Creative Nonfiction: Testimony From the Church of First Kisses by Jenna Devany Waters

My first kiss happened when I was eleven and it happened in a swimming pool. My first kiss happened when I was eleven and it happened in my best friend’s bed.

At camp there was a boy named Marcus who was funny and chubby and sort of cute, especially when he told jokes. At camp I met my best friend Ivy: inveterate bookworm and fellow latchkey-child of a single parent; kindred spirit, co-connoisseur of imagination.

Marcus had creamy brown skin and tight-cut black curls, and I didn’t have a crush on him, exactly, but I knew that he liked me.

Ivy had freckles and a voice wrought for jazz, a precocious rasp that rolled like smooth pebbles across my skin. I spent most nights in her twin bed, flashlights under the covers and our faces a few inches apart, sheet tented over our heads, air kneaded with laughter.

In the pool I turned handstands, spun backflips and cannonballs, the chlorine a bright copper burn in my nose. Marcus sprung corkscrews, clowned dives into bellyflops. My new breasts floated like two amorphous sea creatures, alive with their own strange pulsations. We blew bubbles and tread water on the cusp of not-childhood.

At night Ivy told stories. Sometimes they were ghost stories; often they were not. What I remember most are not her words but the heat of them, the way her voice would drop and grow huskier, the way she would slow down her speech so each word sat poised like an entire world on her lips. The way the light shone through the blanket above us like sun dappling the water’s skin; the way we hovered below the surface of awakening.

Between strokes, we floated: practiced apneas, took turns holding our breath. My hair wove in the green light like a scrim of sargassum. Marcus told me to swim down and open my eyes, and when I did he kissed me, one quick, shy peck that landed on the side of my lips, and then he popped back up and so did I, and he smiled goofily, and if we ever talked about it again, I don’t remember.

One night Ivy lay on her side instead of her back, her face touching mine, our cheeks both resting on the pillow, and when she spoke I could feel her breath on my lips, and my own mouth hollow with waiting. She was telling a love story, and when she began to describe the way the man leaned in to kiss the woman, she moved her head just slightly forward and kissed me.

Arms, elbows, waist, knees. The shallow cove at the end of her collarbone. The gullies of my hands, the thin webbing stretched between fingers and palm. The salty beads of sweat on the inside of her wrist. The delta where her throat, her jaw, the abalone curve of her ear converged. The iliac bones cresting from both of our hips, twin sandbars demarcating the plunge into untraversed depths:

Nothing touched but our lips.

And then she stopped, rolled on her back and continued the story, like there had not just been earth-shattering kissing happening, like all the nerves in our bodies had not just latched into a bloom of tentacles crackling with electricity.

Like we had not just discovered one of the secret names of God.

Jenna Devany Waters is a queer writer/teacher/single mother, and list-maker extraordinaire. She lives in NYC with her two children, twenty-nine houseplants, and a fire escape she pretends is a yard. She is occasionally funny on Twitter: @devanywaters

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