Monday, March 4, 2013

Day 4: A Childhood Memory

The original prompt for today said my "best childhood memory", but that's a difficult thing to narrow down to a single event. There are lots of them that fit in the category and, although I hope someday to write about them all (for there is much in my past that makes for entertaining storytelling), I don't have the time today to do more than one. I'll share one that doesn't get told all that often.

My friends and I were out playing football one Saturday in early fall. This is when I was in the sixth grade. Actually, there weren't enough of us to play actual football that day, so we were playing that game where someone calls points out and then kicks the ball and the others try to catch it. We called it Dead or Alive, but there's a name for that game nowadays that's more politically correct. Anyway, as was often the case, the game was played start-and-stop, with frequent intermissions for wrestling, tag, trips home for food or bathroom use, and myriad other activities. When you're a sixth grade boy, there's not a lot that doesn't require frequent intermissions.

During one such break, the five of us were sitting in the grass talking and the conversation made its way around to girls. I don't remember what specific words we used, but the dialog went along these lines:

"So, what do you guys think of Colleen?"

"She's nice! I'd kiss her all right!" (This is me)

[Raucous laughter and several minutes of cajoling and mocking about who might do what first and how far we'd go.]

"You should ask her out."

"Are you kidding? She's in the eighth grade! That's two whole years of difference!"

[Silence as we collectively ponder this social injustice. No enlightenment takes place, and the conversation starts over at the beginning.]

"You should ask her out."

[I give a shrug of resignation and a look of defeat. This signals the quintessential boy prompt.]

"Dare you."

Now, it must be communicated that, at this time in history worldwide, there was an unspoken but immutable rule about The Dare: You could not back down from one without losing face and being the subject of ridicule. Boys everywhere around the world understood this. It was every bit as much a truth as that of gravity, or that if you were responsible for the ball landing in the poison ivy, you had to go and get it.

[Hesitation and squirming on my part...]


Now I'm on the hook. I have just accepted a dare. I am, from this point forward, marked as "on a dare", which is synonymous to "on a quest ". There is no backing out, no option except to move forward. We went back to playing football.

On Monday, Colleen is at the bus stop along with the regular crowd. I act like it's a normal day, but it's anything but that because, by this time, word has spread and there's a subtle air of anticipation among all the kids who take the bus about when (or if) the dare will be fulfilled. Bets are taken. Vegas odds are set. Grids with days and times are made.

"I've got Wednesday, 3pm - 4pm for 2 dollars! Who wants it?"

I know all this is going on, but I ignore it. I've got my own problems. I have to find a way to ask out an 8th grader without looking like a complete dork, and have her actually say yes. This is the only outcome that brings me through the gauntlet unscathed. It is a ridiculous task, and made even more so by two facts:

1. I am, in fact, a complete dork.

2. Colleen is, by any middle school standard, smoking hot.

Fortunately, my quixotic endeavor is not without some support. My best friend, my Sancho Panza, lends support in a variety of ways. He paves the way to my asking by extolling my virtues to everyone on the bus.

"You know, Wayfarer scored a goal in his soccer game last weekend, and it was the winner."

"Wayfarer speaks Spanish. Did you know that?"

"If you need help in math, you should ask Wayfarer. He got an A last year."

He even figured out where Colleen stood on the matter. Not that he asked her directly, of course. That would be counterproductive. He asked her friend, Janelle.

"Janelle says that if you ask her, she'll say yes."

No pressure or anything.

By Friday morning, I've stopped eating everything except my fingernails and there hasn't been REM sleep in days. I can't stand it any longer. I arrive at the bus stop earlier than usual. My mom thought it was odd, but parents back then did pay much attention to the goings on of kids so she didn't question it when I told her I wanted to be the first person there. If she had, I'm pretty sure I would have imploded.

Colleen and Janelle are always among the earliest arrivals at the stop and, when Janelle sees that I am there, she very graciously moves off to talk to someone else. Looking back on it, I honestly don't remember approaching Colleen. When I try to recall that moment, the only thing that comes to mind is the fact that I must have looked like a nerd. A scared stupid nerd. A scared stupid nerd trying to sound nonchalant.

"Hey, Colleen."

Best opening line ever.

"So, I was wondering. Would like to go see a movie or something this weekend, 'cause it'd be fun."

Turning on the charm real high.


It took every ounce of willpower not to sound like Marty McFly when she said that. I almost asked her to repeat it, just to be sure. Instead, I managed a more sedate reply.'


We worked out the details on the bus. Sancho Panza and I would pick her and Janelle up at Colleen's house and we'd walk to the movie theater. Friends had to be involved. There were rules of propriety back then, and this was the only way it would get parental approval. Also, we had to be home by 9pm. All this was ok by me, as long as my mom didn't go. The embarrassment factor would have been too much.

There was only one movie playing (there was no such thing as a Cineplex then). Prisoner of Zenda, starring Peter Sellers. I don't remember any of it. I spent the whole movie focusing on trying to stop grinning like an idiot and figuring out whether I should put my arm around her or not. I decided not.

As we were walking home, Sancho sidles up to me and, in a voice just low enough for me alone to hear, whispers to me.

"You should kiss her."

It was dark, but I'm sure he saw my eyebrows go up.

"I dar..."


But it was out there. Plus, I kinda wanted to, she being smoking hot and all. This was uncharted territory, though. I'd never kissed a girl before. I'd seen it done enough times--in movies, on TV. Hell, even parents smooched in front of us kids. Yet, when it came right down to it, they weren't me. They weren't walking the hottest girl I knew back from the movies, after not even trying to put an arm around her.

Not quite knowing what else to do, I walked up to Colleen and linked her arm to mine. We were the same height, so it happened naturally. Thank the gods. I'm not sure I could have handled the complication of a height difference. We talked about small stuff for a time, and I noticed that we were pretty much alone on the sidewalk.

"I hope you enjoyed the movie."

"I did! Thanks for taking me."

[Nerdy giggle on my part, then a pause.]

"Can I kiss you?"

That's me, a champion of the subtle.

"That would be quite nice."

And so I did. To this day, I can remember that kiss with complete, absolute clarity. I don't know that it lasted very long--maybe ten seconds--but the universe was kind enough to make that time pass so very, very slowly. Exquisitely slowly.

A nice memory, even all these years later. What do you remember fondly from your childhood?

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