In the foreword to the short story collection Skeleton Crew, Stephen King writes this:
“A short story is a different thing altogether – a short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.”
Kisses can be sweet. They can also be dangerous. And somewhere in between. Think of your first kiss with a new partner. Where did that take you? Was it where you expected? Each time you kissed someone new, was it the same?
In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo replays a conversation with Bilbo to Sam, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Likewise, a kiss is a dangerous business, especially that first kiss, because you never know where it might take you. I know that in my case, there was one first kiss that led me down a road to disaster. It was a trip that almost destroyed me, one for which I still pay a heavy price.
When we get to the point of that first kiss our emotions are often surging, passion overwhelms. When we are young, it is awkward and confusing. When we are older, the awkwardness might be gone (unless we really care) and the confusion is present when deserved (such as crossing new boundaries).
A kiss is really nothing. A pair of lips touching another pair. It needs be nothing else. Just a physical act of no great consequence. It is all the stuff leading up to that kiss that makes it special, especially once combined with the uncertain promises of an idealized future. Perhaps this is a wrong. A friend reminds me that sometimes we are attracted to danger. Yeah, that’s true. That’s why we allow quick kisses from strangers in the dark. We thrill in the risk, the endless possibilities, the potential of a journey across a mythic landscape with risk of certain destruction.
At the end of the brilliant “L.A. Story,” Steve Martin narrates, “A kiss may not be the truth, but it is what we wish were true.” Indeed, at least when it comes to love. If we kiss out of something other than love, or infatuation, what is it we wish were true?
Michael Corleone kisses his brother Fredo with the “kiss of death” in Godfather II and says, “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart.” I watch this scene now and I wonder, “Is this what a predominantly white part of America said this week?”
For those of you who embraced, and kissed, your infatuation of the last 18 months, you’ve taken us all on a new journey. Is this really what you wished to be true? Early signs look to be far more ironic and threatening to us all than any new change that is good. What are you going to do if this doesn’t work out the way you thought – such as the privatization of medicare or the return of a bunch previously ousted politicians turned lobbyist?
It all begins with a kiss. Journeys of excitement, love, glory, or excruciating failure. And worse.