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Journal Post: Tender Kisses

I reconnected with my middle school crush, and I saw him in person. Just beautiful. More beautiful than I remember. It makes me think of that line from the movie Waiting to Exhale when Whitney Houston’s character, Savannah, reconnects with her distant love, Kenneth (portrayed by Dennis Haybert). Upon first glance at their reunion, he tells her she looks better than he remembered; her response, “Funny. You don’t. But then again, you couldn’t…”

I used to write journal entries to him as if we were speaking. It’s interesting how life comes full circle. Everything old is new again…

I remember when we were kids; I was in the 6th grade, you in the seventh. I was uncertain of a lot of things: my looks, my strength, my smarts, but one thing was for certain—you were my friend. I came from a deep pool of artists and thinkers and creatives, so being a transport to Midcity* Middle Magnet School, an inner city school with a blend of artistic aptitude and urban edge, I was a bit taken aback. I, in my mismatched patterned socks, was a bit different than many of the students donned in their logo polos and head-to-toe brands. And always very tall for my age, I stuck out like a brightly-colored, mismatched sore thumb.

Everything was new: changing classes, lockers, the whole “walking to the bus stop” thing. I had to walk two blocks to catch the bus to school. One my first day, I was the first one there. My parents insisted on waiting with me. I could not fathom the idea, yet even still was consumed with anxiety. Exiting elementary school, I was nearly six feet, yet all I could imagine was, “What would the ‘big kids’ think?” Waiting at the bus stop, I thought maybe I would be the only kid here, until other kids started making their way. First, a girl; we greet. Then a boy, we greet. Then another boy comes. It was you. We greet. We exchange names. You were my first “big kid” friend. You were my friend.

There were times where I didn’t realize just how colorful I was, even beyond my apparel. I would sit with my legs crossed at the ankle. When I laughed, I snickered and covered my mouth, but you always made me feel okay.

You would ask me, in a very affirming “Are things good?”

“Well,” was always my response.

“Well what?”

“Are things well? should be the question.”

“Whatever,” you’d laugh.

Times had begun to change; we were evolving from boys to men. And, whereas it was a bit easier to turn a blind eye to a boy doing “girl” things, it was much harder to do so upon a young man. Sometimes other boys would give me looks or even point, but you never joined in. Sometimes you would snap, “You can’t keep doing that?”

“Doing what?” I would ask obliviously.

Soon, you were heading to high school as I was beginning my last year of middle school. I was devastated. We had vowed to keep in touch the same way my friends and I did going from elementary to middle school. And I did not stay in touch with one of them. Not one. I prayed that we would be different, because you and I were not like them.

When you left MMMS, you left my life. I remembered, I played Tracie Spencer “Tender Kisses” on repeat. The young, breathy soprano sang the sentiment of my heart: “I’m so confused, and I think I’m gonna cry tonight.”

Many nights, many years, many tears…

Fifteen years later, I run into you at a bar. I came home to visit for the holidays and a group of my friends and I wanted to visit one of our regular karaoke spots. I notice you immediately. You’re standing alone, sipping a drink. I try to play it off, but I can’t. I’m smiling inside and out. You look just as I remember you. No, you looked better than I remembered. Just then, a woman makes her way to you. Instantly, I’m that boy from MMMS—detached, scared, jumbled. I don’t know why, but then again, I do. Something how a few moments can take a man to a place he hasn’t been to in years. You, in all your gracious splendor, entertain her to a degree before going to take a seat. I am literally trying to work up the courage to approach you. As I’m making my way to you across the bar to you, the woman has a seat in a chair that you have had your arm slung across the back. While she’s snuggled into the space next to you, Candice* has grabbed my hand. “I signed you up and you’re next! I hope you know what you’re gonna sing!”

I sigh, “I do,” my eyes never leaving the sight of you.

Making my way to the mike, my eyes catch yours. I sigh. The DJ asks, “What’s it gonna be?” And, with my eyes never leaving you, I utter, “Tender Kisses.”

The instrumentals cue in, as they have so many times before, beginning the soundtrack to my life:

I'm so confused And I think I'm gonna cry tonight. What must I do, babe? You don't know what you mean, oh Tell me something, Tell me could this really be? You're so unpredictable. Why must you treat me this way? I want you to love me for who I am.

Whatever happened to the dream we used to share? Where did our love go? Boy, don't you even care? Tender kisses blown away Tender kisses gone tomorrow gone today Tender kisses, bye baby, bye baby Don't leave, leave me here all alone I want someone I can call my own I may be young, but I'm ready Ready to fall in love I’m so confused, you’re so unpredictable Trust in me as I trust in you Put our hearts together there’s nothing we can't do Whatever happened to the dream we used to share? Where did our love go? Boy, don't you even care? I wonder if you ever loved me Tell me, was I so blind that I could not see Holding on to the memories Of the way you used to kiss me All I ever really wanted Was someone to call my own I'll never know You'll never know We'll never know All those tender kisses blown away Bye baby bye

Bye, baby, bye, baby—Blown away

The music is playing out, and the crowd is cheering and applauding in karaoke bar style. As the bright lights are beaming down into my eyes, I’ve already prepared this as explanation of the tears that have collected in the corners of my eyes. I am descend the stage, vision blurred from the lights and emotions, I reach for the banister, but have grabbed a hand instead. “Oh, excuse me.”

“Gerald,” you said, never releasing my hand.

“Kirk*.” And you smiled that smile I remember from those balmy fall days at MMMS. That smile confirmed what many little boys like me didn’t know what to call it or what it was, but knew it was something. That smile confirmed little boys like me. Little boys like us.

“How you been?”

“Things have been good. Well.”

“Well what?” he smiled again. I smiled too that he remembered that.

“I’m surprised you remembered me.”

“You might have thought it, but I could never forget.” I feel the tears again. I hate that about me sometimes. “You’re in LA, yes? Acting and doing all sorts of great things.”

“Thank you.”

“Yes, I’m in North Carolina. With the—“

“Army,” we say simultaneously.

“Yes, I know.” We look at each other in silence. “Well, maybe we can keep in touch.”

“Well, I travel a lot, but I’m on Facebook.”

“I’ll find you.”

“Good. Well, I’m gonna be going now, but it was great to see you.” He makes his way back to his seat, takes his coat, and leaves.

“What a pleasant surprise,” I thought. Making my way back to my cheering and reveling friends, Candice* asks, “Who was that?”

I’m fumbling with my phone, attempting to add Kirk* on Facebook immediately. “Huh?”

“Who was that you were talking to?”

As I search and go to add him on Facebook, the notice says, “This account was deleted at 9:12”—just minutes from the time we spoke, from the time he left. Looking up from the phone to Candice*, I say, behind eyes beginning to blur again, “Someone I used to know, I guess.”

“I’m so confused and I think I’m gonna cry tonight.” The words were still real. All I could do was hold the phone and wonder. “Bye, baby, bye, baby, blown away…”

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