Valentine’s Day, 2010: remembering that first kiss. The knees still shake when I slip back into adolescence and remember that first kiss. I was old by most standards, fourteen going on fifteen, a ninth grader in junior high school. Puberty had begun its ravaging course and I was a jangle of sexual confusion. My curiosity was demanding resolve so I began formulating a plan. Months of preparation went into selecting my conquest and putting the plan into effect. The time was different. Parents weren’t as worried about safety. I had been going to the downtown community center dances where groups of ninth graders from local schools hung out acting tough on Saturday nights, boys in pointy shoes with their hair greased high in James Dean pompadours, girls in tight sweater sets their newly formed breasts trussed into perfect bullet formations. The dances started in early evening and were over by ten, the witching hour for me. I’d start out just after supper walking the mile and a half to the nearest bus stop at Fair Oaks Avenue, the outer most stop of the municipal bus. Then it was a twenty-minute ride depending on the number of stops the bus would make until I reached my stop just short of the Capital Square. Back in the sixties the buses didn’t run that frequently so if I missed my bus it was a long wait for the next one to arrive. In February when the temperature could drop to below zero the wait could seem like a frozen eternity.
I planned my kiss for May, warm enough for the outdoor privacy I’d need to pull this off without the taunts of the testosterone possessed posse of young manhood that hung around at these events. I set my sights on a girl outside my own school. I didn’t want the story to get passed around to my friends especially if I wasn’t successful or worse, if I wasn’t very good.
Her name was Betty White and if anyone thinks she was to become one of the Golden Girls then think again. I wasn’t into dating my mother or any of her friends. Betty was blond and a perfect thirty-six, thirty-six, thirty-six. I didn’t want to set my sights too high; I’ve never been good with rejection.
On the day I had ex’ed on the calendar I spent the morning getting my hair into just the right swoop by applying enough pomade to keep the Empire State building from toppling over. I had prearranged meeting Betty at a department store on the Capital Square. The center of Madison is the capitol. A replica of the one in Washington, it stands by law taller than any building in the surrounding downtown area, a huge breast-like dome dominating the city skyline. I had saved enough money to take Betty for an ice cream treat at the Badger Candy Kitchen before the dance got under way, and I bought a little stuffed animal as a “you-owe-me-if-you-accept-this” gift. The stage was set.
I don’t remember much about the lead up. I suppose we went for the ice cream and at some point I pulled out the stuffed animal and pushed it across the Formica counter to her. I do remember she did accept. She carried it around clutched in her chubby fist for the entire night. We went to the dance and stayed until the sun had completely faded and the sky had turned navy. I coaxed her out of the community center and through the groups of boys smoking their parent’s cigarettes in the doorways of retail stores closed for the night. We walked up to the capitol. The grounds meticulously kept and lit with incandescent bulbs in vintage lampposts giving off a warm amber light. The moment had arrived. We stopped in a secluded alcove next to a stone balustrade. The slight breeze coupled with the scent of May flowers left little room for error. I moved in and pressed my mouth on her painted pink iridescent lips. That was it. I doubt I ever saw Betty White again.