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