I was 12-years-old when I met Elise and fell in love. It wasn't hard. She had long brown hair, a trim figure, and eyes as shiny as hubcaps. The only problem was she was a year older and she'd already had two boyfriends, so she was hip to the whole kissing thing. Meanwhile, I hadn't kissed anyone but my mother.
I told my buddy John about my problem.
"You must train, Michael-san," he said.
All the time now it was Michael-san this and Michael-san that. That summer he saw The Karate Kid about 300 times—and it took over his personality. It was all baffling to me because I never saw the movie.
"Already have four student."
It was true. Kids asked John to teach them karate, other kids like me who couldn't afford the martial arts training one got by seeing a movie repeatedly. I had seen John in his backyard training a tall, lanky kid named Bill. The student was standing on a garbage can and John was yelling something about finding balance. The kid found his balance by nearly splitting open his skull. Another kid named Gary was spending entire days in the swimming pool practicing sidekicks. I hadn't seen the other two.
"I don't want to learn to fight," I said. "I just want to know how to kiss a girl."
"First learn birds, then learn bees," John said.
"Nut-ut-ut," he cut me off. "Nature rule, Michael-san, not mine."
I wondered how long he was going to keep talking like some old Japanese guy. It was even more annoying than when we were kids and he spent half a year talking like Yoda.
"Come tomorrow," he said. "Start early."
When I got there the next day, he gave me two rags and a small can of Turtle Wax.
"See bikes?" he said.
John had the world's largest collection of Huffy bikes. Most he had outgrown. Why he kept them all I could never understand. I think his mother couldn't bear to part with them and admit he was growing up. There were at least a dozen bikes, stacked in rows behind his house, including his latest.
"You wax bikes," he said.
"Wait a minute—"
"Wax on with the right hand. Like this. Wax off with the left hand like this. Breathe in the nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Now, you do. All the bikes."
Well, I waxed all the bikes. And if you saw the movie, you know I also painted the fence, and sanded the floor, went side to side, and all the rest of it. Finally, like the kid in the movie, I got sick of doing a lot of chores while John was busy having fun.
"I'm not doing it anymore," I told him.
"No matter," he said. "You kissing training done."
"Stick out tongue."
"Stick out tongue."
I stuck out my tongue, then put it back in my mouth.
He tapped me in the head. "Nigh! Keep tongue out. And look eye. Always look eye!"
I stuck out my tongue. I looked him in the eye.
"Show me," he said, "wax on, wax off."
I started moving my hands.
"Nigh! With tongue. Show me wax on, wax off!"
I moved my tongue in a circle one way, then another.
"Now show me: paint the fence."
I moved my tongue up and down…
We went through the whole business and when we were done, John gave me one of his old bikes to ride over to see Elise.
Elise and I had been together a full month by then and I had been putting off our first kiss while waiting for John to teach me how to do it right. In the meantime, she was worried about us. "Are you sure you like me?" she kept asking.
Now the moment had finally arrived.
I took her to the most romantic spot I could think of: the city dump.
"I like to watch the birds," I said. "The gulls circling around."
"They're cool, I guess."
One thing John hadn't told me was how to start a kiss. I guess he expected me to work that out on my own.
"Do you want to kiss?" I asked.
"Here? By the trash?"
She thought about it. "Okay."
I took her in my arms. I had never held her before, never held any girl. It was not only going to be our first kiss, but my first kiss ever. I was nervous, but I kept thinking that it was okay. I had trained for this moment. I was prepared.
Our lips touched. I felt like closing my eyes, but I resisted. I could hear John's voice in the background. "Look eye! Always look eye!"
To my surprise, she closed her eyes.
Clearly I was dealing with an amateur.
That was okay. We would learn together. I would teach her what I'd learned from Sensei John.
In my mind, my training came forward and I heard the rest of it. "Wax on, wax off."
I stuck out my tongue and did wax on, wax off.
She started to pull away, but I held her close.
I tried 'paint the fence.'
I tried 'side to side.'
I looked at her closed eyes. I breathed in my nose and out my mouth.
She was gagging.
Like John told me, I moved my hands down to her butt and did 'sand the floor.'
She opened her eyes and saw me staring, waxing on in her mouth, sanding the floor of her backside.
She screamed inside my mouth.
Later, sitting on the porch with John, still in agony, I told him what the whole sad story.
"What happened then?" he asked.
"She kneed me in the nuts!"
He smiled and nodded. "Very good."
"Very good! What do you mean?"
"She also student," he said. "She learn pretty good. Knee the crotch, I say. If do right, no can defense."
BIO: James Valvis is the author of HOW TO SAY GOODBYE (Aortic Books, 2011). He has published hundreds of poems in places like Anderbo, Arts & Letters, Gargoyle, New York Quarterly, Poetry East, River Styx, and Verse Daily. His prose is also widely published in places like Bartleby Snopes, Los Angeles Review, Pedestal Magazine, Potomac Review, storySouth, and Superstition Review. He lives near Seattle.