Saturday, October 12, 2013
It is raining today. As I stood earlier looking out of the garage I noticed that fall had begun in earnest as all the trees were changing color and that I needed to go rake the leaves away from the curb so they didn’t clog the storm drain. I love autumn; it is my favorite season. October is particularly nice because it contains one of my favorite holidays, Halloween. I’m not a guy who is a fan of horror or other scary things but I do like Halloween because it brings people out one last time before the weather changes. I mostly like autumn because it reminds me of my first kiss.
When we first moved back to the suburbs of Chicago my family lived in a small house on Edgemont Lane. Cheryl lived around the corner and up the hill on Highland Boulevard. The first time I met her was in the summer before third grade. It was in the vacant lot we all called “the Field where the boys on our block would go to throw balls around and the girls would pick dandelions, talking about whatever girls talk about. Cheryl was there with her sisters and some of the other neighbor girls. She got into a conversation with my sisters. They introduced us to each other because Cheryl was in the same grade as me.
In the fall when school started I would see Cheryl, with her friends, walking to school. Sometimes when I wasn’t walking with my friends, and she was alone, I would catch up to her and we would walk home together. We would talk. I liked her; she was nice to me. As we got older and I started walking by myself up to the convenience store to buy comic books, I would see Cheryl in front of her house and stop by. One day she was sitting on her front stoop wearing a paisley bikini and some really large costume pearls. I said, “Why are you dressed like that?” She said, “I’m practicing being a model.” I later learned that Cheryl was in fact a child model when she was a kid. Thinking back I understand why. She had deep brown eyes and even then sort of a figure.
Cheryl and I got to be good friends but I never had any romantic inclinations towards her. At that time in my life I was just beginning to even know what those were. There was a blonde girl named Kim that I had developed my first crush on. After school I would station myself on sidewalks and linger with hopes that maybe Kim would happen by so I could walk home with her. I held no high hopes that Kim would return my affection. She was preety, smart and funny and I liked being around her. That was sufficient enough for me.
One day in the autumn of sixth grade when I was standing on the corner waiting for my friends, Mike, Chris, Tommy and Kevin, when Cheryl came up, grabbed my head and kissed me right on the lips. I didn’t know what to do. The guys were just coming up the street and saw it. I panicked and just ran down to where they were. I thought I would be teased mercilessly but I wasn’t. I actually had a hero moment as curiosity took over and questions about what it was like came flooding in. The hero balloon got popped at dinner that night when my older sister, Melissa, who was in junior high then, said, “I heard Tom got his first kiss today.” Then the teasing began from my parents and my siblings. No one has blushed as much as I did that night. “Laugh it up,” I said, and went up to the room I shared with my brother.
On Halloween Cheryl came into our backyard where I was sitting on one of the swings under our willow tree. I was dressed as Tom Sawyer; she was still dressed as a witch. She sat down on another swing and said, “I’m sorry.” I told her it was all OK. I asked her though, “Why did you do that?” She smiled and said, “The horoscope in my Dad’s paper said it was a good day for me to have a first kiss.” I asked her, “Was it any good?” She laughed and got up to go home. “Not bad but you need to work on it.”
Cheryl and I remained good friends throughout junior high and high school. Occasionally, I would see her in the hall and she would blow me a kiss. I would point at her and ask, “Horoscope?” She would laugh and say, “Horoscope.” I never learned how to type. I still don’t know how to do it today. My handwriting is terrible too because I never learned how to do cursive writing. When we lived in Florida they taught it later and when we moved back to Illinois all of the kids already knew how to do it. When we were late into high school Cheryl was in the vocational program learning to be, what was still then called, a secretary. She could type like crazy. Whenever I had a paper or a story that I needed to have typed Cheryl did it for me. She would to my locker holding reams of paper to give me to make sure I had them ready in time. She typed all of my college admissions forms.
One day just before graduation Cheryl brought me a typed version of a story I had written that I was submitting for a contest. I have always been a distracted person and often don’t notice when things go astray in my personal appearance. Cheryl said to me, “You have something on your shirt.” I looked down but there was nothing there. When I looked up confused, she grabbed my head just like she did when we were in sixth grade and kissed me. This was not the same kind of kiss I got when I was a boy. I was stunned. I just asked, “Horoscope?” She straightened the lapel on the sport coat I was wearing, smiled and walked away. Over her shoulder she said, “No, I just wanted see what it would be like now.”
I was a serial dater in high school, but never any good at keeping them because I was too self-involved. At the time Cheryl kissed me I had just started going out with another girl, named Ann. When I went home that night my friend, Kevin, stopped by. I was at my desk and he was lying on my bed, leafing through Rolling Stone and smoking. The Eagles were playing on the stereo. I told him about Cheryl kissing me. He asked, nonchalantly, “Was it a good kiss?” I said “Tonsil rattling.” He laughed. “You know she’s in love with you, don’t you? I think she’s always been but you were never available and she didn’t want to mess up your friendship.” I said, “You’re crazy.” He laughed again. “Are you that stupid? No girl types that much if she’s not in love. Besides, why else the kiss, man?” I had to think.
After graduation I never saw Cheryl again. She doesn’t come to reunions and I’ve never found her on the internet or on Facebook. From time to time in the fall I think about her and try to find her again, if for no other reason than to tell her thank you. She read all of my writing and was always very kind and supportive. We would frequently meet in a fast food restaurant and I would buy her lunch. She would make good suggestions that I would use. She is one of the people who believed in me and thought that I could one day be a writer. She was a great friend and deserves my gratitude. I would love to know how she is doing.
More than anything Cheryl holds a special spot in my heart because on an autumn morning in October, before I knew anything about these sorts of things, she gave me my first kiss. I think pretty much everyone remembers that time in their lives of first kisses and first crushes and that’s really not a bad thing to remember.