*Disclaimer – forgive the format and punctuation. Typing this from and app*
My phone buzzed loudly in the cup holder, rumbling in circular motions as I tried to grasp it with fumbling fingers. One hand gripped the steering wheel as the other fought to flip the contraption open. Instead the phone slipped through my fist and fell back into the cup holder.
“You’re phone’s ringin Header” Tiffany said from the back seat. It wasn’t a comment made with sarcasm. My sister was genuinely concerned that I answer the phone. A 25 year old with severe developmental disabilities, Tiffany had the mind and skill set of a 4 year old and often acted like one. Which was mostly adorable and only occasionally irritating as all 4 year olds tend to be.
“Thanks Tif!” I said finally managing to get a firm hold of the phone and flipping it open. “You gonna get that?” Tif said with a laugh.
“I got it. Hello?” My hand shook slightly as I held the phone to my ear and tried not to breathe heavily into the receiver. My nerves were jumbled with excitement and fear. “Hey” his voice was calm and relaxed, a smile hanging on the words. “You almost here?”
“I’m just up the street. Where do you want to go?”
“Just pull onto Langley, it’s a side street off of Main that’s just past the school”
“I know where it is!” My voice pitched with anxiety as I said the words. “There’s a ton of church people in that neighborhood. Someone will catch us!”
Alex* laughed on the other end of the line “Relaxxx, it’s late at night, half these people are still at church and half didn’t go. No ones going to find us. Besides we’ll be quick. I just want to give you a good night kiss.” I blushed and was grateful he couldn’t see me. “Im turning in now”
“I see you” He stood on the right side of the road, still in his tan church suit, tie and all. I pulled up next to him and he quickly climbed in.
“Hey who’s dis boy? Hey, hey can I ask you a question?” Tiffany reached out and grabbed Alex’s arm pulling at his suit coat. Social skills definitely weren’t her strong point. Alex’s eyes grew wide and he was clearly perplexed on how to respond to my sister. “Tiffany let go!” I said firmly prying her fingers of his sleeve. “Tif…Tif…look at me.” She stared at Alex and he stared back almost afraid. I wanted to roll my eyes. People always get irrationally nervous around folks with disabilities. “Tiffany Dawn” she finally looked at me with a lazy smile. “I’m going to play your favorite CD ok? I’m going to play Barbra Burke-” Tif leaned back in her seat squealing and clapping her hands excitedly “What!”
“You have to be quiet though ok?””
“You have to give Alex and me some privacy. If you don’t I’ll turn the CD off.”
“Ok, ok. I got it. I’ll be quiet so you have rivacy” she clapped her hands again as I turned the CD on and looked at Alex. He was laughing. “This is so weird”
“I know!” I sat back frustrated and embarrassed. “I wasn’t supposed to have her tonight but my mom decided to stay late with my dad and no one else could take Tif home and I didn’t have a good reason not to take her.” He smiled and reached out to grab my hand. “It’s fine. Honestly.” He peered back hesitantly and glanced at my sister. “As long as you’re sure she won’t say anything.” I laughed “Even if she did no one would believe her”. He relaxed again then reached out, cupped my chin, and pulled me into him. For a moment our foreheads rested against each other, our breath one, until finally our lips met.
I guess I should take this moment to tell the reader that this was my first kiss. My first “real” kiss, aside from childish pecks on the playground. As a young wildling I was known for my kisses. I kissed everyone, boys and girls. But then around age 7 my parents had finally had enough; and, after several harsh beatings with a leather belt, I started keeping my kisses and my lips to myself. That was the way in the IFB, the extreme religious branch in which I grew up. Kisses and hugs and really touching, especially of the opposite sex, were not to be tolerated or allowed.
Not even among older dating or engaged couples. It was considered the highest honor for a woman to go to the marriage altar not just a virgin in sex, but a virgin in all intimacy and that included kissing. Of course few made it to their wedding day IFB pure. Many lied and said that they were virgins. Some managed to at least save sex for the wedding day. And a few, I do mean a slim few, actually did keep the ridiculous standards and proudly planted their first kiss on their new spouse upon saying “I do”.
It was impossible to know who was a real virgin and who wasn’t. I know a couple who dated 6 years and claimed to never have fooled around once. All of our leaders harshly condemned anyone, but mostly women, who broke these sacred vows of purity. And yet most of our leaders did admit that they hadn’t been able to keel these standards themselves, yet still expected the rest of us to do so. That was life in the IFB, Independent Fundamental Baptists, a prison of double standards and hypocrisies. Of course I wouldn’t realize that for quite a bit longer. I wouldn’t realize a lot of things for quite a bit longer. Like the fact that I reallllly like girls and that I could actually live as the man I felt myself to be. No at this time I was still a naive, straight, little, Baptist girl, having my first make out session in my parents red mini van with my special needs sister in the backseat.
Despite my sheltered knowledge and extreme lack of experience I knew he was an awful kisser. I was nearly pecked to death that night. It felt like it was making out with a rooster. Just open your stupid mouth! I thought in frustration. Part your lips! Use your tongue! Anything! For a brief moment I thought it could be my breath. But I have good hygiene and I had chewed half a pack of gum on the way over. Is this HIS first time? The thought surprised me. Alex was a few years older than me and fancied himself a ladies man. I couldn’t believe I’d be his first. Not with the smooth way he’d suggested we meet up and swap spit. We weren’t even dating. In fact, he was practically dating someone else. I felt a twinge of guilt as she flashed through my mind and pulled back for a moment. Maybe that’s why he was hesitant. “Ooohhh I know what you’re doin Header” Tiffany teased from the backseat. Or maybe his mood was killed by the grown ass 4 year old staring at us from 3 feet away. God do I know how to show a guy a good time or what?
Alex smiled a wide toothy smile then pulled me back in. “You’re kissin. I can see you kissin that boy!” We both laughed with our lips locked together and our mouths shook. “I think we should probably call it a night” he said leaning back with a chuckle.
“Yeah that’s probably best” I agreed. He leaned in again for one more quick peck then hopped out of the car. “I’ll see ya”. I pulled out onto the street and headed home. A mixture of emotions flooded my being. Elation at finally having my first kiss at 21 years old. Fear that someone from the church might have seen us. And guilt that she, Claire*, his almost girlfriend had no idea. Finally, I felt confusion.
What did this mean for him and I? In the world, as we referred to everyone outside our faith, a kiss probably didn’t mean much. But in our realm it meant a lot, or at least it was supposed to mean a lot.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next morning I hurried through the halls towards Liberty Square, the college cafe, ducking in to grab a 32 oz code red Mountain Dew. Something had to keep a full time student/full time employee running. Glancing to my right I nearly stepped back when I noticed Alex standing at the counter. Don’t be weird. I muttered to myself. I had no reason to be ashamed and honestly I really wasn’t, yet the experience still felt odd. I turned on my widest, church girl smile and approached him.
“Hey!!” my enthusiasm radiated a little too strongly. Turn it down Wolfe. Don’t. Be. Weird!!
“Hey.” He responded, hardly looking at me as he finished paying for his muffin. “See ya around” his head jerked up in a “what’s up” nod before he brushed past me and out the door. I stood dumbfounded for a moment.
It’s not that I had expected us to lock eyes, and look away shyly before blushing into a grin. It’s just that I had expected that exact scenario or at the very least some acknowledgement that I was more than a mere classmate. I wasn’t broken-hearted. My feelings for Alex didn’t run that deep. But my pride was hurt and for a brief moment, I felt like the girl my preachers had warned me about. The one the boys used before finally settling on the girl they really wanted to marry.
A favorite illustration during purity talks included two roses. One was kept next to the speaker, often in a vase of water, and blooming beautifully for the crowd to see. The other was passed around for everyone to feel and admire. At the end of the lecture, the speaker would place both roses in the vase and ask an audience member to pick which one they would like to take home. Of course the spectator always chose the rose that hadn’t been wilted by the fingers of dozens of attendees as it passed through the rows. And that was the message; be the rose who keeps herself for one man, not the rose who lets herself be used. Was I now a wilted rose?
Sighing in frustration I paid for my drink and hurried to the restroom. I needed to add a little something before heading to my first class. Once alone in my stall I quietly removed a small bottle of Dimitri vodka from my purse and poured a good amount into the soda, stirring it with my straw. This vodka wasn’t for Alex, it was simply a bit of a habit I was already creating. However I did look forward to the fact that in a few minutes I wouldn’t care about stupid Alex and his stupid head nods and my wasted time.
Taking a sip I closed my eyes and savored the taste. God I love vodka, I thought before once again hiding the bottle in the bottom of my purse and gathering my belongings. I had to practically run to make it to my 8 am class, Christian Womanhood. Yes an entire class about how to be a good, Christian lady complete with the book “A Meek and Quiet Spirit” as one of our study guides. The class was a requirement to graduate and this was my final semester to take it. In a few weeks I would be on to my last semester, which was student teaching, before finally earning my four year, unaccredited, Bachelors in Education. I’d never make it though.
After confiding in a good friend about my trist with Alex and my new hobby of drinking, she turned me in. I was expelled and told to take a year to “get my life together” before returning to graduate. My parents were furious at me for refusing to give up the name of my mystery man.
“Its not fair for you to be punished and for him to get off scot-free” my mother exclaimed across our dining room table.
“I just want to know who he is so I can protect you from him” my step-father insisted.
At the time their intentions seems genuine, but years later I would come to realize it was never about protecting me or justice in general. My parents only concern has always been their reputation in the IFB. If their child was going down in a scandal then you better believe they were looking for someone else to blame.
Eventually though Alex’s name would come out and I felt bad because I never intended for either of us to get in trouble. A few months later I attempted to apologize through text message. He responded, “lol no worries! I jst got a lecture. ;)”
Just a lecture! Anger flared for a moment. I was expelled one semester shy of completing my degree and told to take an entire year off. He got a lecture?! I breathed deeply and let it go. This was never about spite or equal punishments. I’d take this year to find myself.
I don’t know that i found myself that year; in fact, I think I got a little more lost. But I did make some changes. I went to rehab that summer, got out and married an old friend, settled down to continue working for the church, and made my plans to complete my final year of college. A few weeks after my honeymoon one of my friends, Beth* who was still in school, reached out and asked if we could grab coffee.
I pulled into the front entrance of my assumed, soon to be Alma Mater Hyles-Anderson College and picked Beth up before heading to Starbucks. We chatted and laughed and caught up. I hadn’t seen many of my school pals in the last year and Beth and I always had a good time together. “I’m so glad we could do this!” She said smiling as we headed back to campus. “I’m going to miss you next year. I’m going to miss all of this”
“What?! You have a year left. What are you talking about?” I exclaimed looking over at her in disbelief as if she were teasing me. She paused, and I knew she wasn’t joking. I could also see there was something more, something she wanted to tell me. The campus was coming into view but instead I pulled off onto a side street and parked the car.
“Beth, what’s going on?”
“I think I’m going to complete my degree down at Champion”
“In a Arizona? Who the heck do you know in Arizona. Is it a boy?” My lips spread into a grin as I prepared to tease her. Yet her eyes suddenly filled with tears.
“I’ve-” she choked at the words “I’ve been asked to leave, told to-to transfer down to Champion”.
I couldn’t really comprehend what I was hearing. Beth was a model student and a model independent fundamental baptist in my opinion. How could the college possibly be trying to get rid of her? The tears ran down her cheeks now “It’s my fault. I got caught up with a guy. We fooled around and then I felt guilty and turned myself in. I was an idiot”
I was confused “I didn’t know you were even dating-”
She cut me off, “we’re not! That’s what’s so wrong with the whole thing! He’s dating someone else and I just….I got sucked in”.
Now I was furious. What kind of scumbag would take advantage of poor, innocent Beth? “Who is he?” I demanded before I could even think to realize it was none of my business. She paused a long moment. I knew she was doing that inner IFB girl dialogue. Should she tell me and bring shame to his name? But she wasn’t trying to be vindictive or spiteful; she simply wanted to confide in a friend. “Alex… Alex Moore*”
The words nearly rocked me off my seat. My Alex? The Alex I was expelled over? The Alex who head nodded me the next morning like I was nothing? I stared at her and couldn’t speak. But I had to, I had to know. “Is he still with Claire?” She nodded and continued to cry. “Does the administration know it was him?” She nodded again and cried harder. Finally I asked the real question, “Did he get in trouble?”
She wiped her tears, sniffed, and wiped her nose “Not really – He said he just got a lecture”.