With all the recent news of the renovations that Belle Isle Public Library with be undoubtedly put through over the next year or so, I returned there for the first time in about two decades. It looked like plenty of renovations have already taken place over the years—I hardly recognized anything. Where’s the microfiche machine?
Not surprisingly, there were so many computers now, all full of teenagers watching YouTube videos that I had to admit this wasn’t exactly the Belle Isle I remembered. Sighing dismissively, I took the elevator down to the bottom floor; as the metal doors parted, my heart broke as I noticed the payphone was gone, replaced with a small bench of sorts.
Where the payphone was against the wall, you see, that’s where I had my first kiss; sadly, I don’t remember her name…I can barely even remember what she looked like. I think that she might of went to Putnam City High School. I think.
It was the summer between middle school and high school and, as usual, instead of having hot fun in the summertime like my few friends were, I was working nonsensically hard at my first paying job at the Belle Isle Public Library. Having been a summer-based Teen Reader Leader for a couple of years now, trading kid’s reading lists for free personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut, I was ready to shine in the big leagues book stacks as an official page.
My duties weren’t hard at all in retrospect—shelve a couple of books here, straighten up a table there—but a part of me was moderately depressive, painting on a fake smile as people from my middle school, my future high school, and just about every school in-between, were broadcasting their romantic dalliances for everyone to see, boys full of bravado and girls hiding hickies from their parents.
The Belle Isle Public Library was a far more analog thing back then, with plenty of places and spaces for experimental teens to make-out in, from the tiny study rooms to the creek next door and I usually had a front row seat to it all. I was able to get away from it though whenever I was asked by the boss to go downstairs and set up the meeting rooms for cultish groups like Arbonne and Eckankar.
It was in setting up the tables in a square formation when I met her.
She would come around every week or so, usually with her little brother, mostly talking on the payphone downstairs while he stayed in the kid’s section. I remember her being olive complected with stringy dark hair—that’s the best I can do, memory-wise. Usually, when I was setting up the rooms, she’d wander back there and talk to me for a few minutes before going over to the coke and candy machines and buying about five bucks worth of Paydays.
Over the next few weeks, we would talk more and it started to feel somewhat thrilling to see her in the stacks, wearing a ratty Nirvana shirt and looking for me. I would take a 15 minute break and we’d go downstairs and talk, my arms and legs so rubbery walking down because I knew I was going to say something stupid, I just hoped it wasn’t too stupid. She would hug me every time she left and called me “Louie.” That’s gotta count for something, right?
The first week of school was coming up very soon—in a few days. There I was, setting up a room while we were having one of those highly intimate conversations—of what, once again, I don’t remember—but through the course of the fifteen or so minutes, we moved closer together. Standing on the rim of a volcano, beads of sweat ran down the inside of my skin; close enough now, I leaned in, not sure if it would be met with pleasant reciprocation or abject failure.
The scent of her fresh stick of Dentyne gum can still inspire lustful thoughts in my mind, her breath bouncing off my lips as we kissed, two or three long ones, eventually pulling back and unleashing a few uncomfortable laughs. As much as I wanted that moment to last, she said her dad was coming soon and I, well I had to finish the damn meeting room.
Walking around and outside the library, even the ditch by the library has been cleaned up, all nice and filled with paved concrete; but I notice the teenagers still run down there, in their school-issued blue shirts and khaki pants, playing the local version of Seven Minutes in Heaven. It’s something that’s been going on for decades and it’s why Belle Isle—probably any Metropolitan library, actually—was always the perfect place to meet someone you crushed on, an adolescent variation of what we thought true romance was and true love that lasted forever.
Maybe not forever, though. A week or so later, she was back at the library, but this time with a few friends from her new high school. I made eye contact with her for a brief moment, but she was hanging on to some other guy, laughing with him…going downstairs with him.
The last Oklahoman virgin, I heard the song “Just Once” by James Ingram play somewhere as I felt my heart stop beating, looking down at all the unshelved books on my cart, breathing deep a few time to just finish out the shift.
I never saw her again and I really didn’t have the ganas to ask another girl out until I was at the Classen School of Advanced Studies the next year. Still, smiling wistfully as I was walking out and away from the automated doors, the Belle Isle Public Library was and always will be home to my first kiss and, undoubtedly, a lot of teens first true kisses, a few probably right at this very moment.
A tax-paid haven to young lust and bitter love mingling among the historical research papers and badly composed love letters, it was a flimsy testament to the honest expression of the deep passion and deeper heartbreak of all the starry-eyed kids filled with unrealistic expectations of forever would feel. They could tear down and rebuild the Belle Isle Public Library time and again, but that’s something I’m pretty sure no one will ever be able to renovate.