03.31.09

Uh, Mom, About That Prostitute…

In an excerpt from A Different Life, his new memoir about growing up with disabilities, Quinn Bradlee, the son of Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn, visited a brothel to lose his virginity. Then he went to his mother and made the world’s oldest confession.

I had what you might call an “extracurricular” experience during my time at [The] Gow [School], when I took a vacation with my family to St. Martin.

My parents used to go to the same place in the Caribbean every year, to a hotel called La Samanna in St. Martin. It’s right on the water and has its own beach. Once I was old enough, I could choose a companion to help keep me company during those trips. When I was 19, I decided to bring a guy I knew from Gow. Though I had a hard time making friends at Gow, this kid had always been nice to me, and I thought he’d have fun in St. Martin with me. Maybe it would bring us closer.

Read Barbara Kantrowitz’s Review of A Different Life

Like everyone in the world, he knew that I wanted to get laid and that I’d had a difficult time with that. The first thing he said to me before we left was, “I’m gonna get you laid.”

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A Different Life: Growing Up Learning Disabled and Other Adventures By Quinn Bradlee 240 pages. Public Affairs. $25. ()

The third night that we were on the island, we hired a taxi to take us out on the town. My mom being who she is, she asked the hotel for the most reputable driver they knew. She told the managers of the hotel that she wanted somebody to take us to bars where kids hung out, to wait for us, and to take us back to the hotel at the end of the night.

The driver was named Silky. He was a bald islander who wore a hat and lots of gold jewelry. When he asked where we wanted to go, my friend said, “Just take us to some bars.” In hindsight, I think maybe my friend talked to him before I got there.

St. Martin is divided into two sides, the French side and the Dutch side. I think the French side is nicer and had assumed we were going out on the French side, but it turned out that we were heading to the Dutch side. To me, it kind of looked like a Third World country.

After driving for about half an hour, we pulled up to what looked like a bar. We were the only white people in the entire place, and I felt a little uncomfortable. The bar was called Heaven’s Gate. I had no idea what Heaven’s Gate referred to. I hadn’t been introduced to that world yet, if you know what I mean.

I realized pretty quick that every guy in the bar was talking to a girl, and every girl was sitting in a guy’s lap in a very sexual way. After we both got beers, my friend disappeared. So I found an empty seat and sat down.

The next thing I knew, a girl had come over to me and sat down on my lap, just like that. She had skin that was as dark as the night sky and black curly hair that came down to her shoulders. She sat there, and I very nervously and slowly put both of my arms around her waist. I had no idea what to do.

She stood up, took my hand, and led me to a paying stand. It looked very much like a booth where you would buy tickets for a play. “It” only cost $35. That night, I only had about that much. Maybe it was destiny.

After I paid, she took me down a very narrow hall with red doors on each side, and then into one of the rooms. I was still a little confused about what was happening. When she started to take off her clothes, I finally realized what was going on. Once she got on the bed, I immediately and nervously took off all my clothes, too.

You can guess what happened next. I don’t need to go into too much detail. I’m glad that it happened, I guess, but it wasn’t necessarily the way that I wanted to lose my virginity. I might have bragged a little about just wanting to get laid, but in reality I wanted to lose my virginity with somebody I really cared about and who cared about me. I didn’t really know what was going on that night, for the most part. But the one thing I understood afterward was the pure satisfaction possible when you make love to somebody you are truly in love with.

When I woke up the next day, the first thing that came into my mind was, “How am I going to tell my parents?” You might wonder why I wanted to do that, but at that time in my life, I was really used to telling them everything. (I still do tell them just about everything, to be honest.) They were my best friends. And so I was confused. I wanted to tell them what had happened, but I didn’t exactly know how to. I thought if I did, I better tell my father before my mother.

When I walked out onto the terrace, my dad was there, reading the newspaper as he does every morning. He gets really into it and doesn’t like being interrupted. But this time I figured he might like to hear what just happened to his youngest son.

Before I sat down, I said to him, “Guess what, Dad?” “What?” he asked. I didn’t know any other way to say it, so I just told him, “I got laid.” All he asked was, “How’d it feel?” My dad being who he is, I figured he’d say a lot more than that, but I was wrong. I didn’t have much to say about it, but I think my dad was happy for me.

All of a sudden, my mother walked out onto the terrace. I don’t know if she heard what I said or what, but it was weird that she walked in right as we were talking about it. She asked what was going on, and I told her the whole story.

All hell broke loose.

My mother worries way too much, if you ask me. I know that mothers worry; all mothers do and they’re supposed to. But she took this one a little far.

The first thing she did was ask me if I was joking. I think she was so stunned that she didn’t believe me. The next thing she asked was whether I’d used a condom or not, which of course I had. When she found out that I’d lost my virginity at a “house of ill repute,” she went nuts.

The only thing that my mom was thinking about was whether I could have gotten HIV. The year before, when we were in St. Martin, I had had a terrible migraine and ended up spending the night in an HIV ward in a hospital on the French side of the island. I had forgotten about it, but my mom hadn’t. She started to go on and on about how many people on the island had AIDS. She was making me upset, but she was making herself even more upset.

At this point my friend came in, and I explained that I’d told my mother, thinking that she would be proud of me. My friend couldn’t believe that I told her. I guess he didn’t realize how much I confided in my mom. Maybe I confided in her more than I should have. Knowing what I know now, I probably would have told Lisa instead of my mom. But the fact is that I’ve always told my parents the truth. My mom says that she’s never caught me in a lie in my life. I just don’t believe in lying.

My mother started to call every doctor she knew to tell them what happened. My dad calls it “going to General Quarters,” from the navy. It means getting the ship ready for battle, and boy, was my mom on the warpath. She took us to the front desk of the hotel, where she gave them a talking to. The hotel called Silky, who took all of us back down to Heaven’s Gate.

The manager of Heaven’s Gate was an elegantly dressed woman, which I thought was surprising. Her office looked like the inside of IBM or something— very professional. My mom was relieved to find out that it was a medically inspected place used mostly by government officials.

The manager was very cooperative and understanding. She could see that my mom was panicked. My mom asked her to find the girls we had been with.

The manager was very cooperative and understanding. She could see that my mom was panicked. My mom asked her to find the girls we had been with. It took them about half an hour to find them. While we were waiting for the girls to come back, not one word was spoken. It was the only time in my life that I’ve been too afraid to talk to my mother.

When the girls showed up, I was more relieved than scared or nervous. They got in the car with us, and Silky took us all to the clinic for an HIV test. Talk about awkward. My mom and dad sat in the front with Silky, and we sat in back with the girls. (They ended up being clean, thank God. They were also very nice about the whole thing, though since they didn’t speak much English, I’m not sure I really knew how they were feeling. Confused, probably.)

I don’t think my mother was intentionally trying to embarrass me, but I had never been embarrassed like that before. I couldn’t wait to leave St. Martin. I have never wanted to leave any place like I did that day. I learned two things from the experience: My father was much more of a ladies’ man when he was my age than I am now, and also never to upset my mother.

When my friend and I got back to Gow, we both kind of went our own way. But then kids randomly started coming up to me and asking how my vacation was in a suggestive way. The infamous Bobo was telling people that I had slept with a hooker. I told Bobo that my friend was guilty of the same charge, but Bobo told everybody that only I had done it, and not my friend.

If I didn’t know what humiliation was before that moment, I sure felt it then. It ruined my last couple of months at Gow, because people were constantly making jokes about me and the hooker. I’m a sensitive person, so the jokes hurt—even if people were just kidding. And I thought that the kid who had been with me in St. Martin was spreading lies, too. I didn’t think that I would ever be able to forgive him.

Recently, I saw his profile on Facebook, and I wrote him to say that I was going to be telling this story in my book. He said that he had never told lies about me, that he wished we were still friends, and that Bobo had spread all the stories. Whatever happened, it was one of the hardest times of my life.

Excerpted from A Different Life: Growing Up Learning Disabled and Other Adventures by Quinn Bradlee and Jeff Himmelman © 2009. With permission from the publisher, Public Affairs.

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Quinn Bradlee was born with Velo-Cardio-Facial syndrome, the second-most-prevalent genetic syndrome in the world behind Down syndrome. He has worked as a documentary filmmaker and launched www.FriendsOfQuinn.com, to create an online community and resource for young adults with learning disabilities and their families.