- Learn in a tree. Fifth grade. I climb high, seat myself on a maple branch, and kiss a mouth-shaped knot. Cold. Hard. Grit on my lips, but a ghost of an idea. I climb down and run as hard and as far as I can bear.
- Armor will be needed. A hired hand. Forced hands. Forced mouth. While I am babysitting. I am not raped, but those kisses scar my mouth. It hurts to touch my lips.
- Escape to the convent. Learn to be a nun. But I find lust while watching episodes of the TV series Man from U.N.C.L.E., in the good sisters’ sitting room while a hundred carved Madonnas, mission donations, look on. I write stories in which I kiss U.N.C.L.E. spy Napoleon Solo. I learn handwritten kisses are not real.
- Escape from the convent. My first actual kisses, guilt ridden. New-moon kisses. Boys in the dark wanting more kisses. That I understand. Their neediness. If I am to move forward, I will need to need them more than they need me. It is not so hard.
- Kiss first. The first boy I love. In high school after a football game. He leaves the locker rooms, hair still shower damp, looking weary. I offer a victory kiss. He kisses back. I’m no longer sure who won the game.
- Beware mirrors. My first unfaithful kiss. In college. A theater guy—and you know how it goes with actors. I learn how to stand in front of a mirror in embrace, kissing him and turning slowly. Sometimes I can see my eyes as we kiss, and sometimes he can see his eyes as we kiss, but we never see each other’s eyes, and our mouths are always hidden.
- Do not buy the Telecaster. I marry the first musician I kiss. His music makes kissing a song. For a while. Then he abandons acoustic, joins a band, learns to solo. A skinny bartender pours him good whiskey. He kisses her, stays for more.
- Practice. Alone for seven years, I kiss a lot. Not in cars, but leaning against cars, light poles, stone walls. I like it in the open. I learn what I like.
- Do not strike out. I meet my second husband at a storytelling bonfire. He plays the umpire when his friend recites “Casey at the Bat.” Strike one! Strike two! The conviction of umpires. We kiss in his Mustang convertible until dawn. We never strike out.
- Grow new skin. Kissing my father just after he died, kiss of grief, a forever-gone thing. In mourning, I become an obsessive kisser, putting my mouth on things I love: sheets, books, snow, old people, children, waves of foam. Dirt. Spring. Rain.
The Kiss is a bimonthly series curated by Brian Turner.
The Kiss: Intimacies from Writers is available from Norton in February 2018.