Kissing. The act of kissing. The art of kissing. This simple, arousing, sometimes messy act of intimacy is my most favorite connection to another person. Unlike the baby cheek kisses from my parents, pressing my lips to someone else stirs deep, unexpected emotion. My relationship with this person is suddenly transformed. We have crossed into a space I’ve only allowed certain people to live.
We choose who we kiss, for the most part. I have definitely experienced being caught off guard by a kiss. My head turned, and I was shocked by what was coming at me. An anxious first date trying their hand. A colleague hoping to exit the friend zone.
I’m often perplexed by people who don’t enjoy kissing. I assume they either experienced some trauma where kissing is a reminder of the dark side of intimacy — or they never learned the art of it. Never brushed up on the brush strokes and fell perfectly onto someone’s lips. I feel sad for the anti-kissers and the amateurs who only use it as a stepping stone to the big show. A great kiss is delightful. A smile still creeps across my middle-aged face when my thoughts linger on my greatest kisses. Passionate. Stretching far beyond intention.
My first kiss was in a hotel room in London. A boy from school told several of our classmates he had a growing crush on me. My kissing experience was non-existent at thirteen. I was the oddball in my crew. At lunch, I’d listen to the surprising details of make-out sessions and first sex experiences. I couldn’t wrap my head around any of it and actually thought the concept of kissing was gross. I saw people doing it in movies, but assumed some sort of movie magic eliminated the presence of spit. The swapping of spit with another person was foremost on my mind, and I was disgusted by it. But, listening to my friends, I felt left out, behind.
Europe was exciting. I thought the trip would mature me into a globetrotter, privileged to see people and places I had only read about in textbooks. Three countries in ten days. I had no idea that on our first stop, I’d be changing my life, becoming someone I wasn’t when I stepped on the plane to cross the pond.
Our friends set it up. I was to meet him in his room, late, well after our chaperones were asleep. We sat on the edge of the bed, in darkness, unsure of ourselves or how to proceed. I looked at him, and he looked back. Moments later, my face was wet. It was over. I was confused. Had I been kissed? I thought I was moving my lips, but maybe they didn’t connect to his. The moment was quick and uneventful. We stood up, and he gave me a hug, lifting me off the floor. I understood that he felt triumphant, accomplished. He would tell his friends about this moment with high fives. I would tell my friends about it with a blank stare and shrugged shoulders. But, I was no longer the inexperienced eighth-grader.
Though I wasn’t ready for a make-out session, I yearned for more experience. I kissed two more boys in Junior High, finally feeling the first sparks of intimacy that made me want to kiss even more.
By fifteen, I was consistently kissing with my first boyfriend. Like most teenagers, the back row of a dark movie theater was the ideal place to kiss. This boyfriend went to my church, so he was welcome at my house. Our hormones began to overpower our kissing sessions in my parents’ basement. It became clear to us that these sessions would soon evolve. We were at that crucial point where kissing was just the opening act. Having sex was the show. We felt mature and thought we were in love. Three months of regular movie dates and walks through the park felt enormous to my naive little heart.
He let me into his apartment after his mom went to work. We had been making out so much we felt like pros. But, when we moved our session from the sofa to his bedroom, panic consumed me. His room looked like he’d hired a maid service. It was too neat and spotless for a fifteen-year-old boy. In the middle of his perfectly made bed were two condoms. Two?, I thought. He expected us to do this twice? We stared at the bed, each other, the condoms, then got undressed. We didn’t undress in the seductive way I had envisioned. In my mind, my first time would be like movie sex. The guy would rip open my blouse, scattering my buttons around the room, then pull his shirt over his head as I pressed against his overly toned, glistening abs. The reality was us awkwardly undressing ourselves, occasionally glancing up as more and more skin was revealed.
It was finally time for the show. We kissed and commenced, and then it was over. I was once again confused by how lackluster this life-changing moment felt. Nothing exploded, stars didn’t appear, and I didn’t magically transform into a vivacious woman. I also didn’t immediately want a cigarette. But, different from my first kiss experience, I felt connected to my boyfriend, and I wanted that connection to grow.
My first time was sweet but sad. Kissing, my most favorite act of intimacy, was now diminished, no longer exciting enough to bond me to another. From this moment on, sex felt obligatory.
In college, I stuck myself to the captain of the basketball team. We were a match made in HBCU heaven. I was the captain of the dance team that entertained the crowd at his games. He pursued me, and I liked being chased. I had my own apartment and felt like an adult because I was able to invite a man over. We were young, our bodies in peak physical shape, so our lovemaking was electric. But, I loved having sex with him more than I loved kissing him. That missing piece was enough to slowly pull my heart away from him.
It was as if the universe was in conversation with my subconscious because our relationship just collapsed. Over the years, I began to understand that when my lips don’t connect, nothing does.
For a brief time, I dated a man ten years my senior. He was a very cute musician who moved furniture to pay the bills. His Boston accent was sexy, but his obsession with kissing me yanked me all the way in. We’d kiss for what felt like hours. And our surroundings seemed not to exist. We’d kiss everywhere. We were awful. In cafes and bars. In booths at restaurants while our waiters awkwardly waited for us to come up for air. Stopping in the middle of a busy sidewalk for no other reason but to kiss.
Because my lips were fully checked in, my heart quickly followed suit. But, I was still very young, in my mid-twenties. The adventurous life I had lived in no way compared to his. He broke up with me. At the time, I was heartbroken, in a deep amount of pain. But, in hindsight, I understood that he was letting me go so that I could soar. So that I could become a woman on my own terms, unattached to a man. When I started becoming the woman I wanted to be, I appreciated his foresight. Though our lips often deluded us, we were not meant to be.
At some point, I became fed up with men and decided to explore a desire that was present from an early age. Girls. Like most little kids, in an exploratory phase, I kissed one of my friends for fun. We were playing house one day in her room. She was the mommy, and I was the daddy. Our eight-year-old awareness understood that daddy kissed mommy when he got home from work. So, I did. This kiss was, of course, not sexual in nature, but I never forgot that I didn’t mind kissing her. In fact, it felt oddly comfortable.
In high school, a close friend expressed her feelings for me. She held my hand on the train and shared her truth. Later that week, I kissed her to see if I felt what she felt. The kiss was abrupt and awkward. I wasn’t used to being the one to initiate a kiss. What was supposed to be a romantic moment didn’t feel that way at all. But, I again felt oddly comfortable.
College was diverse, swarming with thousands of smart, talented, attractive people. Freshman year was euphoric and overwhelming. How was I expected to concentrate on my studies with so much eye candy around me? This, of course, was not the excuse I relayed to my parents when they questioned my failing grades, but it absolutely factored into my failure.
There was this mysterious girl in one of my theater classes. She was pale, with jet black hair. She smoked her cigarettes like the women I watched in French films and had this grown-up air about her like, even at eighteen, she’d had many lovers. She lived in one of my friends’ dorms and would walk the halls in these super tiny shorts. One day we bumped into each other, and she smiled at me. Devilish and alluring. An unusually close talker, she asked if I was in her theater class. I was caught off guard and began to perspire. That romantic desire I had never felt for a girl had finally arrived.
I wasn’t sure if I desperately wanted to kiss her or if I just wanted to be around her. What she was doing to my insides, by simply existing, was confusing, but I loved it. I never kissed the mysterious girl from theater class, but for the first time, I started to own the side of me that desired women. Years later, when I actually dated women, had loving, emotional relationships with women, and even married and divorced a woman, I figured out something completely new about myself and my desire to kiss. I no longer wanted my desire to lock me into a box. I didn’t love kissing men or women, I just loved kissing. And if I didn’t love it, with whoever I was doing it with, that initial kiss would be where our intimacy would end.
I was routinely kissing just before the world spiraled into chaos. Before Covid. Before George Floyd. Before election madness. A year prior, I reconnected with a friend from college, and sparks quickly flew. There was no discussion of commitment, rhyme, or reason to what we were doing. Our deep, burning energy kept us present. Because he carries arrogant confidence in his swagger, I expected this attitude to show up in the bedroom. But he kissed me gently. Slow, full lips. The sweet and simple passion of a classic black & white film. I’d jump whenever he called or popped up, annoyed by his unintentional control over me. But, when circumstances pushed us apart, I missed the control. I missed jumping. Longed for it.
As the sun went down one summer evening, he called, said he was driving up my street. I stepped onto the porch, barefoot, my insides jumping. He cautiously approached, his face covered in a mandatory mask. Months had passed. Months of isolation and disconnection. Seasons had passed without physical contact with anyone. We stood apart, silent. Then we hugged. Sizzling. Bound in more than an embrace, I think we both needed to just touch another person. He lowered his mask and kissed me. A dangerous rush poured through me. Facing the possibility of intimacy being a fatal act, I cherished that kiss more than any other. We didn’t exchange many words. I sat on my porch and watched him drive away. I watched the last person to give me my most favorite act of intimacy go back to his side of town, not knowing when I would again have the opportunity to jump. Not knowing when I would again be able to kiss.
Rahima Rice is an award-winning playwright and founder of The 4208 Group, which showcases the creativity of women writers, with the goal to cultivate their growth and development. Her work includes the short film Making & Breaking (People’s Choice Award Winner, 2020 OLA Film Festival), the web series Room 513, and the one-act play The Eight (2018 Anacostia Playhouse Visions/Revisions New Works Festival, 2020 Pro-Black One Acts Festival).
Sameer Gupta is known as one of the few percussionists simultaneously representing the traditions of American jazz on drumset, and Indian classical music on tabla. Sameer completed his Jazz studies learning from his peers on the bandstands in San Francisco and Oakland to Harlem and Brooklyn. His own interests and love of tabla helped guide Sameer to become a co-founder of the non-profit collective Brooklyn Raga Massive.