I work for the very school system I attended, so I have many opportunities for nostalgia. One week, I the nostalgia almost overwhelmed me. It started as I walked through the cafeteria of Richview Middle School and saw my seventh grade girlfriend.
I had just passed the serving line where I reminisced about a particular lunch lady. I don’t know how they do it now, but when I was in middle school, we served ourselves as we went through the line. Her main responsibility must have been to repeat the phrase, “One scoop of taters!” ad nauseam (A job which she approached with great enthusiasm). I can’t describe any of the other cafeteria workers, but I can clearly hear her voice to this day.
I smiled to myself and kept moving until I saw her. She walked right toward me and wore the same self-conscious half-smile I knew so well. The only problem was that she appeared to be the same age as when we were in middle school together. Since I left middle school a long time ago and I was pretty sure I was incapable of time travel, I knew it couldn’t be her. I did a literal double take and stared for a moment. Fortunately, she didn’t notice and walked by. I shook my head to clear it, but couldn’t help from turning for one last glance.
“Courtney?” I whispered. My hand flew to my mouth and I quickly moved on. I usually pay little to no attention to the students in the hall, but her uncanny resemblance stopped me in my tracks. Later that afternoon, I pulled out my yearbook to see how much I imagined the their similarity. I hadn’t. The only difference was the girl I saw had longer hair.
The experience recalled memories both exciting and painful. The type of memories formed by two awkward kids as they attempted to navigate the complications of first crushes (of which she was my second). The experience also made me reflective of my middle school years and probably explains my behavior the weekend after.
My daughter Autumn was invited to a skating party that happened to be at the rink where I skated in middle school (and where I got my First Kiss). We planned for our entire family to go. As I contemplated my return to that rink, an idea took root. Maybe it was because I saw a girl who looked so much like my seventh grade girlfriend, or maybe it was just that I’m, well, a little weird, but I couldn’t let go of the idea. It soon evolved from an idea to a plan.
I pretended for days that it wasn’t really a plan, and that I was simply having a bit of fun at my own expense. But as the afternoon of the party approached, I gave up pretending and picked up the phone.
“Hey, Mom, do ya’ll still have my old skates? My old roller skates that I used in middle school?”
“I think I know where they are, why?”
“I need them. I’ll be over shortly. Thanks. Bye.” I wanted to get off the phone quickly and avoid questions.
I got to their house and, sure enough, my skates were right where I left them in a cabinet 23 years before. I pulled them out and examined them. They were very dusty, but still the cool jet black skates with midnight blue wheels I remembered. I gave two wheels a spin and smiled at the smooth, familiar sound. I took them home and called Chrisie after I got there.
“Hey, Babe, I need you to pick up some black shoe polish.”
“Do I want to know why?”
The polish she picked up didn’t work well, so I went out to get a different type along with some cleaner. I also picked up new laces since I was out. I used everything to restore the skates to a somewhat newer looking state as my wife bemusedly looked on.
“You can’t actually still wear those can you?”
“I bet I can, my feet grew before the rest of me and I sort of caught up. My feet were huge in middle school.”
I tried them on and, sure enough, I could wear them. I was giddy, my wife was amused, and my daughter thought her father was crazy. Kids are smart like that.
We arrived at the rink and I slung my skates over my shoulder just as I used to. There wasn’t a line (as I had so often waited in) and we went inside. I stepped back in time for the second moment that week. A lot had changed, but a lot hadn’t. I must have gone quiet for a while because Chrisie asked, “Where are you?”
“Over twenty years ago.”
The party started and I got to skate with my daughter on the same wood floor from so long before. Everyone, including my wife, laughed at my hopelessly outdated skates. Once she was confident enough to try a few laps on her own, I found Chrisie.
“Come with me,” I said.
“Where are we going?”
“Right over there.” I pointed to a spot on the wall next to a bench beside one of the building supports.
“Isn’t that where you say you got your first kiss?”
“Then why are we going over there?”
“Because you have to kiss me there.”
“You have to kiss me there.”
“Because it’s important. Please?”
She seemed unconvinced but came with me anyway. She brought Jackson with her who was only one at the time.
“Isn’t this close enough?” she asked as he began to fidget.
“No, it has to be right.” I pulled her along to the correct location and said, “Right here. Right here I got my First Kiss.”
“Well, you’re not getting tongue today.”
“Because the lights are on and we have a screaming child.”
“Just kiss me.” And she did. It wasn’t an awkward kiss stolen as another couple shielded us from view. I was the comfortable, familiar kiss of a husband and wife married over a decade. Except I didn’t get tongue.
That kiss capped off my few days of crushing nostalgia. I’m glad she did it even though she thought it was silly and pointless. It certainly wasn’t pointless for me. In the same skates, on the same spot, I kissed the first girl I ever did as an awkward teenager and (hopefully) the last I ever will as a grown man. That is a moment, a memory worth being ridiculed for.