When Olivia de Havilland died recently, I was like everybody else. My first thought was will they find anything in her effects that explains The Feud or has it just died with her... A petty consideration, but might one over-mourn the passing of the extremely aged from peaceful cause? Sure, it's very sad, but it doesn't reach the level of baby cancer. Sorry.
I then ruminated on the unanswerable: how could sisters remain so resolutely estranged for more than half their lives? Ought they not attempt to discover some measure of reconciliation as they approach the Abyss?
O. decided that the last decades of her life after sister's passing would be spent in a sort of triumph of outlasting, and there would be no reveal to the sordid masses. It's up to us to spin our own fantasies, like anthropologists with no fossil record.
I think it was kissing.
Somebody kissed Somebody that they shouldn't have, and that was the deal-breaker. I see them in vintage Black & White cinematography, lips demurely pressed together.
What is it about kissing, anyway? In English kiss has a kind of volatile sound, whereas in French they say baiser or bisou [smooch] which sounds so much sweeter, to my ear anyway. Point is the farther we get from those wonderful nuzzly childhood versions to the pulsing adultish ones, the more complicated it gets.
There's an early snapshot of me as a toddler with one of my babydolls in my arms and I appear to be strangling her with love, my lips mashed against her cheek with ferocity. It's true, we did have many conversations and tea parties, but who exactly was I?
Once when I was ten or so I kissed a girl on the neck. She was my next door neighbor and we spent hours together, cooking up mischief and one day in the schoolyard I was running about as always, blowing off excess energy outside the classroom in the fresh air. She was suddenly right there and I was overcome. It was swift and awkward. We never acknowledged it nor did it happen again.
Much later there was that spontaneous first in my neighbor's clunker in front of my house. He had experience, obviously cause he planted it right on target, no hesitation. I wasn't...displeased, however it did imprint me with two things: cigarettes and tongues. The first, I really did not care for at all, never have. The second? Eh, well...it was very minimal. It spoke to his finesse, although if he had any other ambitions they never came to anything. I was after all jailbait.
In a few short years:
*No-kiss G, a lovely fellow who asked me to the Junior Prom and eventually got on my mother's radar because he gave me a ring and she made me give it back, which really hurt his feelings and we hadn't even made out. We did come close a couple of times but he was the opposite of Clunker guy: so shy that I kind of gave up. The specter of some kind of clandestine permission-by-ring thing that my mother had raised actually freaked me out, I think. He was pretty upset about the whole thing and eventually stopped talking to me at all. Even wrote a poem for our AP English class and called it The Ice Queen.
*Rainman—I'm Lizzie, the spinster romanced by the charismatic conman and by Act II sc v, in the privacy of the barn, she lets down her hair, literally and figuratively. The guy that I did that scene with was such a tall, cool drink of water, (I still know him through FB), but the kissing? Absolutely nothing.
*Sadie Hawkin's Day Dance at my old best friend's high school—she set me up with one of her friends from Journalism class. He would be classified now as a nerd, I believe, but the truly sad thing is that my mother who loved to make costumes, uncharacteristically decked me out just about as Daisy Mae as was possible, like I was her naughty stand-in. The guy never saw it coming. He seemed to have fallen very hard almost immediately and for my part, I took one look at his flat upper lip and basically just tolerated him for the whole evening. Actually, truth be told it was much worse; the more he looked moony eyes at me, the more I resolved to play the part of the fucking Ice Queen (see no-kiss G), as a form of fairly perverted revenge.
*A young man introduced by one of my dearest (closeted) Drama buddies for reasons I cannot remember; he was already out of school and had nothing to do with our circle. He showed up at my house one time and hijacked me to go look for his missing sister in the Haight. Also ended up teaching me to French-kiss, which I did not especially like.
*The Basque guys were an offshoot of my first experience living on my own. A girl in my class at San Francisco Ballet School approached me with an offer of a shared room in her flat in the Sunset, not far from the School. I accepted because I really wanted out of my parents' house and I had enough of a stipend from my Ford Foundation Scholarship I could afford it. It was a disaster. Turned out her boyfriend was French and when she found us chatting away in a language she didn't understand, she flipped. A week or so before she kicked me out, the guy came by with a couple of compatriots to visit and I don't know to this day what I was thinking, but I just went to town with one of them. Man, he tasted good! Maybe because he was studying to be a chef. Also, no tongues. None. He was a perfect gentleman, too, although his buddy came into my room and tried some funny stuff. I just told him fous le camp (scram).
*Henri, the Frenchman in the Alps, who began by aggravating me no end only to almost get all the way. Here I learned to navigate pleasure. I love those memories, however the complications of his Rugby obsession leading to a giant cast on his left leg and my miscalculation of my supplies of the Pill...well, we'll never know. He was awfully cute.
*"Freddy", in front of my house in his car. He played that role in My Fair Lady, and we were never a thing (for cryin out loud, I was Mrs. Higgins) but I must have been blossoming or something cause he planted a nice one, parked in almost the exact spot of the Clunker. Really soft lips.
*Gary—another case of weird chemistry. In this one, at a club to prove a bet that he made when I (fresh from months in France & Henri) said Americans don't dance.I'm pretty sure I initiated. I wasn't scared, I was curious. I thought hunh, I've been here before. But for a drunken bus driver eleven years later, that might still be going. Realistically, probably not. How ironic that the last time we touched was a firm peck, assertive and whiskery bespeaking a form of ownership.
There is a rather large gap here, during which as a widow, I experimented a bit with some fairly horrible results involving too much beer and gratuitous petite mort hair-pulling.
*Carmen, at Bear Valley Opera, post BA from the Conservatory. No kissing, but this is where I was chosen on closing night by our Matador Escamillo, now known for basically hitting on every individual in the cast principle on down, to receive a Rose onstage that he typically gave to one of the younger cigarette girls. Her mother was in the audience that night when he walked majestically, as he always did, right up and right past her, and handed it to me. I still don't know what that was about, but it was pretty cool to see the look on her face.
*Grand Hotel—I saw the script called for me to get familiar with the Baron; he was not the person I first saw at the photo shoot (guy who plays the Doctor), no no no. He was an Italian Stallion from New Jersey, too handsome for his own good. A qualified success, since he could neither sing well nor dance at all, but we rehearsed that sucker for three months. The tough thing about having such a large cast with a shitload of work to accomplish is that priorities must be set and our make-out scene was constantly being pushed. We faked it without blocking just to get through the musical number, but when he went in, he either dodged me or I dodged him. All I got was a scrape of scruff across the edge of my mouth.
*Kimmie—the eponymous role in which the teen with the aging disease hooks up with a friend from school shortly before her worldly expiration date. The actor was incredibly sweet, but his mouth was chronically cold. I spent that production fighting a fever and with a perpetual cough. I guess it read that she was dying, so...no problem really, I just thought what a drag he has to kiss me night after night.
Now for all of you wondering what's with the Penis Envy.
Of all these experiences, the only two that produced severe blowback for my choices:
*no-kiss G, with the poem read out-loud to the entire class calling me frigid.
*Mr. Nerd, who when I still wouldn't put out after a couple of misguided dates, gave me his unsolicited opinion that I had to lose it sometime and that I had the worst case of penis envy he had ever seen.
(Dedicated to 35 years and joy, with the Kisser of my Life.)