67: Misplaced Kisses

67: Misplaced Kisses

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Misplaced Kisses

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Cute boys were often the cause of fights between the girls in my tightly knit group. When one of us confided to the group about our newest crushes, someone else in the group would ultimately claim that she had liked him first. It was hard to keep track of who was off-limits, with our hearts bouncing from one crush to the next. The Taylor boys were no exception. We often talked about the three brothers: Ryan was in eighth grade, T.J. was in seventh, and Joey in sixth. All of us girls liked one of the Taylor brothers at one time or another.

It wasn’t until April started “officially” going out with T.J. that any of us could claim any of the Taylor boys as a real boyfriend. It was a whirlwind romance. Over the next few weeks there was plenty of hand-holding and even a good amount of kissing, mostly at the park behind April’s house. But all of that wasn’t enough to keep April from thinking that maybe it was too hard to have T.J. as a boyfriend. He went to a different school, lived across town, and was virtually silent when she could get him on the phone.

April and T.J. broke up a few days before Easter, but all of us remained friends.

On Easter Sunday, the Taylor boys and I were at April’s house. T.J., Joey, and Ryan all helped to raid April’s family’s Easter baskets of all the good chocolate. We laughed, played games, and just had a great time before the boys left on their bikes.

April, Beth and I took our normal walking route that evening. We stopped for a corndog at the grocery deli, and then walked down the street to the Mini Mart for a big soda. We had to walk fast from place to place, since it was sprinkling a little and threatening to really rain. We bumped into a few of our other girlfriends hanging out at the Mini Mart. We stopped talking and laughing when we heard sirens and watched as an ambulance rushed by.

Police cars followed the ambulance down the street we were standing on. We ran across the street, and joined the crowd that was forming. It was chaos, with the flashing lights and the rain getting heavier. I saw a truck on the wrong side of the road. I saw a bike, twisted, in the middle of the street. I saw Ryan. I saw Joey. They were sitting on the side of the road, heads in their hands, breathing heavily. We called their names and they looked up at us. Were they crying? Suddenly, April was running and screaming and pushing a cop away from her. She ran up to the crumpled figure lying next to the bike and knelt next to T.J. “No!” she yelled as the cop pulled her away and she wiped the blood on her hand across the front of her white shirt.

I felt like I was watching something on TV. The darkness broken only by the red and blue flashing lights gave T.J. an unreal quality as he lay there, not moving. I could faintly see the blood next to him that April had put her hand in.

I couldn’t believe that blood was from T.J. I saw a man, head hanging low, talking to the police. Was that the guy from the truck? Was he driving too fast? Was he drinking? I didn’t want to think of T.J. crossing the street in front of traffic, like he’d done so many times before. I didn’t want to know the details or if he had bolted in front of the truck a second too late.

We couldn’t even think about how. We could only cry and hold each other on the side of the road, asking each other why this happened. Why? Ryan and Joey left to meet their family at the hospital after they loaded T.J. into the ambulance. My friends and I went to April’s and waited by the phone for more information. All we knew that first night was that he was still alive, for now. We stuck by each other for as long as we could before going home.

T.J. wasn’t able to stay close to home. His condition was severe enough that he was transferred to a hospital three hours away. He held on to life but stayed in a coma. Our parents tried to prepare us. They told us he might not make it, and if he did he wouldn’t ever be the same. None of that made any sense to us. My friends and I were sure that T.J. would be back with us in no time, riding around in the dirt lot with a new bike or hanging out in the bowling alley. We tried to force life to seem more like before, even arguing over who was T.J.’s real girlfriend.

April and Jessie were yelling at each other one afternoon. April had said her break-up was a mistake, and she still thought of T.J. as her boyfriend, but Jessie was sure that T.J. had been planning to ask her out. I couldn’t take it any more—I screamed at both of them that T.J. was hospitalized in another state and comatose. He had just had a bolt screwed into his head to keep his skull together! He wasn’t going to be going out with anyone for quite a while. Fighting over him when none of us could even talk to him—because he wasn’t even able to speak—seemed ridiculous. When Jessie accused me of wanting T.J. for myself, I stormed out and cried. I didn’t know how to fight about the things we always fought about and worry about T.J. at the same time. I didn’t talk to Jessie for days.

Three months later, enough time had passed that arguments faded away. April requested a trip to the hospital for her birthday, and I went along. We knew that T.J. was out of a coma and slowly getting better. I didn’t understand until we were in the hospital room how slow that healing process could be.

A whole new person lived inside the T.J. I used to know. His eyes no longer held the spark of mischievousness. In its place was a simple innocence, punctuated by the fact that he was now much like a baby, learning everything from scratch. If he was in his wheelchair, his head was strapped to the back of it, keeping him looking up. He couldn’t do that on his own yet. The little bit of communicating he could do came in the form of hand signals with his one good hand—one finger for yes, two for no. He could also blow kisses.

That afternoon, April asked T.J. to be her boyfriend. After a while, T.J. held up one finger and April and I smiled and laughed. We asked for kisses. T.J. obliged us both. My best friend and I were happy to get those sweet kisses from our cute friend. We knew there would be no fights about misplaced kisses here. When it came to T.J., we knew. We were just lucky to get them.

~Tina Haapala

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