You know how the weather can sometimes take you back, and give you a sense of deja vu?
Well, here in Florida it’s usually humid and warm, if not downright muggy and hot, but today it was drier, somehow reminding me of California, where I grew up. So I allowed myself to reminisce, and I thought of my childhood home in the San Fernando Valley.
After awhile, I turned my thoughts from my old home and took them across the street, to the Hernandez place.
It was there that I’d experienced that second great touchstone occasion in the life of a boy, his first kiss.
The first great touchstone occasion in the life of a boy, of course, is when the training wheels come off his bicycle.
Establishing something of a precedent, my first kiss was with an older woman.
In this case, my babysitter.
Juanita was her name. She was the eldest daughter of the Hernandez family, fifteen-years-old, lithe and brown with large black eyes and long, straight, shiny hair.
She was the babysitter. An outgoing, happy, precocious girl.
I was the one being sat. A daydreaming, well-read, thirteen-year-old boy.
How do things start? I thought Juanita was beautiful and I told her so, sighing as if my heart would break. She liked that, I suppose, because she suggested we try playing Spin the Bottle.
“Great idea!” I said, and my little pulse began to race. Although why I don’t know, I only had a vague idea of what Spin the Bottle was.
So we played, just the two of us. It took me eighteen spins, but eventually the bottle came to rest pointing directly at Juanita. I looked up and smiled, childishly happy to have won the game.
We rose from the floor and stood facing each other. Juanita took my hand and led me to a darkened corner of the room. Trembling, I closed my eyes, puckered my lips, and leaned forward. Our noses touched, then Juanita, with a giggle, tilted her head and our mouths met. For an instant I thought I heard beautiful music fill the air, but it was probably the television in the next room (where my younger sister and brother were). I was surprised by the wonderful softness of Juanita’s lips, and the warmth emanating from her. I kept my eyes closed as we kissed and imagined Juanita’s smiling face, her brown skin, ruby lips and white teeth. She smelled of baby shampoo. Kissing Juanita was extremely pleasant and I made a sort of inadvertent “Hmm-Hmmmm” noise, I was enjoying it so much. At this Juanita giggled and I felt the breath from her nostrils puff lightly on my skin, our lips parted and my first kiss was over.
I opened my eyes to see Juanita staring back at me and smiling in a peculiar way.
For days afterwards, I would recall that kiss in every detail, pausing in my schoolwork or reading to look out the window and daydream about Juanita and her soft lips.
I couldn’t wait for the next time I would need sitting and we could play Spin the Bottle again, but Juanita never showed another speck of interest in me as a kisser or a spinner, nor as anything other than a little boy who sometimes needed babysitting.
In just a few short days, I sadly learned, Juanita, in her opinion, had grown too old for me.
It was a few days later when I gathered enough courage to cross the street and speak to her. She was standing with a group of girls, her sisters and some others, on the sidewalk in front of her house. As I approached she turned to the others and spoke in Spanish. At the same time, she raised her expressive, graceful hand (I noticed she had painted her fingernails, they were scarlet red), and made a pinching gesture with the thumb and forefinger. The girls laughed together, then turned to me and laughed some more.
I looked down at my feet and mumbled something about missing her and what had I done to displease her. What had I done wrong?
“Go home,” said Juanita, her beautiful mouth speaking cruelly, her lovely eyes looking coldly. “Quit hanging around! I don’t want my new boyfriend to see you!”
I ran home with the sound of Juanita’s derisive laughter ringing in my ears.
After that it would break my heart to walk past the Hernandez house after school, to see Juanita, with her beautiful laughing mouth and shiny hair, her schoolbooks clasped to her budding chest, talking to the older boys who always clustered around her. Some of the boys were old enough to drive and arrived in run-down cars, radios blaring. Mrs. Hernandez would come out of the house, flapping her apron to chase them off, and call Juanita in to supper.