Since I direct theatre in a variety of places, I often have to facilitate "stage kisses." In the high school, it's very straightforward, even clinical. "Your head goes this way, your head goes that way, lips only slightly parted, hold for 8 counts or until such-and-such beat of music." I am careful to do it for the first time when the two actors are on their own, so there won't be distractions, or heckling, or anything else. I forgot that ONE TIME, for a super quick kiss during a group scene in Little Women. It seemed the very moment I had given the direction for my freshman "John Brook" to lean over and kiss senior "Meg," a cell phone camera snapped the picture, and senior "Meg's" senior boyfriend was off the soccer field and into my rehearsal room. Nice.
When I direct in the middle school, I am acutely aware that the "stage kiss" is very often the First Kiss Ever for the students involved. I carefully stage it the same way, very clinically, privately, but I am also very careful to say, "If this is your first kiss, you don't have to tell, but I promise you, it totally doesn't count as the real thing." It's still always awkward, and I often wish I could avoid it, but you can't really sing "Till There Was You" without a kiss when the music swells. And you can't really deliver the line in Guys and Dolls where Sky says, "I'll come back tomorrow in case you want to take a crack at the other cheek" without the kiss that precedes it. So off we go, and the kids know in advance that it's just part of the process, and maturity needs to reign...as much as possible for a seventh and eighth graders.
My own First Kiss was in 8th grade, and related, as was everything else in my life, to my involvement in the drama club. I think we called it Memorial Middle Musical Theatre or something, but it was run much the same as my own – one big show a year, tons of kids, and the absolute highlight of the whole school year for most of us. I was irreparably shaped by my involvement in theatre in 7th and 8th grade. (I couldn’t do it in 6th grade because rehearsals were the same day as CCD…and I think it’s another thing I’ve held against the Catholic Church ever since.) Anyhow, in 7th grade, I played Annie, and a unique friendship began with the boy who played Daddy Warbucks. We were great pals in 7th grade, and then, in 8th grade, when I was Dorothy and he was the Scarecrow, we “went out,” and seemed to immediately stop talking to each other. My chokingly overprotective father never ever let me go anywhere – which is a whole other story entirely – so there was no opportunity for social interaction with him anywhere but school.
We had been “going out,” such as it was, for maybe two months, which consisted of the occasional phone call, or notes passed, sitting together during rehearsals, even holding hands while the director gave notes, or backstage while we waited to go on. When my friends began to pester me about what we “did,” I was too embarrassed to answer that we had never even kissed. They finally dragged the information out of me with every insipid peer pressure tactic ever employed since the first teenage cavegirl whispered to another over wooly mammoth burgers and diet cokes. “We have never even kissed,” I finally confessed, at the video party for The Wizard of Oz. Gasps and eye-rolling and ohmygodyouguys ensued, and a plot was hatched to force me into kissing him that very night.
We were in the director’s classroom in the middle school one January evening, eating pizza and watching the video when Darlene and Sharon explained to me exactly how my first kiss was going to occur. “You’re going to tell him you need to talk to him privately…OH! Tell him you’re wicked mad at him or something, so he’ll be REALLY SURPRISED.” Affirming echoes by my reliable cohorts followed this pronouncement. “Take him around the corner, next to the library, and don’t talk, just grab him and kiss him.” The girls sighed and cooed, declaring it Perfectly Romantic. I immediately began to try to riddle out the logistics of Surprise Kissing a boy who was literally an entire head taller than me. Stepstool? Stand on my backpack? Pull him down by the collar of his Izod shirt? “You have to do it, Kelly, or everyone will think you’re a freezer.” A freezer. (I swear, these fateful words haunted my entire feminine development. And that’s another good story in its own as well.) Well, I might have been scared…no, terrified, and totally clueless about kissing beyond what I studied from Frisco and Felicia on General Hospital, but I wasn’t a freezer. The gauntlet had been thrown and it was ON.
“Um, Chris…can I talk to you for a second?” Movie was over, kids were just hanging out, waiting for rides. I walked him down the hall by the hand, around the corner into the darkened hallway. I remember sort of crashing into him, standing on my tippiest of tiptoes, and taking a flying leap in the general direction of his lips. Contact was made, awkward and vaguely misplaced. I realized at the last second that I was supposed to do something with my tongue, and so I sort of rooted around until I hit something that felt damp. He was all gangly legs and blundering 8th grade-boy-hands, and I remember that at the last moment, I was pretty sure we were both likely to just trip over and hit the linoleum. I stepped back, feeling a momentary thrill of accomplishment – I had done it! I had stolen my first kiss right off the face of this very tall boy, and though it was utterly fumbling and frantic, the deed was done. At the very moment had I regained my balance and looked into his very astonished freckled face…I suddenly heard giggling. No, not even giggling. Wise-assed, smirk-filled, triumphant, guffawing laughter…my so-called girlfriends had watched the whole entire thing from the other end of the hallway.
Chris and I pseudo-dated on and off all through the rest of middle school and high school, (and definitely got better at the kissing thing) until I fell officially, perfectly, head-over-heels in love with him at the start of my senior year. We then proceeded to have a High School Romance the likes of which I pray for my daughters someday. All of my other Firsts were with him, and they were more romantic and picturesque – complete with back-lighting and a glorious soundtrack – than I could have dreamed up in any teenage diary.
So, that was my first First Kiss. My Best First Kiss, and I would argue the Best First Kiss in the History of Kissing, was with my husband. But that’s a blog for another day.