How could I tell anybody that I had never kissed a girl? After all, I was a junior in high school and this was the 1950s. But still, the fact of the matter was that my lips had never touched the lips of a member of the opposite sex. I had never been transported to heights of ecstasy or even heard bells and banjos.
Maybe it had something to do with my braces. People joked about boys and girls getting their braces tangled. Or maybe it was the bad breath that inevitably went with wearing braces. The dreaded halitosis that advertisers loved to scare us with.
Or maybe I just wasn’t ready. But ready or not, my abstinence was going to end tonight, at the dress rehearsal of the Junior Play, which was called January Thaw. I was the romantic lead. I played a college student who attended school in California. I was visiting my girlfriend in the East during Christmas vacation. And I had to kiss said girlfriend.
The girlfriend was played by Delta, one of the prettiest girls in the class and a cheerleader to boot. With all that implied. There were rumors that she didn’t wear a full slip under her dresses, only a half-slip. I had been close to her during rehearsals of January Thaw and I could attest that these rumors were true .
So far, I had been able to avoid kissing her. During regular rehearsals we faked the kiss. But the dress rehearsal was the real thing and the director, Mrs. Frank, who was an English teacher, had told us that she expected a real kiss.
I knew I would kiss her wrong. To show you how naïve I was, I had even asked my younger brother what a French kiss was. Boy, was that a mistake. He immediately blabbed my lack of knowledge to a friend of mine and it echoed around the school for several days. I cringed whenever one of the guys came up to me and said, “Hey, Frenchie.”
Delta must have a lot of experience. I was sure she knew about French kissing. But even though the script called for an everyday kiss, I couldn’t handle the emotional commitment it demanded, even in a high school play.
I should have gotten my first kiss the year before, when Jean, a girl from my Latin class, invited me to a party at her cousin’s house. Well, actually, it was in her cousin’s barn. There were a lot of girls and boys there—many older than we were. Jean’s cousin was a year ahead of her in school.
We played Throw the Pillow. That’s like Spin the Bottle, but with a pillow. Everybody sits in a circle. The person who is “it” stands in the center of the circle and throws the pillow when the lights go out. Whoever it hits has to kiss her and then takes her place. When Lauren was in the center I became apprehensive because I had heard rumors that she had a crush on me. And she was a year older than I was. Too old—too sophisticated. The lights went out and the pillow hit me in the face. I panicked and threw it away before the lights came back on. Lauren wondered out loud how the pillow ended up where it did, but I didn’t say anything.
I arrived at the school auditorium for the dress rehearsal of January Thaw, along with my butterflies. I tried to hide my fear as I said hello to members of the cast, including Delta. She looked very nice with her short brown hair and her ankle-length dress.
I didn’t say much more to her than hello. We didn’t talk a lot on the set, even though in the play we were supposed to be in love. But before the curtain went up she came over to me and said, “I’ll kiss you on the cheek so I won’t get lipstick on you.”
At first I felt relief. A kiss on the cheek wasn’t a real kiss. It was a grandmother kiss. But then I started thinking. Why did she want to kiss me on the cheek? What she said about the lipstick didn’t make much sense. I was going to get lipstick on me, one way or another. My worst fears were confirmed. She didn’t want to kiss me. And it wasn’t because she didn’t like to kiss. I had heard her boyfriend say he would kiss her after the show if it went well.
Even though this was a dress rehearsal, there were a few people in the audience. And for the other performances there would be more—perhaps hundreds, including our classmates. Would I get laughed off the stage because I kissed a girl on the cheek instead of the lips? I would have to drop out of school and get a job as a farmhand. I would never amount to anything.
The play started. All the cast members were nervous, although not as nervous as I was. I was petrified. The butterflies in my stomach had turned to stone. The performance was a little rough—a blown line here, an incorrect bit of stage action there—but this was why we had a dress rehearsal. All in all, things weren’t going badly. And although I wanted to dig in my heels and stop time, we were moving inexorably forward toward my kiss.
And then I heard my cue. It was too late to run. I was no longer in control of my movements. Somehow, my body appeared onstage. Delta was already there. She was the only person I saw. We exchanged a couple of lines of dialog. The kiss came next. We established eye contact. Our faces approached each other until hers became a blur to my farsighted eyes.
I steered a direct course. Our lips met. It didn’t last long—it was a stage kiss, after all—but it was a real kiss. Lips on lips. To be honest, I didn’t hear bells and banjos. The scene continued as though nothing unusual had happened. But something inside me had changed forever. And I found myself looking forward to the other performances of the play.