By David Berry: (Note: This is a small part of a bigger project you’ll see coming soon. So, eat your heart out)
After sixth grade, I didn’t have a girlfriend again until I was a sophomore. But once I found her, I felt like the baddest mother fucker in the school (okay, that’s not something I would’ve said then, but in hindsight, re-assuming my naïve teenage arrogance, that’s probably how I felt).
Her name was Tara; she was a freshman who hadn’t gone to the same middle school as most of us. All the guys my age noticed her. She was a unicorn brunette with light blue eyes and a great body. Shy, too, and therefore every part the coquettish lass I thought I wanted in a girl at that point in my life.
Now let’s pause there for a second. Here’s where I start to cringe as I recall that point in my life. Outwardly, I was finally starting to get my life in order. I started saving my money from mowing lawns and manning the drive-thru window at Burger King to buy cool clothes, which in 1999 was pretty much anything that ‘N’SYNC or Backstreet Boys would wear.
That meant khaki pants and turtleneck sweaters, or button down shirts underneath V-neck sweaters. Or jeans and low top boots and maybe a long-sleeved t-shirt from American Eagle. Plus, I styled my hair like Ross from Friends, which was the cool guys haircut at that time. Gelled and combed forward, slightly messy, with the front tips popped up. I guess what I’m trying to say is that in Rochester, NY at the turn of the new century, I was squeezing every ounce out of my talent.
I mention all of this not to convince you that I was on the cusp of becoming one of the cool kids in high school, but because it created a comical juxtaposition between what I was starting to look like and who I was.
I don’t know how I convinced Tara to be my girlfriend, but I had. And she probably thought I was one of the cooler guys at school, maybe because I was starting to look the part, but I was so far from it. I had never even held a girl’s hand, let alone kissed a girl on the lips. But the possibility of these things taking place became very real once she became my girlfriend.
Tara and I primarily dated at school, like most early high schoolers did. We’d talk on the phone at night – on a landline, the horror – and then catch up in the lunchroom or between classes in the hallway. But if I was going to step my game up, I had to make some moves. Toy Story 2 came out in November of that year, and I asked her if she’d like to go to the movies with me to see it.
Let’s keep in mind that going to the movies isn’t a simple task for a 15-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl. I needed my parents to take me there, first of all. But she couldn’t get a ride there that night, so my parents had to pick her up too.
So I had to coordinate schedules and even map out the route to her house (this is before the era of GPS, in a town without numbered streets). Finally, the evening arrived, and we picked her up on time as scheduled. There we were in the back of my mom’s van, sitting uncomfortably still, making awkward small talk because I literally had no idea what to do with a girlfriend.
Everything I’d learned, up to that point, was pretty much from Boy Meets World. So, I assumed that you just did cute things for them like write them notes and get them flowers, tell them they’re pretty or maybe make them a cassette mixtape of songs you recorded off the radio. Or take them to the movies and you make out with them. Or French them or whatever.
Long story short, if Cory Matthews did it with Topanga Lawrence, it was happening.
We got dropped off at the movie theater and the next thing I know, or that I’m fully aware of, is the two of us sitting in the theater waiting for Buzz and Woody to appear on screen. Next to each other, not really saying anything because I still didn’t really know what to say to girls, even though I had a living, breathing one right next to me.
Were they like Tamagotchis? Did I just feed her and play mini games with her?
Minutes passed. The movie began and the theater lights dimmed. Then, I reached over and did the most horrifying thing I had ever done – I grabbed her hand and took it in mine, and we held hands. For the first time, ever.
If getting to first base is kissing, this was like walking out of the dugout and standing in the batter’s box. I liked it. A lot. It was the first real physical intimacy that I’d had with a girl that lasted longer than an awkward hug.
But to stick with my batter’s box analogy, you can’t just stand in there and look at pitches all day. Holding hands is like the starting point when you’re seated at the movie theater. Duh, every teenager knows that. I thought of putting my arm around her – maybe even fake yawning, lifting my arms and draping one over her like Shawn Hunter did with girls in Boy Meets World. Or maybe I could touch her arm, but like, what would be the point?
The options were paralyzing. I stayed put. I have only a vague idea of what happened in the movie – Woody got stolen and separated from the gang and the rest is a blur.
All told, I held her hand for about an hour and ten minutes. Do you know what happens when two people’s body parts stay on top of one another for 70 uninterrupted rotations of a clock? They sweat; ooze almost.
But in my very real life story, I hadn’t had the balls to kiss Tara, and I instead found myself trying to pry – or slide, rather – my moisture-riddled paw from hers. And I had to do so without needing to bring out a ‘Caution: Wet Floor’ sign. If I could link up with 15-year-old me from that night, I’d whoop his ass, throw a hand towel at him, then kick him in the shins.
It got worse. Now that the movie was over, my dad was outside to pick us up, and there were literally five minutes between the movie’s end and the time that we’d be outside and leaving the theater for good.
If I was going to kiss her, it had to be now. But how! In that moment, I was floored by the sweeping truth that men had kissed women – on the lips! – for thousands and thousands of years. How had they done it? What was their secret?
Shit. We were almost toward the exit of the theater, filing out behind a flood of jacket-clad strangers. The cold breeze of winter air hit us in the face as moviegoers opened the theater doors and exited into the parking lot. I stopped and turned to her. She stopped and faced me as well.
“That was really fun!” I said, while meaning “I can’t believe I just left 70 minutes of water on your hands and I really want to kiss you but I’m suchhhhhh a bitch and…”
Somehow, I leaned in toward her. My feet stayed planted but my upper torso went forward, or I compelled it to. I closed my eyes as I got closer to her. Horrifying. And then suddenly, I kissed her. She kissed me back. Boom. A pop kiss, lightning fast. Then we immediately stepped back into our safe zones.
Holy shit what just happened? I smiled at her with whatever bravado I had just gained from kissing her, and then reached down to her now-dry hand and strolled out with just our fingers intertwined this time (not a full hand-on-hand grip, as it had been inside the theater) and we were off to walk the extra hundred feet to the van. But I had done it. I had kissed a girl. On the lips!
I got home, parked myself in my bedroom and celebrated quietly, privately. I smiled ear to ear and, quite literally, glowed. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror on the back of my bedroom door, tilted my chin up slightly, and silently spoke affirmations to myself: “You’re the shit, David Berry.” But somewhere in the back of my mind later that night was the voice of an 11-year-old asking me, “so, did you French her?”
I hadn’t. I wanted to. And I’d decided that I would. Next time. Definitely next time…