Kisses always problems with kisses. I can’t kiss alone, maybe that’s it. Taught as a baby to kiss. Someone puts their face close to mine, I put my face close to theirs, brush their cheek with my lips and the other one does it to me, and that’s a kiss. Nice, soft, a bit wet, tiny little noise, makes the other happy.
On TV smashing lips together makes big people happy, try it with daddy, don’t like big lips swallowing mine, face so close too big. Mamma says grownups shouldn’t kiss kids on lips, teaches me to offer cheek instead. Kids and grownups not romance, she says, but creepy.
First romantic kiss in first grade. Michael Marsh, pretty boy, dark hair, dark eyes, paired with me, white-blonde hair, big blue eyes, by our teachers. Sitting together in front seat of teacher’s car being taken somewhere to show off. He holds my hand whispers “love you.” “Love you too” whisper back before quick sweet kiss. Teacher opens door, “How cute.” I don’t feel so good, kiss hers now, not ours anymore.
Grandfather working on tractor in barn asks for kiss when I’m eleven. I leaned into greasy overalls, lifted face. His open mouth pressed hard on mine, too hard, squeezed too tight, no breath. Pushed me away, yelled, “Go back to the house.” Dizzy, ashamed I went. What did I do wrong?
Sixth grade kissing parties to practice kissing. Spin the bottle, go in bedroom with a boy, some I kiss, sometimes we just stand and look at each other. Kissed Ted just after he’d finished a Popsicle cold lips tasting of orange.
First kiss with someone in braces—Jimmy Pratt, seventh grade. His lips closed tight over sharp metal to protect my tenderness. Still could feel the steeliness, like a tiny picket fence, giggled with friends.
High school, college, romantic kissing, falling in love kissing, tender kisses, experimental kisses thrust and enter.
Marry a man with a habit I hate—licks his lips before kissing. Don’t kiss often.
Me a professor up for tenure. Nervous. Interviewing dean cold, indifferent. Calls later, “You’re now tenured,” suggests celebratory drink. End of evening kisses me hard, thrusting possessing French kiss. Proprietary. I stammer, “ I didn’t think you liked me.” He says, “I do, why do you think you got tenure?” Dizzy, ashamed, sick again.
Therapist’s waiting room, a dish of glass candy kisses. Why? Reminds me of all those other real kisses. I start to talk. Never learned which kiss a question, which a pause, which an exclamation, which just a kiss. Falling into lips. Innocent kisses dark kisses Judas kisses of betrayal little death kisses kisses that invite kisses that bite. Finish therapy. Innocent good-bye kiss on the cheek. Badge of honor.
End of life, dry chapped kisses, a little sweetness sitting on the edge of the grave.