I remember the first time I kissed a boy. I was in first grade (floozy!) and huddled with some of my friends on the playground at recess. They dared me to walk up to Jacob Goldman*, tap him on the shoulder, and plant one on him. I don’t remember why first graders were thinking about kissing or why they chose Jacob in particular (proximity? friendly demeanor? gorgeous curls?), I just know that I marched right up to him, interrupted his basketball game and did it. I ran back to my friends, my hand over my mouth in a fit of giggles. Jacob was red cheeked and confused. I felt pretty bad ass. Until I got on the bus at the end of the day.
Mike Prescott, one of Jacob’s friends and one of the boys who was playing basketball with him, caught me in his sights as soon as he got on the bus. He walked up to my sticky green pleather seat and said “You kissed Jacob.” I burst into giggles again, unable to control myself. He seemed less amused and just shook his head. “You know, that’s how you get AIDS.” He walked away and my face dropped.
Now let’s pause for a second to talk about two things 1) this was the very early 90s, when AIDS was basically a death sentence 2) we were too little to know anything about it except that it was really, really scary.
I was convinced I was going to die.
Panic coursed through me. How could I be so stupid?! Why would I kiss a boy? What would my mom say?! I couldn’t tell her. No. I couldn’t tell anyone. They would be furious that I would take such a risk and then they would be so, so sad.
I began assessing my health. I was feeling a little warm. Yes, we were in a crowded school bus and the windows were closed, but maybe it was signs of a fever. My stomach felt funny. I started to sweat. Mike was right. I was dying.
I never told anyone this story, but a few months later—when no horrific symptoms popped up and I still felt like normal—I decided I had dodged a bullet. I was safe. But I had to be very careful. I wouldn’t slip up like that again.
Fast forward a year or two. My family and I are standing outside Yankee Stadium after a baseball game. We’re in some not-so secret place where you can line up and watch the players leave after they shower and put on real people clothes. It’s hot again, and even more crowded than that school bus. We’re standing next to a bunch of people from a group home and they’re very, very excited. One in particular keeps staring at me, clapping his hands in excitement. I notice that he’s drooling a little and some spit sprays from his lips whenever he talks. As the first player emerges, I turn my head involuntarily the moment this guy starts yelling the player’s name. A big drop of spit lands on my lip a fraction of a second before I lick it.
First: ew, ew, eeeeeeew! Then, my stomach drops and a familiar feeling washes over me. Dread. Panic. Anticipation. I had dodged a bullet with Jacob Goldman but there was no way I was lucky enough to do that twice. Again, I took stock of my health. Again I noticed that I was hot and my stomach felt funny. Beads of sweat formed on my lip, right above the spot where the guy’s spit had landed. I was totally going to die.
Spoiler alert: I’m still alive. But those two experiences did sort of sentence me to a life of paranoia. As I grew older I feared AIDS less but STDs in general much, much more. STDs and pregnancy were pretty much at the top of my list of worries—even when I had no reason to fear them because I wasn’t involved in any activities that could lead to either. And I’m 100% certain it all traces back to a stupid dare on the playground that started with giggles and ended with an unrealized death sentence.
So, the next time you’re wondering how I got to be so freaking neurotic, please refer back to this story. And please file all complaints with Mike Prescott.
*not his real name
playground image via Yoshikazu TAKADA
This post is part of my 52 Essays project. This year I have set a goal for myself to write one finished piece every week(ish). I’m not sure what you can expect from them because I’m sort of winging it. Some will be good. Some will be less good. Hopefully you’ll love them. Maybe you’ll hate them. We’ll just have to wait and see. 😉 7/52