by Joe 45
Jack and Jill went up that hill...and that was just the beginning. Worth continuing?
I never really met Jill in the sense that there was never a magical event when one moment she wasn’t in my life and the next she was. Her family lived on the west side of Cumberland Street, just as mine did, on either side of the Nelsons, and I can’t remember ever not knowing her. Jill was one of those girls destined to fall into the “cute” rather than the “beautiful” category. She was slender and athletic, hell on wheels on a softball diamond, and managed to hold her own in the classroom. She had long, straight hair that couldn’t decide on red or blond, a small nose covered in light freckles, and these summer-storm murky blue eyes. Jill was the youngest child and only daughter of Frank and Eloise Ward, and she had three older brothers, but that’s not the important thing. The important thing was that Jill held the distinction of being my best friend growing up, as well as being the first girl I kissed. Well, correction, the first girl I tried to kiss, on Morning Hill out behind the schoolyard. We were eight, it was summer, and we’d been out picking the blueberries that grew all along the south slope of the hill. She asked me if I’d ever kissed anyone and I had said sure, plenty of times, and she said that my mom and aunts and grandmother didn’t count, and neither did my sister Nancy, though I’d never kissed her that I could remember. So then Jill made it very clear that I shouldn’t think she was volunteering or anything, that she had no intention of kissing anyone, let alone me, because the thought of anyone’s face being that close to hers really freaked her out.
This confused me, and I couldn’t for the life of me understand why she’d brought up the subject in the first place, since I had come out to Morning Hill to pick blueberries, not to be informed that I wasn’t to be doing something I hadn’t intended to do. Of course, once she mentioned it, I had to admit to myself that I was curious about the kissing thing. I had only recently graduated from the belief that girls were mildly grosser than frog’s eggs, and something at the edge of my mind told me that the nature of my relationship to Jill was changing. Earlier that summer my mother had come out into the yard where we were running under the sprinkler in our underwear, and insisted that Jill put a shirt on, or at least a bathing suit top. We both had found that really funny, since I was going through what might charitably be called a chubby stage, and Jill remarked that if anyone should have to put on a shirt it should be me, since my boobs were certainly bigger than hers. Try to remember that this was 1983, and since I couldn’t turn to MTV for answers, let alone the internet, I did the next best thing and sought out my sister Nancy. She was fourteen, and certainly had a better grasp of these issues than did I. Nancy only laughed at me and said, “tell your little girlfriend that it only gets crazier from here”.
Nancy never was much help, and this only served to irritate me, since I didn’t consider Jill my girlfriend. At any rate, something had made Jill bring up kissing on Morning Hill, and as it percolated through my brain I decided that I did in fact want to kiss her, though I can’t explain what possible third-grade logic made such a conclusion possible. Not only did I decide I wanted to kiss her, but I wouldn’t be happy until I did. So I grabbed Jill’s arm and came at her with my face, and some instinct made me close my eyes. This was probably for the best, because at the moment I engaged in this conduct she whipped her head around, earning me a mouthful of the aforementioned blond-red hair, and the next thing I knew her fist connected with my jaw. She was a wiry little girl, and as I’ve explained I wasn’t the physical specimen I would later become, and remember that I had my eyes closed. Anyway, I fell down, and since I still had a grip on her arm, Jill did too. This had all taken place on a narrow path at the top of one of the steeper sections of Morning Hill, and the fall became a bouncing plummet, with Jill behind me, until we reached a rocky stream that broke our fall and my arm right above the elbow. I can only say I’m lucky it was my arm and not a head wound, because it was bad enough as it was. You see, my name is Jack, and Jill and I had already heard the whole “Jack and Jill” routine a million times, both at home and in school, and it had pretty much gotten stale for everyone. But yes, I fell down the hill, and yes, Jill came tumbling after, and if I’d managed somehow to break my crown in the whole thing it would have been pretty much unbearable. So I remember sitting there in this stupid stream, with this jabbing pain in my arm, and two thoughts kept swirling in my head as Jill went for help. First, thank God it wasn’t my head, if only to avoid being completely ridiculed. Second, I couldn’t remember why it had been so important to try to kiss her.
The summer of 1983 provided me, then, with two great lessons. One, when girls say they don’t want you to kiss them, it’s best to proceed on the assumption that they don’t want you to kiss them. Don’t even get caught up in the little mind games, because if they’re worth kissing, they won’t mess with your head like that. More importantly, though, I learned that I could throw a baseball with my left hand better than I could with my right. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. It wasn’t one of those situations where I was a natural lefty who’d been shoehorned into doing everything right-handed by narrow-thinking parents or teachers. I was a righty, and I still did everything else right-handed, including writing, using scissors, and even batting. But during the six weeks my right arm was in cast, I learned that I could throw pretty hard, and with decent accuracy, with my left hand. That might not seem like much, but I never would have had my cup of coffee in the major leagues if I hadn’t been a left-handed pitcher, and looking back now, a lot of other things wouldn’t have happened the way that they did.