Summertime, I suppose, is good for remembering a lot of things – the way the world slows down in summer, the taste of ripe apricots, the glory of fireworks against the stars in the clear sky, the sharp chill of a leap from the hot air of a July afternoon and into the cold green of a river swimming hole. And, surely, of the slow and building shock of a first kiss. Or, at least, summertime is good for remembering first kisses if they happened to happen in the summertime. Like I hoped, during that particular summer, that mine would. I had thought – prayed, even – that Amy Bennion might be my first kiss, ever since we slow-danced at the tri-city church ball, and “Careless Whisper” by Wham ended and found us still holding hands, nervously lingering that way through the many opening bars of “My Heart Goes Bang” by Dead or Alive. Some days later, I rode my bike to her house. It was three miles away, and I even dressed up – impossibly snazzy for a bike ride, but I pretended I was just casually dropping by on a regular old bike commute to somewhere else. To my cool job. Which I didn’t have. I stayed at her house for about five nervous minutes, through conversation so stilted as to leave us both stuttering. And then I rode back home, changed into more sensible clothes, and thought about what she smelled like, and what it might be like to kiss Amy Bennion. I was fourteen.
The thing is, Amy and I would never have dared kiss each other. We substituted for it by talking nervously and righteously about the pettiness of the kissing that went on around us. We talked, or tried to, of real relationships being about more than kissing. Ours, we made ourselves believe, was a high and chaste road, filled with discourse about other people’s kisses. Hoping, I think both of us hoping – praying, even – that the other one might respond to a comment about kissing being a low substitute for a real relationship by saying “Unless, of course, it was you.” But neither of us, ever, had the courage.
And then, in July, I went to camp. I was gone for four days. And when I came back, I called Amy, and in another conversation that was working itself up to be about the righteousness of a kissing-free relationship – about the high road of a friendship that kept its lips to itself -- a conversation that like so many others was a sort of ecstasy of pious self-restraint, she said, in response to some comment about kissing being a low substitute for a real relationship, something she’d never said before. “Unless,” she said, “Unless, I guess, if two people really liked each other.” They weren’t the exact words I had imagined. Specifically, in those words, there was no direct reference to me. And there was no direct reference to me because I hadn’t been the one. Something had happened while I was away at camp. And I knew it in an instant. The conversation waned. And died. And that was it. We wouldn’t even see each other for the rest of the summer. And when school started, we might pass each other in the halls at school and smile politely, even as she held hands with – well, even now, the memory still smarts a little. And the rest of the joys of summer – the taste of ripe apricots, and the fireworks against the clear night sky, and plunges into the green of the cool swimming hole – took on a sort of melancholy.
My first kiss, when it came, was on a windy day in the back half of a freezing winter. And it was Brenda Birch. And I was still fourteen. And there was no high and ascetic talk about the evils of kissing. She had asked me if I would wear Polo cologne if she bought me a bottle. And I had said I would, and she had bought me a bottle. And I had worn quite a lot of it. And I had ridden the school bus to her house. And her mom had served us hostess fruit pies on paper napkins in the kitchen, and then we’d gone downstairs to watch TV with her little brother. And during an episode of Thundercats, she kissed me. And I kissed her back. And as I left her house, I pulled on my jacket against the winter wind. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget – none of us will, maybe, how in the moment of that kiss the world slowed down, and there were fireworks. And the taste of ripe apricots. And the thrill of leaping – of falling – into a cool, green swimming hole. For me, no matter when it happened, the memory of that first kiss will always be a memory of summer.