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Don’t Kiss the Girl

“We can go back to my place,” he said. “If you want to give it a try.”

After dinner we’d gone on to a bar. It was our first date, and we were talking about in-line skates. When the clock is closing in on midnight and a guy you hardly know asks you back to his house to go rollerblading, well, what do you think? I could hear the question everyone would ask the next day–good grief, what did you expect? To go rollerblading?

But I wanted to go rollerblading. Turns out that rollerblading in the moonlight is fun.

*

“Did he kiss you?” my friends asked.

“No,” I said.

They exchanged looks. “Must be a nice guy,” one said. “You think he’ll call?” said another.

surrounded by friends shortly before learning to rollerblade

surrounded by friends shortly before learning to rollerblade

I shrugged the way that you do when you’re trying to act like you don’t care. It was just rollerblading, after all. He did call though. And over the next few months he introduced me to his friends. His sister. His parents. “This is Marta,” he said. “We like your girlfriend,” they said, and he didn’t correct them.

*

“Has he kissed you yet?” my friends asked.

It got harder and harder to answer. “No,” I said, day after day. They speculated–he’s gay. He’s got a disease. He’s impotent. He’s saving himself. Later, they said, “For crying out loud. Why don’t you kiss him?”

All those women’s studies classes were for nothing. “No,” I said.

“Break up with him,” they said. “No,” I said.

For my birthday party they bought me a pin that read–Kiss me. It’s my birthday.

The next morning, “Well?” they asked. I looked at the wall. “No,” I said.

My roommate sang, “Marta and ___, sitting in the tree–looking at each other.”

*

One night my roommate introduced me to a coworker of hers. The woman looked at me. “So, you’re the girl whose boyfriend hasn’t kissed her yet.” Another night I ran into my boyfriend’s friends. “We don’t know why he hasn’t kissed you yet,” they said, though I hadn’t brought it up.

I just kept shrugging, sighing, and rolling my eyes. “It’s not the most important thing, now is it?” But of course I knew why he hadn’t. It was obvious. A guy doesn’t kiss a girl he doesn’t think is pretty.

*

Motivation. Why do characters do what they do? Why would a girl stay with a guy who doesn’t want her? Why would the guy hold her hand and bring her flowers if he didn’t like the girl? Why would she stand on the doorstep every night for months thinking that this time she wouldn’t end up crying?

In real life, I don’t know. In fiction, I have to find out. In fiction, understanding and conveying motivation is difficult, but I love that moment of knowing–Yes! This is why. This is why he is able to dash her hopes every night and this is why she lets him.

But it isn’t me or him in the novel (not in a direct and conscious way as far as I know). The bad guy isn’t just a jerk. The traveling companion who came later isn’t the sum of my experience. Why does your bad guy want to ruin everything? Why does your hero try to stop him–or her? The reasons are probably not as simple as we might think.

The only thing left is to convince the reader.

9 thoughts on “Don’t Kiss the Girl

  1. When I was on the yearbook staff in high school, our publisher once lost an entire batch of pages at one time — the shipment fell off a truck or something. The editor — probably the first girl I had a crush on — asked me (me! just me!) to come over to her house to help re-create them in, like, 24 hours, in order to meet whatever the deadline we had.

    Sometime in the single-digit hours of the morning, she fell asleep in her parents’ kitchen, her forehead on a page proof. Her family had long since gone to bed. I finished the remainder of the pages myself (except for the one she was sleeping on, of course). And then, terrified to make any noise because I didn’t want to wake her up, I just sat there for another couple hours until the household started to awaken, so I could get a ride home. Doodling or whatever. Watching her sleep, watching her drool on the page, laughing to myself. Perfectly happy.

    That became one of the signature Tthings We Tease Him About for the remainder of senior year: “The night he spent with Ida.” Sigh…

    See? Your posts have a way of stirring this kind of stuff up — and not just for me, judging from others’ comments around the blog!

  2. But I do suspect that if Ida after a lovely evening out on the town had been standing on her doorstep looking at you expectantly, things might’ve been different. You might’ve done something more than fiddle with your car keys. Or yearbook pages.

    Ha. I was on the yearbook staff too, by the way. That’s another story.

  3. I’m convinced. What happened with the no kiss guy? Was he gay? Did you dump him? Did he dump you? I want to know, you little story telling dickens.

    It does remind me of my old novel… the one that I gave up to become a teacher. My main character would have done what you did. So what did you do?

  4. Ambiguity is a powerful element, particularly in short stories, and particularly from about 1990 onward. Your recent posts are splendidly dramatic, their seeming realness a direct consequence of ambiguity. One question you raise through the indirection and implication of your dramatic writing: What separates ambiguity from more physical detail?

    My own take is that you have a lovely sense of where to go with ambiguity, allowing you to play it as though it were a Stradavarius or a Bosendorfer, an us as though we were readers.

  5. “Fiddle with your car keys”: is that what you youngsters call it nowadays? 🙂

    Ida’s and my paths diverged and intersected many times over the course of decades, and Lord knows there were plenty of doorsteps. And etc. But by the time she died from cancer, not quite 50 years old, through numerous marriages and relationships by both of us to other people, “it” (whatever it was) never crossed the line into That Kind of Relationship. We talked about it of course, but her feeling was that it would befoul the friendship — not make it foul, but tangle it.

    Which might have been at the back of your young man’s mind, too.

    (Perceptive comment from Shelly.)

  6. rowena, that’s a story for later.

    Shelly, I don’t know if I can answer that question in any coherent way. But I do know that the physical detail is hard to argue with–a man is standing at the door, for instance. As far as I know the ambiguity comes in the why he is there, what he will do, and what others think of his presence. His intention vs his action? Or what he even understands of his intention?

    Thank you for the comment though.

    And JES, I would think that might have been in the back of his mind had we been friends first. In fact, I have just such a friend. Been friends for years and have left it at that. So, I don’t think that was the case. I shall never know more than that people are mysterious and so it goes.

  7. I had a similar relationship, and finally I realized one day that I was pursuing someone that would never commit to me, so I let him go. Thankfully.

    Your post stir so many ideas in my head about how I can use my own experiences in my stories – more fully, I mean.

  8. Pingback: What do you want and are you sure about that? « writing in the water

  9. Pingback: False Starts and Unsatisfying Ends « writing in the water

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