At fourteen years old I almost had my first real kiss.
It was the fall of my 8th grade year. I had just moved to town the previous spring. One day in between classes my friend told me the prettiest girl in 7th grade wanted to “go with me”. That’s what we called it then. I barely knew her but I was no fool. So I wolfed down my Big Stuff Oreo cookie and made Jill Langley the proud owner of a brand new scared-out-of-his-mind boyfriend.
Boyfriend, is of course, a loose term. We hung out between classes. We didn’t talk, mind you, but we hung out. We would call each other on the phone but didn’t talk then much either. At football games we held hands. That was pretty awesome – partly because we didn’t have to talk but also because someone other than my mom wanted to hold my hand.
But relationships progress or they die. And the homecoming dance loomed like the shores of Normandy.
Jill was not the first girl with whom I’d danced. But she was the first girl with whom I’d danced with expectations. So there we found ourselves, my hands clasped behind her back, her’s behind my neck, on the basketball court of Dadeville High School, slow dancing to Right Here Waiting by Richard Marx.
Jill had blue eyes and freckles that might as well have been kryptonite. We danced with our heads on each other’s shoulders. It was safer that way. But occasionally we would lift our heads, lock eyes, pause, then jellyfish, diving back onto each other’s shoulders. It was excruciating.
On the bleachers between songs my friend encouraged me. Don’t be afraid. It’s not as scary as you’re making it. Just do it.
Then Heaven by Warrant. Another swing and a miss followed by more coaching in the bleachers.
When I See You Smile by Bad English. Strike three.
So it was no surprise when her friend handed me a breakup letter Monday in school. I was less heartbroken and more angry with myself. I deserved to be dumped for being a scaredy-cat.
More than any other commandment, the Bible says don’t be a chicken. Facing the promised land, the Babylonians, and our own shortcomings require enormous courage. I think the Bible commands courage so often not just because God is with us and we have nothing to fear, but because we become most hurtful when we’re afraid. Job’s friends became hurtful out of fear of losing their neat and tidy theology. Herod killed a bunch of babies out of fear of a newborn king. It’s why politicians peddle fear. A voting base that’s afraid, is a voting base that’s motivated to fight.
I hope I didn’t hurt Jill’s feelings. I hope she didn’t feel rejected. She died too soon or I’d tell her now. If “Heaven isn’t too far away” to see Facebook, Jill, thanks for giving that skinny 8th grader a shot.