remained of the other's stuff. I know he burned a hat of mine in the fireplace. Honestly, I don't recall what I did. But that's no excuse, as I'm sure I did something malicious.
Less than a year after setting up house with my first live-in boyfriend, it was over. I would drive around Tampa smoking Camel lights and blaring ''You're History,'' by Shakespeare's Sister. As for David, I don't know what became of him, which is probably for the best.
But this isn't a warning to young lovers thinking of making the cohabitation plunge. Quite the contrary. My months with David provided me an education that might have taken years to learn otherwise. This was an immersion program exploring the ''thin line between love and hate.'' I may have come out of the experience a bit more cynical than a boy coming on 21 should be, but better cynical than na´ve. Besides, my optimism came back in time and I once again appreciate all the romance associated with St. Valentine. In the spirit of the holiday, I'll even wish a happy Valentine's Day to David, wherever he may be and hope that, like me, he's celebrating with someone he lives with and loves, wiser for his battle scars.