Part 2: The Kiss

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“Look. It’s not that big a deal. You just make a list of what you want in a partner. I did one, and I’ll share it with you, so you can get an idea of what you might include,” said Heather.

The conversation was uncomfortable, and I wanted out of it. We were chatting over Skype, and Heather could see me. While she was speaking, I thought vaguely about doing the Skype-disconnection trick, ending the call mid-sentence, with a follow up by phone text saying my Internet connection had gone rogue.

The notion she was proposing to generate a list of desirable qualities in an ideal mate seemed a pointless exercise, especially considering my history of failure in all things love.

Had she forgotten the stories of a romantic history that could alternately entertain or horrify listeners for weeks on end? What about my more recent marriage, including the very long, very dysfunctional rap sheet I had on my second husband? What testament didn’t I have to prove that in all things love, I was only and always ill-equipped for success.

It wasn’t like I didn’t know that dating was problematic at the 50+ mark, anyway. The items that had once prompted romantic involvement were permanently crossed off my To-Do list. I had kids, financial solvency, a new life in Halifax fulfilling my hopes and dreams—solo—and the hormones propelling much of my dating selections back in the day were no longer anxious or impatient. Neither was I. And I’d said repeatedly, for more than two years, that dating was the last thing on my mind.

Nothing had changed, so why even bother with a list?

“Karalee, it doesn’t matter if you’re not ready to date. Consider this a logical approach. If you do it now, you’ll have the list if or when someone comes along, ready or not.”

Argh. The woman was nothing if not persistent and she’d now refocused her appeal to the only sure-fire tactic that worked with me, logic.

Hmmm… maybe I should make a list.

“Fine,” I capitulated. Then I crossed my arms petulantly across my chest and glared at her on the screen. “I’ll do it.”

It wasn’t quite as excruciating as a root canal, but it was close. A scotch on the rocks loosened my tongue for the task, and though I got a bit squirmy and my head started to hurt, by the end of our Skype call, I had the list.

It was markedly different from the one I might have written in my 20s, or 30s or even 40s.

Surprisingly, hair, hotness and muscle mass didn’t have the same cache anymore, while stuff like—does not have to ‘win’ all the time, has internal moral and ethical code that he follows, and makes life easier, not harder—were tops on my list. The upside to the post-marriage cleansing exercises that followed my train wreck marriage appeared to have manifested in a new level of clarity.

At the end of our call, I thanked Heather and signed off. I printed the list, folded it, and tucked it away in the blue leather journal that I keep in my night-table.

Then I promptly forgot about it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Remember the adage that it takes a village to raise a child? Well, seems in my case, it takes a village to assist a 55-year old woman in the romance department.

After Chaps’s surprise kiss, the scores of emails flying back and forth for an entire week from Halifax to my girlfriends in Waterloo and the Cayman Island, regarding said kiss and what I should do about it, certainly, must have clogged the Internet.

I needed the help.

Each and every person in my village recommended a forthright approach, whereby, I should grab the tiger by the tale to preclude an misinterpretation of the kiss and its meaning. What that meant was that I should talk to Chaps, pronto, about the peck.

Right, what did my friends take me for? Mature? Able to have these kinds of talks? The minute a wisp of romance is in the air, I’m fifteen again.

And was romance even in the air? Weren’t we just friends? Did I like him, that way? I was a bit annoyed that I even had to think about these questions. Netflix had been my boyfriend of choice for the last two and a half years, and I’ve been fully satisfied with our relationship.

Stubbornly snubbing all girlfriend advice, I elected for a tack more analogous to my mental age. Ignoring everything was the only way forward.

This tactic, of course, required avoidance of any sort of discussion or acknowledgement of the kiss because, frankly, I neither knew nor wanted to consider how I felt about either the kiss or Chaps.

Obviously, that meant avoiding a reprise of the act. Thus, I developed a secondary strategy to fend off possible lip-to-lip contact by employing what I’ll call the ‘Dance and Dodge,’ or DaD. (No daddy issues intended with this acronym, though, as you may have already surmised, I have those too.)

In order to execute on the DaD, the plan for the next time I was with Chaps and it came time for the ritual hug was this: I would rush into the hug, pin his arms down by grabbing him before he had the chance to grab me, wrap my arms securely around his back, give him a quick squeeze, and then dash away as quickly as possible. Should a kiss be in the offing, a sideways head dodge would allow opportunity for the kiss to occur, but with the proper timing, it would land on my cheek.

One very awkward implementation of the DaD plan later left my right cheek slightly grazed from swiping his scruff at the wrong angle and too fast, while his kiss almost hit my ear. Both a regrouping and a bit of a talking to was in order.

“Karalee,” I scolded myself,How old are you? 55, you say? Think it might be time to grow up, perhaps?”

So I developed Plan B. Next time, I would discard the DaD strategy, but continue to ignore the kiss by not talking about it, with an ultimate objective to accept and assimilate future pecks into our customary hello and good-bye routine.

Trust when I say, this plan went off a lot better than the ‘Dance and Dodge.’

Weeks went by and Chaps and I still walked, talked, skated, went out for dinner, and hung out, quite a lot, with the reconstituted kiss/hug combo fully integrated into our partings. Any complications or changes to our friendship arising from the inaugural kiss event were entirely absent. And any whiff of romance had been parked, at least for the moment, leaving us free to have an easy, breezy friendship, built on as we were and nothing more.

And then, I kissed him.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Were you drunk?” asked Frank.

“Nooooooooo,” was my sorrowful moan.

I was in Toronto, two days into my week-long school residency, and Frank had met me for an after-work drink. He and I have been friends since university, platonic friends that is, and for more than thirty years. We’d often joked that our friendship is the longest, healthiest relationship either of us have ever had with an unrelated member of the opposite sex.

What Frank was advising me on was the kiss that I’d plunked on Chaps’s mouth. Forced to remain tight-lipped with my girlfriends on the topic since I’d not heeded their sage wisdom with the first kiss, he was my only hope.

The second kiss happened when Chaps came over one night to talk through a problem I was facing. We went over the issue for a couple hours, up, down and sideways. Once I’d calmed down, and he was sure he’d talked me off the ledge, he headed to the door to leave.

It was proceeding like clockwork, as usual, until, yes, I kissed Chaps, with one of those kisses that says, “Hellooooo you.”

As with kiss number one, I became an instantaneous emotional runaway, with similar intentions to ignore the matter the next time I saw him. But I was a bit worried I might not be able to do that this time around, so I asked Frank to assess the kiss number two situation, from a male perspective, and advise whether I could do this again.

“Frank,” I said. “I was stone-cold sober and all we’d done was talk about my problem and how to fix it and it was late and I was tired and there was….”

Frank interrupted my whaling by confirming, “Aw, you’re f*cked.”

Great. Ignoring kiss number two was out of the question. But even worse, according to Frank, was that what I had done had taken matters further down the pipeline.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I successfully avoided Chaps for a full week after returning to Halifax. But then, on a Friday night, we made plans to go for a walk. Before we met, I owed it to him to slip on my thinking cap and figure things out, beginning with me.

This last stretch, grief and loss have been my constant companions. I’d found no egg timer to flip over, so I could watch for a final grain of sand to fall through to let me know the mourning was done. Darkness has its own schedule.

Chaps and I had both arrived at a place of being alone, unwillingly uncoupled. How we each got to that place were completely different stories. But I thought at some point, I might be able to stow away or forget mine. Either I haven’t yet or I just can’t.

Tell me, when or how do you continue a journey, without the comfort of knowing where the path will lead? To stand still had been safer, easier, and what I’d done for two and a half years.

And then, I began to wonder if instead of forgetting, that, like the kiss, I might somehow assimilate everything into the pastiche of the now, while on a walk that night. Maybe, it could begin if I could explain my many worries of what I had lost, not once but twice, and what I feared I might lose again. Not love. Something far more important. Me.

Chaps came to my basement cave, and we walked from my place down to the water. It was cold and dark and empty all around us. We followed the boardwalk to Pier 21 and went on, past the container port, to Point Pleasant Park, chit-chatting about anything and everything, but nothing at all of the things I wanted to say.

Not a single word came easily. When I finally managed to shove each one out of my body, I left a trail of staccato stumblings, incomplete sentences, and emotional fragments, expelled into the air as hanging glop. Chaps encouraged the conversation and listened. And then he added his own thoughts and feelings. I was not alone in facing challenge.

It was a week before we met again.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I had a car issue, and Chaps offered to teach me how to swap out my car battery to fix the problem. He had the know-how, tools and garage necessary for the job. Always eager to become more car self-sufficient, I took him up on his offer.

After the task was done, we went into his house, and I convinced him to take out his guitar and play, mostly because since my move to Halifax, I never get to sing anymore. A few songs in, I joined his strumming with my voice, and before I knew it, it was just shy of ten o’clock.

In the last moments, as I got my coat on to leave, we talked a bit more. Friends we were, then, and friends we would always be. At the door, we hugged. It was chaste and comforting and felt exactly right.

Chaps walked outside with me into a night that was fresh with sea air and devoid of winter’s bite. The snow had melted, and the temperature was well above zero. They say that is what happens in Halifax in wintertime. Half the moon hung in the sky, and my candy-apple coloured car caught the light.

I’ve had to learn to let go of the idea of endings. I used to think of them as fait accompli, but well, that’s just not how it goes. Nothing stops. It just leads to the next place.

Chaps and I reached my car and turned to say goodbye once again. And then, we leaned in to each other, at exactly the same moment.

Down the street, I heard a group of teenagers, and their laughter rang out in the night. Maybe they were laughing at us, but maybe not. All I knew was that I felt fifteen again, and I was kissing a boy I liked, under a streetlight. Nothing else in the world mattered.

That night, home in my basement cave and once in bed, but before I turned out the light, I reached into my night-table and pulled out my blue leather journal. I slid the folded sheet out from the back pages, and opened it up, smoothing out the wrinkled creases until the paper lay flat on my lap.

And then, I read my list.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My blog is set in real-time, so you find out about my life as I am living it. I don’t know what might happen next with Chaps and me, but I can say that I know, at some point, I will return to the story that started with that first kiss to let you know where it goes.

For now, Happy Happy Valentine’s. It’s been said before—love is all you need. Give your love an extra little squeeze from me today.

P.S. Thanks to my nephew, Spencer Clerk, for music choices that brought me back to high school.

Ohio Players – Love Rollercoaster

Roxy Music – Love is The Drug