Love & Sex

A Life in Lips

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 PERSONAL ESSAYS
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If you don't close your eyes, it doesn't count. If his hands aren't in tune with his lips, if they're not bunching your hair, pushing on the small of your back, cupping your hip bone, or squeezing you closer, then girls, you're not getting what you deserve. And boys, you know what the cynics say about you, right? That you're like linoleum: lay you right the first time and you'll stay for years. But fiddle with the words a bit and the truth goes the other direction: kiss us right and you'll make a real impression. That's the best way to ensure a sound flooring.

This is a short history of my life behind lips. As you'll see, it's been the usual mixed bag, but the moral has remained the same: kissing, unimportant as it may seem, is a window to the whole. So until you find the smooch that tells you "look no further," kiss and kiss again.

Eric: A small party at Jennifer's;

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I am fifteen. Bombs are exploding as Apocalypse Now flickers on the TV. Everybody leaves the master bedroom to give me and Eric time alone. What I'm expecting for my first French-kissing session: something as beautiful as the kiss from Rear Window (sweeping, glinting in cinematic gorgeousness). What I get instead: a darting, jabbing slobberfest. Eric even oozes in my ear — glchh! — and bypasses my earlobe entirely. (Who bypasses an earlobe? — a detached one, no less.) By the end I need a wipe. I cry in the cab all the way to my apartment building. For years I prepared for this, and it turns out I prepared only for it to go well.

Augie: I was only somewhat attracted to Augie — his face was too perfect to hold my interest for long — but we happened to be attending a party on an estate overlooking the Hudson River, and this was the closest I'd ever felt to being inside a Fitzgerald novel. I'd already drunk two piña coladas, oohed at the table lamps, aahed at the Jazz-Age bowling alley, roamed the gardens, and paused (elbow arched) before various outdoor sculptures. In one of the living rooms, I encountered Augie and we wandered toward the river, found a low Gatsby-worthy wall, and started snogging. Unlike the surroundings, he was tepid to the point of neutral.

Kevin: I was seventeen, he was twenty-six.

Who bypasses an earlobe?

He had one of those steel Arne Jacobsen ashtrays that empties the revolving bowl into a canister. I was more interested in the design of the ashtray and learning how to blow smoke rings than in kissing the non-high-school boy/man. Kevin's brain seemed stuffed with unreturned telephone calls and unpaid parking tickets. Kissing him was like kissing Arne Jacobsen's canister — and even worse with beer. But then, Kevin was twenty-six and told me he could converse so much more easily with me than with women his own age.

Declan: The next morning I was starting a job at Flushing Meadows, selling U.S. Open apparel (couldn't get the ball-girl gig), but Declan had such a sexy mouth, I was happy to risk a good night's sleep. First sale of the day, I rang up around a hundred dollars' worth of merchandise and didn't run the credit card through. Whoops. Nobody let on about his age until months later, after my first day at college. He was in ninth grade. Now and then I spot a man whose mouth reminds me of Declan's, and I think, Yes.

Charlie: Charlie invited me to his fraternity's Valentine's Day party held — where else? — in a one-time brothel kitted out in red velvet. He had long eyelashes, and I was flattered he wanted to take me, until we began making out. He "kissed" with the horsepower of an Electrolux. He clamped his lips around mine. We're talking hermetic seal. Eventually I broke free.

        

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 PERSONAL ESSAYS

        

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Doug: At times I have liked nice guys with overstuffed lips and no clue. One was Doug. It was sophomore year of college, and Doug and I were flirting at his fraternity. It was known as "the milk-and-cookie" frat; apparently the guys were ones we'd want to take home to Mom. Doug did not know how to kiss, so I decided to teach him. He was willing. Essentially, I outlined the following: A) Close your eyes. B) Start dry — and slow. If you were speaking, you'd be murmuring. C) Explore with lips and nose, covering any of the territory from the clavicle on up. Pay attention to the upper and lower lips, separately, and together. D) Think andante; the wind is kicking up. E) Maintain suppleness at all times; do not tense. The tongue is not a piston. Doug was an A- student.

Luke: Luke, whose lips were twice as thick as a piece of taffy, knew how to rouse the girlfriend who needed three alarm clocks: start between her legs. By the time I could say something coherent, his face would be hovering over mine, wet and mildly abraded. I would kiss him, tasting my milkweed secretions, but not before he had said, in a husky voice, "Good morning." And, really, it was. Any morning Luke woke me up between my legs was indeed a good morning.

David: One Thanksgiving weekend, my roommate and I threw a party, complete with clove-studded ham and cider with rum. My boyfriend had moved overseas, and I missed being wanted in 3-D. David flirted me into a corner over the meaning of "chiliast." Off we went to my bedroom to look it up. He held the dictionary, I held the magnifying glass. When he leaned to kiss me, I blocked with the lens. His nose made a smudge mark.

Gideon: Gideon drank far more than I could possibly understand. At an East Village garage, while we were waiting for his motorcycle to be brought down, he said, "Close your eyes, you have an eyelash." When I lowered them, his broad lips touched my eyelid so softly, this universe vanished and my senses floated off to sea. Later on my heart ripped. It was unpleasant at a capillary level.

The man at the New Riders of the Purple Sage concert: The concert was at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, and the air was thick with smoke. Everybody was getting high. A man with blonde hair came into view. My lips itched. I strode over to his bench. We swayed to the music. He put his arms around me — insta-boyfriend? — and then we began. . . making out. It did cross my mind that I was kissing a total stranger and that my older sister was standing fifty feet away and that I was feeling like a high-school girl in the bleachers at Palladium, but the revelation that I was the oldest boy-crazy girl in New York hadn't yet fallen upon me fully.

Denis: When Denis and I kissed, my body was so charged — three a.m., parked on a street in Versailles — that I gasped several times. We met at a wedding. I was drawn to the knot of his tie; somewhere in its creases, it seemed to contain just the right note of rage. In the car, kissing him was like eating chocolate pudding with my hands.

The man I kissed last weekend: He kissed goodbye so sweetly, I want to kiss him hello.  

        
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The Conditional Surrender by Leo Stark
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Elizabeth Manus is a writer who grew up in Manhattan, where she currently lives and works on a play. She is always on the lookout for strong characters. She can be reached at elizabeth.manus@gmail.com.

©2009 Elizabeth Manus and Nerve.com