What was your “first time” like? (from Memorizing You By Dan Skinner)

my“You  guys  have  a  fun  night!”  his  mom  called  after  us  as  I  followed  him   across  the  field.

“What  kind  of  surprise?”   I  said,  straining  to  see  ahead  in  through  the   encroaching  twilight.  Just  barely  viewable  halfway  across,  I  made  out  a  shape   that  looked  like…a  tent.  A  campsite.  A  ring  of  rocks  with  a  small  fire  burning  in   it.  A  stack  of  wood  next  to  it.

“What  the  hey?”  I  was  amused  by  the  idea.  Reading  scary  stories  by  a   campfire.

“I  thought  you’d  like  that,”  he  said,  running  ahead  of  me  toward  the  tent.

I  ran  to  catch  up  and  was  surprised  that  it  was  a  good  sized  tent  with  a   lantern,  a  stash  of  graham  crackers,  marshmallows  and  chocolate  for  s’mores,  a   couple  of  thermos  of  grape  Kool-­‐‑Aid,  some  pretzels,  and  chips.

The  fire  had  been  started  earlier  and  had  dwindled  down.  Ryan  threw  two   more  small  logs  on  it  to  rekindle  it.

“There’s  gonna  be  a  full  moon  tonight.  That’ll  make  it  even  better.”  The  guy   was  something  else.  Who  would  have  thought  of  turning  a  study  time  of  Edgar   Allan  Poe  into  a  campfire  side  story?

Darkness  fell  fast,  and  from  where  we  were  situated  we  couldn’t  even  see   the  lights  of  his  house.  Only  our  campsite  and  the   canopy   of  stars  in  the   cloudless  night.  We  pulled  the  sleeping  bags  from  the  tent  around  the  fire,  and   propped  the  lantern  on  the  outside  of  the  tent.

I  started  with  The  Facts  in  the  Case  of  M.  Valdemar.  The  story  of  a  dying  man   being  hypnotized  and  still  able  to  communicate  after  he  was  dead.  Ryan  listened   intently,  only  breaking  the  discourse  when  he  didn’t  understand  the  meaning  of   a  word.

Next  I  read  The  Fall  of  The  House  of  Usher,  then,  The  Masque  of  Red   Death,  and  finally,  The  Tell-­‐‑Tale  Heart.

Ryan  looked  at  me  after  the  last  sentence  and  said,  “Wow,  that  Poe  was  one   sick  puppy.  He  shoulda  been  in  a  home.”

“Yes,  but  he  was  probably  a  greater  influence  to  the  modern  writers  of   horror  and  suspense  than  any  other  writer.  He  was  more  readable  than  the   others.  The  terror  was  more  realistic.  That’s  why  he’s  so  important.”

In  the  flames  of  the  fire  I  could  see  he  was  looking  at  me  with  what   appeared,  to  my  eyes,  to  be  admiration.

“How  do  you  know  all  of  this  stuff?”  he  asked.  “Are  you  like  some  whiz-­‐‑kid   genius?”

“I  just  like  to  read,”  I  answered.  “Never  made  a  lot  of  friends;  wasn’t  good  at   sports  much.  So,  I  read.”

“Well,  good  for  me,”  he  said.  “I  get  a  tutor  and  a  running  buddy  all  rolled   into  one.”

He  made  s’mores  and  we  ate  them  watching  the  full  moon  rise  high  in  the   starry  night.  There  was  no  doubt  he  was  a  true  nature  boy.  He  loved  everything   about  being  outdoors.  He  sat  bow-­‐‑legged  in  the  semi-­‐‑darkness  listening  to  the   sounds  of  the  night  like  they  were  a  song  being  sung  for  him.

I  cannot  lie.  I  was  captivated  by  his  raw  beauty.  His  blue  eyes  shone  in  the   lunar  light.  The  curve  of  his  head  with  its  close-­‐‑cropped  blond  hair  made  me   think  of  an  imposing  Roman  statue  of  a  conquering  hero.  The  masculine   inclination  of  his  nose  from  a  square  forehead,  the  slope  of  cheekbone  to  a  strong   block  of  chin,  both  alluring  and  majestic.

“Such  a  beautiful  night,”  he  commented,  his  eyes  still  fixed  on  the  moon.   “People  lose  sight  of  how  beautiful  the  world  is  that  we  live  in  by  sitting  in  front   of  the  boob  tube  every  night.”

I  stared  at  the  curve  of  his  back,  the  full  bicep  as  he  raised  his  s’more  and  ate.   The  blond  hair  on  his  legs  gleamed  in  the  duo  of  light.

He  turned  to  look  at  me,  orange  embers  catching  his  face  again.  “Where  do   you  plan  to  go  after  high  school?  Which  college?”

I  explained  to  him  how  it  was  unlikely  I’d  be  able  to  attend  any  college.  Our   family  didn’t  have  the  finances.  That  I’d  probably  decide  on  a  trade  and  go  to  a   school  for  that.

“You  already  have  a  trade  that’s  making  money.  Why  not  just  build  on   that?”

“You  mean,  mowing  lawns?”  I’d  never  thought  of  it  as  anything  but  a  school   boy’s  way  of  making  cash.  Not  a  lifetime  profession.

“Why  not?  Everybody  needs  their  lawns  mowed.  There’s  apartment   complexes  and  office  buildings;  all  kinds  of  places  that  would  probably  pay   regularly  to  have  their  lawns  mowed.  You  just  get  more  clients,  hire  more  high   school  guys  who  want  to  make  extra  cash,  and  build  the  business  up  as  big  as   you  can.”  He  looked  back  up  at  the  moon.  “You  make  your  own  mulch,  sell  that   service;  do  shrubbery  trimming.  There’s  all  kinds  of  ways  to  make  money  with   that  stuff.”

Looking  back  now  on  how  easily  someone’s  words  would  end  up  shaping   the  course  of  my  life,  you’d  wonder  about  things  like  providence.  Retiring  after   forty  years  of  a  very  successful  lawn  care  business,  made  these  moments  shine   like  fate  was  a  gold  lamp  lighting  the  way.

The  moon  was  waning  when  we  carried  our  sleeping  bags  back  into  the  tent,   turned  off  the  lantern  and  listened  to  the  sounds  of  the  night.  My  mind  raced   with  uncoordinated  thoughts,  lying  so  close  to  him.  It  was  exciting  and   frightening.  But  I’d  not  make  a  fool  of  myself.  I  saw  what  it  looked  like  to  be  on   the  other  end  of  someone  who  doesn’t  feel  the  same  way.  The  image  of  Rosemary’s  face  was  always  there  to  remind  me.

“So  what  was  your  first  time  like?”  His  voice  came  from  the  shadows,   backlit  by  an  expiring  campfire.   It  was  odd  that  he  should  ask  that  as  I  remembered  the  pained  expression  of   the  girl  I  rejected.  “It’s  not  worth  talking  about,”  I  said  after  a  long  pause.

“That’s  why  you  were  running  that  first  day  I  saw  you,  isn’t  it?  That’s  why   you  were  angry.”

I  debated  whether  I  wanted  to  answer  it,  and  then  gave  in.  Maybe  I  would   learn  courage  from  him.  “Yeah.  I  hurt  someone  I  didn’t  mean  to  hurt.”

I  heard  him  shift.  His  profile  disappeared  as  he  turned  to  look  at  me.  He  was   in  darkness.  I  couldn’t  even  see  his  eyes.


I  tried  to  think  of  some  way  to  answer  that  question  that  didn’t  make  me   look  worse  than  I  felt  I  was.  “I  made  someone  believe  I  was  interested  in  them   when  I  wasn’t.  I…was  using  them.”

“Why?”   I  didn’t  want  to  explain  it.

I  didn’t  want  to  touch  the  subject  at  all.   “It’s  complicated.”

His  sigh  was  prolonged.  “Ah.  My  most  popular  answer  when  my  folks  ask     me  why  I’m  not  dating.”

So  many  moments  passed  I  thought  he’d  fallen  asleep.  I  could  hear  his   breathing.  The  night  sounds.  The  last  crackles  of  the  embers  in  the  campfire.

“It’s  hard  to  want  to  fit  in  and  not  be  able  to,”  his  voice  came  barely  above  a   whisper.  “They  make  us  feel  like  it’s  easier  to  lie  than  be  truthful.  Easier  to  hide   than  be  seen.  Make  us  feel  like  we  did  something  wrong  to  not  be  like  them.  Like   we  made  a  conscious  choice.”

It  seemed  I  was  breaking  down  inside.  It  wasn’t  out  of  self-­‐‑pity,  but  out  of  the  realization  of  the  helplessness  of  the  situation.  My  throat  was  stifling  me,  but   I  found  a  voice.  Small  as  it  was.  “I  didn’t  choose  it,”  I  said.  “It  was  just  there  one   day.”

I  couldn’t  believe  I’d  made  the  admission  to  him.  As  the  words  came  out  of   me,  I  felt  anchors  fall  away.  I  could  breathe  again.  I  could  sense  coolness  in  the   night  air  again.

I  heard  him  laugh.  “Sort  of  like  Mozart  when  he  could  play  the  piano  at   seven?”

I  could  feel  the  smile  curve  my  lips.  “More  like  Rudolf  having  a  red  nose.   How  the  hell  did  that  get  there?”

He  snickered  into  his  hands.  “So  true,”  he  snorted.  “They  think  it’s   like  we  chose  a  jacket  to  wear.”

It  was  astonishing  how  much  freer  I  felt  having  admitted  my  secret  to  him.   When  we  settled  down  from  laughing  at  ourselves,  the  silence  pressed  on  us   again.

“You  have  to  apologize  to  your  friend,”  he  told  me.  “You  can’t  let  her  go  on   thinking  it  was  something  she  did.  She’ll  carry  that  forever.”

I  knew  he  was  right.  I  hoped  I  got  the  opportunity  to  do  that.  It  wasn’t   something  I  wanted  to  carry  with  myself  either.  I  lay  there  listening  to  his  light   snoring  for  an  hour.  I  wanted  to  absorb  every  moment  of  this  night.  I  knew  it   was  special.  I  wanted  to  keep  it  locked  away  inside  me  forever  just  the  way  it   was.  When  I  closed  my  eyes  to  sleep,  I  thought  of  how  he’d  glowed  like  a  jewel   in  the  light  of  the  campfire.  The  way  the  flames  carved  him  against  the  darkness.   The  very  shape  of  his  head.  The  smudges  of  chocolate  and  marshmallows  on  his   fingers  and  lips.  How  the  hair  on  his  legs  looked  like  filaments  of  gold.  When  I   was  certain  my  heart  had  painted  the  canvas  in  my  memory…I  fell  asleep.

Memorizing You By Dan Skinner : https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DUXS4Z2




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