We’re not in L.A. anymore—but

inside your car it’s the same car

that sputtered across the 101 with 

out air-conditioning and a broken radio. 

Even the insects still want to live inside.

We are taking Lula to see 

Pirates of Penzance. 

You mutter the usual.

But I know you remember,

last summer—how we listened 

to mariachis on Olvera St. 

while Lula ate paletas.

She had to try every flavor, she explained,

& of course you let her, shaking your pockets

free of coins, curly head bouncing away,

before you told me you were moving back, 

to live with your sister—to kick. 

The Cape is hot this summer. We are sweating. 

Only yourwindow rolls down,

& I want to say:

When we were young, do you remember?

Our pirate ships? Our duels? Our songs?

I want to ask. But I don’t.

Inside the open ashtray, 

between us, the moth settles in.

Lula—in the backseat, tells us 

not to stop its fluttering.

It’s an angelo, she says. It will flap

back to god and tell on you. 

The first time I caught you in the bathroom,

your eyes were so red, I thought you’d already disappeared.

But it’s taking years. We are still here now with the trees 

flashing past us. You fade slow. A rose above a mirror.

My Mom’s Trip(s) to the City Jail

Can you see the future 

like you feel the wind

in your hair-sprayed perm

and under your young knees, 

pedaling your bike through 

a red Memphis evening 

because brother Kenny stole another go-kart? 

When you pass the 32nd pothole from the trailer park 

across from Pop’s “pretty good” liquor store, 

do you envision log cabin countrysides, 

or have you always known about

the cigarette college fund? 

Braking at the crosswalk, 

do you peer over your padded shoulders,

or do you focus on the possibility of baby powder

in the dry flowers by the bus stop? 

Did you know

you’d find your mother years later

in the bathtub – a martyr for watercolors – 

and did you know you’d say to me,

“Take whatever you want. 

You can have it.” 

Photography by Sumner McMurtry

Acute Epistaxis

To stop a nosebleed, 

you can’t hold your head back. 

You bury your ears in hemophilia, 

and I know it’s your first-grade choir concert, 

but you stain the stage red, 

protesting the black clog

that’ll hit you behind the tonsils.  

To stop a nosebleed, 

you run a rag 

under quick bursts of ice, 

and you sit on the toilet seat, 

clutching your knee. 

You can’t stop a nosebleed

when you learned to sneeze

from your aunt

whose vodka, reality TV denial

is only broken by blood vessels.  

You can’t stop a nosebleed

when the janitor walks in and says, 

“Jesus Christ, girl, 

tilt your head back.” 

half-burned cigarette

why did you 

         always say

“a bird will use it 

         to make a nest”

when you stomped embers

         of half-burned cigarettes 

into the crevices 

         of concrete paths – 

as if any sensible 


would want to taste 

         your nicotine

               or smell the remnants 

                         or your whiskey-soaked breath?

Rock Castle

“Polly… certainly believed that [Samuel] would make a fine companion. Unfortunately for fifteen-year-old Polly, her father thought otherwise… His plans came to naught, however, when the two young lovers eloped in 1796… Andrew and Rachel Jackson had been happy to assist Samuel and Polly in eloping…” – Old Hickory’s Nephew: The Political and Private Struggles of Andrew Jackson Donelson by Mark R. Cheathem 

The grass sank between

the soles of my sandals  

while we passed under the fences 

like playing a game of limbo 

trespassing into history 

Daniel Smith’s castle

crafted from limestone 

glistened in the moonlight  

and the shore of Old Hickory Lake 

sang to us, despite being outlaws.

We cited lines 

from Tennessee storytelling  

recalling the time 

that Sam Donelson

and Andrew Jackson crossed 

the river— 

the summer humidity shallowing the waters

enough for horses 

to trot across them. 

The cool Tennessee air kissing the backs of their necks

while slivers of moonlight

illuminated their trail. 

We wondered aloud 

how the ladder must have sounded 

as it brushed up against Polly Smith’s windowpane

how she grasped on to tree branches,  

splinters piercing the palms of her hands

while climbing down

to the grass we stood on.  

How the trio galloped to Hunter’s Hill,

against the light of the morning sun,  

a priest waiting earnestly 

to affirm their elopement. 

We walked to the family cemetery,

protected by stone walls

eroded by time and tourists’ touch.

Behind the unlocked wrought-iron gate,

tombstones like chess pieces 

sit stoically, 

marking each white body 

encased in the slave-tilled earth.

Snow Leopard

“Well I’ll be honest,” I texted with tentative thumbs, “I’m probably not as experienced as you. I mean, I’m a virgin haha…”

I sighed at the light press of send and read the message again. I was relieved to be saying this through the protective shield of my phone and not face to face with those intense eyes and all-knowing smile. I stared at my innocent white letters surrounded in the perfect blue bubble.

My very first boyfriend replied quickly, black against gray. “I don’t mind J”

I have always been adverse to sexuality. Acting since I was twelve, I have encountered the odd actor with whom I didn’t exactly want to be alone in a dressing room. The older man hovering too much when I changed costumes backstage, the sexually frustrated cast-mate who wanted to really kiss and not stage it, the musical dance-partner who had me sit on his lap between numbers, the bisexual actress who touches too much. This defensiveness delayed relationships for me, which I am entirely glad of because I found my passion in acting and writing and put all my efforts into those skills. Though I find myself being 21, about to graduate college, and still a virgin.

            My virginity does not define me. I do not stand before our campus fire pit, (which is far too reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Goblet of Fire to take seriously,) and declare my virgin-hood for all to hear. Yet, it must be obvious because I am not always treated like other college age women. It could be the delayed chuckle I make when a certain joke goes careening over my head, or the outright questions I ask my all too patient friends that lends proof to my status.

            No matter what factors into other people’s assumptions of me, I am put into the category: naïve. Suddenly, classmates younger than I am, refuse to show me what pictures they are laughing at. I am talked to as though my lacking experience in just one area makes me somehow less worldly or intelligent.

            College virgins are an extremely unanalyzed little species, even a study that took twenty three years realized how understudied they have been. Part of the problem studying virgins is how reluctant they are to admit they have not had sex and what reasons have prevented them from sex, especially males. Yet here we are, silently skulking around like the endangered snow leopard. But why the silence? Why is a virgin so pressured in college to deny or conform that they end up never sharing that aspect about themselves?  

            First, look at high school. In a public high school, in my experience, being a female virgin was the safest category in which an adolescent could fall. Imagine the scene in Hunchback of Notre Dame where the poor gypsy mother is about to be killed by Count Frollo, but at the title cathedral, she screams “Sanctuary!” and is spared. Well, Count Frollo is every unforgiving teenager hunting for rumors to mold into living nightmares of disgusting gossip. But if the helpless gypsies say they are a virgin, there is nothing to mold. Yes, other subjects could be targeted by bullies: looks, weight, acne, sexuality etc., but a bullet was dodged if a female remained abstinent.  

A male virgin is ridiculed until either surrendering and having a sexual encounter, or feeling shame and inferiority among male peers. A non-virgin female was labelled “easy,” which was the kindest of the disgusting stereotypes. Fair or not, (certainly not,) that was high school.

            Now, those boys who were ruthlessly bullied in high school have joined fraternities, hoping to have as much sex as inhumanly possible. Suddenly, the non-virgin ladies are goddesses, worshiped and constantly pursued by those leg-humping man-puppies. I am a repellent, the opposite of what college guys desire. I wear the labels, “high maintenance” and “too much work.” Thus, my inner snow leopard retreats into solitude.  

            During a break in our rehearsal, when all the seniors go outside to smoke under the archway outside the theatre, I was pulled aside by the stage manager. She was a tall redheaded bear of a woman, a veteran of the college party scene. She took me by the shoulder and bestowed her wisdom upon me, a feeble freshman.

            “There’s a house down the street, Em,” she heaved sour smoke into the fall chill of evening, “If you’re ever invited there, just say no. That place is really, really bad. If you do end up there, and they pass a plate or a bowl around, just say no. Just, just say no, hun. You won’t like it. That place was even rough for me.”

            She cackled a smoker’s laugh, but the lines in her face showed regret. I knew which house she meant: a dilapidated white plantation style house with a Greek tapestry draped over the balcony, usually decorated for Christmas or Halloween, completely abandoned looking during the day. At night, large and lifted trucks lined the street around the house and music throbbed through its hollow foundation. I held no interest in going there anyway, not that I was ever invited.

            Another friend, a hybrid between the good Catholic conservative gal and the absolute party animal, (far more common than you’d think,) told me she too was a virgin. She lived unaware of a very specific reputation among the male party-goers of the dreaded white house.  

            “She does everything but. Well, everything BUTT.” Snickers ensued.

            Four years later and still, never have I ever, attended a college party. These types of guys, stocked with “plates” and “bowls” of no-thank-you products and fresh-out of respect, do not appeal to me.

There is another category of college men, especially in the South, who would charitably accept a poor unfortunate virgin. The Christian Male. Picture thin legs exposed by pastel shorts and plaid button up, brown Sperry’s, and some kind of printed sock which they find makes them unique. The Christian Male is he who seeks a virtuous bride who goes to church Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, VBS, Youth Camp, Youth choir… Even though I did not check any of those confessional boxes, some thought I could still be saved. But after insisting that I was spiritual not religious, and disdained marriage, and focus only on acting, they write me off as unworthy. Then the mood changes to a dark interest in my sinful career path.

            “So, would you be naked or do nudity?”

            “Would you have sex on screen?”

            Sigh!  Alas, I am too high maintenance for the Frat Boy, and too godless for the Christian Male.

            2,405 students attend my University. I wonder how many would admit they were in the same predicament as I am. How many Frat Boys were turned down until they resorted to pack-mentality and joined a group? How many Christian Males are looking for wives so they can finally check that one empty box. Susan Sprecher and Stanislav Treger found that men are far less up front about their virginity than women, but women reported more pressure to change their virginity status. How many young men and women finally give in and conform to the majority?

            This conforming could have an academic effect. According to “READING, WRITING, AND SEX: THE EFFECT OF LOSING VIRGINITY ON ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE,” virgins have higher grade point averages than sexually active students. Though my grades remained strong, it was my commitment to a relationship (without sex,) that made me feel there could be adverse effects for me.

            “I just don’t write as much anymore,” I explained, the words hurting as they left my mouth.

            “And that’s my fault?” The all-knowing smile vanished, distorted by confusion and anger. We were breaking up, another act I never experienced before.

            I paused.

            “No. But I need to be able to write, and I can’t distract myself with-”

            “So, I’m a distraction.”

            What a way to end a relationship and hurt a good man. Well done, Emma. It is difficult, to tell someone you do not want to have sex with them because it is just too serious and your career and creativity come first. They stop listening after: you do not want to have sex with them. It is not a believable enough excuse, a career. It must be them. Something must be wrong with them.

            I closed my eyes and rubbed my pounding forehead, unable to look at what I was doing to the person in front of me. Never again.  

            I learned from my first and only relationship that I must  be a college virgin. I cannot focus on school, and acting, and writing, and a companion. With homework and memorizing sometimes 600 lines of play dialogue a semester, with as much writing as I could squeeze in between everything, there is just no time to have a serious partnership.

            There is another option which has been brought up to me by ladies who were well versed in the art of hookups. One night stands. I cannot consider one night stands without considering STDs. CL Shannon and JD Klausner found that of the 20 million new STIs in the United States each YEAR, half of the cases are of people my age. 1 in 4 adolescent females (15-24) have an STI. The rate of STIs for women and men who have sex with men have been rising since 2014. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope.

            So here is the snow leopard, passing the camera to show a glimpse of the mysterious being that is the college virgin. Forgive my shyness, my aloofness, and my cynicism toward romance. The environment of college is not conducive to my “shortcomings,” and so must I hide.  

Works Cited

Sabia, J. Joseph. “READING, WRITING, AND SEX: THE EFFECT OF LOSING VIRGINITY ON ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE.” Wiley Online Library, 17 October 2007, Accessed 21 January 2020.

Shannon, C.L. and Klausner, J.D. “The Growing Epidemic of Sexually Transmitted Infections in Adolescents: A Neglected Population.” NCBI, 30 February 2019, Accessed 21 January 2020.

“Student Population at Cumberland University.” (CU) College Tuition Compare, Accessed 21 January 2020.

Sprecher, Susan and Treger, Stanislav. “Virgin College Students’ Reasons for and Reactions to Their Abstinence From Sex: Results From a 23-Year Study at a Midwestern U.S. University.” Taylor and Francis Online, 10 February 2015, Accessed 21 January 2020.

Sprecher, Susan and Regan, Pamela C. “College virgins: How men and women perceive their sexual status.” Taylor and Francis Online, 11 January 2010, Accessed 21 January 2020.

Art by Sheldon McMurtry

NOVUS Literary and Arts Journal
Lebanon, TN