I am participating in Ashley and Emily’s Summer Blog Hop. Their ongoing theme is Remember That Time… an opportunity to draw upon stories from our youth/past. The prompt this week is Remember That Time… You Went to a Sleep Over. I immediately thought of a particular sleep over, from the year I was almost twelve. This one is a challenge; I’ve changed the names, to protect the innocent kids we were.
The year I turning twelve was an awkward year for me. Having moved to the small town where I would grow up, only two years earlier, I only had a few friends, and I was only close to one of them. My father had been killed in a car accident when I was ten and a half, and my world felt very upside down and confusing. My Mom was working; I was taking care of my siblings and the house. Roles were blurred— I didn’t spend a lot of time doing “kid stuff,” like going to sleep overs. It would take a while for me to build some solid friendships, and that year I was still a bit lonely.
There was a girl my age, who lived relatively nearby. We didn’t have that much in common, but proximity threw us together. Jan was an awkward kid, but it was a time when girls our age still played with Barbies (even if we didn’t want too many people to know). Jan didn’t have many friends either. I was grateful to be invited over, happy to have a friend to hang out with, and relieved to get out of my own house and out from under the responsibilities I had there.
Jan’s home was so totally different than mine; her family from a different world altogether. Our house was filled with the stylish furniture that my mother believed made a statement. My family was loud and volatile: either very happy, or very unhappy— there was little middle ground. Jan’s small house, from the early 1800s, was always kept dark and quiet as her very conservative mother suffered from “spells.” I would later come to understand that she likely suffered from migraines; but, back then, it just seemed mysterious and strange that the house was always dark: the curtains drawn, lights kept low or off, and the house absolutely silent. We often played outside, or with our Barbies in her large bedroom upstairs; but, we always spoke in whispers while inside, as her mother was often resting— damp cloth across her eyes, on the sofa or locked in her room.
Like the rest of her home, Jan’s room was dark and simple. There was little color or spark to their world. Older, plain furnishings in olive greens and bland browns, with heavy, dark curtains on all of the windows. Here house was always tidy and clean. My mother had bright yellow sofas and bold prints on the walls. Our house was often in a state of messy flux— not dirty, but disorganized. However, it was the quiet of Jan’s house that was most striking to me. Mine was bright and loud. My siblings and mother were constantly in motion; there was a continuous buzz of sound, while I could only hear the ticking of the wall clock in Jan’s kitchen when we went to get a snack, or the creak of the wooden stairs when we went up to her room to play. Jan’s home was an escape from my familiar, but I was constantly second guessing whether that made me comfortable or uneasy.
In the 20/20 glare of hind sight, there had been something about Jan that made me uncomfortable from the start. Her affect was a little off; her ability to read social cues was obtuse. However, her proximity brought us together, and I was relieved to find companionship. When she invited me for a sleep over, it was the first since I’d moved there. I was thrilled. The fact that her house made me a bit uncomfortable, didn’t matter as much as the idea that I felt a sense of inclusion that had been missing since we moved.
That night we lay in our individual twin beds, set up on opposite sides of the room. As I lay there in the dim light, I could see Jan’s face as we whispered and shared our thoughts. Out of the blue, she asked “Do you ever wonder what it would be like to kiss someone— I mean, have you ever kissed anyone?” I felt a rush of ambivalence fill my chest. I was curious about boys; I’d wondered about how it all worked— how it felt. But aside from the many crushes I had, I had certainly never kissed anyone. Um, no… I’ve never kissed anyone, but yeah, I guess I think about what it would feel like. Why, have you ever kissed anyone? She was quiet for a moment. “No. I’ve never had a boyfriend.” Me either. I felt relieved, glad that I wasn’t that out of the loop. Sometimes, I practice kissing my hand, I ventured. She sat up in her bed and looked over at me. Without her glasses, I knew she couldn’t really see me very well. I held my palm up to mouth and showed her my most amorous kiss, and we both laughed. Then, we both stopped talking and I eventually fell asleep, not entirely at ease in the house, or her room.
I woke in the morning to Jan’s mouth on mine, her body pressed up against me— thankfully, the blanket between us. Her sour breath hit me first, and then the vague sense of arousal I also felt. But I was totally disoriented— startled, and I instinctively shoved her hard. She fell back off the bed, got up with a shocked expression and went back to her bed silently. I lay there, propped up on my arms trying to see what she was doing, until I could make out that she lay on her bed, with her blanket over her face.
What was that! Why would you do that! I demanded, as my heart pounded against my ribs. I felt a rush of shame. I felt confused by the brief rush of arousal dipped in confusion and panic, I’d felt. If I felt something, did it say anything about me? I’m not gay you know, I said to her, to myself. The truth is I had not idea at that point what my sexual orientation was. I presumed I wasn’t gay, because I liked boys, my crushes were all boys, but the truth was, I didn’t know. I had no reference point. I said it as much to reassure myself as to define a boundary with her, but not because I actually knew anything about what I was or was not. “I’m not either,” she whispered. “I just wanted to see what it felt like.” I wasn’t sure what to do. I felt so unclear about how to act— what to say. I just wanted to be home in my own bed, and pretend that this had never happened.
And that is what I did. I didn’t mention it to Jan ever again, and I never slept over her house again. I pushed it to the back of the gray room and did my best to pretend that it never happened. I stayed home and did chores, when Jan asked me to come over. As the years passed, I treated her with increasing avoidance, though we walked the same path to school each day and went to school for six more years together. I didn’t kiss anyone again until my junior year of high school, a week before I turned seventeen. “Sweet sixteen.” He was attractive and drunk, the brother of a friend; I was drunk too. It counted as my first kiss, though I always knew that at the most confusing sleep over of my life, Jan was my first.
When was your first kiss? How did you feel about sleep overs when you were kid? Leave me a comment; tell me what you think. Check out the other blogs in this series by visiting either of the links at the top.