01 October 2016


Where I grew up, the seasons are all more or less the same. There are few trees whose leaves give way to the dry and pale colors of the fall and I can only remember a handful of days where I saw the vapor of my breath misting in the morning.

The January that I turned 17 was nothing remarkable in that sense. It was a Wednesday, a school night, and I remember it was humid and cool with a wind coming off the ocean. It was what you might call "light jacket weather," but when I was 16 I wore a leather jacket, even under the weight of the summer heat. I do not remember if I was wearing it or not that Wednesday and, for that matter, I don't remember much about what I was wearing at all. A black t-shirt, probably. Blue jeans. The immortal teenage uniform. 

But next to me was a girl. 

We were sitting and talking, waiting for her bus, just down the street from my house. The "she" in this case was not my girlfriend--there was not a "relationship" there, at least not in the way that one typically defines a relationship--but I loved her. One of her biggest faults was that she loved me, too. 

She was half a year older than me and a year ahead of me in school. She worked at the mall up the street from where I washed dishes in a Chop Suey restaurant. It was one of my first "real" jobs and I spent most evenings up to my armpits in very hot, greasy water washing the caked on remains of fried food from plates and pots and pans. I'd usually be finished by the time she got out of work, so I'd meet her at the bus stop. More often than not, we'd get someone to buy us beer and wine coolers while we waited for the bus. We never really got drunk there. We just enjoyed drinking. I liked to watch her smoke Marlboro Lights and listen to her talk. That was the ritual. When we didn't have to work we'd sit and drink cups and cups and cups of coffee at a tolerant diner that has since become a rather ugly bank. 

I don't remember if were drinking coffee earlier that evening. I have no idea why we were at my house that night. I don't even remember what we were talking about. I wish I did. 

She was wearing a brown leather aviator jacket: the same one she always wore. She was close enough to me what I could feel her nearness, though we were not touching. That was the first time that I realized that sometimes another person's closeness feels like a pulse. 

There was a pause. A lull in the conversation. A silence. No cars. Just the cool, humid pacific wind. The smell of seaweed and sand and wet grass. I leaned toward her to say something and forgot what it was as she leaned toward me and, tilting her head with her eyes half-closed, pressed her lips to mine.

Her lips were soft and she tasted like grapes. She wasn't wearing lipstick, but I could smell the perfume of foundation on her neck and shampoo and the faintest trace of cigarette smoke clinging to leather.

I had always wondered about the mechanics of kissing: how to turn, where one's nose was angled, what one's teeth did. All of that disappeared. I never thought about those things again.

I can still feel her hair brushing my face as she pulled close to me under the citrine street lamps and the ache of searching for her, my fingers crumpling her jacket. 

I don't remember how long we kissed or even if we said anything else to each other before her bus came. I do remember the wind, though, and that her eyes were darker than mine, like black bits of glass, full of the Sun in cancer, full of the Sun in capricorn, wine-dark and unforgettable, and, even now, as close as a pulse. 

Originally written/published as "First Kiss." March 2010.