A short story by Courtney Sender
Your first kiss will be on a dance floor. He will be taller than you; you won’t see it coming. You will be fifteen, thinking you will always remember this number for this reason. You will remember this number, but only because your Bubbe will call you in August saying, “Sweet sixteen and never been kissed —true or false?” and you will smile to yourself and think, false.
Your second kiss will be so bad that you will believe for the rest of senior year that you are gay. Whenever you doubt this, you will remember how soft and wet his lips were, how poorly aimed. For some reason you will remember your porch light, the dead moth flattened against it, above the mezuzah he doesn’t recognize. You will conclude that your eyes were open.
Your third kiss will be on a couch after Rosh Hashanah services your freshman year. It will move to a bed, but it will stay just a kiss. Because you expect this, you will not be grateful for it.
Your third kiss will kiss you two hundred times before you lose track.
Your fourth kiss will balance you on the railing of your best friend’s parents’ fire escape. It will be your nineteenth birthday. His breath will smell like cabbage. You will cry. He will knock on the bedroom door once you’ve closed it against him. You will be dialing your third kiss; your best friend will say, Leave her alone.
You will forget your fifth kiss. You will not remember his name. You will not remember his face, even.
Your sixth kiss will be thinner than you are, and you are thin. He will take off your bra as you stare at the ceiling, deciding not to help him with the clasp. He will walk you home at midnight —home to your third kiss, though he won’t know that. When he asks you out to coffee, you will say yes, but you won’t show.
Your seventh kiss will be a friend. You will set down your drink and slide your arms around his neck. You will act surprised when he kisses you, but you will not be surprised.
You will remember your eighth kiss as laughter, as tricky to pull off because neither of you could stop, as if you were kissing laughter. Your eighth kiss will disappoint you in all ways but this. In this way, he will be your favorite.
You will walk the perimeter of the club where you meet your ninth kiss, being watched. You will be watched because you feel powerful. You will feel powerful because you are watched. Your ninth kiss will take a lollipop out of his mouth next to the DJ booth. You will lick it.
You will want to forget that lollipop. You never will.
In your memory, you will mix up your tenth and eleventh kisses. One of them will be the son of a minister. One of them will be younger than you thought he was. One of them will call you beautiful.
The moment he walks in, your twelfth kiss will push you against your closet door. You will want this part to last forever, but it will only last a second.
Your thirteenth kiss will glide his hand along your hip for an hour before you turn to face him. He will say, How long were you going to pretend to be asleep? You will tell him he’s damn lucky you were just pretending.
You will be grateful then that your third kiss stayed just a kiss.
Your fourteenth kiss will be very late at night, and exquisite. You will walk to the bathroom on wobbly knees, wearing his boxers. As you are kissing him, you will be wanting to kiss him again. You will be dazed for days.
You will meet your fifteenth kiss early in the morning, as you are walking home on wobbly knees.
When it rains it pours, you will think.
Your sixteenth kiss will give you the flu. You will turn away the chicken soup he makes you from scratch. You will start to worry about the things you can get from the people you kiss.
Just before Passover, your seventeenth kiss will give you a neck- full of hickies. “Take your scarf off at the table,” your Bubbe will say. You won’t. You’ll touch the knot too often, feeling owned.
You will get tired of remembering kisses. You will skip some. You will feel bad about skipping some, feel bad that just remembering makes you tired. You will wonder if they remember you. You will wonder if it makes them tired.
You will believe that you could have loved your twentieth kiss. When you step off the karaoke stage, he will touch your hip and say You look good in a red dress, and for years afterward the memory of this will make you fidget. It will be a mistake, telling him about your third kiss. You will try to make up for it. You will leave a gift outside his door. Thumbtacks, because his walls are naked. Thumbtacks, so when he hangs pictures of other people, he will still see you.
Your twenty-third kiss will be older than you, and married. He will leave his wife for you, is what he’ll say. There will be a photo of you, eyelids shimmering, earrings dangling to your shoulders, not looking at the camera, because you are searching the party for him.
Your twenty-fourth kiss will be wearing a shirt that says Can I Help You? He will be Muslim, the president of the graduate student body, leading your first day of orientation. After his talk, you will slip through the swarm of students and lean against the podium at the front of the lecture hall. You will say, Yes. He’ll knit his eyebrows, and you’ll say, You can help me.
You will feel bad about your twenty-eighth kiss, because it will happen in a metro station below the earth as your twenty-seventh kiss is standing just above your head, waiting for you.
Over drinks, your thirtieth kiss will say: Never get involved with someone in your cohort. You will talk about your shared advisor until he leans on the bar and kisses you, doesn’t even hold your face in place. He will gather your gloved hand and his gloved hand together in his jacket pocket. Later, you will hate him for not grabbing your face. You will hate him for assuming you would sit there, frozen, and let him kiss you whenever he amassed the whiskey and the nerve.
A year after your thirty-first kiss, you will meet again at a Christmas party. He will be tall and smartly dressed, thick- framed glasses and a tie. You will be drunk. You will introduce yourself. You will think, Better to be the forgetter than the forgotten.
You will think that, but you will not be sure.
Your thirty-fifth kiss will walk to his bathroom for a condom. You’ll say no, for secret reasons of your own, but he’ll say, Not for that. Just to be extra safe, for any kind of touching. He’ll mean it. You’ll feel suspicious and suspected, dirty though the two of you are uncommonly clean.
You will start to lie. You will say you have kissed fewer people and slept with more.
Your thirty-seventh kiss will be thinner than you are, but you are not thin anymore. He will read to you from The Waste Land. You will rest your head on his shoulder and believe you could love him, but the feeling will fade by the end of the page. You will wonder what your third kiss is doing now.
You will realize with shock that your third kiss was only your third kiss.
Your fortieth kiss won’t know you’re somehow still a virgin. You will be too ashamed to tell him. You will be grateful to him after- ward, when he walks you home at midnight—home to your third kiss, you will have spent years imagining. Home to no one, really.
You will sleep with your forty-first kiss the night you meet him, feeling the freedom more than the deed. You’ll assume he won’t call you again, and you’ll be right, but that will not have been the point.
You will know that your fiftieth kiss is your fiftieth kiss. You will feel like a Russian doll, your former selves stacked ever smaller and deeper inside you. You will let the smallest of these kiss this one, just this once. Her delighted surprise will make her foreign to you: a stranger. A lollipop from someone else’s tongue.
Your fifty-first kiss will want to hear about your third kiss. You will remember funneling thumbtacks into a glass jar, and you will know not to tell him. He will tell you his equivalent, instead. You won’t like it. You will kiss him in the dark foyer of your apartment, hoping even as you pull his head to yours that your memory of this moment will be monochrome, fuzzy and flat.
From a single photograph, your Bubbe will identify which of those men was your fifty-fourth kiss. It will comfort you, that you can still be so transparent to someone.
Your Bubbe will die then.
One week after the funeral, your housemate will move out and a boy you’ll believe you could love will move in. He will be the first Jewish boy you’ve looked at since your third kiss. You will stand in the supermarket aisle, comparing the labels on the one-a-day multivitamins you want to buy him. You will take a break from kissing for so long that he will finish the whole bottle. He will not be your fifty-fifth kiss.
Your fifty-sixth kiss will be a way of kissing your housemate. It will not be the way you want. It will taste bitter, though you will both drink peach martinis with sugar on the rim.
You will wonder if any kiss will ever be the way you want again. You will tell your fifty-eighth kiss that your contacts are just bothering you. Standing at the bathroom mirror, you will try to calculate the number of times your third kiss kissed you. Ten thousand, you will conclude. A hundred thousand.
You will try to remember every one.