Snickering. Chortling here.
I was checking my stats a few days ago and noticed that there was a huge jump in my readership (more than two thousand!) in my last blog post.
And then....DOH! It hit me. Sex sells, dudes. Sex sells. Have the word SEX anywhere in your title and you are going to get hits. So, why not do it again? And hell...why not take on more sex topics, or well....sexish ones. It's good for the spirit, much better than sitting around today remembering those planes hitting the towers.
So...let's talk about high school romance. No. Not sex. I didn't have sex until my freshman year of college. But, sweet baby jesus, we came close. And we did just about everything else that could be done without actual penetration. And I'm talkin' straight hetero sex, peoples. I didn't act on all those bisexual (ZING!! That word is good for another 200 readers right there! Of course, they all live in damp basements and play video games all day long....) feelings in high school.
We should start my freshman year of high school. Picture a young Maria. Pretty but I don't know it. Actually, I look back on those photos of myself and am a bit stunned because lawdy Miss Clawdy, I was one nubile looking girl. My hair was at its glossiest in high school, my teeth straight and white (thanks to two years of braces and farm well water), I was just about the perfect weight...not too fat, not too skinny and curvy. Very curvy in a way that I lost when I hit 35. I had perfect porcelain skin, was one of those lucky kids who didn't get pimples. A spattering of freckles across my nose. Hell, I was already well on my way to my nickname in college: the milkmaid.
There sits Maria at her first boy-girl party, put on in the basement of one of the popular girls, Judy Guzman. Maria is not one of the popular girls, she is in the smart girl group. The girls with glasses group. The Hermione Granger set. But, this is a small town in Iowa, folks. There are only 20 in the freshman class, so everyone is invited to the party.
Music is playing. A few brave girls dance together. The boys stand in a clump off to one side, horsing around with each other. A lamp will eventually break and Judy's mother will embarrass her to tears by insisting that the boy who broke it pay for it out of his lawnmowing money.
The other girls stand and sit in tittering pink groups.
Finally, one of the boys suggests that we play a game called Spin the Bottle. The group decides that this is a splendid idea and it is decreed that Judy's mother's sewing room/guest room will be the designated room. Judy tiptoes up to the top of the basement steps to carefully shut the door so that her mother won't interfere.
Maria is nervous. She has never heard of Spin the Bottle. Because she is just naive like that. She decides not to say anything and fervently hopes that perhaps this is one of those listen and learn games. She observes closely.
Everyone sits in a circle on the floor. A pepsi bottle is placed in the center. Judy gives it a spin. It lands on Ellen Eugene. Ellen is a dark haired popular girl with huge pop bottle glasses that she only wears when she absolutely has to. Without the glasses, she looks like a young Crystal Gayle. With them, she looks like a female toad. Ellen smiles calmly. She obviously is comfortable with this game.
The bottle spins and keeps landing on girls. It keeps going until it eventually lands on Tommy Wall, a serious boy who lives on a farm and has acne. Ellen sighs but smiles gamely. Tommy's face is beet red but he leaps up as if he won a prize.
Ellen and Tommy go into the sewing room and the lock clicks on the door after they shut it. Judy sets a kitchen timer to 7 minutes. Everyone hovers next to the door, ears pressed against it, listening. Some giggling is heard. A thump. A few boys guffaw. That seems to be it. Everyone goes back and sits down and there is a short discussion about the next town over and their baseball team. Are they good enough to beat us? Judy, who is a jv cheerleader, reminds the other cheerleaders to wear their new tops to practice this week.
The timer breeeennnnngs loudly.
Ellen and Tommy emerge. Both are disheveled looking. Ellen looks slightly bored. Tommy looks stunned and pleased.
We all sit down and the bottle is spun again. This happens two more times and Maria notices the same results. The couple goes into the room. Sometimes there is silence, other times theatrical moans and laughs. But the end result is always the same. The couple emerge looking messy and breathless.
Maria decides that she knows what is going on in that sewing room/guest room.
She finds this unnerving. Maria is extremely ticklish and like most ticklish people, does not enjoy being tickled. It is a painful thing for her and an almost hellish experience because you laugh when you want to cry when you are being tickled. She detests being tickled. DETESTS it. She sighs. Hopes that perhaps the game will stall out before she is picked or that there will not be enough time to get to her.
She is picked the next round.
Her partner is Ben Nathanson. Maria likes Ben. Not in a crushy way but in a friendly way. Ben is one of the popular boys and he is the only boy in a couple situation already. He and Judy are the freshman class' one and only genuine couple. They sit together whenever possible and hold hands a lot. They have spectacular fights that usually end up with Judy crying in the girl's bathroom on the shoulder of her best friend, Patsy Matthieson while Ben ends up apologizing for whatever he did several times across a lunch room table until she forgives him, her tear streaked face pink and sweetly Melanie Wilkesish.
Ben does Maria's Math homework and Maria does Ben's English homework. They trade in the mornings and have never been caught. Ben makes a few Maria-like errors in math to keep their teacher clueless and Maria returns the favor by writing out an extra English paper using her right hand (she is left handed naturally) so that the handwriting is untraceable. Plus, she puts in a few spelling and grammar errors.
This has worked for them since seventh grade and will prove to be so all through high school. The end result is that Ben will never have read Shakespeare but get a C+ in the class and Maria will always be hopelessly bad at algebra and barely pass with a C- because she does well on the homework, but tends to fail at the tests. Her Math teacher will think she just tests badly. Ben will be luckier as he has a brother in college who gets him Cliffs notes for the English tests.
So, now Ben and Maria stand up and face each other. Judy is jealous and shows it with her face screwing up into a siamese cat expression as she warns Ben to behave yourself! She doesn't bother saying anything to Maria. Maria is low on her radar. Judy doesn't hang out with the bookish girls, although she is not above asking them to help her roll up her school uniform skirt since regulations say that it must hit the girl's knees, but most girls roll their skirts at least two inches higher.
Ben holds the door open for Maria. A few boys make stupid wolfish noises as they enter. Ben closes the door and locks it.
He turns to face Maria who is sitting nervously on the twin bed. Maria, like most ticklish people, watches his hands fearfully as he moves towards her, twitching nervously at his every move. Ben notices this and frowns a bit, unsure.
Later, he will tell her that he was flummoxed by her skittishness. "I wondered what the hell was wrong, why you seemed so terrified. I really, really wanted to kiss you but was afraid you would wig out, so I decided that I should just treat you....welll....like a chicken that you must calm before you chop off her head," he will tell her and they will both laugh uproariously at this comparison.
Ben stands in front of Maria and says softly, "I'm not going to hurt you, okay?"
Maria laughs nervously and tells him that OH! No. She isn't worried about that! It's just that well, okay, he might as well know that she is seriously ticklish and doesn't much enjoy being tickled.
There is a silence as Ben wonders what the fuck that means. He finally smiles a slow, so-sexy-but-he-doesn't-know-how-recklessly-hot-he-looks-when-he-flashes-that-Edward-Cullen-smile. He holds up his hands like a traffic cop.
"No tickling, I promise," he tells her solemnly.
Maris sighs gratefully.
Ben sits down gently next to her and carefully takes her hand in his. He begins making easy small talk with her as he gently rubs the back of her hand with his thumb. This is a fun party, huh? Wasn't that pizza good? Maria agrees, her spine beginning to relax. She genuinely likes Ben. Now that he is so close to her, she notices a few freckles on his nose and decides that he has very nice lips, a little full for a boy, a little girlish, but in a very nice way.
Ben later tells her that it was a similar for him. "I looked at you and it was like I hadn't really looked at you before, you know? Like all of a sudden, I thought that you had the most beautiful hazel eyes that I had ever seen and your eyelashes were so long that I wondered if they hit your glasses. And your skin was so pink and white and creamy looking. And you smelled like patchouli and lemons. Judy always sort of smelled like Clearisil. I wanted to kiss you so bad that I could hardly stand it and I could feel those 7 minutes ticking away."
Ben's fingers begin to graze slowly up Maria's arm and then he begins gently stroking the inside of her arm ever so sweetly, making his fingers tiny ice skaters on the surface of her the smooth underside of her forearm. Maria begins to relax into an almost loopy fogginess.
It's now or never, he thinks.
Softly, gently, Ben tips up Maria's chin with his finger. It is a gesture that she has read about in books and seen in after school specials but has never before or since experienced. Maria's stomach begins to breed tiny butterflies. They are swooping all around. Ben catches Maria's eyes and holds them, making sure that they are connected and then he once again does that syrup slow smile. Maria smiles back, dazed and a little confused, but totally helpless. She knows that he is going to kiss her now and the thought of Judy does not enter her mind once. All she can feel is her stomach swirling and her lips softening, preparing.
The first kiss is soft and gentle and warm and happy. A little shy, but not particularly worrisome. It is a good kiss. They break apart briefly and smile sheepishly at each other. Then Ben carefully removes Maria's glasses and sets them nicely on the sewing table next to the bed.
And they are kissing. They both sink back to the bed, Ben is not really on top of Maria, more next to her, but his chest presses against hers and his fingers find hers and entwine. Their eyelids are shut and the kisses become deeper and more intense, more searching. No tongues. Just soft open mouths discovering each others mirror image.
Maria realizes that she is finally doing what she has never done before. She is making out. She thinks that she absolutely adores making out and could do this all night. Ben's mouth is soft but insistent and his hand moves to her waist, pulling her tightly against him.
Maria thinks that she finally knows exactly what the word swoon means because she is right next door to it.
The kitchen timer goes off. Ben and Maria share one more kiss, a small one, a generous one, a heartbreakingly regretful one.
The break apart. Ben sits up very slowly.
Later he will tell her that he was not sure that he could stand. That he wanted to kiss her like that all night long and that when he touched her hair it felt like a soft but heavy paintbrush in his fingers. He will admit that this was the point when he felt like he finally understood what the word "smitten" meant.
Ben stands up and helps Maria to her feet. He bends slightly, trying to catch her eye, but she won't let her eyes meet his. She keeps her eyes off to the side or down at the floor.
They walk to the door and unlock it and go out into the harsher lights of the party. All eyes are on them. Judy swoops to Ben's sides and laces her fingers possessively through his, her eyes search for his. He avoids her for a beat and then sighs and allows himself to smile at her, gives her an encouraging upturn of his lips in something like a real smile, but not really. Not really. She senses this and sniffs the air like he might already have pussy breath. He doesn't of course, but he does carry a small bit of Maria's scent on himself. He glances over at Maria, who is sitting quietly on a chair. Some friend has given her a seven up to drink and she sips it, not looking at anyone. She studies her shoes as if they are not hers.
The party breaks up at eleven o'clock as parents come to pick up their not ready to drive yet children.
On Monday, Maria and Ben trade homework. For the first time, she has trouble meeting his eyes. Ben feels himself blushing and furiously tries to hide it by playing a drum beat on the side of his leg.
A few weeks later, Judy is crying in the girl's bathroom again. Maria notices her as she walks by to wash her hands in the sink. Judy's blonde head rests on Patsy's shoulder as she hiccups and exclaims that Ben is "such a mean shit, he won't even give me a REASON!" Maria tries not to listen. It is just one of their many fights, she thinks. Nothing to do with her.
Two days later, Maria is getting books out of her locker, preparing to work on that science paper all weekend. She senses movement beside her and looks up. Ben is standing there.
His smile is once again slow and unwittingly sexy. He tells her that it's the team's first baseball game tonight. Is she planning on going?
No, Maria thinks. I wasn't planning on it.
She says, "I don't know. I hadn't really thought about it."
Ben pauses for a beat and then goes for it.
"Well, I play second base. Do you want to come watch me play? Afterward, the team always goes out for pizza, but I am thinking that maybe well...that maybe you and I could go out alone together. So...wanna?"
He is looking at her closely, willing her to look at him. So she does. Look at him. God, he really is just THAT good looking, isn't he?
She stammers and this embarrasses her. She says, "Um...you mean like...a date? With you?"
He rolls his eyes slightly, not enough to be rude but enough to let her know that this is uncomfortable.
He smiles again. "Well, um...hey? Why are you doing this? I mean, this is hard enough for me. I'm NERVOUS so why must you make me clarify? YES. A DATE. WITH ME."
Maria's smile is brief, flickery. "I was only asking because of well, because of Judy."
Ben tells her that he broke up with...wait....that they broke up a few days ago. Maria immediately likes him even more because he could have said that HE broke up with her, but he is gentlemanly enough to protect Judy by making it sound as if it was mutual. Maria notices things like this about people and it works its way into her opinions about them.
"Ah," she says, slowly. "So THAT was what she was crying about in the girl's room."
Ben's face looks pained and he mimes putting his fingers in his ears. "Ugh. Don't tell me this stuff. I feel bad enough...don't want to have THAT picture in my head now too."
Maria nods and then looks him directly in the eye. Says that yes, she will come to his game and yes, she would like to go out with him afterward. Where to? Her mother will ask and so she needs to know.
Ben smiles wickedly. It will be the first time that Maria gets a glimpse of this particular smile of his and she will love it each and every time.
"Well," he drawls. "I thought maybe we could go to the Highpoint Cafe for coffee and a doughnut. And then....well....I was hoping to drive you home since I just got my license and maybe, maybe....we could have a....TICKLE FIGHT!"
Maria bursts out laughing and he joins her. Their happiness is like a cloud around them, an aura that other people notice and are either slightly jealous, slightly nauseated, or slightly happy.
"Ok," she says. "Coffee and a doughnut. I'll be there."
It is the beginning and as all beginnings are, it is sweet and pure and full of promise.
Later, Judy will make a last ditch attempt to win Ben back. It will fail spectacularly and she will hate Maria for the rest of high school.
Later, Maria and Ben will have make out sessions that seem to go on forever when she is babysitting her little sister, Jessie on Saturday nights while her mother plays on her bowling league. They will ply Jessie with hershey bars and plop her down in front of the television while they sit in the parlor and frantically discover each other as much as two teenagers can without going all the way. This will be complicated by the fact that Jessie loves Ben and seems to think that he is coming to see her for a playdate instead of coming to see her big sister. Ben is kind to Jessie, plays Candyland with her and swings her on the tire swing in the front yard. Maria will watch him do this from the kitchen window and think to herself that he will make a fine father one day.
Ben won't be anyone's biological father though, although he will be a father. Later, in their first year of college, Ben will be over a thousand miles away from Maria and they will go two months without seeing each other. They will finally meet up when Ben travels to see her for the weekend, using his birthday money for the plane ticket and hotel room since Maria shares her dorm room with another woman and there is no other place to be alone.
Their first sexual encounter will be in a hotel room on rough white sheets and a bed with a cat screeching headboard. Ben will be unable to get the condom open and finally use his teeth to open it. The gel from the condom will get into his mouth and the taste will be awful but he will gamely wipe his mouth on the sheet. When he kisses Maria hard as he enters her for the first time, she will taste the gasoline taste of the gel in his mouth and it will nearly make her gag but she will hide it because she knows that this moment is special for them. But...yes...it will be a long reaching memory and she will smile fondly every time she remembers it.
Ben and Maria will grow apart in college. Maria will discover that she has some unacted on feelings for other women. Ben will take a religion class and unexpectedly, he will be drawn in and fascinated by the course. By the end of year, they will meet and try to gently pull away from each other. Maria will not mention that she has been seeing a woman in college and that she is discovering parts of herself that she can no longer ignore. Ben will not mention that he has decided to join the seminary.
They will gently tell each other goodbye and know that really...it is for the last time. But they will both be satisfied with the closure and when they meet many, many years later, Maria will have her newborn daughter in her arms and Ben will confess that Maria's sisters asked him to try to secretly baptize that child since Maria has not had the sense to have her baptized. Ben and Maria will laugh together and then Maria will say WHY THE FUCK NOT and ask Ben to baptize Liv.
Liv will be baptized in the kitchen sink of the parish basement. She will not cry, but look up curiously into her mother's eyes, wondering what that sensation is on the cradle of her head.
Ben will walk Maria to her car and help her put Liv into her car seat and then before he leaves, he will hug Maria close and whisper, "I can still feel you kiss me sometimes. It is such a nice memory, babe."
Maria will pat his back and say something like "ditto" because she is not overly romantic as a rule. But, yes...she can still feel his kiss sometimes too. It is a sweet memory and nice to lean on when the day has been too long and you need a cloud to take you off to sleep.
We all need that. Don't we?