Until last week, I'd forgotten about the great pregnancy scare of sixth grade. I was an 11-year-old kid from the country who lived next door to his grandmother and across a long, straight highway from an inherited family farm. I'd grown up in the church and without cable, with a lot of books but without a wealth of adult exposure. Once, in fifth grade and just before our class left on a field trip, my friend Brian had opened his wallet and shown me a nude photograph of a buxom blonde. He'd ripped it from a magazine, and in the five furtive seconds we shared the image, I memorized every detail, down to the jagged borders of the paper from which it had been pulled. She wore pearls.
That was the first time I'd ever seen such a thing, and it wasn't enough to prepare me for the slowly mounting hormonal pressure of sixth grade. With our primary years finished, my friends and I had migrated to the massive middle school just two miles away. We maintained the same cliques we'd had for years and still went to Sunday church, Wednesday baseball games and summer vacation Bible school together, but things had begun to feel different. We were all changing—voices deepening, shoulders broadening, breasts developing.
This all came to an unexpected head one night in the middle-school gymnasium during the first school dance of the year and of my life. I didn't have a date, but that didn't matter much in those days of presumed innocence. All my pals, both male and female, would be there, so my parents dropped me off in my best slacks, with my hair slicked back against my head as if by oil and alchemy. At some point during the night, the DJ decided to break the tide of beach music and country hits and gauge the acceptance of his rural audience by dropping one of the last year's biggest songs, the gentle glide of Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You."
I had no intentions of making love to anyone because, frankly, I had no idea what that meant. But I grabbed the hand of my permanent childhood crush and asked her to dance. On that gym floor covered with a reflective silver tarp, we stood shoulder to shoulder, her outstretched arms resting beside my neck and my hands very cautiously at the tip of her hips. If the embrace had been any lighter, we would have been standing in opposite corners of the room.
But about two minutes into the song, I panicked: What if this was making love? What if this was sex? What had Boyz II Men made me do? I wasn't sure how people got pregnant, but what if we'd just gotten pregnant? With sweat pouring from my palms and my breath growing shallow, I relayed my worry to my partner. Our dance was over. She wasn't mad or offended. She was just amused and, soon enough, so was everyone else we knew. I didn't understand pregnancy or sex or even dancing, but goddamn, my hair looked good.
Last Thursday night, the three remaining members of Boyz II Men joined the state symphony for a short, slow journey through the hits. When they landed on "I'll Make Love to You," the whole audience erupted, singing loudly, hands in the air. I did, too, at least until I remembered that moment in sixth grade, when I thought a song and dance were enough to get someone pregnant. That's when I stopped and leaned in to my fiancée to relay the story. She buckled over with laughter, and it felt like sixth grade again.