We stood behind the elementary school. He was wearing jeans and tennis shoes that made his feet look too big, like paws on a St. Bernard puppy. His red hair was spiky and uncombed and the freckles on his face stood out even more against his flushed skin. I pulled my shirt down over my too-pudgy belly and pushed a pigtail behind my shoulder.
“Do you wanna?” he asked.
Well not really, I thought. But the dare had been issued. It was 1974, and we were in fifth grade. Steve liked me. I liked him. Or at least we declared our romance for that one afternoon. Now here we were, hiding like lovelorn refugees, contemplating the dare to kiss.
“I guess,” I shrugged.
Before I knew it, he leaned forward. Two fleshy feeling worms hit my mouth before I could even pucker. Steve ran squealing off to find our friends. I stood there fully aghast for a few seconds. I didn't realize before now, lips felt like big worms.
I regained my composure, or as much as I could, and ran after him laughing nervously.
“Did you guys do it?” Our friends, who now are locked faceless and nameless in my memory, were dying for the details. We had been dared, and we didn't back down!
“Yes,” we both giggled nervously.
“You can’t tell anyone!” I tried to extract promises that would never be kept.
I don’t really remember the rest of that afternoon or even the days or weeks after. Like all good grade school romances, it was probably over before it began. Steve faded from my life and my memories, except that one moment behind the school.
There were no more kisses for me, an awkward girl turning into a teenager, struggling with self-esteem, never quite fitting the pretty, thin mold of my peers. I wanted to be popular, a cheerleader, the kind of girl who could toss her hair and flirt, but the coy gestures and confidence escaped me.
In the summer before high school, I went to my first real girl-boy party. It was a warm summer night, and we stood outside on the back porch in the waning light. Elton John blared from the speakers. Teenagers wearing disco jeans milled around, laughing, drinking pop. Suddenly in hushed tones, someone suggested we play a game of Spin the Bottle. A couple of boys laughed, nudging each other with bravado, and the group moved indoors to the basement. (Where were her parents? I don’t remember.)
We sat in a circle. My heart pounded. Other than Steve behind the school, I’d never kissed a boy. Would they use tongue? What if they did? How did I kiss like that? I was in a panic. A boy stepped into the middle of the circle and gave the empty glass bottle a spin. It wobbled like a romantic compass needle, balancing on the arched glass, until it stopped, pointing to a girl. They stood up and faced each other. He slung an arm over her shoulder and she casually hung one around his waist. They kissed for a couple of seconds before sitting back down. She didn't even look phased!
It was Adam’s turn next. He reached down, a suave crooked smile on his face and gave the bottle a spin. He was like the most popular boy in school, blonde wavy hair, tall, and already filling out with muscles. The bottle stopped, pointing towards… me. I stared. I can’t do this. Not for the first time. Not with Adam. Would he refuse to kiss me?
He stood and walked towards me. I could smell his cologne, heavy with some musky scent. And his breath was sweet, like the soft pink chunks of bubble gum he had been chewing. He leaned in. I closed my eyes, met his mouth, my pulse racing and stomach lurching. My first French kiss.
It kind of felt wormy too.
As the game carried on, my nerves calmed. I felt so worldly now. I even tried tossing my hair, or as much as you could toss hair lacquered with half a can of VO5. The next time the bottle pointed my way, it was to kiss a boy named Graham—a short, skinny kid, still pre-pubescent, a wild mop of red hair and freckles all over his face and arms. I sighed. Perhaps this really was my destiny.