When I hear “do you remember your first…” the first thing that comes to mind is of course the first kiss, or even more racey, loss of virginity. Granted, I tend to focus more on those types of physical things, but there are plenty of other firsts I can think of too. My first time riding a bike. My first day in middle school. My first day in the Marine Corps.
Those latter events are all fun memories. Much more so, in fact, than that of my first kiss. But I’m not going to write about them. I am actually going to write about my first kiss, but only incidentally. Instead, I’m going to start with what led up to it.
My first cigarette.
Let’s travel back to the Summer of 1985. President Ronald Reagan had begun his second term in office, Back to the Future was immensely successful, and New Coke wasn’t. I would say that I didn’t have a care in the world, but I was 12, so everything was a care. The important thing, though, was that it was Summer, which at that age was the best thing ever.
There were two friends with whom I hung out more prominently that Summer, Damien and Greg. It was before we had the pre-teen argument/falling out, which would eventually cause me to start spending more time with other friends. Now, there were a very limited number of places that we would hang out. The mall, Damien’s apartment, Greg’s house, or my garage when we wanted to practice very bad break dancing. Sure, there was the time we spray painted “BREAK” in big, bubble letters on the concrete wall of some underpass, or the time we “broke into” the school that had actually been left unlocked one night, but we didn’t really do much else besides hop from house to house.
Enter Rosie. She was a friend of Damien’s sister, a couple of years older than we were, and who both Greg and Damien were infatuated with. I can’t remember how many times they shifted back and forth who was actively “going with” her, and I mean that in the loosest sense, since I don’t think it lasted for more than a week at any given time. But it was the first such changeover that was the memorable one, and the topic of this story.
Rosie had very recently broken up with Damien, leaving an opening for Greg. And Greg wanted to keep it a secret.
He took me aside, privately, and asked if I could keep Damien occupied while he made his move. Being a good wing-man who apparently had no qualms backstabbing his friend, I agreed. Which just left the problem of how to accomplish that. Keep in mind that this was all at Damien’s house, and saying “hey, you want to go hang out outside while he stays here with your sister and her friend that you just broke up with?” wasn’t really an option.
This is the part where I get to talk a little bit about what kids should be doing, and what kids shouldn’t be doing. Kids should be experimenting with horrible, interpersonal relationships that teach them all about emotions they can’t control. Kids should not be smoking cigarettes at the age of 12. They should wait until at least 14 for that.
But smoking was a habit that both of those guys had picked up, because it was cool. I can still see them, posing in their spot bleached jean jackets adorned with Iron Maiden and Def Leppard pins, trying their best to not look anxious that they could get caught at any moment. Until then, I’d refrained from joining them. I had my own share of cool deeds to make up for it, like being the first to get my ear pierced, or the first to wear ripped up clothes and eye-liner (yeah, it was the 80’s remember?), so I hadn’t felt the need to smoke. But what more altruistic way to help a friend in need than to subject my still developing lungs to carcinogens?
So I told Damien that I was ready. I was going to smoke.
We went outside, and he passed me a cigarette from the pack. It was a menthol (I told you they were cool – get it? Cool… menthol…). I’d never even held one before, so I’m sure I fumbled awkwardly as he lit it for me. And I sucked it in, and marveled at the fresh, minty burn in my throat and lungs. I was smart enough to not inhale a lung full, so I didn’t embarrass myself by succumbing to a fit of coughing. Instead I put on my baddest “yeah, I’m bad” face, and nodded like I was the coolest dude ever.
And that was that. I think that all together, I smoked no more than a total of four cigarettes over the next few months, before finally realizing the pointlessness of it, and “quitting.” In any case, it was enough to get the job done that day. Greg ended up going out with Rosie for a week, and after that, he and Damien switched back and forth with her a few times.
Somewhere in all of that, I started feeling left out, and having no other available options, convinced myself that I had also developed a crush on the girl.
Yeah, I was that guy.
So one night, as I sat downstairs in Damien’s apartment listening to sappy Chicago songs, I had the guys go upstairs and tell her how I felt. I never heard how the conversation really went, but when they came back down, and I looked at them, hopefully expectant, they news they carried was “she’ll go with you.”
Then came the expectation. I’d never kissed a girl before. Well, I had kissed a girl, but I’d never French kissed a girl, and that was really what it was all about. As I climbed the stairs to his bedroom, I was a mess of nerves. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t even know how to begin, what moves to make, or what to say. When I walked in, she was standing there, waiting. I made some mumbled comment or another, the awkwardness increased, and then her tongue was in my mouth.
In reality, it was a horrible kiss. Sloppy, and with no finesse. It was, well, a teenage kiss. But to me it was amazing. And even though she broke up with me the next day, it was enough, because it was the passage to becoming someone I hadn’t been, and experiencing something I never had.
That’s the thing about firsts. I can educate myself, prepare myself, and talk endlessly about the expected outcomes, but until I actually do something for the first time, I have never experienced it. For me, that experience is everything. It’s how I change.
After all, isn’t that what firsts are, a transition from one state to the next?
What was one of your memorable firsts, and was it worth it?