That First Kiss

In seventh grade in 1977, I wanted to be Crystal Brown's hero. She sat next to me in Mr. Sigowski's physical science class, and sometimes her skinny long arm, browned by hours on the cracked tennis courts behind the school, strayed onto my desk as she bent over her Pee-chee, drawing thousands of tiny circles in its blank spaces, a task for which I had both admiration and jealousy. I thought I would deserve her love if I could count every blonde hair on her arm or memorize perfectly the contours of her profile. "You're crazy," my best friend Joey Fox told me when I moaned about my passion. "She's a head taller than you and too skinny." Joey always looked out for my best interests - he kept me from trying out for the football team to win the attentions of Wendy Stobearl, the red-headed cheerleader - but in this case I thought he was being hypocritical. Joey was head-over-heels for Farrah Fawcett, and although we watched her show every Saturday night in his attic bedroom while drinking grape soda, eating Pop-Rocks and smoking Kools, he believed he actually had a shot at her. He kept her famous teeth and bathing suit poster above his bed, a photo clipped from a magazine folded in his wallet, and while I mooned over Crystal's fragrant arm in Mr. Sigowski's class, he composed love letters proposing marriage to the lion-maned beauty. When the credits for Charlie's Angels ran, we played Bay City Rollers albums, tucked our jeans into our socks and danced like mad-men on the bed, then practiced kissing on the pillows. Joey, having actually kissed Mary Calwell at last year's Valentine Day's dance while I was shooting spitballs at Jackie Lee, was the expert, so he gave me pointers. "Don't stick your tongue out like that, and keep your teeth covered with your lips. Hold your breath, and don't close your eyes," he'd say as he plunged headfirst into his Farrah pillow. "You're doing it all wrong." I couldn't reconcile the sterile bleach and laundry smell of the pillow, its cotton roughness, its dry touch on my tongue to my dreams of Crystal Brown, the smooth rub of her elbow when it accidentally brushed mine, her smell of sun and soap and after-tennis sweat. But I dreamed anyway, through Mr. Sigowski's lecture on volcanoes and earthquakes, through every episode of Charlie's Angels, through every embrace with Joey's pillows. Unfortunately, my first kiss wasn't with Crystal, but with Duffy Rego. We were playing "Truth or Dare" with Skyler Taylor and Brook Wright underneath a table in Ms. Billie Straub's Sex Roles class, while watching a movie on menstruation, a quasi-sexual event that would traumatize both of us for years. I was tired of lying during all the Truths, so I took a Dare, and Brook Wright, eyes wide in the dark, dared me to French kiss Duffy. My stomach gurgled, I missed her mouth on first shot and ended up sort of licking her nose and barely felt the brush of her dry lips on my chin. But it was so distinctly better than Joey's pillow that I remember being deeply shocked and hurt when Duffy told her field hockey team I was a lousy kisser. I responded by calling her "Stuffy," a nickname I regret to this day, and one she hadn't yet shed by our 10th high school reunion despite all evidence to the contrary. We may be judged in Hell for less. After this misbegotten incident, my first real kiss came, blissfully, thankfully, upon the lips of Crystal Brown a few months later. I never became her hero, but we did discover one day in class that we both loved the book Watership Down and the movie The Secret Lives of Henry Orient. That led to conversations between classes, a comical Saturday morning tennis lesson, a series of hour-long phone calls, and the clasping of two sweaty hands on the bus on a field trip to a gold mine for Mr. Sigowski's class. We lagged to the back of the crowd as we wound our way down deeper into the maze of tunnels under the earth. The air got colder the deeper we went, and more primeval, and Crystal held herself closer to me. Ahead of us Mr. Sigowski's lamp bounced weirdly of the walls, and behind us the tunnels closed in on complete blackness. The class finally came into a small room. "When I turn out the light," said Mr. Sigowski, "You will experience for the first time in your life absolute darkness, the absence of all light." The lamp clicked off and the dark closed in on us like the shutting of a door. I couldn't tell if my eyes were open or closed, if I was standing or falling, if I was alive or dead, but then I felt a hand on my cheek. I turned my head up to meet Crystal's mouth, and we held the kiss for so long I didn't even know when the lights came back on.

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