Kasia, Kayaks, and Kissing
I’ve decide to dedicate Tuesdays to all things involving love, dating, relationships, and romance. What better way to begin than to share the story of the first time I kissed my girlfriend Kasia, which I think is a pretty good story. It had been 12 years—yes, twelve years—since I last kissed a girl before Kasia. It happened last summer during an outing with friends at Lake Wabaunsee.
I am relaxing on the deck of the lake house, reading Flannery O’Connor’s The Life You Save May Be Your Own, when Kasia walks up from the dock nearby and asks, “do you want to go kayaking?”
She is wearing a black summer dress over her still-drying yellow and grey one-piece. Her dirty blonde hair is sun-dried and full-bodied, hanging with the thick softness that comes from having been bathed and baked all day in lake water. Although it is late in the day and not unusually bright outside, she is squinting. When she is happy, she always squints; and she is the kind of girl who, in spite of her bright, well-ordered teeth and the prominence of her definitive Reese Witherspoon-like chin, always smiles the most with her deep set, eastern European eyes.
I look up, return the smile with a toothless grin, take her hand, and think that this might be it. The moment. The long awaited. Very soon, Kasia and I will do something I haven’t done for a long time.
While I am not sure why, I hesitate for just a moment.
“Sure,” I say. “Let me go change back into my swimsuit.”
I get up and walk back through the lake house, out the back door to the clearing where my white Toyota Camry is parked. I arrive at my car, and my Carolina blue and white swimsuit is still drying on the trunk. I am so deep in thought about what might happen in the next half hour that I change out of my shorts and into my swimsuit in broad daylight. This is not a problem, as there is no one else around; they are all either swimming or napping or golfing or praying somewhere among the trees.
I reach under the driver’s seat and pull out a plastic bag that contains contents that are critical to the success of this occasion. The first is a brand-new, still-in-the-package, never-before-used Oral-B CrossAction series toothbrush. It is clear and navy blue, features angled criss-cross bristles that clean better than straight bristles, and I use it without toothpaste—like riding bareback on a horse—to brush my teeth hard, like I am scraping paint off an old church.
Next, I reach for a bottle of Listerine Whitening mouth rinse. It is a new multi-action rinse with extra whitening power to prevent stains, fight plaque build-up for brighter teeth, and control tartar that can lead to everyday stains. No other whitening rinse is proven more effective. But on this day, its greatest value to me is its sheer potency. I have always thought that rinsing my mouth with Listerine felt a little like gargling with hydrochloric acid—and today, more than ever before, I needed the confidence that my lips, teeth, and tongue were fully baptized in the cleansing waters of Listerine so that my mouth was fully exorcized of the sin of halitosis. I take a swig, swish, swish, swish some more—till my mouth burns like a vampire drowning in holy water—then I spit it on the grass. Ah, I think. Game on.
When I return to the patio where Kasia is waiting, there is a spring in my step, a new minty fresh confidence.
“Are you ready?” Kasia asks.
“Yep,” I answer.
I take her hand and we begin our descent down the slope of the hill upon which the lake house is built. We cross the road then walk down the flight of steps that leads to the boat dock. Thus far, the weather has been less like North Central Kansas and more like Southern California. It has been sunny and warm in a crisp, un-humid sort of way, with a breeziness that is refreshing like sun tea, not frigid like snow. But as we arrive at the dock, a brief, chilly current picks up from off the lake and blows through us. Kasia, who could normally wear a hooded sweatshirt on the hottest day in July, seems unaffected. But it gives me the shivers, no doubt because of nervousness, and as her dress flutters in the wind, so does my stomach.
“Are you cold?” I ask.
“No,” she says. “Not really.”
Kasia and I walk over to the end of the dock. She strips off her sun dress and both of us kick off our sandals and strap on lifejackets. She hands me a kayak paddle, leans over the edge of the dock, and begins to unloosen the rope that keeps the kayak from floating away. Then she points to a different kayak on the other side of the dock.
“That’s yours,” she says. “Go ahead, untie it, and get in.”
Mine?, I ask silently. I think for a moment, confused, then somewhere in the recesses of my memory, I retrieve the literal translation of the North American Eskimo word kayak. It means “man’s boat.” As in, one man’s—or one woman’s—boat. I thought the two of us were going to be floating across the lake in one boat—together. My hopes appear dashed, my plan thwarted.
As the two of us paddle our kayaks away from the dock and out into the cove, I suddenly feel as if I am engulfed in the twilight, not just of this day, but of summer itself. To the left of us and to the right, boats the same colors as the American flag they fly, are napping along the shoreline. They sway on the water with that same kind of satisfied weariness that humans experience after several hours of hard work and play. I notice that the trees growing along the shoreline are thick and social, gathered together like a wall protecting us from the outside, like mothers sheltering their children from the anxious world beyond them. In between them, people live out the last days of August; middle-aged men with smoked, red faces work hamburgers grills, old ladies knit and chat about Dancing with the Stars, and a little boy sits on a diving platform and throws a tennis ball into the water to be fetched by his amphibious chocolate lab.
Kasia and I paddle for awhile until we reach the very center of Lake Wabaunsee. For a moment, we stop and drift. Then I get an idea.
“Let’s swing our boats around, parallel to each other,” I say. “We can look at the sunset—together.”
Kasia agrees to my idea—and when we rear our kayaks around, we are rewarded. The lower half of the horizon is a pale yellow, which rises and fades into a powder blue that grows deeper and darker with altitude. The sun descends just beneath the center of the west; it is a swirling blend of orange and red, like a peach, and just as soft—and I feel a solid, joyful peace and think that this is what Dostoyevski meant when he wrote “beauty will save the world.”
“Well,” Kasia says. “It’s going to get dark soon. We better get back.”
I consider this unacceptable. I reach over and pull her kayak close to mine. I keep my hand on the side of her kayak to keep our two boats flush up against one another, and to steady us, so that neither of us flips over. I slide my paddle under a strap on the top of the kayak. I stretch out my left hand awkwardly, in a gesture that is a kind of half-yawn.
“Well, you know,” I say, as un-smoothly as it is about to sound. “I can’t let this opportunity pass by.”
“What opportunity?” Kasia asks.
“Oh, come on!” I say.
She shakes her head good-naturedly.
“Well, so much for spontaneity,” she says. “Why don’t you just have a countdown?”
I laugh. We laugh. And then in full George Costanza fashion, I say,
“Well, fine! That’s what I’ll do! 3…2…1!”
Still steadying the kayaks, I lean over and kiss her. It is a soft, tender kiss, and one that makes me feel like we’ve raced miles ahead in our journey to get to know each other well. I am thankful she is letting me in. And dozens of random thoughts and images fill my head: I think of C.S. Lewis’s quote that, “eros will have naked bodies, but friendship will have naked personalities.” I imagine the part in the Coldplay video “Fix You,” when the energetic, driving guitar solo kicks in and the lead singer begins to run through the streets. I picture John Cusack standing in front of his car, holding a boom box over his head that blasts Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”—my favorite scene from Say Anything, a 1980’s romantic comedy. For a time, I am lost in thought, and then I pull back, not knowing how long we’ve kissed.
But I know it is the best kiss I’ve ever had.