I was ten the first time I kissed a boy. It was under his porch, down the street from my own house. His name was Johnny** and sometimes he wore a denim jacket without a shirt and rode a dirt bike in the woods behind his house. Yes, the very same woods that would burn down a few years later. I scribbled our initials in chalk on the sidewalk in big, balloon hearts with loopy ‘forevers’ and bizarrely inappropriate acronyms like “Holland” (Hope-our-love-lasts-and-never-dies) and “China” (Come-here-I-need-action). We made out in the summer twilight after rounds of kick the can, played coy games of spin-the-bottle, and, I kid you not, slow danced to REO Speedwagon in his driveway one time. I still can’t hear that particular song without tales of that 4th grade summer surfacing. My husband makes fun of me every time it comes on the radio. But if I knew what the word swoon meant when I was ten, then surely I did so.
I’m sure he made some woman very happy. (Actually, I still hear news of him now and again because that’s what small town life is like. Not that long ago, I ran into his mom at the hairdressers while I was visiting). I’m fairly sure he doesn’t remember the details, the song that was playing, the way he smelled of milk and boy sweat, the tumultuous tummy flutterings of first kisses. I wasn’t even his first kiss. But I’m a girl, I remember stuff like this. It’s the heady stuff of pulpy novels and bad poetry. The shaky foundation holding up your ideas of romance and love and relationships.
I was lucky I had such a memorable and gentle introduction.
I think our grade school romance simply fizzled, faded into 5th grade perhaps. I don’t remember any big break up or tears. I remember being introduced to algebra that year. I remember reading The Westing Game and The Girl Who Owned a City, I remember my 5th grade teacher and coveting a pair of Jordache jeans, but I don’t remember the end of our romance. Later we would rekindle our make-out sessions in middle school for a while, to the detriment of another lovely boy whose heart I broke along the way, (his song for me was Madonna’s Crazy for You–another swoon). Matt** took me to a fancy dance at a different school where I felt awkward and out-of-place, under dressed and ugly-duckling-esque. And he bent over backward in his 80s shiny suit and pointy shoes to make me feel comfortable. And then I went and broke his heart.
All these memories welled up the other day after a friend recounted her son’s first real break up. As she told us the story, you could almost hear the sound of his sixteen year old heart breaking in her words. She teared up, everyone listening teared up. We’d all been there, searching blindly for a dustpan and brush to sweep up the crumbs that are left from a shattered heart. But when it’s your child and you can do nothing but hold out your arms to catch the broken pieces–and hope that they trust you enough not to drop them again–well that just doesn’t bear thinking about. But I was only slightly older than my son is now, Johnny a little older than that, when we started coupling off at school dances and sneaking smooches behind the shed.
Lately I’ve noticed the girls in my son’s class looking at him under their lashes a bit more. One or two have admitted to me that they think he’s cute. I have told them that they have good taste. But he is essentially clueless, happy to play ball games with his friends after school, to goof off and pull funny faces. He is still of an age where nothing more than an impromptu ice cream cone makes him happy.
Girls don’t seem to write boys initials on their sidewalks anymore. I don’t know how it’s done now. Sex And the City introduced the break up by Post-It-Note, I assume nowadays it’s done by text or e-mail, or a sudden, vicious change of relationship status on FaceBook. It really doesn’t matter how it’s done, you still experience that split second of a flat lining heart, the painful burst where it begins to beat once again, the catch of breath in your chest that feels like it is trying to claw its way out. That’s always the same. That doesn’t change, no matter the technology or the age at which you experience that first real heartbreak.
Whether you are 10 or 16 or 40.
I only hope I can keep buying my son ice cream cones to make him happy for a little while longer. And that he can look back at a particular song in 30 years time with fondness.
**all names have been changed to protect the innocent