Free Short: Kissing Party
By Benjamin Joseph Kowalsky
I don’t remember the specific details my first kiss; I remember its circumstances. I was 12 years old, just turned. My mom had a friend who had two daughters, one a year older than me and one a year younger than me, named Becca and Avery respectively. Becca, I’m sure of it, was my first kiss. Her skin was tanned from summers spent sailing, and when she called out orders to my brothers and me, we listened like we were the crew of her ship.
“We’re going to have a kissing party,” Becca said. She and her sister came over for a visit while my parents had a social downstairs with her parents.
“What’s that?” we asked.
“Turn the lights out, and I’ll show you!” she giggled.
Both my brothers were too young to know about kissing parties, and I never got an invitation before. I turned out the lights, and she kissed me. I don’t remember what it felt like, but I know that it must have happened. Then she had her sister Avery do the same. Avery was timid; she couldn’t have been more than 11 years old. She preferred to stay home and read while Becca would go out on adventures. She drank black coffee and sunburned easily. Her skin was pale and freckled. I remember their kisses as more of a career of kissing than one splendid moment. Becca was strong and commanding; Avery was timid and shy. This is collected information, not something I knew immediately. I hadn’t developed preferences.
After kissing for a while, I had a terrifying thought. I tore away from the party and ran downstairs to sequester my dad for a private father-son talk.
“What is it? Aren’t you guys getting along up there?”
“We’re getting along fine.”
“That’s good to hear, so why are you bothering me?”
“Dad, I may have gotten Becca pregnant.”
He was silent for a little while, and then I had another terrifying thought.
“I may have gotten Avery pregnant too.”
And then a third terrifying thought.
“In fact, I think Alex, Sam, and I may have gotten them both pregnant. I’m sorry.”
This was the first time I was conscious of the fact that I had embarrassed myself in front of my father. And I was sorry. I was as sorry as I’d even been before in my life. My dad covered his mouth. I thought it was from the shock of knowing he was soon going to be a grandfather. He carefully measured his next words.
“Why do you think they’re pregnant?”
“Well,” I explained, “we were kissing them.”
My dad paused to let me continue, but I didn’t. As far as I knew, there wasn’t anything else to say.
“You’re kissing them,” he repeated finally.
“Is that all you’re doing?”
My dad shook his head and gave a heavy sigh.
“Do you think your brothers are up there right now kissing Becca and Avery?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“You didn’t get anyone pregnant, but tell your brothers to stop the kissing and come downstairs for supper.”
I didn’t know what sex was until I was 14 years old. Until then, I thought it was any number of things. I believed, at first, that sex was kissing. Watch closely the movies or television shows where sex is implied. There was no scene between the passionate kiss and the later swelling belly; the connection was direct. There was a kiss, and then there was a baby. Sex was how babies were made; therefore, kissing is sex. This thought still stands as a monument to the elegance of the logic of my youth.
I had just closed my locker when I realized exactly how far behind I was in a subject that most everyone already knew about. The locker shut and closed, and a group of kids was standing there. I was nervous.
“Hi?” I said.
“Ben, what’s a boner?” a kid named Jeff asked, he had the locker next to mine and we’d talked extensively about boners earlier on that morning. I thought my explanation was sufficient, but it bore repeating, so I said, loudly and proudly:
“A boner is like a secretary.”
There were stifled laughs, but I continued, “It’s someone who researches things for you. They look things up. You know, bone up on a subject for you.”
I wish I could tell you that I was done embarrassing myself, but I wasn’t done. I went to the highest court of arbitration possible: the American Heritage Dictionary. A “Boner” was a ‘mistake’. It didn’t have to do with secretaries at all. I went back and told my entire Language Arts class that I’d solved the boner problem, and that it was all a ‘mistake’. This, as it turns out, was yet another boner.
After the public boner, my friends Rory and Dave defended me. They told other kids to leave me alone. Rory and Dave lived closer to each other than they did to me, but it was all close enough to be on the same bus route, so we used to sit in the same area. That meant we were friends. Having bikes closed the distance; a comic book and tabletop game habit gave us each a shared purpose, and all of us having a Sega Genesis and a pact to never buy the same games so that we could trade cartridges made us near as to blood brothers as you could get in the rural outskirts of North Madison.
Most crews are motley, and ours was no exception. I was the scrawny kid who wore an eye patch for most of his formative years, Rory was the pale kid with the nose that looked like an ass crack, and Dave was the fat kid. He moved to being the smelly kid once another fat kid moved into our neighborhood. They taught me all my profanity. They taught me how to inhale cigarettes. When we first met, we liked to play superheroes. Then trade comic books. Then game cartridges. Then when we all hit 13, it was time to grow up and trawl for cigs.
Trawling was what we called it when we spent the day cruising parking lots for cigarette butts with even the slightest shred of tobacco still clinging to the filter. We rode our bikes around in a circle like vultures when break time came to see which of the employees would be nice enough to give us a fresh cigarette. That summer, the quest for a fresh cigarette was the noblest pursuit of a boy’s life. Otherwise, it was back to trawling for scraps.
Dave and Rory were talking, and I was listening. I nodded without understanding. Whenever they started talking about sex, the words lost all their meaning to me, then they were talking about going camping with a few other friends of mine. There was going to be booze. Who knows, they said, there might even be girls.
“Can I come too?” I asked.
They both looked at each other and shrugged.
“No, Ben. You wouldn’t be interested,” Dave said.
“Why the fuck not?”
“Because we don’t talk about comic books or other shit like that,” Rory replied, “This is grown ass man stuff. You don’t know about it, and we don’t want you getting made fun of.”
“Yeah, don’t embarrass yourself, dude,” Dave agreed.
That summer went by slower than others. I never got invited to any of these camp outs, but I got to listen to what happened at them. I got to hear stories, but there was always something missing in those stories. There would be times when I didn’t laugh at a joke. Or if someone started a story with, “remember the time that…” I wouldn’t be able to remember that time. Sometimes, I injected myself into those stories of the campouts just to see if I could convince myself, through repetition, that these memories were mine. I’d try on the language to see how it felt, and it never quite sounded right.
“God dude, did you hear what Kelly said to Mike? So funny. She asked him if she could suck him off right in the middle of class,” Dave said.
“That’s fucked up,” Rory said.
“Yeah, Kelly,” I said, “I’d like to eat out her.”
Rory and Dave both stared at me while I casually smoked my fresh cigarette, cool as they come. They looked at each other, sighed, and shook their heads.
“Eat her out, Ben. It’s, ‘I’d like to eat her out.’”
“Oh. Yeah. That’s what I meant. I want to do that.”
“Do you even know what that is?” Rory asked.
I took a deep inhale of the cigarette, and blew out as cool and honestly as I could, “No.”
Dave shook his head, “We can’t bring this kid anywhere. I swear to God.”
“It’s like a handicap at this point,” Rory said. “It’s like you’re crippled.”
The second time I embarrassed myself in front of my father, we were in Groton, Connecticut, walking along a shoreline sidewalk. The sun was blazing in the sky, and the pavement cooked the bottoms of my bare feet. I refused to wear shoes while we were in Groton. My dad and I walked side by side, and I plucked a long blade of grass and started harassing his ear with it. He swatted away and laughed, and that’s when I said it.
“It’s just like sex, right dad?”
He stopped and looked at me quizzically.
“What was that, son?” in that sort of tone that I’d come to know as the kind he used when he was allowing me a chance to revise my last statement. I didn’t take it.
“I said ‘It’s just like sex!’ You know, you stick the thing in and pull it out?”
My dad laughed.
“Where did you learn that?”
“At school,” I lied, “Is that right?”
My dad thought for a moment.
The summer in Groton also brought on more kissing parties. Becca and Avery had a cottage near to ours, and we would walk in our sand caked feet back and forth from house to house carrying food and booze for our parents. My dad would read us mystery stories until he wanted to go down to have a martini with the grown ass people. These mysteries fascinated all of us. I treasured them as the only sacred literature I knew. My dad delighted in telling these short mysteries to us, and spared us none of the gore, none of the lurid details. He especially loved the looks on our faces when we discovered the twist endings. I loved twist endings. I loved the part when the savior became the villain, or the best friend became the worst enemy, and I felt I should have seen it coming the whole time. In those nights where we sweated and prayed for the sea salt breeze seeping in the windows, these stories were my sermons. My father was my priest. And the gasps of delight in the malicious little mysteries were our summer night hymn.
My dad would leave to entertain people above the age of puberty, and then the lights went out, and we started another kissing party. Becca had grown faster than any of us, and she overpowered me. Her arms were sea strong and her sun and salt cured skin stretched tight across her muscles, which pulled all day against the swell of the ocean. We pretended she and Avery were mermaids. It wasn’t hard. All of us stank of ocean. My brothers and I would watch the two of them sail along the beach in those slow afternoons, and go out to meet them in the water as far as we were brave enough to swim. We’d cling on to the sides of their boats while they pulled us along the shoreline. All we had to do was close our eyes and inhale the swell from their stringy blonde hair. In the kissing party, at least, it didn’t matter whether or not I knew about sex. The kissing party was all I ever wanted, and in some ways, it was all I could want. It was the most I could ever ask of anyone. I didn’t have the words to ask for anything else.
But I couldn’t deny the massive gap that had opened between the world and me. The kissing party was all I wanted, but it wasn’t all there was. My friends, my parents, everyone was hinting at a world beyond kissing parties, but I couldn’t find anyone to lead me there.
Thankfully, in 8th grade, the Internet came to the suburbs. With the Internet, came Internet pornography. I was 14 years old and finally given the power to ask the entire World Wide Web about sex. So I did.
During this time, I was introduced to every single possible sexual concept and perversion that the world had to offer. I saw everything and was spared nothing as long as the limited dial-up connection could handle it. I went to sites offering guy-on-girl, girl-on-girl, guy-on-guy, girl-on-girl-on-guy, girl/guy-on-guy/girl. I was introduced to a vocabulary that was new and fascinating in its implications: fisting, felching, snowballing, creampie. Every possible filthy combination of human acts was at my fingertips.
One day, my mother saw the internet bill, and she was mortified. She demanded to know what I was up to on there. I don’t recall being embarrassed about it, because to me there was nothing to be embarrassed about.
“How do I view your internet history?” she asked.
“Oh, just go over here and open this folder; that should show you everything,” I replied.
She opened the folder, went to a few of the websites listed therein, and gasped. I just stood there, my head cocked quizzically to one side.
“You are one sick puppy,” she said.
I felt guilty. I felt guilty because she wanted to make me feel shame, when I didn’t. I felt hollow and curious. Why did this upset her so much? What about this made me a ‘sick puppy’? What did she think I was doing with this stuff?
Here’s what I was able to do after Internet pornography: I was able to talk with Rory and Dave and make them laugh. I was able to pick up on the things they talked about, and offer anecdotes of my own. I was delighted because I could bullshit. I was finally given the ability to bullshit. One day we were on the bus and I was on my way to Dave’s house. He said we could play Shining Force 2 on Genesis. He told me I could borrow it if I liked it.
When we got into his room, Dave immediately threw his entire porn collection on his bed. I immediately lit up with glee. This was my entrance into the secret brotherhood, which I’d been long denied in my ignorance. I didn’t hide my excitement.
“Can I read them?” I asked.
“Go ahead!” he said.
So I did. I went through all of them and was just amazed at the sheer amount of stuff he had. I went through each one of them. I was so happy. I felt accepted back into my group of friends. That somehow I’d finally done something right. I wasn’t a little kid anymore, I was a grown ass man, who like other grown ass men, had a collection of pornography.
“Could you hand me that one you’ve got there?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure!” I said.
He threw a blanket over himself, I can only assume for decency’s sake and he slumped over and glared at the porn magazine in his hand. His eyes narrowed and I watched his arm shuffle back and forth. His heavy breath made the room hot and small. His stink like soup seeped out and filled up my nose, cloying and choking. The slick sound of skin sang in my breathless silence.
“Dave, what the fuck are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m jacking off, what does it look like? Either give me a hand or shut the fuck up.”
In that moment, watching that fat kid jack off, I couldn’t help but think about kissing parties. Pornography and Kissing Parties were preludes to something else. After he came, he made a point to show me the shimming goo that covered his hand.
“This is what a grown ass man can do.”
In those mystery stories, in my sacred scriptures, it’s the best friend who becomes the villain. It’s the protagonist’s own weapon that is used against him. It’s that twist that you swore you saw coming the whole time. You read every event over again to see what you missed. You play the moment in your head over and over again to see where you were misled. The subtle click of a hammer being cocked here was the sound of smacking skin. The smoke from the gun was the stink of sweat. The semen on his hands was my own innocent blood.
The summer that Becca and Avery’s parents got divorced was also the summer of our last kissing party. I was 14 years old by this time, and my next year was going to be my first as a freshman in high school. Becca was already a sophomore, and I’d asked her a lot of questions about what to expect. Then when the lights went off, I couldn’t lose myself in the smell of ocean like I had before.
“What’s wrong? You’re being weird.”
“I’m sorry. I guess I’m not… I’m not good at this anymore.”
“Just don’t think about it so much.”
But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. My thoughts were racing. The kisses felt like invitations now. I couldn’t make sense of it. Avery’s freckled skin was somehow calling to me through her shy kisses. I reached up under her shirt and grabbed her still forming breasts. I immediately felt her breath stop, so did mine. Our eyes opened and she looked at me full of hurt. I looked back at her, for the first time, with shame. She bit me, I winced and she pulled away. She went over and talked to Becca. Becca turned the lights on.
“Sorry, guys,” she said. “We’re going downstairs. I want to go swimming.”
It was over. We never had another kissing party after that.
Benjamin Kowalsky drinks his coffee black. He’s written and performed works of poetry, fiction, and Creative Non Fiction. He’s also written for the theatre and had many of his short plays and a short film produced. In 2010, he won the Writer’s Digest Pop Fiction Contest for a short story. He’s 28 years old and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Where he can take you on walking tours of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s neighborhood.