My arm smarted. I swear there was a fist imprint on my deltoid. It was nothing compared to the feelings I had when I looked into my friend’s eyes. They were like neon signs flashing, “what a dumb thing to do.” I turned away my face reddening.
“Now that the fun’s over, anyone ready to ski?”
It was my uncle who had laughed loudest when I hit the wall across the room.
“That sounds good,” said one person and then another.
“We’ll have to take turns in the back room changing into bathing suits,” called out my aunt.
I laughed as I slipped out of my jeans and shirt. I had forethought. I had worn my suit under my clothes. Rolling up those clothes, I stashed them in the corner. I glanced at the wall of my recent encounter and could have sworn it bowed in at the impact point. So much for foolishness, there was a lake waiting and my friend who was excited to ski.
She was a very popular young lady at school. Everyone knew she was one of the brightest students we had, a fact which belied her status as a natural blonde. When she entered a room it was as if sunshine lit every corner bringing smiles to all faces she shown upon. The boys had begun to seek her out in a new way since the age of puberty had begun to pump new chemicals into their blood streams. We were all red blooded arrivals into the teen years. Scales had dropped from our eyes enabling us to see a whole new world. Not one of us understood it, however. I am certain I didn’t.
It was all so confusing. That becomes apparent when a teenage boy challenges his dad to an arm punch. The guys did this all the time. It was almost a rite of passage.
“Bare your arm, Croucher,” said one of my buddies on one such occasion.
“I said bare your arm,” he repeated.
“Why?” My inroads to puberty were lagging some would say. Others my age had begun to get into the whole thing by lifting weights. This was their way of proving their new strength.
“We’re going to trade punches.”
“Huh?” My quick retorts were not the wittiest.
“Come on. I’ll show you.” He pulled his sleeve up over his deltoid which was impressive.
“There,” he said. “You punch me as hard as you can. Then I get to do the same to you.”
“It’s what guys do,” he said with a smirk.
“Since when?” I was still a little befuddled.
“Since we became men,” he answered with a grin.
“I thought that was when we were twenty-one.”
“Well, technically, yeah, but, you know…” he winked.
“You know!” He nearly shouted.
“I guess I don’t. How about tellin’ me.”
“See?” He lifted his arm with the sleeve pulled up to his shoulder. He leaned into the sunlight.
“Yeah?” I said.
“Well, look!” He did yell this time.
“At what? Your armpit?”
I leaned in that direction.
“I don’t see anything.”
“Look closer.” He grabbed the back of my head pushing my nose into his pit.
“Whoa!” I shouted jerking away from him. “You talking about that smell?”
“No! Dipweed. I’m talking about that hair. Men have hair growing under their arms and there it is. It just proves that I’m a man!” His face beamed with the satisfaction of logical deduction.
“What those two blonde hairs?” The sunlight glinted off a couple of short straight hairs protruding from his pit.
“Yeah. That’s only the beginning. Wanna see more proof?” The words no sooner left his mouth than he was loosening his belt buckle.
“Whoa! Whoa! NO!!” I yelled jumping back from him.
I knew what he was talking about because my body was sprouting peach fuzz in places I’d never had hair before. Dad had told me it was a natural thing when boys reached a certain age which was pretty much all he told me about puberty. There were things going on inside and outside that I found totally confusing.
Girls. I was especially confused about girls. They began to look different, to me and to every guy my age. They were beginning to blossom. I heard that term but didn’t truly understand it at the time.
“They’re bustin’ out all over,” said one of my buddies one day. I wanted to ask what he meant by that but the moment passed as one of the girls we had known all our lives walked past. We followed her with our eyes like we never had before. She had a new demeanor about her that I certainly didn’t understand. I felt like iron in the wake of a magnet. The pull was just as mysterious. What was it about her these days that hadn’t been there last year?
My body began to act in strange ways as well. The bus rides were times of true angst. The bus came like always and I jumped on books in hand like always but the air was different. The girls seemed softer, shyer, with smiles that brought a smile to my face. Sliding into my seat with a lingering memory of the brunette in front of the bus whose smile lit the morning I grinned for no apparent reason. That smile would never have affected me before but for some reason it lingered in my mind. That smile lived inside of me warming me. It became my world as everything else slipped away until the laughter of the girls in the next seat woke me from my own personal paradise.
The giggles turned to real laughter. I looked to see what they were laughing at when I saw they were pointing at me. I looked in the direction of their index fingers and … My books were not sitting flat on my lap but tilting at an angle.
I felt all the blood in my body burn intensely in my face. Well, not all the blood, obviously. I slumped forward my arms pressing my books down. Gone was the smile, gone paradise. My face remained beat red for the remainder of the bus ride. I stared at the bus wall in my slumped position until the bus stopped in the school yard. I waited until the everyone had left before I moved. There was no fear of my books sitting at an inappropriate angle any longer.
I don’t think the blood left my face until lunch time. That fire lit again upon entering the lunch room. There were titters and giggles trailing along behind me as each of the girls from our morning bus ride watched me pass. It was a long day.
I won’t say that didn’t happen again because it did. Those first couple of years proved a difficult time for a shy kid going through puberty, which brings me back to the cabin and my friend.
I was talking to dad who came over to check on me. We walked outside into the sun where he looked at my arm to be certain there was no permanent damage. He straightened up satisfied I was fine. I noticed he was smiling as he looked over my shoulder.
“I’m ready,” she said behind me.
I smiled and turned.
I froze. My eyes were held by a sight I never dreamed I would see in my life time. Here in front of me was all the mystery I had never fathomed as puberty wore on day by day. The richness of life was right before me in all its splendor. Twin peaks of beautifully fashioned flesh warmly mounded beneath a red bit of cloth held my eyes transfixed. I simply could not move. My jaw was near the sandy ground.
“Rickey, are you alright?” she said.
Her voice was warm and tantalizing. I was adrift in my mind approaching paradise.
“I think he’s still stunned from our contest,” said my dad who shook me.
He shook me harder a second time.
“Son, your guest wants to know if you are alright.” He shook me a third time very hard.
My eyes rattled into use once more.
“Uh, um, uh… yeah, I’m alright,” I mumbled as my eyes began to drift to those alpine…
Dad shook me again.
“Good, let’s head to the beach. I hear the motor being cranked.” He turned me in that direction.
Dad said she smiled as she began to walk to the beach. I was willing my face to return to its lily white complexion. How do guys get over this? The question tumbled through my mind constantly.
The rest of the day was lost to me in my crazed state. I saw her slide her feet into the skis and fly away as my uncle hit the lever forward. She was very good for a beginner. She fell a couple of times. I’m positive my uncle did it on purpose. It was his way. I know it was his attempt to loosen that bit of red cloth but he was never successful.
Watching him I knew some of us guys never got beyond the hold of puberty. All I could hope was that I would never grow up to be like him.
The day finally came to a close and we took my friend home. I am sorry to say my embarrassment ruined the day for us since I was never able to talk intelligently for the rest of the stay. We never went out together again but we did remain good friends. She was one of my favorite people. I’m glad to say she must have understood my awkwardness as a newly minted teenager. I am thankful for that. I will always remember her as one of the finest people I ever knew.