My first kiss tasted like red wine and cigarettes. These are not completely unexpected flavors in someone’s mouth.
He was 28, I was 16. He was French, a saxophone player with long hair and an earring. We spent almost every evening together that summer, holding hands, talking, eating dinner, drinking wine. He loved to use the salt and pepper shakers on the table to demonstrate situations. As in: “this is you” – holding up the salt shaker – and “this is me” – holding up the pepper shaker. Then the shakers were off, moving around the table, doing whatever it was he was talking about.
I am not sure what made him want to kiss me that night. We were sitting on some stairs leading to the waters of the Danube. I swear there were shooting stars in the sky, but I could have been imagining things. I didn’t know how to kiss. I was OK with our lips touching, but once his tongue entered my mouth, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I pulled away a bit, mostly to giggle, but he interpreted it as reluctance.
He had to pee. He walked down a couple of steps to the water and did just that. Then he hailed a cab for me and said good night. The next time I saw him, there was no more talk of kissing, even though I spent the previous week listening to my more experienced cousin explain what exactly I had to do in case kissing turned into something more. She described a man’s penis as a wooden stick in a soft, leather case. This, as I later found out, turned out to be quite accurate.
But not with the French guy. Because he explained that he was a butterfly, flying from flower to flower, and he didn’t want to hurt me. That was sort of decent of him.
My first, real boyfriend kissed me while we were sitting at the same spot, along the Danube. I think I took him there, because I felt like it was a good make out spot. He sat behind me, a step up, and leaned in. He told me he loved me. I didn’t need to hear that, but it was nice. We kissed for a long time, his hard-on stabbing me in the back.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and other kisses, too.
Like the German guy. He was mixing the fuzzy navels at a college party all night, then took me back to his room and showed me card tricks. We sat on the floor of the tiny room, Indian style, and all I could think about was wrapping my legs around him. I looked at his ring that had his initials on it, and for a split second I realized that I didn’t know what the “D” stood for.
But it didn’t matter. He kissed me, like he was about to swallow my face, holding my head in his hands, stroking my hair. He was delicious.
Years later a good friend and I found ourselves at my apartment, on my brand new love seat, watching late night TV. Very late night TV – past SNL, and the late news, and the infomercials. We drank vodka and grapefruit juice and his left hand drew circles on my shoulder. “So, we are making out now,” he said after the first peck. Well yes, we were. And it was wild, dizzying, tender, and incredibly hot. Hours later, when I regained my senses, I was sitting on the floor, with parched lips, panting, wondering if my eyes will ever focus again. Some days, when I need something to smile about, I still think about that night and his kiss.
My last first kiss happened nine years ago on that same love seat, after a dish of Dairy Queen vanilla soft serve. There was a bowl of apricots in the kitchen, and he cut one up and fed it to me, slowly, slice by slice. My eyes were closed, but I heard the soft clink as he put his glasses on the coffee table and I knew that the next bite will not be an apricot. We now buy apricots frequently every summer, commemorating the event.
So, I’ve been thinking about these kisses, because I’ve been also thinking about the many, many kisses that have not happened before and since then, and the ones that never will.
There was the guy who flew from California to meet me and left me with a partial kiss on the corner of my mouth because, as he later explained, his feelings for me were more like what he felt for his little sister. Or the kiss on the forehead I got from the Germany guy when he came to say good bye before my wedding. Or the embrace and kiss on the cheek from a married friend that burned on my skin for weeks. I thought that surely everyone can see the red outline where his lips have been.
So many possibilities, so many roads not taken, so many mistakes averted, lives changed or left undisturbed. A small turn of the head, or a hug that’s just one short moment longer than necessary, and that’s it. You are not who you are and your life is suddenly off in a whole new direction. And all because of – what? I mean, kissing is like sticking your nose in someone’s ear. Or sticking your finger up someone’s nose. It’s totally ridiculous.
If I am lucky, I will never have a first kiss again. This makes me sad. I used to enjoy the butterflies, and the bumping noses, and the clinking teeth, and all the weird, slobbery awkwardness. And no matter how hot your marriage happens to be, there is just no way to recreate the Danube, and the shooting stars, and the taste of wine, or the card tricks, or the grapefruit with vodka.
This all sounds melancholy and sentimental, I realize. But these things have been on my mind lately. And while I generally manage to control the kissing, controlling my mind is another story.