I generally tell people that my first kiss was when I was 17. It was actually more of a make-out session that lasted for hours as we went from the Wharf to the Haight to the outer sunset and Golden Gate Park. He was a beautiful blond-haired Swede named Erik, whose English was accented just enough to seem exotic to me. I had met him that evening and never saw him again afterward. He tasted like rum-and-coke and his lips and tongue were so soft I felt like I could just sink into them forever. I thought the circumstances were kind of funny and surreal, but I enjoyed the freedom I felt of him not really knowing anything about me.
Technically it wasn’t my first kiss though. It was my first French kiss. It was my first, we both want this, arms tangled up together, bodies pressed together, kiss. The first time it didn’t seem incongruous to me that a boy was attracted to me; because 17-year-old me, or 16-year-old me, or 15-year-old me, or 22-year-old me for that matter really did not think that happened. Not really. And yet here he was eagerly participating; difficult to deny it.
My actual first kiss was when I was 11 and a bully-friend forced me to play hooky from school and took me to her cousin’s house and made me play truth or dare – where we were only allowed to choose dare, and kissing her cousin was the only dare. Chaste little pecks on the lips. I didn’t want to kiss him; his breath smelled. It didn’t help that she kissed him too and this made me uncomfortable. Not long after I asked my mom to ground me and forbid me to play with this girl ever again, she was puzzled but obliged. I was grateful to have the ironclad out I’d needed to get away from this bully.
I chose not to count that as my first kiss. It was something else, like someone bumping into me or shoving me or grabbing my arm … unwanted.
The next kiss that would have been my first kiss was when I was fifteen, at the Dickens Fair and one of my castmates thought it was fun to flirt and drape himself around me (despite the fact that I was actually harboring a crush on someone else in the cast, and he knew that) and asking for a kiss – that I’d reluctantly give, but had made it clear “no tongue” and he’d, of course, try to dart his tongue into my mouth. I still remember it flitting between my lips like a snake’s. It was also not something I counted as a first kiss, it was stolen, a trick, unwanted.
I don’t remember my next first kiss, also when I was a sophomore, later in the spring. A friend, the boy I loved – or one of them anyway, I was 15 after all. But I blacked out during … sort of (not drunk) and don’t remember the kiss. I remember standing, while he sat in front of me. I had been circling him, trying to flirt my way into getting him to do something or other (talk to someone about a rumor I wanted cleared up), and had come to stop in front of him, somehow or other ended up with his arms around my waist and my arms resting on his shoulders. I honestly had no idea what was happening. We were talking, and looking at each other, and flirting, and then … nothing, total blackness, just a vague concept that there was a him and there was a me and we were nothing but piercing pinpoints of light in a vast nothingness that merged for a moment, wherein I ceased to exist. The next thing I remember, I was pulling back from him. I thought he was looking at me funny and I was wiping the corners of my mouth which were inexplicably wet. I stepped back and continued whatever I’d been saying before the blackout. It didn’t even occur to me that maybe we’d kissed until I was on the bus halfway home. But mostly I had this nagging fear that I’d simply leaned forward and drooled on him. I was mortified and never mentioned it, talked to him about it, or in any way acknowledged I remembered anything. He never mentioned it, never talked to me about it and I don’t think ever indicated anything had happened.
A couple years later, during my senior year, I had a fight with a friend over him who claimed she’d seen us kissing “many times”. It confused me so much I couldn’t follow the rest of our argument, I thought she was crazy. I adamantly denied it and she stuck to her claim. I could not fathom how she could be so sure she’d seen this more than once when I couldn’t be sure it had ever happened at all. I dismissed it, she’d been mistaken, she’d assumed other moments where we were just talking or hugging had been a kiss. Over the years when I’d think of those two events – the nothingness when I was 15 and at 17 with the Bacardi flavored Erik – the former felt confusing and uncomfortable and I felt ambivalent about the latter. Both were indicative of my tendency to remove myself from vulnerability, but the memory of making out on the wharf was more tangible and fun, less embarrassing. Eventually, it all faded and when the “first kiss” topic would come up I’d tell the Erik-the-Swede tale. In recent years I’d pretty much forgotten there was any other story; the other events shelved under different topics that didn’t connect.
Then I had a dream. It was nothingness. Just two pinpoints of light existing in a vast nothingness but years apart, on a different timeline.
Categories: Personal Essay