And just like that you were five, a kindergartener in a brand new school alongside third-graders who looked like grown-ups. You waved goodbye to your parents at the gate, walked yourself to the nurse’s office when you needed a band-aid. I tried to imagine it. I tried not to. (How’d you know your way around? What if you got lost? Who would help you? Would anyone? Would you know how to help yourself?) You learned to read, to write, to spell small words correctly sometimes, then more than sometimes. You learned the names of a dozen teachers and over 100 kindergarteners across homerooms. You made friends. You made “best friends.” You attended a school dance, joined ballet, Girl Scouts, Ukulele Club. It was a brave new world of people and possibilities.
You were growing up so fast.
I dismantled your first train set which you hardly ever played with anymore to make way for Lego kits you put together yourself. Your favorite board books were packed into boxes for…I wasn’t sure, but I kept them because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I tried to remember the last time we watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. You wondered if it hurt to grow breasts and how a baby “gets outside a parent’s body.” We talked about it.
Today? You kissed a boy.
You said it wasn’t an accident, but also it “wasn’t romance.” You were saying goodbye after a play date, he’s a good friend, he makes you happy kind of like your mom and dad and you kiss them sometimes unsolicited, so why not?
But the thing is (and this isn’t so much an overgeneralization as an accurate description of the facts at hand), this kid is six. You are maybe the last girl besides his own sister he still tolerates, likes even (though he probably won’t admit it for much longer). And he thinks kisses from girls are the epitome of ick.
But you didn’t know any of that. You couldn’t have known, couldn’t even have speculated, because, before today, nobody told you your kisses were gross.
The grown-ups didn’t see it, only the aftermath. One minute you were playing a board game behind his sister’s dollhouse while the adults made plans to catch up again soon. The next minute we saw you standing on the other side of the room from where you started. When we asked what happened, he was mum and you wanted to go home. You offered something about the board game. (I suspected a tough loss.) And that’s when he wondered out loud why you had to go and do something so… “disgusting.”
It’d been so many years since we grown-ups thought the opposite sex had cooties that we couldn’t have imagined the truth. We presumed you broke wind – at worst, maybe had an accident on his playroom floor. So, it took a few minutes of pestering to get at it and, by then, you fled downstairs to cry in the corner, reeling from rejection. You threw on your coat and boots in a special kind of hurry and told us it was time to leave because you were soooo sorry. It was the first time in your entire life you wanted a play date to end, the first time you insisted upon it, the first time you were this classic combination of embarrassed and sad.
It wouldn’t be the last.
Sure as I’ve been there, I knew it.
You might forget this one, but there’d be one (more than one?) someday that you wouldn’t forget.
I know it because those too-familiar tears reminded me of my own. I was in high school when a boy broke my heart so I wouldn’t forget it. This boy and I, we’d dated for a while, and I was genuinely head over heels. I was the one who planned our last date, not knowing that’s what it was. We had dinner and a movie, took a walk along the Susquehanna River in the dark, stopped for a breather on a bench overlooking the water. He thanked me for a fun night out – and broke up with me.
I couldn’t possibly really love him, he said. He actually said that. “You couldn’t know what love is. You don’t love me. You just think you do.” Reading between the lines: How could I possibly have any real grasp on my own emotions? My own experiences? He knew better. Except of course he didn’t. And I wasn’t woke enough in those days to call bullshit on the mansplaining. All I knew is that, with little forewarning, the boy I thought loved me as much as I loved him, never loved me at all. And it hurt.
So I get it.
The thing is, though, it gets better. The heart is like a starfish, baby girl. That piece rejection rips away comes back as something better than before. It comes back as wisdom.
You stop paying mind to the boy who broke your heart, which – after a while – doesn’t hurt so much, come to think of it. And you internalize the lesson.
For me: Don’t ever let somebody tell you what you don’t know.
For you: Ask first.
For the both of us: By all means, keep it moving.
About six months after that break-up, I took myself to dinner and a movie: a movie that boy wouldn’t have liked, by the way, but I did. I went for a walk along the river and returned to that very same bench. I took a deep breath. I got back in the car and that U2 song, “Stuck in a Moment” was playing – G-d’s voice to Mama’s ears! – on the radio.
“You’ve got to get yourself together. You’ve got stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of it.”
Before I went home that night, I stopped by a mailbox with my application to an out-of-state women’s college I’d been on the fence about attending because I’d only ever known one small town in Pennsylvania, where the boy still lived, and because, well, all women. But I had a good feeling about that school, and as sure as I loved the boy, I knew I was holding my future in my hands.
All was as it should be: The boy, the bench, the college application that resulted in an acceptance letter that led to a move and my introduction to a veritable sisterhood of women that uplifted and inspired me to be my truest self and who always loved me for it.
See, the best friends will see you and love you for who you are; the best lovers will do that, too – and they’ll like your kisses.