It happened at my school on the night of our talent show. In a classroom with my girlfriend Jane Doe, I displayed my talent.
Before our Frenchy-duet before God, Jane performed in the gymnasium before the entire town. She and her cousin wore wedding dresses and danced in slow motion to Bette Midler’s “The Rose.”
My heart was hammering. Not because I thought I might make out with Jane that night, but because I knew I would.
We had discussed it on the phone.
“Should we…?” I said.
“Make out?” she said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“I guess?” she said.
Fate had us firmly in its grasp.
The plan was this: after Jane’s Bette Midler wedding with her cousin, she and I would casually stroll up the eternally-long ramp that led from the gym to the school, find an empty classroom, and educate ourselves.
While I watched Jane dance “The Rose,” I casually reached into my pocket for the “Kiss a little longer” pack of Wrigley’s Big Red gum.
I meant to take only one stick, but I swallowed the first by accident when Bette sang, “far beneath the bitter snows lies the seed…”
The second stick I swallowed as well, but on purpose, thinking spicy freshness might neutralize the poisonous gasses mounting in my terrified core.
I casually jammed 13 additional sticks of gum into my mouth, until the formerly bulging Big Red pack in my pocket was defeated, flaccid, no longer any use to me.
Jane and her cousin drifted from the stage on clouds of enormous applause, and I rallied, leaving my seat in what must have looked like a standing ovation.
Me and my standing ovation hurried to the locker-room hallway to wait for Jane.
She came out of the locker room with her cousin who saw me and looked like she’d seen a ghost, or a trembling youth chewing on a gum-wad the size of a baby’s head. The cousin vanished, leaving Jane to face Fate alone, with me.
I took her hand. Boldly we marched in silence.
The ramp went to the right then turned and went to the left. It served as a balcony of sorts. From it, you could watch the gymnasium’s happenings.
The ramp’s first half was filled with people who had arrived late and had nowhere else to go. They didn’t notice us walking behind them, two frigid explorers heading for the unknown.
The second half of the ramp, though, was filled with kids: little kids; kids our age; and many from the aggressive upper grades.
And somehow, every kid on the second half of the ramp knew exactly what Jane and I were up to. Elbows nudged ribs like falling dominoes as we ascended, and heads turned one after another to watch us pass. The kids grinned. They blew kisses. They mime-groped imaginary friends. They thrust their hips forward and back with such violence they could have dented car doors.
Jane and I strangled one another’s hands as we made it through the sex-gauntlet and into the school, our minds pregnant with dread.
The school’s main hall was wide and empty except for a few forgotten coats on hooks. Even these appeared to know what we were about to do. The ghost children of the coats watched from hollow hoods and seemed to fill the air with vulgar giggles.
Jane and I selected the first classroom on the left. The first-grade room. I don’t know why we turned on the lights, rank after rank of florescent honesty.
Every pimple basked in the limelight.
The darkness pressing its face against the windows was thick as tar and reflected us perfectly, two miserable youths about to rub the innocence off our faces like animals molting against rough surfaces.
Here we go. I swallowed the globe of gum and almost died.
We stood there facing each other in the puritanical florescence, which fluttered slightly, like a facial tick.
I sensed the presence of my first grade teacher in the room. Mrs. Crow. “Dan,” she said in that finger-wagging way of hers, “spell sin.”
“Good,” said the phantom Mrs. Crow, “and very bad.”
“So…” I said.
Then Jane grabbed me.
I think she grabbed me because if she didn’t, we would have run in opposite directions. But we couldn’t. We had a contract. And if we didn’t go through with this, the popular satanic children on the ramp would gnash us with their teeth and cast us into outer darkness.
So we did it.
This, I thought, is very drooly. Lips have no substance. Her face is extremely close. My eyes are open. Her eyes are open. She looks afraid. Do I look afraid? She looks like a cyclops. She looks like a cyclops chewing on my face. Do I look like a scared cyclops chewing on her face?
Then something else happened.
Out of Jane’s mouth came a lukewarm boneless finger. It entered my mouth and swung this way and that, like a worm entering an intimidating cave and performing a show of strength.
My only defense was to launch my tongue in a counter-strike.
Jane and I wet-wrestled like God and Jacob until we both, at the exact same moment, pulled quickly away.
We stared at each other. Surprised. Angry. Disgusted. Lust was a lie. It promised the world in your pants but gave only a ring of slime around your mouth.
“So…” I said.
Right then we created a new contract:
“Never ever shall we do that again, ever, or date anymore.”
We left the classroom, wiping our education on our sleeves.
The cult of perverts on the ramp patted my back and extended their hands for high-fives. The pats were heavy. The fives stung my hand.
I don’t know where Jane went, but I remember walking down the ramp alone.
And I saw my father.
He was standing at the bottom of the ramp, waiting for me, there to pick me up and bring me home. My father, the good man, the guy who imagined he had an innocent, pure son, but was deceived.
“Ready?” he said.
We walked into the outer darkness together, holy father and deviant, prodigal son.
My brother and sister were at home and wanted to know how it went. They knew all about my plan and needed every detail.
We crept into the basement, and under the dull eye and spell of a bare light-bulb, and I told the tale of my greatness.
Later that night, awake in the dark, electrified, I hummed “The Rose,” the new anthem of my confusion.