A Brief History Of Kisses At Midnight
At around 6 p.m. is when the breath kicked in. That hot soup breath that spills over your teeth and throat and tonsils to announce its arrival. It came without warning while I was handling the Jell-O shots, placing a tray of them in the fridge or in the freezer or wherever Jell-O shots go to finishing school, I don’t remember anymore. I ignored it, the chills and shakes and heat waves. It was New Year’s Eve and I planned to drink the sickness away; it seemed to work most times. The guests arrived, parking in the cul-de-sac and doing their cheek kisses at the door and I was there to greet them, to warm them with the flush of my cheeks.
By 10 p.m. my legs were wind and my body was fire, a tanning bed of flu. My first real boyfriend took me upstairs and made up the guestroom bed while I shrunk and shook in the corner, just waiting on someone else like always. I asked if he would come back upstairs to kiss me at midnight and he said yes. I asked if he would sleep next to me and he said no. Pathetic: not because I asked, but because some small part of me will always know rejection like it just happened yesterday.
I half-slept until he eventually returned to kiss me. Then he went back downstairs and it was the one time I wasn’t worried that a boyfriend had left me sick in bed to attend a party. Maybe it was trust, but it could’ve been something else, like fever or youth. Neither of us stuck around much longer to find out.
During my first winter break from college I went to a party in my hometown and the clock struck twelve while I was in the garage of a house refilling a red Solo cup and it was all very unique. The boy who kissed me right then had chased me for years and when his lips snuck up on mine I pretended to be offended or annoyed, I don’t remember anymore. The truth was that I liked to be liked by him. I wasn’t his type and he wasn’t mine, which meant something to me, I guess I thought it meant he saw me as a person and not an archetype. That wasn’t a common thing, not when I was 18. If you asked anyone else, he was a guido and I was a pothead. We both knew it wasn’t that simple, though. It’s the one thing we had in common.
My college boyfriend and I had always agreed that couples should spend the New Year together, even though I knew by default that meant spending the New Year doing whatever he wanted to do, with whomever he wanted to do it with. I was in a basement where everything was washed in yellow. The ceiling was decorated in CDs or record albums, I don’t remember anymore. I was the only girl there. My boyfriend hated cigarettes so I made a resolution to quit smoking. It would be three months before I actually stopped, six months before I started again, three years before I quit for good. I didn’t get any midnight text messages from my friends because there was no cell phone reception downstairs in the yellow basement. I missed my friends.
Ten minutes after the ball dropped, my boyfriend got in a fight with his friend and the party froze to watch. I froze to watch. It was about something stupid, it was about a song, the name of which I don’t remember anymore. I was watching from the steps that led to my bedroom, where the jackets were, and he brushed past me like I was plain air; he stormed into my room, grabbed his jacket, left. I went into my bedroom and cried and called him and told him to come back and he said no, I’m at a bar now and you can come here if you want but I’m not coming back. I said no, but please sleep here. He said yes, but never came home. I told you, some small part of me will always know rejection like it just happened yesterday. I woke up at 5 a.m. and my bed felt the size of a monarchy. In the morning and afternoon and night, I called him and he avoided me. The next time we held hands, mine hesitated for the first time.
The boy I liked was on a stage performing with his band for the New Year and of course, I went to watch. I stood next to the sound and lighting guy, whose name is Ricky, which I know because he told me. I could tell that Ricky wanted to kiss me, but I wanted to kiss the boy on stage so I just smiled and shrugged and nodded until the set was over. Ricky was attractive but I couldn’t see it then, not with all those lights in my eyes. At midnight, the boy in the band and me and all of our friends hugged and kissed Happy New Year! I can’t remember if I got the kiss I wanted because of the confusion, because of how many girls wanted the same thing I did. I know I got the kiss I wanted later that night, when the boy in the band walked me home, I remember thinking that was the right way to start a new year but to tell the truth, I don’t remember anymore whether 2005 was all that good or not.
I was almost late to my own party because I’d spent the morning and afternoon drinking with a boy who was the new year, as far as I was concerned. Our knees touched beneath a tiny outdoor table at a Thai restaurant and we ate from each other’s plates and gawked at a sports car the size of Vespa — I remember it all. When I couldn’t prolong lunch any longer, I asked if I would see him at my party that night. He said he didn’t know, but when he showed up twenty minutes shy of midnight, what he said earlier didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because I knew, and that would have to be enough for the both of us for the time being. He was the new year and he was right on time.
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