It was a warm, clear, perfect late summer evening. I arrived a bit later than others, and found that this birthday party was different than others I have attended, for there were girls. I was a bit awkward at first, but the games at the party helped facilitate interaction between the participants. Hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream and cake were served, and dusk soon fell. The birthday boy was almost a year older than me, mature, well muscled, and the star athlete of our grade school. “Come on.” Someone yelled, let’s play “Spin the Bottle!”
I was clueless, but game. Everyone huddled around the circle far out in the grass well away from the lights of the house. A large piece of cardboard was placed in the center of the circle with a bottle upon it. I watched and quickly caught on. Geez, they’re supposed to go off somewhere and kiss! The girls, it seemed, had been planning this most of the night. The guys were willing participants. I think I was the only rookie. I quickly scanned the potential pairings. I was happy I liked most of the girls that were there. Although there were a few I didn’t know too well. But the excitement of this opportunity was intriguing, to say the least. The bottle was spun. Jim. “Oooooo,” went the circle. It was spun again. Ken. “No way!” he said. So it was spun again. Gail. Jim and Gail went off in the distance. “God, they’re really going to do this,” I thought. The bottle was spun again. It slowly came to rest pointing directly at me. “Uh, oh,” I thought. “Oooooo,” went the group. The bottle was spun again. Laurie. The girls giggled. My heart pounded. Jim and Gail soon returned.
I looked across the circle and felt a bit relieved. I had always liked Laurie in school. She had blonde, tightly curled hair, was friendly, and had always been fairly attractive. We got up from the circle. “Where should we go?” I asked quietly. “There’s a tool shed over there,” she said.
We walked the 50 feet in the dark with a slight bit of moonlight now reflecting off the dew on the grass. We were both anxious and very nervous. The pressure was on, but we had no clue how to begin. After passing the shed, Laurie turned to me. “We might as well do this.” We both closed our eyes and leaned forward. Our noses bumped. We laughed nervously. The next try, I kept my eyes open, Laurie’s were closed. Our lips touched.
Now I had kissed some girls on the cheek before – you know – the pleasant peck after a date, but this was different. We both found the other’s warmth comforting, tender, and almost magical. We kept kissing. Unfortunately, we knew the others back at the circle would expect us soon, so we walked back and took our seats, hoping the bottle would land on us again.
Flash forward 33 years…
“I just landed at O’Hare.”
“How are we going to do this?”
“Why don’t you meet me there. It’s easier if I drive straight there, rather than doubling back to get you. We’re late already. I’ll save you a plate in case dinner is almost done.” So my wife and I drove separately to my 30-year high school reunion.
As expected, I arrived early. I called my wife to assure she understood the last minute directions to the club.
“Well, I might as well do this,” I thought. So I walked up to the front door of the club and there was one of my best friends outside smoking a cigarette. “Charlie?” “Wes? Oh, my God! It’s been so long! Go on inside. Everyone’s upstairs. Our table’s all the way to the back.”
I registered at the reception desk and walked in. I scanned the room.
“Laurie?” Seriously, she was the first person I saw. Time had been good to her. She looked pretty much as I had remembered after we left high school. This was the first reunion she had attended. And she remembered. “Do you remember when we played Spin the Bottle?” It was her first kiss, too, I learned.
We asked the usual things. Where are you living? Married? Kids?
I soon learned she had lost her husband earlier this year to leukemia and had a 15 year old daughter and 13 year old son. Both wanted to become doctors. She was working as a lawyer to support them. We danced briefly and kept making social rounds that evening with our other long lost friends.
I had hoped to continue our conversation the next evening. But she was not there. Like before, life came calling.
The memories occurred so long ago that they had become a dream. But it was not a dream, was it? Two lives had once intersected, then diverted, then intersected again. Similar, yet so different. But I found it was good to reconnect and remember. Each of us who attended the reunion had a chance to remember that, indeed, those days were special, formative, but all-too-brief…
…much like a first kiss.