Note: With me in a new job and trying to finish several posts, I am throwing up the piece I read at the Booksmith employee reading last night. This is actually a shorter version of a longer piece. I won’t put it in context like I did at the reading, but just put it up. I might put up the whole piece later, but it’s much longer.
You must remember this.
A kiss is so much more than a kiss, everything and nothing all at once, time slipping into your soul and through your hands. A kiss is a hope, a possibility, a step, a dream, a gift, a reach, a death, everything and nothing. A kiss is just a kiss or so the song would have us believe.
You must remember this.
Remember every kiss I was told once, remember every little thing that comes with a kiss because you always know the first one but you never know the last one. Remember every kiss she said, this girl I loved so much, who maybe loved me too, her words whispered in the hours where the sky fades from black into the most perfect shade of blue in all creation, just before the sun breaks over the horizon. A kiss is not just a kiss, she whispered, it is everything we ever can want it to be, the lasting touch and if we try and we hope and we want to we can remember every one. First. Last.
You must remember this.
These are the words in my mind, in the lower whisper of my voice, just below human hearing, just where only I know they have been said as I lean in and my lips brush against hers, softly, not a good night kiss but more a hello, this is nice, maybe we should try more of this kiss.
So think what should be said, how this would be described, what words could possibly come forth to capture this moment in time. He kissed her. That’s how Hemingway would have put it. He kissed her. The kiss was soft. When the kiss was done he longed for another. Wolfe would have said it differently; in such a time as this in the history of Santiago Oaks came these two, the young man looking for what is in front of him, the young woman running from what has been behind her and in this history there came such a kiss between them that they both felt the sweep of time and the river moving them along. But that’s perhaps too broad a stroke for my tastes. Faulkner would internalize it, something like he kissed her, felt the longing, remembering times gone by being twelve and running across a field back through to his house full of hope this is so new so what I want so what I have never had but now it is so old and I can’t run like this anymore. Then Dos Passos, discussing the headlines of the day, the social movements, making our kiss seem like a part of history, not a personal history caught in a place like Wolfe, but a social history and interweaving through the entire fabric of social history. Which is nothing compared to Joyce who would have the kiss symbolize everything about our lives and have it all take place within an hour. Hugo would digress for fifty pages finding a backtrack way of explaining the entire history of everything that possibly might converge with the story. Or I could go with Roth, always following Thoreau’s advice to simplify, simplify. He kissed her and all he could think about was how good it would be to be inside her. That might be the best description yet.
You must remember this.
Stories don’t start with a kiss, they just get there along the way. A story starts with the ring of a doorbell, me flying down the stairs, anxious to no longer be in this house, be in this world that means nothing to me, has meant nothing to me since the first night I walked away. A story starts with me pulling open the door, expecting to yell at my best friend for being more than an hour late and stopping, taking a second to recognize the young woman with the blonde hair, the leather jacket and the sunglasses staring at me from my front porch. Then I know it’s Michelle and I’m not sure why and then I see the Mustang in the driveway and wonder why she is here and she is smiling softly and I’m thinking this might not be such a bad way to go back to school.
A black mustang glides along the roads of Rancho Palos Verdes. It coasts up into a driveway of a nice two story ranch style house, the popular model of the area, a neighborhood that almost looks like a housing project for the very rich. Sliding in next to the Mercedes, Michelle pushes the car into park and we come to a complete stop. She turns and kisses me, harder than I have felt in years, harder than anything I can remember, a desperate plea from someone who needs right now to be loved and I return it, push back, lips pressed hard against hers, matching desperation with love and desire and all the good things that go with them.
“Tell me you love me again,” she says.
“I love you again.” Her cheek goes up on one side, a half smile and her eyes close a little and I think it’s helping.
“A sarcastic son of a bitch. Isn’t that what your mother called you?”
“On numerous occasions.”
“I love sarcastic sons of bitches. They’re the best thing in the world.”
“I can provide you with one if you’re in need.”
“Just make it through the door with me. Two minutes, then you’ll understand everything and you can make the decision as to whether or not this is what you really want. In the end, it’s all gonna come down to you. It’s your choice.”
“Enough already. Let’s just go. You build it up too much and I’m gonna be disappointed when I find out it’s not really all that bad.” Her eyes drop away from mine and I can tell she is debating, wondering whether she should just tell me what this trip is all about, or maybe just abandon the whole idea and find a motel where we can fuck the night away, but I know how important this is to her, know how long she has been worrying about this and I kiss her hand and throw open my door and say ‘fuck it, this’ll be fun’ and I am out the door and she has to run to catch up and she almost pauses at the front door but I nudge her forward and she opens the door and I see a middle aged women, somewhere around fifty I would hazard a guess and I don’t see anything so bizarre that could wind her so tightly and then I hear the voice cry ‘mama’ and I turn and I see the little girl walking, almost waddling across the room and into Michelle’s arms and I see Michelle’s eyes light up as she picks the little girl up and spins her in a circle and I suddenly think about all the things that have come and gone over the past couple of years and how she was a little late coming back for the start of junior year and the speculation that maybe she couldn’t take it and was going to transfer, but then she was back and we all forgot about it within a week and I think about the timing of it all, of the shit that went down during the last week before Finals in December of 1994 and how the timing from there works that we never would have known it when she left school in May and that born in late August and the timing all works and Michelle turns and holds the little girl, so wonderful, so cute, so darling, so beautiful and points to me and says, ‘Kayce, this is Mommy’s friend, Bruce,’ and then Michelle is turning to catch my eyes and is frightened for what might come now and I smile and whisper in her ear, softly enough that the little girl, Kayce, can’t hear it and Michelle hears the words ‘fuck it, she can call me Daddy if she wants,’ and Michelle turns and her lips are on mine and everything feels just right for the first time since long before Jessica turned and ran for the door the second time, the taste of her lips still on mine.
Spring dawns cold and bright in the Northern California sky, a beautiful day up over the lake. We’ve been here since before sunrise, watching the lake go from silver to gold and now to a deep blue, a beautiful dawn sky color that nothing else in the world can match.
Her eyes come close as I turn to her. I take her hand in mine, remember her words, think of her saying “living forever sounds good to me,” and remember that all I could think when she said that was that I wanted her to be mine forever, to never slip from my hands.
Spring is like a perhaps hand, the poet said, changing everything carefully without breaking anything, and California is the Golden State, or so the nickname says. When dawn comes on the Equinox all words come true and love, love is everything every sappy love song ever said it would be, a tender seed, full of conflict, full of change, love is the answer as the rock star said and love is everything we need, the only thing I need.
I do, she says.
I do, I say.
By the power, he says.
I now pronounce you, he says.
There are smiles all around. There is laughter all around. There is love all around.
You may now kiss the bride, he says.
I didn’t hear the words, lost everything in the glow of the morning, but I know he must have said it, must have said the words man and wife, but even so, I need no words, need nothing but the touch of her hand in mine.
A kiss is just a kiss, I guess.
These are the words in my mind, in the lower whisper of my voice, just below human hearing, just where only I know they have been said as I lean in and my lips brush against hers, softly, not a good night kiss but more a hello, this is nice, maybe we should try more of this kiss. And so we will.
I will remember this.