I’m out of town visiting with family this week, so there won’t be an installment of In the Name of Womanhood, It’s Time (ITNOWIT). Instead, I’m going to write about being thirteen.
I have been kissed. I had a boyfriend when I was thirteen and we kissed quite a lot. We met at a summer camp for kids with disabilities when I was ten and he was twelve. Each year, we returned to camp and continued our weeklong romance. Inevitably, we would break up by the end of the week. During the school year, we wrote letters and occasionally had long distance phone calls and would inevitably reconcile. J had cerebral palsy, too, and that was all it took for us to feel meant for each other. All the camp counselors teased us about getting married when we were older. When I say we kissed quite a lot, it was only during that week at camp when I was thirteen. The camp was held at CSU, Chico, and kids from all over the state came. We got to stay in the campus dorm rooms. During free time, we would go to J’s room, sit on his bed, and hold hands and talk. His bed was on the same wall as the door, in a recessed space, so if someone passed by and looked in they could not see us. Counselors would poke their heads in at regular intervals and check on us, once covering us in silly string.
I’m the kind of person who likes to know what’s going to happen, who likes to feel prepared. So J and I would discuss the kisses in detail before they occurred. Sitting on the edge of the bed, we talked about the duration, sitting up or lying down, tongue or no tongue. Tongue-free kisses were deemed “fish kisses.” It was all very innocent and far from steamy. Essentially, we were trying the whole thing out. During our lying down kisses, our legs remained off the side of the bed, and when it was over, we sat up and discussed the next go round. I wasn’t sure that I liked it. Definitely fish kisses were the way to go, as tongue kisses were too wet.
There was no reason to believe my romantic experiences wouldn’t continue apace. I never felt unlovable or unworthy—it seemed a matter of course that I would again experience mutual attraction and fall in love and marry. Indeed, I remained in contact with J until I was sixteen. He enrolled in college in my hometown. I remember being picked up from high school by my eighteen-year-old sometime-boyfriend and feeling very grown up. But one week of camp-time romance a year as children did not hold up when we lived in the same town. Aside from our disability, we really had little in common, and I think we saw each other only once or twice before he decided college was not for him and moved back home. J is the only boyfriend I’ve ever had.
Here is my point. I was comfortable with J, physically and emotionally. I was comfortable enough (and young enough) to say, “Wait, is this going to be with tongue?” At camp, we interlaced our fingers and I laid my head on his shoulder, or he on mine. It felt so good to hold hands and talk, the length of our bodies touching. It was age appropriate, and I was certain that all the rest would follow, someday, when I was ready.
Now I wonder, how can the rest possibly follow? It’s half my lifetime later, and I have to start back at the beginning. Is it even possible for me to feel comfortable with a man? Sitting side by side with our bodies touching, holding hands, wrapping my arms around his neck and being held close? And for all of it to feel natural and good? The possibility feels so remote that I barely even bother to envision anything beyond those most basic affectionate interactions. Two issues collide and intertwine: the physical and the emotional. Almost all of my time alone with J was spent sitting down. In my last entry, I mentioned my lack of balance and my uncertainty about hugging friends hello or goodbye. Physical uncertainty makes for social-emotional awkwardness. Enough public falls and near-falls have contributed to my very cautious way of moving in the world. I know that I often project an aloofness or maybe even boredom through my lack of interaction when I’m around others. I don’t join in. I hang back, hand on a table to keep myself steady, or I plant myself in a chair and don’t move, only speaking to those who approach.
I used to think it was only a physical issue. Now, as an adult, I realize that I’ve never really been in love, and I question my ability to trust it and give in to it, should the opportunity arise. The longer I’m single, the more emotionally distant I feel from the possibility of finding a partner. I’m a total romantic when it comes to movies and books, but in real life, I find I’m becoming a bit of a cynic. I hear people talk about marrying their best friend and can’t fathom being best friends with a man. It’s silly to feel like it’s too late for me, that romantic love and I just aren’t meant for each other. Essentially, it’s fear. I’m scared of being in love. I’m scared that if it happens, it won’t ever be that comfortable, confident love of loving my best friend. Will I let this fear keep me from falling in love at all? And why do I worry about these questions when they’re so far from my reality?