You can call me Allison. My best friend used to call by my last name – Kramer – though for a long time he called me Cosmo. There’s a story there I promise to tell you.
You don’t know me. I’m not someone you’d recognize on the street although I’ve been told more than a hundred times I seem familiar. It’s probably because I’m average – shoulder length dark brown hair that’s naturally curly but I wear straight frequently, brown eyes, average build, average height. I’m not a great beauty though my face follows Da Vinci’s principles of symmetry in facial structure. It works because I’m part Italian on my mother’s side. I’ve been told I have a nice rack which always makes me smile though the apathetic feminist in me ought to be offended.
My best feature is my personality. I’m easy to smile, easy to laugh. I love sports and books and music and movies. I can kick anyone’s ass at a trivia challenge. I like beer as much as I like wine. I prefer winter to summer. And I appreciate a man who can build something.
Sure, it sounds like I just read you my Match.com profile. It might have said something like at one time. I’ve long since exited the dating world. I was married long before Tinder was a thing. But I appreciate the search for a partner in crime, the wading through countless muck-filled ponds kissing frogs until a prince is discovered. I’ve been there and I have many stories to tell. I want to entertain you with my life experiences in love. Maybe I’m just doing it for posterity though I’m not exactly sure who would care about my splendid past of men.
I have some excellent stories that get a fair amount of play at dinner parties like the date that I didn’t realize was a date and a man I refer to as “The Crier” because he got weepy after sex and possessed the only micropenis I’ve ever seen. There’s a few men who broke my heart. One cadet who renewed my faith in romance on New Year’s Eve. And the hot guy with dragon tattoo. I had a friend with benefits for a while. Lived with my best guy friend. Went to some wicked parties. Had a one-night stand. And lived my life until I met my husband. It will all be here eventually.
I kept journals of my adventures, you see. It’s how I remember the details. It’s why I can write a little memoir and reflect fondly on my youth. I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to change anything, not even my biggest regret because I’m happy with my life. I’m happy with who I am and where I’ve landed. I ended up exactly where I was supposed to. But I certainly can share and laugh about who I was in my single gal days.
Some of the names and details have been changed to protect me (not them).
I can’t remember when I discovered the merits of boys. I grew up in a neighborhood where riding my big wheel and looking for snakes in the woods was entertainment for a summer afternoon. I played with the boys mostly because there were only a couple of girls near me and they were older and not interested in playing. So, I played with Legos and Hot Wheels, got dirty in the mud, climbed trees, and busted out my two front baby teeth playing tackle football with the boys. My knees were perpetually skinned until we moved across town to a bigger house and neighborhood with more girls my age. I settled down when I was nine – played with Barbies and the toy kitchen set. I always hated baby dolls and wanted to play “architect” not “house.” I was a smart girl, too.
Maybe once I crossed the bridge of puberty is when I noticed boys – around sixth grade probably. I thought they were cute but beyond maybe a kiss or holding hands, I didn’t see the point. High school was when I figured it out. I didn’t change much between eighth and ninth grades, but maybe the boys did. Suddenly there was interest. More smiles, more looks, more flirting. And then I had a boyfriend and figured out what I had been missing. Of course, they’re all trouble and mostly stuck on the same tune.
Sometimes I was chased. Sometimes I did the chasing. But I present my adventures to you. There might be a lesson here or not.
You can read the sections in whatever order you choose, but the parts of the section are chronological. You only need to know the major players that make appearances in multiple sections. Like I said, I’ve pulled this together from my journals to tell you about one juicy affair at a time.
Burke: My best friend since senior year of high school. We were the “will they or won’t they” pair for a long time. We lived together for a spell after I graduated from college and went to grad school. He’s known for being a cock-block. He’s mentioned throughout this entire collection. His story is told in “Perfect Timing.”
Ryan: A guy who I was really close too. We were together and then we weren’t but he was always a friend. He is in the circle of friends with Burke, Paul, Matt, and Erin. He’s mentioned in “Crushes” but his story is told in “My Heathcliff.”
Daniel: My boyfriend from my freshman year of college. I lost my virginity to him. His story is told in “Firsts.”
Jeff: Daniel’s college roommate, the guy with the alcohol who happens to be an asshole.
Emily: My best girlfriend.
And so it begins, the Splendid Past of Men.
January 1, 1997: I had the most amazing kiss at midnight…
Someone much wiser than me said once that people are in your life for a reason; some stay a while, some stay forever, and some stay just a minute. But each has a purpose. Each person has an impact. I always thought that philosophy was a little hokey until I really thought about all the people in my life.
I lived in the dorms again sophomore year. About half the students on my floor from the year came back for a second. I guess we were all sort of gluttons for punishment. Or rather, none of us wanted to struggle with studying and working just to afford a shitty campus apartment with five other people. Some of us were satisfied to let mom and dad foot the room and board bill for one more year. I at least had the option of living at home and commuting to campus. But staying in the dorm allowed me a certain level of autonomy from my parents. That was both good and bad. Fall semester sucked for me. I blame Daniel for that.
It was bad enough we broke up over the summer, but it was worse that I had to see him every day. Daniel lived down the hall. Same room, just like me. Same roommates. The insult to injury was when he started seeing Caedi and bringing her around. You say her name like “Katie” except her parents were assholes and got creative with the spelling. She had flaming red hair like him except she looked like Carrot Top and I’m sure her school teachers hated her as much as I did. I wondered how much Daniel was into her, too, because he never could managed to stay faithful to her. I kick myself even now for letting him get to me and for all the hook-ups on the sly. But I wasn’t the one cheating on my girlfriend.
After a rocky fall, I was glad for Christmas break. I went back to my summer job at the department store ringing grumpy holiday shoppers for eight hours a day and I loved every minute. The job kept me occupied and lined my bank account for the winter. But most importantly, I was away from the dorm and Daniel and drama.
Jeff was one of Daniel’s freshman year roommates. He was the one of us in our core group that escaped to a college apartment. He lived about a block from our residence hall in a building built circa 1910 – three stories high with five units across, each with a sunroom in the front. The two bedrooms were small. The bathroom was almost original and the kitchen was tiny. Jeff lived there with an Asian kid named Kevin who lived a floor below us in the dorm the year before. They were both total geeks, in to gaming, and complete slobs. What it lacked in college-induced impoverished furnishings it made up for in character. But boys definitely lived there. The key was just not to examine any surface – especially the bathroom – too closely. It was better to pretend they had a forgetful cleaning lady than to believe those guys were content to live in their own filth like swine. But they had a bar, smack in the middle of the dining room – custom built and fully stocked. It would suffice on any given night.
Jeff also was from the area which meant he spent a grand total of half a day at home during break on Christmas Day just to appease his parents. The rest of the time, his apartment was a revolving door of other locals needing respite from too much family time and holiday cheer. It was a big school in a big city and a majority of us were from the suburbs with some connection to each other. It wasn’t unusual for my friends who were home for the holiday or a weekend to just show up at Jeff’s apartment with or without me.
The plan was for a gathering on New Year’s Eve. None of us were legal so hitting a bar or a club meant getting our hands stamped but being banned from the bar. So Jeff’s turned out to be the logical place to hang. His sister always kept us flush with alcohol for cost plus a few bucks for gas. Anyone coming to the party had to chip in a twenty or BYOB for the night.
I brought a few friends who were back from school. My friend Amanda invited a couple of her friends from Bowling Green down for the long weekend. They were acquaintances of mine from the couple of road trips I’d made to see Amanda and some other people I knew up north. Her friends were from Dayton. I really had no idea why they’d come to Columbus for New Year’s Eve. Well, actually I did sort of know. I invited friends. They’d invite their friends. Those friends would invite friends. And we’d all convene at Jeff’s because there was alcohol and no supervision.
One of Amanda’s friends I didn’t know. He’d walked in the door trailing a guy I’d met a few times up at Bowling Green who always went by Cash (much easier to remember than Doug Cashman). Cash was maybe an inch taller than me, broad shoulders like a wrestler, tight waist and disheveled hair. He oozed the moral flexibility of a frat boy. The guy following him was easily a head and a half taller if not a bit more, slim but solidly muscular, and clean shaven with a crew cut. He was striking, handsome, and definitely not the typical college coed I had been used to seeing. Cash nodded to acknowledge our acquaintance then introduced his companion: Anthony Graham, friend from high school. Amanda didn’t know him well but had met him over the summer. Both guys were crashing at her parents’ house for the night.
The revelry was in full swing by 10:00pm. Card games were going. The beer pong competition was fierce. And Jeff kept me flush with alcoholic concoctions. Anthony had stuck pretty close to Cash most of the night and they’d gotten themselves involved in a rather intense game of poker. I’d flown between different groups of friends until Daniel made a grand entrance with his friend Max. Even though home was an hour away, I had a feeling he’d show up just because he could. I wondered if he and Max were going to crash at Caedi’s house. Her family lived nearby but I couldn’t imagine her giving Daniel a hall pass to hit parties and clubs with Max and not her. So she probably didn’t know he’d come back to campus. Then I overheard him say they were staying with someone else he knew. True to Daniel’s form, he dropped in, created a scene and left. I was thankful but no less flustered.
Half of the guest list stepped outside for a smoke and I found a spot to warm on the couch with a bag of pretzels. It was freezing outside, coldest December I could remember in a while, and I couldn’t imagine why anyone would venture outside for a cigarette (or a blunt). Dick Clark was introducing some pop act on the TV when the light overhead seemed to dim. I glanced up as he spoke.
“Mind if I join you?” Anthony asked with unusual politeness. He towered over me and the low couch, but I shrugged my shoulders then waved my hand at the unoccupied cushions. His knees nearly came to his chest as he awkwardly positioned himself. I tried to hide my amusement but my smirk betrayed me.
“This sofa is terrible,” he remarked.
"I’m pretty sure Jeff found it by a dumpster last summer.”
“Sadly, it’s better than what we have in the barracks.”
I was taken aback by the word. “Barracks?” I asked.
“Yeah, I go to VMI.”
“Really?” Definitely not dorms.
Anthony nodded and his military haircut and buttoned up appearance made much more sense. Most guys I knew had adopted the disheveled grunge look with greasy, unkempt hair, beat up jeans, graphic tees and flannel because it was 1997. Anthony wore belted, stonewashed Levi 501s and a tucked in oxford buttoned to the collarbone with a plain white t-shirt underneath. He was prep school casual all the way.
Daniel loved to brag about Max’s appointment at West Point. But listening to Anthony talk about his rigorous daily routine, it seemed Max was on a cake walk. Anthony and Cashman went to high school a town over from Max and Daniel near Dayton. Anthony ran against Max in track and always beat him. I wondered why a fight hadn’t broken out between them in Jeff’s dining room, but I’d noticed the icy stare down without paying it much attention. Anthony said something about the Honor Code and left it at that. A fight required some level of respect for the opponent. He had none for Max and seemed as relieved as me that he’d left with Daniel.
Anthony was easy to converse with. Amanda apparently briefed him on my situation – being recently jilted by Douchebag Daniel. “Considering the company he keeps, you’re better off,” Anthony said with a smile.
“You’re better company?”
“What about you? Anyone at home pining away for you?” I joshed playfully.
Anthony shook his head. “No. I don’t even know when I’d have the time.”
The party had trickled back in from the wicked cold smoke break and filled every available space across the semi-open floor plan. I needed something more than whatever Jeff was mixing behind the bar. My stomach grumbled loud enough that even Anthony noticed and he suggested we go in search of a snack. We relinquished the coziness of the floor level couch and exited into the night. I was buttoned from head to mid-thigh in my navy pea coat from the surplus store on campus.
Anthony smiled. “I have one just like that,” he winked. Tonight he was wearing a simple camel hair car coat with a navy blue scarf.
I’d forgotten what a gentleman looked like, how he carried himself with a certain pride, with confident step. The cadet took my leather gloved hand as we crossed High Street toward a little carryout and deli. We grabbed a couple of steamed bagel sandwiches and walked back towards Norwich. It wasn’t so terrible when the wind wasn’t blowing and we were both as bundled as we could be with the hour approaching midnight. We walked through campus – a sort of mini-tour where I pointed out my residence hall and talked about my roommate.
“Why VMI?” I asked. “It’s not what most people do.”
“Well, I’ll be a commissioned officer in the Marines when I graduate.”
“This is a career choice for you.”
Anthony nodded and shrugged his shoulders as if to say this was just who he was, that something had put his feet on a path and he never questioned the direction, never wondered why. “Pretty much. I never thought about doing anything else.” He was driven to serve his country, the kind who would run toward danger when others would cower. Anthony didn’t have to say these things. They were evident in his character and demeanor. He was a protector. I could see it in his eyes and shoulders, how alert he was to the mostly empty streets around us.
We’d come to the crosswalk at High and Norwich. “So what do you want to do with your life, Allison Kramer?”
I looked up to his face with the chiseled jaw and dark eyes. “I have no idea,” I shook my head. I really had no idea. I’d changed my mind three times since starting college. “Maybe teach.”
“Well that’s okay. Not everyone has everything figured out. Just look at Cashman.” Anthony laughed deeply then took my hand again as we crossed with the light.
When we reached Jeff’s building, it was ten till midnight. The countdown was on. The distant cracks and whistles of bottle rockets could be heard around the neighborhood but the streets were practically empty – no cars, no people. Anthony held open the glass door and as I stepped in he asked, “May I kiss you at midnight?”
The question had caught me by surprise. Of course I’d been kissed before, but until this moment, no one had ever asked me for the pleasure. The locking of lips had always been spontaneously mutual sometimes awkwardly but mostly enjoyable. Being asked was unexpectedly romantic and sort of chivalrous. In the short time I’d known Anthony, it seemed so very characteristic as if doing anything without permission broke the code. In this case it probably did. I grinned sheepishly and answered, “Sure.” But the idea of it caused my stomach to flip, my heart to flutter, and I my wind-burnt cheeks to blush that much harder.
The apartment was packed with people – all late comers arrived from less desirable places here to share in the transition from old year to the new. Everyone gathered around Jeff’s TV to watch Dick Clark set the ball in motion from New York City. I caught Amanda’s eye from across the room and she smiled and raised an eyebrow in subtle appreciation of my catch. We dumped our coats on Jeff’s bed and squeezed through the hall to the only empty space we could find in the kitchen. I hopped up on the counter and faced Anthony as the revelers counted down the seconds.
“3…2…1…Happy New Year!” they shouted.
His hand was surprisingly warm for having just come in from the winter. Anthony clasped my cheek and stepped into the neutral space between us. There was safety and strength in the touch as if he was telegraphing to me how humbled he was that I would consider him worthy of such a gesture. I heard nothing else around us and noticed no one as I stared into his eyes. I shivered from the electricity that passed between us. The anticipation was driving me mad. He drew in a breath before meeting my lips. Then with firm but tender pressure, he kissed me, not long but long enough to make an impression. And as he pulled away, he sucked ever so slightly on my bottom lip. Just like that, my heart was pounding.
“Happy New Year,” Anthony whispered sweetly as he held my gaze, his warm hand still caressing my cherry cheek. People passed by us grabbing glasses and bottles and bags of snacks, but we didn’t move. We didn’t speak. His kiss was only kindling for a greater fire.
Then the kitchen was empty of gawkers. I sat on the counter my fingers entwined in the belt loops of Anthony’s jeans and he stepped deeper between my dangling legs. Then I reached for the collar of his shirt when the distance was still too great. This kiss abandoned chastity. I parted his lips with my tongue and pressed my mouth firmly to his. His hands were quickly in the hair at the nape of my neck refusing to let me slip away, deepening the kiss. His tongue flicked against mine gently begging to be lost until he pressed on, hungrier and more desperate. If he could kiss me breathless, I only imagined what else he could do given the opportunity. But we were reminded too quickly that we were in Jeff’s kitchen. The moment was broken by someone wanting access to a cabinet above my head.
“Why did you ask?” I wondered aloud. My head fell to his heaving chest and he wrapped his arms around me.
“Honor Code,” he smiled wide. Then he planted a reverent kiss on my forehead and I was giddy.
The party began dissipating by 2:00am and the friends and acquaintances remaining found places to pass out from too many vices. Cash was snoring in the armchair with his feet propped on the coffee table. And Amanda was unsuccessfully trying to keep her eyelids from meeting while leaning against Cash’s chair. The apartment was quiet except for Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve blaring on the TV. Some pop group was playing a concert to a comfortable studio audience between live shots of the now empty Times Square. It was time to put the night to bed.
I sent Anthony home with Amanda and Cashman. That was the lone downer of the night. He couldn’t come with me to my parents’ house though we clearly wanted each other. Kissing had to suffice. I couldn’t work out in my head how anything would work out past the sunrise. Anthony was going back to Dayton at noon and driving back to Virginia the following day for winter semester. He had no idea when he’d be home again. The summer was taken by training and service. There would just be brunch the next morning before he and Cash left for home.
“I’ll call you,” Anthony said as we stood next to my car in the pancake joint’s parking lot. He brushed a wind-blown lock of hair from my face then kissed me so deeply that my knees wobbled. He didn’t ask permission this time.
He did call a handful of times – the moments he could steal between drills and classes and studying and sleeping. Anthony wondered what was possible just like I did during winter semester. Thinking about New Year’s Eve got us both through some rough patches when we were feeling lonely back at school. He said as much to me during one short phone call we had before I left for spring break.
Sometimes, you only get just a moment. Sometimes you get more. Anthony happened to appear at a time when I needed to push past all the hurt and drama Daniel had left me with from the fall. He restored my faith in how a real man is supposed to act, however brief. When school resumed after New Year’s, I was able to put Daniel behind me at last. No more hook-ups. No more cheating. Anthony showed me I was worth more than that.