The One With The Tongue Ring
My first kiss happened at the age of 15. And I’m not talking about the first time my lips came into contact with the lips of a male. If I was to go that far back, we would be on a yellow bus heading home from fourth grade, one of the neighbor boys explaining what he had walked in on his sister doing with her boyfriend. We felt the need to try it, of course, and ended up with our mouths pressed together as if we were fish eating algae off a glass tank. No, I am talking about my first real kiss.
So I had just turned 15 and finished my freshman year of high school. My hair was cut short and I very much resembled a pre-pubescent boy, a failed attempt to pull off the pixie look. But even though I was unbelievably awkward and had what was debatably the worst haircut in the world, I knew it was going to be a great summer. I was returning to summer camp for what was going to be my last year as a camper and while this session was intended to turn us into the best camp councilors we could be, it was understandably difficult for 20 teenagers to focus on anything but the opposite sex.
Most of us had been going to camp together for the last six summers and it was safe to say that we all knew each other probably a little too well. Imagine the excitement of the girl’s cabin when we heard there were two new boys our age! We dolled ourselves up, wearing our favorite cut off shorts and tank tops, and stood impatiently at the flag outside the dining hall, each one of us looking over our shoulder toward the boy’s side of camp.
Finally they arrived in all of their puberty induced glory. They were tall and lanky, short and pimply, trying to keep their voices from cracking, and apparently had all adopted cargo shorts as their summer uniform. We loved them for what they were and had missed them like crazy during the school year. Smiling and waving, I had almost forgotten there was a promise of fresh meat for us until my friend Liz elbowed me in the ribs.
“There they are,” she whispered and I turned to follow her gaze. There, at the end of the line, were the two new boys. The first one I saw… so not what I had been expecting. He was big, I’m talking almost six feet tall and hefty, long blonde hair waving in unkempt strands down his back and shoulders. And he had a full beard. Not the long, sparse whiskers that most of the guys our age called facial hair, but a real mountain-man beard. No way could this guy be 15.
His friend didn’t impress me much either. He was wearing baggy jeans and an oversized t-shirt with some band I didn’t recognize. His hair was parted down the middle and seemed rather unruly. His nose was big, which at the time didn’t seem like something I would particularly like but ended up becoming a rather unfortunate coincidence with most of my future boyfriends, and his feet were already covered in dirt.
Liz and I looked at each other, disappointment in our expressions. “At least the new lifeguard is hot,” I offered and Liz shrugged as we started walking into the dining hall. We found our seats and watched as the new kids looked around and claimed the empty bench across from us as their own. We smiled at each other awkwardly and waited until the prayer was over before bombarding them with questions. Hey, just because we weren’t excited to see them shirtless at the pool, didn’t mean we were completely uninterested in them.
“Where are you two from?” Liz broke the ice.
“California,” the old man said.
“Where? That’s a big state.”
“Near San Francisco.”
“Oh,” Liz said in a voice that let them know exactly how bad she felt for them. “I’m originally from Los Angeles. I live in Portland now.”
“I’m Lydia, by the way,” I smiled at the two guys sitting on the other side of the table, realizing introductions had not been made.
The one with the long blonde hair pointed at himself and simply said, “Noah.”
I nodded and looked at the other one expectantly. That’s when he smiled and I swear, my entire perception of him changed. He looked…hot. How was it a smile could change his entire face? It didn’t really matter, because this dinner table had just become so much better.
“Hey, I’m Kenny,” he said, his eyes darting curiously between me and my friend.
Apparently Liz noticed his sudden transformation as well. “Kenny, hi,” she said, batting her eyelashes and trying to grin seductively. “I’m Liz. And it is so nice to meet you.”
Kenny smiled at her. “Is this your first year here?”
“Oh, no,” Liz answered, her elbows resting on the table, her arms squeezing her boobs to make her cleavage pop. She was so embarrassing. “We’ve been coming since sixth grade.”
“I came a few years ago,” Kenny said, glancing down at Liz’s revealing neckline. “Not this session, the first one.”
“You mean I could have met you earlier! I feel like I’ve been robbed of something,” she winked at him and I rolled my eyes.
“Noah, is this your first year?” I asked.
But Noah didn’t hear me. He was staring off into space, his eyes glazed over. Liz and I both stared at him, wondering what he could possibly be thinking about.
“Dude,” he said eventually and gestured toward the ceiling. “Look at those rafters. How cool would it be if we could, like, you know, live up there?”
Kenny laughed and Liz gasped, sounding as if she were in a considerable amount of pain.
“What happened?” I asked, concerned for my friend. But she ignored me completely.
“Kenny, what is that?” She pointed to his mouth.
Kenny’s lips clamped shut but were still smiling. “What’s what?” He asked through closed teeth.
“Stick out your tongue,” Liz demanded and Kenny smirked before obeying. And there it was, a titanium ball attached to a bar which went straight through his pink tongue.
“Oh. My. God. You have a tongue ring?” Her voice was shrill and attracted the attention of our entire table. I could literally see the gossip travel up each bench as all the female eyes went wide and focused on Kenny.
“Yeah,” he said proudly. “Just got it last week.”
“Did it hurt?” I asked, unable to avert my eyes from his mouth.
“Not at all.”
Well, I didn’t really believe him and was honestly a little confused by all the fuss it was creating at the table. From that point on, Kenny was bombarded with questions about his piercing and I don’t think he was able to eat any of his dinner because every girl within a three table radius was coming over and asking to see it.
Later that night in the cabin, one of the other girls had to explain to me the importance of Kenny’s tongue ring.
“When you kiss someone with a tongue ring, it just feels better,” she stated as if I should have already known.
“It just does.”
“It gives you something to play with,” another one offered and I frowned. Something to play with? I didn’t get it and wasn’t going to find enlightenment from any of the girls so I shrugged my shoulders and put on my pajamas.
The next ten days were brutal for our cabin. Most of the girls were in constant competition with each other for Kenny’s attention and, from what we could tell, he had been crushing on at least two of them, though no one had kissed him yet.
“I don’t get it!” Liz cried. “What am I doing wrong?” She had just fallen out of his favor that night at campfire. He had been sitting with Michelle. It was heartbreaking for her.
“Does it really matter? I mean, do you even like him?”
“Not really,” she pouted. “But the tongue…”
“I know. The tongue ring.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” she said with a little venom in her voice. “Or appreciate it.”
“Well, it looks like you won’t be appreciating it either.”
She pouted for the rest of the night.
The next day we left our camp for another. We were going to spend three days at a camp for kids with diabetes. We were all thrilled, because we would be living, not in cabins, but in a huge teepee – all of us together, boys and girls. I had been spending more and more time with my best friend, Hannah, the only other girl who seemed to be immune to Kenny and his jewelry. Liz was slowly driving us insane and we couldn’t wait to get away from her so hanging out with a bunch of ten year olds sounded like a blast at this point.
Upon arriving at the new camp, we were given a tour and asked to participate in each of the daily routines the kids had to follow. This included testing our blood sugar level. Not a big deal, I thought. If a ten year old could pierce himself with a needle and place a drop of blood onto a stick, I could do it too. But I was wrong.
The needle itself didn’t hurt much, something I was very pleased with. But then I didn’t bleed. It was weird. So the nurse told me to squeeze my finger which I reluctantly did. To be honest, I really just wanted to say that I was allergic to needles and blood tests of any kind which was why my finger was refusing to cooperate. But I doubt anyone would have believed me. Much to my annoyance, a drop of blood did appear once I put some pressure just above my last knuckle. Then a lot of blood came and I quickly shoved my hand in front of the nurse who dabbed it with a stick and announced I had normal blood sugar. She gave me a ball of cotton and told me to join the rest of the group outside.
Pressing the cotton to my now nearly severed finger, I walked outside and down the stairs of the infirmary.
“Are you okay?” Hannah asked, giving me a peculiar look.
“Yeah, why?” But I wasn’t, I realized as the trees started to grow in front of my eyes.
“You look really pale.”
That’s when I nearly fainted. I remember everything going white and sitting down on the grass before I fell over. It was mortifying. I mean, what was wrong with me? It was a small drop of blood, not a gaping wound.
Hannah sat with me for the two minutes it took for me to mentally kick myself for being such a baby and then we quickly found the group and finished our tour. No one seemed to notice that I was as white as a ghost and constantly checking my finger to make sure the bleeding had indeed stopped.
But as we were settling into out teepee that night (which turned out not to be so great because it was also home to an alarming amount of earwigs), I heard a muffled voice speaking to me. Pulling the cotton from my ears, because, as you are all probably aware, earwigs crawl into your head through your ears and lay eggs in your brain, I turned around and saw Kenny doing the same thing.
“How are you feeling?”
“Grossed out, actually. You?”
Kenny laughed and I saw the glitter of his tongue ring. “It looked like you almost fainted earlier today,” he clarified. “I was just wondering if you were okay.”
“You saw that?” I was so embarrassed. I had thought Hannah was the only witness to my disgrace.
Kenny nodded and something in his eyes told me that he hadn’t told anyone else.
“I’m better now, thank you. I guess I just really don’t like seeing my own blood.”
“Good,” he said with a smile and I smiled back in appreciation for his concern.
Kenny stayed pretty close over the next couple of days, even asking to sit next to me on the bus ride back to camp. I agreed, but had to put up with Liz and Noah sitting across the aisle, her laugh louder than usual as she flirted with the boy sitting next to her in an attempt to attract the boy sitting next to me.
For my part, I had no idea what I had done to deserve Kenny’s affection. But he made it pretty obvious that he had made his choice. But why he would like me was a complete mystery; I didn’t even think I liked myself. Plus, I still looked like a dude, no boobs or hips and super short hair. But I didn’t think about it too much. Kenny was distracting, to say the least. We would sit and talk for hours and hours, sometimes a meaningful conversation, sometimes just superficial flirting.
Before any of us were ready, it was the last night of camp. Tears were being shed because for many of us, this would be our last summer together. I remember sitting next to the camp fire, crying on Hannah’s shoulder when I felt Kenny, who had been holding my hand, stand up. I looked up and saw a tearful Michelle pulling him in for a long hug, nothing that really bothered me as we had all been doing the exact same thing all day.
It was her question that really irritated me. “Lydia, can I kiss your boyfriend?”
It took me a while to process what she had said. First, was she really asking my permission to kiss my boyfriend? Second, was Kenny really my boyfriend? We hadn’t talked about it. Weren’t we supposed to talk about it? Shouldn’t there have been some sort of prior acknowledgement or conversation?
I shook the confusion from my head and stood up. Kenny was standing awkwardly between us, waiting to see if I would agree. I don’t think he really wanted to kiss Michelle. I hope he didn’t, so I just like to pretend he was waiting to see my reaction to her question.
“No, Michelle. I don’t think I’d like that,” I answered, refusing to call him my boyfriend in front of anyone.
“Hmmm,” she said with a frown. “All right, I guess.”
Kenny smiled at me and took my hand again, pulling me in for a hug and keeping me against him until it was time for us to return to our respective cabins. He made sure we were the last ones to leave the campfire, all of the other campers having disappeared indoors. We walked slowly to the steps of my cabin and he paused just in front of the door.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that I like you,” he told me, a sweet smile on his face. God, he was so cute!
I blushed bright red and looked at the ground, unable to say anything. My heart was beating so fast and the butterflies in my stomach were out of control.
“I’m going to be really sad to leave you tomorrow,” Kenny continued and I looked up at him.
“You’re going to make cry again.”
He smiled and I could tell he was about to cry as well. “That’s okay. You’re still pretty when you cry.”
Could this really be happening? Did he really just say that? But before I could think about it further, he had pressed his lips to mine and I felt as if I was floating. I couldn’t tell you what I was doing with my hands and I’m pretty sure my feet were standing shoulder width apart to brace myself in case I started to fall. But his lips were so soft and opening mine so gently. And then I felt it: the tongue ring. But he pulled away before I could figure out what to do with the thing, saying goodnight and trying to hide the tears that had started pouring from his eyes.
I stood there, on the porch of my cabin and watched him walk away. Hmmm. So that was my first kiss. Awesome. Kind of weird. But as I turned around, my confusion mounted as half a dozen faces smiled at me from the windows. The door was thrown open and I was rushed inside, a barrage of questions being thrown at me.
“What was it like?”
My head started spinning.
“Was it better than any other kiss?”
I need to lie down.
“What did the tongue ring feel like?”
Or just sit in the middle of the floor as everyone surrounds me and screams at me. That’s better.
“Why are you bleeding?”
Um, excuse me? I looked up and saw Liz standing above me, her face slightly amused, slightly confused.
“Your lip. It’s bleeding.”
My fingers went to my lip and I touched the damp spot I had just assumed to be Kenny’s donated saliva. But no, it was blood.
“I’ve been using Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers all summer long! My lips can’t be cracked!”
Suddenly the room went silent as we all realized what had happened.
“Oh gross. It’s not my blood!”
“Oh my God!”
“His tongue ring totally bled in your mouth!”
And so the fascination with Kenny and his tongue ring ended. I lay in bed that night replaying my first kiss in my head. The blood had luckily diverted the girl’s attention from me and they had left me alone for the rest of the evening, giving me a chance to let everything sink in. I had reached the conclusion that my first kiss had been perfection. Kenny and I would be leaving each other the very next morning, his bus going to the airport, mine heading straight back to Portland. We would write to each other, this had already been discussed, but that was where it would end. We were young, but not naïve enough to think a long distance relationship at the age of 15 was a good idea.
I’m not going to lie, it was heartbreaking to watch him get on that bus the next day. He kissed me again, before jumping aboard with his duffel bag, and even though the kiss itself wasn’t as awkward, it was nothing compared to the kiss from the previous night. I saw Kenny the next summer when Hannah and I drove to camp just for a visit. He was a Jr. councilor at this point, and was dating one of the lifeguards. I had my own gotten a job at a local pool and was busy flirting with my manager which only made me realize just how perfect my first kiss had been. We had liked each other, Kenny and I, and we had parted as friends in our mutually acknowledged affection for each other. I have absolutely no bad memories of him, no terrible break up or drama swirling around the memory of my first kiss. Just a bizarre attraction to large noses and a secret fetish for tongue rings.