First Kiss (A Reprieve from the Angst)…

There’s a not-so recent NY Times article which has sat uncomfortably with me for a while.  It posits that while we generation X-ers are famously sarcastic, conflicted, inherently resentful of our self-obsessed boomer parents and dismissive of sentimentalism; we are also faced with an existential challenge:  how do we look back on the good old days without betraying our “reality bites” outlook?

In my experience, my peers and friends use memories of a simpler, fluroescent-colored age as a mental reprieve from the complex labrynth of today’s existence.  We play 80’s playlists while we work out our over-tired and beginning-to-show-the-signs-of-aging bodies; we gaze longingly at pictures of Clinton in his robustly confident heyday; we visit the places we took vacations as children.  In reality, I think we’re hopelessly nostalgic.  Hell, we know that the world was a better place when Kurt was living in it.  And while we’d never want to re-enact being latchkey kids or feeling terrified that AIDS would wipe out the entire human race, we do lust after a story that reminds us of simpler times (even though we hate that expression).

And so, in honor of my fellow gen xers, I shall take the bite of the apple first, and indulge you (and myself) in a simple tale of a teenage girl, circa 1985, sans cellphone and facebook and any clue about anything.  A little whimsy, if you will.  Travel back with me…

My First Kiss:

They just didn’t fit right. My big sister’s 501’s, the holy grail of jeanery, were just too baggy for me. But they had that jealousy-inducing little red tag on the back pocket, so that was all that mattered. I added a plaid leather belt (my big, burly father’s, so it went almost twice around) and a white t-shirt that awkwardly brushed over my too-small, unharnessed breasts. I was terrified, but ready. I probably looked like a farmer’s boy from the 1950’s. It was a hot, humid Saturday afternoon and he’d invited me to go bushwalking.

Yes, bushwalking. Up a mountain. In the tropical Australian summer. In the middle of the afternoon. And I was wearing heavy jeans. And squeaky new tan-colored brogues. Clearly a model of good decision making was not in play here. I must have been a teenager.

The walk was as awful as you’d imagine: flies stuck incessantly to my sweaty skin; sticks and thorns and prickles and weeds reached out and scratched at my ankles and arms; humidity incubated the enormous zit that was forming on my chin. I was regretting the choice of the 501’s, not just because they had become a giant, heavy sponge for the sweat running down my legs; but because there was no-one there to see them except the spiders and snakes. My one and only opportunity to demonstrate my effortless-but-artful-reinterpretation-of-a-Ralph-Lauren-catalogue was ruined. My sister would never lend me her stuff again.

But I did not complain as I Indiana-Jonesed it through the bush, I did not stop. In fact, I did not say anything. The entire 40 minute climb was one long painful silence, interrupted only with

Studio publicity portrait for film Giant.

Studio publicity portrait for film Giant. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

an occasional “you ok?” thrown back at me from my “I’ve been told I look like James Dean” date (complete with an (unlit) cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth). We couldn’t walk together, the trail was too narrow.

We got to the zenith (well, it was kind of a big rock, really, looking out over more brown bu

sh), and sat together. His cigarette dangled from his mouth, flaccid and soggy – he looked ridiculous. Both of us were a picture of cringe-worthy teen self-consciousness: a combination of nerves, exhaustion, intensity, hormones, fear and unfamiliar hair in strange places. But we were determined! We were not leaving until it had happened.

James made the first move, throwing away his cigarette just like he’d rehearsed, approaching my face quickly… and then surprisingly turning his head skyward while lunging towards me so that before I knew it, his head was resting in my lap. He lay there, staring up at my mountainous zit with those big blue eyes. It was supposed to be a move that showed us both how cool he was, but he was shaking – both with nerves and muscle tension (the rock we were perched on was on also at an angle so it took a tremendous amount of core strength to cling on). He reminded me of a stick insect that had unfortunately found itself on the underside of a leaf.

What do I do now? I thought. I’d seen it in the movies, and had practiced at home with a pillow. I’d even read about it and memorized what the magazine had said… approach, pause, open mouth, breathe out (preferably with a small coquettish noise), touch lips. Fireworks, sunsets, wedding bells, orchestral music would follow. Couldn’t be that hard could it? I was going to be able to re-tell this story to my children and grandchildren, and much more importantly, my friends at school on Monday morning.

And so, like diving in to the swimming pool after the winter, I inhaled a deep breath and took the plunge. Only thing was, I didn’t think it would be upside down.

Slow motion please… here it comes… as I bent uncomfortably towards his face, and opened my mouth towards his, a long string of un-swallowed saliva somehow slipped out of my mouth and drew a long line of sticky, un-retractable goop towards his face. A stalactite of my own body’s making, I’d slobbered all over his face. Even my own eyes widened as I looked down on the mess I’d created. The only thing to do was close them quickly and follow through. So I used his mouth as a sucking mat, kind of like the bottom of a bowl of ice cream, trying desperately to gobble up my mistake before it started to drip down his chin. Eventually he turned his head sharply to the left, sat up, and wiped his chin with his sleeve. And thus began the long walk back home.

And that, ladies and gents, was the story of my first kiss.

Why do I tell it now? Because it puts a lot of stuff in perspective. When I think of the sticky situations that present themselves to me now, at least I know I’ll never, ever have to go through that again. Because I never thought at the time I would look back on that moment with humor (let alone tell the world); and because, well, I’m kind of proud of that brave girl who didn’t have the faintest idea what she was doing, but dove in, head first anyway.

And my sister ended up giving me her 501’s. For keeps.

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21 thoughts on “First Kiss (A Reprieve from the Angst)…

  1. I am surrounded by my three small children, all peering at me with concern. Am I okay? Why am I laughing so hard I can’t quite catch my breath? And I can’t explain to them, not just yet. It’s both your story (which is exceptionally well written) , and my own flood of related memories. One day they will get it. But by then, they will have their own stories to tell, and will find imagining their mother’s first kiss kinda gross.

    Thank you for sharing this, PM. And thank you for the walk down Memory Lane. I loved it.

  2. “at least I know I’ll never, ever have to go through that again.” And if you did, you’d both have a ball!
    Let’s hope we remember how hard it is to be a teenager and that we can help and guide our children better, so they can enjoy the journey instead of enduring it.
    Thank you for that, it certainly puts some perspective into life and help appreciate my 40’s… lol

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  5. I was all set to write in and share my first kiss story, but when I reread your post (in particular the first couple of paragraphs) it sent me on a whole other tangent of thought.
    I read the article you posted, and maybe I’m not very smart (there were a lot of big words and lotsawordslinkedintoonelongsentence) but I didn’t get it. It was a bit like reading a foreign language for me. Sure, I picked up most of the cultural indicators: Reality Bites, Kurt Cobain, Aids, Clinton, Friends, but the associations I’m supposed to have to them don’t synch up. Maybe I was just too young? Maybe I’d missed a certain self actualization of that time because I was just a couple years behind the curve? Perhaps. Is it because I’m not American? That probably has something to do with it. At least on the political front. But culturally, who am I kidding? We were inundated with south of our border’s music and movies and tv programs. I grew up with an aversion to Canadian content. Admittedly, the article does say that the ‘we’ here is rather white and neutered and maybe that’s it. I grew up in an immigrant family- my parents did not consider themselves part of a majority ‘we’. They were minorities, which is not to say they didn’t have opinions about politics and history but they were not the type to display them and were certainly not going to have expectations from the land they’d adopted. No, our mantra was: keep your head down, follow the rules, and do good. Play nice. Like happy music (I was in the New Kids camp). Consequently, I don’t think I felt that same kind of engagement or committment to the ‘reality bites’ philosphy. Superficially, at best. Floral dresses were good, grunge was just fashion- not a lifestyle. I liked the Gap (I just couldn’t afford it). My reality didn’t really bite at all: I believed the system had something for me somehow and if it didn’t, it was my fault, the system didn’t really owe me. It was my job to fit in.

    So, my nostagia feels a little different. I don’t feel it compromises anything, if anything I feel a little sheepish that I was so naive. And I can’t help but think I’m still naive, albeit consciously. All the rage and anger that people feel for what happens in the world, I’m unprepared for it. I feel like an observer, even a little embarassed by the outburst. And although my own cynicism is of a very good vintage, I feel like it’s just me working out problem, trying to figure out rules somehow. Because there are rules, and the rules work- don’t they? Naive.

    Which is what I was my first kiss. It took a long time to get one, I confess. The ingrediants: A brilliant music composer, my own xenophobia, white sneakers, leather trenchcoat, two sets of funny eyes, the front door of my house, my mother and little sister upstairs. The result? A two wet, too tentative specimen. An immature outburst (once the door closed) and a roll of kitchen towel to make it go away. Those french were clueless, I thought then. The affair didn’t last long.

    I recently wrote to the composer. He’s rather successful now. I asked him if he realized he was my first kiss. He said he didn’t but for that he apologized.
    Now that’s nostalgia.

    • BeZ, I adore the fact that you wrote the composer to ask whether he knew he was your first kiss.

      And: I relate very much to what you’ve said here. First, full disclosure: I was ten when Kurt Cobain died. My mother, an artist, listened to Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers in her studio at deafening volumes– but I was too young then to (a) understand the emotions in it and (b) imagine asking my mother to buy me an album with words like ‘sex’ in the title. At that time, my wardrobe was dominated by Old Navy and floral dresses and one-piece bathing suits. I had pale pink CK jeans that I believed would change my life. I had cassette tapes of En Vogue and TLC singles that I hid from my mother, and that was perhaps the extent of my rebellion at that age. In 1994, I received my first CD player for my tenth birthday, and with it, Ace of Base’s The Sign. In short: I was only remotely aware of the cultural whirlwind that you, PM, describe. I was in the car with my father, probably on my way to a totally unironic, unjaded birthday party, when I heard over the radio (the classic rock station) that the mysterious and somewhat frightening Kurt Cobain had died.

      Remembering all of this in light of my first kiss is rather hilarious, because my first kiss happened to be with a pseudo-punk-rocker with an electric blue mohawk. His piercings outnumbered mine (just two, one in each ear) four to one. His bedroom was full of amps and electric guitars and posters of the Ramones. A different kind of ‘reality bites’ philosophy than Cobain’s, but alas, certainly a rebellion of its own.

    • I forgot to ask – will you clarify something for us? What do you mean when you say, “…And although my own cynicism is of a very good vintage”? It’s clever, (and I intend on stealing it and using it in conversation, just for head-to-one-side reactions), but I’d love to hear more about what you were thinking about when you wrote that.

  6. Pavlova
    Last night I enjoyed a wonderful 2 hours watching Zefirelli’s production of Shakespeare’s bawdy, rambunctious comedy ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ , with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton ‘at their comedic best’ (Jane Maslin, NY TImes). A visual feast of colour, action and humour, its overarching theme is about power, with the main motif being the kiss. You would love it!

    ‘Kiss me Kate,’ Petruchio (Burton) commands Katerina (Taylor) from their first fiery meeting. It is not until the very last scene that Katerina, now seemingly subdued by her very masculine husband – as only Burton could be – consents to be kissed by him. And this only after she has extolled the virtues of obedience and loyalty that wives should give to their husbands! But this soliloquy is not the voice of a woman subdued; rather the exhortation of one who is fully conversant of her own power and how she may best maintain that in her marriage. Irony at its best!

    In the movie ‘Pretty Woman’, Julia Roberts’ character Vivian is warned never to let a man kiss her unless she wants to get emotionally involved.

    What’s in a kiss?’ is the title of a past hit tune by Gilbert O’Sullivan.

    There’s a website that discusses the science, and the universality, of kissing: http://www.thirdage.com/love-romance/whats-in-a-kiss-philematology .

    My own romantic kissing experience began under the tutelage of my elder sister’s boyfriend’s best friend, who, probably bored because he -the boyfriend – and my sister were saying their passionate goodbyes at the end of an evening, and I was, like the friend, hanging about, waiting for them to finish. A naive 14 year old, backed against the wall under the hallway clock, I was the recipient of this 16 year old’s exploration of my mouth. Nothing special for me, just interesting. The special came later, at 16, when I was head over heels in love….

    Pavolva’s account of her first kiss, Shakespeare’s Kate’s use of a kiss as a weapon, the advice given in Pretty Woman and my own experience provide a fascinating mixture of motives for giving, receiving, or withholding the kiss. And raises questions of how the kiss defines us.

    Thank you for sharing, Pavlova. As always, your comments provide much food for thought.

    • I admire B’s concept of “conscious naivety”. I was having dinner with a dear friend this week who is 15 years older than me and who, yes, is one of my role models. She is having struggles navigating the political aspects of her job, mainly, in my mind, because she takes people at their word. She doesn’t look for a hidden agenda, a subtext, a careful manipulation of language. As I reflected this back to her, she said, with wisdom and power, “I am stubbornly naive”. And you know what? It ain’t a bad thing to be. She’s delightful to be around. She always has young women in her office, looking for guidance and mentoring. She’s trustworthy, passionate, easy to laugh with, easy to trust, easy to like. Let me be clear: this woman is by no means a simpleton: she graduated from Harvard Law, has written a NY Times best seller, and is somewhat famous in her field (which is, incidentally, around women and the workplace). But she’s on to something. As is B.
      Being aware of our surroundings, the broader soundtrack of our context (either generational or not), and choosing to carve our own path (even if that is borne out of parental rule-making), draw our own conclusions, actively defy judgement-making, is not only commendable, it’s necessary.
      I’m learning so much through this activity about how we reflect on our own experiences – be them big or small or yesterday or 15 years ago. Sometimes (as you are getting to see), I can be a little too conclusive or reductionist or…. dare I say it… pessimistic. A little stubborn naivety wouldn’t go astray.

  7. Pavlova, you are a brilliant writer. I enjoyed this so much.

    I want to comment on BeZ’s tangent because I was there with her occupying the same time and space but not the same cultural connections. I completely relate to the world Pavlova paints for us. It’s funny though because in 1985 I was pretty young, not yet a teenager. Had a date not been attached to this I would have placed it firmly in 1993. Teen angst, Nirvana, Doc Martens were all part of my sheltered suburban world. I never worried about AIDS but I was sure the first Persian Gulf War was Armageddon. I had my own 501s that I coveted. Mine were a size too small because my mother would only buy them off of a sale rack. I stubbornly poured myself into them even though I felt ill from the squeeze by noon. Yes, we are a hopelessly sentimental generation. Even BeZ. Her experience may be different, but I know she flew across an ocean to see the New Kids Reunion Tour. For the record – I too can recount where I was when I heard that Kurt was dead. My mother and father were in the car with me and my father immediately began relating the death to those of Hendrix and Joplin. Even he, of another generation, seemed to recognize the importance of that moment.

    As far as my first kiss, well, I was far too interested in boys at far too young an age. I don’t actually recall my first kiss. There were boys that I was kissing all along. The neighbor boy when I was six, the boy who sat with me on the bus at age nine, the stream of nervous boys who spun the bottle in grade 7. Really, my first significant kiss was when my now husband first kissed me. I was young, only 18 and smitten. We were new friends. He was shy and in order to get the nerve to move past friendship he was well lubricated (and so was I). Somehow though, even through the haze of drunkenness, his kiss was different than any other. There was nothing off hand or casual about it. He was not possessing me. It was a defining moment for me. I knew I was worthy of that kiss and I wanted to return it.

      • B Honey (not to be confused with a honey bee!) – you’re right about something and I only just realized it. Sorry – this is long.

        Our starting point for this whole thing was in our assumption that we had similar experiences and cultural references of living as young people in the 90s. And there’s an assumption about gen xers – that the 90s defined us. We’re proud of our cultural references; we wear our disenfranchisement like a badge of honor (well, some of us).

        But then we did a little switcheroo. We went one decade back… to the 80s, to reminisce some more. So here’s the blinding realization (bit slow on the uptake, me): Holy crap, this means I’ve got TWO DECADES worth of sappy reminiscence, conveniently split down the middle and labeled: The Innocent 80s, and the Not-so-Innocent 90s.

        The 80’s were full of self conscious preppiness and dorky firsts; and inversely, the 90’s were a completely different season… that’s when my angst, skepticism, distrust and questioning-of-everything was born. Oh and when I learned of and became a feminist. Of course all those attributes wore the matching costume (by the way, doctor martin boots were not only stupidly expensive to buy; but so frigging impractical in the middle of summer).

        One could make the argument that if you didn’t grow up in Seattle, play in a band that played tortured music and had a heroin addiction that you weren’t really part of the X generation. But that was not many (any?) of our experiences so what in fact do we have in common with this cult? And why do we chose willingly to associate our self definition with it?

        I’m not sure I’m going anywhere with this, this discussion has raised more questions than answers. I’m certainluy now not so sure there are “generic traits” that go along with generations (as so many of these have been challenged here), tempting as it might be to think so.

        I heard that “millennials” hate being called “generation Y (or “why”)” because it associates them with us. But do they hate being called millennials? Once again, the conversation reverts to labels… I wonder what that’s all about…

    • Ah! Did you just out me? 🙂 Ha ha, it totally made me day. Wouldn’t have changed it for a minute. But did you know they are actually performing here in Belgium TONIGHT and I did not go!

      Gorgeous prose.

  8. I was struck by your post Pavlova because I had been thinking about gen-X cynicism just a few days before you posted this.

    I was on a very long bus ride with a group of early twenty-somethings. They were hyper, as twenty-somethings often are, and I was eavesdropping. What surprised me was that they were talking about “good vibes”, and cheering on good deeds and positivity when they saw it in someone else. They were saying things to each other like “you have really brightened my morning, thank you”. At that moment I realized that they are a whole different generation. I’d heard about the gen-X cynicism, and had never really considered myself to be a cynic, but in that moment, I could see the difference between my world at their age and theirs.

    Of course a group of people on a bus can’t define an entire generation, and neither can I – but still – I would never in a million years have felt it was socially acceptable to use words like “vibes” and cheer on much of anything at their age. I certainly never would have thanked a friend for making me happy. To me, everything that was too popular or too happy was suspect. Now, BEZ might say that was just me – and it’s true, there were lots of people listening to happy music back then. Even so, I don’t remember us having conversations like theirs.

    I do feel that I’ve had to grow beyond quite a bit of cynicism in my life, and so I was glad to see that, for some at least, it may not be part of their outlook.

    • You are a patient woman, B Honey.

      If I’d been trapped on a bus with a bunch of self-aggrandizing twenty year olds I’m not sure I would have seen it as an anthropological data gathering activity. Then again, maybe I haven’t yet grown out of my cynicism…. after all, I’m sure whichever guy or girl who said all these things, well he

      seemed a harmless little fuck…

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