He had a Levi’s denim jacket he wore over a plain, white tee-shirt when he rode his dirt bike in the woods behind his house. Back then the woods went on forever, emerald green and pine scented, thick layers of spongy needles under your soles muffling sounds of mischief. He may have ridden his Yamaha on narrow trails bordered by mint leaves and puffballs, but most of us spent time out there, in the woods. That wild tangle of birch and maple was akin to another world; a fairy tale place for secrets and promises. Things happened in the woods.
Deep under the cover of trees we smoked stolen cigarettes, crumpled Pall Malls we pulled out of our back pockets. We crashed through the underbrush at night with flashlights and cigarette lighters, scaring ourselves silly with ghost stories and moth-eaten legends. We followed the low wall of rock that meandered through the foliage connecting one town to another. And that summer, we went back there to make-out.
He was my first kiss. He smelled of milk and the sweet sweat of a still young male, of freshly mowed lawn, of pine needles and dirt and the woods themselves. At times the pungent tang of gasoline from his dirt bike clung to his denim jacket, to his summer freckled skin. He smelled, unmistakably, of boy.
We kissed until our lips were bruised. Under a canopy of pines, in the stifled, steamy heat of summer, we explored each other’s mouths with a strange mix of ferocity and middle school innocence. I learned how to follow his lead, how to tilt my head as I leaned in to feel his lips against mine. I learned to shut my eyes, to relax into the intimacy of being so close to another body. I learned how to breathe, how and when to come up for air. That summer, I learned the art of kissing.
Under his porch in the delayed dusk of July nights, we kissed. Next to the pool table in his basement, slow dancing to a song on the radio, we kissed. Sitting on the curb after a neighborhood game of kick the can, we kissed. Behind the shed, in the dilapidated fort strewn with old Playboys and crushed beer cans, around the backs of houses, we kissed.
The sidewalk in front of my house was decorated with chalk hearts bursting with dusty, pink initials and loopy, girly ‘forevers’, momentary proof of middle school coupledom. It was first time I felt desired, picked. Chosen. I wasn’t his first kiss, but he was mine. All these years and decades later, I can pull it, near perfect, from memory. It is the heady stuff of pulpy novels and bad poetry; the shaky foundation holding up a young girl’s ideas of romance and love. It fueled more than one scene in an almost finished novel.
Our romance fizzled without fanfare or brokenness, simply fading into the next grade, the next girl, the next crush. The sun blanched our chalky initials, and eventually, the hearts themselves were washed away by late summer rain. Autumn fell upon us, upon the woods, turning that summer greenery into a magical forest of golds and crimson. He rode his dirt bike and found another neighborhood girl to kiss. Later their initials would sprout along the cracked pavement, looped with more girly ‘forevers’.
But that summer, he was mine: chalk hearts, swollen lips, secret kissing spots and all. Those soft boy lips against my own, teaching me the art of kissing.
The above is a creative nonfiction short from last year. I recently pulled it out when I was looking for a piece of CNF to share with a group of budding 10 and 11-year-old writers I’ve been working with. I hope I haven’t scarred them for life.