The Lesson

I swiped the back of my arm across my damp forehead and watched Jimmy Rush’s freckled hand fist the frog. It had taken him maybe ten seconds to pluck it out of the brook that ran along the collection of three-family apartment homes where we lived. The banks of the little stream were packed with frogs and toads. He held it out at arm’s length, his goofy grin slicing through his thickly freckled face. The frog’s bugged eyes—so reptilian—looked into mine. I shuddered. He puffed hard, repetitively, likely shocked by the extremes between the chilled brook water and Jimmy’s hot, sweaty hand.

It was the Connecticut summer of my eleventh year, and we had just moved from the city of Hartford to more suburban Bristol. I was in that awkward process of growing accustomed to the new friends I had made when we had arrived just a month before. We spent those long, hot and humid days together, losing track of time, on nonstop adventures exploring the woods where our street dead ended just in front of our yard, or playing endless tournaments of kick ball, Red Rover, and touch football. As long as we were home before the street lights dawned, no one worried.

I wasn’t a particularly graceful or attractive adolescent. When I tell people this, they usually laugh in that kind of patronizing, “everyone says that about themselves” way. Until I show them a photo and watch them stare at it unblinkingly. At some point, they muster only a semi-disappointed, “Oh,” as if to really say, “Wow, you weren’t kidding!”

Everything about me begged for friendship. By the time I was eleven, I was not only socially awkward, but socially confused as well. For instance, I was perpetually signed up for dance classes year after year, yet consistently reminded I was the clumsiest girl on the floor. I attended Catholic school and was raised fairly conservative French Catholic my entire childhood, which was at odds with my wandering, hippie-like nature. Why was it, exactly, that I couldn’t be friends with peers of other religious faiths? Or kids who were Black, Asian, Italian, or Puerto Rican?

In those days, I sometimes felt boy crazy . . . and sometimes girl crazy. I was too young to realize what that meant, but I was smart enough to know that, in my world of French, Caucasian, Catholic girlfriends, it wasn’t a topic I would want to bring up at, let’s say, a slumber party. (It wouldn’t be until much later in my life that I would realize I am a lesbian).

That summer, I was highly aware that Jimmy Rush was cute. Most of the girls my age on our block had a thing for his blue eyes, but I especially liked his freckles and the crown of red curls and waves on his head. He seemed to like me, though I had no idea why. Because I liked reading Judy Blume books, I was apparently supposed to be “boy crazy,” so I encouraged Jimmy by following him around and always acting interested in what he was doing, even if I wasn’t. When I mentioned this to my mother, she said that was pretty well how it worked, that I might as well get used to it, and did I really think she liked getting eaten alive by mosquitos while watching my father fish all day. According to her, it was what held their marriage together. So, it seemed I was on the right track with Jimmy.

I also knew that my new best friend Bridget had really nice eyes, and I liked her smile. I thought about her a lot more than I thought about Jimmy, and I confided in her, too. She laughed at my jokes, and I was the only friend she had ever told that she had petite-mal seizures. We had connected so quickly that being with her made my head spin sometimes. There was something about those feelings that was so abstract, I was incapable of identifying what it was. It would nag at me for nearly thirty more years before I would realize that Bridget had been my first real crush.

On this particular day, Jimmy was trying to impress me with his “smarts.” He had read in a science book that if you put salt on a frog, the frog would explode. Disgusting, yes. But these are the things bored kids in Connecticut in the 1970s thought about when they weren’t singing Jefferson Starship songs, braiding their hair, or cutting pictures of Shaun Cassidy and Lynda Carter out of Teen Beat magazines.

I wasn’t really into exploding frogs. In fact, I hadn’t really been into frogs since my younger sister had managed to hold one in such a way that when she called my name and I turned my head, I wound up planting my lips on the side of the reptile’s face. She still teases me about it to this day. Nevertheless, while I wasn’t into kissing frogs or pulling them out of brooks, I really didn’t want to kill one with salt either.

Jimmy wanted to impress me. He pulled out the salt shaker I had seen on his mother’s table every time I went over there for cookies and lemonade, and he shook salt on that poor frog.

My heart was beating so hard, I thought it would knock me over. I heard it in my ears, my head, and my stomach. Speaking of my stomach, well, that was beginning to feel quite perilous. I pressed my mouth shut tight because I knew that if I puked, the neighborhood kids would never let me live it down. The frog was trying to squirm, and it was making a horrible, very non-frog-like squeaking sound. My stomach pitched further. It looked like it was in pain and, though Jimmy’s face was beginning to grow concerned, he wasn’t letting go of the frog.

I couldn’t watch any longer. I grabbed Jimmy’s fist, relieved when that surprised him, and he let go of the frog. It dropped in my hand. I stumbled toward the brook on shaky legs, angered by Jimmy’s actions, disappointed in myself for not stopping him sooner, and slightly repulsed because once again, I was having to make contact with a slimy, squishy frog.

I dropped it gently into the water, relieved when it swam away to the other side of the brook, where it hobbled onto the shore, likely worn from the panic of what we’d done.

When I turned around, Jimmy was standing there, looking more remorseful than I actually expected. “I’m sorry,” he said, sounding quite genuine. Then he flashed me that grin that I had found kind of endearing just ten minutes before.

I shook my head and walked away, still too angry and disappointed. I called over my shoulder, “Tell the frog.”

“Wait!” he hollered after me. “Where ya going? I thought we were gonna hang out! My mom just made cookies! Where ya going?”

I turned to face him, walking backward. The more distance I put behind us, the safer I felt. Not because I thought he could hurt me physically, but because when I was with him I wasn’t me. I grinned, in spite of his frustrated features, his red hot cheeks, and called back, “To hang out with Bridget.”

His surprised expression made me laugh as I bounced up the steps to Bridget’s apartment door.

***

Suzanne Calvin-YimSuzanne Marie Calvin-Yim is a late-in-life student, majoring in English with a minor in Secondary Education. A seasoned wearer of many hats, she has worked as a waitress, bank teller, paralegal, and a Certified Nurse Aide, in addition to having homeschooled her son and daughter. She has three published romance novels with Amber Quill Press, and has freelanced for The Colorado Springs Independent and Out Front Colorado. Suzanne lives in Colorado Springs with her wife, Juli, her adult son and daughter, and Lily the human Schnauzer. Her hobbies include swimming, hiking, biking, reading, watching British films, and thinking reflectively. Currently, she is working on two novels and a collection of short stories.