In 2011, I had my first kiss. I traded it for a tattoo, or more accurately, a glimpse of a tattoo, on the back of a boy I met in Las Vegas. I had just turned twenty-five, so it was about time. The tattoo was nothing original – a koi jumping out of a pond – something he’d found on the internet.
“Koi are supposed to be good luck,” he said, leaning against the bar. He was a twenty-something financial analyst from Chicago, in Vegas for a bachelor party with huge group of Asian frat brothers. He had just ordered me a vodka cranberry (with Ketel) and was waving a hundred dollar bill at the bartender, who had too many hundred dollar bills waved in his face to react in a timely manner.
“Good luck?” I smirked, my eyebrows raised in judgment. “So you think you’re a lucky guy?”
He shrugged, the hundred dollar bill poised in mid-air, “Well, you’re here aren’t you?”
Looking back, it was very well rehearsed.
The bartender finally took the bill, gave the Tattooed man his change, and presented me with the strongest vodka cranberry I’d ever tasted. I choked a little bit, wondering if the bartender and the Tattooed man were friends. It was still early and he had not impressed me so much yet, but I wanted to be flirtatious.
“Show me the fish,” I said, batting my eyelashes.
“Maybe I will, later.”
We danced for a bit, talked about nothing, and when later came, I reminded him about the tattoo. My drink was still full and I handed it to a friend, fueling a later incident in which she would almost throw up in my car.
“Ah,” he said, as though he’d forgotten all about it, “That’s right. Okay, I’ll show you. Follow me.” He led me to some tree-lined walkway near the side of the club. It was actually the walkway that led to the bathroom, but it was quieter there. Or maybe things just get quiet when you’re focused on someone. The image of someone. An image on someone. He sat me down on the edge of a planter.
“You want to see my tattoo?”
I nodded. How exciting.
He started to unbutton his shirt, then paused to deliver a line. Looking back, it was very well-rehearsed.
“I’m not just going to show you for free,” he said.
“You gotta kiss me.”
Let me be straightforward about things.
Prior to that night, I could count the number of guys I’d kissed with the number zero. I didn’t want to tell him because pop culture and empirical evidence tells me men (and women, to some degree) are uncomfortable with information like this. It reeks of liability. You open yourself up and voila, I am somehow responsible for your organs. And could I blame him for wanting a kiss?
I reviewed my actions leading up to that moment: I had batted my eyelashes furiously. Danced suggestively. Was wearing a short dress from Forever 21 when in fact, I had just turned 25, and which I had spent the better part of the night pulling downwards, hopefully suggesting the opposite of what the dress suggested. This was not part of my feminine mystique but a common feminine mistake. You want the attention and sure, you can dress the part, but can you remember and deliver the lines? More often than not the attention comes in a tidal wave and suddenly you are drowning because you spent too much time playing badminton and reading during the years when most other people were exploring relationships with the opposite sex.
I blanched for a minute. Maybe longer, but not long enough for the tattooed man to think, “Hey, this girl just zoned out on me…” I thought of how thin my lips were and how dry my mouth was and how horribly tired I must look up close. Was my mascara running? Probably. My hair was flat. I smelled like smoke.
But then one giant question: how do I do this? Where was a Judy Blume novel -open with key passages highlighted – when you needed one?
It was a nice evening though, and I was having a good time. I smiled at him, Oh, what the hell.
Okay, I said, hoping the awkwardness I felt was only a feeling and not a look. I leaned in.
We kissed. I felt his five o’clock shadow scrape against my upper lip and on the corner of my mouth. I thought of a Saint Ives Apricot scrub I used to use but stopped because it was too abrasive. This felt slightly different. He pulled back, looking thoughtful.
The moment had passed and I was amused again. Was he judging my kiss? It must have sucked, but I wasn’t going to admit anything. I remembered my lines. I smiled expectantly. Kiss for tat.
“Alright,” he said, “I’ll show you.”
His skin was paler than I expected, and I laughed at him for it. “We don’t get much sun in Chi-town,” he said. The shirt came off and there it was, the image of a wan-looking fish I had paid a kiss to see. A first kiss. A fish out of water. A night club in Vegas. Called XS, but could now be rechristened Club Cliche. I looked at the fish, nodded and said all the requisite things, “Wow. Did it hurt. How long did it take. Was it expensive.”
It didn’t hurt so much and yeah, it was expensive, but he wanted to get another one. I hoped he wouldn’t.
Later, we kissed again and then again. At three AM he put his skinny black tie around my neck and told me to keep it.
“Maybe I’ll visit LA sometime and get my tie back.”
At four AM he and his friends walked me and my friends to our hotel room. We kissed one last time and I thought, “Hey, am I good at this or what,” though I knew that my lips were probably chapped beyond recognition.