The first time I met her, it was 1995, I had just turned 14 and the summer looked... dismal. I was huffing and sweating at my grandmother's house, yanking weeds out of her flower beds, and sweating profusely in the humid air, praying that she'd at least let me go for a swim in her gorgeous pool after she was done enslaving me. She usually did, and some days she's let me bring along Cary, who hated his name and was my best friend.
At the end of my grandma's cul de sac there was a U-Haul and a couple of harried-looking women trying to figure out how to get their avocado-colored refrigerator off the truck with out a dolly.
I yanked out the last clump of weeds and wiped the sweat off myself with my t-shirt. I stood and watched for about 30 seconds longer before the Scout Oath started to echo in my head.
On my honor,
I will do my best,
to do my duty to God,
and my country,
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong;
Mentally awake, and morally straight.
"Fuck," I swore under my breath as I threw down my gardening glove and jogged over to them. I sometimes hated the guilt my religion and my upbringing used to control me. It was frustrating sometimes, NOW being one of those times.
I put on what I thought was a friendly smile, but probably looked more like a greasy grimace.
"Do you need a hand?"
The women were both grateful for my help and we balanced the fridge on a dolly that Grandma let us borrow. They tried to give me $5 bucks for helping them out but I told them that along with tying knots, helping was, you know, kind of a responsibility. They gave me a can of diet Coke from an ice chest in the front yard and told me about why they had moved to Susanville. They were from Los Angeles. They were Kelly and Lisa. They moved here because they thought it was making Lisa's daughter, Cielo, a little too... rambunctious.
"Cielo? That's a... pretty name." The next thing I know, immense pain was radiating from my nose and the most beautiful voice I've ever heard.
"Fucking call me that again and I'll kick your teeth in, faggot." I looked up in the direction of the voice and there was she was, standing above me, silhouetted by the sunlight and already making me crazy.
She had sandy blonde hair, and that was all I got to see of her before she spit in my eyes and ran off on her skateboard with Lisa yelling after her. Kelly apologized while Lisa shouted down the street and Cielo flipped her the bird. I awkwardly walked back over to Grandma's, where Cary was now eating cookies and drinking chocolate milk.
"What's your problem?" Cary asked.
I shook my head. "Nothin'. You bring your towel?"
He nodded and we spent the next 3 hours floating around in comfortable bliss, interrupted only when Grandma called us out of the water for sandwiches.
Cary stayed over with me at my grandmother's. My parents were in Florida for their anniversary, but I didn't mind staying with Grandma so much. Cary went home the next day after french toast and I was on my own again at Grandma's. I decided to go out and ask to borrow some clippings from some of the neighbors on Grandma's cul de sac.
As soon as I stepped outside of Grandma's garden gate, I saw her. Five foot-four, sandy blonde hair that hung it loose waves around her face and gigantic blue eyes, off set by a small red mouth and, later I would find out, deep, deep dimples.
"Hey." I said, trying not to sound terse. I'm sorry to admit that I was totally afraid of her.
"Hi," she looked at her feet then said, "I'm Cici. I'm sorry I hit you in the nose. And spit at you." Her cheeks were flushed.
"You know it's assault if you spit at someone. You can get arrested for it." Stupid Boy Scout. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Did I mention I was good at tying knots?
"Yeah. Well. I'm sorry. Friends?" She extended her hand. There was dirt under her fingernails.
"I'm Sean. Hi." My hands were clammy. "You're pretty." Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
She laughed. I was still tense, to say the least. God, she had the best laugh. Easy and musical. Loud. I smiled despite feeling awkward.
Instant best friends. I spent the rest of my days at Grandma's with her, showing her how to dig for earthworms and how to bait a hook and the best fishing spot on Susan River. When my parents got home, we rode our bikes back and forth to each other's houses. Her and what turned out to be her two mothers came to the block party on our street. We laid on a blanket on my roof and watched the fireworks together. Her hair smelled like honeysuckle.
When September came, we went to Credence High School together. She knew everything about me. She asked me to the Sadie Hawkins dance.
Dancing, like high schoolers do, I realized that this was the closest I'd ever stood to her. Her head was resting on my shoulder and I could feel the skin of her arms, cool and soft against the back of my neck. Smell of honeysuckle.
She tossed her wavy, sandy hair and looked up at me with those deep blue eyes. Bit one glossy, pink lip and I knew something bad was on the verge of happening.
I got wood, just as she was closing her eyes, pouting her lips, readying the kiss.
This should have been my first kiss. I panicked, pushed her away from me and ran to the bathroom.
"Mortified" is probably not strong enough to describe what I was feeling at that point.
I finally got up enough courage to leave the bathroom, but things were awkward for the rest of the night.
I finally fell back into my old rhythm a few weeks later while anticipating another fishing trip with Cici and Cary. We'd already dug up the worms and packed lunches, but at the last minute, I had to wait around with Kaila, my baby sister until my mom got home.
"You guys just start heading up, I'll be there as soon as my mom gets here." Kaila had already drooled on my green t-shirt.
Mom got there 45 minutes later and I pedaled like a bandit to the river. I was just in time to see Cici deck Cary, who lost his balance and tumbled into the water.
Apparently, he'd tried to kiss her.
Cary said nothing as he climbed on his bike and rode away, dripping wet.
We decided to hold off on the fishing for that weekend, but we ate the sandwiches we'd packed anyways while sitting under a tree on our hoodies.
There was silence for awhile, then she asked, through a mouthful of peanut butter and jelly, if I thought she was a lesbian.
"Whup? Why woo I thin you ur a lev-ee-in?" I asked through a mouthful of bread.
"Swallow your fucking sandwich, dipshit."
I tried to wash it down with Coke, but it took longer than I wanted it to.
"Why would I think that, Ci?"
"Because I tried to kiss you and you freaked out."
I could do nothing but turn crimson. I think this was the first moment I realized I loved her. She never just beats around the bush. She just. You know. Spits it out.
"I just. I mean. I didn't. I. Uhh. Well. I really like you, I was just nervous, is all."
She smiled at me, and gosh, those lips and those big dimples. My heart was beating in my throat. Hammering, even.
Cici scootched herself over so she was sitting right next to me and put her head on my shoulder, so that her shiny blue eyes were looking right at me. Right at the stubble that puberty was plaguing me with, right at the zit on my chin, right at me and said, "If you don't kiss me right now, under this fucking pine tree, I will kick your teeth in."
My lips were on hers so fast that our teeth clicked together. I kept my eyes open, I wanted to see her kiss me. It was short. Her lip gloss tasted like pineapples. She grabbed my hands and intertwined our fingers together. One of my knuckles popped. She kneeled in front of me, and kissed me again, slower.
Tentatively, she slid her tongue into my mouth. Instinctively, I put my hands in her hair.
I don't know how long we were like this, warm mouths, exploring one another, but eventually, we packed up and headed home. I released the worms into Grandma's flower bed when I rode home with Cici.
Later that year, in Spanish 1, I learned that Cielo meant skies, or heaven, or paradise, depending on the context, I guess. I could not have thought of a more perfect name for her.
We never talked about the kiss after that, just fell back into being friends until I was 20 and she told me her boyfriend of 8 months had proposed. From jail.
After tearful pleas over the phone, and pouring my heart out to her moms, I thought that I was going to lose Cici forever. And to a criminal, at that.
She stayed over at my house for 2 weeks when my mother perished in an
automobile accident the year we turned 17. The opal ring my mother
always wore was given to me secretly by my father, and Cici was the
only one that knew I carried it with me always in a secret compartment
in my wallet. It made me feel close to have it with me and helped me
I waited all night outside her apartment for her to come home. She climbed out of a cab at 2:40 am, stone drunk.
I told her I loved her as she threw up in my lap. I remember her vomit being pink, and thinking how odd that was. I took her upstairs and put her to bed on the couch with a waste basket and a bottle of water within reach and slept on the floor.
I was there waiting when she woke up coherent.
After more pleas and yelling, I was determined to not let her go.
Down on both knees, with tears and snot on my face, I tore my mother's opal ring from my wallet and begged Cici to marry me, promised her a diamond and a house and babies and love letters.
She shook her head, sobbing.
"I promise to always love you, Cielo!"
She punched me in the face so hard for calling her by her full name that I almost blacked out.
But she said yes.
We've been married since 2002.
(Cary was my best man.)