First Kiss—First Lesson
The night of my first real kiss was also the night of the worst fight I ever had with my mother. I'd had my eye on Jon Glass forever, and suddenly out of nowhere I spied him at the party that my best friend, Lara, and I had finally gathered the courage to stop by. The guy throwing the party lived in a skinny brick house on a crazy steep hill in San Francisco. Light from the kitchen and a streetlight down the block spilled into the little backyard garden, not quite reaching the corner where Jon was standing in a cluster of people. I was wearing my favorite pink shirt and Levi's with patches I'd sewn onto the knees. Lara smoothed my hair and told me to smile and pushed me out the door of the kitchen and into the garden. The next thing I knew, Jon and I were talking and then we were the only people still in the garden and then we were leaving the party together and walking hand in hand up and up the steep street and then we kissed and I felt like I was living someone else's life, I was so happy.
The party was only a couple of blocks from my school, so I knew the streets we walked along as well as I knew the ones in my own neighborhood. But as I held Jon's hand and we walked and stopped and kissed, I felt like I was seeing the houses and the trees and the world for the first time. In a way I felt as if I were seeing Jon for the first time. Like, before he was just this guy—okay, a very nice guy with amazing pale blue eyes who helped me with my calculus homework and played soccer as if he were born with cleats on his feet—but now here he was picking me a flower off a tree in someone's front yard. We meandered to a nearby park and sat on the swings and looked at the stars. Of course I lost track of time as we roamed around, and when Jon finally dropped me off at my house, the sky was starting to turn light blue and pink with the dawn.
My key had barely hit the lock on the front door when my mother pulled it open and said in her most dangerous and quiet voice, "Where is he?" Just like that—deadpan. Each word equally weighted, equally heavy: "Where is he?" I stood on the stoop in the early-morning spring cold, yearning to bolt the 10 feet—so close, so far—between me and the safety of my room.
I tried to play dumb. "Who are you talking about, Mom?"
But she just stood there blocking the doorway—hands on hips, face contorted with anger—and said: "You're untrustworthy, you're irresponsible, and you're a disappointment."
Later that day, Lara told me my mom had freaked out and called her at home in the middle of the night. Lara didn't have any idea where I'd gone after I left the party, but she tried to cover for me by saying she was sure I was fine; after all, I was just hanging out with Jon. But that just made my mother worry more ("Jon? Who is Jon?"), and by the time I got home, her worry and stress and churning imagination—combined with her fatigue and relief that I was home safely (no longer wandering the streets in the middle of the night with some strange boy)—finally boiled over, and she exploded at me. I was so shocked at her harsh reaction—shouldn't she be happy that I was actually safe and would no longer have to cope with the shame of never having kissed a boy?—that I screamed right back at her and, after she let me in off the stop, I slammed my door and flung myself face down on my bed and cried and cried at the grand injustice that was my life.
The next morning at breakfast, I could barely eat. My mom didn't yell anymore—she just told me I couldn't go to the formal citywide dance I'd been looking forward to for months. So I didn't yell anymore, either. I just got up from the table and went to my room and called Lara and made plans to have her pick me up for the dance at 7 P.M. that Friday. I didn't care what my mother said. I was going anywhere.
The week passed perfectly pleasantly. I went to school, I raced home in time to see Days of Our Lives, I fussed around pretending to study, my mom got home late from work, we ate spaghetti and salad, and I silently cleared the table without her asking. When Friday night rolled around, I gathered my formal dress and my favorite heels and my stockings and shoved them into a bag. Then, as soon as the headlights from Lara's car swept into my window as she swung into the driveway, I slipped out the front door and softly pulled it closed behind me. Free.
Jon didn't show up at the dance but some other cute boys did, and a couple of them talked to me and I was complimented on my purple silk dress and my purple suede shoes and I made sure to stand next to Lara, who looked stunning in something backless and red and short.
But I was so racked with guilt for having taken it out on my mother that I just couldn't have the time of my life like I'd anticipated. Afterward, I was scared to go home and face the music, so Lara and I just drove the dark streets of San Francisco aimlessly, with the radio on way too loud, and ended up eating slightly stale muffins at Dunkin' Donuts with a couple of worn-out cops who looked at us like we were crazy delinquents for not being home in bed at such a late hour.
I finally went home and crept under the covers, and in the morning my mother looked upset and didn't really talk to me. In fact, she hadn't really talked to me since our big fight. I guess she didn't know what to do, so she put me on the phone with my father, who was living in Los Angeles at the time. He didn't lose his temper. He just asked, "Why didn't you talk to her about it? Ask her again if you could go to the dance? Tell her you were sorry you were late? Call when you knew you'd be out with Jon?" In other words, why didn't I just think about what I was doing and realize my actions affected other people?
Uh, good question. And I wish I could say that I had a big talk with my mother right after I got off the phone with my father, but I didn't. And the situation got worse before it got better.
The next time I saw Jon outside of school was when I walked into a party just in time to see him disappear into a bedroom with another girl. Her name was Michele, and she was a year younger than me and had a reputation for going too far with too many people. Standing there in the middle of some stranger's sunken living room where people were dancing. I started crying. In a burst of boldness, Lara tried the door of the room Jon and Michele occupied ("I'll interrupt them, and then he'll feel bad and come out," she promised)—but the door was locked. I had lost him. I had never had him.
While I sat in another bedroom and cried and imagined what the two of them were doing together, girls from the party came in and sat with me and told me raunchy men-are-jerks jokes. ("A man asked a genie to make him a billion times smarter than any other man on earth. The genie turned him into a woman.") Eventually, after Jon had finally emerged from the locked bedroom, I confronted him by a swing set in the backyard and made him tell me to my face that he was sorry.
I listened to him say that he didn't want a girlfriend and had a problem with commitment, and I listened to the litany of crimes against his soul: his parents' divorce, the death of his dog, the difficulty of his chemistry class, living in the shadow of his older brother. All the excuses he used to forgive himself for harming me. Everything he said seemed pretty lame and beside the point, to tell the truth. In fact, what he offered wasn't an apology at all, and it didn't make me feel any better because nothing really could. (Although, I must admit, I was not unhappy the next week at school when all the girls snubbed Jon because they knew everything that had happened. And I was willing to listen when his cousin cornered me in an empty classroom and told me that she thought I was too cool for him anyway.)
So things with Jon obviously didn't end perfectly or even anywhere near how I would have liked, but at least I tried to settle things with him and gave him the benefit of listening to his side of the story. It kills me that I cornered Jon—who had betrayed me—and made him talk to me, but I never even gave my mom that chance. So how could I expect her to understand what was at stake for me in staying out late that night, in going to the dance? I owed her—and she owed me—a conversation. But that meant we each would have to articulate what we wanted, we each would have to deal with the other person's needs, and at the time I thought I couldn't deal.
A conversation is a slippery creature. A conversation is a risk. A real conversation changes the people who have it. It's about exchanging ideas, considering other opinions, shifting positions. That's why conversations are so difficult: You risk changing yourself, admitting you were wrong, coming to appreciate the other person's perspective. My mother and I were afraid to have an honest conversation because then she would have to admit her daughter was no longer a baby, was old enough to kiss a boy, wanted to kiss boys. And I would have to admit I was wrong not to call. That I was way later coming home than I'd ever been before. That even though I wanted to kiss boys, I still needed my mom.
Sometimes the whole story replays in my mind like a movie, and I know exactly what to do. Outside by the swing set, I calmly tell Jon how hurt I am, how I feel that he misled and betrayed me, and that I'm sorry about all the stuff he's been through in his life, but it's really no excuse for the way he acted. And instead of being silent at breakfast, I tell mom how sorry I am to make her worry, but I also tell her why I like Jon so much. I describe how he sits next to me in history class and leans over and doodles on the edgy of my notebook and how his shoes are always scuffed and his socks almost never match, and my mom and I laugh together. I mean, what mom's heart isn't going to melt when you tell her about a guy who saves you a seat in class and waves as the boys' soccer team runs by the girls' practice field? And in the new movie, I listen to my mom's side of the story and try to see the situation from her point of view.
It's not like I just settle for everything she tells me, either. When she says that I can't go to the dance, I persist. Ask again. Think about why she says I can't go, reevaluate the situation using my new understanding of where she's coming from, revise my approach and ask again. When it comes out in our conversation that she doesn't think I deserve to go out because I rarely help out around the house, I do extra chores and ask again. Bring home an A on a tough test and ask again.
What I really wanted in the end wasn't Jon, specially—obviously, he turned out to be a jerk—but the kind of life where Jon was possible, where my mom wouldn't freak out when I missed curfew where I could go out with boys without causing a major crisis. And what my mother ultimately wanted wasn't a slave daughter who blindly obeyed her every rule, but a daughter she could rely on and trust and not stay up half the night worrying about. And what I know now is this: If my mom and I had done that deceptively simple thing, talking, negotiating, compromising until we agreed on a set of privileges, then we both would have gotten something we wanted.
(from Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul)