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The Kiss That Changed My Life

The Kiss That Changed My Life

In 1961, my best friend Nancy and I were looking forward to graduating from junior high school and starting Venice High School in West Los Angeles. Venice High School was built in 1911, so it was steeped in decades of high school tradition. It was such an iconic symbol of a typical 1960s high school that in the 1980s, the movie “Grease” was filmed there.

All semester Nancy and I dreamt about the day we would finally walk through the school’s art-deco entrance. I imagined myself bustling through the halls, bumping into dreamy cute guys, hoping they’d take notice and ask me out for that first date!

Then my mother announced that we were moving that summer, to the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley. I was devastated. Instead of attending an iconic symbol with decades of tradition, I would attend Granada Hills High School. This new school was only two years old.

Everything was foreign. My tough look — with heavy eye makeup to accompany my dark monochrome straight skirts and jackets with collars pulled up on my neck — was replaced with puffy dresses in a variety of pastels. Instead of “Cool, man,” it was, “For sure, for sure. Like totally to the max.” This lingo would later be dubbed Valspeak and in the ’80s, Frank Zappa composed and wrote his hit song “Valley Girls.”

Eventually I adjusted to this new reality. I made new friends, became a cheerleader and went to the high school dances. Teens from all over the San Fernando Valley area high schools converged on the local teen center to dance every Friday night after sports events.

One night near the end of that school year, I met a boy from another high school. He was muscular and athletic, a gymnast wearing his letterman jacket. Although a good dancer with very dreamy green/hazel eyes, he was short. I am very petite and enjoyed dancing with a short guy, but vowed I’d never date one.

Short guys would catch a view of the top of my head, turn into Napoleon and think they could conquer me. But this guy showed a well-earned confidence, held me securely and made me feel honored that he’d asked me to dance. Later he asked to drive me home.

When he escorted me to my front porch he politely offered his hand in a parting farewell. My mind raced with anticipation. In a few weeks everything would change. The semester was almost over. I would turn 16 and my mother would finally allow me to go on a date!

My front porch was now a crossroad to my future. This boy was a senior. In a few weeks he’d be graduating. How could I let him know that I really wanted to see him again?

I had never kissed a boy before. Despite this fact, I took his hand and placed it on my waist. I stood on my toes and wrapped my arms around his neck. Then I gave him a kiss to remember! It was the biggest, smoochiest, French kiss — leaving him so discombobulated he staggered to his car forgetting to ask me for my phone number.

This was 1962. There was no Internet, Facebook or cell phones. He didn’t know any of my friends since he went to another school. He tried matching my last name to my address in the telephone book, then remembered my mother was re-married and my address was listed under my step-father’s last name.

Knowing that all vehicles in California are required to have a visible registration affixed to the steering column of the driver’s side, he decides to break into my garage and get my stepfather’s last name on the vehicle registration. He climbed around, under and over the driver’s seats and steering column, looking for the vehicle registration. Just then, my stepfather walks out the front door, leaving for work.

My stepfather hoisted up the garage door by the outside handle. Startled by the noise, the boy leaped from inside the car. Like a gazelle, he mads a quick, seamless maneuver as he ducked and ran under the partially opened garage door. My stepfather was unable to grab him and watched as he jumped into a truck driven by a friend, which disappeared down our street.

Later that evening, my stepfather asked, “Does anybody know anything about a boy hiding in our garage this morning?” “What!” my mother exclaimed, immediately going into panic mode. “Was anything stolen? Should we call the police?” My calming stepfather said, “Everything is fine. With a teenage girl in the house, we can expect boys jumping out from any where from now on.”

Good thing my stepfather didn’t call the police. That cute, short, confident boy did call me up for my first date, the summer I turned 16. Two years later I married the garage burglar. We were married for 47 years. He was my best friend, my partner, my first kiss, my first love.

I am so grateful I did not go to Venice High School and at just the right moment I changed everything with a kiss.

Originally Published in the Self Narrate Column in the Gainesville Sun

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