The movie is Crocodile Dundee II. I’m 13 years old in the summer of 1988. I’m about to experience two things: My first date and my first kiss.
In the history of first kisses, there has never been one as humiliating or as traumatic as this one.
My best friend Mason meets us in the lobby of the local theater. I’d asked him to join us after Beth — the 8th grader I had asked out — revealed that her friend Katie would be tagging along. It wasn’t so much a set up as it was a buffer situation — Katie and Mason were there to give us someone to talk to besides ourselves. No 13-year-old should be expected to carry on a conversation with their own date; that’s too fucking cruel.
Katie isn’t exactly winning any beauty contests — she’s nearly a foot taller than any other girl in our class, and her perm adds another six inches to her frame. She wears a pair of glasses with lenses thick enough to warrant disclaimers about the dangers of the sun’s rays — you get the feeling that if she looked up on a bright day, her eyeballs would burst into flames.
Mason is wearing a Skid Row T-shirt, suggesting in bold red letters that the Youth has Gone Wild, though standing in the aisles of a movie theater wondering where we are going to sit makes that statement somewhat debatable. It becomes clear, however, that Katie and Beth had had previous discussions about seating arrangements. Katie finds a chair near the back, and Beth chooses the seat directly behind her, beckoning me to sit beside her and abandon Mason to a chair adjacent to Katie. Clearly, she’s selected prime make-out real estate, a hint, perhaps, that we’d soon be conceiving children in the rear of a movie theater.
I am mostly thankful for the presence of Mason and Katie, though it’s difficult to get a word in edgewise while the previews play. Katie keeps turning around to talk to Beth. Actually, scratch that: She keeps turning around to giggle with Beth — hardly a word is exchanged, though there seems to be some secret Morse code hidden within the laughter that I’m unable to decipher. Mason, for his part, looks utterly miserable, and says as much with an expression he keeps flashing, which looks a bit like he’s trying to cough up an organ an offer it to Katie to choke on.
Once the movie begins and the lights dim, the girls’ snickering finally ceases, and I find myself missing the comfort of it. I realize that, for first time in our relationship — which had mostly consisted of standing next to each other at our lockers in between classes — Beth and I are alone, if you can call sitting beside one another in a crowded theater alone. It’s kind of terrifying, actually.
The fact is, I have no fucking idea what to do in this situation — is there an appropriate way to sit on a date? Aren’t I supposed to brush my hand against hers while reaching for popcorn? Put an arm around her shoulders and cop a feel? I dunno. Fuck. But, wait — she bought the popcorn. Do I have implicit permission to eat from the tub? Oh God. I’d really like to go home now — dating, dates, women. It’s not worth it. I miss Kelly LeBrock from my Lady in Red videotape at home, goddamnit. Our relationship is so uncomplicated; Kelly expects so little from me and the only thing I ask of her is to remove that sheet just long enough to allow me to hit the pause button. I’d kill for a pause button right now.
About halfway through Crocodile Dundee II, I slowly move my hand toward my right knee, hoping Beth will take the initiative and grab hold, take my fingers for a spin. I’m reluctant to turn my head, so I don’t even know if she’s noticed the placement of my hand and, besides, my palms are starting to sweat.
Now, Beth is slowly inching a hand toward her left knee; our hands are less than six inches away from each other.
A few minutes pass, and I think: Fuck it. I should grab her hand. But then I backtrack, wondering what would happen if I missed? What if I am sucked into the vortex of her skirt — what if I overshoot and accidentally guide my paw into her crotch? Oh, that’d just be swell, wouldn’t it? When I try to explain to my therapist ten years from now why I’ve been single for a decade, she’d never believe it was because my hand got caught in my girlfriend’s vagina on my first ever date.
I take a deep breath, wipe my hands on my pants leg once more to remove any excess clamminess and think: Here we go. I reach for her hand, interlocking our fingers in one sudden, clumsy movement. Weird. It feels really nice. Her hand is cold, but it radiates warmth, like a cold fever. I squeeze my hand around hers a little, and she squeezes back, and I think: I bet this is how people used to communicate before language came along — hand squeezes.
“Thanks for inviting me out,” I say with a hand squeeze, and she returns another, which feels like, “I could hold your hand 4Evah!” Each time she clutches, I grip her palm a little tighter. My knuckles begin to turn white. I’m reluctant to release the pressure, though; what if she takes her hand away? What if my hold on her hand is the only thing keeping her from running?
Damn. She’s got a ring that is digging into palm.
Then: Beth turns toward me. She has blue eyes that glow in the dark. Her hair hangs over one eye. I can feel the warmth of her breath, which smells of popcorn and chocolate. Dear God: I adore her. She looks at me hesitantly. She’s going to say something. She’s about to profess her undying love. Tell me how great I look tonight. Put into words everything she has ever thought about me, our relationship, and our future together.
“Yes, Beth,” I say, struggling to maintain my composure.
“I’m sorry, but can you not hold my hand so tight.”
Kill me. Kill me now. “Oh, sorry. No problem,” I say.
Yep. I’m awesome. Get some of me. I can’t even hold a girl’s hand without cutting off her goddamn circulation. A few more minutes of that and I suspect her hand would’ve broken off at the wrist — and how would I explain a bloody stump to her mother? “Sorry, Beth’s mom. It was just that … well, I really didn’t want to let go.”
Now, with my fingers only loosely commingled into hers, I can feel my palms perspire, and I can only imagine what she’s thinking right now. Probably that I’m a sweaty-palmed, stalker douchebag. She probably can’t wait for the date to end, so she can call the authorities. Have me thrown into the pokey. She’s terrified, isn’t she? I’ve scared the bejesus out of my girlfriend. This is fantastic.
I’ve been staring at Crocodile Dundee II for half an hour, and I have no idea what is going on.
When I finally manage the courage to turn my head, to ensure that Beth isn’t actually crying because I’d stopped blood flow to her hand, something weird happens. Her face hurdles toward mine, like a comet with hair. Oh God, I think — what the fuck? She’s pouncing. I’m the pouncee. Her mouth — it’s cavernous, wide open and hollow, a tongue plunging its way toward my lips. What am I? A fucking light socket? Holy shit! What am I going to do? I’m being attacked — she hates me. She’s trying to bite my head off. Oh Lord.
I open my jaws just in time to accept hers.
I feel her top row of teeth smash into mine — a mid-air collision. Tears spontaneously erupt around my eyelids. It hurts. It hurts like nothing I’ve ever felt before. A deep, pulsating, bitter shock of pain.
In the time it takes me to realize what’s going on, I come quickly to my senses. I must struggle on — save this moment. I can’t just let my first kiss end here, I have to hold my lips against hers until … until … I can figure out what to do next. Beth seems unfazed, though it’s hard to tell with my eyes closed. All I can feel is a tongue searching around my oral cavity, as though it’s looking for little tiny missing people hidden in the roof of my mouth. It’s not entirely unpleasant, though it is a little on the wet side. I feel saliva building up around my bottom lip — please don’t let it drip. Please, please — I’ll never masturbate again. Oh gawd — there it goes, pooling at the edge of my chin and dripping onto my shirt. Beth’s tongue is fumbling around in my maw while a strand of drool hangs like a snot-loogy from my chin.
Her tongue is still snaking around my mouth; I flick mine at hers, like a frog trying to catch a fly. Could she possibly like that? Shit — is there something in my mouth? There’s something floating around, like a tic-tac, or a tiny kernel of popcorn — please don’t let her find it. Nononononono. Please don’t let her find it.
I pull away before her tongue makes the discovery, thinking this is a nice stopping point anyway. It takes half a second, but Beth’s face retreats, her lips close, and her eyes pop open like the automated doors of grocery store. Her irises are alight. Beth wipes the back of her palm across her chin demurely as possible. Great. She’s bathing in my saliva.
“Twenty-two seconds,” I hear an almost inaudible whisper. I look up, and Katie’s head is turned back toward us. She is smiling like a goddamn crazy woman. I want to punch her in the face. Mason is trying to stifle a laugh. I’d gladly give a dollar to see him suffer a million deaths.
When the credits roll, Beth jumps up and steps over me before I can remove myself from the seat. She’s practically running out of the theater; Katie is close behind. When I reach the lobby, Beth is standing at the door. “Call me tonight,” she says. She smiles timidly, hiding her hand over her mouth. She opens the door and disappears out into the street with Katie.
“Twenty-two seconds, man,” Mason says, as I return my attention to the lobby. “How was it?
I reach two fingers into my mouth and pull out a tiny seed of what I can only imagine is enamel. I wince. “I think I chipped her tooth,” I shrug.
Mason is now doubled over on the floor of the lobby. He’s in the fetal position. People are walking over him toward the concession stand, but he can’t bring himself to stand up. If he doesn’t stop laughing soon, he’ll run out of breath and suffocate.
It’ll be small consolation, I suppose.