table of contents

My Virgin Heart in St. Louis: 1954 to 1957 (2)

The Kiss, 1955, Curtis Finley

I do not want to kiss and tell about my first boyfriend in high school, Curtis Finley, but because he was the first boy that I ever kissed I must make an attempt to set the stage for my subsequent romantic encounters, all of which I hope will throw some light on the sort of world that I grew up in, and on the general mores and traditions in St. Louis before the sexual revolution transformed common customs of courtship.

Curtis and my best friend Barbara Klamon and I walked part of the way home together most afternoons after our classes at University City Senior High School. He would veer off a few blocks before we got to Barbara’s house, returning to the house where he lived with his mother, a widow. I met his mother once and remember her as having a pale complexion and a dry personality. “It must be a lonely house,” I thought to myself after meeting her.

Barbara’s house was a modest middle-income structure filled with energy. Her two younger brothers never stopped wrestling, no matter what was going on elsewhere in the house, no matter which room they were in. Her father, immensely overweight, a brilliant lawyer and economics professor and an advocate of laissez faire policies, sat at the kitchen table and never stopped eating. Her mother was always the homemaker with something practical to do or to say, knitting or sewing or making plans for trips and outings. Barbara’s big brother was entering manhood by ignoring everyone when he was in the house.

Curtis’ interests were science, language, and craft. He invented poems that sounded like nursery rhymes, but were riddles and brainteasers. He shared them with his friends who learned them by heart and recited them to each other. An example:

The Ocean

There’s plankton here.
There’s plankton there.
There’s plankton in all places.
Between the drops of water, see,
They fill the empty spaces.

He and his buddy Stuart were enfants terribles, that is, young adults who sought attention by misbehaving in public in the era before drugs were universally available and before “conceptual art” was the rage. They never used drugs. They drank alcohol to get high.

They pulled pranks that today might be seen as art. They poured liquid dishwashing soap in the waterfall in Forest Park and in any fountain in the St. Louis area they could find that was left unguarded. They painted their motto “FYITAP” (Fuck You In The Arm Pit) in huge yellow letters on the exit wall of a parking lot of a Clayton supermarket. Stuart was a year older than Curtis. I suspected that he was the instigator of most of their projects.

Curtis liked me too much. I tried to not think about his feelings, but sometimes I couldn’t suppress my own selfish feelings of annoyance with him and guilt about him.

We first kissed at a party at a friend’s house. Most of the parents allowed their teenage children to have occasional parties lightly chaperoned. Curtis was sitting behind a stuffed chair at the edge of the living room. As I walked by near the chair, he pulled me down by my arm so that I too was sitting on the carpeted floor behind the chair and out of sight of our friends.

He placed an insistent kiss on my lips and continued to press his lips against mine, slowly moving the tip of his tongue along the length of my lips and then between my lips, teasing them apart with wet, gentle thrusts against my teeth until I was overwhelmed by weakness and my mouth opened, yielding to him.

My chest rose up in one sharp, involuntary pant, followed by shallow gasps that left me helpless as his tongue sought out mine with light strokes penetrating my mouth below, above, and on both sides of my tongue. Then his tongue played.

Slow prodding motions along the inside of my cheeks gave way to wagging flicks of his tongue as it moved back and forth from side to side and then rubbed hard in a circular gesture pressing its mass into my mouth as far in as it would go.

Pushing up from its base, it curled on itself, then sprung its pointed tip forward to make loops, and then, finding the tip of my tongue, licked it lightly and tickled it even more lightly. Then, with all of the volume and force of his tongue, Curtis thrust hard, thrust again harder, and harder again and again, maybe twenty times all told. Slowing down he flitted it about and tickled mercilessly in quick light assaults. He must have been holding my torso up with both of his arms because I was limp and had no will and no power.

Suddenly he withdrew his tongue completely only to thrust it back into my mouth fast and deep toward my throat. He pressed his tongue to one side of my throat in a sustained pause, still holding my body tight against his chest. I suppressed a moan.

Then he pressed his tongue against the other side of my throat for another sustained pause. I fought back a scream and gasped for air as his tongue cut loose, madly gyrating out of control, spiraling, throbbing, jabbing and striking, hitting my hard palate above, thrashing my soft palate below, and bumping against my teeth.

He tightened his hold on my body. The throbbing jabs stopped. Delirious, I felt long caresses pulse in a warm, steady rhythm as his tongue slid voluptuously in and out of my mouth, first in, then out, then in and out, yes, in and out, then, oh yes in, and oh yes out, then oh, oh, oh, and yes, yes, yes, then in, in, in, and out, out, out, and yes, yes, yes, oh yes, oh, yes, until I could hardly breathe and I didn’t know if I was going to scream or die or faint.

Imperceptibly, the tempo quickened a bit, then sped up heatedly to a pitch of nearly unbearable excitement. I was on the verge of making a loud, inarticulate sound, when a sensation of fear brought me back to full consciousness. I just barely managed to inhibit a moan before it could be heard, and I knew that we had to stop doing what we were doing right away.

Later, when the party was over, Curtis started to warn me about what had just happened. He said something like, “Don’t go wild with this new experience,” or “Be careful,” but he stopped mid-sentence, realizing that I could figure things out for myself, and that there was no way that he could control my behavior, and that it was more likely than not that I would still maintain a cold indifference towards him as a male even after his unexpected conquest of me and his tongue’s praiseworthy, versatile and virile performance.

William Butler Yeats’ Leda and the Swan was not required reading in Mrs. Gottlieb’s English class that year, but I didn’t need to read the poem to realize what had just happened to me.

Curtis’ kiss gave me a pretty good idea of what Yeats might have thought was going on in Leda’s mind in the split second before the swan opened his beak and let her fall unceremoniously to the ground.

        ... Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

Of course, the answer is “yes, she did.” So, also, of course, did I. Now I knew what the power and the knowledge were, and what they felt like in a girl’s body. I was changed forever. There was no going back after my first arousal. I possessed both the power and the knowledge. Moreover, I knew that I didn’t want to use them. Yet.

Although Curtis and I kissed a few more times, I resisted him, not wanting to kiss to the point of arousal and frustration.

My memory is that at any moment that we might have had a chance to caress each other by rubbing our lips and tongues together, say, sitting late at night in front of my home on Northmoor Drive, in the front seat of his car, parked directly under the street lamp so that no one could see what was going on inside the car, I would start to cry. It was clear that I felt trapped and guilty, and that I could no longer respond to him.

He and his buddy Stuart self-published their poems about me and Stuart’s on-again-off-again girlfriend. They silk-screened each page and bound the pages together neatly.

I hated Curtis for writing poems about me. I hated what he wrote, too, the most hated poem being a confession of his love for me, a recitation of his pursuit of me, a climax line, something like, “And I go all gooey all over your left breast,” (Mrs. Gottlieb had always insisted that we use specific details in our writing) and a last line summing up our relationship, “But you were fucked by purity.”

Worse, he and Stuart convinced my father, Will Wharton, a provocative, alcoholic, proletarian poet and his girlfriend, Myrtle Dana, the childless widow of an old-family patrician, to throw a book-signing party for them at Myrtle’s charming little house on Linden Avenue in Clayton. Disgusting.

At some point I confided to a girl who sat behind me in Home Room that I couldn’t go on with the stalled relationship. She pursued Curtis and caught him. I was grateful but embarrassed, and there was no retrieving any relationship with either one of them ever again.


After attending Swarthmore College, Barbara Klamon never lived in St. Louis again. She earned a doctorate in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and later studied law. She married Igor Kopytoff, an anthropologist, and they had one child. We stayed in touch. She was always a true friend. She died too young, at the age of 61, of cancer.

A Google search found Curtis Finley on You Tube demonstrating the craft of paper marbling in the basement of his home in Pacific, Missouri, west of St. Louis in 2008. So he found a way to combine his interest in science, language, and craft!

If you are still alive, Curtis, and if you see this portion of My Virgin Heart, please forgive me for everything, including my hyperbolic rendition of your kiss.

copyright © 2017 Minerva Durham