A piece written awhile back…
“The Kiss in the Kitchen”
Life goes by real fast. Grade school, learning how to read, surviving junior high, first date, first kiss, learning how to drive, picking a college, finding someone to love. Growing up takes longer than we anticipate. Drama – not the stage kind, but the girl kind – is a frequent cast member in the show called “it’s my life.” Spelling-test-in-third-grade drama. Junior-high-girl-fights drama. The dating game? Bad, soap-opera drama. Driving a car – still provides drama. College GPA, “Love Hurts” what am I going to do with the rest of my life? No wonder they call me the drama queen. That’s my life – not the compelling, profound, life-as-art Ben Jonson-type drama, which, shockingly, not everyone has read. Noooo, my version is more of the manufactured, self-imposed, beyond my control, no-one-would-ever-pay-money-to-see-this drama. But it is my life, and I am a literature teacher, and I did grow up on “The Young and the Restless,” so I am pretty sure I know drama. The story which I am about to relate has drama. Girls are involved.
As I remember it, the story begins as I was meeting new people, wondering what I was going to do ‘when I grew up’ and rejoicing in having survived my first year of college without gaining the requisite fifteen pounds – no small feat considering my countless alcoholic forays and the carbohydrate infusion otherwise known as the ‘college meal plan.’ I’d managed to find a summer job that kept me in my college town instead of going home for the summer. No return to parents and restrictions – I was ‘on my own,’ and I was loving it. My summer roommates were girls I vaguely knew. No matter. Some of my best friends were sticking around town for the summer too. Getting to know the roommates was a low priority, unless they could somehow make it easier for my under-age self to gain entry to the local bars. (apparently, drinking was a high priority in my college years. Egad.) If they could make that magic happen, I was perfectly willing to join them. And if listening to Cassie (a roommate who figures prominently in this story) wax poetic about her amazing boyfriend was the necessary pre-req to getting her to sneak me in to ‘The Esquire,’ then so be it. I would slap a fake but convincing smile on my face and pretend to listen, exclaiming enthusiastically and praising her good fortune, thereby avoiding any chance of causing roommate upset drama. I secretly doubted that he was as amazing as advertised, but since he was obviously going to be around our house after his trip to Texas, I knew I’d get to see for myself. I admit, a twinge or two of jealously surfaced as Cassie, starry-eyed and smitten, went on, and on, and on and on and on about a relationship that I was still looking for. As much as I pretended that it didn’t matter that I still had no prospects knocking at my door proclaiming their ‘mister right-ness,’ I had begun to fret about it. At least I didn’t have to worry about the extra fifteen pounds. Yet.
Jeff, Cassie’s boyfriend, returned one late May day. It was windy. Don’t be too impressed that I remember the weather. I remember that it was windy because we lived in North Dakota. There are only two things about North Dakota that anybody remembers. The first is wind. I don’t remember the other thing. Now, the next detail is slightly impressive, I’ll admit. But I grew up as a farmer’s daughter, and farmers pay more attention to the weather forecast and cloud conditions than almost anything else. As a result, today I’m a bit of a weather addict myself, watching the weather channel for fun and secretly wishing that I had Jim Cantore’s job. So, the detail loses just a bit of impact, I suppose. And, I do realize that such details add no drama to my story. But, my Literary Criticism prof says that local color is an essential component of good story telling, and literary critics spend their lives investigating it, so I thought I’d throw some in.
So, windy was usual. The surprising thing was that it had been a particularly dry winter and spring (more local color), and the house the roommates and I were living in had been built in the late summer of the previous year. The landscaping had obviously not been a top priority. The yard surrounding our house was more of a windswept prairie, which, to be perfectly frank, describes North Dakota is in its entirety. That windy, prairie-esque quality, so charming in all the travel brochures, actually blows. Lush grass, verdant shrubbery, and shade trees dotted only the dreamscape – the reality was that the outdoor space resembled a backyard dustbowl. But North Dakotans are immune to adverse weather of all kinds, and I was not deterred by the wind or the resultant dust and grit. Without fail, my daily agenda included at least two hours in the sun. My tan was priority one in the day time hours not devoted to work. These were the days before sunscreen. These were the days of baby oil and sun worship. These were the days when I lived in a house full of girls who didn’t care what I looked like when I suntanned. These were the ‘Days of Our Lives’ (“daytime drama”). So, this particular day – remember, it was windy – I slathered myself in baby oil, put my hair up, and laid out – while the sun was at its peak, the tanning was at its optimum, and while the dust and grit were – well, surely you can imagine the picture.
Two hours later, my daily mission was completed. Oily, gritty, clearly looking and feeling my best, I walked into the house to find it rather full of roommates chattering in their most enthusiastic, everything-is-super-exciting voices. All of their attention focused on one decidedly masculine voice coming out of one decidedly attractive masculine person. Cassie’s long-awaited boyfriend had returned. Oh, to slip out of the room, (which shouldn’t have been that hard to accomplish given the baby oil everywhere) and make a better entrance. Too late.
“Becky – this is my boyfriend, Jeff Fields. Jeff, this is my roommate, Becky.”
If awkward had a definitive moment, this was it.
I tried to behave as though the situation was nothing out of the ordinary, but with every heartbeat, I realized that he was tall, dark and handsome. And I was hot. Only ‘hot’ hadn’t undergone any of its etymological iterations yet. It merely meant that I was sweaty, overheated, sticky, gritty. I was filthy, really. An Austenian moment had arrived. First Impressions, Pride & Prejudice — we were remaking the moment in living Technicolor. Jeff’s first impression of me would surely prejudice him against me forever. My pride was irreparably crushed. But I did the only thing I could do. My mom had drilled us on manners. I knew I had to acknowledge the introduction. “Great to meet you” slipped out of my mouth and I slipped out of the room as unobtrusively as an oily, gritty mess of a girl can manage. Humiliation had a new face in the mirror. Mine.
A shower, some mascara and a good stiff drink worked their magic. It was Friday, and I had plans. First – put the humiliation out of my mind. Second, get ready for the weekend. Next, avoid Cassie and Jeff like the plague.(I hadn’t yet learned that overusing metaphors renders such sentiments as mere cliché) That last part wasn’t all that difficult to arrange. Cassie’s boyfriend was back. They had catching up to do. Cassie’s boyfriend was back. He’d been gone for such a long time. Cassie’s boyfriend was back. Everything was going to be fine. Cassie’s boyfriend was back. No one suspected that there might be trouble…
Grit, sort of forgotten, and humiliation, sort of quashed, I resumed normal activity around the house, which included sun tanning (when I was sure no one else was around). I grew more tan, and regained a bit of confidence along with some truly lovely blonde streaks in my hair. You’d think with all this sun goddess beauty going for me, I’d never find myself home on a Friday night with nothing to do, but one week later, that was exactly the case. Work until nine, and then home to an empty house. I plopped down to watch what might be the worst movie of all time – “Ice Castles” (how pathetic can a lonely girl be!?!) – when in walked Cassie & Jeff, who were likely hoping to be alone. Instead, they were cheerily and enthusiastically greeted by ‘grit girl,’ who had taken up a rather insistent residence on the only couch in the room. When Jeff settled himself next to me while Cassie busied herself getting a couple of beers from the fridge, I made frantic small talk, hoping that he’d forgotten how dreadful I’d looked the last time he’d seen me. Maybe he’d even find me mildly interesting in spite of my babbling inanities. There he was, far too close for my comfort, and far too good-looking for my own good. I couldn’t help it – the next thing I knew, I was flirting. Worse, he reciprocated. Who WAS this guy?! Who cared, really? Cassie’s boyfriend was back…
All three of us continued watching “Ice Castles” – a running critical commentary underscored by our blatant flirting, which, in looking back on it, had to have been painfully obvious to his girlfriend. At the time, I can’t say I gave her too much thought. Since she was right there in the room, I convinced myself that Jeff’s attentive conversation and my flirtatious behavior were merely two people getting to know one another – two people with a very important girl in common – my roommate, and his girlfriend. We were just making everything more friendly. We were just playin.’ And she was right there, for cryin’ out loud. What could happen????
And then, Cassie stepped out of the room – downstairs – for what seemed like a bit longer than forever. I went to the kitchen. To get a drink. To cool down. To try and regain my grip on reality and stop my racing heart. When I closed the fridge, I turned around to find Jeff standing right there. And then… And then… He kissed me. ‘Til that moment, first kisses had generally been hit or miss. Noses hitting, one of us missing altogether. But oh… this kiss was different. This kiss made my knees buckle. This kiss was illicit, secret, stolen, offered. This kiss changed everything. Cassie’s boyfriend was back. Oh, there’s gonna be trouble.