Your first kiss wants to play make-believe. You be the wife and I’ll be the husband, he says during recess. You’re in 3rd grade and love make-believe. He kisses you on the cheek and asks what’s for dinner. You will be whoever he wants you to be.
Your second kiss is a long-haired boy. He kisses your cheek in the hallway outside 6th grade homeroom. His mouth is framed by dimples when he smiles afterward and after that day you like watching his chocolate colored hair brush against his shoulders as he walks down the hall. You tell your mother you like a boy who looks like Jesus. This makes her frown, “you should just like Jesus,” she says. You giggle, embarrassed, as you tell her, “I like this boy. I love Jesus.”
Your third kiss is your best friend Gina. You are at her house getting ready for the 8th grade Sadie Hawkins dance. Gina has never kissed a boy. You offer to let her kiss you, for practice, and she does, with soft, Chapstick lips. As she pulls away you open your eyes to see that hers are wide-open already. Was it a mistake to close your eyes?
The first time you touch yourself in that way you don’t touch yourself. You’re in your grandparent’s shower, which has a detachable massaging showerhead. You’re thinking about Gina, about how practice didn’t feel like practice, moving the showerhead around your body unaware as you wonder what boy she wanted to practice for. Would kissing that boy feel real to her? Would she feel like this?
You take safety scissors to your mother’s vibrating lumbar pillow to excise the plastic mechanics within, your first vibrator, and make sure the pillow’s remains will never be found. You know God would be ashamed of you for what you’re doing. You don’t stop doing it.
God has bigger things to worry about.
Your fourth kiss signs his name in your 8th grade yearbook on the final day of school. You imagine the two of you becoming high school sweethearts like your own parents were. Thinking back on that kiss, open yearbook pressed between your bodies, it is easy to imagine your first kiss and husband and wife. People will say, who would’ve known that that boy you kissed in 8th grade would become your husband! But you will know. You think you know what path your life will take; you will find love easily because it is God’s gift to us.
Your fifth makes you feel spontaneous and bad. Your cousin’s friend who tagged along on a family outing to the pool, you met him that morning. By that evening he pulls you away from your group of friends around the side of the house where the motion-sensor lights couldn’t reach. You lean against the cold brick wall in the dark, feeling like a trapped animal and like you’d never been sexier before. You feel his breath on your forehead before it happened; it was hot, unpleasantly hot, but when he drops his face for the kiss you go cold inside, like jumping into a pool. He puts his hands just above your belt and squeezes the fat above your butt. Afterward, you go up to your room to scream into your pillow until you feel your body come back to you.
That night your mother stands in your bedroom doorway and gives you her concerned-mother look and says she’ll always look out for you. She looks at you like she knows everything you’ve done in your life, and maybe she does. You think that your mother is a little bit like God, who knows everything but nevertheless, stays silent. The love is in the silence, you realize.
You spend the first day of 9th grade looking for your fourth, but he isn’t at school. Moved away, you learn. You quit counting kisses for a time, convinced that the kisses are actually tribulations, trials to be borne and forgotten.
Your eighth is a senior in high school two grades ahead of you. She has black hair, a pixie cut, and green eyes that remind you of a cat’s. She’s an atheist at your catholic high school and that makes her impossibly cool because she is everything that you are not. You tell her things you don’t tell your other friends, how you make yourself orgasm with the liberated lumbar pillow vibrator. On the last day of school she gives you a gift, a small box wrapped in newspaper. Open it when you’re alone, she tells you, and then she kisses you quickly on the lips like a slap in the face. Her gift is a vibrator, about the size of an egg made of dense, purple rubber. When you use it you think of her, of lifting up her pleated skirt and pressing the egg to her underwear, though you don’t know why you think this. And you don’t want to know.
You don’t want to kiss your ninth kiss.
And isn’t life a bitch that you can still remember it so clearly? Like a tiny scar, you know just where to find it.
You pray to God for strength and bravery, to be able to go out into the world of men unafraid. Your mother kneels next to you and, though you don’t know it, you feel she is praying for you, too. You lean against her shoulder, talk to God, and feel held between them.
Your tenth asks your father’s permission before taking you out, which he grants with a curt nod and a warning that you are to be home by 9:00 p.m. This boy opens every door for you, stands when you leave the table at restaurants, and walks you home with your arm tucked ceremoniously into his. You feel sleepy every time he kisses you, gently, politely, always in perfect control. It occurs to you that you should love him. But you don’t.
Your eleventh is your sixteenth birthday. You go to the park after school. You walk up to the captain of the lacrosse team and take him by his sticky, gelled hair and kiss his mouth. You wanted to do this but as you’re doing it you feel your insides go flat. Another dead-end.
Your twelfth promises everything but. He even places a condom by the bed, not for that but just to be safe, for cleanliness. He makes you feel dirty even though it is he, not you, panting into the dark.
You can feel your thirteenth smile while her lips are on yours. You kiss her one hundred, five hundred, a thousand times, a forbidden thing. You feel closer to God when she touches you.
The Book of James tells you to consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith produces perseverance. You want to submit to His will, but something pushes back. You are in love. You cannot bring yourself to squander the gift.
Your fourteenth is your first college boyfriend. He calls you beautiful: in text messages, hello beautiful, at dinner, you look beautiful, when he pulls you to him, come here beautiful. You use him, this kind, doting man, to hide from the truth that only you know: you are ugly, full of unnatural desire.
Even with all your classes and the dinners and the parties and the holiday trips home, you think of your thirteenth in little gasps of passing time. Every time she comes into your mind you try to think of God instead, but you find that thinking of God often makes you think of her.
Your fifteenth tries hard to convince you that God doesn’t count anal. You argue with him, yelling, tell him this isn’t about God. You lose control, “You’re completely Godless!” you scream. This ends the argument. He leaves your dorm and doesn’t ever come back. You would’ve apologized if he’d come back.
Instead you apologize to God for being a hypocrite, but you don’t feel Him hear you, not this time.
Your sixteenth is your thirteenth again. Drunk at 2a.m. so you could blame the alcohol and the hour for what you would’ve done stone cold sober in the afternoon.
You regret it. Not seeing her again, but being drunk. There were moments that the alcohol made fuzzy that you yearned to remember clearly.
Your seventeenth is like you; you know this instinctively. He wants to know about your thirteenth. Not her specifically, but he wants the big story. You don’t tell him, but he tells you about his, about his plan to tell his family. He tells you how scared he is. You go to Christmas Mass with him and his family, all the while thinking about someone else.
He tells his family and then he goes to his bedroom and hangs himself. Over Christmas break at home your father asks you if you knew. No, you say, you didn’t know. Your father says it was probably for the best, what happened. He winces, like it pains him to say it. Your mother just hugs you, strokes your hair, and doesn’t say a word.
You are stoned in a club for your eighteenth and you don’t remember his face in the hallway the next day when he stops you. You don’t recall his face because all you can remember is the pulse of lights and sounds and a base beat that confuses your heart.
Your nineteenth touches you all the ways he knows how. Then he wants to know how you touch yourself so you show him. But the familiar sensation is suddenly foreign in his hands. You lie in the double bed together after, your shoulders touching, knowing it is over.
Your twentieth tastes like vomit and vodka, or is that taste coming from your mouth?
Your twenty-first says you want his dick, that you’re a whore who wants it. You try to believe him, but the whole thing feels like a game you’re tired of playing.
Your twenty-second never happens; if only you could’ve been brave enough. She bought you a drink, talked with you, and touched your hand. You think about what could’ve happened that night once you are alone.
You see your thirteenth again when she attends your college graduation party at your parent’s house. She grasps your hand in a darkened hallway, squeezes, and is gone. After the party you toss plastic cups and plates into a big white trash bag that your mother holds open. You can still feel the warmth of her hand on yours, the pain in her eyes as she looks at you and says she won’t be back again. Mom, you ask, would you still love me if I were—No! She says suddenly. Don’t ask me that. She glances quickly up the stairs to where your father has gone up for the night. She looks at you, then, with tears stuck hard at the corners of her eyes. Please don’t, she begs.
Your twenty-third helps you move into your first apartment. Months later, you throw his clothes out the window while you listen to his frantic steps pound down all three flights of stairs. How lovely it feels to be lonesome and utterly free.
Your twenty-fourth says you give the best head he’s ever had. And catholic girls give good head, he adds.
Your twenty-fifth could’ve loved you. You crouch on the floor of your shared bathroom and apologize over and over through your sobs. You promise you’ll never be unfaithful again, promise that you’ll be good, but he leaves, claiming you’re not wife material.
Your twenty-sixth offers to take you back to his place, but you tell him to take you home to your empty apartment. You’d rather think of her than be with him.
What is she doing right now? Does she love anyone? Will God forgive her because she hasn’t eaten His flesh and drank His blood? You want to purge every morsel of Him you’ve taken into you. It’s too late now. It has been too late from the beginning.
When you masturbate alone in your apartment you think of her, of kissing her lips, of becoming one flesh, a flesh not fed from Christ and marked by sin, but of being, with her, something new.
Whatever your instincts are, knowledge of God’s love is instinct as well; before you felt anything for man or woman you felt love for God and Jesus Christ. You say it as a prayer, hoping desperately that it will be answered: God loves you.
Your twenty-seventh kisses you every morning; it is as easy as sipping coffee, the familiar bitter taste on your tongue. You don’t count kisses anymore because you know he is the last, the man you will marry, each kiss a stone piling up like a wall around you. You want to be a good wife to him. So you wish you had no body, no flesh desiring of sin and the need and the yearning and your lips that betray you by still, God give you strength, still remembering what hers feel like after all these years. But then, you will kiss her, one hundred, a thousand, ten thousand times. And you will thank God for every single one.
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4 thoughts on “Thirteen by Rebecca Young”
Every fool gets a kiss until unto thine own self be true. Too many get kissed not out of affection, but from the weight of social and religious expectation. “You” knew it all early but had to have experience. Well done.
Powerful little story! Send more.
Another story written in an understated, unemotional style, and all the more powerful — and emotional — because of it. Excellent.
Hi Rebecca, the niggle about what she was missing with number thirteen was beautifully repeated and returned to.
Not only have you given us a story with a few turmoils, the reader is left with their own thoughts and probably go back in their own mind to either partners, situations or opportunities.
A very thought-provoking piece of work!