She was beautiful. With perfectly feathered hair, a long, goddess-like neck, and her newly-formed bosom, which may or may not have received assistance from a box of tissues, Mary was everything an 8th grade boy could want in a girlfriend. Actually, she was a girl and that alone qualified her as an object of desire for this thin, pimply-faced 8th grade boy.
Handwritten notes on lined school paper were delivered by third-party participants in our young love affair. They passed in the hallway after lunch each day began with simple flirting messages about the day’s lunch or the color of her sweater. However, they quickly escalated to the ultimate bold and daring query of junior high, “Will you go with me? Yes or No?” To my great joy, relief, and surprise my note returned via the delivery system with the word “Yes” circled in pencil. We were now officially a couple and I felt obliged to provide a token of my adolescent affection. I offered my John Wesley medallion, purchased the previous summer at the junior high Methodist Church Camp; Camp Adventure! For the rest of the week the symbol of my love dangled around her graceful neck and against her perfect, Kleenex-padded breasts on a long, gold chain. The founder of Methodism never looked so good.
Over the next week, more hand-scrawled messages passed in a desperate effort to take our relationship to the next level. Notes were handed to Doug, who passed them on to Paige, who handed them off to Mary. Finally, a note asked Mary if she would sit beside me at next Friday’s basketball game. The reply, via Paige to Doug to me, once again had a wonderful penciled circle around the word “Yes”.
After the game the two middle school newbies strolled slowly to Mary’s sister’s car. We walked side-by-side across the snow-covered parking lot, holding gloved hands, bundled in our heaviest winter coats, trying to gather the courage necessary to initiate the physical contact we both desired and dreaded. Older, wiser, and more experienced, Mary’s sister offered advice as only an older sibling can, “Hurry up and get it over with.” She then climbed into the car, started the engine, and waited for the rookies to experience their first kiss.
Knowing time was short, I turned to Mary, closed my eyes, and leaned forward, raising my arms in an effort to place them over her shoulders. With her eyes closed, Mary did not see this romantic gesture and raised her own arms. We clashed mid-air. Undeterred, I lowered my arms to wrap around her waist. Mary did the same only to clash again. Up and down our arms flailed in the cold winter night until, after several attempts we finally found a satisfying configuration and drew one another as close as our puffy down-filled winter coats would allow. With my head tilted and my eyes closed, I licked my chapped lips in preparation for the sublime encounter…and then it happened. With all the passion and enthusiasm I could muster, I planted the wettest, sloppiest kiss – squarely and firmly on the tip of her chin.
In hindsight it is obvious that I failed to account for our height difference. Mary was a couple of inches taller than my diminutive frame. With an additional two inches of 70’s platform snow boots added to her towering elevation, I was simply grateful that I wasn’t kissing my Wesley medallion. However, having gotten this close, I was not about to give up. I kept my slobbery mouth pressed firmly against her perfect chin and started sliding up to find her lips. Unfortunately, at the same time, Mary decided to help the situation by tilting her face down. Before I realized what had happened, I was sucking on her left eyebrow, a stream of spittle leaving a wet trail of failure up the side of her face. In the cold, night air, with the car running beside us, we groped and wrestled until our lips finally met in a moment that was at once disgraceful and oddly satisfying.
The following Monday, to no one’s surprise, Paige handed a note to Doug who passed it on to me. It contained my now tarnished Wesley necklace and the word, “No” circled in pencil. I’d like to think it was a mutual parting of ways, based on hours of discussion and a realization that our interests were diverging as we aged those short two weeks. But we both knew the awful, heart-breaking, and embarrassing truth.