Beginnings. Firsts. A first kiss.
Me. 16. Sophomore. Popular. Often seen in a softball jersey or vintage t-shirt. Not out, but not closeted either. I mean, I am wearing a softball jersey and was captain of the golf team. I’m in between. I’m figuring it out. My beginning.
Her. Natalie. 16. Sophomore. A new friend. From the fall play. And I am not instantly hooked. She’s beautiful. Yes. She has long dark hair. These big brown eyes. Fair skin. Gorgeous lips, as if I didn’t notice. But it’s not simply her physical appearance that does it for me. She is not that 16-year-old bubble gum pop kind of cute. She is classic, with these features that harken back to the flapper girls of the roaring 20s. Simply picturesque. But it’s not this at all—it’s her voice that makes my heart sink. An alto. She sings Only You (And You Alone) and my heart stops. Time stops. And now I am hooked.
And we’re quite inseparable. We do the fall play and spring musical. I am tutoring her in algebra. We’re working on a skit for talent show. We’re always together. We’re friends.
She holds my hand in my car as we drive around. Even in the backseat when she holds her boyfriend’s. With her right she holds his, but with her left, she sneaks it between the driver side door and seat to hold mine. A secret. Our secret. She spends the night. As friends often do. We cuddle. She runs her fingers up my arm, over my shoulders, through my hair. Slowly. She curls into me when we sleep. All friends do this, I say to myself as I smell her hair—“Hope” from The Gap. I breathe her in. I make a memory of the way her body feels against mine. We’re friends. Just friends. I convince myself in an effort to save myself.
But we’re not. Just friends. It doesn’t make sense in my mind and it can’t possibly make sense in hers. The lines are beginning to blur. We’re subtly affectionate at school, in the hallways as we pass notes back and forth to one another, allowing our fingers to linger. Momentarily and then we snatch them back and are off to class. Yes, we’re subtle in our affection and I am growing more and more subtle in my jealousy of her boyfriend.
She can sense this. And in turn, confronts me. It’s early April, which means we have been cuddling for months. And while I keep trying to convince myself that this is normal, I am pretty certain my other friends are not spooning every time they stay over at each other’s houses. I pick her up from choir rehearsal and drive her home. We’re silent in the car. Avril Lavigne playing in the background. Ugh. Avril Lavigne. Even in my 16-year-old existence I know this is not the artist I want underscoring this moment. Whatever the moment turns out to be. Which I doubt will be the validation I so desperately want from her. The, “I like you, like you,” I am dying to hear. Because at 16, that second “like you” means absolutely everything. It’s a transition. It’s forward momentum from the platonic to the romantic, from the fantasy to the reality. But no, I don’t get the two “like you’s.” I don’t even get one. “Why don’t you like Justin?” she asks with an abrasive innocence I didn’t think possible. My hands are clutching the steering wheel. I am looking down at my legs. I got nothing. I’m searching for the words, the courage to say anything, to say “I like you, like you,” but I can’t. I can’t formulate a single sentence. And dear god, Avril Lavigne is still playing in the background. Finally she breaks the silence. “Lou, why don’t you like him?” “Because I don’t think he is good for you.” A moment. “Do you like me?” Another moment. “Lou?” “No, I don’t like you. I just think he’s a jackass.” And with that she is out of my car. Shutting the door behind her.
Tension. The next day at school is awkward. Silences that were never there before fill this void between us. A void that I don’t know what to do with. I’m silently cursing myself for not saying how I felt. How could I? The opening to the conversation was a reminder that she wasn’t mine. I replay the conversation in my head during rehearsals for the talent show. I see her every day and yet say nothing. I refuse to apologize because I am not sorry. I feel like we’ve broken up. Maybe we have. I give these pep talks to myself,Just get through Friday and Saturday night. Then it’s done. Done. Final. A punctuation. I need that punctuation in order to move forward, no longer holding out for the second “I like you.” No. I’ve settled into the reality of our current situation. I’m not broken. Or at least I won’t allow myself to be. It’s foolish to mourn something that was never really yours. And then it changes.
Saturday night. April 20. I’ve made it to The End. Got through those two days. Talent show is over. I don’t have to be near her anymore unless I want to be. I walk into the dressing room. Change out of my costume. Throw on my jeans, t-shirt, converse. But I can’t find my softball jersey. I’m looking under backpacks and coats. I know I left it with the rest of my stuff. After several minutes of digging, I resolve to wait until the end of the show. The room will be clear. I’ll find it then. I grab my bag and walk out into the hall, keen on watching the second act. And I see her. Smiling with a group of friends. Wearing my jersey. She smiles. Says goodbye to them and walks up to me.
“I missed you this week.”
“Yeah, me too. A lot.”
“Hey. Do you want to stay over tonight?”
So I stay over. We put on Face/Off with John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. We lay on her bed. Our heads at the foot of the bed to watch the movie. Shoulders touch. She positions her body to face mine and pulls me in. “Let’s see how long you can sit still.” She says to me. And lifts the back of my t-shirt. Her cold fingers circle the small of my back. I can hardly contain myself. So, I return the favor. Hands everywhere. Warm breaths. Hearts beating. Lips barely touching skin. The movie plays on in the background. I am shaking. She is shaking. With my lips slightly touching her neck she says to me, “Is this what you want?” And I say, “I don’t know. I’m afraid I will be bad.” And then it happened. She kissed me.
Beginnings. To begin. To do something. Start something. Activate. Embark. Impulse. Get going. Go into. Beginnings. The unknown. Unfamiliar. Uncertainty. Beginnings. Something you are doing for the first time. Something, after which, you will never be the same.