“Do you know how to play poker?”
If these words are uttered by a cute boy with curly blond hair, sparkling blue eyes, and a disarming smile, the response should always be a resounding, “No,” followed closely by, “and don’t teach me.”
But at fourteen years old with nothing but a history of silent crushes to guide me, what did I know?
We met a year ago in front of the glass cases of the inside my synagogue. Apparently something had drawn the two of us towards the displays of ancient Circumcision Instruments. That we met there should have indicated something about the nature of whatever relationship we might go on to have (and given that I was born on the Jewish Holiday of Misrule, I’ve become more and more aware that my stars are seriously misaligned. I can’t take indications of fate lightly) but all I saw was a charming and seriously cute, if somewhat odd, thirteen-year-old of the opposite sex.
Changes happen quickly in high school. Suddenly, boys fit their uniforms differently, smelled better, and even thought about their appearances. For the first time, the human male was an attractive species. I was no stranger to boys (I had my first boyfriend at five and a camp fling at ten, even experimented with peer pressure and was kind of mean) but the laws of attraction that governed us up until the age of 12 were different. You liked people because they liked you and maybe you would hold hands and kiss each other on the cheek and you would stand with your gaggle of girls at recess and they would tease you while you watched your boyfriend play schoolyard ball with his friends and they would make fun of him for liking “a girrrll” and eventually the two of you would break up because, let’s face it, no one likes being teased and you might just go back to mutually ignoring each other, as if nothing ever happened.
High school is different. High school is where you learn about French kissing and touching each other there and liking someone for more than the fact that they like you too and that girls don’t actually have cooties but if you’re going to have sex you should probably get tested in case one of you has real cooties.
High school was where I learned how to play poker and how to destroy friendships.
We quickly became best friends, possibly because I thought he was really cute and maybe if I befriended him and was nice he would like me too. It never occurred to me that I was being “friend-zoned”, that this guy just didn’t think of me in the I-think-we-should-date kind of way. I just figured he needed time. Time to realize that we were perfect for each other. I mean, we were best friends, right? Shouldn’t your girlfriend also be your best friend? The thought never popped into my mind that perhaps he didn’t think I was interested. After all, I was his best friend. What kind of friend wants to date their best friend? Doesn’t that demean the idea of a friend? Someone you love and trust without wanting to “touch them there”?
So for two years, I was his best friend. I came so close to telling him how I felt so many times but the fear of rejection paralyzed me and I figured, well, we’re already best friends, I don’t need more than that. Why scare ourselves? What was I going to do with a boyfriend at thirteen anyway? I didn’t know anything about that stuff. I didn’t realize that relationships are a lot like best friends. Just with certain commitments.
I didn’t watch porn, I didn’t read smut until I was 15, I didn’t know what the word masturbate meant until someone brought it up in eight grade science class as a joke. I wasn’t sheltered. I was just naïve. Now I know all the definitions in Cards Against Humanity.
So we stayed friends, hanging out on the weekend, talking for hours at the climbing tree, going to the Ice Fest, you know, friend stuff. It didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t move on anytime soon, but he would. And that the person he would ultimately have a crush on would be my best friend. She’s still gorgeous, and I still think she’s the coolest person, but despite how much more awesome she was than me, I never thought that one day I would be jealous of her.
To be fair to her, she always thought he was kind of weird and off-limits because I had such an obsessive crush on him. I feel kind of bad in retrospect, thinking back on the hours and hours she spent listening to me rant and rail about how much I liked him and how he would never like me back and he was so cute but like, kind of socially awkward? But girls in high school do this for each other. They take one (or two hundred and sixty three) for the team because they know that one day you’ll be there for them too.
* * *
“So how do you play poker?” I asked breathlessly. It was warm in her basement and I entertained all sorts of fantasies about being a secret poker genius and winning every hand and maybe even playing strip poker because then he would have to take his clothes off and if I lost so would I and it would be great—
Unfortunately the rules of poker were far too simple for me to be particularly good at it on the first try. As we won and lost paperclips, sitting on the carpeted, musty smelling floor of my best friend’s basement, I couldn’t help but think about how much fun it would be to play a raunchier version of this otherwise simple, and honestly lame, card game. And then suddenly they were looking at me oddly. Had the words “let’s play strip” really come out of my mouth?
It should have been a warning how hard he tried to convince her to play but all I could think about was how badly I wanted to see him shirtless. But then suddenly we were mostly in our underpants and I was feeling self-conscious because I wasn’t as thin or as pretty as my best friend so I turned off the lights and decided we were going to play truth or dare.
I decided a lot of things that day. Which is probably why today I am the most indecisive person ever.
There was just so much awkwardness blossoming into existence as we waited for the first person to speak. I knew that she was going to dare him to kiss me but all of a sudden all I could think was how ridiculous and stupid and silly I was being. I felt a warm breath on my neck and froze in alarm.
She had actually said it.
So here’s the thing about kissing someone: until you’ve kissed them a lot, the kissing is going to suck. I’m not sure what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t nauseatingly wet lips on my lower lip, completely bypassing my upper, and awkwardness. Just so much awkward. All the awkward. It’s making me cringe thinking about it especially since this was supposed to be special for me and my best friend was in the room feeling, if possible, even more awkward because this wasn’t her idea in the first place and she just really didn’t want to be there.
I should thank her for this experience. There’s nothing quite like a terrible first kiss to let you know that maybe, just maybe, this person isn’t right for you.