Me, 8th Grade after braces

I’m a thirteen-year-old roller rink rat in Miami, Florida, careening around the oval with all the coolness a Catholic school seventh grader could scrape up.

I was fast and zit-free, and it was going to be a good day. I whizzed past Steven, a spindly, freckled kid with a thatch of wavy dark hair and braces. The braces had caused me more than a little concern—even with my hard-won confidence vibrating in my wheels. We’d skated every couples skate for the past two weekends, and I’d used my mad speed skills to dodge his puckered lips. But today I’d collect my first kiss. And it was going to be epic.

Last night, out of sheer desperation, I grabbed Mom by the wrist, yanked her into my room, and locked the door.  “Cross your heart and hope to die, stick a needle in your eye—if you laugh” My heart beat double-time.5348824531_c82a5b5de5_o

She sank to the edge of the bed beside me, Chanel N°5 clinging to her nurse whites.

I talked to the red and orange shag rug. “How do you kiss? It looks complicated on TV.”

She laughed—not a suppressed titter, a big guffaw that came all the way up from her sensible shoes.


She cleared her throat. “Sorry.”

But she’d been the perfect person to ask after all.

Steven laced his sweaty fingers through mine for the last couples skate.

Mom’s words ran through my head. Just stand there. If he wants to kiss you so badly, he must know what he’s doing.  It was one of those yet-to-crystallize moments when Mom proved her intelligence in a way I appreciated.

file0001602794217But the song ended, and Steven clattered off the floor to the opposite end of the rink to swap his skates for tennis shoes.

I dug my flip flops out from under the bench, glancing up every few seconds to see if Steven would come looking for his kiss. Squirming out of my skates and socks, I slipped into my shoes and slung the skates over my shoulder.

I waded into the bedlam of kids zipping by on skates or clomping on foot toward where I’d last seen Steven. No way was I stewing over my first kiss for another week. But what if my braces locked with his? Mom had never heard of this mortifying event happening—but I had. photo

Steven saw me and popped off the bench. He seemed so much shorter, less impressive, without his skates, even though I was shorter, too. Not one for conversation, Steven grabbed my bicep—afraid, no doubt, that I’d ditch him again.

He planted damp lips on mine.

Kids milled around us in the unnatural florescent light. A shout. The sound of wheels rolling across carpet, then wood. The smell of popcorn and hot dogs.

And the kiss was over.

Steven mumbled an awkward good-bye.

I hugged my skates to my chest, awash in relief that we would not have to ride in the back seat of his mother’s car to find an orthodontist to disconnect our mouths.

As I rode two Miami city buses home in the Saturday afternoon glare, fat with checking off an important rite of passage, the kiss felt anti-climactic. I wished I’d waited for a guy I’d like longer than five minutes.