43: Thirteen

43: Thirteen

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School


I do not know how to kiss, or I would kiss you.
Where do the noses go?

~Ingrid Bergman

My life was simple before I turned thirteen. Most of my days were occupied by school, sports and the afternoon lineup on Nickelodeon. But there comes a point in every young boy’s life when he crosses the great divide separating his childhood from his teenage years. Waiting to greet me as I crossed that threshold on my thirteenth birthday was something I had successfully avoided for the entirety of my twelve years of existence. At thirteen I had no choice. I would be forever forced to interact with girls.

Girls. Babes. Chicks. Women. However you slice it, boys have a natural and powerful interest in—and fear of—girls. For most boys, the arrival of the teenage years means that interactions with the opposite gender are no longer viewed as taboo. Before my teenage years, I wouldn’t dare be caught with a girl unless every avenue of escape was blocked, for fear I might contract the deadly disease known throughout schoolyards as Cooties.

Cootie infections meant an inevitable onslaught of ridicule. Limericks involving a baby carriage and sitting in a tree were just some of the symptoms. However, with the arrival of my thirteenth birthday came immunity to this bug. At long last, the threat of acquiring Cooties was lifted from my shoulders and shelved with polio and the “Macarena” among ailments that no longer plague human society. Although it was now socially acceptable to converse with girls, at thirteen I wasn’t exactly adept at it.

School dances were a nightmare for me. I never thought much about going to dances until I officially became a teenager. Before thirteen, I thought of dances as cesspools ripe for contracting Cooties. But soon my teenage years required that I attend my first dance, and I was terrified. I felt naked, as though I had just plunged into the jungle without taking malaria medication. Although I could see my fellow thirteen-year-olds talking to girls with no sign of Cootie outbreak, I felt it would be safer to stand against a wall and admire the object of my affections from afar.

I envied my friends who had the courage to talk to girls. The decision to move away from the wall and talk to the girl I liked was not an easy one. I don’t remember how I convinced myself to take the plunge, but somehow I drifted from the wall toward where the girls were. But I was scared, and I walked as if my legs were shackled to cement blocks. Why was it so hard? I was not afraid to talk to her. She sat next to me in three of our classes. We regularly had profound, personal conversations. Well, at least I thought we did. Whenever we spoke, in my mind, I was Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire:

I love you. You complete me, I would think.

Shut up, just shut up. You had me at “hello.”

In reality our conversations never progressed beyond the boundaries of homework problems and asking for pens—not quite the romantic poeticism that played out in my mind.

However, the school dance was my opportunity to talk to her and declare my feelings. Here, romantic interactions seemed almost inevitable based on the pageantry of the event, yet I could do nothing but stare at her as she playfully danced with her friends.

She was beautiful. Although the dance floor was dark, she stood out of the almost subterranean blackness with the radiance of a beacon. Her smile, though aligned with braces, caused her nose to wrinkle ever so slightly. I could have admired her forever. Once, she looked in my direction and caught my glance, and I hurriedly averted my eyes.

After the weight of her stare had passed, I lifted my eyes to resume my fixation. To my dismay she was no longer there.

I thought, “Maybe she went to the bathroom, or for a drink of water, or for...”

“Hey,” I heard somebody say.

She was talking to me. I didn’t know what do. I was stunned. Paralyzed.

A series of wild and frightening questions flew through my mind:

“What should I do? What should I say? Should I ask her if she wants to dance? Am I speaking right now?”

“Do you want to dance with me?” she asked.

I did my best to make some comprehensible, positive reply. She grabbed me by the hand as she led the way toward an open patch of tile on the floor. Once there, she put her arms around my neck. I somehow managed to control the shaking in my arms and wrap them around her waist. We began to dance—rotating in a small orbit on the floor. My heart, exploding with each beat in my chest, surpassed the throbbing of the bass that flooded the room.

As the song progressed, she inched closer to me so she could rest her head on my shoulder. I knew what this meant. I had seen it happen before. She wanted me to kiss her. But I had never kissed a girl before. I didn’t know what to do.

“If only the song would never end,” I thought.

But it did. Gradually, the surrounding couples began to separate as the lights started to return. Eventually the lights came on, chasing the darkness from the room, and everybody stood like moles in the sunlight as they adjusted their eyes to the blinding brightness. As soon as I could see again, I looked at the girl in front of me. Her nose crinkled as she smiled, and she brushed her hair back into place.

“Thanks for the dance,” she said.

I didn’t say anything for a moment as I tried to think of some clever response. That’s when it happened. She leaned in and kissed me—a quick peck on the lips—but it was the most passionate kiss of my life. Any hope I had of impressing her with a quick-witted remark vanished as I was reduced to an incomprehensible buffoon. I didn’t have time to compose myself because she left with her friends soon after. I stood there in the middle of the cafeteria floor with a huge grin across my face.

That was the moment to end all others. I wanted to believe no romantic exchange that had ever occurred, or ever would occur, could supersede the one I had just experienced. However, one fact remained certain: I was infected with an even deadlier agent than the Cooties that plagued schoolyard children—love.

~Robert Pellegrino

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