Image credit: Benjamin Busch.

Before I ever kissed anyone, I was kissing Melissa. Fifth grade, and it was sorcery, a figment of fire, a girl in my head. It happened without language, a wave closing in, wild and necessary like mating. There isn’t a cure for this new awareness when you’re young and drunk with it. Gravity always makes you fall. It wore me down, those long days passing in the halls, glimpsing her on bleachers, and sitting close in class. I would gaze and get caught, but she didn’t know how passionately we were already involved…and I didn’t know how to tell her. I wanted to sleep so I could kiss her again.

Dances in the school cafeteria were the only times to see her in a transcendental state. Lights low for slow songs gave us all brief courage, like animals in evenings when the sky is small with darkness, when the world is a place you can hide in, and I would pace the edges, overcome, afraid of the chance to hold her for a few nervous moments. Just asking for a dance burned all my bravery. We stood straight and separate, my arms stiff and hands hot as we circled, turning like a universe, a sun between us. She smiled and I couldn’t say what I’d rehearsed. All the songs spoke for me. All the songs replied. All the songs were about her.

And so I kissed her thousands of times while we slept, kept apart by hills and fields, rivers and nights. It was like a premonition, the touch of our lips, an urge I can’t articulate, even now, our heads tilted and eyes closed, a waking dream, an exchange of vows. These were fantasiesso I was good at kissing, the two of us standing, fit together like a braid. It felt urgent and hallucinogenic, our bodies blending. She bewildered me with a sense of certainty, a red flush of longing. She gave me a fever that lasted a decade.

I tried to look away. Entire relationships swelled and fell. Sweet kisses happened with others while this perfect one lay coiled within me. I wondered how she would taste. I wanted to change my face, the way I walked. I wanted to be other boys, better boys, grow differently, defy ancestry and biology. I started acting on stage, but I couldn’t be anyone else enough. I wanted to press my mouth to hers, feel her voice on my tongue, pull the breath from her lungs, the heat and wet of her love drawn in like steam, one hand in her dark hair, the other on the small of her back.

This may be your story too. We drowned, you and I, electric with yearning and its desperate indignities. High school arced until it ended, all of us suddenly blown into the rest of our lives, these loves moored where we dreamt them. We can’t summon that first flame with the same feral immediacy, that chemical burn in our blood, but those days are there, stored somewhere like damp gunpowder. I’ve never forgotten her. It was a beautiful romance and lit my way to immensities. Melissa comes back to me sometimes, a flicker, thirty years later, but she’s still a girl, her face blurred by layers of memory, someone else now, someone else then. I finally know what I’d say if I were still a boy. It took never kissing her to find the words.


The Kiss is a bimonthly series curated by Brian Turner.

The Kiss: Intimacies from Writers is available from Norton in February 2018.

Benjamin Busch

Benjamin Busch is a writer, filmmaker, and illustrator. He's the author of the memoir Dust to Dust (Ecco) and his essays have arrived in Harper's, The New York Times Magazine and on NPR. His poems have appeared in North American Review, Prairie Schooner, Five Points, Michigan Quarterly Review and Epiphany, among others. He teaches nonfiction for the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program at Sierra Nevada College, Tahoe, and lives on a farm in Michigan where he shovels by day and writes at night.

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