My First Date

Mom pulled our Ram­bler to the curb on a rainy fall after­noon. I sat in the pas­sen­ger seat, feel­ing queasy.

You see your friends?” she asked.

Under the awning.”

Mom peered through wipers pump­ing back and forth. “Where are the girls?”

Richard said to get here ear­ly so we could buy the tick­ets before they show up.”

Sounds like Richard’s quite the lit­tle man,” Mom said, smil­ing.

Star­ing grim­ly at the movie the­ater, I didn’t smile.

You all right?” Mom said.

Arthur

I got out of the car with­out answer­ing and ran across the side­walk to Richard and Arthur. Thir­teen years old, we’d just start­ed the eighth grade. Tall with blonde hair, Richard already had mus­cles. Arthur was chub­by, but begin­ning to fill out. I was the short­est, skin­ni­est boy in our class.

The date was Richard’s idea. He want­ed to take Mar­cia to a movie, but his mom wouldn’t allow it unless oth­er kids went with them. Richard asked Arthur to be his side­kick. Arthur and I were best friends, so he invit­ed me. I didn’t want to go because I was afraid of girls, but Arthur roped me into it by get­ting his girl­friend, Ger­ry, to set me up with her friend, Ann, the only girl in the eighth grade short­er than me. I couldn’t back out with­out look­ing like a hope­less nerd.

When I joined Richard and Arthur under the movie theater’s awning that after­noon, they were hud­dled togeth­er, talk­ing in hushed tones. “Girls act like they don’t like it,” Richard said, “because they don’t want boys to think they’re bad, but secret­ly they want it.”

Mar­cia tell you that?” Arthur said, look­ing wor­ried.

No, you idiot. You can’t talk to girls about sex. My broth­er told me. He said the key is to get to first base. After that, girls get so excit­ed they’ll let you do any­thing. That’s why I picked this movie.” Richard point­ed at the poster on the wall behind us.

I blanched when I saw it. “PSY­CHO,” it blared in yel­low let­ters under a pic­ture of a pret­ty blonde woman sit­ting on a bed wear­ing noth­ing but her under­wear.

That woman gets stabbed in the show­er,” Richard said. “It’ll scare the crap out of the girls. Ger­ry will prob­a­bly jump in your lap. Even a doo­fus like you ought to make it to first base after that.”

What’s first base, I won­dered just as the girls got out of Marcia’s mom’s car and ran over to us. Mar­cia and Ger­ry looked excit­ed. Ann looked like she want­ed to cry.

Hi,” I said in a small voice. Ann mum­bled some­thing with­out look­ing at me.

Inside the the­ater, Ann sat to my right, star­ing straight ahead, her lips pinched into a tight line, her knees pressed togeth­er, her hands clenched in her lap. Arthur and Ger­ry sat next to her. Then Richard and Mar­cia.

I tried to focus on the movie to calm my nerves. The blonde woman stole some mon­ey from her job. Mak­ing her get-away on a stormy night, she stopped at a motel run by a creepy guy who lived with his moth­er in a spooky house on a hill­top.

I looked over at Richard. He had draped his arm over the back of Marcia’s chair. His hand rest­ed on her shoul­der. A cou­ple min­utes lat­er Arthur lift­ed his arm up on the back of Gerry’s chair.

By the time the woman went to her room and start­ed to undress, Richard’s hand was inch­ing down the front of Marcia’s shirt; Arthur had put his hand on Gerry’s shoul­der; and I hadn’t moved.

In my head, I saw all the boys in the eighth grade massed up at my home­room desk, point­ing at me, laugh­ing, and shout­ing, “Doo­fus!”

If I put my arm up on the back of Ann’s chair, I thought, it might be enough to save face. I didn’t have the guts to touch her shoul­der, but I could lie about that part. Scared wit­less, I took a deep breath and lift­ed my arm onto the chair-back. Ann flinched, sucked in her breath, and teared up, but at least she didn’t bolt out of the the­ater, scream­ing bloody mur­der.

Speak­ing of bloody mur­der, the blonde woman was stand­ing in the show­er by then. A shad­owy fig­ure sud­den­ly pulled back the show­er cur­tain and stabbed her repeat­ed­ly with a butch­er knife. She screamed while shrill music bleat­ed like an air-raid siren.

Mar­cia jumped into Richard’s arms. Ger­ry put her hands over her face. Arthur pat­ted her on the shoul­der gen­tly and seemed to be try­ing to com­fort her. Ann didn’t move a mus­cle. Nei­ther did I.

The woman’s blood was cir­cling the bath­tub drain when a dull ache began to creep down my arm to my shoul­der. It slow­ly got worse. By the time the shad­owy fig­ure stabbed a pri­vate detec­tive, my arm was killing me.

I real­ized too late what was wrong. The movie chairs were designed for adults. Being short, I had to raise my arm above my shoul­der to reach the high back. All the blood was drain­ing out of my arm. Worse yet, I was trapped in that posi­tion. If I took my arm off the chair, Richard would tell every­one, and I’d nev­er live it down.

I had no choice but to tough it out. I grit­ted my teeth as the pain increased in inten­si­ty. Be a man, I told myself, fight­ing back tears.

I don’t remem­ber any­thing about the rest of the movie except that it last­ed six­teen hours. Some­where near the end, my arm stopped hurt­ing. That scared me more than the excru­ci­at­ing pain. Gan­grene had set in, I fig­ured. They’d have to ampu­tate.

When the movie end­ed and we walked out of the the­ater, my arm hung off my shoul­der like a piece of dead meat.

Out on the street, Ann broke the world record in the fifty-yard-dash sprint­ing to her mom’s car.

Mar­cia walked away slow­ly, her head down­cast. At her car door, she turned and glared at Richard. It was only then I noticed the red welt on his cheek.

Ger­ry lin­gered beside Arthur. Sud­den­ly, she pecked him on the lips and ran out to her mom’s car, leav­ing him with a dazed smile on his face.

Cradling my right arm with my left, I crossed the side­walk and got in our Ram­bler.

How was your date?” Mom asked, smil­ing.

Okay,” I mut­tered.

Her smile fell. “What’s wrong?” she said. “Why are you rub­bing your arm?”

Try­ing to get the blood to come back,” I said under my breath, clench­ing and unclench­ing my fist.

What?”

Noth­ing.”

The blood came back; they didn’t have to ampu­tate, and Ann and I avoid­ed each oth­er for the rest of the eighth grade.

 

Post­script: In The Princess of Sug­ar Val­ley’s open­ing scene, Riley Sny­der, a skin­ny lit­tle boy in Gra­cie Sandridge’s sev­enth-grade class, asks her to meet him at a foot­ball game. Ear­ly in the game, he puts his arm up on her seat’s back­rest. As the game pro­gress­es, she notices he seems to be in pain and guess­es why. In an act of mer­cy, she lifts his hand over her head and drops it in his lap.

Why’d you do that?” he says, look­ing strick­en.

You ought to thank me for it,” she says. “Once gan­grene sets in, they have to ampu­tate.”

The scene is auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal, except for the act of mer­cy.

 

Today Psy­cho is rat­ed R, but the MMPA movie rat­ing sys­tem didn’t come along until 1968. It has spawned many enthu­si­as­tic detrac­tors. I’m not one of them. If it had exist­ed in 1960, it would have pro­tect­ed an inno­cent thir­teen-year-old boy from almost los­ing his right arm.