Friday, September 29, 2006
At 14 she couldn’t deny the urges that swept over her. She was much more woman than child, but in her plaid Catholic school skirt and knee socks it was hard to feel that way. Well, it was hard to feel that way until Robert came down the hall.
He was one of the first people to be nice to her when she joined the ranks of this pious tribe. They were 12 then and Robert knew what it was like to feel alone in these halls, for lots of reasons.
Kelly’d grown up in a sheltered place, closed in now by the Catholic-ness of it all. Her mother’s family was a hearty bunch of Irish Catholics (need we say more), her father’s family a generic Waspy clan. No specific ethnicity there. No specific religion. They made the assumption that everyone they met was Christian and said a quiet prayer for any they met who didn’t “fit in.” Kelly’s world was a white, Roman Catholic one until she met Robert.
He came from a place she had never seen or touched. He went to school for free because, well, because Catholics take people in. He read the book in religion class and sometimes asked questions that made no sense to a cradle Catholic like Kelly. Questions like, “But when were you saved?”
“Saved? Saved from what?” she asked him later, fiddling with her notebook.
“You know, saved,” he said. “When did you accept Jesus into your heart?”
“I don’t know, but I did,” she said. With her papers tucked away, she still couldn’t look at him. He was one of the few boys who was taller than her. She liked that. He had broad shoulders. She liked that, too. And his voice had already changed. But mostly she liked his eyes. He had the biggest, brownest eyes she’d ever experienced in all her 14 years. Later in life, she’d learn to call them expressive, soulful. They told her things about him that he didn’t know about himself and that she couldn’t put to words.
They started back down the hall.
“It’s just different at my church.” He finally broke the silence as they turned down the stairs. “My whole family is Southern Baptist. We would never be allowed to go to services in jeans the way you guys do. It’s just different.”
It was the end of the day and the stairs were deserted. He took her hand and, for whatever reason she was surprised. What made her tummy twist wasn’t the excitement of his touch. It wasn’t the realization that he liked her, too. It was the knowing. Knowing for the very first time.
Because she’d never touched a black person before and she couldn’t understand what was happening in her brain. “Why did you think it would feel different somehow?” she asked herself. She didn’t even realize until that moment that she had somehow wondered if his skin would feel different than hers.
His hand was soft and warm and she squeezed it as she felt her face flush. Even though she’d never really thought about their differences, they had been in the back of her brain. She was ashamed.
“Are you going to the dance tonight?” His voice cut through her thoughts and she dared to meet his gentle eyes, but they were fixed on her shoes.
He kissed her at that dance. Her tummy jumped at his scent, that jump you get when you’re 14 and experiencing arousal for the very first time. Suddenly she was acutely aware of her inner thighs. With his kiss, that awkward teenage kiss, she left her childhood behind. They were cheek to cheek now, and she learned that he had started shaving. The little difference in them she had never noticed before that day was gone again. He was Robert and they were the same, standing alone together.
And also, I love the photo in your last post. I wish I was walking down that path.
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