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The First Fifty by Natascia Tornetta-Mallin

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

In the beginning there was Ricky. Stories of his wild abandon preceded him. They used to talk about the time that Ricky jumped from the roof. Not even from the roof and into something sensible like a pool. He just drank too much one night and jumped off the roof for fun. Broke his arm or his leg or something, which kept him home while we were out, so I met him first through these stories.
The author then

My best friend, Dahlia, used to say he was full of zest, but I like to think it was something more primal than Ricky’s zest that drew me to him. Something feral. Something hormonal. I was probably fourteen and he was probably nineteen and it was definitely against the law, but we never bothered with such details.

I wrote a poem for Mr. Brown’s poetry class senior year about the first time I saw Ricky. And then I recorded myself reading it as part of a multimedia class project we were doing in the AV department. The poem was that sort of over-the-top theatrical, romanticized garbage you’d expect from a teenager, but the thought of that recording being out there in the world today, burned onto a CD that God knows who still has a copy of, makes me wanna puke a little. I wonder if I would have remembered the first time I saw him so vividly had I never recorded that fucking poem.

He was sitting on a brown corduroy recliner in his sister’s living room on Sixth and Sunset in Venice. The rest of us were just stopping by on the way to some party, standing around drinking forties, lamping in varying degrees of awkwardness, posing as cool. Not Ricky though. Ricky was totally himself. Totally at ease, like he would have been doing the exact same thing had the house been empty. Even though we didn’t speak that night, or really look at each other, I decided then and there that he was mine. I wanted a piece of that unrestrained recklessness, and I didn’t care how.

Back then the nights always ended north of Montana in David Fox’s backyard on Georgina. It was there in the Jacuzzi where we all first learned the erotic art of toe-sucking—which is not a euphemism for anything else. We legitimately sucked toes. All of us. No matter to what corners of the Westside the evening brought us, in the end it was always the backyard on Georgina and a hot, wet orgy of feet.

I remember the first time it happened. Katya was getting a massage from one of the boys and someone dared her to suck David Fox’s toes. We all giggled and grimaced, but she just shrugged her shoulders, mumbled something about sterilization and chlorine, and went at it. After the initial shock made its way around the pool, the pure euphoria on David’s face became a waterborne virus. Before any of us knew it we all caught fever, mouth deep in toes. Sucking toes was safe and noncommittal—daring enough to be erotic, but innocent enough not to circulate in rumors the next day. No one had to kiss or suck anything else, and everyone was doing it. Girls on boys. Boys on girls. And of course, girls on girls. But never boys on boys. This was Los Angeles in the late nineties and despite being literally surrounded by water, shit just wasn’t that fluid back then.

After that first night toe-sucking was a given, like the backyard, or the series of pages and callbacks that eventually led us there. Though to be perfectly frank, I never participated in the latter. I mean, sure, I had a beeper. Everyone had a beeper. And while I could drink and toe-suck with the best of them, I wasn’t about to “411, 143, *88 so you know it’s me” any of those dudes. It was just too intimate, and like my parents used to love to remind me, I was only fourteen. But as long as I had my girls Isabella and Dahlia by my side, I knew that eventually one of the boys would swoop us.

If David himself were picking us up, we’d pile into his E-Class and I’d wonder about the life that would lead an otherwise unremarkable, kinda nerdy nineteen-year-old boy into his own brand-new luxury sedan. But alas, such were the marvels of the north side of Santa Monica. Million dollar cottage mansions with pantries stuffed full of name-brand snacks. Driveways with multiple Mercedes, backyards with hot tubs, and whole rooms designated for games. The north side of Santa Monica: where friends were always over and always welcomed to stay for dinner, and where parents were always away on vacation, or “business.” I never understood the mechanics of such living, yet I pondered them relentlessly until we pulled into the liquor store. Then it was either a bottle of Bacardi Limon, or as much Natty Ice as all of us could stomach and afford. When Portia was with us, she would always make the boys pay. She was older, sixteen at least, and classier than the lot of us put together. Still, it never felt right to me having the boys buy the booze. The implications terrified me, and I would make a point to show that I could fund my own intoxication. It seemed like the smarter thing to do, and I was just naive enough to imagine I had principles and ignorant enough to imagine that those principles would keep me safe.

Those boys had it made. Hanging out with young girls who would insist on paying for their own booze. Ending up in hot tubs at the end of the night, toes in mouths for nothing. We were all amateurs, really, but I digress.

On this particular night, Ricky’s night, we all opted for Natty Ice and snuck onto the polo field at Will Rogers Park to pregame. Dahlia always brought apples for the horses on Will Rogers nights. When we used to go horseback riding every summer at Y Camp in Big Bear, if you could get her to even sit on a horse, she’d be shitting her whole pants with fright. But at Will Rogers with them safely tucked into their stables, trespassing in the dead of night, Dahlia could walk right up, apple in hand, like a damn horse whisperer.

So there we were, pounding can after can of sparkling malted piss water, and I just knew I had to say something to Ricky. I mustered up the liquid courage to ask if he wanted to race.

“Oh, yeah?” He grinned. “Do you seriously think you can beat me?” His look was all fun and mischief and toothsome possibility.

No one had ever looked at me like that before, and though I was on the verge of disappearing into a thousand glittering bubbles of amber, I managed to squeak out a charm I’m proud of to this day. “I have an older brother. I’ve been training for this my whole life!”

If there were ever a moment in which Ricky could have loved me back, it would have been right there on the dew-soaked grass of the polo field in the midnight moments before the great race.

We took the field together, eyes locked. Back at the tables someone shouted the countdown. At “GO!” we shot out like cannon fire. I had never felt so alive. Maybe it was the April fog that clung to our clothing, or the intoxicating aroma of the eucalyptus trees that filled our lungs, or the squish of soggy peat under our bare feet as we ran. Or maybe it was the six-pack of malt liquor in my belly that magnetized me to him and propelled me in effervescent fury faster and faster. In any case, I almost beat him. It was practically a tie. I mean, I was never more than a step behind him, and as we crossed the imaginary finish line I grabbed him, and he let me.

That was it. We didn’t kiss. We didn’t embrace. There was no moment of romantic pause, no climax to that massive crescendo. I just grabbed him and we roared with laughter all the way back to the tables while I wondered if this was what love felt like. And then as we drank some more, we grinned incessantly at each other like you do when you know “this shit is about to be on,” except I was fourteen and shit had never been on enough for me to know that the shit was on, so I was just grinning at him like an absolute dummy, mistaking his grinning for genuine interest. Though the laughter and the moment promised infinity, the empty beer cans marked the passing of time and the inevitability of a backyard hot tub. It was time to leave.

Climbing to the street we came upon a taxi driver pulled over at the top of the hill with his overhead lights blaring, dirty magazine in hand. Either at the end of a long night or the beginning of one, this poor dude was just tryna catch a beat. When we caught him scrambling to kill the light, Ricky and I lost it. Like finger-pointing, sidesplitting howls that shattered the stillness of the Palisades after midnight.

Stepping through the gate into David’s yard, the memory of the race and the taxi cab, and time eternal still pounded in our chests. All at once a hot tub full of toes seemed a vulgar absurdity. With a glance and a squeeze we stole away into the steam shower upstairs. Engulfed in clandestine embrace, flexing in discovery, fourteen-year-old Natascia dissipated into expensive vapor and the newness of passion. There was no age. No time. No law. There was only Ricky and the beating rapture of zest. Hours went by. A lifetime. I don’t know. It could have been forever for all I cared, but eventually the water ran cold, and infinity ended. Ricky wrapped me up in a million-thread count, pre-revolution Egyptian cotton towel and ushered me into David’s brother’s room and onto David’s brother’s bed.

In a breath he was inside me, and in the fifteen seconds that followed before I ended up stopping him, two thoughts rang out like church bells at midday: One, I want this, and two, he never even bothered to ask. They kept clanging like that in tandem: I want this. He didn’t ask. I WANT THIS. HE DIDN’T ASK. Over and over until my body stiffened with thoughts of virginity, purity, reputation, and absolute ruin. Just like that I was fourteen and Natascia again.

“Wait,” I barely managed.

He stopped and asked, “Why?”

I had no reason and every reason. I was attempting to hang onto the imagination of virtue, but it was over just like that. Lying there frozen with him inside of me after an eternity of silence, the angels who watch over underage girls finally took pity on my self-generated confusion, and my friend Kimberly Anderson knocked on the door. I jumped up in triumph.

“That’s why!” I grabbed my clothes, ran out the door, and promised myself that as long as I never spoke of it that it didn’t have to count and I could manage to hang onto my virginity at least through the summer.

In hindsight, it was a much better origin story than the one I ended up going public with, but I was a melodramatic brooding teenager, and perhaps the passion of that night was just too pure for me to believe in. Touching infinity? Who was I kidding? What followed that steamy night was a four-year, gut-wrenching obsession that culminated in a seven-page letter in which I professed my undying insanity for this boy I hardly knew. From fourteen in a moment with no words to seventeen in a letter with far too many.

I don’t know. I suppose I did my best.

We met again when I was just barely twenty-one. He was just barely sober and calling me in a poor attempt at the ninth step. Sort of perfunctory and deficient of any real substance, I choked down the humiliation of his “I’m sorry if I, like, did anything to hurt you or whatever.” I remembered all the nights when I would pretend the whiskey on his breath made him taste like tangerines and all the days I’d check my voicemail over and over hoping he would call again. Then I remembered the years I spent fighting between the fantasy of what could be and degradation of what was, and here he was calling me after all this time on the goddamned telephone to tell me that I was on the goddamned list he wrote for his ninth step, and that in order to get fucking better, he had to call and like, “make amends, or whatever.”

I don’t know. I suppose he did his best too.

But fuck me if I didn’t somehow reimagine my own specialness as the object of Ricky’s persistent and irresistible charm. He kept calling until I eventually relented. He even took me out a couple of times with the boys and their girlfriends. I pretended it meant something. That he was finally coming around and wanted to be with me…you know, like a normal couple. Slowly, reluctantly, after so many years of working to exorcize the demon of fantasy, I’d be lying if I didn’t say she crept back in, gnashing her teeth.

He asked me over for Valentine’s Day that year, and I did my very best to talk myself back from the ledge of romantic oblivion in the car ride over. I brought him a kombucha thinking I was being really clever and sweet. The closest thing to a brew without being a brew. I handed it to him, feigning a toast, and half-sarcastically exclaimed, “To your sobriety and your health!” He took it and mansplained something about only drinking a shot glass full at a time for optimal digestion.

I rolled my eyes, but he wasn’t looking. “Well, you’re welcome,” or whatever.

Then it was his iTunes library and stories about his long-distance girlfriend, on the couch, where he quite literally charmed the pants off of me. Which admittedly wasn’t very hard to do. But with the ninth step behind us everything had changed. Unpropelled by the ecstasy of whiskey flavored infinity, he stopped before even starting, looked deep into my eyes, and uttered eleven words I’ll never forget: “I want you to know that this is just about sex.”

I shrugged, said okay, and let him fuck me. As he did, I realized how wonderful it would be to never see him like this again. He got off and into the shower. I got up and into my car, and that was that. In that one night we finished what we had started seven years earlier, which proved in the end to be nothing at all.
Natascia Tornetta-Mallin

Natascia Mallin is a Jewish Italian American writer who was born and raised on the Westside of Los Angeles. Unsurprisingly, she is also an actor. However, like most actors in L.A. you’ve probably never heard of anything she’s been in.

The piece above is the first chapter of her memoir, The First 50 published by Rare Bird


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