Day Three: Your First Love and First Kiss (if separate discuss both)
My initial experiences with love and kissing took place on different occasions, so I’ve split this topic into two posts.
I experienced my first kiss back in 1991, on a Sunday after church. Growing up in a devout Christian family meant that my entire existence revolved around church. On most Sundays church was an all-day event, but the first Sunday of the month provided a welcome reprieve from that routine. I was jubilant when Communion Sunday arrived. On Communion Sunday, everyone’s attire was more subdued, as congregants were to follow a more humble dress code. The menfolk left their brightly colored suits and fancy shoes at home, opting for solid navy or black suits. The womenfolk did their best to drape themselves in flowing, pure white dresses and skirts. To show up in off white or *gasp* beige would earn a side eye at the least and a lecture at the worst.
I wasn’t wearing a proper white dress or skirt that day. My youngest aunt searched in vain to find an appropriate outfit, as obtaining the right shade of white in winter proved challenging. So instead, I wore a navy and white polka dot ensemble, gifted to me by a deaconess. Throughout service that morning I fought a losing battle with my pantyhose, deftly trying to pull them up each time they began to pool around my ankles. No matter how often I meekly suggested to my Grandma that we pay $10 for better quality hosiery, she preferred the cheap $0.99 stockings sold at Mid-K, the beauty supply joint down the street from where we lived. But once the congregation sang ‘amen’ at the end of the benediction I set my mind to a very earthly matter: food!
When church concluded on first Sunday it was customary to have Sunday Dinner together. Once we fished hugging and greeting each other the various cliques splintered off, piling into Lincoln Town Cars and Honda Accords to head to Old Country Buffet or Sizzler. This afternoon, however, I especially anticipated dinner as we were not going to a restaurant. One of my Grandma’s closest friends who was also the MIL of my aunt volunteered to cook and host at her home. Sis. Williams was a stout woman from Louisiana, and she could BURN in the kitchen! The barely seasoned restaurant food couldn’t compare to Sis. Williams’ red beans & rice and smothered pork chops! And since her home was barely a block away from the church we didn’t have to drive anywhere. After grabbing my coat, I headed out the door with my cousins, lightly skipping all the way to Sis. Williams’ home in my black patent leather low heels.
In Sis. Williams’ home we were divided by age. When dinner was served the grown folks squeezed next to each other at the dining room table, which was covered in fine linen and set with china. The dining arrangements for us children were decidedly less luxurious. We were relegated to the ‘kids table’, a smaller oval-shaped one in the kitchen with no tablecloth. Throughout my meal I stole glances at the adults, watching them with unabashed envy. Making it to the grown folks table was one of my dreams. It would take twenty-one years for me to earn the privilege of sitting next to my elders and having my opinions valued. But as a ten-year-old girl, I knew better than to even ask, so I enjoyed Sis. Williams’ delicious food and said little.
The itis was real, causing the grown folks to stumble into the living room then plop down on the furniture, full as a tick! “Okay, time for y’all to go downstairs”, Grandma stated firmly once her peers were all comfortably settled in the living room. “We got thangs to discuss, and y’all don’t need to be in it!” We children rose in unison, trooping down the stairs to get to the first floor which was deemed the kids area.
Sitting on a sofa in the dimly lit den I regretted the fact that I didn’t have a book to read me. Weeks earlier my Grandma became hip to my trick of secreting books in my purse to read during church. Knowing that she would check my purse I no longer tried to carry them with me. Nevertheless, I wanted my Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High books with me, as they would have made it easier for me to ignore the teasing of my cousins and the others.
“Can you believe she doesn’t know how to snap her fingers? What’s wrong with her?” my cousin Tanya said, oblivious to my discomfort.
“I don’t know, she’s funny like that”, Pauletta, my other cousin replied. Tanya and Pauletta were two and four years older than me respectively, and they were much more social and outgoing as well.
“I bet she’s never kissed a boy! Dinky, have you kissed anyone yet?” Tanya asked in a needling tone, addressing me by my nickname. I replied by sucking my teeth at her and turning away.
“SEE I was right”, Tanya laughed, “Miss Goody Two Shoes doesn’t know what it’s like to kiss!”
From past experiences with them, I knew that talking would only make it worse, so I remained silent. But in my head a lively dialogue was taking place:
Why are they so worried about what I do? Why do they always mess with me like this? I never bother them! And why is it so important that I kiss someone? I’m not even a teenager yet! I wish they would shut up! I need my books! Why did Mom make us move to this stupid, rainy city anyway? I hate it here!
It wasn’t like I had a long list of first kiss candidates either. I did have a crush on two boys at the time: my classmate Hakim and my pastors’ grandson Eric, who was three feet away while Tanya and Pauletta bothered me. At that point in my young life, however, I was painfully aware of the fact that I didn’t quite fit in with my peers. Deemed a weirdo, a square, and an L7, popularity and being considered pretty by boys were out of my reach. No one was checking for a girl with short brittle relaxed hair that barely reached her ears, who couldn’t dance and couldn’t play double dutch right, so I didn’t even try mimicking the flirtatious antics of girls like my cousins Tanya and Pauletta.
“Tanya leave her alone; that’s enough”, Eric said, the bass in his maturing voice snapping me out of the conversation in my head. “D is just quiet, that’s all.”
My cousin made a face at Eric-but stopped teasing me. I knew that Tanya had a crush on him too. She only left me alone because she didn’t want to fall out of favor with Eric! I was disappointed that my cousin was more concerned with impressing a boy than being nice to me but grateful that she finally shut her mouth.
“It’s so dark and stuffy down here! Wouldn’t y’all rather be outside?” Eric asked. He stood up. “I’m gonna ask if we can go to the park across the street from church”, he continued, running up the stairs. Less than five minutes later Eric returned. “Ok, they said yes, let’s go!”
We slipped our shoes on, bundled up and left the house. I held the hands of my seven-year-old cousins Devon and Jimmy as we crossed the street, much to their dismay. Eric, Tanya, and Pauletta walked behind us slowly, chattering among themselves. When we reached the park Devon and James both raced to the jungle gym to play. Eric caught up with me.
“D, come walk to the other side of the park with me”, he said, nodding his head. Totally clueless as to why he said that I agreed and joined him. Slowly we walked away from the group, side by side, close but not touching. Once we were out of sight Eric faced me, leaned in and kissed me gently. No tongue, just a firm press. When he pulled away I covered my mouth, momentarily stunned by his brazenness.
“Well now Tanya can’t say anything to you about kissing”, Eric said, chuckling. Terrified by the thought that an adult might have seen us I gave Eric a look that was somewhere between a smile and a grimace, briskly walking back to rejoin the others.
When I look back at my first kiss there are two aspects about it that jump out at me:
- Why didn’t I see Eric’s actions beforehand? It should have been obvious. This is a prime example of why my Grandma used to say I had all the book sense in the world but needed a little help in the common sense department…
- I am so lucky that no adults saw Eric kiss me. I knew I was my Grandma’s favorite granddaughter. I was exempt from the kind of spankings that my aunts, uncles, and cousins received regularly. But had anyone from church witnessed that first kiss I would have felt the wrath. To kiss at ten years old…in a public space…on the Lords’ Day…in my church clothes…across the street from our place of worship? As a boy and a relative of the clergy, Eric wouldn’t be punished. I, on the other hand, would have had the skin peeled from my backside for such a trespass!