My first kiss was forgettable. I just brought it up to you of course, so obviously I didn’t forget it, but that is only because I was struck by what a non-event it was. The let-down was memorable beyond words.
His name was Gary. I wish him well.
Ever notice how wonderful first times are when they happen in books?
Around that time I liked to read the kind of love stories where the lead fell haplessly in love with the one man who wanted her dead, and the kisses in those books were nothing short of breath-taking. Lucky for my mental health, that phase was short lived. I read many other kinds of books, both before and after, and they provided me with many of my favorite firsts.
Like the time I picked up A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, read a few lines, and for the first time laughed out loud at the words on a page:
“HERE is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”
I think it was two years after that when L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz compelled me to view the world through new glasses – or more accurately a green shooter marble I carried in my pocket. Any time I wanted to see the truth behind the illusion, I could pull out that marble and peer through at the world around, and there it was: The Emerald City.
Not long after, Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince introduced me to that exquisite pleasure of reading something you know is deeper than your mind can hold, so deep you end up reading it again and again throughout your life, waiting for your mind to grow, waiting till you understand.
Similarly, J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey taught me, when I was in high school, that Jesus could be thought of – and talked of – outside of church, and that there was serious thinking to be done about him, that there was a mystery big enough to merit a second look:
“But I’ll tell you a terrible secret — Are you listening to me? There isn’t anyone out there who isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. That includes your Professor Tupper, buddy. And all his cousins by the dozens. There isn’t anyone anywhere that isn’t Seymour’s Fat Lady. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know that secret yet? And don’t you know — listen to me, now — don’t you know who that Fat Lady really is? … Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It’s Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy.” *
It was in high school too, that I first stole a book. I didn’t mean to.
It was an anthology titled Being Alive, and in it were two essays by the poet, Dylan Thomas, and in those essays I found paragraphs like this one:
“I was born in a large Welsh town at the beginning of the Great War—an ugly, lovely town (or so it was and is to me), crawling, sprawling by a long and splendid curving shore where truant boys and sandfield boys and old men from nowhere, beachcombed, idled and paddled, watched the dock-bound ships or the ships streaming away into wonder and India, magic and China, countries bright with oranges and loud with lions; threw stones into the sea for the barking outcast dogs; made castles and forts and harbours and race tracks in the sand; and on Saturday afternoons listened to the brass band, watched the Punch and Judy, or hung about on the fringes of the crowd to hear the fierce religious speakers who shouted at the sea, as though it were wicked and wrong to roll in and out like that, white-horsed and full of fishes.”
I only borrowed the book. But then one thing led to another, and I found myself in love. I discovered the deep melting pleasure of sentences written by skilled hands.
And I never took the book back.
You understand, right?
Could you let go of words like those? Could you ever pry your fingers from “ships streaming away into wonder and India, magic and China, countries bright with oranges and loud with lions?”
I thought not. Because you never forget your first time.
* Editor’s note: a bit of strong language was removed from the J.D. Salinger quote out of respect for our more sensitive readers. Our apologies to Salinger who, if he was still around, would likely be preparing a very colorful tirade in his own defense. We like you J.D. Truly, we do!