“The best kiss is the one that has been exchanged a thousand times between the eyes before it reaches the lips.” Anonymous
She was a 4.0 in the classroom and a 9 outside it. Ginger was a pleasant shock to the eyes, a fashion model like figure on our college campus. Light curly red hair, big round blue eyes, lightly freckled face, the girl next door but with a bit of a flirty attitude. Her looks and personality reminded me of the actress Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night. Petite, always dressed smartly and perfectly coiffed, she was a classmate in a literature course during my sophomore year of college. She served as my visual and mental distractions to the monotone lectures about Beowulf and early European writers. She was the type of woman that I would hope to marry after I graduated college, worked my way up in a corporation and became CEO.
Content to admire her from afar in class, our initial interactions involved some class discussion repartee but no social conversation. Maybe I could impress this young lady with my brain or knowledge of literature? But even though I was in a class with her, I never felt that I was in her class. She possessed a maturity, style and aura outside my area of expertise. I was simply content to see this vision of beauty in class twice a week for 90 minutes.
However much to my surprise, she made the first move for a more social introduction early in the semester. One morning as I studied alone at a long table in the bowels of the campus library, she dropped her books and coat on the chair next to where I was sitting. “Mind if I sit here?” she asked. I pushed a chair out so Ginger could sit, “Not at all, I quickly replied.” I would have pushed aside loaded bookshelves so she could sit next to me. Usually first conversations are a break in period with periods of silence. But we conversed easily, like old friends. She wasn’t stuffy or put on airs. She exhibited an interest in what I had to say and a wicked sense of humor. I do admit that I spent most of my time listening to her. It was a very comfortable beginning to what was a three year casual friendship and unusual relationship.
Ginger had plenty of male admirers on campus and she regaled me with stories of her dates that were usually very lavish (theatre, concerts and expensive dinners.) She also had dreams of being in the theatre or singing professionally. Many of her suitors were from the law school who could afford her extravagant tastes. Every now and then, she would introduce me to another beau who would follow her around campus carrying her books. Her admirers came and went.
I understood Ginger’s allure but I avoided the siren call of Scylla. The truth was that in terms of personality and social confidence that, in college, I was much more like “Flounder” than “Otter.” (Animal House devotees will understand my reference).
During our friendship, she never called me by my first name. She would call me Poli Sci (my major), Clapton or some other nickname. I think she got the idea from watching Love Story where Ali McGraw called Ryan O’Neil’s character “Preppy.” During the summer, she sent me postcards and letters from vacation resorts where she had been staying that were addressed to Poli Sci with my home address.
There were times where she genuinely amused me with her concern. She once sat in the bleachers and watched me play a spirited pick-up basketball game in the college gym. I was the only white player among the 10 players. In one of the time-outs, one of the players asked me, “Is that your girlfriend?” Fearing he would approach her and not knowing what her reaction would be, I lied and responded “Yes.” He elbowed me and smiled, “Damn fine lady.” I wish! After the game, she came over and whispered to me, “Weren’t you afraid?”
Another time, I was playing volleyball outside the college center. It was a cold afternoon but I took my coat off in order to play more comfortably. She ran on to the volleyball court at the end of a point with my coat, shook her finger at me and yelled “Are you crazy, it’s 30 degrees. You’ll get sick. Put your coat on!”
I often wondered if she saw me as a challenge. I never expressed to her or displayed any interest about a date or upgrading our relationship to being more than friends. I never showed jealously from meeting any of the guys she dated on campus. Ginger liked to tease me. She found me too quiet and gently criticized my quiet social life. She would see me sitting with a coed in school and ask me later, “Is she your girlfriend? I’d answer, “No, she’s just a friend.” “Like me?”, she’d ask and I’d tell her, “No one is like you.”
The truth of the matter is that I feared if I pursued her or answered the call of Scylla that I would lose her just like the other guys on campus who dated her. I was content to keep things the way they were.
Until one day a few weeks before our graduation…
Sometimes I would sit with a collection of her girlfriends and my friends in the College Center before class as she held court. I usually had my head in a book or newspaper and listened half heartedly to her conversation. Sometimes her voice would grow very soft and she’d smile in my direction. That’s when I knew she was saying something teasing about me. On this day, I heard her girlfriends giggle while looking in my direction. So I asked Ginger what was so funny. Her answer changed our friendship but ended a stalemate on how we may have truly felt for each other.
Ginger replied, “I was just wondering, “what it would feel like to get a kiss from you?’
Ah, a shot across my bow! I know I was initially embarrassed. Normally she would say things to get some type of reaction from me and I would usually roll my eyes, shake my head and ignore her jibe. But this came across as a challenge I could not duck. Time was running out. Exams would start soon and so would our opportunities to see each other.
I tried to play it cool. I got up from my chair, went over to her and whispered, “Ginger, can I see you outside?” She slowly got up from her chair as her friends laughed and chortled “Uh-oh.” I held the doors open for her and found a quiet spot around the corner of the College Center. She stood with an amused smile and her hands by her pockets. “Your question deserves an answer,” I began…
I slowly moved in front of her and softly grabbed her hands. “School is almost over. We should satisfy our curiosities that we have left at school. Life is too short to have any regrets. I want you to have an answer to your question.” She listened quietly with a mischievous smirk on her face and a tilt of her head, almost daring me to act. So our three year dance led to this moment.
I pulled her closer to me. She showed no resistance, no hesitation. I half expected her to laugh and walk away. She didn’t. Time stopped. The world stopped. I was totally present. I felt the warm sun on my right cheek. I felt the softness of her hands, noticed the curve of her mouth, smelled her hair and a soft scent of perfume. Birds stopped chirping or I stopped hearing. The din of noise from the college center was white noise.
I moved my left hand behind her shoulder squeezing her closer. I leaned towards her, closed my eyes, and gently brushed her lips with mine and then kissed her. The actual kiss lasted maybe five seconds but I still feel the experience 45 years later. I released her lips and noticed her eyes were still closed as if she was evaluating her experience and her lips were a bit pursed as if she might be expecting an encore. When her eyes opened, a sly smile greeted me. She was silent but her smile seemed to express she won a small victory. I gave her hands a quick squeeze and then let them go.
About a month later, I saw Ginger for the last time at the conclusion of our graduation ceremony. I did not have a chance to catch up with her before the ceremony as we had different class and exam schedules. We missed having our yearbook picture taken together. She quickly introduced me to her parents and I noticed that she seemed to have another prospective beau waiting for her. Our good-byes were brief. I had hoped that I could still see her but those hopes were dashed when she mentioned that she was relocating to the Midwest with her family. She hooked my arm, squeezed it and pulled me close to whisper “Good bye and Good luck.” She then turned to wind her way through the throng of graduates and their families to slowly walk away. I sadly watched her go about three steps when she stopped and turned around. She had one surprise left. She moved back slowly to me, grabbed my left hand, pulled me close and touched my cheek with her right hand. She then ran her index and middle fingers gently over her lips, smiled, winked at me and whispered “I’ll miss you, Eric.”