Love Is a Ship of Fools Crash­ing into Re­vival­ist Shores Love Is a Psych Ward Pa­trolled by Too Many Order­lies

The Iowa Review - - CONTENTS - Matthew Gwath­mey

He holds my hand as we are walk­ing to and from our meals. He opens doors and pulls out chairs with self-pro­fessed “Chris­tian chivalry.” He even waits for me out­side the women’s room while I make fre­quent, rou­tine stops for “touch­ing up.” But my lips, long over­due for their ini­ti­a­tion to kiss­ing—he never goes near them. “Do you think your lip­stick could have any­thing to do with it?” My room­mate asks cau­tiously when I present my con­cerns to her. “What do you mean?” “Maybe he’s afraid”—she hes­i­tates—“to mess it up.” What were the lo­gis­tics of lip­stick and kiss­ing, let alone lip­stick and more than kiss­ing? My mother had never ex­plained. If 503A was the cru­cial mag­netic force in my at­trac­tive­ness to boys, did it also serve as a self-polic­ing buf­fer, a means of keep­ing the same boys at bay? One night out­side the chapel in the col­lege square, I de­cide to test my the­ory. “Close your eyes,” I whis­per, and when he does, I pull a tis­sue from my pocket and rub my lips as hard as I can. The lip­stick is so thick it re­quires al­most a scrap­ing. My mouth aches af­ter­wards. “If you want to kiss me,” I say, “now would be a good time.” His eye­lashes flut­ter, and I press my hand across the bridge of his nose, my palm be­com­ing a blind­fold. “OK,” he says. “OK.” And so our mouths fum­ble upon each other, and then the sat­is­fac­tion comes, not from kiss­ing ex­actly, but from the knowl­edge I have done it, that I have pulled it off. Mine is a kiss-heist with­out a kiss-smear. This time, and ev­ery other time we kiss, I twirl around af­ter­ward, adding a coat of 503A as I spin. He laughs, think­ing the twirl is my way of show­ing how much I en­joy the wet heat, the de­lib­er­ate ex­change of breath. Even­tu­ally, he learns to say, “Come closer,” then leans for­ward and closes his eyes. “I prom­ise I won’t peek.” And so, for some while, I never knew a kiss with­out lag time, a kiss that could take me by sur­prise.

Years later, we were play­ing a game at my friend Kara’s house where you had to say what your se­nior self would think about your fresh­man self if she met her to­day. “Julie, you start,” the host smiled. “Well, I think she’d feel com­pas­sion for her, but a fair amount of an­noy­ance, too. She’d want to say to younger Julie, Loosen up! Stop liv­ing in your head so much! Learn how to be in your body.” I lifted my wine glass and felt the soft red burn down the back of my throat. I didn’t like the sen­sa­tion ex­actly, but I did crave the re­sults—a cer­tain frank­ness that al­co­hol brought about in me. “Your turn,” I smiled back. “Not so fast. Now you have to say what your fresh­man self would think if she met se­nior you to­day.”

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