There’s a not-so recent NY Times article which has sat uncomfortably with me for a while. It posits that while we generation X-ers are famously sarcastic, conflicted, inherently resentful of our self-obsessed boomer parents and dismissive of sentimentalism; we are also faced with an existential challenge: how do we look back on the good old days without betraying our “reality bites” outlook?
In my experience, my peers and friends use memories of a simpler, fluroescent-colored age as a mental reprieve from the complex labrynth of today’s existence. We play 80’s playlists while we work out our over-tired and beginning-to-show-the-signs-of-aging bodies; we gaze longingly at pictures of Clinton in his robustly confident heyday; we visit the places we took vacations as children. In reality, I think we’re hopelessly nostalgic. Hell, we know that the world was a better place when Kurt was living in it. And while we’d never want to re-enact being latchkey kids or feeling terrified that AIDS would wipe out the entire human race, we do lust after a story that reminds us of simpler times (even though we hate that expression).
And so, in honor of my fellow gen xers, I shall take the bite of the apple first, and indulge you (and myself) in a simple tale of a teenage girl, circa 1985, sans cellphone and facebook and any clue about anything. A little whimsy, if you will. Travel back with me…
My First Kiss:
They just didn’t fit right. My big sister’s 501’s, the holy grail of jeanery, were just too baggy for me. But they had that jealousy-inducing little red tag on the back pocket, so that was all that mattered. I added a plaid leather belt (my big, burly father’s, so it went almost twice around) and a white t-shirt that awkwardly brushed over my too-small, unharnessed breasts. I was terrified, but ready. I probably looked like a farmer’s boy from the 1950’s. It was a hot, humid Saturday afternoon and he’d invited me to go bushwalking.
Yes, bushwalking. Up a mountain. In the tropical Australian summer. In the middle of the afternoon. And I was wearing heavy jeans. And squeaky new tan-colored brogues. Clearly a model of good decision making was not in play here. I must have been a teenager.
The walk was as awful as you’d imagine: flies stuck incessantly to my sweaty skin; sticks and thorns and prickles and weeds reached out and scratched at my ankles and arms; humidity incubated the enormous zit that was forming on my chin. I was regretting the choice of the 501’s, not just because they had become a giant, heavy sponge for the sweat running down my legs; but because there was no-one there to see them except the spiders and snakes. My one and only opportunity to demonstrate my effortless-but-artful-reinterpretation-of-a-Ralph-Lauren-catalogue was ruined. My sister would never lend me her stuff again.
But I did not complain as I Indiana-Jonesed it through the bush, I did not stop. In fact, I did not say anything. The entire 40 minute climb was one long painful silence, interrupted only with
an occasional “you ok?” thrown back at me from my “I’ve been told I look like James Dean” date (complete with an (unlit) cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth). We couldn’t walk together, the trail was too narrow.
We got to the zenith (well, it was kind of a big rock, really, looking out over more brown bu
sh), and sat together. His cigarette dangled from his mouth, flaccid and soggy – he looked ridiculous. Both of us were a picture of cringe-worthy teen self-consciousness: a combination of nerves, exhaustion, intensity, hormones, fear and unfamiliar hair in strange places. But we were determined! We were not leaving until it had happened.
James made the first move, throwing away his cigarette just like he’d rehearsed, approaching my face quickly… and then surprisingly turning his head skyward while lunging towards me so that before I knew it, his head was resting in my lap. He lay there, staring up at my mountainous zit with those big blue eyes. It was supposed to be a move that showed us both how cool he was, but he was shaking – both with nerves and muscle tension (the rock we were perched on was on also at an angle so it took a tremendous amount of core strength to cling on). He reminded me of a stick insect that had unfortunately found itself on the underside of a leaf.
What do I do now? I thought. I’d seen it in the movies, and had practiced at home with a pillow. I’d even read about it and memorized what the magazine had said… approach, pause, open mouth, breathe out (preferably with a small coquettish noise), touch lips. Fireworks, sunsets, wedding bells, orchestral music would follow. Couldn’t be that hard could it? I was going to be able to re-tell this story to my children and grandchildren, and much more importantly, my friends at school on Monday morning.
And so, like diving in to the swimming pool after the winter, I inhaled a deep breath and took the plunge. Only thing was, I didn’t think it would be upside down.
Slow motion please… here it comes… as I bent uncomfortably towards his face, and opened my mouth towards his, a long string of un-swallowed saliva somehow slipped out of my mouth and drew a long line of sticky, un-retractable goop towards his face. A stalactite of my own body’s making, I’d slobbered all over his face. Even my own eyes widened as I looked down on the mess I’d created. The only thing to do was close them quickly and follow through. So I used his mouth as a sucking mat, kind of like the bottom of a bowl of ice cream, trying desperately to gobble up my mistake before it started to drip down his chin. Eventually he turned his head sharply to the left, sat up, and wiped his chin with his sleeve. And thus began the long walk back home.
And that, ladies and gents, was the story of my first kiss.
Why do I tell it now? Because it puts a lot of stuff in perspective. When I think of the sticky situations that present themselves to me now, at least I know I’ll never, ever have to go through that again. Because I never thought at the time I would look back on that moment with humor (let alone tell the world); and because, well, I’m kind of proud of that brave girl who didn’t have the faintest idea what she was doing, but dove in, head first anyway.
And my sister ended up giving me her 501’s. For keeps.