The first time I kissed a girl, I was twelve years old, which was also the first time I sampled my first taste of alcohol. The two were, rather surprisingly, unrelated. The former involved a gaggle of eighth graders in Carolyn Clancy’s backyard, spinning an empty green bottle and the latter a bubbling champagne fountain at my step-grandmother’s second or third wedding in Danville, Virginia. Both of them left me feeling slightly nauseated.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why my father thought it was A-OK to let his twelve year old son drink four glasses of champagne. Perhaps, he thought it might put some hair on my chest or maybe he found it charming the way, when loosened up, I performed my Cary Grant impersonation for the crowd.
“Judy, Judy, Judy.”
My step-grandmother wore a smart, ivory, lace jacket and skirt suit, smiled widely and her lilting southern accent curled up at the ends like her Mary Tyler Moore hair-doo. She wore bright red lipstick and from a distance she could have been a beauty queen, but when you got up close you could see how the lipstick bled into the tiny cracks around her mouth from years of smoking Virginia Slim cigarettes. The effect was slightly horrifying.
I suppose that’s the way I felt about Karen Enright too. From an emotional distance, she looked appealing, but when the mouth of the bottle stopped spinning and pointed at her like a gulping fish I scanned the expectant crowd and wondered if they might settle for my Cary Grant impersonation instead.
“Kiss her!” The boys shouted at me.
“Just do it Dameron!”
The crowd wanted a lurid display of sex. Sister Mary Claire had just that year, attempted to teach a classroom of hormonal boys the facts of life. The girls were sent to another room to learn about their monthly gift. But, when Alex Brethette asked Sister Mary Claire if a blowjob was considered pre-marital sex, she became red-faced and was replaced by our hunky physical education teacher with the porno-mustache. I was thrilled, however sorely disappointed that Alex never broached the blowjob question with him.
I finally mustered up the courage, stepped across the divide of the circle, closed my eyes, and planted a kiss squarely on Karen’s nose. My aim was a little off. She jumped up, holding her hand to her nose and inexplicably, started crying.
“I’ll hate you for the rest of my life!” She bawled.
Her hatred lasted for one week, maybe two. My embarrassment lasted a little longer.
The first time I kissed a boy, I was nineteen years old and unsurprisingly, it involved alcohol, gobs of it. There was no spinning bottle, but the stars above us were twirling and they all seemed to point at a guy I met in a bar on the edge of town, beneath the moonlit shadows of the Colorado Rockies. My aim was much better this time and despite being a little more than tipsy, I don’t remember feeling nauseated in the least, quite the opposite.
I first kissed my husband in the cold Burlington Mall parking lot. There wasn't any alcohol involved, but the effect was no less intoxicating. If I could go back, I’d tell my twelve year old self a few things. Ignore most of what nuns teach you about sex, alternate glasses of water with the champagne and have faith, it will take forty-four spins of the Earth around the sun to find your own charming Cary Grant. It’s worth the wait.