Yolanda tells the story, in the first person, of how for a few years she was the wildest one of her sisters. In high school she was vivacious, and had a lot of callers, though no serious relationships. In college, however, she could not keep the callers interested for long, since she refused to sleep with any of them. She went to college during the late sixties and the sexual revolution. She insists that she was Americanized enough not to be concerned with her Dominican Catholicism, so she did not have a good excuse for her prudishness.
In her first English class, she met Rudy Brodermann Elmenhurst, the third. Yolanda felt out of place and foreign, and appreciated Rudy's odd name, his lateness, and his acne scars. He had "bedroom eyes," was able to laugh at himself, and did not bring a pen to class. She felt a shiver of sexual chemistry as he asked her if she had an extra one. Yolanda did not have an extra pen, and felt awkward while explaining this in a whisper. But she handed him a small red pencil inscribed with the Americanized version of her name, Jolinda. The pencil had been sharpened down to the J, and Yolanda was embarrassed that she had saved the pencil for such a long time.
That night, Rudy stopped by her room as Yolanda was reciting a love sonnet she had written for class. He claimed he only wanted to return her tiny pencil, but then asked her out to lunch. Yolanda was confused but agreed to have lunch anyway. They had lunch and then also had dinner, because they became so absorbed in each other. They wrote a pornographic poem together, and Rudy explained all the sexual double meanings found within images of nature. Yolanda was a very innocent virgin and did not understand Rudy's strategies of flirtation. He would linger in her room late at night before kissing her goodbye behind her ear.
Yolanda felt that her innocence regarding sex and drugs was related to her situation as an immigrant. The boys' dorm rooms hosted parties with drugs and alcohol, and Yolanda was afraid that Rudy would take advantage of her if she drank or smoked marijuana. She told him she was afraid he might rape her, and his explicit language shocked her when he denied it. They would kiss and cuddle, but she refused to let him touch her. He would get frustrated with her "hangups," and Yolanda would get disgusted by the language he used to describe sex. Yolanda feared pregnancy and also the possibility of being frigid.
She felt ashamed of her uptight and formal Old World parents and envied his parents' relaxed attitude toward sex. Rudy thought sex should be fun and she thought it should be meaningful and serious. She stormed out of his room one night and put a crucifix under her pillow for comfort. After they broke up, Yolanda missed Rudy and noticed his poems were more explicitly affectionate. Yolanda fantasized about Rudy coming back to her during the spring dance. But Rudy brought another girl to the dance and Yolanda could tell by looking at the way they interacted that they were sexually intimate.
Five years later, while Yolanda was in grad school and finally sexually experienced, Rudy stopped by unexpectedly. He asked if she wanted "to fuck" and she got offended and threw him out. She messily uncorked his expensive bottle of wine and drank it from the bottle like "some decadent wild woman who had just dismissed an unsatisfactory lover."
The roots of Yolanda's problems with American men, from Rudy all the way through to John, relate to the cultural differences between Dominican and American attitudes toward sex and relationships. Her fears of intimacy and sexual experimentation relate to her desires to be appreciated and cherished as a pure and chaste virgin. Though tempted by the mystery and pleasure of sex that Rudy seems to offer, she is also terrified by the disrespect communicated through his crude vocabulary.
Yolanda places such importance on the hidden and subtle meanings of words and language that she is easily offended by what she feels is an inappropriate and crass way of talking about sex. If Rudy had framed sex in terms of poetic romance, she might have given in more easily to his advances. Because he talked about sex using a distinctively American vocabulary, such as "laid," "balled," or "fucked," and used American slang like "69," Yolanda could not relate to his perspective on sex. She cannot think of sex in the same ways that Americans did in the late sixties, as a fun and harmless experience. She continues to see it in many ways as her parents did, as a symbol of a long term and spiritual commitment to another person. Yet the casual attitude that she finds so offensive is what originally attracted her to Rudy in the first place. She feels caught between the Dominican culture she finds too oppressive and the American culture she finds too casual.
The conclusion confirms that Rudy is a selfish and insensitive person, especially after having had some time to possibly mature. Though Yolanda experiments with sex during the years following her relationship with Rudy, she retains her insistence that a lover respect her attitudes toward sex and frame desire within a vocabulary that she finds attractive and respectful. She seems to have overcome some of her insecurities regarding her frigidity, since she sees herself as a wild woman, drinking alcohol and defining the boundaries and characteristics of her sexual relationships.