My Best Friend Taught Me How to Kiss

Sarah and I needed to learn how to kiss, so we thought we might as well practice on each other

I'd already been practicing by myself. I spent hours in private passionately smooching my bedroom wall, my pillow, my hand and my stuffed chimpanzee Zippy. I moaned, groaned and wriggled around. I felt it was important to act as if I were turned on.

Sarah and I sat down to prepare a list of rules. We came up with only one: "No tongue."

The following Saturday, I furiously brushed my long, dark hair and put on a ruffled shirt-and-short set, an outfit I thought made me look cute and girly. I also spritzed on the drugstore perfume my parents let me wear for "special occasions" like bar mitzvahs and family weddings.

Sarah and I met at our designated spot: the large rock on the grass in front of one of the buildings in the Bronx housing project in which I lived. It struck us as suitably dramatic.

Volunteering to be "on bottom," I draped my body across the rock and gazed up at the bright, sunny sky. Sarah, her frizzy red hair woven tightly into braids, wore a bright green romper. "It brings out the color of my hair," she said, flinging herself on top of me.

I'd imagined that we would hesitate and fumble, but we got right into it. Sarah's sharp, skinny bones pressed into me. Her lips felt dry against mine. I took a pause to lick my lips. She did the same.

After a few minutes, Sarah sat up and wiped her now-moist mouth. Matter-of-factly, she said, "OK, I'll be on bottom now."

We reversed positions. We kissed again. I wriggled my torso and Sarah wriggled hers.

What we were doing felt as natural as practicing for an athletic event: how to position our mouths; how to avoid bumping noses; how to move our bodies in ways that were attractive rather than awkward.

It hadn't occurred to either of us that we were doing all this in full view of anyone walking by. It certainly hadn't crossed my mind that my older sister might see us. I still don't know whether someone tipped her off or whether she just happened to be strolling past.

Suddenly, I heard her yelling gleefully, "Lesbos!!! My sister is a lesbo! I'm telling Mommy and Daddy. Daddy's gonna kill you!" And off she ran.

Terrified, Sarah and I leapt up and apart.

My parents, who were fiercely politically progressive, had taught me since I was a toddler to accept and respect people of "all hues and beliefs." However, the one thing about which they weren't tolerant was homosexuality. Even at 10, I sensed they were threatened by something "the establishment" had told them was wrong, although in so many other areas they rebelled against that same establishment.

That afternoon, my father, who was hot-tempered and often violent, was so worried about my Sapphic tendencies that he didn't lay a hand on me. Instead, he and my mother droned on and on (my mother near tears, wringing her hands) about the dangers and unnaturalness of what Sarah and I had done. Feeling completely misunderstood, I sat stoic and silent throughout their lecture.

Sarah and I never "practice kissed" again. It was too dangerous. I resumed kissing my bedroom wall, hand, pillow and the stuffed, furry Zippy.

The following year, I had my first kiss with a boy. He was someone to whom I'd been "assigned" at a party. I wasn't attracted to him. I barely returned his kisses and lay rigid in his arms. A few years later, I kissed someone who genuinely turned me on. My lips and body responded instinctively.

The main outcome of my "makeout session" with Sarah, as it turned out, was to solidify my disappointment in my parents for not being as open-minded and tolerant as they liked to believe they were. (I was thrilled when my mother, much later in her life, grew very close to a gay male couple, and shamefacedly admitted that previously she'd been "closed-minded and intolerant.")

The other outcome was that for many years afterward, until her unexpected death from an aneurism six years ago, Sarah and I never failed to smile as we reminisced about the day we were "outed" on the rock.

Tags: friendship