After much thought and pondering, I’ve decided to tell you all the story of my first kiss. But, in order to do so, I’m going to need to set the stage and tell you about the 8th grade version of myself.
The first important detail is my name – Andy. This will play a crucial role in the story.
The second important detail is that I was not very popular in middle school. I was pudgy, uncomfortable, awkward, and – for lack of a better word – nerdy. I realise that very few people look back on middle schools as the finest years of their social life, but my low social standing made this magical kiss all the more unexpected for I was kissed by a member of the social elite. I was kissed by a cheerleader. Surprisingly, I was not a member of the football team. Or the basketball team. Or even the baseball team.
In fact, the only team I was a part of was my school’s Quiz Bowl team. In fact, I was a founding member of the Quiz bowl team because it organized only after I successfully petitioned the principle of the school to create it. I actually need to made a side comment for historical clarity. I was also a member of the school’s Chess Team – but didn’t want to be associated with such a ‘nerdy club’ and therefore took efforts to hide my presence on this team. I waited for the halls to clear before going to practice and excused myself from the yearbook photo for this group. Looking back, this is rather strange – especially because the two teams had an identical membership – but it is the truth. And I should issue a public apology to them for making this mistake and distancing myself from some of the only friends I had.
In addition to the Quiz Bowl team and the Chess club, I also played the cello in the Orchestra and this is how I knew Tatiana – the beautiful cheerleader who kissed me. Tatiana also played cello; I was the first chair and she was the third chair player. That meant that on the day the second chair player was absent from school, Tatiana would move up and we would share a music stand. Tatiana needed to wear glasses but always forgot them. So – on certain lucky days – when the second chair was absent and Tati had forgotten her glasses – she would pull the music stand close and we would sit as close as our instruments would allow.
Now despite the fact that cellos are rather bulky instruments that require several feet of clearance, this was the closest I ever got to a girl in 8th grade. And it was almost overpowering. I could feel her hair move. I could smell her cloyingly sweet lotion, or spray, or whatever 8th grade girls used to make themselves smell like cherry candy. But these days were few and far between in 8th grade. Usually Tatiana hungout with the other cheerleaders and athletic people and I spent my time alone in the library.
In fact, I found creative ways to avoid not just Tatiana but all girls and most of my classmates. I volunteered to sell pop and candy at all the school dances so I could avoid the overwhelmingly awkward prospect of actually asking someone to the dance – the thought of actually dancing made me sick to my stomach. And I ate my lunch alone in the library everyday – I was already friends with the librarian and prefered her quite company in the library to the social nightmare that was the cafeteria. In hindsight, I see how this decision didn’t help my social life – but no one ever asked where I was and I was happy to have a safe haven in the library between the biographies and popular magazines.
That’s how 8th grade went for me – until the very last day of the school year. One that day, the school distributed our yearbooks and students spent the day signing yearbooks in every class. To me, this was the final social ritual to endure before I was free for the summer and free forever from middle school. That’s not to say no one signed my yearbook, it’s just that fewer people seemed interested in signing my yearbook and, when they did sign it, they wrote things like: “You’re the smartest piece of crap I ever saw.”
So I was surprised when Tatiana asked to sign my yearbook. We were in room 101, it was 6th period US History, taught by Mr. Dillenbeck. I was up front, in my normal seat – far from the door, near the windows, right in front of the teacher’s desk. She casually walked up behind me and asked to sign my yearbook. We exchanged our books and I’m sure I wrote something generic and nice like “Have a great summer!” but I really don’t remember.
What I do remember is that when she handed me back my yearbook, she leaned in and gave me a light kiss on my cheek. It was a quick kiss, but it was – unmistakably – a kiss. My heart soared and mind raced in the confusion and surprise of the moment.
And that was it. The end of class. The end of 8th grade. And the last time I ever saw Tatiana. As I walked home, I now imagine my face shone, transfigured, like the Virgin Mary; transformed by hope, joy, and love that came to the humble and lowly and undeserving in the most unlikely time and place.
And as I treasured these things in my heart, I flipped to the back cover where she has signed her name and read the following words:
“Dear Adam, *****”
And there I stopped. For – as you may recall – my name is Andy and not Adam. Her inscription – and her kiss – was not meant for me, but for another. Not for Andy but for Adam.
This – for better or worse – has been the story of my first kiss. One that I, over time, have come to embrace.