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Last Summer's Jubilee Memory
Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" came on the radio as I was rounding the reservoir on my way home from Armonk tonight. At a red light, I looked over at the male driver of a white Infinity and cranked up the song as the light changed to green.
No mustache stubble, and such a small mouth, she had, compared to any boys I had ever kissed. I was 17 and she was 18. She turned out not to be lesbian, but when we kissed for the first time, we weren't classifying ourselves; we were too busy being wonder-filled. Our versions of wonder differed, though, I think. Her eyes shone with fear and by contrast, I think mine reflected redemption.
By then, I had spent six years, since age 11, knowing that I was more attracted to girls than boys, and dreading my knowledge, even as I acted on it a bit at 15; for her, perhaps the whole experience came as an unwelcome surprise....
Unearthing Ancient History
Probably, I should explain what I mean by, "...acted on it a bit at 15:" I was semi-intimate with another girl my age then, when I was living in Israel for the summer, but we did not kiss, which made it not real. I think if we had kissed, we would have had to acknowledge what we were feeling, or what *I* was feeling anyhow. Again, the girl was experimenting, whereas I was confirming my hypothesis.
And then at the end of the summer, upon my return, I did try to kiss my best friend. We were sunbathing on her family's deck and while her eyes were closed against the sun, I grazed her mouth with mine, so briefly.
She opened her eyes and looked at me, trying to decide what to say. I jumped up and went to the freezer to get some ice. We never discussed it and our friendship waned after that. Two years later, she accompanied her mother at my father's shiva. I cried so hard after she left -- at the loss of our friendship (though just three years later, by age 20, when both of us were living in Israel, we re-united as friends; she's ultra-Orthodox, with lots of children now, and perfectly lovely to Pat). It was also the first time I had really cried about my father; till then, I was in a sort of frozen shock, even as my family and I had anticipated and expected his death for six months.
The friend I kissed two years later, in earnest, and who kissed me back, and I still are friendly, too, and she has visited my blog, and has met Pat, but I do not talk with her anymore about that time directly because both of us are partnered -- she married a kid I knew, though she didn't know I knew him when they met -- and because it's ancient history.
Tonight, I was reminded of how aural, rather than visual, I am. It was a complete betrayal to watch the video of Katy Perry, performing the song; it was grossly at odds with the images her voice conjured for me, listening to the song on the radio.
I won't even link to the video here, since it was so disappointing. It was cheap beyond belief, and maybe it was supposed to be a visual parody, but still, it upset me. Whenever I hear the song again, I'll do my best just to think of my own first kiss....We were in her room in her family's apartment, late at night, with the lights out, but with street lights shining in just enough to see each other's face -- or that's my memory of how we saw each other in the dark anyway.
It was the same room, where once, I motioned her mother to come in, to listen to the Sugar Hill Gang's hit that was playing on the radio that summer. Wasn't it great? She smiled and humored me. At the time, my father was living, and dying of common bile-duct cancer, uptown at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. By the time my thwarted-kiss friend came for my father's shiva, I had already had this real kiss, but by then, the girl who had returned my kiss was in college...though she stayed with us over the weekend of her Thanksgiving break, which was just a few weeks after my father's death.
My mom knew nothing of our romantic relationship...yet...and felt it would be a good diversion for me to have a friend stay with us. That Shabbat/Sabbath, I drove us home from shul (synagogue). My mother offered to sit in the back-seat; the girl put her hand on mine for part of the trip home; the station wagon had bench-seats back then and so my mom didn't see any of the affection.
A few weeks ago, some new friends from Montclair -- another lesbian couple -- and Pat and I went past a building that reminded me of the whole teen-age experience and I told them of the definitive girl I met the summer my dad was dying. I told them how the girl had given me a copy of *Annie on My Mind,* which was published that year, and which she had found at the bookstore where she worked after school. And how I read it in one sitting, sitting with her on the grass in a park while she read another book. And how that night, encouraged by the novel, I initiated the kiss.
"How romantic," said one of them.
And then I felt suddenly shy and dismissed the reminiscence and immediately, the same friend said, "It must have been terrible to lose your father so young."
What a buzz-kill! "Yeah, it was awful," I said, recalling it, but then also feeling resentful at having been pulled away from a partly exhilarating memory to one that was purely painful. I didn't say anything further and switched the subject to some architectural feature of the building across the street from where we were walking.