“Well, I played one of the wise men in a third-grade Christmas play,” I said.
“That’s cool. As long as you can handle being in front of people, you’ll do okay.”
We yelled inanities back and forth during the 10-minute drive to her house. I almost froze in the wind.
As we walked into her house, Dawn introduced me to her mother. She was an attractive woman who looked like she would be Dawn’s mom. Just like her daughter, she stood about 5’4″ and had hair that seemed blonde against its will. Its roots showed that it had lost interest in that color years ago.
I got a quick glance at Dawn’s bedroom while she told her mom why she had brought me. The walls were covered with posters for bands I had barely heard of back then — Scritti Politti, The Smiths, and others from the genre that I think was then called postmodern rock.
We went upstairs to a family room, with a fireplace on one wall and a TV in a corner. Dawn handed me a copy of the script. It was just that — a bad photocopy with stray black streaks that made it difficult to read. Dawn helped me make it out.
We sat on the couch, plodding through the plot. Oddly, I was not worried. On dates, the first kiss always was nerve-wracking for me, and most of that stemmed from deciding when to attempt it. Here, that worry was gone. The playwright had put it in ink. Still, the anticipation was palpable.
I do not remember the context, so I cannot relate why the script called for the characters to kiss. The scene called for a short peck on the lips, fairly innocent. I planned to go by the script. Dawn was two years my senior, and for all I knew she honestly just needed an actor. When we got to the pivotal scene, she and I both leaned in, and she made it clear she had more than acting in mind.
With her tongue.
I had learned this skill back in 7th grade in a game of spin the bottle on a grounded pontoon boat behind an arcade. I had engaged a few girls in a French kiss since then, so I felt like I was okay at it. At the very least, I knew how to respond.
With my tongue.
I opened my teeth to accept the wet pink muscle she offered, and sent my own to meet it. It was horrible — one of the worst experiences I can imagine.
When I was younger than I can remember, apparently I ate a few spent cigarette butts from ashtrays. I was fortunate to have blocked out that experience. As far as I had been told, I never licked an ashtray. Dawn had just given me that experience at an age when such traumatic events tend to hold fast rather than fade.
Somehow, my hormones overcame the urge to pull back in disgust. Hang in there, they seemed to say. We’re still interested. They made that clear by challenging the integrity of my Levi’s 501 button fly, or at least I like to think it was a challenge.
It lasted long enough that we switched our head tilt direction at least twice. The taste of cigarrette ash pushed out all other thoughts. At the moment my taste buds had convinced my brain to listen to them instead of regions much lower and more base, Dawn ended the kiss.
“Well, I didn’t expect that,” she said.
Didn’t expect what? For me to reciprocate? Because you knew what I looked like before you brought me into your love den. I’m not buying that you were suddenly overcome by animal attraction. Did she mean she didn’t expect it to be that good, or that bad? What was not to expect?
“Me neither,” I said. Even at that age, I was quite eloquent when I needed to be.
We didn’t finish reading the play. We didn’t start kissing again. We didn’t spoon. Dawn took me home and said she would talk to me at school the next day.
(to be concluded)