Growing up, I spent a number of weekends over at my cousin Joy’s house. Joy, like Huckleberry Finn, didn’t like to wear shoes. She played kickball without shoes, her long brown hair bouncing, her thick athletic body moving swiftly around the bases; she raced me up and down the street without shoes; even walked to 7-Eleven and Have-a-Snack without shoes.
Joy used to grab and swing me around and around in the air, making me dizzy, then put me back down, laughing as I struggled to stay on my feet. She’d tell me a scary story, then have me lay on my back, while she and her friend Sherry chanted, “Light as a feather, stiff as a board,” lifting me in the air with the tips of their fingers.
I adored my cousin Joy. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do if she told me to. I trusted her and felt safe in her presence.
On one occasion, Joy, Sherry, and I were hanging out in front of Joy’s house. Lindsey, a neighbor girl around the same age as me, came outside and sat on her front porch. Joy saw her, then turned to me. “Let’s play Truth or dare,” she said. “You’re first: Truth or dare?”
“Dare,” I answered.
“I dare you to kiss Lindsey.” Then she called to Lindsey, across the street. My heart started to beat rapidly as Lindsey crossed the street, her pretty brown eyes sparkling, her smile radiating warmth, her long dark hair shining. Not wanting to lose the dare and look like a chicken, I boldly walked up to her, looking into her eyes, I kissed her, clumsily, our front teeth clacked together, and Lindsey’s hand immediately cupped her mouth.
Joy reached over, pulling Lindsey’s bloody palm away. I looked down. In Lindsey’s hand was her front tooth. Her eyes filled with tears and she started crying, quietly at first, then reaching a heart-wrenching wail. Joy tried to console her, but Lindsey ran to her house.
Joy started laughing, teasing me about how Lindsey’s dad was going to get me. The more Joy laughed, the worse I felt—first fearful in the uncertainty of how much trouble I was in, anxiety turning to humiliation: instead of being a young Casanova, I blundered a first kiss, a kiss that should have stirred butterflies not pain, a pain breaking Lindsey’s heart, leaving her beauty blemished by a missing front tooth. Holding back tears, I turned away from Joy and Sherry to hide my face, the old nursery rhyme echoing in my mind:
Puddin’ and Pie,
Kissed the girls
And made them cry.
When the boys
Came out to play
Sherry stopped laughing, telling Joy to stop teasing me. She assured me I wasn’t in any trouble, because Lindsey’s baby tooth was going to fall out anyway. Joy confessed that she had been trying to get Lindsey to pull the loose tooth out for days.
Z.A.SMITH DIARY OF A PRISONER: EPRESSIONS OF AN ASPIIRING ARTIST OF LIFE
Zachary A. Smith, author of Smith's Guides