We made it to Santa Monica sometime before eleven p.m. He picked me up from my house, drove me to his, and called a driver from there. When I expressed my concern over the inconvenience of him picking me up on the South side of the city, he said that a first date needed to be done right, even if it meant going South from the West Side and back.
He called to say he thought he found the right street, and I rushed down the rickety stairs of my collapsing apartment, but not before stopping to peer at myself in the mirror. What I saw was a girl giddy about by a man who was keeping his promise of a first date. Consistency is a commodity in Los Angeles, and I discredited my worth by believing that I’d somehow stumbled upon it like a golden ticket I myself cannot garner or administer on my own accord. When I got to the curb, he was leaning on his car, looking like a character in a John Hughes film. As soon as he saw me, he lifted both arms and grinned wide. I tilted my head into a pause because the moment felt like a photo on a postcard I would send to myself when heartache would become an island.
As we winded around the 10 toward the West side, I wondered how everything would end, whatever it was we were beginning. Summer was coming to a fast close—surely we would too—even if Los Angeles doesn’t believe in seasons. The chill in the air was like a fresh breath against our skin and not at all unnerving like the cold of a late hour anywhere else. When we finally arrived, he held my hand and led me nowhere in particular. I happily followed because he let me impersonate him and most especially because he made me laugh, which affirmed a happiness in my bones that I so wrongly believed I couldn’t find elsewhere.
There were pale yellow umbrellas lining a store front on Arizona, and he leaned in to kiss me, so I tilted my head once more, and then he kissed me again, and unbeknownst to me, I tilted my head to the other side. “Wait,” he began, stopping me in front of the bright restaurant. “Stand here.” He placed his hands on my shoulders positioning me before taking several steps back. “I’m going to kiss you, but don’t think about it when I do.”
I let out a breathy laugh as I peered around to spot any onlookers. There was a group of people walking across the street, and a few folks at the corner behind me. “What are you doing?” I asked. Had he kissed me in the daylight, the flush of my face would have given every nerve of me away.
“Just stand there,” he said before walking toward me. His pace was swift, and when he reached me he placed one hand on my face and the other on my waist, drawing me in closely, messily. As quickly as he approached me, he pulled away. “You went to the right that time,” he noted. “Okay, stand here one more time. And don’t think about it.” He backed up several feet again.
It was dark out in spite of the bright lights, and I looked around to see if the group had stopped to watch. My face was nearly hot by shallow embarrassment, though more so because of the satisfying notion of being discovered by a man.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Stop!” I replied playfully, but he walked over to me again, and no amount of shyness could have pushed him away if I’d let it. He slid one hand up along my face and gripped my waist with the other. He kissed me harder that time, and allowed time to dissipate. Perhaps the moment was like a photo of a postcard that he would send himself when he was locked behind the walls of his own castle yet again. Time caught up to us, as it always does, and so he pulled away slightly, keeping his eyes closed and his face near. “You went to the left that time,” he whispered like a secret. “I’ve never met a girl who tilts her head a different direction each time I kiss her. I never know which way you’re going to go.” I didn’t know how to measure his observation, but in that moment he taught me something about myself I hadn’t known before. This small, unpredictable habit of mine was a gift, a mirror held up close.
I’m beginning to believe that sometimes we meet people solely for the purpose of meeting a part of ourselves through them, however small the piece may be. The challenge of these relationships is the danger that resides in the act of defining. If someone's purpose is only to name a part of ourselves we could not name on our own, it can be difficult to prevent them from naming more than what they’re warranted, or more than what is the truth. Brief insight can lead to a premature entrance into ones world. It’s brevity sounds like a key, so we forget they are a stranger. He named one quirk, which led to him naming the good parts of me I’d pushed to the back of my mind. But once the naming began, I let his actions become lying definitions of who I am, which was never his intent and purely a consequence of me being human.
That night, as we drove along the 10, I looked to him and placed my hand on the side of his face, tracing is features. He let the weight of his head fall softly within my palm, and I was aware of how I was literally and figuratively holding a living being within my hand. Perhaps he thought something similar as he held my face in his and crookedly kissed me over and over. Perhaps he came to forget, as I did, when it ended. All I know is that only I can remember from here on out. I see too many folks forgetting that they hold people within their hands and on their tongue in the words they use to define one another. I see too many fragments of people littering the city. Too many hollowed individuals sifting through the pieces, looking for what was theirs and lost, holding on to definitions that say nothing about who they really are.
I say all of this because a man once defined the way I kiss, which led me to let him in further, which then turned into a story I would look back on again and again, extracting perspectives for my own lesson in love and life. And so the dull ache became a song, and the sidewalk in Santa Monica was exercised of its ghost and replaced by postcards of new memories of people who define be by the truth and nothing more, and when I kiss someone new I will keep in mind that I sometimes tilt my head to the left and sometimes to the right, which is a small thing not worthy of being a key that leads into the halls of who I am.