A story about a giant, and a son's first kiss from his father.
Image by Flickr user SteHLiverpool
By Terrance Hayes
The Kiss is a bimonthly series curated by Brian Turner.
The giant many fans know as “Mega Tall Paul” was approximately half a century old the first time his father kissed him. Giants are difficult to kiss unless one is also a giant. As you know, Tall Paul towered in a realm of his own. The current Guinness World Records lists him as a clean eleven feet tall. He is in fact eleven feet two and seven-eighths inches. After Tall Paul told the cashier who asked his height the other day, he was eleven feet, two and seven-eighths inches, she said with a frown, “Why you gotta add the seven-eighths, ain’t eleven feet two already tall enough?” Tall Paul wanted to kiss her because no one else in all his years had ever told him it was a vain thing to say. He was well-known for his large self regard, but told the cashier he was only trying to sound exact. He wanted to kiss her for her illuminated critique, and if he had, it would have required severe bending. Mostly Tall Paul hugged people to his waist, he did not bend. Most of the fans who lined up to greet him after his shows were children. Mostly all he did was stand around. He poked his hands through the holes cut in the top of the circus tent when he raised his arms—a show highlight. Occasionally he wanted to kiss one of the lovely indifferent mothers of the children who were his fans. Sometimes he wanted to be kissed by one strange woman after another. He missed his wife. He was a passionate man. His shirt pits always had a kind of sweat and sugar smell to them. Occasionally he wanted one of the grownup women to breathe his scent. Mostly all he did was stand around. His wife was not especially impressed. His mother, brother and father were definitely his biggest fans. Tall Paul was glad he’d get to spend a couple of days with them in Florida. He wanted them to see how well he was doing. His extra long shoes and clothes were tailor-made, he had been on the cover of a few little-read magazines devoted to freak fans. He was a minor celebrity, but at eleven foot two and seven-eighths inches tall no one needed to know who he was to gawk at his height. Three different security agents pulled him aside to take selfies at the airport when he landed. Sometimes he searched for images of himself posted on Instagram. Usually the picture was of some stranger wildly grinning beside his crotch. A few times it was just a shot of his nostrils and the bottom of his chin. When Tall Paul hugged people to his waist, it was not unlike the way his father and brother, too average sized black men, hugged people. His father and brother were military men. His father and brother were sports fans. His father and brother did not kiss one another upon greeting. Tall Paul had just about freaked out when a foreigner at one of his events decided, upon realizing he could not kiss Tall Paul on the cheek, kissed the giant’s large narrow hand. Any kiss in the region of his waist, which was just about all kisses when they happened, made Tall Paul blush. One of the security guards, a fit Hispanic woman, taking a selfie with him at the airport, kissed his hand. He got a slight erection. He thought of the woman’s hair and mouth and breasts and ass along the entire cab ride to the home of his brother in Tampa. His brother, an averaged sized man, jumped from military aircrafts for a living. The giant liked to think it was because it gave his brother a view of his life. The giant suspected his brother was lonely falling from those heights. His brother’s daughters met him at the door when he stooped, practically bowing as he entered the house. The daughters, giggling, seven and ten, hugged Tall Paul’s kneecaps. He pulled two coins made of pure three hundred year old silver from his pocket and passed one to each of them. He nodded toward the mother of the girls, his brother’s wife, his sister-in-law. He wasn’t sure what she thought of him. Tall Paul went down to his knee and kissed his mother. She had been waiting to kiss him. He had flown several hours from a land of twelve-month snows into a land of twenty-four hour humidity. She would never tell him if he smelled unpleasant. He kissed her on her jaw; she kissed him on the cheek. Then as the giant’s father half hugged him, the giant accidentally, almost automatically kissed his father on the cheek. It was a peck really, distributed closer to his ear than his cheek, burning imperceptibly as they pulled apart. A blush of silence opened, for a moment, between them. Even if the giant had not been a giant, he would have known, as all average boys know, boys do not kiss men; men do not kiss. The summer Tall Paul was sixteen, for example, before his father left for Korea, his father told him he’d be the big man of the house and shook his hand. When his father returned a year later, he shook Tall Paul’s bigger, longer hand in the same way, perhaps a little firmer. Rarely has the giant kissed standing perfectly upright. When the time came to kiss his petite bride twenty years ago, he fell to a knee, lifted the veil and leaned into the soft clearing between her ear and shoulder blade, kissed her neck. He did not kiss his father the day of the marriage despite the wide smile they shared. In Florida when the giant’s father embraced him, he could not ever recall a time they’d ever been that close. Without thinking he kissed the side of his father’s face. The kiss was so near his ear, the giant could have whispered something about sadness to him. They pretended it had not happened.
The thing I feared most happened: I became a middle-aged cliché. Consumed by the ways my parents damaged me. Insecure, reckless, lonely, a strange voice echoing in a giant helmet.
But that is not the story I intended to tell. I intended to tell you about the first time my father kissed me. He probably kissed me when I was boy, but I’m fairly sure he hasn’t kissed since I was seven or eight years old. I was taught as all boys are taught: boys should not be kissed; men do not kiss. The thing I feared most happened: I became a middle-aged cliché. Consumed by the ways my parents damaged me. Insecure, reckless, lonely, a strange voice echoing in a giant helmet. I’d taken a plane to my brother’s home in Tampa so the four of us could drive the two hundred or so miles to Miami to see the Dolphins, my father’s favorite NFL team, play the Giants, my brother’s favorite team. During the drive my mother asked why I wasn’t wearing my wedding ring. Whatever I told her, she accepted for the time being. Or she was thinking, “I can’t believe you kissed your father.” Everyone fell silent when it happened. My father didn’t quite look me in the face. My brother slapped his hands and said something about the football game. My father wore his Dolphins jersey, my brother his Giant’s cap. My mother and I were dressed like civilians at the game. It occurred to me the men wore facemasks perhaps to avoid kissing. The Giants won by two touchdowns. My brother teased my father, poking him in the ribs before patting him on the back. Just as we began climbing the stadium stairs, a cussing ruckus broke out between two drunk white men several rows below. A tattooed muscular man swung almost gleefully in the direction of a smaller man who ducked and dodged swinging in retreat. After a few hot moments they quit as if realizing we bystanders would not intervene. My mother reprimanded the security guard who’d watched like the rest of us as the two men flailed failing to land a single blow. We had two separate rooms at a hotel across from the airport. I’d have to catch a plane out of Miami early the next morning. My mother brought over two small cups of some kind of peach flavored schnapps, glancing once more at my bare ring finger before exiting. My brother and I stayed up late talking. The next morning, before heading to the airport—I meant to wait until the last minute—my brother and I went to our parents’ hotel room. I’d had a dream the night before. The four of us were seated in the stadium. From behind me I could hear someone saying “Don’t you come no where near my grave! “Don’t you come no where near my grave.” That’s pretty much all that happened. The men we’d seen fighting at the end of game did not appear in the dream. The stands sloped into oblivion. They were full of stadium trash, but they were empty. I didn’t tell anyone about it. I almost mentioned it when my mother shook her head mumbling something about premonition the next morning. They had slept separately in the room’s double beds. For some reason my mother had made her bed. Flowers were printed on her new pajamas. Her hair was immaculate. I have never seen her tend to her hair, but I have never seen a hair out of place. When I kissed her on the top of her forehead, she smiled just as her granddaughters had when I kissed them the day before. My father sat on the bed with tears on his face. I had seen him weep at his mother’s funeral; I had heard him crying on the other side of a door that year he and my mother came close to divorce, but I had never seen him sob the way he did that morning when I told him my marriage was ending. I can’t describe it, the gentleness. It shocked us: my brother, mother and me. No one said anything. Then he rose and embraced me for what felt like two or three minutes. My face was against his shoulder. Before letting go, he kissed me, quickly, softly.
Terrance Hayes is the author of five collections of poetry, including How To Be Drawn in 2015. His honors include a 2010 National Book Award, a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship and a 2016 NAACP Image Award for Poetry. His website is terrancehayes.com.