Confession: when I was a teenager
(lo, these many years ago), I was a confused kitten. I met this guy at a Christian
leadership training conference (no, it was NOT the brainwash it sounds like) who was the spit and image of Ewan McGregor
. Of course, I had no idea who Ewan McGregor was at the time, because he was most likely snogging his first girlfriend at summer camp that year rather than starring in "Trainspotting
". Anyway, he was easily the hottest guy I'd ever met, and soft-spoken, sensitive, intelligent, and spiritually aware to boot.
(Note to any young men reading this writeup: never underestimate the power that your burgeoning spirituality has on young women. It speaks of passion and stability and sensitivity, a heady combination of traits that should never be exploited for the booty that it will almost certainly attract. Seriously.)
But I digress. James was not only my ideal guy, he was also attracted to me. Mere words cannot convey the sheer wonder that this fact elicited in me. I was 14, 5'11, skinny, and painfully shy, but James saw something in me that I was convinced only my worshipful baby sister would ever recognize. He saw good stuff. Stuff I hadn't yet come to terms with. Talents and fire and even physical beauty. I was undone by his attentiveness, not to mention his serious blue eyes that contrasted so efficiently with his easy laugh. His mind - the way he strung his thoughts together like lyrics. His scent. Spicy, but not from sweat or from a bottle. He seemed to exude incense. His scent undid me.
I was saving myself, whatever that meant, for marriage. For someone NotJames, someone I'd meet much later, probably a pastor or a teacher, probably when I was in graduate school. I had these half-fantasies about consoling my poor, deflowered college roommates while maintaining my pristine virginity. I was insufferably sanctimonious, but James graciously overlooked that. He overlooked so much.
So we wound up talking. A lot. The conference was held at a seaside center on Seabrook Island, SC - as close to paradise as you can get without a passport - and we would sneak out after lights out to just...talk. I was afraid of his physicality, of his beauty. Women, you know how intimidating, how heartbreaking and frightening the loveliness of boys can be. And he was a boy...only 17, and blond, and as perfect in the moonlight as a boy can be.
But the last night rolled around, and after a painfully awkward moment he asked me if he could kiss me.
Reader, I kissed him.
It was one of those kisses. The ones you record in your diary with your own blood, while your lips are still swollen from contact and your hands tremble with unsatisfied lust. The best kind of kisses...the ones you outgrow. Not that other types of kisses don't come your way, but these sorts of kisses...well, they're limited. They're endangered. They're strictly for certain boys on certain beaches at certain moments in your life, and you don't forget. You never forget. You couldn't. Not on pain of torture.
So we made out, and yes, I have the diary. The journal entry, that is - after all, I was too old for diaries. I was a ripe old 16 when I recorded it, and to this day the memory brings color to my cheeks. We departed for our separate cities the next day, and we wrote a few letters, cautiously testing the waters of this new ocean we'd waded into. The water was fine.
Suffice it to say that we screwed up. We were excited to learn that there would be a reunion dance for all of us "Christian Leaders" at a church between our towns around Thanksgiving that year. I have one picture that a good friend whose name I now forget took for us. In it, I'm on James's lap in a sleeveless peach-colored cashmere dress. He liked the way it felt. I liked the way his hands felt on my waist.
After many pleasantries and a lot of dancing, James and I went for a walk in the graveyard behind the church. Charleston is like a lesser-known New Orleans...lots of above-ground tombs and very old gravestones. History is as thick as the humidity here.
I got chilly; James gave me his leather jacket to wear. He made me feel petite - a novelty at my height - by draping it over my shoulders. I felt like all those girls I'd always envied - tiny, cherished, pretty. And suddenly I was no longer wobbling on my new high-heeled shoes. I was beneath James, on an above-ground tomb. I wish I could remember the name carved on the stone.
Neither of us had done this before and neither one of us meant to do it that night. It wasn't bad, of course...it isn't as though I'd never imagined him inside of me before that night. But, strangely, we were unable to meet each others' eyes with the same degree of openness we had had earlier that same night. There was hardly any blood, and no one batted an eye at our reappearance. Only we knew about what had happened in the graveyard that night.
When I got home, I looked in the mirror. Nothing in my eyes betrayed me. My parents said "Goodnight," and I was left alone with a memory of a boy I almost knew. I remember being afraid that I'd rushed things, that there'd be bad repercussions. There were, and they're all ordinary.
James wrote a few halfhearted letters to me before becoming a distant memory. When I did think of him, it was nearly always the James I knew on the beach in the summer moonlight, not the James of November, the James who scoured my back raw on the granite of a tomb. It was startling to realize that instead of creating intimacy, making love in that graveyard buried whatever chance we might have had. We didn't understand the tidal wave of emotion that sex can cause and we weren't old enough to withstand that impact. I never saw him again.
A few years later, after a nasty divorce, I was working as a waitress in an upscale restaurant. A couple I waited on was celebrating their 25th anniversary. As sometimes happens, I had a good rapport with them and I found out that they were from the same small town as James.
"Really!" I said. "Do you know..."
Their faces clouded over in unison. "No one told you...?" the woman asked. Her husband cleared his throat. "He commited suicide earlier this year, honey. He jumped off the bridge."
I saw it even before my tears had a chance to well. A small town in coastal Georgia. One bridge, just high enough. Maybe some alcohol involved...or a woman...what else is there in a small town? I saw him plummet toward the water. He loved the saltiness of the coast. "Ash, you know, we're mostly ocean," he once said to me. "Blood has the same chemistry as salt water with a few extras thrown in by God for good measure." And we'd laughed at that.
So, yeah. Graveyards make me wet, but only rarely. Only when I'm reminded. And only above the neck.