Saturday, September 29, 2012

First Kiss

"Here, this is for you," she said sheepishly as she clumsily thrust the folded piece of paper towards me.  The novelty of the moment caused me to hesitate as I tried to figure out what was happening.  A second, "Here take it!" broke the logjam though, and my equally sheepish hand reached out to take the note.

Too embarrassed to open and read it then and there, I shoved it into my pocket and acted like nothing had happened.  When you're in 5th grade, you gotta play it cool, you know?  It wasn't until later, when I was alone on the school bus, that I finally pulled out the mysterious note. 

The words "To Adam" were written on it in that flowery handwriting that girls tend to be so good at.  With my heart in my throat, I slowly and methodically opened the tightly folded letter.  My goodness, there were so many folds!  It seemed like it took forever to get that darned thing opened.  But then, finally, there it was - unfolded, on my lap - with the inked words spilling out all over the place.  Only three of them really mattered though, and my eyes locked onto them instantly - "I like you!" 

Wow!  First my mind went blank, and then, like a switch had been flipped, it started racing a mile a minute.  Holy cow!  Was this really happening, I mean, REALLY happening?  Amy Baures likes me?  Me?  It was so hard to believe, and so unexpected - but that's what it said!  And in 5th grade, nothing more officially marked the beginning of a relationship than a "love letter".  Like a written contract, it was something tangible, something that could be pulled out of your pocket and showed to any and all skeptics and nonbelievers. 

Getting that note changed everything!  Simply the fact that I had gotten a love letter, and from Amy Baures no less, the cutest girl in school, was the biggest thing that had ever happened to me!  Yes sir, for the next several days I walked with my head held higher than I had ever held it before.  And I walked with such an over-dramatic swagger that I must have looked quite the fool - but so what!  For the first time in my life I had a girlfriend!  Or at least it was my first "real" girlfriend, because that brief fling with the preacher's daughter, Amy Werner, didn't really count (for some reason there's been a lot of "Amy"s in my life).  Sure, she taught me how to skip, a useful skill for which I'm still grateful for, but that was way back kindergarten.  This, on the other hand, was the 5th grade - this was the big leagues! 

But alas, my time in the Big Leagues would prove to be short lived. Ended up being kind of like that Greek myth, you know, the one where the two fellahs flew too close to the sun and the wax on their wings started to melt, and, well, you know.  Anyway, the week after Amy handed me that letter, we both shied away from talking, or even looking directly at one other.  After a few days, with a trembling hand, I had written her back, and with the same trembling hand I'd handed it to her in the hallway at school.  There, in the clunky, inarticulate language that Junior High boys excel at, I wrote that I liked her back, but that I didn't understand why she liked me in the first place.  I was just a nerdy farm boy, after all, who read too much and had the obligatory dorky glasses to show for it.  In any event, the wording must have been particularly clunky and inarticulate, because at the end of the week Amy handed me a letter that said she hated me.  Thus ended my first "real" relationship, not to mention my swagger.

The rest of the school year was spent avoiding Amy - not an easy thing to do in a tiny two room Lutheran school.  But time moves on, as its been known to do, and eventually summer time came, and the tumultuous chapter of my life that was 5th grade mercifully came to an inglorious end. 

While summer was a relief from the ups and downs of Junior High romance, it was no picnic.  Summer is rough on farm kids - what with all the stacking of hay bales, the shoveling of manure, and fixing of field fences. I imagine for city kids it's probably a fun, lazy time spent at the municipal pool or the video arcade, but for us farm kids it means calloused hands and a sore back.  So by the time autumn rolled around, I was pretty excited to leave the hayloft for the classroom, even if it meant I'd have to face my first "real" ex-girlfriend.

At first I tried to pick up where I'd left off - that is ignoring her and pretending that there in fact was no such girl named Amy Baures at Buffalo Lutheran School.  But there was, and wow, was she hard to ignore!  With that dimpled smile and adorable, shy laugh of hers, I just couldn't get her out of my mind.  "If only . . ." were the opening words of a lot of  internal monologues in my head those first few days back.  Girls were so hard to figure out - they really made absolutely no sense what so ever! 

But girls and their unfathomable ways were about to hit me upside the head yet again, for just a few weeks into the semester that familiar hand of Amy's reached out with yet another tightly folded note.  And while I quickly shoved it unread into my pocket again, as soon as an embarrassing chorus of "Amy and Adam, sitting in a tree" went up from my classmates, within minutes of getting on that school bus I whipped it back out and hungrily read it. 

There wasn't an explanation of the break up note in it, and there wasn't an answer to my earlier question of why it was that she liked me in the first place.  But that didn't matter, because there was something a lot more important written on that piece of notebook paper.  There, once again, in that neatly written girl handwriting, were those oh so missed words of, "I like you"!

I must have read and re-read that letter a hundred times; heck, to be honest, I probably read it two hundred times!  It didn't say much really, but it was one of the most mesmerizing things I'd ever laid eyes on.  And by the time the bus dropped me off at home, I had vowed that this time things would be different.  This time I'd actually talk to Amy, I'd make eye contact with her, I'd do whatever it took to make it work! 

But man, when you're in 6th grade, those things are easier said than done.  It's hard to look a pretty girl in the eye, and talking to them - forget about it!  It was like all the words I knew collectively decided to up and migrate south for the school year every time she even came near me.

While it definitely wasn't going to be easy, but something had to be done.  What kind of boyfriend can't event talk to his girl?  One that gets dumped, that's who.  And I was bound and determined not to be that guy again.  So, I locked myself in the bathroom, and started practicing in the mirror. I'd pretend I was standing in front of her, and then I'd try out some simple lines, like "Hi Amy!" and "You look nice today."  It was embarrassing like all heck, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do!  Trouble is, I could never find much time to practice.  Growing up in a tiny trailer house means that there isn't exactly much in the way of privacy - and the only thing more mortifying about having trouble talking to a girl, is letting your parents know that you're talking to girls! 

Eventually, I solved the privacy problem when I found an old mirror and squirreled it away up in the barn.  There, in an old dusty room, I practiced my lines every morning and every evening while I was doing my chores.  I practiced what I would say, how I would stand while I said it, and even how I'd suavely walk away after I'd said it.

Next, I picked a random day on the calendar to be the first day I would try having a conversation with her.  While it ended up not going nearly as suavely as it had in front of that mirror, I did manage to get out a few halting words, and Amy, for her part, said a few back.  Our first conversation!  It was an awkward experience, but you know, afterwards, I felt pretty darn good.  Move over Fabio, and move over Brad Pitt - there's a new Romeo in town!

Things were still pretty awkward after that conversation, but at least they were getting a little bit easier.  We started writing about 2 or 3 letters to each other every week, said "hi" and "bye" almost every day, and on days when she had music practice and had to ride my bus, we even sat together on the same seat.  Yep, yep, yep, our 6th grade romance was getting pretty hot and heavy! 

And then, all of a sudden, it was the month of May.  Where the heck did that come from, right?  Somehow, inexplicably, an entire school year had come and gone!  And while I was tickled pink that this year hadn't seen another break-up note, summer was going to mean three whole months where I wouldn't get to see Amy.  The whole idea of it was heart wrenching!  It made me want to cry, scream and throw up, all at once!  How could my life go on without those daily "hi"s and "bye"s, without those neatly folded love notes, and those awkward, but of so magical, glances across the classroom?  To be honest, I didn't think life could go on, not one worth living at least.  But what could I do about it? 

Eventually, one of us, I honestly don't remember who, came up with the novel idea of calling each other.  But this was in the era before cell phones, mind you.  Back then phones were mounted on walls, and were connected to them by cords.  That meant somehow, in that tiny, privacy devoid trailer, I'd have to call Amy with a cackling family for an audience.  No way, no how! 

Luckily, where there is a will, there is a way, especially when you're a determined pubescent boy.  So, whenever the family was engrossed in some TV program, I'd get up and act like I was going to the back of the house to use the bathroom.  But instead, I'd actually sneak into my parents bedroom, where there was a phone.  There, with a blanket pulled over my head to muffle the sound, I'd call her, and read the pre-written banter, word for word, that I'd prepared in my notebook.  It wasn't exactly the stuff Danielle Steele novels are made of, but it was a vital lifeline that allowed our romance to get a much needed gasp of air.

Even with the phone calls, that summer seemed to drag on, and on, and on.  The endless row of hay bales coming up the conveyor belt into the hayloft for me to stack became a symbol for that infernal, never ending summer.  Why had the whole world, seasons and all, conspired to keep us apart!  Curses on the seasons, curses on the nine month school year, curses on the whole world!

Finally, the last hay bale came up the conveyor belt, and summer came to an end.  Finally I got to step onto the school bus and head off to school.  Finally, the world no longer deserved the curses I had been casting around all summer.  And before I knew it, there she was, standing in front of the school, with that dimpled smile!  Time froze for a moment, and everything else just melted away.  Snap out of it, man!  Springing into action, I practically tripped over my own feet as I scrambled out of the bus.  I was smiling uncontrollably as I went and stood in front of her. I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with air and courage, and I said "hi!"

That's right, I simply said "hi".  Now remember, that was a big deal in 6th grade, just getting to the point where I could say that.  But I was in 7th grade now, the BIG, big leagues.  Somehow "hi" just didn't feel adequate once it came out; it wasn't enough.  As I walked into class with Amy all kinds of weird feelings started swirling about inside of me.  Cute banter, love notes, and occasionally sitting next to each other on the bus is all well and fine for a pair of 6th graders in love, but that just wasn't going to cut it for a serious 7th grade relationship.  There was going to need to be more; I was going to have to step up my game.   It didn't take long to figure out what was called for - it was time for our first kiss!

At first that revelation was kind of exciting!  But it quickly was replaced by some pretty intense feelings of dread.  It's one thing practicing saying "hi" in front of a mirror, but how the heck does one get ready for something like kissing? And it quickly became apparent that I wouldn't have much time to figure it out.  As fate would have it, the notes that Amy and I exchanged that week showed that she was thinking it was time for our first kiss too.  The pressure was on!

Hmmm.  There was a lot to wrap my head around here.  How was I was going to pull this off?  Heck, for that matter, where was I going to pull this off?  It's not like I could just walk up to her at school one day, take her in my arms, dip her and then plant one right smack on the lips.  That my work in the movies, but this is real life.  Just imagine how embarrassing that would be!  With all our classmates watching and heckling us?  Plus, that kind of move required far, FAR more grace and coordination that I knew I could muster.  No way, Hosea!

The next few days proved to be simply nerve wracking.  I was petrified, terrified, mortified!  But the cat was out of the bag.  By talking about it in our notes, expectations had been raised.  It was time to tinkle or get off the potty!

So, after running scenario after possible scenario through my head, I finally came up upon a doable plan.  For this kiss to happen we were going to need a private place, somewhere where nobody would see us.  That was not going to be easy.  Our school was a tiny one, and the teachers watched us kids like hawks.  But I was hormone charged boy determined to kiss his girlfriend, and by golly, no under-paid school teacher was going to stop me!

The first step was to get Amy's approval for the plan, which was achieved with the exchange of a few more notes.  Like a true gentleman, I left it up to the lady to pick the big day.  My stomach practically went into convulsions though when she told me that she wanted the very next day to be D-Day. Now the pressure was REALLY on!

That night I had a mammoth practice session in front of the mirror.  I shudder at the thought of what that must have looked like, with me air kissing an imaginary girl!  But luckily I was unobserved.  After I went to bed, I ran over the plan in my head over and over and over again.  Everything had to go perfectly!  Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep that night.  Between the butterflies in my stomach, the lump in my throat and the jack hammer like pounding of my heart, I was a mess! 

Come morning  I brushed my teeth longer and harder than I had ever brushed them before.  I gargled with mouthwash until it felt like the stuff was going to eat right through my cheeks. I even brushed my tongue for the first time in my life.  It almost made me gag, but I figured if it helped give me fresher breath, what the heck, right?

There wouldn't be any breakfast that morning; my stomach vetoed that idea.  The same went for lunch.  Our plan was set to go into motion that afternoon at 1:45pm, sharp.   Already by one o'clock though I started compulsively watching the clock.  I counted down each and every minute as the clock-arm slowly, tediously made it's way around the circle.  Each tick echoing inside my skull. 

Finally, after what truly seemed like an eternity, the clock struck the designated time.  I cast a glance at Amy to confirm that everything was a go, and at that signal she raised her hand and asked the teacher if she could go to the bathroom.  He handed her the bathroom pass, and off she went. 

Now, our teacher was a clever chap.  He only handed out one bathroom pass at a time; nobody could get another one until the person who went before them had returned.  I guess it was so there wouldn't be any monkey business outside the classroom.  But I had concocted a fool proof way to get around that silly little rule.  You see, back then, I had a tendency to chew on pens.  I would have made a good text book example of Freud's "oral fixation" theory.  It was something that I did all the time, whittling pens down to practically nothing.  And from time to time this got messy, and I'd accidentally get ink on myself.  Well this time it was no accident.  Exactly three minutes after Amy left for the lavatory, I raised my intentionally ink splattered hand, and in an urgent voice, I implored Mr. Wilde to let me run to the john and wash it off.  The sucker fell for it!  So off I went, for my date with destiny!

I practically ran down the hall, to our designated meeting place by the water fountain.  And there she was - my angel!  The unlit hall made it hard to see much, but she was so radiant, she was like a star that had come down to earth.  Wow.  This was really going go happen! 

Awkwardly, we both took a single step towards one another.  I triumphantly held out my ink stained hand, basking in my cleverness, and then put it behind my back so as not to get any on her.  We started to lean in towards each other, but then we both started to nervously giggle.  I looked down at the floor briefly, my face flushed with embarrassment.  Then we looked into each others eyes again, started to lean in, and at the same time closed our eyes. 

I'm not 100% sure what happened next.  I puckered my lips and went in for the kiss, but somehow got lost along the way.  I don't know what I ended up kissing, but it sure wasn't her lips!  It was smooth - maybe a cheek, a forehead, heck, it could have been her chin for all I know.  All I do know is that I missed!  When I realized this I reeled back in horror.  I opened my eyes and braced myself for what I assumed was the inevitable torrent of mocking laughter.  But thankfully, none came.  Whew!  I guess I wasn't the only one who was new at this! 

Somehow, I found the courage to meekly suggest that we try it again.  She graciously accepted my offer.  So, after taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and went in for a second try.  This time I leaned in extra slow, and waited for the tip of my nose to touch hers, allowing me to get my bearings.  Then, it just sort of happened.  Somehow our lips lined up, and for a brief, but wonderful moment, they touched!

Holy cows of Wisconsin!  At that moment the butterflies in my stomach turned into rockets - yes, rockets, I tell you!  They shot up through the roof of the school, up, up high into the sky, where they erupted into the world's most spectacular fireworks display of all time!  And I was right up there with them, floating above all the farms and fields, above the bluffs of the Mississippi River, above everything and anything I'd ever known.  Wow!  I mean . . . wow!  I may have even said "wow!" out loud!

How I got back to the classroom after that is a bit of a blur.  I remember feeling like I had Gumby's legs, and whatever I was walking on felt a heck of lot more like what I imagine a cloud feels like, than a hard, level floor.  And then, once I finally got back to my desk I couldn't stop smiling.  The biggest smile I have ever smiled just beamed from my face the whole afternoon.   Man o' man, I don't think a donkey kick to the head could have wiped that smile off of my face!  I had kissed her, I had really kissed her!

In the days that followed all I had to do was close my eyes and it would vividly all come rushing back - the butterflies, the fireworks, the Gumby legs, all of it.  It was pure, undiluted magic! 

A lot of years have flowed under the bridge since that first kiss by the water fountain. And in that time I've had a lot of truly wonderful experiences in my life - I've met some truly amazing people, I got to witness Haley's comet, I've even seen a dying man brought back to life with CPR.  But so far, none of them come close to matching the magic of that first kiss. There's really just something about the fumbling intensity of innocent teenage love!  So here's to hand written love notes, awkward glances, and most of all, to first kisses!

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