My first kiss is a matter of debate. I know the person, but would argue over the moment.
At fourteen, at an Independence Day carnival, I met a girl. She was dating one of my older brother's friends, a fact she did not reveal until after I spent my tickets taking her on the Ferris wheel, where she lay her head on my shoulder and squeezed my thin upper arm for protections as though the gondolas might throw us.
We did not kiss then because, though I wanted to finally have a first kiss, I knew better than to steal it from the lips of the romantically occupied.
She dumped him the next day, but I still did not kiss her, not really. I was too uncertain to run blindly forward in this unfamiliar territory, though her skin smelled of dollar store lotion and her lips, candy lip gloss. We dated for a handful of weeks, though it feels longer in memory, as new experiences do.
One day, hanging out on my bed for want of a less suggestive piece of furniture, she asked why I had not kissed her yet. This was news to me. I recalled a dozen pecks to her cheek, at least a couple on her lips. I shrugged and offered that I didn't know she wanted to. I couldn't admit that I didn't know what she meant.
It is hard to clearly recollect the kiss to which I then acceded, though I remember her tongue filling my mouth so completely that I was only saved from gagging by the fact I could no longer breathe. My own tongue retreated throatward from this oral assault. It was an experience thrust upon me rather than one in which I actively participated.
It surely was not as bad as this and I've had twenty-three years of retelling to find this hyperbolic phrasing. Still, I was so horrified that, when her mother picked her up, I wrote to an advice columnist on the nascent Internet with the abject fear that I did not like kissing. No, worse, I didn't understand it and was plainly a freak.
The columnists advised me to suck it up - my fear, not her tongue - and try again. Everyone likes kissing, she informed me.
That girl and I broke up soon after, though not before disgusting my mother by kissing in public once. I did not want to kiss more, but I was dating and understood I would no longer be if I stopped kissing.
After her, I met a curly-haired girl at a VFW concert. I did not like her kisses much better, but we spent a few months of passed notes before she dumped me for the man who would one day be her ex-husband. Then, I dated her sister (it was less unseemly than that sounds; my recent ex had her best friend tell me her sister liked me and, after a week of being single, I decided this was worth pursuing). After getting acclimatized to this new girl, I genuinely liked kissing someone for the first time (though not with the frequency craved; conversation lacks somewhat with too many tongues in one's mouth), which came as such a relief that I mistook it for love. When I would not walk to a bowling alley to meet her on a school night, she dumped me from a pay phone because she wanted to make out with the guy she just met.
This process repeated, dating girls, some whom I liked enough, a few whom I adored. Always I was more physically affectionate more quickly that I would have preferred, spurred by the cocktail of our surging hormones.
I wasn't forced - often, at least, or too egregiously - but I wasn't keen. The first time I allowed a girl to attempt oral sex on me, she goaded me until I gave in only to stop her from seeming wounded, then froze until we were interrupted seconds later, avoiding it for years afterward as yet another physical act I did not really enjoy, another thing that pushed me further from the couples around me. (Of course, most teens are terrible around third base, leading to friction burns instead of orgasms; I can't be blamed for resisting before convincing girlfriends that lotion exists. I can be fully blamed for inelegant fumbling in adolescent panties; I should have somehow known better.) I should have listened to my instinct, though I sometimes enjoyed the kisses of girls who I could not date long and could never pretend I loved.
Between fourteen and seventeen - when sex introduced itself and casual dating ceased to be possible for me - I kissed seventeen girls, and went further with too great a proportion of them. That averages to a little more than a new dalliance every two months, though I had several long-term monogamous relationships, compressing the others. I don't know how I managed this. Maybe in retrospect I was easy, however much I wanted someone in my heart rather than pants. I was insensible to peer-pressure when it came to drugs and alcohol, and I turned down offers of definite sex, but I fell into date after date, kiss after kiss.
Once (technically, twice, since we dated on two nonconsecutive occasions), I was involved with a girl whom I cherished, one who swore she loved me and who wanted me to take her virginity, but who turned utterly, skittishly cold toward me when I even tried to kiss her cheek. She told me once that she had contracted full-body thrush and so could not even hold my hand, which did not suggest sex was ever going to be in the cards. (I suggested plastic wrap as a barrier; she didn't consent to it.) I didn't have the hormones or sense to take this relationship slowly and she mistook a low grade flu for something portentous. The second time, I fell for the best friend who did want to kiss me, long and often. I regret that we could not sync up despite our regard. I would have rather shared the experiences with her that went to someone else.
I later decided my osculatory tally was symptomatic of abandonment issues, but it honestly might have been a matter of opportunity and gambling that one of their kisses would feel right. Some did, most did not. I don't know that I would have found or been ready for the ones I adored without a surfeit of ones I would not have dated had I known better.
It's too easy to pathologize one's history, to see teen shenanigans as signs of danger and lack. I squirm with discomfort when reminded of my count (adding another ten since seventeen, five between a relationship of two and a half year, after which I had three relationships that total seventeen years and counting), but it was a part of my journey, one whose outcomes I largely enjoy. Though I regret some kisses - and a few rug burns - I came to no serious harm and only a predictable spate of heartbreak and emotional trauma. Dating persisted in being a fun act of social discovery. Editing some relationships away would have led to a life I cannot now imagine and would do best not to.
Soon in Xenology: Apocalypse. Meaning.