It was about this time of year in 1998, give or take a few weeks…I was 12 at the time, and think I had just kissed a boy for the first time a matter of days before. It was the kind of kiss friends shame you into then watch with intrigue until their turn rolls around. Strange how thinking about it still reddens my cheeks, but makes me laugh at the same time…
It was about this time when my second cousin got married in Atlanta. We drove the 3 1/2 hours to get there, which felt like the road trip of a lifetime to a bored pre-teen. I was excited to see my older cousin, whom I thought was so smart and beautiful, as well as my favorite great-aunt who was always the chic one. However, I wasn’t so excited to be holed up in a hotel room with my Mom at the time. I was feeling like such a kid, and I was itching all the time. I didn’t know for what, but I remember this trip in particular, I wanted to be older. I wanted it to be exciting. I didn’t want the usual pleasantries that used to make me smile…my, how’ve you’ve grown…you’re a big girl now…look at those adorable cheeks. Those were compliments for children, and I could stomach no more of them.
The wedding was in a gorgeous old house in one of the fabulous districts near downtown Atlanta. There were servers offering up hors d’oeuvres and champagne in the half enclosed room that smelled like a peach candle I’d once sniffed in the lobby of a hotel at the beach. It was dusk thirty, and the winds ushered in the southern spring air that was perfumed just enough. Everyone wore fancy dresses, and the band played something I later heard while watching Casablanca. I was at an adult wedding, and that I liked. I also like the dress I was wearing, which almost gave me an A-cup.
My mother let me have a sip of her champagne and I wasn’t sure if I thought she was the best mom in the world or she was now going straight to hell for what she’d done. But hey…I got champagne, and was starting to feel like one of the real people. I started floating around the room, eyeing the crowd, looking for someone to charm with my sudden dose of confidence…and then found him at one of the food tables.
The boy from Vancouver was a relative of the groom, and an usher in the wedding. I’d noticed he was handsome during the ceremony, and had also noticed he was way too old for me. I’m sure I lingered at the food table to get a better look at him, not dreaming he’d speak. He turned around and peeked over his shoulder at me.
“You, know, you look like Britney Spears,” he flashed a white smile.
“You know, I’ve heard that,” I tried to be cool, surprised I had even spoken back.
We went on to talk for several minutes, and I was acutely aware it was because he was talking to me…I hadn’t just followed him around like a lost puppy. He was an older boy talking to me…probably the first time I’d been noticed in this way. He wasn’t being creepy, and certainly kept his distance…after all, he was 16. We both knew it. I got the feeling though that he wished I’d been just a little older, which then, was all I needed to feel special.
My mother and Aunts chuckled at my obvious crush I tried to hide when back at our table. They’d been watching me yacking away from afar, amused at this side they’d never seen. They were careful to needle me about it only just enough.
I spoke to Vancouver a couple more times…then in an instant I was back with my mother; it was time to leave, and it scared me. I felt connected to this other human in some way, but I was a 12 year old headed back to North Carolina. He was a 16 year old headed back to Canada. My mother told me to go say bye, but I decided not to and followed her outside. I heard a whistle from behind me.
“See ya later, Britney,” he called out.
I smiled and threw my hand up as casually as I could make it look, and walked away like it was nothing. Although I had a strange gut-wrenching feeling that first showed-up that night too.
Back at the hotel my cousins and I went night swimming, and I’ll never forget how big the moon was shining down on the pool. It was a sticky, steamy night, and I felt like the air I was living in. Somehow the look of that moon, though…it gave me hope…maybe I’d see that boy again. Maybe I’d find others like him. But then, and just then, I realized I was growing up, and it had never been so exciting. I could hear my cousin yell out, “Marco,” but for me, there’d be no “Polo.”
And I never saw him again. He was a flicker of a moment at a grown-up wedding that with but a few sentences let me know it was time to come of age a little bit. To that, at now 28 and happily married, I still smile.