Big Day for the Little Dude

Tales of my wild romantic exploits have been grossly exaggerated. My first official date wasn’t until I was 16—a late start, even by yesterday’s standards. Verily, the flesh was more than willing. But my private school wasn’t exactly teaming with tantalizing coeds, plus not having a car made navigation a hassle and kept me out of circulation. Besides, the females I fancied were usually 10-25 years older than me, and most of them were on television or in movies and extremely unavailable. Little wonder, the only wild oats I sowed back then were Cheerios.
Nevertheless, I did hit it off with a girl from my HS drama group. Ms. S was sweet, personable, unpretentious, just this side of cute. Okay, she was only 15, but she enjoyed being around me. After growing up around a pack of farty old women babbling to each other in Italian, I felt flattered by the attention. I asked her out, not because she turned me on (I’d have preferred Natalie Wood), but because I knew she’d say yes.
Guess where I took her? On a cruise! No, not to the Bahamas. There was a famous three-hour boat ride called the Circle Line that sailed around Manhattan Island. I’d ridden it twice before, once with my aunt and again with my sophomore class. It gave me the advantage of being more experienced than my date. (Don’t laugh. Every bad-boy has to start somewhere!)
Sorry there aren’t any steamy details to report. S loved the cruise and thought me terribly clever for suggesting it. Thankfully, I didn’t need to do anything special once we were onboard: just sit, enjoy the ride and let the scenery do the talking. Easiest ego points I ever earned! Getting kissed didn’t even concern me, not this time. I was actually more afraid of being mugged on the subway. What could be more humiliating than having my throat cut in the presence of a girl I was trying to impress? Would have scarred me for life!
We trekked back to her place without incident: no slobber, no bloodshed, no hurt feelings. S thanked me for a good time, a bit ceremoniously, then gave me a peck on the lips, like I was her grandfather. I could live with that. We parted friends, and I returned home that evening with my reputation intact. (What reputation???)
Perhaps you’d rather hear about my experience with Ms. K the following year. In a word, she was everything Ms. S was not. My first thoughts when I met her…well, they weren’t about cruising the Hudson. Clearly, this girl had been around, and I don’t mean around Manhattan Island. She looked good, she smelled great, she liked me, and there’s no point pretending that anything else mattered. So I’ll skip the formalities (like K did) and cut to the chase.
Ever hear the expression, “A kiss is as a thousand years?” Of course not; I just made it up. It’s how that first mystical plunge felt. Like diving into a chasm from which I thought I’d never emerge…falling, falling, through some bottomless rabbit hole. By the time I reached bottom, my face was inside out, and I had aged a thousand years. Dang! Was this what I’d been missing? I had a similar reaction the first time I awoke from surgery.
When I was young, life seemed like a hormonal joyride without an itinerary; a series of false starts, rude awakenings and half-hearted simulations of experiences I only dimly understood. Neither of the infantile pseudo-romances I described here—nor the several dozen R-rated spinoffs that followed—could have prepared me for the extraordinary lady I was destined to marry. Or for that transcendent moment when I knew I loved her and wanted her forever. Indeed, the day I finally beheld perfection face to face, was the day the little dude put away childish things and became a man.

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