In my junior year of high school I fell madly in love with a senior. He was incredibly smart, funny and handsome, and the impact he had on me still resonates even after all this time. It all started when I interviewed him for the school paper. I took myself very seriously, and rolled in with three notebooks full of notes and questions about a life that had only existed for seventeen total years. I insisted on a professional decorum that he systematically chipped away with satiric one liners and majestically arched single eyebrows. I don’t recall ever trying so hard not to smile for any other hour of my life.
It was a year long affair of dance in, and dance out, and I mean that figuratively and literally. We were drawn to each other, that intangible sound of you/me, me/you that crackles when some people meet, roaring over and through you as if you were a character in Deep Impact, and the asteroid hit. We drink to feel a shadow of that sensation of utter sublime joy and peace, fueled paradoxically by adrenaline, and a roaring sound in your ears that deafens you to all others.
Our romance unfolded like a Dramedy. We’d see each other at least once a day, and at the school dances I photographed for the yearbook, he would find me, ask me to dance and sweep me away with the smell of Polo cologne and the possibility of possibility. He was funny, I was funny, and I couldn’t wait to do it all over again the next day or the day after, until our days ran out.
On his graduation night we had a few hours together. I was late, he had to leave early, and even as it all slipped through my fingers, I could feel them flexing, trying to hold on to something of this time with him. We’d been sitting around a fire talking with our friends when suddenly, someone started playing Dust In The Wind. Pulling me to my feet and dragging me closer to the sound of the music, he pulled me into his arms, and told me this was his favorite song.
I was on the verge of tears, choking on all the things I wanted to say before he left me, and all I could do was hold on tight, and try not to let him step on my toes, which he did. He did every time we danced, and we always laughed about it. We laughed that night. We were laughing when his hands came up to my face, and he leaned down closer. I had time to think, “Oh, he’s going to kiss me!” and to realize that I was more than fine with that. It would be our first kiss, made even more special by the fact that we were about to be separated by time and circumstance beyond our control.
Just as his lips were about to touch mine, someone called my name, and startled, I turned to the sound. It was less than a second, but the moment was gone, and when I turned back to face him the possibility of our kiss was gone. Magic had been replaced by awkwardness, and all the time we had, had run out, leaving me with decades to ponder The Power of the Almost Kiss.
We’ve seen it in countless stories, shows and movies. They meet, the tension builds, and you close the book, or turn the TV off, feeling a little bit of that high you got when love was yours, even if it was only an idea you held in your head, leaving the object of your affection clueless and unaffected. You anticipate the eventual, perhaps inevitable, kiss with the kind of dizzy excitement that rivals a substance based high, spinning on the chemicals in your brain, maybe because you are emotionally invested in the characters, but more likely because you identify with them in some way. That identification makes their first kiss, your first kiss, all over again.
There are varying schools of thought on how long you can let the tension build before you overshadow the event. One thing most agree on, when the bubble of tension breaks, and the first kiss is kissed, the story is over. There is nothing else to anticipate, and we move on to the next new thing, seeking that high in a new place with new characters.
I don’t agree that the story is over after the kiss. I happen to think the firsts never have to run out, and that the deeper you go the more interesting people become. It’s a different power than The Power of the Almost Kiss, but it’s still a good power. We crash and bash each other with sharp edges, buffered by soft lips and softer sighs when The Kiss happens. We smooth each other out, buffing out the chips, and reinforcing the weak places with patience and love on the other side of The Kiss. One is exciting, the other affirming. Depending on where you are in life, there is a time and a need for both.
Still, decades later, I wonder if it is The Power of the Almost Kiss that makes him stand out so vividly in my mind, and pushes me to write about him, now, before, always. There have been other loves, and I remember them fondly, taking with me the marks they left on the person I am, and folding their memories into the mix of the person I will be. He will forever remain the unattainable dream, the best kiss I never had, the possibility of possibility.