The Summer Before 2nd Grade
My first kiss was with the most popular guy in school. For most girls, in most towns, this would be a good thing. Not for me.
Every high school has that popular boy who is not only an all-American athlete and devastatingly hot, but also a genuine, nice guy. Well, Buck isn't like that. I mean, yes, he is good at sports, and he does look like an Abercrombie model (for a parallel universe Abercrombie that sells rebel flags and jean shorts), but he's a jerk. He's the guy who still thinks it's funny to tape “I play with my instrument daily” signs to the backs of the band kids. He's the guy who tried to crawl through the ceiling Mission-Impossible-style to place a video camera over the girls' locker room (fortunately, he crashed through the tiles and landed on a desk in Mrs. Frankowski's history class). He's that guy.
Every time I see him I ask myself why (Why?!) my first kiss had to be with him. It was the summer before second grade. I’m with the boys riding our newly de-training-wheeled bikes, while the other girls play with Megan McQueen's Barbie Dream House on a blanket in her driveway. Our subdivision is one of the very first developments in town, the kind with nearly identical houses arranged neatly between the dogwood trees. We circle the cul-de-sac, sometimes popping feeble wheelies, sometimes letting go of the handlebars for a hot second. Then Buck gets the genius idea that we should try to ride down The Hill.
In reality, this hill isn't even that steep, but in my 7-year-old eyes, it looms like Mt. Everest. Many a kid had ridden up The Hill, only to have to turn around and walk their bike back down in shame when they chickened out. It is common knowledge that Glenn Baker's big brother broke his leg on The Hill. The youngest person to ever make it down was a third grader, and a biking prodigy at that.
But before we know it, all five of us are at the top, staring down in petrification at the meanest stretch of blacktop we had ever seen.
“Who wants to go first?” Buck waits for one of us to respond. “Nobody?”
My best friend Sam looks from Buck, to the street, then back again. “I don’t think this is such a good idea.”
“Well, we knew you weren’t going to try it. You wouldn’t make it 10 feet. Chunker,” says Jimmy, his chest puffed out.
“Do you want to try it?” asks Sam.
Jimmy’s chest deflates. “No.” He doesn’t want to look like a wuss in front of Buck, so he adds, “What about you, Glenn?”
“No way. I’m not doing it. That’s how my brother broke his leg. Mom would kill me.”
“Fine. I’ll do it.” Buck hikes one leg over his bike.
“And I’ll go next,” I say.
Jimmy laughs. “CJ, you can’t do it. You’re a girl.”
“So. I’m still tougher than you.”
Before Jimmy can reply, Buck kicks off. Our eyes glue themselves to his bike as it plummets down The Hill. He is going fast. Maybe too fast. I cringe. Just when I think his bike will skip over the curb and into Mrs. McQueen’s azaleas, he pulls his handlebars into a turn that sends him careening in the opposite direction across the blacktop without falling. He’s done it. The four of us jump up and down and holler.
I decide to push off before Jimmy can start in on me. My bike gathers speed quickly until the neighborhood whisks by in flashes. My hair whips around against my face. My heart rate is going off-the-charts crazy, but as long as I don't crash or pee my pants, this will be a raging success. I can’t let the fear take over, or I will crash. After what seems like an eternity of freefall, I slingshot around the cul-de-sac and skid to an ugly stop beside Buck. No crashing. No peeing.
“You are the coolest girl I know,” Buck says, which is pretty much the highest compliment you can get from a 7-year-old boy.
I blush and look at my sneakers, and when I look up again, Buck's face is right in front of mine. He kisses me. Right on the lips. Right in front of everyone. I think maybe he is my boyfriend now. I can’t stop smiling. Until I hear it.
Followed closely by the K-I-S-S-I-N-G song.
And “Buck has a giiiirlfriend.”
Jimmy runs towards us leading the insult parade with Glenn at his side. Sam trails behind, huffing and wheezing, but not yelling anything. The full weight of what Buck did seems to sink into his brain all at once. The look of glowing admiration on his face twists into one of discomfort, and then anger.
“She's not my girlfriend. She's just a stupid girl.”
He grabs me by the shoulders and pushes me. Hard. I stagger backwards, the heel of one sneaker catching in the spokes of my bike, which is lying on the ground behind me. My butt hits the road with a thunk, and the asphalt scrapes all the skin off my elbows.
“You're not supposed to push girls, doofus,” says Sam, his chubby face red from the run down The Hill.
“What are you gonna do about it, lardo?”
Sam shakes his head, then helps me up and pushes my bike back to my house while I walk alongside him with tears welling in my eyes.
“I hate Buck,” he says.
I can't even answer. The mortification of being kissed, teased, and knocked down in a span of two minutes is just too much for my 7-year-old psyche to handle. Sam and I clatter downstairs to Mama’s basement studio, where she photographs other people’s babies for them. She has a knack for making even the ugly ones look cute.
Later, while my mom applies Neosporin, she explains that sometimes boys are mean to you because they like you. If I knew then what I know now, I would have called BS.
Day 9 of the 17 days until 17 FIRST KISSES countdown. Other posts here.