My friends used to call William “Ironman” because the first time we kissed he got a nosebleed and the taste of his blood haunted me for a long time after it. We’d only been twelve years old and apparently the anxiety spiked his blood pressure to the point of combustion… I remember that when we were forced to take sex ed a few years later we were divided into separate classes for boys and girls, in case a diagram of an ovary was too risqué and we became animalistic and started clawing at each other in our seats, but nonetheless when our teacher Ms Jacobs had explained to us what an erection was in my mind all I could picture was the blood rushing to his nose and then the slash of cranberry across my blouse.
With the idea planted in his mind it didn’t take long for William’s hands to start wandering, but the image persisted. Every time I thought about just letting it happen I wondered what would happen if he got too excited, which I’d heard boys did on their first time. Cassie said that James had become quite rough with her at summer camp and I’d seen the faded marks on her thighs when she changed in gym class so I knew it was probably true. You could never tell with Cassie.
His hand would land on my knee and my mind would instinctively switch to a show-reel of William grinding up against me, us both moaning, and suddenly his penis exploding from the pressure. Could that happen? I didn’t know and I had no one to ask. My parents would never understand. I tried to ask my friends but I didn’t really know how, but the more I talked to them about it the more the term ‘safe sex’ kept coming up.
When we finally did it, needless to say, I was terrified. Luckily, nothing out of the ordinary exploded. Although if I am truthful, which I am trying to be, even though I knew what semen was when it actually happened to me for the first time there was a stab of alarm and the flash in my mind of how the blood had poured from his nostrils and pooled in his mouth. I shuddered.
Eventually, years later, I told my friends over a glass of wine. Different friends than the ones I had had at school but they still found it hilarious and teased him mercilessly for it, although I never told anyone about how I had been so afraid to have sex with him, the nosebleed was enough to set us all off in giggles and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. By then I was a grown up woman and knew a lot more about the matters of sex. The hazy confusing panic ridden days before the internet faded quickly into memory.
In fact I think for forty years I didn’t even think about that night and how worried I’d been. I only remembered it a few days ago. The last time I kissed William there was blood on his lips, and then blood on mine. I stroked my fingers through his hair and told him how I loved him. Thanked him for every day he’d given me. For our children. I said my goodbyes. Now I sit here and wonder how best to describe my husband in front of all his family and friends tomorrow, and all I can think is of the little boy who tasted like iron, and shook when he held my hand.