Now that I have a pal, I want to branch out. I need to diversify. I should get a girlfriend. I notice girls now. I’m not looking at their bodies as much as I’m looking at their faces. Fat faces aren’t attractive to me, so naturally I look at thin faces. Thin faces probably have thin bodies. There are some pretty fat girls in my junior high. They waddle down the hall. They look like squirrels with nuts in their cheeks, with teeth to match. They aren’t fun to look at. Some of them really smell, I can tell from way back as far from them as I can get. A lot of the fat girls have greasy-looking hair. That’s odd. Why is that? Is there a correlation? The pretty girls, none of them have greasy hair. I like to look at black-haired girls with dark brown eyes. The darker the girl, the more interesting they are to look at. They’re cute, better than light girls.
Going from class to class, I notice this dark girl in the halls. She has really white teeth and I like the way she has her hair. It’s straight and dark and she has bangs. I never talk with her. Every day we pass each other going to class, at the same place at the same time, after second period. She looks at me and looks away. I try to flirt with her but I don’t know how to do that so I end up staring at her. Next time I look at her while we pass, turn around and look back at her after taking a few steps. She turns around and looks back at me at the same time. We caught each other! My heart starts beating like I was in trouble or something. I turn back around quickly and she does, too. What is going on?
The next day I know she’ll come by in the hallway. What should I do? Should I look at her? Should I not look at her? I’m getting sweaty and panicky. After second period, I’m breathing hard and my heart’s pounding. I walk down the hall and here she comes. I’m going to look at her and smile and see what she does.
I look and smile. She looks and smiles at me, too. We lock eyes for like ten seconds, walking by and smiling. Should I stop and talk to her? Should I keep going? She stops to talk to me, but I keep on going, smiling at her and walking. I turn around after I pass her and see she’s standing there, still looking at me. Oh you dumb ass! Why didn’t I stop? What an idiot I am. I gotta get brave. You finally have a girl interested in you and you’re messing it up. You must quit being shy.
Next day after class, my heart starts pounding but I’m going to do it. I’m going to stop and say something. I don’t know what - I haven’t thought that part out yet. Here she comes. Wait! What’s this? She’s holding hands with some guy. I keep on walking. This time I don’t even look at her. I don’t know anything about girls.
There’s a sock hop at our school. The school gets cranky if we wear street shoes in the gym because it makes marks, so our dances are called sock hops. I decide to go to check it out. I like music but I don’t know how to dance. I’d never danced in my life. I ask my parents and I’m surprised they say I can go. They ask if it’s going to be chaperoned by teachers and I say yes. I don’t know and they won’t check.
The sock hop is dark with strobe lights, like what I imagine a nightclub would be like. The music is very loud. At my house there is no music. There is only Lawrence Welk on TV. My parents have a stereo but I never saw them use it. Not once, ever. It’s very quiet at my house. I don’t have any music either.
All the girls stand together in a group. I can’t believe I came here by myself. I don’t know what to do so I stand by a wall. This girl, Patty Dalton, comes over to where I’m standing. She has teacher hair, all up on top of her head and terrible-looking glasses. She even talks like a teacher. She’s very academic. She has a friend with her, Lucy, who doesn’t seem as intelligent as Patty. She’s more lower class. Lucy looks like someone who’d end up working in a factory. I think she’s more my type.
Patty talks but I’m not listening. I ask Lucy to dance and she says yes. Patty stops talking but seems okay with being ignored. Now I have to figure out how to dance. I don’t know how so I copy Lucy. I don’t think she knows how to dance, either. I’m sweating a lot. I’m soaked with sweat. We dance some more and then we go back to join Patty. We couldn’t ditch her. I’m desperately trying to figure out when and where I should kiss Lucy. I can’t figure out the timing on that so we just say good-bye. We don’t exchange phone numbers or anything.
Monday morning at school, I’m looking for Lucy everywhere, between every class. I find Patty Dalton and ask her if she’s seen Lucy. “That’s where her last class is,” she says. “Over there.” When class ends, I go over there to find her.
Lucy tells me she doesn’t live far from school so I tell her I’ll walk her home. There’s an orange grove between her house and the school. I can’t figure out how it happened exactly, but somewhere in that orange grove I got my first kiss. We didn’t know what to say to each other after we kissed so we kissed for a while and I walk her home. I’m so excited. I kissed a girl for the first time. I can’t concentrate. I feel light-headed. I walk in my house and it’s like I have this big secret. I have a girlfriend and no one knows. I’m not about to tell anyone, either.
We meet after school the next day and kiss in the orange grove again. We kiss just about every day in the orange grove, talking and laughing and getting comfortable with each other. I ask her to go steady with me and she agrees.
I walk into Eckhardt’s Drug Store and they have these cheap rings with hand-written price tags on them. I’m so cheap that I find the cheapest one and buy it with my saved-up lunch money. I don’t even look at it. I don’t know her size or anything. I give her the ring the next day and say, “Will you go steady with me?”
“Yes!” We kiss because we don’t know what we’re supposed to do. I’m horrible at kissing. My teeth keep banging her teeth. “Ow!” she says.
“Sorry,” I say. “I’ve never kissed anybody before.”
“That’s okay. I’d rather you be clumsy than have ever kissed anyone before me.”
“Ohhh!” Every time we kiss, I have to adjust myself, being that I’m a teenaged boy with a boner. I’d throw my hip around or put my hand in my pocket to loosen up. I had to relieve the pressure building in my pants.
“What are you doing?” she says.
“I have an itch,” I say.
It’s Friday and we meet in the orange grove again. I have this idea. I think I’ll bring a new dimension to our relationship. I watch romantic movies on TV when mom watches them to learn how to be a good kisser. Men always put their hands around women’s backs with their arms under the woman’s arms. I’d gotten it wrong until now. I put my arms above hers, like I’m giving hear a bear hug. This time when I kiss her, I move my hands up and down her back under her arms. I don’t want to be stiff and hold my hands in one place. I want to be more like men in the movies.
She’s wearing a thin white shirt through which you can see her bra strap. When I rub my hand up and down her back, my hands catch on her bra strap and sort of tug at it but it’s not intentional. I’m not trying to do anything but be passionate. She doesn’t say anything about how romantic I am. After my hand catches her bra strap a couple of times, she seems kind of stiff. We kiss again and go home.
Monday after school she approaches me and hands me a note. She walks away without saying anything. The note is folded in a small square. Inside the note I can feel something but I don’t know what’s in there. It’s weird she just walks away like that. I open the note. There’s the ring I gave her last week. Is this a joke or what? The note says, “When we kissed yesterday I felt you were trying to take my bra off. That’s not acceptable. I have no choice but to break up with you.”
What a misunderstanding. Why didn’t she say anything at the time? If that’s the way she’s going to be, if she won’t even talk about it, she wouldn’t be a very good girlfriend. I took the ring, put it in my pocket and figured I’d save it for my next girlfriend.
Patty starts flirting with me now. She must have learned that Lucy broke up with me. The story about me trying to take Lucy’s bra off must not bother Patty too much. I never thought about Lucy’s bra or sex or anything. Patty is so nice and she has a more balanced, pleasant personality than Lucy but I can’t get past her looks. I try to imagine kissing Patty and touching her teacher hair but I can’t. How does that work? Do I close my eyes and pretend I’m kissing someone else? I just want to kiss girls that I like.
I tell Patty I don’t want her as a girlfriend and she understands. She is so nice and so gracious. It’s a shame I can’t find her attractive. In a few years Lucy turns into a total slut and Patty ends up being student body president and quite possibly a brain surgeon after that. I don’t have another girlfriend for a long, long time. My parents don’t know any of this. They don’t ask me about girls or about my life or how I’m doing in school. They don’t ask me one question, ever.
I’m thirteen when George leaves for good. “He quit school and moved into a house with four or five other guys,” my dad says. “They’re drinking, that’s all they’re doing,” as if my dad isn’t doing exactly that. My dad drinks a lot, but he thinks no one notices him hiding in the bathroom for twenty minutes, coming out smelling like alcohol.
My dad gets a phone call, which is unusual, and then tells me to get in the car. We drive to this house and he pulls up alongside the curb. “Watch this, Davey,” my dad says. Three police cars pull up to the house. They go in and bring out all these teenage boys, sixteen year-old boys like my brother, in handcuffs. George is one of the boys. He sees us as he is led into the back of the police car. “This is what happens when you do things like George does,” my dad says. “Don’t ever give us a hard time like George did.”
I like George and I don’t know how to respond. George is the first normal kid my mom and dad had. I’m the second. First they had the twins but they’re special needs and you don’t expect rebellion from special needs girls. George has lots of friends and my parents don’t know how to deal with him. They tell him, “George, be home by eleven,” like they need to exercise some kind of parental control over him but he’s his own person. He comes home when he comes home. He’s been doing that his whole life. They don’t have to deal with him anyway since he’s never home. I didn’t even know he moved out until this happened.
A really cute girl comes up to me at school. “Can you come with me to my house at Island Estates?” she says. “My parents will be there to chaperone. We can go out on the boat and we can drop you off at home at night.”
I’ve never been asked to anything like this before. I don’t know what to say. “Yeah,” I say. “Sure.” I’m too embarrassed to say I have to ask permission.
I tell my mom all about the boat and the girl at Island Estates. “Her parents will be there,” I say. My mom doesn’t believe me. “You’re not going,” she says. “You’re not going on a date with a girl.”
Here I’ve been socially hopeless, without a shred of a social life my whole life. Now I’m finally getting people to ask me to go places and I can’t go. George got to do whatever he wanted and he didn’t ask. Here I’m nice enough to ask and I’m getting penalized for it. I don’t have the courage to tell the cute girl I can’t go. I don’t have the guts to call her back, even. I deal with it the only way I know how - I don’t show up where her parents are supposed to pick me up. I avoid her at school and she obviously ignores me, too, since she thinks I stood her up. She’s really cute.
For almost three years I’ve struggled in school but now, at the end of eighth grade, I get to the point where my grades are so bad, so impossible-to-ignore bad, that I stopped caring. I’m happy eighth grade is over and I’m enjoying my first week of summer vacation, sitting at our little table in the kitchen. My dad sees me idle and says, “Do you know if you even passed eighth grade or not?”
“I don’t know.” I really don’t. It’s summer vacation. Why would I be thinking about school?
“I’m going to find out right now,” he says. He’s retired now but he’s selling used cars. He does that in the evening so he’s here during the day sometimes. He picks up the phone and calls my junior high school and asks for the vice principal. “I’m calling about my son, Davey,” he says. “Davey Blevins.”
“Yeah, Charlie. Charles David, that’s right, yeah.” He still won’t call me Charlie, not even to the office. “I want to know if he passed the eighth grade.” It’s silent for a while. I honestly don’t know if I passed. I didn’t think about it until now. Now I’m starting to think about it. This might not be good. “Okay,” my dad says. “Thank you.”
He hangs up and he looks at me with his face all tight like I’m the biggest loser in the world. “Well you did it,” he says. “You failed the eighth grade. You’re going to have to start all over again.”
I must be in a lot of trouble. My heart started pounding. What’s gonna happen? What would repeating the eighth grade be like? Wait a minute. Instead of getting upset and worried, I thought that it wouldn’t be so bad. I’ll make new friends. I’ll reinvent myself. I don’t really like anybody in my class now except for Danny and he doesn’t talk. I’m already an outcast. It’s hard for me to make friends in that grade because I’m shy. Being a year older might be better because I’d be better. I could make friends easier, already doing the eighth grade once I could do it better the second time. I’m pretty happy about it, especially compared to my dad but he doesn’t say another word.