In seventh grade, I had wild, curly brown hair which framed my innocent face.
Our family had just moved from southern California to Waterloo, Belgium, and everything was foreign. Bottles of ketchup tasted weird, and looked even weirder, with pasta on the labels (Belgians don’t have much use for ketchup). Going out to eat meant waiting centuries for our food to come, and ordering warm coca-cola in 6 ounce bottles (ice was verboten). The teachers all spoke English at the International School where I went, but they all had fascinating accents; some French, some British, some Australian, even some Irish. My three best friends in seventh grade came from South Africa, San Diego, and Minneapolis (three of us are pictured below, looking cool, brave, and a little lost).
There were many firsts that year for me, but the best one by far was my first real kiss, on the mouth.
She had short red hair, her face was gently kissed with freckles, and she could dribble a basketball down the court with her left hand. I was intrigued and intimidated by her, the best possible combination in seventh grade, when part of me wanted to kiss girls, and part of me wanted to play with my Millennium Falcon in my room.
One very new thing for me in seventh grade was going to dances. Bowls of chips and plastic bottles of Orange Fanta were all the sustenance we needed in those basements, where records spun and clusters of us would talk with each other, excited and frightened, clad in Izod Alligator shirts with the collars popped, underneath our long sleeve oxfords button downs. Journey and REO Speedwagon were the sounds of junior high for me, especially Journey. I remember slow dancing awkwardly to Faithfully, Stone in Love, and Open Arms, of course. The hormone haze in those basements was thick, I promise you. It’s amazing any of us made it out of those basements alive.
At those dances, in those basements, there was always a special room where boys and girls would pair off to make out.
Like you do.
It was always just a small room with couches and chairs where five or six pairs of us would escape to explore the wonderful and awkward world of kissing.
Remember, she had red hair and she could dribble with her left hand, and with that hand, she guided me into that room. We had just started “going out” that day at recess, when I had found out she had broken up with the boy she used to be “going out with” and was perhaps interested in me. This was all communicated via an appointed consul (her three best friends). I immediately jumped on the opportunity, sending word back that I’d be very interested in going out with her, should the opportunity ever arise.
I got word back soon afterward that my advances were received gratefully, and that was that. Without an actual word spoken or even being in the same physical space together, we were officially “going out.” Do they still do this? Life was glorious in 1983.
We sat down on one of the chairs in that dimly lit make out room (did the parents upstairs know what was happening?), and I found myself inches from that pretty, freckled face. I had only ever received one kiss before (from someone not in my family) and that was on the cheek, a chaste offering behind the dumpster from a very cute blonde girl in sixth grade named Tina Dunlap.
When our lips met, I was shocked and then thrilled when I realized our tongues were darting around, like kindergartners at recess, wild and without any sense of order whatsoever. It was explosive and a little hilarious, because neither of us really knew what we were doing, but it was innocent and illicit at the same time, somehow. I can’t remember how long we spent in that little room, but I don’t think it was much more than a few minutes. When we left that room, we quickly found our own friends, and we never spoke of that experience again. We “broke up” a few days later.
But I’ll never forget that kiss.
Here’s to saying yes to life’s adventures, to doing things you have no idea how to do, and to remembering when you felt explosive and immortal.
Here’s to experiencing joy and hope and the miracle of new beginnings.
Here’s to living your actual life, every second of it.
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