My OCD (and we’re talking diagnosed, not topic-sentence short-hand for fussy) tends to manifest harmlessly. I like counting bottles above bars over and over until the last one in the row is divisible by my age; at thirty-two, this is proving quite difficult. I take an occasional Klonopin to sleep if I can’t stop picturing, say, the lesser Greek gods frolicking in vivid 3-D above my bed for hours. Lately, I fear that I’m going to throw a glass of water in someone’s face, so I spend restaurant meals clutching tablecloths and suffering through awkward ideations that feel more real than reality. These things pass. But a pernicious, decade-long symptom is my desire—no, my need—to be kissed on New Year’s Eve at midnight.
Since my first kiss, age eighteen, I have never not kissed someone at that terminal beat of the year, as everyone shouts and gesticulates. My first year after college, I spent the holiday in an abysmal pirate-themed bar on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Despite the entreaties of the paid “galley wenches,” I was reading a book, miserable, when a woman approached me. Let’s call her Amanda, since her name was Amanda. “I want to eat your brain,” Amanda said, tapping my Salinger, and as 2009 hit, we were smooching. The next year, I went back to the same horrible bar with the same horrible friends, and again, I was approached, and I should clarify here that though I really am quite nice, I’m not the sort who’s approached for a spontaneous kiss very often.
By November of 2010, I’d started to wonder if it was going to happen again. This strain of narrative curiosity is the root of my OCD. Hypotheticals become the need to enact. So with fifteen minutes before 2011 started, on David Zee’s West Village roof above an anodyne sex shop, I was considering a gallant offer from my friend Luke, who is gay, and a man.
I did not want to kiss Luke—not only am I not attracted to men, but he was also my best friend’s ex-boyfriend, and my best friend is the type who will cut you out for less. Still: the compulsion. Luke and I made out for a bit. God, it was horrible—mechanical and aloof and scratchy and the way his tongue ran in the overlarge groove between my front teeth was sort of hypothetically sexy until I confronted the reality that it was Luke, that my best friend had been greatly moved by this sensation, that several people on the roof were thoroughly confused, that my disgust said something damning about my flatlining Kinsey scale. “That’s so cool,” various women have since exclaimed when they ask if I’ve been physical with a man, and I don’t know how to tell them that, even beyond their disappointing alignment of coolness with sexual preference, there was nothing cool about it.
The next year, I had just started dating someone new. It became clear that she would not arrive at the party until midnight had already passed. There had been no discussion of monogamy and I felt as I always do when OCD sets in—it’s a crawling need, a buzz that must be stopped. Teeth clench; toes wiggle. I was approached around eleven. Never mind that the approacher had a strange affect. Her dress was made of sparkles; her wig was voluminous; she was a woman. I agreed to a midnight rendezvous.
The party was at one of those Williamsburg apartment complexes where no one knows the owner, though one presumes they’re in the most obnoxious quadrant of the party. There were multiple balconies. I went to the top one, intentionally separate from my friends. It’s quite warm out in my memory, but perhaps it just wasn’t notably cold. I stood there alone. I was hoping that my appointment wouldn’t find me. Maybe things could be different in 2012. But she arrived. There were going to be fireworks that year, and as everyone began counting down, I turned and looked toward the East River, metallic and distant and fine. Hundreds of thousands of people before me, most counting, many about to kiss. She was looking up at me, still sparkly, lips pursed, leaning in as three became two, as one was shouted by all, as our four eyelashes fluttered.
It’s nearing, as we approach T- 0, the time for me to describe the kiss. And this would usually present a problem: I’ve never been good at that. I once described lips in my novel as warm and soft, and Lorrie Moore, in the midst of her only workshop in NYU, Lorrie Moore who is a hero of mine, said, “Lips are never warm and soft, Adam.” Barely concealed disdain flashed across her face. “They are only ever chapped and spicy.” It was a perfect Lorrie Moore two-set. I laughed and nodded and felt like vomiting, but I’ve never figured out my own chapped and spicy. Almost all my kisses have been warm and soft.
Regardless, it was time to kiss this woman I didn’t want to kiss. At first it was warm, and soft. Fireworks went off. People were cheering. I felt very, very observed. Then an object passed from her mouth into mine. A tooth, small and hard. No, two teeth. I unlocked and spat the objects out onto the thronged balcony below, then turned back to see her smiling at me. I looked at her hand. Reader, she was holding a raisin box. The little Sun-Maid one, red, with the blushing lady presenting the grapes and the hot sun pounding down. She had passed two rehydrated raisins from her mouth into mine. She nodded at me, then vanished forever.
I’m a tinkerer with my own past, but this is the only event in my life that remains completely, frustratingly opaque. It must have been intentional—it was a New Year’s kiss, the one kiss a year that’s totally planned, that has timed cues. We’ve all successfully kissed with chewing gum in our mouths, held it firmly on our side of the Rubicon. She must have planned it. But why? No one saw it happen and barely anyone believes me. Maybe it was a fetish— maybe it was her own compulsion.
Finally, the woman I ended up dating arrived. We kissed on the subway platform on the way home. I didn’t tell her. I’ve told few people about it since. I should make clear that this isn’t a story about getting better. They rarely are. Every year since, I’ve kissed someone at midnight. Every time there is the ghost of raisins, sweet and a little bit wet (which, now that I write it, is a half-decent description of a kiss).