I was a big reader as a child (surprise!). I couldn't get my hands on enough books, and I read way above my level, in terms of age. So by the time I was eight or so, I was scouring the library shelves for books that were about more than princesses. I read books like Coffee, Tea, or Me when I was ten, and I had no idea what they were talking about half the time. But I could tell when it was sex-related, and I read and reread every passage, scouring each for meaning, as if by concentrating I could figure out what "the rabbit didn't die" meant.
There weren't as many young adult books then, but I remember loving every one that I read. My favorite, Madeleine L'Engle, taught me that nerds could be cool, and even nerds got kissed at fourteen by boys who were smart and almost as cute as she.
So I waited. Eleven, twelve, thirteen. I was terrible at talking to boys. They frightened me. Coming from a family of three daughters, I knew nothing about their culture. I didn't understand their language or their actions, or even their clothes.
Worse, I didn't understand the girls who did. Ellen Riggins could flip her feathered hair and say, "Do you like my friendship pins, Danny?" and Danny Thiess would kick her jellie shoe and laugh as he ran by. This, somehow, was what she was looking for, because by the end of the day, he'd be wearing her friendship pin on his stonewashed jean jacket, and I'd still be trying to figure out where the heck you bought those little beads.
But it was going to get better. I knew it was. I waited to meet him. The cute, smart boy who was going to listen (incredibly) to the shy, quiet girl and see past her thick lenses (shades of Meg Murry) and know that she was the one for him. There were a couple of smart boys in class, but only one who gave me any kind of run for my money. And I wished I could like him. But Sean was the uber-geek, the very Platonic ideal of a nerd. His voice squeaked. His braces shone. He said weird things that weren't funny, and he took it personally when I beat him on the tests.*
My biggest fear? That I would be sweet sixteen and never been kissed. Sixteen Candles came out when I was twelve. John Hughes nailed every one of my fears and brought it out in technicolor. Many people remember that movie fondly, but for me, it played like a horror movie.
Then I was fourteen. No kiss. Then fifteen. Virgin lips. Then sixteen, and desperate.
I went to a church camp, because all kids lose themselves in sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, or religion, and I'd chosen religion. There, I met [oh my god, I just forgot his name. Let's call him Dirk because it was something like that]. Dirk was six foot six, weighed about a hundred and twenty, but he was surfer cute, which to me was godlike.
And he liked me. We held hands at camp. After the week-long camp was done, he wrote to me and invited me to visit him in Bakersfield. My mother, god bless her, put me on the Greyhound bus and sent me that way because she had total trust in me that I wasn't going to get in any trouble. Which I didn't. I was so good it hurt.
However, on one of the two nights I spent in his house (sleeping on the couch in the family room, surrounded by people the size of giants), we sat on the floor cross-legged (it was the only way we could be eye-to-eye). We made the most painful of small-talk. Then he said goodnight and leaned forward.
His lips touched mine.
Instead of thinking of how it felt (cold, wet), I did a victory lap in my brain. I would NOT turn seventeen, unkissed (a fate worse than death, as far as my romantic heart was concerned). It didn't last long, and there was no tongue. It was chaste and sweet.
And even though it was the last kiss I'd get for a year or more, it was enough. I wasn't a total pariah. I'd been kissed.
*Sean kissed me once, just after high school. It was awful. And then he had the gall to send me a letter (these were still the days of letters!) from college saying he'd had some experience, and I wasn't very good at kissing, and I should probably work on it. I think somewhere he's still probably unable to talk to women and mad about it, whereas I got very good at kissing, well, everyone.