The Kiss. Several minutes passed as I stood in its beauty, the warmth of the gold, the enveloping of his body, the rearranging of certain parts inside of me. It felt familiar and foreign, something I’d known before and yet was just experiencing for the first time. A swell of emotion overtook me: longing, excitement, sadness, joy, loss, communion. I’d been anticipating it for over a month – for many years, really, since I’d first come in contact with it – but I hadn’t been prepared for how it would feel. The actual experience of it, the texture, the light, the rush of memories and moments and desires. I pulled back and sat down on the chestnut bench, overwhelmed. No wonder it’s so praised, I thought. No wonder people love it so much. As I studied the painting from a distance, I suddenly wished I could stay lost in it for hours, for days, forever. If only I could capture it…
* * * * *
There’s something so simple and yet so profound about a kiss. It can mean nothing and everything, be life-affirming or heart-breaking. It can be used to express attraction or lust or love or drunkenness. It can turn you off or turn you on, make or break a date, change your mind or change your temperature. It could lead to a phone number, or a few months, or even happily ever after, sealing the deal for eternity along with those two little words. In some ways, it seems about the most intimate thing we can share with someone, connecting the tongues we use to speak, the breath we use to survive, and yet, it can be as insignificant as a cute guy with no name at a Southern California beach on the fourth of July.
I love kissing. Ever since Ryan McFallo introduced me to the joys of it in 7th grade at Interstate Lanes in North Portland, I’ve been hooked. I remember it like it was yesterday – Friday night, cosmic bowling, smoke in the air so thick you could choke. I’d had a crush on Ryan forever (three weeks), and I couldn’t believe he was talking to me, flirting with me. At some point in between hurling my 9 pound ball towards the strobe lit pins and trying not to cough while drinking a coke, I found myself on his lap – Christmas had come early. He looked at me with those deep brown eyes and soft full lips and then pulled me in. My whole body pulsed and surged, every molecule of my being alive. In that moment I finally understood all of the strange feelings and urges I’d been having since cooties had disappeared in second grade. Nothing had ever felt so good- not roller coasters, not gymnastics, not birthdays- and I wanted to shout it from the mountaintops. This is what it’s all about! Hooray for kissing! Let’s just make out for the rest of our lives!
Ryan and I didn’t end up making out for the rest of our lives (just every Sunday afternoon until the end of middle school), but that night at the bowling alley did awaken in me a sort of hunger that still gnaws at me today. It’s a hunger that has led me into countless pairs of arms, to hundreds of pairs of lips. A hunger that has sought to be filled in so many places, in so many ways, and yet can never quite seem to be satisfied. It’s the longing to consume, to be consumed, to merge with another, to share and unite and transcend, however impossible it may seem. But it’s always just right there. Always on the brink of possibility, lingering in that most sensuous act, that sacred art form- the kiss. And sometimes, just sometimes, once in a very great while, it happens.
* * * *
I got up from the bench and moved slowly towards Klimt’s masterpiece for one last close look. I started to cry, desperately wanting to be embraced, catharsis giving way to a deep yearning, like after the culminating kiss in a romance film. I tried to remember the last time I’d felt this affected by a work of art. La Guernica in Madrid. The temples of Angkor Wat. Austen’s Pride and Predjudice. Van Gogh’s self-portrait at the D’Orsay. Gone with the Wind. A small handful. Oh, to be able to bottle humanity, if only for a moment, I thought. I took one last deep breath, and then walked away, my heart bursting and breaking and already looking forward to the next kiss.