I remember the first time we kissed. You were still asleep on the sofa bed when I crept past you on my way to the bathroom. I stood behind the closed door for a minute before heading back out, deciding if I should take the plunge, realizing after last night that you definitely reciprocated the feelings I’d tried to keep locked away. I felt it in the way you looked at me, the way you talked to me, the way you were so attentive, the way you accidentally but purposefully grazed my arm with yours.
I opened the door without looking at you and plopped sideways onto the creaky fold-up mattress, my back to you. I heard you awaken, I heard you smile.
You pulled me into your arms, and we laid like that for thirty minutes—maybe more, maybe less. Time became immeasurable. We both silently took in each other’s smell, listened to each other’s heartbeat. And then you spoke.
“You deserve to be cherished,” you said. “I wanted you to know—I intend to show you that.”
Then I did that thing that I always do when I’m happy and excited but also nervous and embarrassed, overwhelmed in the best of ways. I closed my eyes and I nuzzled deep into your clavicle, burrowing into my safety net, that soft pocket of flesh between your neck and your collarbone.
A few minutes went by. I heard your mouth open and close as you tried to figure out how you were going to say what you wanted to say. I waited, patient and impatient.
“I would like to kiss you,” you said, “if that’s alright with you.”
I did that thing again, taking in the scent of your neck and this time shifting my head onto your chest. My hand slid up to my face and latched on like a starfish, doing that other thing I do, where I try to hide from the barrage of feelings that I yearn for but also don’t know if I can trust. Not you, though. I trusted you. You’re the only man I’ve trusted like that since.
I fumbled for the words to speak.
“I’m nervous,” I said.
“Why are you nervous?” you asked.
“Because of my past, because of my last relationship, the things with my ex.”
“Understandable,” you said. “I’m nervous, too. I don’t want you to feel any pressure.”
I smiled gratefully, but you couldn’t see me. I plucked the knuckled starfish from my face and continued.
“And because we live oceans apart.”
“Another good reason,” you agreed. “I don’t have an answer for that one.”
I squirmed closer to you and hugged you harder. After a few minutes, you got up to use the bathroom. I heard a flush, heard the faucet running, heard you brushing your teeth. I’d secretly brushed mine before, just in case.
I looked up when you opened the bathroom door, watched as you crawled onto the mattress and slid your legs under the covers. You propped yourself up on your arms and leaned over me, staring into my eyes. I smiled nervously. You smiled beautifully. My chest raised as I inhaled deeply in preparation, anticipation. Slowly, you closed the gap between us, aiming for my lips. Your eyes never once broke away from mine.
My hands trembled as my body remembered what it felt like to be kissed this way by a man. I ran my fingers through your hair, like I always do.
Later, I would ask you to teach me to kiss, because I needed to learn how again.
I don’t remember the first time we kissed. The moment is an abandoned memory, floating past the flood of warnings, so many skirted red flags. I remember you didn’t want to kiss me, but you wanted to be naked next to me. I remember I wanted to be kissed, and I wasn’t ready to be naked next to you. You got naked anyway. I didn’t. You kissed me eventually, but I don’t remember it.
I can count on one hand the number of times I remember you kissing me. I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times I tried to, wanted to kiss you, but couldn’t, wouldn’t. I remember vividly you laughing when I tried, your lips parting when I closed mine to touch yours. Eventually, humiliated, I just stopped trying.
I remember wanting to be strong and once asking you if we could kiss, just kiss. I can still hear your laughter, see the way your eyes crinkled, like I’d just told the funniest joke known to man. I remember me turning away to deal with my pain because you didn’t see it when it was right in front of you. Or maybe you did see it but simply didn’t care to fix it.
I remember eventually figuring out the only one who could fix this pain was me, but it was too long before I got away.