Sitting in the passenger seat tonight, after a lovely dinner with my two guys, I spotted a car with one burned-out headlight. A smile danced across my face as Gruff swung the car to the left and we headed up the steep hill into our neighborhood. Once, a long time ago, I sat in another seat and searched for single headlights in the dark.
I was in tenth grade, and in my high school’s marching band as part of the flag corps. (I was one of those girls in the sparkly sequined tops waving a big flagpole around and tossing it in the air and trying not to bean herself in the head.) Over the summer, as usually happened in our military-base town, a whole new crop of kids had moved in. One guy in particular — Damien — had joined my church’s youth group for a few outings and we’d started spending a lot of time together.
Oh, lord, he was sweet. And sensitive. We talked for hours on the phone, and he wrote me poetry – sonnets, even! He asked me to be his girlfriend, and I said yes, which was rather pointless since neither of us could drive and we weren’t allowed to go out on dates. But it was still the most romantic thing that had ever happened to me.
When school started that fall, we didn’t have any classes together – but we had marching band. He played the trumpet. (I don’t know why that’s significant, but I remember it, so I’m sharing.) I don’t remember if it was our first “away” game or the second – but I remember Damien asking me if I would sit with him instead of my girlfriends on the ride back to our school. Our team lost (my memory’s not that good. It’s just a certainty. Our football team always lost. –apologies to my other ex-boyfriend who played on said team.) and it didn’t matter. I was sitting on a worn, cracked brown vinyl seat in a stuffy, hot old school bus and holding hands with a boy. A boy who wrote me poems and songs and who passed me notes in the hallway.
As the bus exited the brightly-lit stadium parking lot and turned onto the highway that would take us home, Damien told me he was nervous about sitting with me on this ride home. He’d asked his dad for advice. His dad had told him about the headlight game – you were supposed to watch the other cars on the road carefully, and if you saw a vehicle with just one headlight, you called out “pediddle!” and you got to kiss anyone in your vehicle who hadn’t called out “pediddle.” Clearly, we would not be making this a bus-wide game. It would be just the two of us. So basically, one way or another, we were going to kiss. Our first kiss. Tonight.
If we could spot a pediddle.
How this was supposed to make Damien less nervous, I do not know. Because this game? Made me excited (in that girlish, omg-he-totally-wants-to-kiss-me! squealy way) but also terribly nervous. So we sat there, holding sweaty hands, whispering nonsense conversation, and peering intently out our grimy bus window.
The ride home was over an hour, on a busy highway, on a Friday night. Would you believe we didn’t see a single car with a burned-out light? Darn these conscientious drivers and their immaculate vehicle maintenance! Our bus was getting close to the school. Any minute now, we’d turn in to the parking lot and the spell would be broken. The lights would come on, all our friends would push and shove down the narrow bus aisle; we’d unload flags and instruments and someone would offer to drive a group to Waffle House. It would be loud and chaotic and our chance would be gone.
I saw the floodlights that beamed onto the school’s stucco signboard. Damien sighed and fidgeted, now peering out our window and the one on the other side of the bus. Then he jerked his hand out of mine and said, “Pediddle! I saw one! I really did, I swear.” To this day, I tell you, I don’t know if he did or not. But my money is on not. Anyway, he leaned toward me – with only a few hundred feet of peace, quiet, and darkness left between us and the end of the magic – and kissed me.
It was not magical. I think it was probably the average first kiss of an average high schooler. But at the moment, it was sweet and perfect and right, and I liked that boy so much that it felt like an amazing first kiss.
Looking back on it, I’m still touched by the tender innocence of that moment. Damien was a great high-school boyfriend. He was gentle and quiet and calm. He was a good student and a lot of fun to be with. He charmed my parents and obeyed his own. I love that he was nervous about the prospect of kissing me – and that he talked to his dad about it – and then confessed it all to me that very night. I wonder if teenagers today are as transparent and trusting.
I also wonder where he ended up. We broke up midway through that school year and his family moved the next summer. A quick search for his name didn’t turn anything up, which is probably a good sign – no arrests, no obituaries, no embarrassing headlines or YouTube vids. I hope he’s happy, and I hope he is still as honest and kind as he used to be.
And I hope that if he sees a car with one headlight some dark winter night, that he thinks of me with a little fondness. “Pediddle!”