French Kiss and other Traumas
By Adam Bagdasarian
Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux
September 2002; 0374323380; 144 pages
I had been looking forward to the party for nine days. It was Maggie's party, and I liked Maggie, and, according to the notes she wrote me, she liked me too. In fact, according to her notes, she liked me first, Dale Koenig second, and Wayne Ratner third. I had been first ever since I lost my footing on the library stairs and slid headfirst across the hall floor into a wall. I had not seen anything particularly romantic about the episode, but when I regained consciousness in the nurse's office, there was a note in my pocket from Maggie saying that she hoped my head was all right and that she would like me more than anyone for the rest of her life.
This meant a great deal because Maggie Mann was the most desirable girl in the sixth grade. No one knew exactly why this was so, yet all a twelve-year-old boy had to do was stand next to her for five or ten seconds before he realized that subtle and mysterious forces were clouding his mind and making it impossible for him to breathe.
On the night of the party I combed and recombed my hair seven times before deciding that I had problem hair and would probably have to wear a hat for the rest of my life. I checked my face for blemishes and any sign of possible beard activity, gave up, slapped myself twice to bring the color to my cheeks, took a last look in the mirror, and decided that the overall impression, except for the hair, was just about perfect.
While my mother drove me to the party, the evening ahead appeared to me in a series of inspiring images. This, I knew, was going to be a memorable night: While the rest of my peers groped fruitlessly with their inhibitions, Maggie and I would be setting the emotional and romantic standards for generations of sixth graders to come. First we would dance, and then she would tell me she loved me or liked me a lot. "I didn't realize how much, until now," she would say.
"Nor I you, " I would answer. Or something like that. After my mother dropped me off, I slapped my cheeks once again, walked up the brick path that led to Maggie's front door, and rang the doorbell. Just before the door opened, I checked my zipper.
"Hello, William," Mrs. Mann said.
"Hello, Mrs. Mann," I said, wondering yet again how a girl as remarkable as Maggie could have a mother as matronly as Mrs. Mann.
"The party's in the living room," she said, leading me past a huge Japanese vase and a portrait of Mr. Mann.
When I entered the living room, I surveyed the scene derisively. As usual, the girls were on one side of the room talking and giggling in tight conspiratorial circles of three or four, while the boys stood on the other side comparing biceps, making fun of each other's clothes, and generally looking lost and uncomfortable.
The first person I looked for was Maggie. I saw her on the girls' side of the room talking with Kathy Cotter and Joanne Lieberman. When Joanne saw me, she whispered in Maggie's ear, and Maggie turned, smiled, and began walking toward me. Because we had been communicating mostly by note for the last nine days and had not spent much time face-to-face, I found myself becoming a little nervous as she approached. I reminded myself that she was already mine and that there was nothing more to prove. This thought helped restore my pulse rate and blood pressure to almost normal.
"Hi," she said.
For a moment that was all I was able to say. Just the sight of her took my breath away.
Have you tried the onion dip?" she asked.
"Not yet. Is it good?"
She nodded. "I made it."
I intended to say, "Well, if you made it, I know I'll like it," but it came out "Oh."
Just then, Joanne waved to Maggie across the room, made a face, and mouthed something.
"I think Joanne wants to talk to me," Maggie said.
"Okay," I said. Then, remembering that this was my night and that I could do no wrong, I added, "Will you save the first slow dance for me?"
"Yes," Maggie said. I could tell by the way she said it that it was a special yes, but before I could savor my conquest, I was surrounded by friends and followers.
"Are you going to make out with Maggie?" Alike Dichter asked me.
"Take her to the closet," Kevin Cox said. 'That's where Eileen and I went."
"The one upstairs. For an hour."
An hour, I knew, was the record. I had set the first record of fifteen seconds the year before.
"When did you make out with Eileen for an hour?"
"Two weeks ago. You can ask her."
I had to wait fifteen minutes for the first slow song to play, and when it finally did, I walked over to Maggie as confidently as I had ever walked over to anyone, and said, "Would you like to dance? " She nodded, of course, and that nod assured me of so many things at once that I felt a little dizzy.
I walked with her across the floor, put my arm around her waist, took her right hand in my left, and began to melt. Never before had I held anyone so warm or so soft. Never before had a body conformed so perfectly to mine.
As we swayed gently in each other's arms, I realized that we were the focus of every eye in the room, that every girl wished she was Maggie dancing with me, and every boy wished he was me dancing with Maggie. Halfway into the song, Maggie laid her head on my shoulder, and my head became light and all the colors in the room began to grow warm and dusky.
When the song ended, I looked at her. There was nothing to say, nothing to even try to say, so I smiled and she smiled and we separated to different parts of the party.
After my head cleared, I began to feel as confident and masterful as I had ever felt in my life. Maggie was mine -- her face, hair, lips, arms, hands, voice, and magic were mine, and I felt as though I were hovering five or ten feet above the rest of my peers. Satisfied, I retired to a neutral corner of the room to bask in my well-being. Unfortunately, I was again surrounded by friends and followers.
"Why don't you ask her to make out?" Kevin asked me.
"I will when I'm ready."
"She wants to make out with you."
"How do you know?"
"Joanne told me."
"What did she say?"
"That Maggie wants to make out with Will."
© 2002 Adam Bagdasarian
Whether it's questioning the meaning of life, tossing aside all scruples to scramble to the top of the school social heap, struggling up a godforsaken mountain with other miserable campers, or reflecting about time, love, death --- and laxatives --- these finely crafted stories zero in on the moments of comic confusion and tender transformation that make up one boy's wild ride through childhood and adolescence.
This funny and affecting collection, with its tales of karate lessons and romantic dreams, of BB guns and family squabbles, of growing old, growing wise, and growing up, will touch you and have you laughing out loud as our hero Will grapples with "what it takes to be a man" and "what kind of man will I become?"(back to top)
Adam Bagdasarian's first novel Forgotten Fire was a finalist for the 2000 National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. It was chosen a Booklist Editors' Choice, a Blue Riboon Book by the The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, and one of the Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults in 2000 by the American Library Association. The novel relates the experiences of Vahan Kenderian, an Armenian boy displaced by the Armenian genocide that took place in Turkey from 1915 to 1923. A tape of a great-uncle's boyhood memories prompted Bagdasarian to write this gripping young-adult novel.
Adam Bagdasarian lives in New York City.