The First Kiss

There were so many reasons not to get sober.

Even though the morning after I’d always have those constant gnawing questions circulating in my brain: How could I have done this again? How did it happen? I don’t understand! — as the day progressed, I’d soothe myself with ice water, Ibuprofen, food and busy-making all with the purpose of getting to amnesia. But just in case I couldn’t stop ruminating, I’d make quick calls to friends to regale them with funny tidbits from the night before, I’d clean to make sure my world was spotless and if I had a spurt of energy, I’d hit the gym or go for a fast walk, believing the toxins and memories would bleed out of my pores, forming a newer, healthier me – the me I knew deep down inside I really was. By the time evening came it was time for another drink. It sounded like such a good idea…so refreshing to match the refreshed me that I had worked so hard to create. Of course, I’d have just one…

That was denial.

The other reasons were plenty: Drinking was social, I was a social person. I needed to drink if for no other reason than to be polite. There were drinks after work of course. And drinking was sophisticated. People drank with dinner. Also, I had read it was good for the digestion. In the same vein, I was told it prevented heart disease, cancer, you name it. Really there were so many reasons, but one thing that was very hard for me to admit, a reason I was very secretive about, was if I stopped drinking I wouldn’t be attractive to the opposite sex.

It all began in 7th grade. I was 12 years old and nervous because the popular kids invited me to a party. I could not believe it. Me?! Why? Better not ask and simply say yes, even when it meant doing something so wrong: forging my mother’s signature saying I had a doctor’s appointment so I could sneak out of school during the day. Which is exactly what I did.

So, we ditched. With the other girls, there were four of them, all prettier than the next, I crossed the street from school and got into a van. We were in junior high but the girl having the party knew some older boys and one had his license. In the van, everyone was giggling and beers started to open. No one offered me one and I was glad because beer always smelled like cigarette ashes to me.

The plan was to hang out at this girl’s house while her parents were at work. There was something so subversive and exciting about busting in and making noise in a place that was supposed to be unoccupied. Looking at the pictures, especially of this girl when she was growing up, was almost cinematic. Especially with music blasting, with her making out with some older boy in the corner, and with kids jumping into the pool with lit cigarettes in their hands.

The real party began when the “hostess” revealed her parent’s secret stash of liquor – of which there was a great variety. We had nothing like that in my house. In fact, I’m not even sure I ever noticed these things before because no one in my house ever drank that much. But there we were and someone put a whole bunch of different liquids into a blender and suddenly we all had these drinks in red plastic cups.

It tasted awful but this warm feeling came over my arms when I had that first sip and I remember at the same time looking at this cute boy across the room and he smiled right back at me. It was like alcohol and boys were then forever linked in my brain from that moment on.

There was dancing, frenzied dancing. And it was fun. Serious laughing. Crazy laughing. And the boy was just so nice and so interested in me and I hadn’t met him before because we were in junior high and he was in high school -11th grade. But he liked me and we sat outside on the back porch and we talked for a long time and we drank and finally he kissed me. But that actual kiss? No memory of it. I vaguely remember trying to keep him from putting his hand up my shirt, but I don’t remember the kiss. My whole life I had been waiting for that first kiss so it’s something painful to me that I can’t remember it.

As for that boy? I spent the week thinking we were a couple now which made it beyond humiliating when I saw him that weekend and he pretended not to notice me. The pretty girls comforted me, we drank beer, which I guess I decided I liked now, and once buzzed, I told him off in front of everyone. All the girls supported this. The next day the memory of what I had said was shadow-y. And when I admitted it to one of the girls, she said it was okay. He wasn’t worth remembering anyway.

That auspicious beginning pretty much foretold my romantic history up until the day I got sober. I had one-night-stands I misconstrued and tried to make into relationships. I had unhealthy relationships I would wake up from and try very hard to get out of, some of which I’d just leave without any warning. I was often single and depressed and very, very lonely and confused. And more than a few people would say, “How come we can’t find you anyone?”

When I finally decided to give up alcohol, it was after an accident. I had gotten in trouble with the law. My family didn’t realize what I had been doing. I was so good at being a secretive drinker (even that that day in 7th grade – they never found out). But once they were no longer in the dark about my escapades they insisted I go to rehab. And though at first, I balked, while there I came around to realizing I really didn’t want to drink anymore. I didn’t like myself very much and I was sick of all the mistakes, all the secrets, all the ugliness. The denial was gone, as were the many other reasons. But as for the opposite sex? I decided maybe relationships just weren’t for me. I never had one sober and so any relationship, other than friendships, seemed positively ludicrous. For the life of me I could not imagine a date. Just looking someone of the opposite sex in the eye was petrifying. Kissing someone was a paralyzing thought. I basically missed that part of my adolescence and certainly couldn’t imagine being an adolescent at age 40. I’d be a chaste nun. Easier that way.

But the people in rehab were all about one step at a time. Maybe after I accrued some time sober, maybe I’d change my mind. I was pretty emphatic I wouldn’t but after a full year sober I did feel I should “get out there” if for no other reason just to see if I could do it. So, I finally let someone set me up. I was so nervous I couldn’t stop moving the silverware around at this café. We had a stunted conversation, and I laughed a bit too loud. At the end, we shook hands and parted unceremoniously. I got through it. I was fine. He wasn’t anyone I’d see again but it was okay. That was helpful – just to know I could do have a date. Then I met someone I thought was cute. We became friends. And because I wasn’t that adept at picking up the signals he could like me too, when he first tried to kiss me I was shocked and snorted through my nose very audibly! But lo and behold he found that endearing and tried again. That was my first kiss sober. And I was shocked to discover I liked kissing and I didn’t need alcohol to do it!

He became my first sober boyfriend. And even though we didn’t last, I’ll always be indebted to him for being patient with me about everything. What I learned in that relationship is it can be endearing to someone else that you’re not all gung-ho and at ease with intimacy. And I also realized I’m far more discriminating when I have my wits about me and I can trust my instincts. That was another realization. I actually have instincts when they’re not all covered up and corrupted by alcohol. Lastly it was nice finding out I didn’t need alcohol to feel pretty or interesting or smart to the opposite sex. That last one was a game changer.

When I finally met the man who would eventually become my husband, I had really felt a great distance from the person who walked into rehab. I no longer felt shy, I didn’t find it exhausting to look people in the eye, and I felt worthy of other people’s time. I felt I could have a big life, a life like other people had. Or maybe better put, a life I had always wanted to have just didn’t know how to go about it. We fell in love quickly, and soon after marrying, we decided to adopt. It took a lot longer than we would have liked but now we have a very beautiful little boy whom I love more than I can say. And not only is there joy, happiness and affection in our household but every day before my husband leaves the house I say, “I love you” and every night, before going to sleep, we kiss each other goodnight. All things that sound so simple perhaps, but it was something I never could have imagined while I was still drinking. It’s wholesome and maybe in my past life I would have made fun of it, secretly inside wandering why I couldn’t have it. Well, those days are gone. No one has to ask me anymore “Why can’t we find you someone?” I think it’s because first I had to find myself.