School is starting Thursday and for the first time in my life I’m watching from the other side of the proverbial school bus window. Yes, it’s true. I am about to be the mother of a school kid.

Over the next thirteen years I will watch as my child returns to me each day a little older and wiser.She will learn to skip rope, make fake lava, exhale the multiplication tables, spit out the capital of the 50 states on demand, discuss Hamlet in detail, and learn to calculate pi.

She will also learn to dress funny, hide gum in her mouth, text message her best friend without being detected by teachers, cuss, and spell the word “obfuscate” with first-hand knowledge of what it means.

The other day in the car she asked me what school would be like.

“Oh, you’ll learn a lot of really amazing things,” I told her sagely. “You’ll also make many great memories. Things you will want to tell your children about.”

“What do you remember about school?” She wanted to know.

I hesitated before spouting something lame about recess and how much I liked my friends and teachers. She’d caught me. What exactly were my memories? What did I think about when I remembered my school years?

I decided when I got home to make a list. I wanted to isolate the things that really stand out to me about each of the years that I was in school. The only rule I gave myself was that it had to be the first thing that popped into my head about that particular year. I wanted to see what really mattered to me in my pedagogic experience.

Here is what I came up with:

Kindergarten – We made stone soup. It was soup…from a stone. I believe we threw in other things like carrots and peas, but we were led to believe the stone provided the extra flavor. Like a Lipton dry soup pouch.

1st Grade – I farted really loud during story time. It was very embarrassing. I think I went home.

2nd Grade – I have this very clear memory of being at the top of the slide and somebody (I think it was one of the ‘bussed-in kids’ from the inner city) pointed out the word “fuck” scratched into the paint. I had no idea what it meant, but I was struck by the reverence with which the kid stared at it. I think the kid’s name was “Val”, but for a long time I thought he was saying “Vowel.”

3rd Grade – I was playing soccer with the boys at recess and looking across the field at the girls sitting by the swings playing with dolls. Even at the time I knew I was having way more fun than they were. Pansies.

4th Grade – My first kiss. It was with a boy named Cole. He and I had been surrounded by 40 or more kids at recess. They were all chanting, “Kiss her! Kiss her!” It was all very romantic.

5th Grade – I got teased for having hairy legs. I mean reeeeally hairy legs. I was quickly shamed into shaving.

6th Grade – Cole, my 4th grade love, had not only taught me how to kiss, he had also taught me how to cuss. Two years later, I could cuss with sailor-like proficiency. My girlfriends from church cornered me in the school bathroom this year and conducted an intervention. I would not cuss again until I was 23 years old. It was like riding a bicycle.

7th Grade – I joined the junior high band. We had this teacher whose breath reeked of Folgers-scented ashtray. This one time…in band class…he grabbed my flute and played it without asking. When he gave it back, it stank for days. I felt violated.

8th Grade – First day of school in a new town: I was handing papers back to the person behind me. I couldn’t reach her, so I tipped my chair back to get an extra inch or two in. I crashed backwards, taking my desk and all of the papers with me. Nobody. Said. A. Word. I changed schools the next week.

9th Grade – I have no clear memory of the 9th grade. Something about selling hotdogs.

10th Grade – I left the private Christian school I had been going to for 2 years to go to public school. My best friend there had an abortion that year. We used to speak to each other only in French.

11th Grade – I went back to the Christian school. My best friend from the previous year came to school with me one day. I told everyone she was a foreign exchange student and I translated for her all day. When my locker mate found out it was all a big lie, she cried. I don’t lie (much) anymore.

12th Grade – I was in a pageant, which I refuse to go into in any great detail here. Suffice it to say it was very embarrassing. My roommate (who ended up winning) left a douche box in the bathroom trashcan. I am still contemplating that douche box.

So that’s it. My list of the 13 most prominent memories of my school years. I think it explains a lot. I think it may also be the best argument for homeschooling my child I can possibly think of.

School starts Thursday.

Here we go.

“I’ve already told you: the only way to a woman’s heart is along the path of torment. I know none other as sure.” —Marquis de Sade

Stop shaking your head. Gimme a chance to explain…

Long distance relationships open like pop-up books. Her pop-up book is in Manhattan.

I like stealing stuff—if I like you. I case every woman who catches my eye trying to see what they’re hiding.

You can’t give your phone number without giving something of yourself. Every little hair on a woman, even the peach fuzz, is a fuse.

I watch some guys staring at their girls like kids staring at a candy store window. Which gets me wondering–––along with the girl in most cases–––is he making that sweet expression at her or to himself in the reflection? So the girl looks over at me and sees the crowbar in my eyes. I can’t hide it.

But every time it feels the same when it clicks with somebody. I pick the lock and break into their life and instead of trying to steal everything, I end up wanting to move in.

I’m in full-on burglary-mode when all of a sudden I find myself liking the way you crookedly hang that painting, the way your bookshelves lean, that you’re a pack-rat for every letter an ex sent you and you’re amused I burned everything I had with my first kiss, that you kept a lock of your hair from when you were six and now your hair’s a different color, how you had a street portrait artist embellish your likeness when you were going through an ugly phase and everybody pretended you were really that pretty, you were entirely frigid with one boy and put out on the first date with another and you don’t know why the difference, that I thought my first girl was the one until we popped each others cherry and I knew she wasn’t and told her so, that you want a dad and your cute little boy at the same time out of a husband—oh yeah—and the guy you’d risk all that for to cheat with, you want to have your blueprints for the rest of your life approved of, you want your history to be a rumor that you spread, you want me to cast my net at you swinging over and over and never get more than half your butterflies, you want to be my private petting zoo, you want me to pry you down from your ivory tower over the intercom, I want a muse who fucks like a whore, you want to be able to hurt me and build me up, you want me to trudge through your sewers and step out onto your penthouse balconies, you want to take your top down in conversation and have my breeze run through your hair, I want you to kiss the stretch marks and cellulite on my brain, you want me to contemplate every guy who ever wanted to get into your pants, you want jealousy, you want me to be loyal but only because you’re amused that I’m a born serial-cheater, you want the church of your heart to have the choir on fire and neither of us willing to piss on them, I want you as a cookie jar, you want to get our plans on wheels, you want somebody with no plans, you want Monopoly on weeknights and Risk on weekends, you want somebody who can fuck people up but also listen, your personal angelic caveman with a daunting reading list, you want me to be fucked-up but lucid, you want our kid as the final jury on us, I’m not sure you really do, you want relativity here and there but stuff that comparison can’t touch other places, you want love letters and suicide notes and me to pretend with a straight face like I know what the fucking difference is, you want your melody to feel like a symphony, I want my note to feel like a melody, you want me to wonder how many inches it takes to reach your heart, I want you with telescopes and microscopes and a club and a cave and no viable heat source but me, you want me to accept that Brinny can still fall in love 10,000 times but it doesn’t have to be with 10,000 different girls it can just be with me, over and over, like some karma on spin cycle and no tag-backs, and we can be off-key, and every soliloquy can be one long stutter, and why the hell am I inventorying all this shit, oh yeah I’m nervous about Thanksgiving, I just mean… my garbage and maladjusted apparatus wasn’t flammable until I met you, be my pyromaniac and I’ll be your kleptomaniac, we’ll get the hang of it, epileptic embrace, be each other’s Rosetta Stone, here, this is a piece of chipped paint off my Davega Bicycle, we can be cigarette train wrecks in each others ashtray, you can sign letters in lowercase so I’ll imagine you on your knees and try to map out more ways to sweep you off your feet, now you’re making me a little nervous for not having wiped this thing’s nose, and I better stop cause everything else’ll feel like drinking from a bent straw but yeah, do we have a deal?

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.