As boyfriend and girlfriend, Jamie and I frequently discussed the problem of her breasts. The problem, as I saw it, was that as much as I might praise them, study them, and imagine them when I was away from her, I was unable to touch them. In fact, I was even barred from openly looking at them when they were still fully clothed.
Jamie Mason owned two of only six genuine breasts in my seventh grade class. There were eight if you included Charlie Hill, but that was a thyroid problem, and all who studied the breast question left him off the list. As boyfriend and girlfriend, Jamie and I frequently discussed the problem of her breasts. The problem, as I saw it, was that as much as I might praise them, study them, and imagine them when I was away from her, I was unable to touch them. In fact, I was even barred from openly looking at them when they were still fully clothed.
At a time when those around me were discovering all kinds of petting, light, medium-light, and even a few unconfirmed allegations of heavy, my year-long relationship with Jamie had not progressed past hand-holding and the occasional slow dance. One could reflect on this and place the blame on me, say that I was not using the right technique, that I didn’t know how to plumb the depths of her junior-high heart, but I would strongly disagree. Jamie liked me. She liked me a lot. She lit up when I came near, flipped her hair when we discussed our mutual love for U2 (no one else in our class could even spell U2 in 1986 – we were a year away from The Joshua Tree), and we held the record (by three months!) for the longest-running couple. But her aunt had taken her to a Phyllis Schlaffly rally in Springfield a couple of years before, and Phyllis had impressed to Jamie after the speech the need for women to stem the tide of free love, and that no night was a good night until the wedding night.
The divide that separated me from my classmates had been illustrated on our class trip that spring. During an instructional film on fish hatcheries at the Table Rock Dam, in their red-velvet auditorium, I could see all around me kissing, necking, even a little groping. I saw hands disappear. I saw all these things because I was simply holding Jamie’s sweaty hand, receiving the occasional peck on the cheek, while I watched the swirling bacchanal unfolding in front of me. I don’t know where the teachers were; so great was my dismay that I almost wanted to go and find them so that no one would be any happier than I was, but instead I watched tadpoles and sat sullenly.
I tried to get her to understand that mile-wide gap between simple spit-swapping and bra-disabling that I was proposing and the much more serious, late-night Cinemax type of action Phyllis was trying to prevent. But I was wasting my breath. Jamie would go on carrying her torch for me, allowing me to be viewed as the luckiest guy in class, treating me like a prince while at the same time maintaining the steely resolve of a Kremlin guard. I knew enough not to push my luck.
“Dating” in junior high, as we euphemistically called it, basically consisted of three dances a year, FFA Barnwarming in the fall, FHA Christmas Dance, and Homecoming. You sat together at basketball games, because Crane didn’t have football – we had fall baseball. This made us good at baseball and rather boring if you asked me. The rest of your dating life, when someone in the “city” like myself dated a country girl like Jamie, was wherever you could convince your parents to take the two of you somewhere. Problem was, we were both so embarrassed about our parents that we rarely used that option. There was nothing wrong with our parents; looking back on it, it was our teenage unreasonability, but at the time, that didn’t matter. We had to weigh bringing out parents into the equation, and that was just embarrassing.
During the summer, the most romantic time of year, we were the most alienated. However, by our second summer together, I had discovered that my older friend Becky had to drive by Jamie’s house on her way to work at Ken’s Pizza, and Jamie’s brother could bring me home. He liked me even though I figured he knew I was trying to get under his sister’s shirt. He wouldn’t bring his sister in to see me, but he would drive me home, and we would cruise a few times, listen to Autograph and Quarterflash and he would bemoan the fact that he couldn’t score any weed like he could last summer.
I had never toked or inhaled, but I sat there like a Buddha, nodding sagely, hoping he thought I smoked the ganja. Inwardly, I was terrified by the thought of doing something illegal, but I was more terrified by the thought of someone thinking that I was terrified of doing something illegal, so I always told him to count me in should he come across any of the good shit, knowing full well he didn’t really have any other friends and had zero chance of ever even stumbling upon seeds and stems.
This was my arrangement in 1986. Becky dropped me off about 6:30, pretending to kiss me with her gloss-red lips, smacking my butt and sending me on my way. I liked this, as it made Jamie a little bit possessive, and generally got her to sit closer to me, sometimes even close enough to let the side of my arm touch what I was pretty sure was covered-up breast. Jamie had both VHS and Beta, and we usually rented a movie and watched it with all the lights off. We held hands, and Jamie was warming up to giving me kisses that started to last longer and longer. They tasted like cherry candy and bubblegum. She was so pretty, brown hair teased and hairsprayed, just a touch of eye shadow, braces making her lips look full. Jamie’s mother was an alcoholic and her father drove a truck, so no one objected to our sessions as they would have at my house. There, we could occasionally sneak a few minutes of privacy, but they were usually interrupted by my mom flicking the lights on and off from upstairs, her way of making sure anything objectionable ended before she hit the landing. Mom had been very upset a couple of years before when a string of pregnancies rocked the basketball team’s dream season, and I got at least an abstinence lecture a week until the babies were delivered. One of the boys was especially well-regarded, and mom told me countless times that if it could happen to him, it could happen to me. “Keep it zipped,” she hissed.
If it hadn’t been for Jamie’s Schlaffly-loving aunt, I might have already been to second base, because her mom didn’t give a rip, as long as we didn’t keep her from another seven and seven. But even with the kisses, I generally got to watch more of the plot than I wanted to, learning the moves of smooth operators like Steve Gutenberg and Jeff Goldblum. So it was. Most every night.
There’s something about early summer nights, the soft cotton candy of the sky, the hint of chill in the breeze, that gives them a promise that better things are coming. I had that feeling one night around the first of June as Becky wheeled me in, slapped my ass, and peeled back out of the driveway. I could tell the ass-slapping was getting to Jamie, whose breasts, thought absolutely delightful, were a long way from those of Becky’s. I knew that I was much too young for Becky, had too high a voice and was years from driving. But I knew enough to keep my mouth shut and keep this one advantage.
“Why does she always do that?” she asked, arms folded, coming to give me a peck.
“She likes me, Jame. She likes me.” I said it like this was truth, plain and simple, had the correct matter-of-fact expression.
She frowned. “Do you like her?”
I knew better than to press my luck. “She’s too old for me. I like you.”
We took hands and walked out back of her house, down the well-worn path to the pond, at the very back of her family’s land, probably a quarter-mile from her house. Jamie obviously loved the land, and I could see why. The high grass waved back and forth in the breeze, the walnut trees shaded the back of the pond, and we could sit there (or, really, do most any activity there) for hours without being disturbed.
“Are you going to take me to Jeannie’s party?” she asked.
I must have looked surprised.
“You didn’t hear?”
If there’s anything an eighth grade boy doesn’t want to admit it’s lack of knowledge.
I shook my head. “When is it again?”
“A week from Friday. Do you think we can go? She’s promising all kinds of stuff and her parents are going to be out of town.”
“All kinds of stuff” sounded interesting. Jeannie was one of the cuter girls in the class and her parents were dumb enough to go out of town and not take her. I hadn’t heard about the party, but it would be worth any potential grounding to try to go. Jeannie had older friends and I pictured something straight out of a National Lampoon movie. The out of town parent party was the thing of legend. And then I realized I hadn’t been to many parties with parents who were in town. Hell. I spent New Year’s Eve watching movies with my friend Kevin and hoping the people who promised us they would pick us up actually came through. Of course, they didn’t. Yes. I would go to Jeannie’s party if it meant traipsing through a blizzard. Since it was almost June, that seemed like a remote possibility. The prettiest girl in school was asking me. Who was I to say no?
“We should definitely go,” I said, trying to sound like Becky did when she put an extra helping of emphasis on the middle of a word. “You cool with that?”