Three days before third grade graduation I was swinging on the monkey bars playing the ground is lava with my best friend Nick.
“Stand back, orcs!” I said, kicking my legs as if to ward off our invisible foes.
“Not orcs. Remember we said they were wolves now,” Nick said.
“Right sorry. Stand back wolves. I am Thor god of Thunder!”
“And I am jedi master Obi Wan Kenobi,” Nick said. “Dude behind you. Use your thunder!”
P-chew, p-chew, p-chew!
The wolves had princesses in their teeth and also snapped at our heels while we went back and forth on the rungs. Falling down onto the recycled chunks of rubber tire mulch would mean immediate and certain death. We were trying to outlast one another and hang on longer than the other one could.
“Your hands are slipping,” I said.
“No they’re not,” Nick said.
But our little boy arms could only hang so long.
Meanwhile as we dangled a girl was approaching our side of the playground. Christina Hendricks. Last week she had broken her arm during a game of soccer. Now she looked intent and determined as if she’d worked up something specific to say, and was walking slightly hobbled to one side as she bore the weight of a new blue cast.
“Want to sign my cast?” she said.
We pretended not to notice her.
“Hello, I know you can hear me,” she said.
“We’re playing,” we said.
“It’ll only take a minute,” she said.
“No,” we said.
“I say away she-wolf! Do not mess with Thor god of Thunder or there may be dire consequences. From my right hand come forth bolts of lightning and from my left—”
There was a hard and fast tug on my legs and I found myself on the ground tangled in a heap of my own limbs. Certain death. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Christina said. “I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.” She had jumped up, grabbed onto my waste, and pulled me to the ground.
I sat up genuinely confused. Most of the playground too had gathered around to see what had happened. The best I could think to do was to say something smart and mean to make Christina feel bad for what she’d done, or go straight away and tell a teacher, but before I could say or do anything, she leaned down and kissed me on the corner of my mouth. Half on the cheek and half on the lips. The kids around us gasped. I gasped. She gasped.
“Ugh!” I said, making a show of wiping away the kiss.
My confusion had reached its boiling point. I ostentasiously lowered my head and sighed, signaling defeat and pity and a kind of dutiful gradeschool revulsion. But this was for the crowd. It was all I could come up with in the moment. Secretly, actually, I didn’t feel revulsion. The first part of the one-two punch, being pulled down from the monkey bars, had in those brief seconds pissed me off, yes, but the kiss, um, well, I was feeling pretty ambiguous about that and the bruises forming on my elbows and the rubber mulch in my pants didn’t seem so important now. The kiss itself had actually felt nice but I wasn’t going to let on about that.
Christina also seemed surprised by what she’d done. She put her hand over her mouth, her eyes got big, and she ran away. Hobbling again.
After all this Nick was still hanging from the monkey bars. “Pretty sure this means I win,” he said.
This was the story of my first kiss.
The kiss was a mild controversy at school for the next few days. There were rumors and copycat scenarios and teasing. Whenever Christina was going to pass me in the hall she would turn and walk the other way. I never figured out what she thought or felt about this kiss but if given the chance I’m not sure I would have known how to ask anyway. And quickly all was being forgotten because third grade was ending. There wasn’t much time to think about it.
The buses were pulling away at the end of the last day of school. It was a bright afternoon. Outside the front doors kids were in disorganized groups saying goodbye for the summer and streaming away onto the buses.