It wasn’t my first kiss. But it was the most dangerous. It was no fumbling encounter with too much aggression and tongue, the technique clumsy and awkward.
After all, kissing is a skill that has to be refined. It takes practice. My goal in my late teens was to kiss as many people as possible. I tried every type of kissing, from the rough and overbearing to the chronically dull and dispassionate.
My plan worked. Alcohol and 7am parties meant I kissed nearly all of my friends, boys and girls. I was flattered when my friend Anna, drunk, told a girl sitting beside her “give him a go, he’s a good score”. Quite often, I’d kiss just to get through a lull at a party, between running out of mixers and the guys returning from the petrol station. Girls were always happy for an aul’ score as they knew my hands wouldn’t get adventurous. I was strictly shoulders up, with them anyway.
At the age of 23, during my MA in creative writing, I got to know Tom, an American architectural student studying in Trinity. With his baggy jeans and Abercrombie & Fitch hoodie he seemed out of place in the Dragon. The weather prevented Tom and I going beyond a dance-floor kiss. I lost him outside the club at 4am. My phone’s battery had died. Wearing a wife-beater, rubbing my arms as temperatures were circling zero, I was forced to flag a cab with the others.
The kiss was good. It was the kiss of two people who knew what they were doing — ‘accomplished’ would be the word. Yet, it lacked a certain element that would’ve made it truly memorable. When we met a few days later, we ignored the fact we’d kissed. We became friends, the kind where it was not uncommon for a week or two to pass without contact, but when we did talk it was like time had frozen and nothing had changed.
Yet, I wonder why he never mentioned Ben for five months. June bank holiday weekend, I walked up the front garden to where Tom was living and reached for the doorbell. But before I pressed the button, the door opened. A blond guy introduced himself. He was tall, square-jawed with straight teeth. He had dark eyelashes, most likely eyeliner. His name was Ben. Ben was drinking vodka.
Ben spoke, though I can’t remember the words. I was distracted by the way he looked. It wasn’t his body, for though his shoulders were broad he had a slight belly. His T-shirt couldn’t hide the fact that his probably once-athletic frame hadn’t been maintained properly. But his face was beautiful, Scandinavian looking, with clear skin, perfect teeth and full lips, and, most notable of all, slightly tired-looking eyes. But the shadows didn’t detract from the beauty; instead they added a tragic element, which made him all the more attractive.
Six hours later, I was drunk in The Purdy Kitchen, Temple Bar. I danced with Tom and Ben. Tom’s dancing included numerous ridiculous faces and poses. I took pictures. Ben and Tom kissed; it appeared natural to them, a confirmation that they were together. I continued dancing, trying not to look. I knew other guys were trying to catch my eye, but I ignored them. “What do you want to drink?” Tom shouted above the music. I turned around. After taking my order, Tom disappeared downstairs. I continued dancing, keeping my distance, sensing Ben moving into my space. I avoided his eye contact, smiling vaguely.
Yet, in one step he moved forward, leaned in and kissed me, his lips soft, closing on my top lip. I pulled away, muttering Tom’s name. Ben moved forward, his lips touching mine a second time. I wanted to kiss back, feeling his fingertips glide off my hipbone, but I stopped him. A few moments later Tom returned, completely oblivious.
That was two years ago. Tom officially told me they’d been dating about a month after he and Ben broke up. It seems strange that he didn’t mention Ben for all those months. Did Tom sense something instinctively? Was he jealous of an event that he somehow knew could happen? It seems remarkable that he could’ve sensed a chemistry that existed without Ben and I having met each other.
I wonder whether I should’ve been honest and told Tom about the incident. I had nothing to fear by confessing. Yet, if I was totally open with him, I wonder would that truthfulness extend so far as to say I enjoyed the attempted kiss, that I was attracted to Ben, that I was flattered that Ben would risk his relationship by kissing me. That I was that ‘fanciable’.
Because awful as it was, deep down, some tiny part of me was gratified by the events. Not in their literal outcome because nothing more came of it, but because Ben had wanted me even at the expense of my friend. Perhaps that honesty is best kept to myself.
(First published in The Herald, June 26 2012. Visit http://www.herald.ie/lifestyle/guilty-pleasures-3150957.html)