I’d also recently made the new-kid-at-school mistake of accepting the first boyfriend who asked. I remember standing by the lockers and telling one of the only girls I’d met (she was assigned to show me around — I thought we would become best friends; we did not) that I had a boyfriend: Mike!
Her face lit up and quickly dimmed in suspicion.
“Which Mike?” she asked. I described him. She nodded — was that pity? — and gently said she had also dated him. Still, I held onto hopes that maybe I had picked an okay Mike after all. But after a week of unwanted romantic gestures (I know. I wanted them, just not with him), the last straw was his insistence that we sit together at a high school football game. It’s a good rule in life that if you go out of your way to keep your body separate from another’s, they’re probably not someone you should date.
We broke up in the second quarter, and by the fourth he was dating an eighth grader. And almost a year later, I was really feeling my lack of romantic success since Mike, which was a victory in name only. He had been in the sacred circle of Boyfriends. But we had never even kissed. He was my third boyfriend (I had two in elementary school, thank you), and I hadn’t kissed any of them.
Back to Scott. I barely noticed him until I was bored on day in choir class. My eyes were wandering across my classmates and it occurred to me that Scott looked like the main character in the daily comic strip, Zits. I was big into comics then. I had a specific order I read them in every day when I had my after school snack.
Scott looked like Jeremy from Zits. I liked Jeremy from Zits because we were going through a lot of the same teenage stuff, you know? Plus his girlfriend’s name was Sara, and barring a few issues, they were pretty happy. One moment my brain was full of the paneling across the choir room wall, and the next it was full of Scott. The crush switch had been flipped.
The kids in my neighborhood used to play flashlight tag. Or, it always began as flashlight tag before spiraling into the group of us exploring the notion of hooking up. Not a lot usually happened, but the possibility was always there and that was exciting.
Miraculously, Scott came one night. It had to be some kind of fate, I thought. He wasn’t even from our neighborhood! Just a few weeks after I started liking him and here he was as we were discussing a game of Spin the Flashlight. There had been some dabbling at this game before, but it never resulted in a qualified first kiss for me.
Seven of us sat, in a circle. Four girls, three boys. However, on spin one, the sole established couple landed on each other and left the group to make out. Someone shined a flashlight on them teasingly. I remember so vividly their pale, white, smushed faces and feeling equal parts grossed out and intrigued.
That left us with five, three girls and two boys, if you do the subtraction correctly. Someone raised the feeble question of whether or not to continue with the smaller group. I’m afraid I may have desperately cried out in favor of Spin the Flashlight. Maybe I should have pulled back when Scott began naming a list of rules we should play by:
- First spin between two people: hand kiss
- Second spin between the same two: …other hand kiss
- Third spin: cheek
- Fourth spin: lips
I forget now who the other guy was, probably because I didn’t land on him once, nor did he land on me. The girls landed on each other a few times, but no one made it to the lips. Somehow, miraculously, I landed on Scott four times. The protagonist of Zits in real life had to — by his own rules — bestow upon me my first real kiss.
He had kissed each hand and my cheek rather lightly and brusquely, but I figured that was only because he was also excited to get to the real thing. I mean, why wouldn’t he like me? I had privately thought on several occasions that he was lucky I had chosen him. Not a lot of girls were after him at the time. He was my height, and I was a little over five feet tall and still growing. Lots of the boys in our grade were starting to become legitimately tall, not just kid tall anymore. But Scott was smaller, a little stocky, with eyebrows that grew too fast and facial hair that grew too slow. Ah, but I liked him.
It was a cold night. We all had winter hats and gloves and puffy coats. Scott had one of those fleece headbands that warm your ears, and it rested around his neck like a circle scarf. My fourth spin cast a light directly on his legs. I couldn’t conceal my excitement, but I tried to. In my head, here was the culmination of every Disney romance, every fairy tale, even some of those soap opera bits I’d caught in the middle of the night. I wanted my first kiss to be perfect — after all, I knew it was a one-time thing. I couldn’t do the first one over, so I was trying to record everything about the moment for hours of re-watching later.
We leaned forward on our knees. I saw his face coming closer — I couldn’t believe it was finally happening — and just before our lips touched, he pulled his stupid fleece headband up over his mouth. My lips hit his winter-wear before I fully understood what was happening.
He pulled away apologetically and muttered that he didn’t want to get me sick. It felt like someone pulled straps tight around my heart. Even now, I can feel that echo of disappointment in my chest — which seems crazy to me — but also reminds me that emotions at any age are real and valid.
I walked home in the cold that night, trying to make the most of the evening but undeniably feeling a bit sunk. I clung to a vague hope that we would laugh about our “first kiss” years later when we were married, but even then I couldn’t call it a kiss, and especially not a first one. I kept playing the moment over in my head, wondering if I were somehow at fault. In the end, I decided to take it at face value. He was being chivalrous and probably didn’t even feel that good in the first place, so it was nice of him to protect me from his germs, even if he did so with an ugly non-hat. I still felt kind of hollow, but I didn’t have any other crushes and I wasn’t ready to let this one go.
A few days later, I was hanging out after school with the same two girls from the inner circle of Spin the Flashlight. We were talking about boys and I casually (I’m sure it wasn’t) brought Scott up. I was hoping as two witnesses from that night, they could help me discover something I missed. Maybe he had looked hopeful at the third spin, or asked about me after.
They did that thing where two people share grim, knowing eye contact.
“We have to tell you something,” one of them said, in a bit of a relishing tone. “Scott…doesn’t like you like that. He knows you like him,”
“And he doesn’t like you back,” finished the other. The bluntness was overwhelming and a realizations flooded me. Not only had they been talking about me — about my secret, private crush — behind my back to each other, but they’d talked to Scott about it. And he must have wanted them to tell me.
I felt betrayed. I felt jealous that they had been privvy to Scott’s thoughts and feelings in a way I never would be. I didn’t make the cut. The loss hit immediately, closely followed by the mortification of recalling how overly into him I had acted. He’d given no signal that he returned any of those feelings and yet I thought he should so I imagined he did.
I composed myself in the silence following their announcement. I don’t know how long it lasted. I looked up and then back down because their staring eyes were too intense for me as I battled tears in my own. But I had to say something.
"You know…Now that you’ve told me, it’s like, I don’t want to like someone who doesn’t like me so…I don’t have a crush on Scott anymore.”
It wasn’t really true, but it was a start. I knew I soon wouldn’t have a crush on him after I reprocessed this information and soaked my pillows in tears. In that desperate moment, I just wanted to move on. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of patting my hair and listening to my woes. They had their chance to have my back, as far as I was concerned, and I told myself I would keep them at arm’s length for the time being. Probably they were trying to be nice. But they seemed to so…enjoy dropping that bombshell on my poor village of romantic ideals.
I stumblingly moved on to some other topic and soldiered on through the rest of the night. And when I got home to my canopy bed, I cried and cried until my eyes hurt. And by then, I really didn’t have a crush on Scott. I was sad, but I was ready to leave him alone.
And I did! In fact, I hardly spoke to him until the end of 2014, when an impromptu bar hangout in my hometown brought me face to face with tons of old acquaintances, including Scott. Oddly, he looked just the same to me, like someone did a flawless job on a software aging program. It had been over ten years, but I still found myself talking to him with a pointed, polite reserve — probably the same type he tried to use on me in middle school. The type that plainly says, “I’m not interested in you and I never will be…again, that is.”