Her name was Donna.
She had dimples when she smiled, blushed when she laughed, and her lips were like a cute, red bow. We liked each other. She wore my sweater on Fridays; we danced close at the junior high mixers, but she was shy -- and so was I.
I was about 14. A skinny, gangly geek. It seemed as though everyone else at Lincoln Junior High School in La Crosse, Wisconsin had taken things to the next level. But I didn't know how to make that happen. Didn't have a clue.
Every time I thought about how I might try to move things along, I got a helpless feeling in my gut. It was what it must feel like to be trapped out on a narrow ledge of a windowless building fifty floors up from a busy street. You know you'd like to be safely on the ground, but the prospect of getting there seems a bit daunting -- and hopeless.
So, I went to my friend Tom for some advice.
Tom was not a jock, not a hunk, not a hood -- none of the things girls seemed to go for; he was just another geek, like me. But he was getting some action.
Or so he said.
He often bragged about "red letter days." Those were days, he said, when he made out (or more) with his girlfriend -- I think her name was Valerie -- and, as I remember, her lips were Angelina Jolie kissable.
Tom and I sat on the back steps of my house at twilight one warm night in May when I brought up the problem that had been vexing me.
"So, how do you go about kissing a girl?" I asked.
"You just kiss her," he said in a tone that suggested I obviously didn't get it.
"You mean just do it?"
I shuddered. That seemed too forward, too predatory. I was a nice kid.
"How do you know when to just do it?" I wanted to know.
"You just do," he counseled, unhelpfully.
"Show me." I was desperate.
He gave me a look.
"C'mon. I really want to know," I said. "Let's experiment."
He shimmied away from me.
"We don't really have to do it," I said, trying to salvage things, "but maybe you can show me how to get there."
Tom relaxed. A little.
I turned to look at him. A kissing god was sitting next to me and I was determined to soak up every last bit of wisdom he had. My eyes were wide. Expectant.
His eyes were wide, too, but probably in wariness and fear.
"So," I said. "Let's pretend you're Donna and we're facing each other."
"Ohhh-kayyyy," Tom said, leaning back a little.
"You just do it." Tom said, putting his hand to his mouth.
"Do I just swoop in?" I asked, leaning toward him, invading his personal space.
"Um, yeah," he mumbled.
I pulled back. "Nah. I can't see myself doing that," I said, more to myself than to him.
Tom said nothing, but kept an eye on me as I continued to babble.
"Should I ask her?"
"Mmmmmm, I dunno...." Obviously, that wasn't Tom's strategy.
"Let's rehearse it," I said.
"Are you serious?"
"You be Donna and I'll be me."
Tom sighed. He didn't say anything, but he didn't run away, either -- a hopeful sign.
Gazing into Tom's eyes, I said, "Donna, is it okay if I kiss you?' I felt giddy and stupid.
Tom must have, too. We both started laughing.
"Tell you what," Tom said. "There's a party next weekend. We'll all be there. I'll let Donna know that you're planning to walk her home and then you can make your move. That way, she'll be prepared. Receptive."
It sounded like a plan.
The party was a birthday bash in someone's back yard. Lots of people were there, including Tom and Donna. I was so keyed up that I managed to avoid her all afternoon, but Tom kept swinging by to give me terse updates on the progress he was making planting seeds on my behalf. But it would be up to me to seal the deal.
Tom told me Donna would agree to let me walk her home -- if I asked. He said he'd shadow us by a block, or two, then we'd meet afterwards so he could debrief me. He was definitely an operator.
Late in the afternoon, as the party was ending, I could sense a giddy undercurrent. Clearly, something was up. I got lots of knowing glances from Donna and her friends. So, the pressure was on me to deliver -- and I was up to the challenge.
Or so I thought.
Donna agreed to let me walk her home. So far, so good.
"Tom said you wanted to ask me something," Donna said coyly as we walked.
"Yeah," I said. "But it can wait 'til we get to your place."
Donna lived on the corner of a quiet street in a big burgundy house with a screened front porch near the Lutheran Hospital. When we got there, we stood awkwardly on the front sidewalk.
"Well, here we are," I said cleverly.
"Yeah," she said.
She stood there.
I stood there.
We looked at each other.
Then I did what I always do when I don't know what to do: I asked a question: "So, how long have you lived here?"
She told me.
I asked another question, then another, then another. She answered them all. I was stalling for time, but time was running out.
By now, it was dark.
The streetlight we'd been standing under came on.
Then her dad, a truck driver, came out on the porch and called for her to come in.
"I really have to go inside," she said, glancing worriedly over her shoulder as her dad went back inside.
She turned back to me, clearly not wanting to go in. She had a worried look on her face.
It was now, or never.
Then, I just did it. I leaned in and, by golly, I kissed her. Right on the lips. And for a long time, too, like five seconds -- an eternity!
She sighed, put her arms around me and said into my ear, "Oh, John, I'm so sorry."
"I was so nervous. I knew you wanted to kiss me, but I didn't know what to do, so I just waited."
Her dad came back out onto the porch. "Donna!" he called, sternly. "Get in here."
"Gotta go," she said and dashed inside.
Elated, adrenalin pumping, I ran for most of the two miles to my house, but I don't remember my feet touching the pavement. I was bursting to tell Tom the story, but he was nowhere along my route home.
Later, as I was getting ready for bed, I heard tiny pebbles plinking against my upstairs window. It was Tom. He told me he'd shadowed me, but got bored waiting for me to make my move. So, he went home. Now he wanted to know how it went. I gave him the headline news version; he agreed to wait until later for a full debrief.
I kissed Donna a LONG time ago. It was our first -- and last -- kiss. Donna and I gradually grew apart, then moved away and lost touch with each other completely.
Since then, I've kissed a few others -- okay, many others -- some kisses lasting way more than five seconds. But for the last thirty years, I've been kissing the same woman.
Her name is Cindy.