Her name was Lila Gibbard, and it started with a bet. Nikhil Singh and I were walking down the hill to Western Canada High School.
“I’m sixteen and I’ve never had a girlfriend. What a loser! My big brother had sex when he was fourteen. My dad lost his virginity when he was twelve,” I said.
We were kicking leaves as we walked. It was late September. We had become friends because we both were in the International Baccalaureate Program at Western, and most of the kids in the program were bigger geeks than we were. It was the only IB program in Calgary, Alberta, and it had gathered every geek teenager in the city.
“I’ve never even had a date,” Nikhil said.
The air was cold and smoky, the smell of fall near the mountains.
“I had a date in sixth grade. Denise. And Debbie at prom. But Denise doesn’t count because I didn’t like her, and Debbie doesn’t count because she didn’t like me. She told me that during prom. She said, ‘I hope you’re not expecting anything, because I like Malcolm.’ ”
“Normal people have a girlfriend by now. Half the guys in tenth grade are already getting laid.”
I said to Nikhil, “Why don’t we make that a goal?”
“What? To get laid? I’ve had that goal for sixteen years. Or close enough.”
“No. Just to get a date. We could put twenty bucks on it. Or a vial of hash oil. Whoever gets a date first owes the other guy a vial of hash oil.”
“But it can’t be just anybody,” Nikhil said. “It has to be somebody you really want to date. I mean, anybody can get a date with some girl.”
We both quietly contemplated the untruth of this.
“Okay. Who do you want to date?”
There was a girl for me too. But I wasn’t going to say her name first.
“That girl Lucy. Lucy Johnson.”
Lucy was the girl I was going to say. But now that it was out of his mouth, he had dibs. We both couldn’t try to date Lucy; the problem was tough enough without creating unnecessary competition.
“Lucy? I know her. She went to my junior high school.”
“Yeah, I think I’m a little in love with her.”
This was one of the reasons Nikhil and I were such good friends. We could admit things to each other that we couldn’t admit to anyone else. That aspect of intimacy is common among very close friends: the ability to confess without fear — or with only a bit of fear — what we wouldn’t tell anyone else and sometimes not even ourselves. In seduction, pretending to confess an intimate secret about oneself is a familiar technique; one hopes, of course, that the revelation of such secrets will be a key component of enduring romantic love.
“What about that blonde. She’s hot.”
I knew the girl he meant.
“She sits behind Rob. She seems like she might be smart too.”
To a sixteen- year- old boy in IB, it was unlikely that a girl could be smart, and being smart was not a recommendation, which Nikhil knew well enough. But I knew she was smart, and she was hot.
“She’s sort of chubby, don’t you think?”
I wanted to get his approval before I expressed my own. It would be about ten years before I would begin to overcome that habit, which I have since observed in people of all ages.
“She’s got a big ass, I guess,” Nikhil said. “But she’s definitely hot. I’d ask her out if I wasn’t going to ask Lucy.”
We shook on the bet.
“Thirty days,” I said. “If we don’t set a deadline, we’ll never do it.”
When I try to think back on the lies I may have told Lila in winning her attention, I think they were the most juvenile kind: I tried to seem smarter than I was, I bragged about the accomplishments of my older brother — he was Calgary’s most successful cocaine dealer at the time, lived in a pent house, smuggled marijuana, LSD, and cocaine from California, and had many other extraordinary adventures — I wrote long erotic letters detailing imagined sexual scenarios. She loved those letters. I was a habitual liar at this time, I believe, but I think I was a bit too intoxicated with her to lie to her effectively. I didn’t have much to hide from her.
The actual romantic life I was beginning to lead — my first specifically romantic experience — was already, at its outset, a fantasy life. Novice lover that I was, self- deception was more important to the initial stages of the relationship than the deception of her. I remember my lies only really got going once another lover, a competitor, entered the scene.
In short, I won the bet.
Our first kiss was in her bedroom. I had one of Lila’s tits out in my hand. I remember laughing with our tongues all wrapped up, from the joy — the pure surprise — of knowing I was going to fuck her. But even with the anticipation of sex, with my cock harder than it had ever been — I was a sixteen-year-old boy about to have sex for the first time — the pleasure was more mental than physical, and the experience was fitting itself into a narrative of expectation and hopes: Lila would be my girlfriend, we would fall in love, dates, dinners, walks — we would be a couple: “There they go, Clancy and Lila.” Holding hands. Kissing.
For a brief time Lila Gibbard and I were lovers. I was a lucky teenage boy: she was kinky. She liked anal sex more than vaginal, eagerly gave blow jobs — once on a road trip, under a blanket, in the front seat of her mother’s car, with her mother sitting beside us (we were in the mountains, and she went back down under the blanket every time we entered a tunnel) — and liked to have me come on her panty hose, her bra, her bared tits, her face. We did our physics homework together. When at Christmas her little sister went on vacation with their parents, leaving her behind with her little brother, I stayed with them during the day and did her sister’s paper route for her in the snow. I enjoyed doing things for her, and she liked it, and a kind of understanding arose between us that I was more in love with her than she was with me.
We were watching a movie at night in her living room, drinking hot chocolate and eating popcorn, when I told her I loved her. I know I said it first.
She replied, “I think I love you. I think I’m falling in love with you, I mean.” Which showed that she already knew. Neither of us was lying, but both of us were venturing. She was more honest about it than I was.
Then the rival appeared. His name was Paul. He was not from our high school. He was a year older. Lila turned skinny. Boys at Western, at the mall, in the grocery store were approaching her. She reeked of sex.
One night she wasn’t answering the phone, so I rode my bike to her house. It was seven and a half miles in the Calgary winter, after dark, through the blowing snow. When I got to her house, there was a strange car in the driveway.
Lila’s bedroom was in the basement; all our rough, fabulous, dirty sex took place down there, where her parents couldn’t hear or open a door and accidentally see. They would call from the top of the stairs before they came down. She even had a shower and a bath for afterward. We had rope.
The light was on in her basement. We had caught her younger brother peeping once, so she kept a curtain drawn over the window. I propped my bike against the side of the house and got down on my hands and knees in the snow. I could see a crack of light through the curtains. I lay flat on my belly. I could see the ceiling and part of a wall but nothing else. All the action was going on beneath my line of sight. I listened carefully, but she had her music on loud. I knew what that meant. I considered knocking on the window. Then I considered kicking it in. I stood there for half an hour, watching the window for changes in the light, hoping the music would stop. At one point there was silence; then she turned the record over. It was one of our records. There she was, in bed with him, though after all, they could be sitting on her sofa. Maybe she didn’t do the same things with him she did with me— screwing him, jerking him off onto her crotch, swallowing his cock into her throat the way she could—maybe they were just talking, doing homework; they could just be friends.
Lila Gibbard had a more powerful impact on me than any of my previous loves. Almost thirty years later I still remember the intensity with which I loved Lila Gibbard. And the excesses I committed loving and trying to prove my love to her: a suicide attempt; a convertible I gave her for Valentine’s Day; dropping out of school, lying to her parents and claiming that I had been kicked out of my house by my stepfather so that I could live with her; living for a time at a gas station, another time in the streets; sleeping in malls; stealing from my parents so that I could buy her Caesar salads and mint- chocolate milk shakes that I would deliver to her at lunchtime. The lies I told her about my suicide attempts. The lies I told her about other lovers that I had. The lies I told her about when I had seen her with Paul. The lies she told me about where she had been the night before, who she was talking to on the phone, what was really happening.
This went on for two years. Then I turned eighteen, and as was traditional in our house, it was time for me to leave. I didn’t have a high school diploma, so my mom sent me to live with my dad in Florida. He got me into college, and my relationship with Lila was over.