Thursday, July 15, 2010


I awoke with a start. Where am I?

My senses picked up clues. A warm breeze bathed my skin. Sand spilled through my fingers.

I put my hand to my eyes to shade the setting sun. There was a figure standing statuesque in the sea’s surf. I smiled. It’s my husband.

My husband. I’m still not used to it. I like saying it in my mind and on my lips. I smiled and this time said it out loud. “My husband.”

The distance between us prevented him from hearing me. I was glad. I needed a moment to absorb the situation. My eyes scanned the figure. His back was towards me and his arms were folded across his chest. Behind him the sky painted streaks of orange, pink, blue and yellow like a Van Gogh masterpiece. I mused that’s just like Parke, he’s always taking time to admire nature and ponder. He’s probably philosophizing about fractals and how they fit in the universe or maybe how he wants to paint that sunset on a canvas. I, on the other hand, was caught up in a different type of beauty. His dark hair was ruffled by the breeze. His shoulders never looked so big, his frame never so tall. Figures, as he is being inspired by the mysteries of heaven and earth, I can’t take my eyes off of his inspiring body.

Though there are six billion people sharing the planet at that moment, we were all alone on this beach, in that corner of the world. It was our beach, if just for one hour. He turned his head and looked back at me. Our eyes connected, he smiled, and ran toward me. He stopped short of me and sprayed sand over me as if he was skiing. Then he seated himself next to me and pulled something out of his pocket.

“Here’s a sand dollar for your journal” he offered.

I looked down. There was my journal splayed open with only the first line conquered. “Well here we are in Fiji…”

I scrupulously wrote in journals growing up. Although I had many friends, I was an only child, so my home life was quiet and my journal became my constant companion. I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Journal writing is encouraged because of our focus on family history. I’ve always been perplexed why the leaders of my church put such weight on journal writing; perhaps, it is because it encourages self-reflection and consequently, self-perfection. Or maybe it’s because much of our church history was gathered from journals. Either way, I’m grateful for my recorded history, otherwise I would have never been able to remember the facts, names and details of my juvenile romantic history that would have long been lost under the couch cushions of my mind. Needless to say, the idea that someday my grandchildren may be remotely interested in the play-by-play of my make-out sessions with their grandfather or that I thought some guy was “totally cute” in 7th grade is beyond me (and makes me a little ill).

What began as obedience to a commandment of record keeping became a nightly cathartic release. One journal led to seventeen journals.

My first journal entry was December 22, 1984 when I was 7 years old. It was written in a Hello Kitty journal with bunnies and rainbows pictured on the front. It had a lock on it which was pointless since the average entry read “I went to school today and played with ____”. Ironically, later journals had no locks and the content was so steamy that pages had been torn out over the years as a protection from spying eyes.

Parke wrapped me in his arms. “Just sleep” he whispered as he stroked my hair. The sound of the waves caressing the sand and the wind whistling through the palms had a sedative effect. His warm body blanketed me. Not only was his warmth superficially heating my skin, but the warmth had penetrated the very core of me. Had I ever been this happy?

The idea of a “happy place” seemed corny to me, but the situation at hand persuaded me to think otherwise. In the future, when pain approaches, a needle stick is imminent, a uterine contraction is consuming my body, or heartache and loss from death devastates me—I will go to my Happy Place, to right here, right now.

I murmured “What were you thinking about out there?”

“I was thinking about how I want to paint this sunset someday. See the oranges over there and how the pink…..”, Parke went on.

I knew it.

Just as sleep was about to overcome me, I reminisced about how I had come to this paradise place with the man who held me secure.

Chapter 1 First Meeting

The year was 2000. It was a new year, a new millennium, and an exciting start for many people. But for me, it was an unhappy time. I robotically went about my duties, focusing on academics to try and distract myself from crushing heartache. In order to survive, I forced myself to concentrate on the things in my life that brought me joy: my friends, the gospel of Jesus Christ, my floral design class and teaching the Anatomy Laboratory at Brigham Young University, where I was a student.

I came alive in the anatomy laboratory, ironically, among the corpses. While otherwise numb and detached, when I stepped into the lab I was on fire with the joy of teaching. I love the human body: the structure, the physiology and the perfection of God’s creation. I taught two labs a week and two open study labs. Each lab had 15 students. I was in charge of teaching the material on human cadavers, human specimens and models. Another perk of getting lost in teaching was a temporary amnesia from “what’s his name” for a 2-hour stretch.

The Human Anatomy Lab, with its dead bodies and overwhelming aroma of formaldehyde, is an unlikely stage for a budding romance. During the three years that I taught, I occasionally received gifts, advances and invitations from male students. However, I was barred from dating a student by academic rule, and was ethically opposed to it. Plus, I felt maternal toward my students so it would seem mildly incestuous to date them.

I met Parke the first day of lab, winter semester of the year 2000. It was a new millennium, a new semester, and, unbeknownst to me, the beginning of my life.

Although I usually wore scrubs while in the lab, I dressed up on the first day since we don’t handle the cadavers until a couple of weeks into the semester. That morning I remember borrowing my roommate’s salmon pink collared dress shirt. I paired it with black slacks and tall black boots. I sat down in the front row while my students were filing in. Parke sat next to me.

When the bell rang I stood up and promptly started. “Welcome to Zoology 260 Lab. I’m Ashley Holmes and I’ll be your instructor….”

Later Parke told me he was stoked to land a seat next to this little hottie. But when the hottie stood up and introduced herself as the instructor, he was flabbergasted. His journal entry dated January 12, 2000 reads, “My lab instructor for Zoo 260 is fine. Looks like Elizabeth Hurley and is AWESOME!”

During that winter semester, I vaguely remember wearing scrubs, pulling my long hair back in a pony tail, grading papers and wrapping the cadavers with wet towels. But if you ask Parke, he remembers cleavage, me caressing his bicep, and me standing on the front table and shaking my booty.

OK, each of his memories needs explaining.

Cleavage: Cleavage is a very powerful weapon that needs to be used carefully. It can damage your image, but it can also be used as hook, line and sinker. I can admit to using cleavage as lure. I’m a woman and feel the need to shake what the good Lord blessed me with once in a while. However, while in the anatomy lab, I was a paragon of professionalism. No, I would have never purposely put the girls on display. It must have been accidental cleavage. And Parke, having testosterone, had no choice but to notice.

Bicep Caressing: During a lab on muscle anatomy, I was explaining hypertrophy, which simply means that when you exercise a muscle, it gets bigger. In front of the whole class I turned to Parke, put my hand on his bicep and said “Parke knows what I mean, right Parke?” I had no idea what that meant to Parke at the time, but he later told me how proud he was that I had noticed his bulging bicep.

Booty Shakin’: Part of the anatomy curriculum included teaching body movements. One week I put Beastie Boys’ “Body Movin’” on the CD player and cranked up the sound. I jumped up on the front table and stood up so the whole class could see my demonstrations from head to toe. I demonstrated joint movement such as abduction, circumduction, external rotation etc. That affected Parke profoundly. He finally had a good excused to survey my body while I put it on display. He actually pulled out a couple of dollar bills and threw them at me…OK, not really.

It’s amazing with so much cleavage, bicep touching and booty-shakin’ that he managed to pull off an A, but he did.

Near the end of the semester, I was proctoring a final exam when Parke cracked the door open and beckoned for me to come out into the hallway. Once I quietly slipped out of the room, he asked if I could go over his grade. Oh brother, another pre-med overachiever type, I thought. I laughed because Parke was the most consistent student in my lab: A’s, A’s, A’s. He never missed a question. He was always in my open study lab. I told him that I didn’t need to look at my books, I was certain that he would get an A.

There was a pause.

“Well then, would you like to go to the Ballroom Dance Concert with me tonight?”

Whoa. A longer pause.

I needed a moment to analyze the situation. My first thought was Ahhh, cute, my student is asking me out. I felt administrative and maternal toward Parke so it was interesting to step back, open my eyes and see him as a man. This man was 6 feet tall with thick dark brown hair which, for BYU standards, was long. It touched his collar and grazed over his ears. His eyes were piercing blue. Why had I never noticed those eyes before? He had large shoulders which housed thick muscles. He reminded me of a taller Tom Cruise (Mission Impossible-esque). My next thought was about the rules against dating my students. I could overlook that rule since the semester was almost over and his grade was computed. The next invading thought was Chris. I acknowledged why I hadn’t noticed this gem in my lab; I had been completely distracted by an engagement, then broken engagement, and heartbreak all in one semester. I wasn’t even close to being over Chris. The moment Parke asked me out a thousand suns started chiseling away the outer layer of ice, but my heart was still frozen. I wasn’t opposed to meeting another man. In fact, a good rebound might be just what the doctor ordered. I was just oblivious to any advances. My last thought was I already have plans. I did have plans with my two best friends from home. It wasn’t easy to get the three of us together and we had finally secured a night of scrapbooking at a local scrapbooking store. For a moment I weighed my options: spend a night with scissors and paper or spend a night with this sexy new development.

“I already have plans.”

I decided to have integrity, though I was instantly peeved at this value. The moment I said those four words, I wanted to take them back. I wanted to go with Parke and discover if there was more to him than academic achievement and inviting blue eyes. Plus, I didn’t want him to feel defeated. It must have taken a lot of courage to ask me out in the first place. I asked him what his summer plans were. He was heading home to Cheyenne, Wyoming and I was staying at BYU for a spring semester. I was discouraged. Oh well, I guess we’ll never get together. I gave him my email address and asked him to write me over the summer hoping this would offer some comfort after my rejection.

Chapter 2 Serendipidy

One month went by. Succoring my wounded heart selfishly displaced all other activities on my social calendar. It was starting to become a full-time job. So I distracted myself with my studies which was helpful because nursing school was rigorous. During spring semester I spent clinical time observing in the operating room, which fascinated me. I was familiar with studying the inside of the human body, but this time the body was open, alive and functioning right before my eyes.

I came home exhausted one afternoon and flung myself on the bed. With it being so soon after my breakup with Chris, quiet moments like these were usually filled with self-pity driven by loneliness. But for some reason, today was different. A penetrating thought of Parke, that blue-eyed brainiac from anatomy, breached my mind. The thought of him was overpowering.

Hmmm, that’s funny. I haven’t thought of him since that day in the hallway and now I can’t shake it. I wonder why he never wrote me. Maybe I’ll send him a message.

Instead of letting the thought smolder, I thought I’d give it some kindling. I got up and sat down at the computer to search for his email address in the BYU directory.

I didn’t realize it until years later but that distinct, intrusive thought of Parke was preparing me. It was right on schedule too, because when I opened up my inbox I let out a little gasp.

A waiting email, from Parke Fischer, 5 minutes ago.

What’s the chance of that? (I don’t believe in chance)

I opened it.

“Hey Ashley,

How’s life been treating you? Just thinking about you over here in Wyoming. Life’s been treating me well. I’m enjoying the summertime. Tell me if this email reaches you. Take care!
Always, Parke”

Weird! I hadn’t thought of Parke since that day of the final exam and then, as if we were telepathically linked, he contacted me the same moment that I was sitting down to write him. I began to reply. Wait; am I ready to jump into something new? Although I was officially “broken up”, my heart was spoken for.

Chapter 3 Chris

He called me Darlin’. And when he called me Darlin’ in that southern drawl, my stomach flip-flopped.

 Chris had sandy blond hair, tan skin, a cute crooked smile and straight teeth. He was confident, devilishly flirty and charming. He, however, had absolutely no fashion sense. Good thing we met each other in our work uniforms.

 After weeks flirting at work, we decided to hang out. I was invited to his apartment after my shift. When opening his apartment door, he thought out loud “Oh, you have bangs. Cool,” which is an odd thing for a boy to say. But Chris was always observant and complimentary. I realized that he had only seen me in a restaurant uniform and hat, which made my extra primping efforts worth it. We sat on his couch and talked for a long time and instantly clicked. The next night I was back at his apartment watching TV in the dark, although there was little TV-watching going on. All of a sudden, the door flew open and bright light bathed us. We both jolt up. At first I couldn’t see because my eyes were adjusting. Once focused, my eyes fixed on an attractive, frizzy-haired girl, with swollen, red eyes, screaming at us. Wow, the BYU Honor Code Office is trying new scare tactics these days. But, no, it turned out to be Chris’ ex-girlfriend: his freshly dumped ex-girlfriend. I’m not sure how she knew another girl was moving in on her territory, but girls have ESP about this kind of thing. Chris excused himself to run after her. I sat there confused and saddened. I felt horrible that this girl had witnessed her man holding another girl in his arms. Although sitting alone, I suddenly felt crowded. I wondered if I should leave.

 Once he returned, I was rewarded for staying by reassuring words and a hug. We resumed cuddling and when I turned around to look at him, he bent down for the first kiss. Some guys just have a natural gift for kissing and I could tell Chris’ style and comfort in kissing had been perfected over many years. Kissing Chris was comfortable and exciting. After kissing me, he’d look deep into my eyes trying to read my reaction.

Chris had a way of making me feel like the only woman on earth. He was constantly building me up with praise and admiration. He smothered me with loving attention, which might have been overwhelming if it were being given by the average suitor. But Chris was different. He had no shame about telling me (and the world) that he had fallen for me. With all of the boys I had previously dated, none was so open, honest and direct with me. Well, except for the guy who tried to sell me pest control ten minutes into our first date, but that doesn’t count. Chris was upfront about his intentions and went for it. I was previously accustomed to head games and aloofness. It was refreshing to date a guy who didn’t protect his pride by playing games. I was smitten and allowed myself to fall captive to his charm. And I did fall. Deep. We dated seriously for two years. I can admit to being in love with just three men in my life and Chris claimed one of those spots.

I didn’t realize that I loved him until the night I broke up with him. Chris and I had an ongoing religious struggle. I was a devout Mormon and he was not interested in becoming one. (Yes, I fell in love with the one and only non-Mormon attending BYU; Chris was lured to BYU by its #4 accounting program and its proximetry to the slopes.) Although we were blissfully happy and committed to each other, my conviction to get married in a Mormon temple always drove a wedge in our future together. One night I felt defeated and decided to break up with Chris since our relationship was doomed. It was a tearful, tender discussion ending in break-up.

Hours later, cognitively I told myself that I had made the right decision. But deep into the night, my heart ached so badly that I hopped in my car to tell him that I was wrong. My intellect was screaming, “No! Turn around; the break-up is too fresh. Give yourself a couple of days and then re-evaluate”, but my head wasn’t driving, my heart was. Since it was well after midnight, I quietly turned the handle of his apartment and walked in. There he was, on the living room floor sobbing; my strong, happy, flirty, fun, confident Chris, just sobbing. On our knees, we held each other for a long, long time and shared tender kisses mingled with both of our tears. After that night, I knew that I loved him.

We were looking for wedding rings the following month and planning a wedding outside of a Mormon temple. My testimony of temple marriage still tugged at me. Actually, it was constantly screaming at me in the back of my mind. Young Women leaders’ lessons, my parents’ expectations, my friends’ examples and spiritual temple experiences were constantly appearing and battling in my mind. But I repressed it. I was in love.

During the second year of our relationship, Chris moved to Phoenix to pursue his Master’s Degree. Once he was away from BYU, he felt as though something was missing. After pondering and prayer, he realized it was the constant influence of the LDS gospel. He took the missionary discussions on his own and decided to get baptized.

I was present when he was baptized. I was thrilled for him. Further, I was elated for me and for us. Now I could marry him in a Mormon temple and have no reservations! I was on cloud nine. Knowing that he would be popping the question soon, I began focusing my efforts on receiving personal inspiration, a clear answer from Heavenly Father that Chris was “the one”. I was deeply in love with Chris. We were best friends and totally committed. And now that he was baptized in the LDS church, we could be married in the temple. I should be the happiest girl in the world. Right?


For a month, I purified my life. I cut out any and all bad influences. I wanted inspiration to flow through me without interception. I increased my scripture study and spent quiet time pondering and praying. I was doing everything imaginable to receive a clear sign, an answer to my inquiry: Should I marry Chris? Nothing came. Although my heart yearned for him to be my husband, my mind felt dull. Blank. And as the month progressed with no answers to my prayers, I began to doubt. I did not doubt that God lived and would answer me: in fact, I felt more confident in His love and interest in me. I doubted my future with Chris. I had been preparing to marry Chris for years. This was a change in paradigm and a serious blow to my heart.

God had spoken to me by not speaking. Once I had somberly accepted that my Chris was not “the one,” I knew I needed to end our relationship, for good. I was nervous to break the news to Chris. He would be crushed. We loved each other! There was nothing wrong currently, only a dead-end future. That’s a hard situation to explain, especially to someone in the infancy of their own religious conversion. I worried that he would confuse our relationship with his own relationship with God and be angry with God. When the Dear John call ensued, Chris was deeply wounded, but honored my request to have a clean break.

For weeks, I slunk around my apartment and campus like a zombie. There was little will left to marry at all. I felt defeated. I knew Chris wasn’t the one, but I didn’t want anyone else. No other guys caught my eye. And even if they did catch my eye for a moment, I would compare every ounce of the guy to Chris. When I went to class, I recognized spots on campus that we had been. When I went out with my friends, I felt empty and somber. When I went to the movies, I longed for him to be next to me. There were times when one of us would break down and call the other. But hearing his voice would plunge me deeper into anguish. What worsened my frustration was that Chris was there with open arms patiently waiting for me to realize “my mistake” so that we could go ahead with our wedding plans. Why did he have to be so darn forgiving?! It took all the strength I had to resist his beckoning, familiar embrace.

There was someone else out there for me, someone I already knew; I just hadn’t realized it yet.

Chapter 4 Awakening

Parke’s initial contact birthed a string of emails that lasted weeks. Every morning there would be an email waiting for me and every night I couldn’t go to sleep without telling Parke about my day. Each email would range from philosophical to funny to confession. Nothing was mundane. He would pour compliments into each line. One read:

“I can’t believe how amazingly beautiful you are. I wish I could say it to your face because I mean it. I hope this email business doesn’t dilute my sincerity. There’s something about you-your style, clothes, posture, smile, eyes, cheeks, hair….it’s everything that makes you you, and that is amazing. You blow Elizabeth Hurley out of the water, no contest, hands down. And you blow my mind. You’ve got a light in your eyes. I wish I could see your face in person. You, Ashley, are amazing.”

A couple of boys had written poetry for me, but I couldn’t get over the cheesiness. I would try to restrain myself from laughing when they looked into my eyes and described my lips as rose buds or my eyes as liquid gold. Gag. Parke’s emails were natural poetry flowing from every word. Instead of wincing, I found myself being lulled by his stories and compliments.

“I too find my mind constantly drifting into thoughts of you. You intrigue me. You’re not like other girls. There’s something about you, maybe it’s everything about you that makes me like you.”

I am a great catch; intelligent, ambitious, optimistic and loving. Outwardly, I am petite, with long brown hair and hazel green eyes. People compliment me on my eyes over any other feature. Good, thick, mascara is my secret weapon and constant companion. I have clear, olive skin and pouty full lips. One day I came home from school upset because someone had teased me about my big lips. When I told my mother about the situation she picked up a fashion magazine and pointed out a model. “Look at this model. See her lips? She has big lips and she is gorgeous!” Page after page she identified models with full lips. Wow, all of the models have big lips like me. She further described how women put injections into their lips to make them bigger. “Ashley, you may not like your lips now, but when you grow up you’ll love them” she insisted. “Plus, everything shrinks when you get older so enjoy them while you can!” Over the years I have found this to be true. Most men have praised my lush lips and I have always been grateful that my mom cleverly abated my cosmetic concerns.

However, during Spring Semester 2000, loneliness and heartbreak wrecked havoc on my self-esteem. Parke’s written admiration bolstered me. He wasn’t afraid to reveal his true feelings. With every compliment I began to feel more beautiful and worthy of his worship.

Parke’s enchantment for me wasn’t one-sided for long though. I was curious about Parke and questioned him constantly about his likes, dislikes, his routines and his experiences. Parke raved about astronomy, travel, philosophy, cuisine, music and history. The more I learned about him, the more I liked about him. I loved his confidence, his spirituality, his intellect and his humor. Our friendship grew as emails were reciprocated. I began to sincerely return his compliments. I would read his messages over and over until they were captured in my heart. I took Parke’s words with me wherever I went. I didn’t feel vacant anymore. This man had put a spring back into my step. I began to notice the hyacinths growing on campus and the pink blossoms falling from the trees. I constantly wondered about this man over the electronic waves who had, unknowingly, begun to heal my heart.

Weeks after continual email correspondence, Parke called me for the first time. I wasn’t expecting his call so when I heard a very deep voice on the other end I had to catch myself as my knees buckled. He was coming to Utah and wanted a second chance at taking me out.


Parke was the perfect man over the Internet. Would he live up to my expectations? Although tucked away in my mind was a sublimely attractive vision of Parke, as time advanced I was forgetting about the details of his face. I know he is attractive. That day in the hallway, I remember objectively scrutinizing him from head to toe and being more than satisfied by my findings. But now that a deep friendship had developed between us, would we be physically attracted to each other? I have always been wary of entering a relationship with a friend. It had never worked in the past.

Chapter 5 Just Friends

Overwhelmingly, my experiences with getting romantically involved with a friend have been disastrous. My theory is that if the spark isn’t present from the beginning, kissing isn’t going to change that. Infatuation starts from the top of the rollercoaster when the thrill is at its peak and you unconsciously coast downward, not the other way around. And when infatuation fades you either find yourself blissfully in love or just bored and ready to move on to the next thrill ride.

Exhibit #1: Graham.

While dating Dave, my high school Sophomore-year boyfriend, I was ushered into a new group of friends. Dave’s best friend was Graham. Graham and I got along really well. We connected on so many levels. Specifically, Graham and I shared a love for music. He introduced me to the Beastie Boys, Nirvana, Green Day and Rage against the Machine. He owned an old Chevy Camero and we would cruise around town blasting punk and rock music as loud as we could. Graham and I shared most of the same high school classes so we would walk the halls together. In class, he was the prankster and I was the brainiac who would roll my eyes, but secretly find him hilarious. I was in a constant state of laugher when we were together. Graham had blond hair and dark eyes fringed with gorgeous long eyelashes. He had a loud, infectious laugh and a smile that was filled with straight white teeth. When I saw him at a party I would naturally gravitate to him. Like me, he was very touchy so, although we were just friends, he was always grabbing my hand or walking with his arm around my shoulder. He was about five inches taller than me so my shoulder fit like a puzzle piece under his arm. When we danced, my head fit perfectly on his shoulder. I liked his touch, but wasn’t sure if I liked his touch like that. I only had eyes for Dave.

Dave eventually lost interest and broke up with me after six months of blissful, juvenile monogamy. I was heartbroken and continued to pine for him for the next six months. Through that, Graham continued to be my friend and filled the lonely cracks. One year after going to the Sophomore Spring Ball with Dave, I asked him to Spring Ball again hoping for a repeat romance. We had a great time but at the end of the night when I asked Dave if there was a second chance for us, he sensitively shook his head “No”. I was crushed, but was relieved to know once and for all that things were over.

Graham was there to help me pick up the pieces from my fallout with Dave. We were closer friends than ever. One afternoon we were sitting in his car, chatting. He asked me if I was ready to move on. I was so ready. He hinted that he wanted to take our friendship to the next level and how would I feel about that? Inwardly, I admitted that I enjoyed being in his arms, dancing with him, holding his hand and sharing my feelings with him. But I wasn’t sure. I wondered what it would be like to kiss him. Would I enjoy it? Kissing Graham would unquestionably have consequences. Steering our relationship onto a romantic path would either augment our friendship or ruin it. What if I hated the kiss and he liked it? Then things would be weird and our treasured friendship, lost. What if I liked it and he hated it? Then I would be pining for a boy, again, for the next six months. It was too much to take in at that moment. More than anything, I just wanted to feel worshiped and spoiled. Was that so wrong? I was tired of yearning for a lost love. I was ready to live in the present. I left the door open when I answered with a coy, but hesitant, “maybe…..”

Ever since our conversation, Graham’s contact was more than friendly embraces. Every time he’d reach for my hand or put his arm around my waist, I couldn’t help but read into it. I would analyze my feelings after each encounter. Being with Graham was so comfortable. I decided the prospect of exploring new territory was more appealing than losing him as a friend.

The night of our first kiss was a warm spring evening. I had decided to let go of my hesitancies and return his flirty advances with vigor. He was pleasantly surprised. After seeing a movie we were lingering by my truck. There were no awkward stares, no waiting and wondering. He took me into those familiar arms and kissed me.


Yes, pleasant. My world didn’t rock. My knees didn’t buckle. My heart kept its same pace. It was pleasant. That being said, I smiled afterward, all the way home, and the next morning when I woke. I was happy. Life was pleasant.

It was fun having a boyfriend again. Everyone knew that we were great friends so the gossip of our hook-up spread like wildfire. I’d get smirky smiles and thumbs up wherever I’d go. Having a boyfriend was so much fun! I was in love with being in love, though I was not in love.

Things didn’t change much between Graham and me. We still cruised around town, went shopping for CDs, attended parties and spent most of our time together. We were still great friends, just kissing friends, friends with benefits. What did change in our relationship was my sudden awareness of his bad habits. When we were friends I thought his wild side was funny, but now that he was my boyfriend, I was concerned about his drunkenness, foul language and his crazy driving. We fought more. We were both passionate people. However, the fire was only present when we were fighting, not while making up. Kissing Graham never progressed past “comfortable” and “pleasant”.

Friends with benefits turned out to not be beneficial to our friendship. After 6 months of average kissing and escalating fights, I decided to break it off. Not only did I Iose my friend, but I generated a foe in the process. He was angry with me that day, that year, and probably still to this day.

I missed my friend.

Exhibit #2 Sam.

Sam and I had been friends since kindergarten though there was always an unspoken crush on his part. As kids, he rang my doorbell on Valentine’s Day and handed me Almond Roca and a rose. In high school we would go for walks and drives. He was calm, mature, a good listener, very respectful and brilliant. People knew him as serious and studious, warm and friendly. Every time I came home from college, I would call him. At our high school reunion, he was the first person I looked for.

I was attending Brigham Young University one summer when Sam called me. I was surprised since I hadn’t heard from him in over a year. He stated that he was driving through Utah on his way to Harvard and wanted to see me. I was ecstatic. When he showed up at my door, my jaw dropped. He had gone and got gorgeous since last we saw each other. I jumped into his arms and he about crushed me. He said that he had been taking boxing lessons and it showed! He was a blond, tan, muscled Adonis who had just walked out of an Abercrombie and Fitch ad. I appreciated his new brawny look, but memories are stronger than muscle: I wasn’t attracted to him. He was still Sam, that chubby kid who stole my Halloween candy. We went to dinner. I drove him up to Squaw Peak lookout (BYU’s make-out spot) so I could show him Provo from above, with absolutely no intention of making out. The poor guy was being bombarded with mixed signals.

The next morning Sam came by my apartment to say goodbye. He sat on the couch, took a deep breath and dropped the bomb. He started by telling me how beautiful and smart I was. Awwhhh, that’s sweet. Then he proceeded to tell me how he had been in love with me for years. Uh-oh. The sermon continued as my head was spinning. I heard snippets like “We could have a long distance relationship” and “Was there a chance for us?” Oh no.

For a second, I wondered if there could be chance for us. I knew him so well and he was absolutely wonderful. I suppose I could give it one eensy, weensy chance.

I decided to kiss him. My decision was 80% sympathy-based and 20% curiosity-based.

He was sitting on the couch so I walked up to him and knelt on the floor so our faces were close. I hugged him, then looked deep into those familiar blue eyes and sincerely said “Thank you”. He was nervously looking at me with high hopes. I usually let the man initiate the first kiss but in this case, I had the upper hand. I had to make my decision. As my brain was screaming “Don’t kiss a friend, don’t kiss a friend, don’t kiss a fr…” I hesitantly leaned in for the kiss.

If you believe, like me, that being friends with a boy first ruins the “spark”, you’re right. Although he was technically a great kisser, there was no leading excitement, no hunger behind the kiss. I gave it a good minute, just to make sure. After the kiss, I knew what I had to do. I gingerly said “You know this won’t work. We live in different areas of the country. We are such great friends and I don’t want to ruin that. I know there’s someone else out there for you”.

I knew there was someone else out there for me too.

Was Parke the one I had been waiting for? I was certainly ardent about the man from my computer screen. Would kissing Parke get filed away in the folder termed “Friendships ruined by curious kissing”? I had learned that lesson before and as wary of making that same mistake twice, err, thrice.

Chapter 6 Reunion

Every second of free time was spent at the floral shop where I worked. A couple of times a week I would assist the manager by doing a myriad of assignments ranging from manning the front cash register, taking orders and giving recommendations for amateur, overwhelmed men and surprising women with flower deliveries. My favorite assignment, however, was designing floral arrangements. I could take an assortment of flowers, filler and greenery and craft it into a work of art that would delight some unsuspecting person. I experienced such joy knowing that the corsage I was making would go on some blushing teen’s wrist for her Senior Prom or perhaps a bouquet for a beautiful bride. Sometimes I would escape to the floral fridge, take a deep breath of earthy goodness and wonder what I had done in life to deserve such a fabulous gig, and was baffled that someone was actually paying me to do it! During business hours, there was always a soft rock station constantly spewing out The Carpenters, Journey, Olivia Newton John, Abba, Barry White and Neil Diamond. To this day, if I hear any Air Supply song, a smile creeps over my face and my nose is immediately filled with an organic, floral fragrance.

Once in a while, the owner would entrust me to go the wholesaler to restock our floral fridge. There were rows and rows of cheerful Gerbera Daisies, colorful roses, lovely lilies, fragrant stock, exotic orchids, filler flowers and foliage. I had free rein to choose whatever colors and varieties I wanted. All I had to do was sign at the X and walk out with armfuls of botanic delights.

I was working at the floral shop the day Parke was coming to town. He was going to pick me up at closing time. I was jittery during my shift thinking about Parke and our approaching date. I wanted to see him, but at the same time, I didn’t want to see him. He was so perfect. Would my expectations match the authentic Parke?

What if he…

…had a snaggle tooth I never noticed?

…liked Bob Marley?

…was a horrible kisser?

…was racist?

…had body odor?

…played the harp, talked with a lisp, had a huge butt……?

Arggg! Stop it Ashley, You know Parke. You spent 3 months of lab with him. Plus, you’ve questioned him extensively online and he is awesome!

Then the insecurity dragon started focusing on me. I knew he admired me from afar, but would he like the person I was outside of lab?

What if he….

…spotted my tattoo?

…realized he was a rebound?

…found out I sung out loud to Air Supply songs?

Stop it, Ashley! I didn’t know why I was so nervous about the date, but I was.

He wasn’t.

When I saw him walking up to the front door of the store he was smiling, calm, collected, and confident. When I saw him smiling at me, all of my anxiety melted away.

Oh yeah. That’s Parke. I remember everything now.

He was as gorgeous as I remembered from that day in the hallway, except more so. He was a masculine vision, more like a walking, breathing Michelangelo’s David. He was wearing an untucked, white, button-down shirt with thin blue stripes, dark blue jeans and white Adidas shoes. To this day, I can still see him walking toward me. That memory will be forever etched into my mind. Parke was six feet tall but he looked so much taller, even at a distance. He had longer hair and tanner skin than I remembered, a fortunate summer side effect. With the addition of hemp bracelets he looked like a bona fide California surfer. Do they surf in Wyoming?

Let’s see the teeth…wait for it…wait for it…I zeroed in on the smile.

Oh. My. Goodness. His teeth were absolute perfection. Large, white teeth filled his mouth when he smiled. His canine teeth were a little pointed, waiting to sink into my neck. My neck instinctively exposed itself.

I am a “teeth person”. Some men are boob-men. Some women are all about the hands. I have always had a teeth fetish.

I’m not sure when the teeth fascination began. It probably had something to do with Loren. Loren moved to our city in 6th grade. At a time when most pre-pubescent boys are spindly and awkward, Loren had a coolness about him. He had black hair, tan skin, a prominent nose, great sculptured lips and great teeth. He. Had. Great. Teeth. His dad was a dentist. I don’t think he had any work done, but having a dad as a dentist made his teeth seem even better. If a guy has a snaggle tooth, yellow teeth or big spaces, I’m finished. But if someone has straight, white teeth with nice lips to boot, I’m swoonfully smitten.

The first time I spoke to Loren I was very nervous and the first thing I blurted out to him was…. “Nice Teeth” and walked away. Later, I was so embarrassed and kicked myself for saying “Nice Teeth” instead of “Hi, Loren, I’m Ashley, welcome to the neighborhood” or “I wanted to introduce myself; I’m Ashley”. Actually, that’s how adults talk. In sixth grade I probably should’ve said something like “Isn’t Axl Rose radical?”

We ended up “going out” and shared one, magical kiss on the eve of my fourteenth birthday. It was his first kiss. I treasured the fact that I gave Loren his first kiss. Randomly enough, seven years later Loren and I ended up in the same singles ward at BYU. At a church activity we had to introduce ourselves to the group with our name and an interesting fact. Locking eyes with Loren in the crowd, I stated that I was Ashley and I had given someone in the group their first kiss. Everyone laughed and pressed me for a name. Accompanied by a swell of catcalls and whistles, Loren stepped forward proudly.

Today, he’s a dentist.

Chapter 7 First Date

Since it was after hours, I unlocked the front door of the floral shop to let Parke in. Although we had hardly touched before, my arms naturally went around his neck. My toes assisted me since he was almost a foot taller than me. My eyes widened when I realized just how thick he was. I reluctantly let go so he wouldn’t have to pry my greedy hands off of his meaty shoulders.

I held three pieces of Parke that needed to be linked together in a puzzle. One piece was Parke, the student. That student was smart, confident, motivated, consistent, and serious. Another piece was Parke, the mystery internet man. He was philosophical, funny, complimentary, industrious, probing, cultured and interesting. Last was the piece standing in front of me; and he was drop. dead. gorgeous. No, I didn’t think there is going to be a problem in the attraction department. I hoped, during the course of the night, I would be able to link the pieces together to see Parke as a whole and discover just who he was.

That night the conversation flowed. Our weeks of e-conversation had built a foundation for our relationship. We laughed a lot. When we were chatting about his lawn-care business, I teased that he probably had a farmer’s tan. He nervously laughed, which I accepted as a dare. Even with his swatting hand, I triumphantly grasped his sleeve and yanked it up. I laughed because, under that sleeve, a shocking segregation between tan and white was apparent. I still tease him about his farmer’s tan to this day. As an added bonus, I was blessed by a glimpse of his juicy bicep. And from that point on, I was tired of words, words, words, I wanted some tactile stimulation.

We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant with two other couples. The other couples were my best friends and were grilling him. Parke knocked every question out of the park. He was cordial, funny and cool. I was so proud to have him as my date. Next, we went country dancing. The six of us started out with dance lessons and then had free dance time. There must have been some pheromones in the air because all three couples ended up marrying each other. When the DJ played fast songs, Parke lifted me with ease. I felt like a wisp of air. Some of the moves allowed my hand to run along his abdomen. Washboards around the world were shaking their fists in a jealous rant. This guy was ripped! When they played slow songs Parke confidently pulled me into his arms and close to his alluring body.

Growing up, I attended a lot of Mormon youth dances. Dance rules state that girls must wear knee-length, sleeved dresses and the boys: a shirt and tie. We must have looked ridiculous doing the “deacon shuffle” to 2 Legit To Quit and Y.M.C.A in our church clothes, but it was worth it for the prospect of touching someone of the opposite sex. The dances had chaperones. While slow dancing, the couple could dance close to one another as long as the scriptures could fit between them. If I liked someone, I tried to push the closeness limit. Instead of fitting a quad between our bodies, it was more like a “Pearl of Great Price”, or better yet, a “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet. Most couples danced in a traditional embrace, with one hand around the waist and shoulder while holding outstretched hands. It is awkward because you are forced to have a three minute conversation while being ten inches away from your partner’s face. I much preferred to dance with arms around the neck and waist. That way you could dance closer and could rest your head on their shoulder if the moment was right. Back then, it was so exciting when your crush placed your hand around his neck instead of holding it outstretched.

But this was no church dance and Parke and I were not 14 years old anymore. He bent over slightly to hold me secure. Our bodies were in full contact and soaking up the heat therein.

Bad boys and losers were key players in my dating history playbook. By contrast, Parke was a polite and sophisticated specimen. He was such a gentleman. I was concerned that he may be too nice for me? My worries were put to ease when he escorted me to the car. He asked me to look at the grill of his SUV while he was explaining some car troubles he was having. I crouched down close enough to see what he was pointing to. He kept persuading me to get closer “Don’t you hear that clicking?” he asked. Then when my head was literally three inches from the grill, he pushed the alarm button on his car remote. A loud horn blasted my tympanic membranes and I screamed. Most girls would be annoyed, but I was relieved. That single mischievous moment set my interest aflame. So he wasn’t all pure and saintly. I’d like to explore that further…..

We walked into my apartment. I only had one roommate at the time and she was conveniently absent. It was June. The air was warm and dry so we decided to sit on the futon on my balcony. Yes, there will be hundreds of students that will cycle through that apartment and hundreds more that will stand on that same balcony. But that balcony will forever be our balcony. It was the location where we realized our marvelous connection. We sat for hours talking, staring at the stars, staring at each other, touching each other without kissing, flirting without game-playing. I was absorbed in Parke. Everything he said was gospel to me. I was converted to his every idea.

We talked until the early morning hours. Not wanting to say good-bye, we forced ourselves up and robotically walked toward his car. The night was silent and still. The stars were pouring their light on us. The quotation “Never kiss on the first date” flashed into my mind. I waved it away angrily. This is different; Parke is only in Utah for one weekend before he goes back to Wyoming. But it resurfaced. Should I allow him to kiss me? Would he try? I didn’t want to seem too forward. But my lips were selfish and resisted my puritanical reasoning. I had figured out who he was. Now I wanted to know how he was.

Chapter 8 First Kiss and First Kiss

My seventeen journals are filled with testimony, friends, love and kissing commentary. I love being in love and, the natural precursor of love: kissing! Descriptions of kisses and hopes for kisses pad my pages. I had friend whose parents discouraged kissing by offering her a hundred dollar prize if she could delay kissing until she was eighteen years old. Emotional abuse! One hundred dollars wouldn’t be worth my teenager years devoid of the joy and experience of kissing. At the time I viewed kissing as fun and flirty, but what I didn’t realize was that a research project was unfolding.

I had the privilege of kissing 20 different boys before the 21st boy came along. Research subject #21 delivered the kiss which would convert me into everlasting monogamy. But, in the meantime, I was collecting data. There were pecks, slobbery kisses, French kisses, sweet and innocent kisses, kisses with a specific meaning, sympathy kisses, tearful kisses, passionate kisses, desperate kisses, kissing on a dare, kissing friends, kissing in the dark and other categories of kisses created. Each kiss was filed away in one or more of those categories. Ten years of experimenting cemented my likes and dislikes. Luckily, when I kissed the man that I knew I wanted to kiss for the rest of my life, my research was complete; his kiss obliterated the competition.

I have received and given hundreds of kisses, but I have had 21 first kisses. First kisses are unique. They are filled with excitement and curiosity. They can precipitate a romantic relationship, ruin a friendship, lead to immorality and/or convey a message that words can’t. Lips are dense with touch receptors. It’s a fact that kissing is stimulating, in a purely physical sense. But equal to the enjoyment of the physical touch is the invitation. Allowing someone to touch your lips is extremely intimate. To know that a man authorizes you to touch his lips with yours mean he finds the idea pleasurable.

I have kept a running tab of kisses since my very first kiss with Josh in the beginning of 6th grade. People may be skeptical that a sixth grade kiss could be authenticated as a “real” first kiss, just like I roll my eyes when people state that their first kiss was on the Kindergarten playground, but it was.

When imagining my first kiss, I imagined a good-looking boy (preferably a member of New Kids on the Block) who would put his hand on my cheek and gently and chastely press his lips to mine. But my first kiss could not have been more different. My first kiss was baptism by fire into the world of passion, a reluctant end of innocence.

Josh’s mother and my mother both worked at the same fire station across town. I knew Josh from attending fire station family functions over the years. Josh was tall with curly brown hair and a flashy personality. He was as much as a sixth-grade ladies’ man as you can be, flirting with anything with a double X and a training bra. This particular night we were both attending the Annual Family Spaghetti Dinner. He asked me to take a walk around the station. We ended up in a dark quiet area behind the station. He put his arms around me from the back and we were looking at the stars. Mentally, I was frantically preparing myself for my first kiss that I knew may be imminent. The thought of kissing was more appealing then kissing Josh, but I was determined to have virgin lips no more. The star-watching was starting to get corny. I knew he was going to kiss me and the anticipation was killing me so I thought to myself, I’m going to go for it! I snuck on some cherry lip gloss and turned around. But before I could even say a word his puckered lips had descended.

Oh, so very, very little did I know about kissing.

He completely ravaged my ignorant mouth and took no prisoners. I’m not sure if my mouth was open out of shock or forced open by his conquering tongue, but I was aghast. I felt like grabbing the fire hose, opening it up wide and blasting his offending mouth. When I look back on my first kiss, it’s not with sweet childhood innocence, lollipops and butterflies; it was with pure shock and disgust.

Later, I titled this first kiss, The Helicopter Kiss, because of a conversation that my mother relayed to me. Josh and his mother were chatting about kissing:

Josh’s mother: “What do you know about kissing?”

Josh: “It’s easy, you just put your tongue in her mouth and twirl it around like a helicopter.”

When my snickering mother was telling me this story, I was too embarrassed at the time to tell her that I had, in fact, been a recipient of one of those helicopter kisses.

Josh and I wound up at the same high school, where he was exalted to a High School Ladies Man, flirting with anything with a double X and spreading the disease of helicopter kisses to many innocent females. We really should’ve band together to create a support group. “Hello, my name is Ashley [hello, Ashley] and my lips have been assaulted by the helicopter kiss….”

Parke held my hand as we walked to his car. Although it was a warm summer night, I shuttered with anticipation. He put his arms around me and he looked at me…you know, that look. The golden carrot was dangling before me. There comes a point when the anticipation is so thick you hardly cut through it. My willpower had reached its limit. However, I bridled my anxious lips. I had always felt strongly that the man should initiate the first kiss. Afterwards, he feels empowered and I don’t feel too forward. So I was being patient and making myself seem irresistible in the meantime. The cherry lip gloss was burning a hole in pocket but I decided to hold off. He must had read the signals because his strong arm went around my waist and pulled my body to meet his. He expertly brushed the nape of my neck with one of his huge hands and pulled my face in to meet his. I caught a glimmer of those delicious teeth as his half-smile descended. Whereas his body was hard and chiseled, his lips were so soft. Under the stars, with his arms around me, I melted. That mouth was finally on mine. If there was a major at BYU: Kissing, he would be the professor. He was teaching me a thing or two. Our lips were compatible, our kissing style was compatible. I was in heaven; Lord have mercy! That kiss took my breath away and I’ll remember every detail until life takes my very last breath away.

My first kiss with Josh was so horribly shocking and confusing that I wanted my own kisses stamped with the pleasure stamp of approval, namely: soft, tasty lips, sweet breath and not too aggressive. I let the guy lead but throw in a couple of surprises to keep it interesting. Parke seemed to greatly enjoy it.

Although I can usually whip out a pretty good comment before a first kiss, afterward I’m speechless. Coherent speech is not compatible with the jumble of emotions inside me so I typically end my kisses by burying my head and huge smile in their chest. Parke’s kiss was no exception. I was suddenly shy. With remnants of electrical current running through my body, I knew the case was closed. I mentally checked the box termed “Physical Attraction” affirmative.

Chapter 9- Kissing and Beyond

Immediately following the helicopter kiss I was feeling confident that I was experienced in the world of kissing. When my Jr. High friends spoke about kissing, I could easily chime in as an expert. Although I was smug about my newfound talent, I was concurrently repressing my guilt. We would frequently have morality lessons in our Church Young Women's lessons.

"French kissing simulates intercourse."

"Don't French kiss or you will need to repent."

“Never kiss before the third date.”

"The first time I kissed my wife was over the alter of the holy temple."

"Don't give your kisses out like pennies or they won't be worth anything".

Maybe there were other less-guilt-provoking pearls of wisdom taught, but those statements struck me to the core. I kept telling myself "all kisses aren't like The Helicopter Kiss. I'm sure the next kiss that I participate in will be an enjoyable, chaste, non-guilt-provoking kiss."

Well, at least, most were enjoyable…

Every summer of my teenage years, I attended Especially For Youth (EFY), a weeklong church camp at BYU. It was a bounteous spiritual feast, with side orders of immorality guilt and warnings about “necking”, “petting” and French kissing. In the For the Strength of Youth Pamphlet there were these elusive words inside: necking and petting. I had pondered the words many times and concluded that “necking” meant kissing on the neck and “petting” meant stroking the back. (I found out much, much later that “necking” actually meant making out and “petting” meant touching someone else’s private parts.) At the conclusion of every EFY week I gained a refreshed resolve to abstain from necking and French kissing. I learned that necking was a sin that needed to be confessed to the Bishop so I made an appointment. After my confession of being kissed on the neck, I’m sure the Bishop was absolutely chuckling inside that I came in to confess such a trivial sin and was relieved that I wasn’t involved in serious fornication.

Side note: I will be a devout Mormon until the day I die. But in considering other religions, I think I would make a great Catholic because I have ample experience in confessing my sins to religious leaders.

Marie, the funniest college roommate I ever lived with coined the term “rolled”. “Rolling” means making out; and “making out” means passionate kissing, sometimes in the horizontal plane. When a roommate would walk in from a date, voices from different areas of the apartment would yell out “Did you roll?”

“Oh yeah, we rolled, baby!” (Followed by high fives and ice cream).

Yes, girls “high five” too.

After dating a string of bad boys, I was set up with a guy named Jeremy. Blind dates hadn’t previously worked in my favor. I was once set up by my Grandma. That fact alone should be a red flag but she was so excited that I couldn’t refuse. The date ended with me standing on an interstate in a freezing, winter Carolina snowstorm after the boy’s car broke down. On a separate occasion, my mom set me up with her “dream son-in- law”. I resisted due to an uneasy concern about him. We later discovered that he was gay. Another blind date was with two identical twins, well, one of them. I felt like I was in a Parent Trap nightmare.

Blind dates illicit an excessive focus on physical looks. Upon my date’s first sight of me, I emerge triumphantly from behind a velvet curtain, with one hand on my hip and one hand in the air while concurrently spinning on a turntable so my date can analyze every angle. There’s a price tag dangling from my outstretched wrist. At least, that’s how I feel. However, I am just as shallow. I like to judge a guy over time and distance before going in for the kill. Blind dates force all of that superficiality into one moment, which is stressful on both ends. No, I am not a fan of blind dates.

Although my blind date history was tainted, I relented to my friends’ urges when I found out that Jeremy and I would be part of large group date. To my surprise, Jeremy turned to be scrumptious. He was smart, righteous, with a body to boot. We had a great time and after many dates we “rolled”.

Oh yeah, we rolled baby! (high fives, ice cream)

I was particularly smug about this fact but afterward, Jeremy was visibly distraught. I was distraught that he was distraught. That was the beginning of our end, even though we had hardly begun.

There are boys to date, boys to kiss, boys who are friends, boys to roll with and boys to marry. I’ve always been good about distinguishing which category the boy fit in. Jeremy fell into the category “Boys to Marry”. I was used to dating boys from other categories. Angrily, I realized my mistake. If I wanted to marry a righteous guy, I had to be a righteous person; one who mirrored his standards. What category would Jeremy put me in? Likely, I was in the “Girls that I might have married until I realized…” category. Rolling was not a righteous quality. I have to stop rolling with righteous guys! From that night on, I vowed to take it slow with guys from the “Guys to Marry” category. I needed to win their respect if I was to be their wife someday.

Well so much for taking it slow with Parke! We had kissed on our first date after spending practically the entire night up talking. Parke was unequivocally in the “Boys to Marry” category. But I also wanted him in the “Boys to Roll With” category, which, in my experience, was not a great idea. I warned myself to take it slow and above all, don’t ruin it!

Plus, I was fresh out of ice cream.

Chapter 10- The Day After

I needed my sleep.

The kiss was pretty near cataclysmic; I needed a full day in bed to recuperate. Plus my body needed rest to prepare for the 1,000 babies that I was preparing to bear for him. However, Parke was only in town for two days and we wanted to spend every second of the weekend together. The morning after, he met me at my softball game. My team was playing in the championship game. He was sitting on the sidelines watching me execute some great plays including a double play and impressive hits. I preformed surprisingly well considering I acquired only a couple hours of sleep and was completely distracted by the meaty morsel sitting on the sidelines. He was positively virile. He cheered proudly. Our team won the championship, but I was more excited about Parke’s presence than our victory. After freshening up, we hopped in my car and headed to Salt Lake City for a family gathering. I offered to drive on purpose. After five year of pizza delivery experience, my innate direction and prowess behind the wheel are worthy of a medal.

On the back of my silver SUV Isuzu Rodeo read “Utah Plates, California Girl”. I received three nasty notes on my car over the span of a year including choice phrases like “Well then go back to California” and “Why don’t you shove your surf board up your ***”. I wasn’t sure what California had done to make these people so angry. Perhaps they have something against The Beach boys…bikinis….blondes…. or the valley girls from the movie Clueless. When people found out that I was from California, I was frequently questioned “Did I eat Sushi?”, “Did I surf every day?” I always laughed and shrugged it off because I was anything but the image people had in their minds. I grew up in Northern California, a seemingly separate planet from the Southern portion. However, I was a literal “valley girl”, hailing from Sacramento Valley. And although I was the first girl I knew to have a cell phone, I don’t fit the mold of a traditional valley girl. Instead of shopping, I’d rather be strolling through our peach, plum and kiwi orchards and alfalfa fields. You won’t find me rollerblading by the beach in a bikini, but instead hiking in the rolling Sutter Buttes near our home.

Before “Utah Plates, California Girl”, there was just “California girl” displayed on my first car, a 1986 Mazda Pick-up. It was a shabby little truck, but oh, how you love your first car! I knew every inch of that truck. Guys love girls who can handle a car. I had been driving my truck since I was thirteen perfecting the tricks on my Grandpa’s 200-acre ranch. So when I was 15 ½ years old, I decided to use my driving skills to snag a guy.

Remember Dave? The first boy to break my heart? We went out for six months and then I pined for him for the next six. He was that shy, adorable guy on the football team and I was on the cheerleading squad. OK, I have to admit it, I wasn’t a cheerleader. Yet. I was the team mascot….and our high school mascot was a Honker. Let me repeat, we were the Yuba City High School Honkers. What is a Honker, you may ask? Well, it’s a Canadian goose. Honkers are very intimidating, very fierce; they will peck your eyes out. I’m stretching here. The other teams we played were the Tigers, the Wolves or the Thundering Herd. We were Honkers, which precipitated many taunts and references to our “honkers” from the opposing teams’ crowd. Even to this day, my brother-in-law teases me about being a Honker. Living in Minnesota now, I see Honkers all of the time. They are graceful, resourceful, beautiful fowl that fly in perfectly formed V’s. Every time my kids hear them honking above our heads they stop to admire and point. I love Honkers. But what a ridiculous mascot. I won’t even tell you what our horrible school colors were.

(OK: brown and puke yellow)

Dave was tall, with blond, wavy hair, deep blue eyes, a roman nose and braces. He always wore a baseball hat, pulled low, which was adorable and mysterious. We started hanging out in the same circle of friends during my sophomore year of high school. Our relationship developed as slow as molasses because of his debilitating shyness. We started out shooting glances at each other in class and across the football field. After weeks and weeks of staring, but not talking, I mustered up the courage to ask him for a ride home from an away football game. After spending thirty minutes to make the five-minute drive home, I wondered if he was lost. I didn’t complain. I took his meandering as a good sign; if he didn’t like me, he’d just take me straight home. I asked if I could drive his car. Knowing very well how to drive a stick shift, I was hoping to impress him with my driving skills. In fact, I was so confident with my driving skills that I had taken my truck out many times on the road alone, even though I was only 15. When my parents found out about my many joyriding adventures I was grounded from driving until 2 weeks after my birthday. Come to think about it, I was grounded for half of my teenage years so it was a miracle there was any kissing going on at all. (My parents dispute this claim). Dave was thoroughly impressed with my stick-shifting skills, as all guys are when I take the wheel of their baby.

As Parke and I were coasting up north, I nervously turned on the boom system. Nothing can excite me like good thumpin’ bass. When it comes to blasting loud hip hop, I am a Mexican Vato at heart. What can I say? I’m from Sac-town. I had spent a chunk of change on an amazing audio system and amplifier which I had installed in my Isuzu. What would Parke think of my hip hop beats?

He LOVED it.

When asking a man what kind of music he likes, there are only two bad answers. The first is “I like everything” and the second is “Bob Marley”. He likely enjoys music, most people do. But not pinpointing a certain band or genre proves his lack of passion toward music, which is a deal-breaker. He could even be passionate about 17th century classical Baroque and I am satisfied. Much of my identity and conversation revolves around music and I need a versed sounding board.

My history of music appreciation started like an empty yearbook. As I formed romantic and friendly relationships, new music was added to my pages. I came to appreciate different bands from specific people: Boys To Men, Stone Temple Pilots, Guns N Roses from childhood friends, Bon Jovi, Heart and Phantom of the Opera from family, Beastie Boys, Bad Religion, George Straight, BB King, Metallica, Jay Z from various boyfriends and 311, Garbage, Back Street Boys and Erasure from college roommates, just to name a few. I am a music connesuir.

I asked Parke “So what kind of music do you like?” (gulp)

He passed with flying colors. Not only was he opinionated about music, his tastes were similar to mine. He specifically enjoyed Pearl Jam, Third Eye Blind, Les Miserables and Spanish guitar. He even tolerated boy bands and pop music. We had a blast listening to music on the way up to Salt Lake City.

I had fun showing off my prize at the family party. Parke schmoozed the adults. I was in awe of him, though delightfully confused. My family was often disappointed in the boys I had brought home. Likely, that was because they were wearing black nail polish or had tongue rings or rode up on a Harley. OK, that was all one guy and I think they were still shell-shocked from that particular experience. Being an only child, a girl, and a devout Mormon made it almost impossible for me to bring home boys that were worthy of approval (that weren’t complete dorks). And honestly, I was worried that I would never be attracted to a boy that they also liked. In my mind, nice guys equaled boring. Observing Parke around my extended family made me a little wary of his nice guy persona, but periodically he would pull me into a dark corner and plant a smoldering kiss on me and I was reminded of his not-so-“nice” side. His kisses left me a little dazed afterward and my family surely though I was ill.

That night we were back on “our” balcony. The first-kiss rite of passage was conquered which opened the floodgates of kissing to come. In the back of my mind I was reminded of my goal to take it slow. I knew our connection was special. It was a precious gem that I wanted to preserve and safeguard. But my arms felt so right draped on his strong shoulders. I was safe with him. One kiss turned into a second, third, and eighth, and twentieth; or maybe it was just one 2-hour kiss. Our hormones knew no shame. We rolled.

Oh yeah, we rolled, baby!

The devil made me do it. The serpent beguiled me. Truly, I was under a spell. Parke was absolutely irresistible. Plus, I had to make sure a physical attraction was alive and kicking. Not only was it alive and kicking, it was toned and primed to run the Boston Marathon. I couldn’t keep my hands off of those abs and biceps that had been taunting me for two days. Amidst the flirting, kissing and touching, the horizontal plane was not breached so I was satisfied with my overriding self-control.

Chapter 11 The Dating Score

And just like that…Parke was gone (out of the state, but not out of mind). His presence still lingered on my clothes and on the balcony and in my car and in the air. I had tunnel vision and at the end of the tunnel was Parke. Over a weekend’s time I had fallen in love. Did I love Parke? No, but I was in love--completely infatuated--with him. However, the word “infatuation” cheapens what I was feeling. It was a sacred sort of infatuation, one that I was loyal to, one that I wanted to fiercely protect. There were men all around me but I was blind to them. Parke didn’t ask me to be his girlfriend. We didn’t even discuss our plans or future. But there was an unspoken commitment present.

 After such a magical weekend, our separation through the summer seemed like an eternity. And although I could have dated other boys in the meantime, the thought repulsed me. Kissing another boy after Parke screamed infidelity. He must have been feeling the same because soon after his return to Wyoming I received this email:

“Ashley, I AM YOURS. There’s no more room in my heart; it’s overflowing with you. I can’t get you out of my mind. I wouldn’t want to anyway. I keep seeing your smile, your eyes- it’s locked into my memory. I can’t wait to see you again. I’m going to bed now, but I’ll see you in my dreams. Where would you like to go? I’ll take you there….”

Was this all a dream? It was too good to be true. Parke was constantly sending me reassuring love letters, pictures and cards. But the long distance allowed doubt to creep in.

Theoretically, if each person received a dating score based on their looks, personality and intellect, I liked to date guys with a tad lower score than me. That way, I’d feel secure- less likely to get dumped. I want to be the eye candy, not the other way around. And since I tended to date guys below my dating score, I’d developed an acclimation for mediocrity. However there was nothing, absolutely nothing, mediocre about Parke. Parke had a score that was equal or above mine and that made me nervous. I had been burned before while dating a guy above my score level.

I regress 2 years.

There was a convenient little photo shop by BYU campus that I would occasionally use to develop my film. One day I walked into the photo lab with Tyler, my flavor of the month. I dropped my film on the table without looking at the attendant; I was too wrapped up in my conversation with Tyler. When asked for payment, I looked up into the chiseled face of the photo booth employee. He was smiling at me in a way that I felt like buttoning my collar up. I smiled back because he was a hunk and a half. It was getting a little awkward at the counter since one guy was making eyes at me while another guy’s arm was around my waist. We left. As I drove away, I glanced toward the store and saw Hunkster beaming at me.

Later that day I walked into my apartment as the phone was ringing.

I breathlessly answered “Hello?”

“Is this Ashley?” a deep voice asked on the other end.


“This is Alex from the Photo Shop.”

Taken back, I managed “Really? Um, how did you get my number?”

“From the form you filled out” he admitted.

“Oh, yeah.”

The voice continued. “I was looking through your pictures and I think I’d like to take you out”

Cough, choke. “You were looking through my pictures? Is that………”

(Instantly I scanned the pictures in my head. Did I turn in anything embarrassing?)
There was a pause before he started in again “So can I take you out on Friday?”

Hmmm, this guy is either a stalker or confidently self-assured, both irritating options. But, geez was he gorgeous. He obviously wants to get to know me bad enough that he risked his pride (and his job) by calling me. I love a guy who takes romantic risks. Furthermore, he was so bold that he asked me out after seeing another guy’s arm around my waist. I felt like a highly desired prize.

Slowly, I agreed. “OK…”

Before hanging up he added “I’ll bring your pictures. I know where you live.”

When I opened the door, I was reminded of why I said “OK”. Alex was tall, clean-cut, with biceps the size of my quadriceps. He was wearing loose jeans, white canvas shoes and a white shirt which complimented his California tan. I almost closed the door on him just to scream, or pinch myself or say a prayer of gratitude. But I didn’t. This guy pursued me? Impossible.

I have good self-esteem. I’m good enough, smart enough and doggonnit, people like me. (Sorry). I thought I was a pretty great catch, but still, there were some boys I just knew were out of my league. Alex was out of my league.

By chance, Alex and my roommate’s boyfriend, Brett, knew each other. Brett gave me the thumbs up, indicating that he was an honorable guy. That put my initial “stalker” impressions at bay.

The night went from great to "are you seriously kidding me?" when he opened up the door of his car for me. He drove my dream car: a forest green Toyota 4-Runner. Oh yeah, Alex is out of my league.

We went to dinner and to the Haunted Forest. The Haunted Forest was always an October-date “must”. Patrons file down a creepy path interjected with eerie sounds, Jack-o-lanterns, midgets, chainsaws, midgets with chainsaws and other freaky situations. It’s a great date situation because cuddling into your date’s protective embrace is a natural consequence of being chased by midgets with chainsaws. Halfway through the date, I realized that this guy was neither a stalker nor confidently self-assured at all. He was humble, though he had no reason to be. He was rich, funny and smart. He played on the BYU Rugby team and went on a mission to Peru, so he was fluent in Spanish. I basked in his glory.

After the Haunted Forest we hung at his apartment where he made brownies and a milkshake for me. Great. Add sugar to my love-drunken stupor. When he dropped me off at my apartment, he came in. We decided to watch a movie. The date would not end! And I was OK with that. When the movie was over, he got up to leave and pulled me to the door. There was only a glimmer of light in the dark room. We kissed; I was putty in his hands, err, lips. It was unparalleled.

Who am I?

The next week we saw each other 4 times. He took me to dinner, I brought him lunch, he left notes on my car and we talked on the phone. Up to that point, I had never been so head-over-heels intoxicated by another human being. I was ready to go to Vegas and make it official. But the honeymoon ended as quickly as it had started.

The next week I was over at his apartment. While he was in the bathroom and I noticed a piece of paper sitting on the coffee table halfway under a notebook. It was a list. I picked it up to examine it more closely. It was a list of girls’ names. I tracked down the list and found my name near the bottom. I wonder what this is. When he returned, with a hand on my hip, I held up the paper and demanded “What’s this?” I realized that I had discovered something scandalous by the look of horror on his face. Busted. He sheepishly admitted the truth. “All the guys on the rugby team are in a competition of how many girls they could kiss over the season. The winner gets the pot of money: $400.”


I about choked on my saliva. I looked around for a hidden camera, but there was none. Then I looked down at the list. I wasn’t even the last name on the list! I had to clarify:

“Are these in chronological order or order of preference?”

“Chronological” Phew- at least I wasn’t at the bottom of the list due to my kissing skills. BUT that meant that he had kissed a girl in the one week since spending every waking moment with me

I slowly walked up to him, cocked my shoulder back and punched him in the cheek. Hard. It was so hard that his face was thrown to the side and the ring on my finger left an indentation. My knuckles were stinging. No one treats me like that!!! I felt used and dirty. I felt like I had a lip STD. He collapsed to the ground, put his head in his hands and kept repeating over “I’m so, so sorry”. Unaffected, I crumpled up the list and threw it at his pathetic form and slammed the door.

Ok, that didn’t happen.

But that’s what I dreamed about doing afterwards. I did, however, crumple up the list, throw it at him and slammed the door right after I coolly stated “Don’t call”.

Well he did call. And we did end up going out a couple more times. Once I had demoted Alex to the “Boys to Roll With” category I felt better because there were no expectations, only fun. Afterwards I was actually amused by the whole situation and today I think it is hilarious.

Alex was fired from his job at the Photo shop. I can’t imagine why.

To keep reading The 21st Kiss, click on "older posts" below right.