I’m not a perfectionist, but I’ve always felt that the big moments in life should be pretty flawless. I’ll never be the type to floss thrice daily, or wash the inside of a dishwasher before the dishes are placed within it. At the same time though, I really didn’t want to trip on the stage as I walked at graduation, and I really want to say the correct name when I propose to my future wife one day. I’ve always thought this apathetic perfectionism is one of the many amusing byproducts of mixing my parent’s DNA. My father is an easy-going guy that doesn’t sweat the small stuff, and my mom would be completely ok with calling up God if she didn’t think the sky was blue enough one day. I can imagine her in the yard, waggling a bottle of Windex at the heavens above: “It’s ammonia free!”, she would say, “and it really does get the streaks out!”
With the aforementioned information about my momentary bouts of perfectionism, you can only imagine the sudden pragmatic seizure I slung into when I realized that my first kiss was around the corner. In the eyes of a prude, awkward, 14-year-old boy in the marching band, this moment can only be topped by the first time you got asked to a Sadie Hawkins dance, or the first time a flirtatious popular girl cheats off of your history test. My first kiss was so important to me because in my narrow teenage thinking I thought this might be my only stab at gaining the affection of a woman. You wouldn’t blame me for a lack of self-esteem, with my zealous glob of hair gel, sprawling acne that looked like a topography of the Appalachians, denim jean shorts, or worst yet, my instrument in the marching band. I played the second smallest bass drum, which is about as emasculating as having your toenails painted magenta, and having your mom drop you off at the prom all at once. This was only made worse by the fact that the person playing the drum bigger than mine was a five-foot-two Chinese girl who actually played the oboe.
The girl I was so nervous about kissing was Lindsay O’Donnell, a match made somewhere between Heaven and the Waffle House down the street. I knew then as much as I still know now that I lucked out big time in the high school relationship department. She was a year older than me, on the dance team, and a natural redhead. She was a good student and super churchey, so my parents liked her as well. I know people who are in their late 20s and still traumatized by their first girlfriend, so in the broader picture I totally lucked out. During my three months with Lindsay I got cooler glasses, a new haircut, and I quit the denim shorts habit cold turkey. One can only imagine the atrocity that would have happened to me if I arrived in college wearing denim jean shorts. I probably would have become a religious extremist, or a “Dungeons and Dragons” type. I was fourteen years old, dating an older woman, and suddenly sitting on the diameter of the circle that was the in-crowd.
Two months had passed, and my hormones were boiling over the edge like one of those do-it-at-home espresso makers. One thing was clear: kissing this girl had to happen soon. I had never kissed a girl, been kissed by a girl, or fallen in the direction of a girl with my mouth open. I was petrified, and my overplanning instincts immediately kicked in. I devised a systematic plan with multiple steps, a seemingly intricate plot in the mind of a boy that would wear swimming trunks in the summer, just to skip the underwear. The plan: (1)take Lindsay for walk around duck pond in my neighborhood, (2)stop beneath willow tree that makes the most amazing sound in the wind, (3)stop walking, hold her hand, make eye contact, (4)say “Lindsay, these 2 months have been great”, (5)create an awkward pause, allowing her to make some sort of “aww” sound, and then (6), deliver the goods.
I didn’t know how to deliver the goods, or what the goods were for that matter, but I figured it couldn’t be too hard to figure out. I deduced most of my conclusions from movies that my mother had on TV and hilariously coy conversations on Instant Messenger, never wanting to divulge that I had not yet taken part in this activity, while still desperately prodding for information.
The night had come, and was going perfect to plan. We took our walk, laughed some, and ended up beneath my favorite, peacefully percussive willow tree. I smiled, and then said my pre-rehearsed line: “Lindsay, these 2 months have been great”. If you recall from above, step 5 was supposed to be an “aww” or some variant of a content groan from Lindsay. There was no such thing. Instead there were quacks. Not from her of course, but from a pack of wild, mocking, enraged geese. The pack of geese charged at us as if they were invading a small country barbarian-style: loudly, broodishly, and at full speed. I panicked, squeezed in the world’s fastest first kiss, grabbed Lindsay’s hand and fled to safety.
Looking back, it is impressive more than anything that I squeezed a kiss in as we were under siege by an army of geese. Our relationship lasted a little while longer, and for some reason 11 years later I can’t even remember how she dumped me. This is the great thing about the early relationships we all experience: that cliché about “only remembering the good things” is entirely true. We learn our lessons, keep the good stuff, and move on. Lindsay made me just cool enough that a month later I started dating this ridiculously artsy girl who made me sculptures. No matter if you are 14 and innocently figuring out the wild world of dating, or 25 and contemplating what eternity with one person feels like, any relationship that makes us a better person is well worth it.
We strive for perfection in our benchmark moments, and yet we never forget the moments where something out of the ordinary thumps us on the head. It’s a subtle reminder from something bigger than all of us to not take it all so seriously. I love good stories too much for anything normal to ever happen to me. I was attacked by a pack of geese during my first kiss, and if you know me, that probably doesn’t surprise you at all.