Register Sunday | June 16 | 2019

That First Kiss

We were walking up 1st Avenue from the Lower East Side, where we’d hopped from a new band showcase off Rivington, on Suffolk, to a bar down Ludlow Street, where we’d drank for a few hours and talked.

My subway was exactly in the opposite direction, but we’d long past Houston and were actually hearing 14th Street, so I was two stops past my train to head home. We were just walking.

“Where’s the nearest subway stop for you?” She asked.
“Back there,” I said, pointing down the avenue the direction we had come. “The N/R stop near Prince Street.”
“Oh,” and she smiled. “Then are you walking me home?”
And I kind of shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t have to work tomorrow. I don’t have anywhere I need to be right now, so, yeah, I figured I’d walk you home. Or at least as far as I felt like walking.”
“Oh,” she said again, smiling again. “Okay.” And we kept on our way.

Somewhere near 16th Street, or it might have been 17th, she was telling about her step sister, about the nuances of their relationship. That they hadn’t gotten along for years, but during college, when she was in the city for an internship, they had lived together. From there they had become friends, apparently very good friends, and today they found themselves living together. And as she told me the story, and diverted off for one diversion or side tale, she kept walking, strolling across the light, as the car started coming from our right.

It was not close. It would not have hit us, either of us, but it was a light walk, an easy pace, and it might have taken one last jog to get out of the way, two or three quick steps, and it just wasn’t that kind of walk. So I reached out. With my right hand grabbed the lower part of her arm, near the wrist. My fingers touched on opposite side, thumb to index and middle, and I pulled her back. She stopped and looked down, the car passed, she watched it and looked up at me. “Thanks,” she said.

We kept on walking.

And when we reached her block she stopped on the corner, pointing into a complex of apartments that stretched an entire city block. “This is me,” she said, and I turned around to look at where she pointed.

And when I looked back she was still standing there. And we smiled at each other.

I turned around again to look and back again and she was still standing there. And we kept smiling at each other. I think I may have even shuffled my feet.

“Look,” I said, “um… well, I had a really good time. I really had a really good time.” Who’s writing this shit, I thought. I need a new dialogue man. This is terrible. What bad movie am I in? Who the hell talks like this?
“I know,” she said. “I did too. I had a really good time.” And who cares who talks like this anyway, because she had a good time too.

My hands were in my pockets, and I leaned in, and she reached with her left hand to my elbow, and we stood there, lip to lip. No tongue, no force, just the lightest touch, like two palms mirroring each other. And our lips separated and grazed again and separated and grazed again and separated and grazed. Light pressure, tentative, unforced, just a light promise.

“What are you doing next week?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “I have some things with friends, but can’t remember the days. I’ll be around, though. Why don’t you e-mail me when you get back in town?”

And I turned and left, walking across the Avenue, turning around just once to see her strolling towards her building.

It felt like my capillaries had expanded, like blood was reaching every possible part of my body, just slightly lifting the skin of my arms, the tips of my years, the tops of my cheeks. I walked calm, easy, it was late and I had nowhere to be.

At Park Avenue I turned on my iPod, Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” came on. She had been writing a piece on Keane all week, struggling with a way in. Over e-mail I had jokingly sent her fake ledes, pseudo intellectual crap about being the best of the rest in the band that comes after Radiohead and Coldplay sweepstakes, and she had gotten the joke, e-mailing back that this was news, and serious news, and opinions were not appropriate. Just the facts. But the entry into the piece eluded her for awhile, and she joked that Keane was taunting her, just rubbing it in.

So when we’d met up tonight, for the first time since Monday (which, when someone asked us tonight when we’d met, and answered a few days ago, she’d jumped in, “Monday. We met on Monday”) I had set my iPod to the song. “There’s something I want you to hear,” I said, just after we’d said hello. When the headphones kicked in she grinned, a quick grin, a grin that remembered the e-mails.

So that’s the reason the song was on, and it’s not my favorite. It’s a fine tune from a fine band, but 5 hours later, after having forgotten that I had put the headphones on her ears, the song came on in mine, just after our first kiss, first series of tiny touches, as I was walking towards the subway and on to home. It didn’t feel staged, because I'd forgotten I was the one who set the song on in the first place, and simply hit pause after she had laughed. So it felt serendipitous. I live for this kind of shit. I eat it up. Shoot me.

The next song to come on was “Hold On to Me” from Courtney Love’s last, brilliant album. It is not an upbeat or optimistic tune. She sings of the shit you see, what you come across, the left hooks and pot shots that life takes on you, and, in the simplest way, she sings about just surviving these things. She’s actually singing to someone else, telling them to hold on to her, but it’s easy to remove the other party and just take the song from a singular, self-referential perspective.

The truth is, I wasn’t really listening. My mind was 3 blocks back, still feeling her left hand lightly wrap around my right elbow. But a lyric came through, as they do, away from the context of the actual song. I picked it up as I neared Union Square, and my subway home.

She sings:

“When you're in the whirlpool
And they try to suck you in
Remember, you aren't gonna drown
Baby, 'til you have been alive
Hang on to me, forever baby
I could always swim.”

And for some reason, because I am just this type of person, I realized that that is one of the basic and simple truths I know about myself. Because I always could, I could always just swim, and it’s one of my secrets, something I never tell anyone, and I rarely admit to myself.

I wrote a long time ago that I think the worst depression is the first one, the one that sucks you in so much further than you ever thought you were going to sink, and holds you down, and keeps you there. After awhile you think it’s never going to end. You give up. Fuck it, it’s over, it’s never getting better. I’m ending it. And I remember even when I hit there, years ago, and I thought of a thousand was to cut it off, kill the power, dim the lights and fuck it all, I just couldn’t. Something in me kept paddling and kicking and fighting to the surface. It was involuntary, it was breath and heartbeat, because I really didn’t want to go on anymore. But I could always swim. I just always have been able to swim.

I know you don’t see the synthesis, the points of connection, but you don’t really have to. I know we all survive, I know we come out the other side, and I know things get better. But these are lessons, for me, that every time the coaster dips south and sends me speeding downward that I not only forget, they cease to exist at all.

I’ve had to relearn that lesson a thousand times in my life. Every time I come out on the other end I look back and find it all over again, and just like it was the first time. We all survive, if we let ourselves, the other side is somewhere there, and things do, inevitably, get better. It’s a simple effect of time. And for the past few months something in me started kicking towards that, pumping its arms and reaching for the surface. It knew those lessons would be there for me again, as they always have, and so it kicked for the surface.

Some of this was self-induced. Some of it a product of personality. And it didn’t end tonight because of being around her. It actually ended last weekend, before I met her, when I decided to start moving again. Because I could, and this is mine and I own it forever, I could always just swim.

And if you knew me, you’d never see these things. They are internal, just the things I live with, and it's not that bad at all really.

But I thought of that tonight with that lyric because it meant something for me to have been open to this. Open to talking and asking questions. Open to telling stories and talking about tattoos, and family histories and school and studies and books and writers and music and fuckall whatever came to mind. It was easy conversation, and 6 months ago I never would have let it happen. But I could always swim, and a tiny, tiny, selfish part of me feels like I earned tonight the hard way. It's stupid, but it's mine so I don't mind the stupidity.

I didn’t fall in love tonight, I’m not even sure the events mirror the words put down, but my emotions have never had much to do with reality anyway. I didn’t fall in love at all, but I did fall in like. I fell in interest. I fell into wanting to see her again and see what happens next. Where things go from here.

First kisses. There’s nothing better. Except maybe the second one, because it’s less timid, a little more sure. Or maybe the third, or the one where your tongues touch, your lips lock, or then there’s the one where you’re standing, and your bodies press into each other, almost holding each other up through the opposing balance of weight. There’s forth and fifth, and all the ones that might or could come after.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. You would too. It just rolled past 3 AM. And I am leaving for the airport in just over 2 hours. And I have yet to pack.