I was 16. It was Sunday night, and the Methodist youth group meeting was winding down, and we were playing Sardines or Hide and Seek all around the sprawling church. At the far end of the education building was a stairwell, and in the stairwell, in the dark, he pushed me up against the wall and kissed me.
Somehow I had it in my mind that being kissed like that meant something. I lived in the fairy-tale world in which every princess needs a prince to validate her existence. Surely a boy who grabs you and kisses you is validating you, right? Because it’s the attention that counts…
I remember that moment vividly, the rush of adrenaline and the narration in my head: “He must like me, he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t like me. It’s good to have a boy like me.”
It sounds so pitiful, but that was the story I told myself every time a boy kissed me. It was supposed to be enough that he wanted to; I should be glad to receive the validation, the proof that I was alive and worthy of attention.
His mouth tasted like cigarettes and orange candy, because he didn’t want his mother to know he smoked. I certainly didn’t want my mother to know I was kissing boys in the dark stairwell at church, either.
We drove home in the back of the youth leader’s station wagon, and he never talked to me. We never ever talked about it again.
I found it puzzling, but pretty soon after that I embarked on the relationship I would have for the end of high school and most of college, with a boy who pursued me until I gave in because, well, “He must like me, he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t like me. It’s good to have a boy like me.”
It never occurred to me that what I liked or wanted had anything to do with anything. My job was to be desired.
And not to let it go too far.
(Part the first. Which is to say, more to come.)