It's not as hard as you might think to put myself back into that eleven year old body. Goodness knows I'm a quite different person now, but some memories are fundamental enough to my becoming who I am that they stay clear with preternatural freshness right down to the staggering emotions and the smell of wet grass. Such is the memory of my first real kiss.
Beginning middle school was a bitch of a time for me, being shorter than everyone else and losing my elementary school friends due to the arbitrary reason that I didn't live on that side of Trail Lake Drive. I was alone and lonely, not yet acclimated to the new place and as yet unknown to the rest of the out crowd. Added to this was the social burden of being in the school's band, ironically playing the sousaphone. Being a member of the band had one advantage, however, it was itself a miniature society where I eventually found a small circle of friends. It has been through little groups like this that I have floated ever since.
Indirectly, the band also gave me my first not completely innocent experience with a girl. That girl, whose name and face I no longer remember though they were etched in my mind for months, was in the 'A' band; an eight grader and a head taller than me. Her period for band came right before mine and, because she and her friends tended to linger after class, I was usually there in the hall waiting when they came out. I remember her enough to say that she wasn't the prettiest girl I knew of, whatever that means to eleven year olds. She was boyish, prone to wearing punker styles it would take me another decade to embrace, but she was unique among her french horn playing clan, and that meant more to me than makeup and boobs.
She had a reputation with the trumpet players in the 'C' band of making out with a lot of lowlifes. Back then kids did pretty much the same things they've always done, but for us making out didn't mean fucking yet; we barely knew what that was. In 1980 cussing hadn't infiltrated every family's normal speech and when thirteen year olds screwed each other, they did it quietly and kept it to themselves afterward.
To me, what really mattered about her was that every day when her troupe passed me in the band hall, she looked at me. Not with any particular expression, like she was trying to convey some special message, but frequently enough to go beyond coincidence. She never slowed or hesitated while she laughed at her friends' jokes and hiked up the olive green backpack on her shoulder in passing, nevertheless she always looked me directly in the eyes for a few timeless moments. I'll never know why. We didn't speak; her friends ignored me there and elsewhere, and I rarely saw her otherwise. Until the day she kissed me.
She was two years older than me at least, and two years for grade school kids are equal to twenty for adults, but I felt like an outsider on all fronts so she was no different to me from any of the untouchable girls in my own classes. I was afraid of all girls equally, yet here was one who was the subject of rumors, perhaps someone with whom I could sympathize. I don't remember imagining that we could have any kind of close relationship, however; truth be told, I was already pining for two other girls. I didn't have the slightest idea how to initiate contact with girls and not enough self esteem to think they'd give a damn if I did. This was going to change in a heartbeat, but the farther I get from that time the more I regret that I didn't understand just how integral a change it was.
It happened on a gray day at the beginning of October, when it was still hot enough that the humidity brought by a morning shower only made it feel worse. I was in PE, running laps around the track as we always did the first few minutes. There was a break in the fence at the end of the track farthest from school where older kids would go to smoke, and that day she was there with several boys I didn't know. The first time I ran by them they were laughing and so was she, though she looked at me as I passed. I recall hoping that the coach wouldn't call us in until I made it around to them again, regardless of the fact that I was sure they were laughing at me. When I did get close the second time, however, I was surprised by one of the guys calling me over. I thought they probably wanted trouble and couldn't decide whether to join them or move along. I saw that she was smiling, though, so I walked up, panting and half terrified. I was as scared of her as I was of the boys.
The one who had called me further shocked me by asking if I wanted to kiss her. Just like that, in a way that only makes sense to stupid guys in a teasing mood. She was standing apart from them, leaning against a railing in front of the break in the fence, and cried, "Fuck off" at him. But she was still smiling. The other guys started making noise; I think one said something like, "Come on, let's see if he'll do it." I was rooted to the spot, panting, legs shaking from adrenaline. I recall looking down at my feet and noticing that my shoes had become wet from the grass. The air was saturated with it. When I looked up, she was standing three feet away, looking down at me with a look in her eyes I'd never seen before. I imagine now that it wasn't too different from my own.
"You don't have to," she said, barely above a whisper. She could have pushed me over with a feather. The boys were insistent in the same way fraternity guys ten years their senior would be surrounding a pledge with his first beer bong; they were there to see me humiliated one way or the other. For a few bitter seconds she and I shared eye contact that spoke volumes while I believed she was going to do anything but go along with it. Then she stepped once, cupped my head in her hands, and kissed me.
It wasn't my first, exactly. I had had a girlfriend of sorts when I was eight; yet Emily Pike and I were never more than playmates, and we only kissed hello and goodbye. No, this was a kiss that stirred more than my heart. Of course, I didn't know what to do with my hands. I was still far from the horny bastard I was to become, and all I could manage was to place them at her sides, just above her jeans. Here I found the true awakening, though. Besides feeling her breathing and her heart beating strongly enough to rival mine, I realized that she was trembling. For me she had seemed the picture of independence and self confidence, the opposite of everything I felt myself; but here she trembled!
Our tongues touched and tangled, and I marveled at how small hers was and how mine was suddenly stronger. I was fumbling only slightly worse than I always have, I'm no Lothario, but when my thumb barely moved over her ribs, she gasped. There is no way I can explain how that made me feel. If you've never felt the same, you wouldn't understand anyway.
At some immeasurable point she giggled and told me to breathe through my nose. I hardly cared that she had to lean down to reach me again. The whole thing lasted maybe a couple minutes, but something in the deepest part of me is still there in the ecstasy of the knowledge that I was touching another human being and communicating in a thousand ways at once. She tasted like cigarettes and smelled like baby shampoo and I could have died from the bliss. Her fingers massaged my neck and still she trembled. The world shrank to to the coolness of her delicate tongue. Then it was over.
Before she pulled away, she asked me, "Was that okay?" I could but nod dumbly and stagger backwards, reminded of the existence of the rest of the world by her friends' hoots. As I turned to go back to the track, embarassed and completely emotionally overwhelmed, I saw her smile sheepishly to the guys and wipe her mouth. I couldn't bring myself to make another lap, but eventually decided that I wasn't going to puke and went the rest of the day in a proud haze. I didn't stop waiting in the band hall before class, but she never looked into my eyes again. As far as I could tell she wasn't actively avoiding me, nevertheless, whatever had been there had turned the corner. She slowly melted into the crowd as life moved on and left that spring for high school. If I ever noticed her when I followed her to Paschal, it was fleeting. I had many friends by then and had lived a dozen lives in between. After only a few years I forgot her name, though for an awkward and unsettling minute she had been the center of the universe.
If asked when was my first kiss, I'll always think of that, though it wasn't, really. It was, however, the first moment I understood the meaning of intimacy. I may be wrong in thinking that she was as vulnerable and uncertain as me and as prone to being led by her friends, but her shaking body and racing heart was unmistakable. I had believed that she, and every girl, was untouchable and unshakable, even when she looked into my eyes. But she was, after all, only thirteen years old.