He kissed me only the one time and when he did, he told me I tasted like macaroni and he didn't like macaroni.
But except for the not-kissing part, I really liked Ken. He would drive me to school and home from swim practice, which was great because nobody, I mean nobody at my school had a car. My dad was stationed at Howard AFB in the Panama Canal Zone. The military would ship one car per family. To have more than one car, you had to pay to ship it yourself, which was not cheap. Or I suppose buy one in Panama. I don't know what prices were like, but Panama had no auto manufacturing industry that I knew of, so these cars had to be shipped as well.
Not that it was hard to have only one car in the Zone. On base, everything was in walking distance. By walking distance, I mean within a mile or two because unless you have health issues, you can walk two miles. I was at a hotel in Miami for a job interview in 1997 and wanted to find someplace for lunch. "Is there anything I can walk to?" I asked the clerk. I wouldn't have minded driving, but the company had not rented a car for me, so I was stuck.
"No," the clerk said as she shook her head sorrowfully. "Nothing close enough to walk."
When the HR lady picked me up the next day, I saw a shopping strip with restaurants three blocks from the hotel. Which is certainly close enough to walk.
Off base, there was excellent public transportation. My friend Julie and I took the chiva bus home from swim meets all the time. The only problem was standing at the bus stop in our shorts and swimsuits, hearing the Panamanian men yelling, "Chica americaaaaaaaaa-na!" and making that weird sucking, kissy noise with puckered lips that is supposed to accomplish I don't know what because it sure wasn't attractive.
Ken's uncle sent him videos of U.S. TV shows. We got U.S. TV on Armed Forces TV, but a season or two late. Any time someone new would start at school, we would grill her about what was happening on General Hospital. All we knew was that creepy Luke with his ugly hair was chasing Laura. We were all shocked to learn that she broke up with Scotty.
Ken and I would watch Mork and Mindy and a few times, we played Pong, which even back then, despite its novelty, held no appeal for me. Now that I am a middle-aged lady living in the Midwest, I have even less interest in video games.
We would hang out at his house even when his mom and dad weren't home, which makes me think that somewhere, on some level, they might have known. With my next boyfriend, we necked at the movies and during lunch behind the chem lab and in his car on dates. We necked so much that I got whisper burn on my chin. All we could think of was necking. But Ken and I didn't kiss. I should have known there was something off, but I had never had a boyfriend before so I didn't know what was supposed to happen.
Perhaps the ideal situation for parents would be for their daughters to date gay boys because there would be nothing to worry about.
I liked him. I was less attracted when he shaved his head for ROTC Rangers, but I still liked him.
But he ditched me - more or less - right before the Christmas dance. The plan had been that he and I would go with Julie and her boyfriend, but then he never formally asked me to the dance and I guess we were broken up. We stopped talking and I met the new boyfriend with whom I necked during lunch and life was fine until the new boyfriend didn't ask me to the prom and went with that red-headed girl in my gym class. They spent the night in a Panamanian jail - I don't remember why - so it worked out in the end.
Ten years later, I ran into Ken and his parents, who had always loved me - I remember being at a party at Julie's house and Ken's mom circling Ken and me as we danced, taking photos - at the Seattle space needle. I had just quit my job to attend grad school and was taking a six-week tour through the northwestern U.S., a trip that included several nights of sleeping in my car at campgrounds in the mountains, which was not so smart of me because guess what? even in July, the mountains are darn cold at night, an idea that is almost incomprehensible to someone who lives in Texas and might pull out a winter coat in January.
A person who only uses her winter coat in January probably does not think to take a warm coat with her on a trip in July.
I know better now, of course. I travel with a blanket, a candle, a small shovel, water and food in my car. But that's because my dad ordered me to do so when I drove from Texas to Minnesota in December. The two Air Force Academy students had died in a blizzard either that winter or the winter before, trapped in their car. My dad said that the heat from one candle plus some blankets would have been enough to keep them warm. I have not verified this information with any other sources, as I trust my dad, who grew up in northern Wisconsin, to know what he was talking about when it came to surviving cold weather.
I was in Seattle. Had gone to the top of the space needle. Looked over, saw a nice-looking guy, looked twice because hey he was a nice-looking guy, then looked thrice because I thought, Wow! That man looks so much like Ken! How weird is that!
Then I looked four times. Then I looked at the two people with him. And those people! They look like Mr and Mrs KenLastName!
I looked again.
There was no doubt.
I walked over to them. "Ken?" I asked.
Startled, he stared at me.
I turned to his dad. "Mr KenLastName?" I asked. "It's the Gold Digger! From Panama!"
Their jaws dropped. Then they smiled. A little reunion! So far from Panama!
Mr and Mrs KenLastName insisted I join them for dinner. They were animated and chatty, Ken was withdrawn. But here was my chance. I took a deep breath, then plunged in.
"Ken, why did you ditch me right before the Christmas dance?" I asked.
He flinched. Thought. "I don't know," he admitted. "I was dumb."
I thought no more of it. A year or two later, I got a Christmas card from him telling me he was getting married. Then I heard nothing. Several years after that was when I googled him and found the posting on the gay athletes site. I knew it was Ken because he has a very distinctive last name and the post was about swimming and we had met when we were both on the swim team.
I was happy because I realized that his lack of desire to kiss me had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him.
I googled him again recently and found him on facebook. I hesitated. Should I friend him? I didn't know. I didn't know if he would want to hear from me. I didn't know what the protocol was for friending former boyfriends. Facebook keeps suggesting I friend Calvin, my college boyfriend to whom I was engaged but then changed my mind. I do know that that one is not a good idea. FB can shut up with its stupid suggestions.
I decided not to initiate anything.
But then this week, I was working on the book that has to become a bestseller so Primo can quit his job and become a full time revolutionary, although he is not interested in camping or roughing it, so he needs to be a revolutionary with excellent financial backing so he can stay at nice hotels with good breakfasts and accumulate his hotel points. I included a scene about the character discovering her high school boyfriend was gay, blah blah blah and I started thinking about Ken again.
I went back to facebook. Looked him up. Sent him a message. Waited.
I got an immediate response, along with a friend request.
He wrote the loveliest note, telling me how nice it was to hear from me and that it was our conversation in Seattle that got things moving with his telling his parents and coming out.
It feels good to get that off my chest since I feel that I owed you an honest explanation.
I wrote back that I had discovered years before that he was gay, which was a relief to me, and that I was happy he was happy.
He answered that he had wanted for years to tell me that there was nothing wrong with me.
I thought you were a beautiful girl back in HS...I still think that you were back then and are still now.
It wasn't me. It was never me. And he knew it and wanted me to know it. Best of all, someone I liked with whom I share a common biography is back in my life. The End.