Friday, 4 March 2022

My First Kiss

 by Terri Campion


It was a sultry August evening in rural Pennsylvania.  I was sitting in the back seat of a shiny green Volkswagen Beetle, next to a boy named ‘Rick’. He was a lanky, blond boy with sleepy blue eyes and a short pouty mouth.  I was fourteen and still hadn’t started menstruating, so I smoked. I smoked, because I was stressed over the whole puberty business.  It had too much control over my life and that pissed me off.  I smoked because I still looked nine years old and needed to disarm the jerks that were quick to treat me as such. And I smoked because I was desperately trying to fit in somewhere…and semi-delinquency seemed the most accessible path for me.

My cousin Gretchen was in the front seat, with her big breasts and perfect nose, next to an older dark haired boy who was driving. These were her friends. This was her territory.  She didn’t really want me to come but her mother made her take me so the adults could drink in peace. I was just along for the ride, and I had to make a good impression or at least not screw up anymore than I had earlier that night.

Gretchen had whispered to me, with a solemnity, that she had her ‘friend.’

‘Where is she?’I had asked.  My cousin fell back on her bed, kicking and screaming in laughter, then jumped up, ran out of the room and down the stairs into the living room and announced to our parents and another severe looking couple, what I had said.  My mother made my cousin promise to ‘put it out of her mind!’ and not to mention it to her ‘other’ friends. Both she and Gretchen got a laugh out of that but choked it back when they saw my face which was in a big ‘puss’.

Gretchen, with her high cheekbones and spotless skin, looked more like my mother’s daughter than I did.  I knew the two of them thought as much, with the secret smug smiles they gave to each other when they ‘accidently’ found themselves in front of a mirror. For a few seconds I imagined the car crashing and everyone surviving except me.  What then?  Would my mother want to slap Gretchen or adopt her? That would be an interesting test.

Gretchen’s dad, my Uncle George, was my mother’s brother. He looked like Clark Gable. On a Christmas visit when I was eleven, I walked in on him sitting on the toilet.  It was a humiliation I tried desperately to live down.  In my mind when these people saw me, they saw a toilet trespasser, a bathroom barger – a nuisance.  So every time we visited I tried to reinvent myself. This outing would be a test.  The older you got, the more tests there were. It seemed.

 From the snippets of conversation I caught over the sputtering and grinding of the car, they were looking for someone for some reason, but if they found someone else that would be okay too and then we would get out of the car. 

‘Cool.’ I offered to no one in particular, on my own accord, as I exhaled a haboob of smoke into the back of the driver’s head. As in response or solidarity to my remark, or for the sake of comfort, Rick stretched his left arm along the back of the seat, brushing my head in the effort.  It felt like my heart was going to smash through my chest and jab a hole through my peasant blouse.  I discreetly ran my fingers through my hair on both sides, in an attempt to hide my burning red face.

This was the first time I was in a car with a driver under thirty, but more importantly, the first time I was in such close proximity to a boy, other than my brothers since I was eleven, and looked like one myself. I was a Catholic school girl.  The Philadelphia Archdiocese had separated the boys and girls in the seventh grade and eighth grades and in a couple of weeks I would be attending an all girls’ Catholic Academy.  I let myself relax back into the seat, brushing my head against Rick’s wrist and wished the night could go on forever.

 Gretchen poked her head around her seat and announced, ‘We can only hang out for two hours. Her mother wants her back at 9:30.’

What was my cousin doing to me? I tried to object, ‘I don’t hafta –’, but the bitch cut me off.

 ‘Yes you do! Your mother would kill you and then she’d kill me.’ She turned her head in Rick’s direction and said with salaciousness, ‘Her mother is scary strict.’

What a two face! I exhaled an airstream of tobacco directly onto her face in an effort to make her turn around and stop interfering with the natural chain of events that the universe intended to happen in that back seat at that time, between me and a boy named Rick. Instead she retaliated with a gust of Pall Mall in my direction.

‘Does she know you’re a chain smoker?’ She asked before taking another drag from her cigarette. 

‘No.’  I answered.

‘She will after tonight.’

 ‘Only if you tell her.’  I tossed my cigarette out the window then pulled a roll of mint life savers from my denim cut offs and popped a few into my mouth.  Gretchen stuck her hand in my face.

‘It’s bad manners not to offer first.’

I pulled a candy from the roll and dropped it in her hand without bothering to peel a scrap of foil off it. 

‘What if they were poisoned?’  I asked in my spookiest voice.

‘Very funny!’  she said as she turned around in a huff. 

That interaction got a quiet chuckle out of Rick. He likes me, I thought as I gently placed a foil free mint in his open palm.

‘Thanks,’ he said.

‘Welcome,’ I replied.

‘Wintergreen?’ he asked.

‘Yeah!’  I answered.

We rode in silence for the next thirty seconds, sucking on our mints. There was some fiddling and fussing with the radio in the front seat.  After another thirty seconds, ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida ’ came blasting over the air waves. The driver said something to Rick via the rear view mirror. Rick’s response was something like ‘Yeaaall!’  I felt his body moving in sync with the electric guitar, his free hand drumming on his long thin thigh while his left hand rhythmically rubbed my neck and scalp. Happiness abounded in the car.    

‘Butterfly,’ Rick said.

‘They’re so cool,’ I offered.

‘Far out,’ he responded.

At that moment, I thought, as the car skidded and sped on the dark winding roads of Pottsville, I might die tonight and that would be okay just as long as I am kissed before the car smashed into smithereens.   

Our first stop was a 7 eleven parking lot. My cousin and the driver stuck their heads out their respective windows and held conversations with leather and suede skinny figures, whose heads were not visible until one face surrounded in brown hair squeezed into Gretchen’s window and gave a nod to the back seat. I took a drag off my cigarette with indifference as did Rick.

The driver was handed a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag, he took a swig from it then handed it to Gretchen who took an even bigger swig.  She passed it back to the driver who looked into the rear view mirror and held the bottle up as in an offering to the back seat. Rick grumbled something that sounded like ‘no’ while Gretchen giggled something admonishing which I was sure had to do with me and my mother and our horrible relationship which I was now learning was ‘hilarious’ to her.

The driver took another swig then handed it over to whoever gave it to him. That face appeared in the window and said something to Rick, who was not interested. There was some chuckling between the driver and his friend and Gretchen and her friend before we went whizzing out of the parking lot, slamming into the curb and onto the road.

So, I thought to myself, this is what public school kids did. They drove around listening to the radio while hopping from bowling alley parking lots to 7 Elevens looking for action. Cool!  I was frequently grounded and stayed in my room listening to Leonard Cohen and writing dark odes about my mother.

For the next hour I wasn’t sure where we were or what was happening anywhere outside the realm of the back seat. When I felt Rick’s fingers were tangled in my hair. I pretended not to notice by becoming motionless, leaving it up to him to decide if his fingers found themselves entwined in my tresses accidently or on purpose.  Meanwhile my inside voice was acting like an idiot and screaming: ‘Yes! Yes! Touch it! Touch it more!’ As if in response to my brain, Gretchen turned around, looked at the two of us and cooed.

‘Don’t you two look cozy!’

Turn around you nasty bitch, I wanted to say. I hated her. So self-confident and grown up in the front seat in her Playtex bra and pancake make-up breaking the mood in my back seat!  I pulled out another cigarette.  Rick flicked a match with his right hand and lit my cig and his with one light. I loved him!  Sure, we’d barely spoken since we were introduced, but I was positive we were communicating on some kind of deep tobacco induced plane reserved for all those lonely teenagers relegated to the back seat of tiny cars.  Two outcasts, I thought, maybe existentialists? 

 We smoked in silence as our thighs touched and I yearned to be kissed.  I thought that a kiss from a real boy would be like a magic spell and set everything in motion.  My breasts would sprout,  I’d get my period and be out of the puberty hell I’d been trapped in for over three years, and on my way to becoming a woman.

‘It’s 9:15!’ Gretchen’s squeal broke my profound thoughts and sent Rick’s fingers directly onto my shoulder.

‘Oh no!’ my brain screamed. I had heard how boys could tell if you were wearing a bra by feeling for the straps.  My straps were cottony thick.  I was wearing a training bra.  According to my mother, I needed some sort of initiation into the real, satiny, lacy world of cups, straps, hooks and eyes necessary to safely encase one’s mammary glands.  My mammary glands were barely noticeable. 

The driver stopped short at a red light, I fell into Rick’s lap, while his hand slid down and around onto my upper arm.  We were in some kind of stiff half-embrace. I lifted my head off his chest out of courtesy. It seemed too intimate. 

‘You comfortable?’ He asked.

‘Yea!’ I answered, although I was incredibly physically uncomfortable, but it was worth it to be in his arm.  It was a long red light. For the first time since we stopped I looked toward the front seat. Gretchen and the dark haired boy were kissing – more like swallowing each other’s face.  It looked painful and unsanitary.  Where was I supposed to put my eyes?  Gretchen’s blouse was unbuttoned and his hands were all over and under tugging at that big padded bra. The light turned green, but they kept sucking and gnawing at each other, like two puppies in a cage. Horns started honking, but they didn’t stop until Rick smacked the dark haired boy in the head.  

‘Dave!’  He shouted.  Dave and Gretchen unwound themselves from each other and the car puttered then zoomed through a yellow, and finally, red light, leaving a line of angry cars on the other side of the road.

Once the car started moving, Rick’s arm tightened around my shoulders.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see his head turn toward me.  I felt his eyes, watching, waiting.  For the first time in two hours I fully turned my neck and looked up at his full huge face as it started coming down onto mine. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, so I instinctively tilted my chin up and closed my eyes like Scarlet O’Hara did when she gave herself to Rhett Butler. But then I started thinking about my Uncle George, so I squeezed my eyes tighter to make my mind shut up, and then I felt it – a spark!  Our lips had touched.  His felt cushy and a little chafed.

 Now what?  I got myself this far, but I had no instructions!  I decided to just follow his lead.  His lips pressed into mine, I pressed back.  He cocked his head to the right, I cocked mine to the left¼our noses smashed so I changed direction. So we just pressed and cocked and pressed and cocked, over the bumps and gravel, until the car came to a complete stop and we were thrown against each other, and rebounded into the doors. 

Rick held the door open for me as I climbed out from the back seat.  He had a smile on his face that made me feel ashamed and ecstatic at the same time. We said good night and he hopped into the front seat and the green beetle crawled away with my Tareyton cigarettes, what was left of them. That was okay.  I didn’t need them anymore.  I was a woman now!


About the author 

Terri’s latest work, a short story titled, 'Letting Go' will be appearing in Inkwell Journal Issue 37. Below is a link to her non-fiction work Thanksgiving 1974 in Washington Square Review’s Issue 46.
Other publications include, Meriwether; Smith & Kraus & Great Kills Press.


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