At the height of the chaos and my adolescent yearnings, I'd just gotten home from summer camp. We'd had a mosquito infestation and my ankles were swollen with bites. They'd blasted the sh*t out of the whole place with huge plumes of gray smoke, the acrid smell wafting through the trees caught in thin streaks of sun. We giggled and gagged and scratched, the milky white rivulets of anti-itch cream running down our arms and legs as we plunged into the murky lake. I was 15.
I had made out for the first time at the traffic circle. Ah, shivers down the spine! The traffic circle. It was both a place and a feeling. As things were exceedingly structured at Maine Teen Camp, every activity directly following the next -- even your bowel movements were shared with snickering neighbors nearby. Privacy and unstructured time were precious, sacred. We cherished and clutched these rare moments of freedom and the traffic circle was the epitome of these elusive freedoms. Given its enormity in the cockles of my bisected memory, it's strange that the traffic circle was just a cement driveway, a wide curving road that lined the edge of the looming wooden lodge.
But there in the gravel-strewn shadows, there in the honeysuckle sweet summer air, the counselors closed their eyes to the wet lips and wide eyes of their flock. The funny part was, my real first kiss was with a horrible international student -- a red-headed French boy with tight constellations of freckles and a penchant for my lanky limbs. We had a whirlwind romance of two days which culminated in a terribly squishy, wet, humiliating kiss where I kept my eyes flared wide, staring over his shoulder at my friends' incredulous faces, wincing. I didn't want to kiss him, but we had held hands during the night and then we found ourselves out in the traffic circle and before I knew it, my first kiss -- Sh*t, I thought, with this guy? -- was over.
What I consider my actual first kiss with Matt Fischman didn't even happen at the traffic circle, if you want to know the truth -- it happened inside at the dance. We were slow dancing to "Buffalo Soldier" and Matt Fischman tilted his head up to mine (slightly prepubescent, he was three inches shorter) and we kissed long and hard, the cheap strobe lights flashing across my feet, the floor, his face, as his tongue darted in and out of my mouth, his jaw working, his eyelids flickering with movement. And my stomach filled with a wave of joyous nausea. Don't stop, I thought. Don't open your eyes.
It had been an idyllic summer -- one touched with the innocence and revelry I've yet to ever feel again, even fleetingly, even in fantasy. I had filled three yellow point-and-shoots throughout the summer, snapping and winding the tiny plastic wheel, desperate to capture in the crinkling celluloid the faces of friends, the faces of my pint-size love Matt Fischman. Ah, so.
On this fine August afternoon, the sun hanging lazily in a pink-strewn sunset, my mother (who was recently separated, not legally, but physically from my father) had driven me and my best friend Stephanie to the CVS in Princeton to pick up my photographs. My mother often visited me in New Jersey, careening along the highway from Fairfield, Connecticut in her grumbling Ford Escort. She stayed in the single bed guest room on the second floor.
* * *
"Hey how are you. I'm here to pick up some photos?"
The slim black girl turns away from me to rummage through the stack of white paper envelopes. I rub my foot against my ankle, nervously scratching my pink welts.
"Tandy? Here you go."
I practically snatch the envelope from her hand, tearing the envelope open. I stroll down the aisles back to Stephanie, who's thoughtfully looking at the condom section.
"Tada!" I grin brandishing the pictures. "Just wait till you see him."
"Uh-huh. Let's see the goods."
I open the envelope, the glossy pictures sticking to my fingers and to one another. The first one I don't recognize -- it's somewhere in the woods, but not my woods. The second one I don't recognize either -- it's cliffs and water, yellow flowers. Confusion crawls over me.
"Sh*t. They must have given me the wrong ones. If they lost them, I swear to God..."
And then I see it. My father's girlfriend's vagina. Splayed across a flowered bedspread.
"Holy sh*t! These must be my father's! Holy sh*t. F*ck fuck fuck!" I'm hysterical, flipping through the photographs at breakneck speed, eager to see all of it and none of it, cursing and moaning.
"Oh my god," says Stephanie shaking her head in delight and amazement. "She's naked!" She looks me square in the eye. "Your dad's a freak, Tandy."
"Will you shut the f*ck up please?"
"It's kind of awesome actually -- I hope I'm up to freaky sh*t at 50. And she looks good. Great, really. Good for your dad." She pauses. "Man! Look how big her bush is!"
I look down and consider the scene. Delores, or "Tink," as my mother has dubbed her due to her tiny lithe frame and pixie blond hair, is peering back, her face a disconcerting medley of cancer survivor and Danaan queen.
"F*ck Steph. What do I do? If I throw them out, my dad will know I found them because they'll be missing. Or my mom is gonna ask me where the pictures are and if I say they're not ready she'll say I want to speak to them and then they're gonna say, 'We just handed them to your daughter and...'"
"Hang on. Calm down. Just tell your mom they f*cked up and they aren't ready. She isn't gonna ask them about it. And chances are it won't be the same people when your dad comes and they won't know you picked them up. They'll think they lost them or something. Just throw them out. Your mom can't see that sh*t."
"OK. OK. Yeah, you're right. I hafta throw them out."
I glance around, madly looking for a trash can. I spot one behind the pharmacy counter but before I walk over, my mother spots me from the end of the aisle. Stephanie gives me a wild look, shaking her head, lips pinched tight.
"Lamby, you ready? You got your pictures?"
My stomach drops and I kick it along the floor until I reach my mother. I scoop it up and follow her out of the store with Stephanie tugging on my arm as we walk. "Will you STOP?!" I whisper through my teeth.
I tell Stephanie she can have the front seat. I climb in the back and my mother starts the car, but leaves the emergency brake on.
"So, let's see this Matt fellow!" She turns in her chair to face me, hand extended.
"Mom, I -- these aren't my photographs -- they're Dad's and..."
"What do you mean they're Dad's? Why did they give you Spencer's photographs -- and why didn't you just give them back?"
And before I know it, I'm handing them over, a deaf dumb child, sick with dread. I want to tear them from her hands, I want to scratch out her eyes, I want to break all the windows in the car. And also, I want to laugh.
Her thick brown hair falls over her face as she begins looking through them.
"Oh!" she exclaims. "Oh!" She says again, louder this time.
"Mom, I didn't want to you see them, I didn't know what to do, I'm sorry."
Stephanie has her saucer eyes round, her tiny tan face profiled against the sidewalk as she looks out the window, willing herself into a corn field.
"Well," my mother laughs, glancing down again. "They're not dirty, really," she offers hopefully.
"It's disgusting! Are you serious?!" I'm shocked at her composure, I want her to tear them to pieces and curse my father's name.
"Katie. Now stop it. She's just naked. You're old enough to understand this sort of thing. And god knows you're naked plenty."
Stephanie snickers and agrees. "I see her boobs every day."
"Lamby, I think you're overreacting. It's embarrassing and I wish neither of us had seen it but . . . "
She starts driving, glancing in her rear view mirror. I'm trying to see her face.
"Not much to look at anyway," she shrugs. "Like a little boy."
We all laugh darkly. And I admire her and think how noble, how calm, how stoic; the waning light is lifting my spirits and I'm singing along.
Oooh Oooooh baby love, baby love, oh how I need you."
And then I realize she's driven a half hour in the wrong direction.