ISSUE NO. 1 • To Have a heart
Now that I’m a senior, I’ve really been reflecting on my freshman year of college. And it’s been difficult—though not because of nostalgia, regret, or even existential anxiety; thinking about it just makes me cringe. A LOT.
I like to think of this piece as a reminder that, no matter how confusing life might seem, looking back will always show us how much we’ve grown. Even if it’s just learning how to not make out like a fucking freak.
“How many guys have you made out with?”
“Aaron, Kevin, Stephen, Tom, Andrew, Joey. Six.”
“Okay Izzy, now you.”
“Wellllll…” she smirked. “Seven.”
“I thought it was only—”
“Nope. Conrad Smith.”
“Yup. Tommy’s Bar Mitzvah. Last week.”
“Oh shit! I wasn’t even invited.”
“Yeah, he was a really bad kisser though…”
“Lizz, what about you?”
I can still remember it: sitting outside of Bella’s, pepperoni slice in hand, Paige and Izzy staring straight at me from the other side of the table, clutching their orange enVs, pink push up bra straps sticking boldly outside of their skin tight, neon yellow Sugarlip tank tops…
While my tank top hid shyly beneath my black basketball sweatshirt, worn only to flatten my stomach and prevent any nipple visibility. No bra.
Thinking back on seventh grade is not a happy process, mostly because it was period of my life where my self-concept was built entirely upon my inadequacies: I couldn’t swim, couldn’t sing, couldn’t dance, couldn’t play any instruments, couldn’t talk in class without my face turning red, (still) couldn’t do long division, (somehow) couldn’t ride a bike, couldn’t get sidebangs or my ears pierced or a phone that wasn’t a walkie-talkie that my mom used to track my location—
And I’d never made out.
“Oh, that sucks.”
Yeah, I know.
Everyone was doing it. Everyone had done it.
But how did you do it? I had no suitors, but I was determined—and I had to be prepared.
Google gave me nothing besides the confusing, cartooned wikiHows and the oh-so-helpful advice that “it’s natural; you just have to go with it!” Just go with it?! Impossible.
I thought I’d just never do it, and I started coming to terms with that.
Until—on one day of especially laborious web digging—I’d found my classmate Josh Kent’s meant-to-be-secret Yahoo Answers profile, for some reason listed under his full real name. There was one question on his profile: “what song was playing during ur first make out?”
No one had answered the question, though—well, no one but Josh Kent himself: “we were sitting in my treehouse and ‘city’ by hollywood undead was playing she said i was a good kisser.”
I didn’t even know who Hollywood Undead were. They sounded cool. Fuck. I felt so removed, and I sat there staring at that computer screen, low as ever—
Until something came to mind.
Until I’d realized that this “she” just so happened to be a friend of mine.
Now I was getting somewhere.
I knew I had to go about this carefully, so I waited for the perfect time to strike: post-gym class locker room camaraderie. If you were changing alone, you just felt more naked.
“Was… was Josh Kent a good kisser?”
“Oh, yeah. Really good. Everyone who’s kissed him knows that.”
“Well, look…” She lowered her voice. “You can’t tell anyone this.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
“Alright… he has a secret method.”
“Whoa…” A secret method?! Hidden even from Google?! I had to know. This would be it, the key to life, love, happiness, success—
“What is it.” I couldn’t help myself.
“Okay, since I trust you…” She nodded, came closer, close as could be—then she paused. Pursed her lips. Took a big breath in and let it out with a whisper, sending one single word straight into my ear: “Applesauce.”
She explained it.
And I made sure I understood.
So on that fateful day, in that sweat-laden locker room, I learned that applesauce is, was, and will always be the only way to make out. You have to say it. Mouth it. Move your lips to form the word, slowly, quickly, hard or soft—and then you’ll get it. Then you’ll be good. Natural wouldn’t be good, couldn’t be good, unless your lips were just instinctively carrying themselves in the applesauce-sound formation—and the chances of that coincidence were, of course, beyond slim. Josh’s older brother had revealed it to him, made him promise he wouldn’t tell a soul. Apparently it was a secret passed down in the Kent family, generation to generation, origin unknown. Trial and error, maybe? Or, somehow, their ancestors just knew.
And now I knew, too.
Izzy told me stories of others who didn’t know about applesauce, others who Josh refused to confide in, others now banished to the realm of social suicide for their failures. Apparently Kevin Nolatta just held his tongue there, erect, “like a snake.” It was a (carefully orchestrated) dare, with his crush, on a trampoline, at a party. And they had to hold it for ten full seconds, so said the dare. But the girl started laughing at eight, couldn’t even handle the whole thing.
No one had seen Kevin at a party since.
And now I knew why.
You know what, though? I wasn’t even the kind of person who’d be targeted for a dare. Like, I wasn’t hot enough to be desirable, but I also wasn’t ugly enough to be picked for a punishment. So, in a sense, I was in the clear.
Still, there was always a chance. Knowing applesauce was a gift, but there was no guarantee that I’d execute it—especially if everyone was watching.
So at every party, when it came time for the dreaded “truth or dare,” I’d lower myself down to the grainy floor of the damp trampoline, crisscross applesauce, place one hand down between my legs to cover all those exposed pubic hairs I was too afraid to shave, station another hand at the straps of my two-sizes-too-big tankini to keep my tabooed tits safe from sight, praying praying praying that everyone would just forget I was there.
And, for the most part, they did.
Though, little did I know, everything would soon change.
• • •
The year was 2010. The month was January. It was the start of my third marking period of seventh grade, so—as promised—my mom finally allowed me to get sidebangs. And I started wearing bras. And I started showering more than twice per week.
So I became hot.
And Carter Allford became my boyfriend.
He was a blonde, bowl-cutted lacrosse player who was good at math. He asked me to be his girlfriend over AIM, which I was now capable of using through my iPod Touch.
We talked every waking hour of every single day. We passed notes in class. We held hands under the lunch table. We’d even put our devices in plastic bags to shower text. He defaulted his text message signature to “i<3lizz,” whereas I made the effort to sign every instant message with “i<3carter.”
We even decided that, when we turned eighteen, we’d lose our virginities to each other.
(We were thirteen.)
Well, actually… when that deflowering decision was declared, Carter was only twelve. That part’s crucial. Because Carter’s thirteenth birthday was the day that I’d, once and for all, make out.
We planned it. He’d never made out either, so we were both nervous… but we knew it had to be done. And I felt a little okay, cause at least I had applesauce. Though I couldn’t share this shred of confidence with Carter; I didn’t want him to think I was trying too hard, and I didn’t want Izzy to get mad at me, and I really didn’t want to have Josh Kent’s spectral kin haunting me for the rest of my days.
I doubt Carter would’ve even believed me, anyway. It did sound a bit insane.
• • •
February 15th: a sunny, cloudless North Jersey Monday—the day my life was forever changed.
Mom helped me pick up a nice little ice cream cake from Dairy Queen, with a cursive “Happy Birthday, Carter!” impeccably iced on—in blue icing, to be exact. And the rest was chocolate, inside and out. Favorite color, favorite flavor. Excellent.
I walked in, said my obligatory parent hellos, and had Mrs. Allford place the cake in the freezer—for later.
I was tense. And so was Carter; I don’t even know if he looked at the cake.
Post-formalities, we strode over to Carter’s basement door, closed it shut behind us, sealed our fate. We then floated over to his Xbox area—hand in hand, just as we’d planned.
I watched him play COD for about thirty-five minutes, which was fun.
Then, ever so suddenly, he put his controller down, picked up the remote, and shut off the TV. Then, ever so subtly, he put his arm around me. He kissed my head. Okay, I thought, this is gonna be it. I turned into him. You can do this. I kissed his cheek. He pulled back out. We stared. You’re going to do this. My eyes were afraid, and so were his, but we were ready and we had promised so before anyone could chicken out we just started—
Applesauce, applesauce, applesauce…
For fear of the Nolatta serpentine fatality, we—of course—did not use tongue. So Carter let me lead the way and I did the only thing I knew I could. There was no lip sucking, face touching, neck kissing—not even that cute pushing-her-hair-behind-the-ear thing. Just our lips moving around each other as awkwardly as humanly possible.
App-ill-sauce, a-pull-saw-suh, ah-pill-sass…
Though sometimes, when miming the “p” movement with pursed lips, I’d find my mouth stuck inside of his, lips plastered together between his tongue and the roof of his mouth, and I’d just have to mouth the magic word until I got out. I started to be more careful, so I did it real slow, and I caught myself whispering it aloud—
I felt him pushing me away.
Did he think the sound was weird?
Am I a bad kisser?
He pushed harder.
No way. He’s just playing around.
I continued, normal pace, no vocals.
But he got stronger and stronger, kept pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing—
I opened my eyes.
“I CAUGHT YOU SUCKERS!”
Mrs. Allford towered above me.
She smiled maniacally, eyes wide, hands on hips. I’d been shoved to the other side of the couch, now feet away from Carter. She looked over at him, eyes wider, nodded—then bent down to me, got right up in my face, saw straight through my watery eyes and sneered:
She held her smile, strutted backwards, landed right next to a looming Mr. Allford. They locked eyes. She motioned for him to enter and he did as instructed, revealing, in his hands, the Dairy Queen ice cream cake. It was laid out on a nice dish with a tiny, shiny cake cutter placed beside it; it had thirteen multicolored candles, all already lit, placed atop it; and Mr. Allford even held two little paper plates, with two little plastic forks—for us.
“Well,” said Mrs. Allford. Her grin grew, eyes burned into mine. “Let’s sing, I guess!”
And so we all sang.
The entire. Fucking. Song.
“Make a wish, Carter!”
They left the cake on the coffee table, placed the two paper plates and the two plastic forks in front of us, walked away without a word. But I could hear them whispering as they started up the stairs, and I wanted to cover my ears, and I wish I did, because there’s one line that my brain just won’t let me forget:
“And why the hell was she saying applesauce?”
I sat. Carter sat.
At the TV.
We did not move.
We did not speak.
For a very
l o n g
“Lizz…” He did not turn.
“Why…” He paused, sighed.
“Why… uh… why did you say applesauce?”
“Were you doing that… thing?”
“You know Josh Kent’s brother made that up to mess with him… right?”
• • •
Nine years later, I’m still embarrassed. But I’m proud to say that, this spring, I’ll be graduating college having fully mastered the art of making out. And this past Valentine’s Day, when the clock struck midnight and I was forced to face February 15th, I sat snugly at a jazz club’s candlelit table, right in the royal company of Hannibal and Thundercat, and I did not hear nor say nor mouth any semblance of that accursed a-word.