by Phoebe Sparrow Wagner (formerly Pamela Spiro Wagner)
I will never forget The Dress. Worn only once, with three quarter-length sleeves cuffed in white, and a demure white collar, it had two layers of navy blue crepe skirting, with a dropped waist and a sash. This was the first “dressy” dress I ever picked out all on my own.
The first thing about The Dress was that it was not the pale pink tent that I had worn to my first mixer with Sheffield Academy, which I was convinced scared away my freckled red-haired date, not that I minded much, once I saw him dance. The second thing about The Dress was the look in the eyes of the boy at the Gunnery, where my second mixer was held. This boy was matched with me strictly by height. I don’t know why, but something clicked with us, and the first thing he said to me, to my huge relief, was, “I hate dancing, don’t you? Let’s take a walk.” With that, we linked arms and spent the evening strolling arm in arm around his campus.
To say that nothing happened would seem almost hilarious these days, except that nothing did, besides our shared and passionate discussion of Plato and the books we’d read and other schoolish stuff. By the time the bells rang to call everyone back to the buses, I knew, because after all, I was a teenage girl who had read books, what might happen. I also knew, because I was an avid fan of the advice columnist Ann Landers, that no self-respecting young girl allowed a kiss on her first date. We had been walking arms around each other’s waist all evening; I liked him, it was equally clear that he liked me. It was inevitable what would happen next. But I was a good girl. What to do?
I tried to say good-bye, smiling sadly and keeping the distance that would protect me. My adoring young man nevertheless leaned in to kiss me. Turning my cheek, I rebuffed him. I did not mean to hurt his feelings, but I knew that Ann Landers was watching me and would be happy my virginity was safe. As I climbed onto the bus with a heavy heart, I looked back and waved but my date was nowhere to be seen. I took my seat, feelings mixed about whether the rebuff had truly been a success.
Then someone behind me spoke. “Good for you, Pammy, not kissing the black boy!”
What? I looked at her. My classmate was smiling grimly. “You didn’t kiss that -–“ and she used the terrible word I had never heard anyone say to my face.
In that moment, I knew that if I could have, I would have raced off the bus and grabbed that young man and kissed him full on the lips, and to hell with Ann Landers and her crappy advice.
But it was too late to change anything. Too late to let him know why I had not kissed him, too late to kiss him in spite of my classmates and too late to spite Ann Landers and my proper upbringing. Too late, too late, too late. I never wore that dress again.
This short account, all too true, won first place at Vermont’s Counterpoint’s annual writing contest in 2015. You can see it and the other first place winner at
Below is my very first painting done in about 2009 or 2010 when I was first starting to do art. I called it First Love, and now you know why.