I remember my first kiss. I was in the garden square behind Elgin Crescent, with my new boyfriend, Austin Stonehill. I was 11 years old and had already gotten my period. I was a young woman stuck in a child’s body in the early stages of puberty. It’s that age when your hormones are raging, and you want to have sex and be naked already, but it’s shameful and people still make you sit at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving. For me, this stage lasted for years. Society was too embarrassed to admit that I was no longer an innocent, pure little girl, and yet they were determined to treat me like one. No, my body reassured me, never failing to tell me the truth. I was already bleeding. I was already capable of getting pregnant and birthing a child of my own.
Austin Stonehill went to Sussex House at the time. It was a private elementary and middle school for boys in London. He was American, and he lived with his parents, who would divorce a couple years later, in a monstrously large house on Phillimore Gardens. They were the kinds of houses that the Russian oligarchs of London lurked in, with bodyguards outside circling the property 24/7. But on this fine summer’s evening, we were at the house of Chris Talesman, another boy who went to Sussex House. The houses there circled in curved streets up the slopes of Notting Hill, and were painted in a variety of pink and turquoise and yellow pastel colors, with white trim around the arched windows.
At one point, Austin and I left the other tweens behind at Chris’s house, who were reclining on the bean bags in his bedroom. We weren’t old enough to drink, so somehow escaping our single-sex private schools and simply hanging out with the opposite sex was thrilling enough, even though most of the boys were shorter than us girls. I remember Austin and I walking along the green acre of grass the private, shared garden square behind the houses. I remember feeling like we couldn’t kiss in the main part of the square, so I found a slightly more private hedge behind a neighbor’s rose bushes.
We stood behind the hedge in the dirt, as the setting sun glowed pink and orange in the windows of the houses. Austin was a couple inches shorter than me. He had a wicked grin, and a cheeky smile, and all the confidence-come-arrogance of a boy with a small family fortune and little experience of hardship. He tasted of Fanta, a type of orange fizzy drink that we had been drinking. Before that moment, I had never really put two and two together: if you eat something, then kiss someone, they’ll probably be able to taste it too. We kissed with tongues. He put his arms around me. I felt drawn to his body. I craved to do more, but I wasn’t sure what. 2nd base? 3rd base? Were those instruments in a school orchestra? I didn’t know. Still, I liked to break the rules, to push the boat out and test the boundaries of what arbitrary roadblocks the adults in my life had put between me and the world. I grabbed the back of Austin’s head. He didn’t have a particularly manly smell, but I could feel the clouded odors of Lynx deodorant on his clothes. It was the kind of deodorant that came in small, iridescent black containers, and advertised all the promises of masculinity to boys who didn’t need razors and wouldn’t for some years to come.
I made the kiss short. Once the deed was done, it didn’t seem to give much more. The taste of Fanta in Austin’s mouth subsided. I felt the awkwardness of the time that had already passed. I let it go. We had graduated to a new plateau. Though I don’t know what he thought, I felt some small sense of accomplishment. My first kiss was over. Now I could tell all my friends and move on to the next illicit thing.
Some years later, long after Austin and I had ended our tween relationship that could barely have lasted more than a month, I went on Facebook. It was the summertime. I was 16 years old and was interning at Sotheby’s in London for a couple of weeks. It was my first internship, where I got paid nothing, but sat around all day in Ewi Montgomery’s office, as she schmoozed with her colleagues about their new Museums and Collections department, and made me make lists of exhibitions and fetch her tea. Either I was messaging Austin, or I saw a picture of him with his girlfriend at the time, but somehow, I learned that he was on holiday with her in Corfu.
I thought back to that night of our first kiss with gratitude, both for that time in my life and what it meant, but also gratitude for the sense of distance I had from those years now. I was moving up in the world, building my own life, developing skills that would serve me in this burgeoning field of adulthood that I was only just embarking on. I didn’t want to be tied down, to be some attractive yet demanding guy’s girlfriend. I was unhinged. I was free. And I preferred it that way.
This piece was from my first time in the UnMute writing series, led by Ann Randolph, January 2022.