catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 6 :: 2006.03.24 — 2006.04.07


Kissing and telling

When I was in eighth grade, I got in trouble for making out with a boy in the darkened music room during my school’s annual fundraising auction. This confession is not one I make easily because it still makes me feel ashamed and angry.

Prior to this experience, I had kissed two boys on the cheek, one (briefly) on the lips. Suddenly, along comes an older, dangerously beautiful boy who is interested in me?me! The popular girls were jealous. It was a smart political move to follow his lead. Thankfully, my body told me the next day that such an expression of sexuality was not healthy and I stayed home from church with a stomachache that throbbed whenever I thought about the night before. Our relationship was brief and mostly over the phone. He T.P.ed my house when I dumped him.

I’m still not sure how old he really was, since I found out later that he had lied to me about so much?or neglected to tell me certain things, like the fact that he laid women (and girls) as though it were a sport. I’m grateful that his efforts with me never progressed beyond kissing, but I still feel victimized in a way. Not only did my first real kiss taste like an ash tray, but I lost one of my favorite babysitting jobs as well when the music teacher jumped to the conclusion that if I was making out with a boy in her band room, I must be partying after hours in their home.

Are these memories trivial? We adults tend to smile in patronizing recognition when a young acquaintance finds him or herself in the throes of first love and lust. However, a gnawing recognition of how close I may have come to a devastating sexual encounter tells me that we need to have a more nuanced response to the discovery of sexuality and other messy parts of the self that come to light during the teen years.

What I think I needed when my “trespass” was discovered was not the slap on the wrist I received or the “shunning” by my music teacher. These responses revealed a desire by the adults in my life to keep an embarrassed distance from any meaningful engagement of the sexuality I was discovering. Instead, I think I needed someone to help me enter into sorrow. I wish now that someone had asked me questions about my experience: who is this boy? How old is he? How long have you known him? If they had, they might have discovered much sooner than I did that my longing for touch was all tangled up with a desire to please and be accepted. They might have helped me mourn the loss of innocence and work through my inability to know enough about who I was to say “no” to this boy I had met just hours earlier. They could have affirmed my physical response of illness and helped me engage the feelings that caused my regret.

My thoughts could be construed as an indictment of my parents, but they’re not. They did an amazing job of discerning what I needed and putting me in an educational environment in which I could thrive. And if their response to the “music room incident” represents a failure on their part, it is also my failure: I neglected to offer any guidance to my two younger sisters as they passed through the tumultuous teen-aged years not far behind me. I often wish I could do that part of our relationship over again.

Rather than a criticism of my parents or the other adults in my life when I was a teen-ager, I hope my reflection offers something constructive out of my experience, both for myself and others. The lesson I’m still learning relates to how important it is to love teen-agers not from a distance, but from right next to them, holding their hands if necessary and asking the embarrassing questions to create space for the expression of their questions and fears. For my part, I think I will finally do something I’ve been considering for a while, and that is to let my pre-teen female cousins and nieces know that if there’s ever anything they can’t talk about with their parents, for whatever reason, they can always come to me. And I will take the opportunity of an upcoming family vacation to broach some of the big questions with my younger sister and brother.

An atmosphere of shame and silence doesn’t allow young people, or anyone for that matter, to flourish in the full presence of the stories of their community. While learning through experience can be valuable, it’s not always necessary and neither is it fruitful if a particularly affecting “learning” experience goes unexamined on account of confusion and embarrassment. We are good stewards of our relationships with younger people when we cultivate an atmosphere of openness, honesty and mercy.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus