The two big windows of my childhood room are like soulless eyes, staring and judging me while I play M-rated video games and read short stories that my mother hid behind her regular books, out of her child’s reach. My bedroom’s walls are the color of a rusty old pipe, and so is the décor. A big closet from my mother’s childhood that covers nearly the entire wall stares back at me; multiple tiny doors are now broken—signs of my rebellion against my grandparents for not letting me redecorate my sanctuary. The broken corners are messily taped together, making the damages less obvious, but not covering them completely.
Another act of rebellion.
Across from the yellow-brown old junk is my squeaky, old bed that could only fit me and my oversized, orange cat.
And then there’s the comforter.
There’s something about that yellowy—almost rusty—orange comforter. The color dominating my room and my life acts as a warning: a reminder that there’s always a red light following it.
My grandparents’ house, located not so far from the busy and gray streets of Warsaw, the capital of Poland, is always full of random people that claim to be my aunts and uncles. The perks of living in a small town filled with close-minded people and one bus stop, forty-two hundred miles away from where I am now, is that you don’t have to pay attention to who is or isn’t your immediate family; we’re all related somehow. If it’s not because they used to babysit me when I was unable to tend to myself, then it’s because they not-so-secretly wanted me to marry their son who was ten years older than me and also my cousin.
On that dark, cold Christmas night I finally turned thirteen and was ready to conquer the world. The day before, I’d bought my first “Are You Ready to Be Thirteen?” type of journal and excitedly stayed up all night to answer all of the questions. “What is your biggest dream that you want to accomplish before you turn sixteen?” and I proudly scribbled, “Kiss at least one boy and make the rest of them jealous.” See, life is funny in some ways as that dream would come true sooner rather than later. That first kiss with an almost half my age ginger-headed boy with his buck teeth and half-eaten fingernails, was what I am still trying to recover from now as it destroyed the idea of a true love’s kiss for me. It involved one girl, one freckled boy, and a little plastic bag. And the worst part of it? I didn’t see anything wrong with him asking me to bring a little bag and cover my mouth with it. To be honest, that might’ve been the greatest idea he’d ever had, and I sometimes wish I had ideas like that now that I’m older. I agreed to kiss him under one condition—that bag had to stay on for the entirety of the kiss.
It did not.
Boys are schemers. He had carefully planned that kiss and ripped that bag off my mouth the second his lips touched mine. I felt like my lips touched something that wasn’t meant for me, or anyone at all. His cold, slimy lips smirked as he moved farther away from me, victory written all over his face. That one movie scene from Now and Then—when the girl asks if her friend has ever been French-kissed, and she replies with, “Are you kidding? I don’t want to get pregnant”—plays in the background as the bag leaves my mouth in slow motion. My fingernails dug deep into that rusty-colored old comforter and wouldn’t let go as the kiss continued for the longest three seconds of my life. There are approximately seventy-six steps, two sets of staircases, two hallways, and three rooms that anyone has to walk through to get to my room from the very heart of the house: the living room. Yet no one from the party downstairs decided to come upstairs. No one seemed to care about saving me from that smirking boy who was now playing video games as I blankly stared at the nothingness on the streets. My eyes turned into two gaping, soulless holes, as if they switched places with the windows. Everything felt as if I took out a micro lens and forcibly glued it onto my eyes. I became weirdly aware of every single hair on my arms and head. My back started to itch as if my skin was ready to peel off.
The taste of that bad first kiss stayed with me as I journeyed through high school and my two attempts at college. I would go to parties and birthdays and kiss dozens of people to make that emptiness go away. I’d kiss whoever I wanted, not really paying attention to who it was, or if it meant something to them. There was a girl in a shiny, black dress, with a tiny bag that could only fit one regret and the strawberry chapstick she tasted of. Another guy was taller than the Eiffel Tower, and kissing him felt like climbing up a mountain with a dry cherry on top. None of them felt like anything to me, so I kissed some more. A girl with a white streak on her forehead, a boy with too much gel in his hair, and a girl whose name looked awfully like mine. They are all a blur of sweaty people, genders, nationalities, and different backgrounds. In some way, I did conquer the world, having kissed almost everyone on this planet.
Kissing. That’s how everybody greets each other in Poland. They hug you, kiss you three times on both of your cheeks, and squeeze your shoulders. It’s a welcoming gesture—something that tells you the other person cares about you. To me, it’s my older aunts leaving two very wet and red lipstick stamps on my cheeks, or my uncles gripping my shoulders way too hard, leaving them bruised.
I would stand there, motionless, trying not to frown or make any sort of facial expressions that would indicate that I am repulsed at their breath or choice of perfume.
I hate kissing.
A New Reality
It’s early January of 2018 when I get off the plane, and my feet touch the holy grail of almost every European’s dream: the trash-filled streets of New York. I’m no longer confined by my old room and the childhood memories. I had fourteen hours to think about everything I wanted to forget. The comforter, the broken doors and hearts, feelings of misplacement. This was an opportunity to start fresh and finally find my own place.
I have a different bedroom now, with two very bright windows and décor that I was allowed to choose myself. I like to tell myself that I don’t remember the kiss anymore, nor do I even care about the ginger-headed boy. He’s getting married to an almost 50-year-old woman, making me think that maybe he had a problem with kissing people his own age. It feels good to know that he got his teeth fixed and doesn’t use bags to kiss other people anymore. I haven’t yet told my boyfriend I’m uncomfortable kissing him. Maybe it’s because I genuinely don’t like kissing people. Or maybe because the act falls too close to home, which I don’t feel comfortable coming back to just yet.
Weronika Stachura was born in Warsaw, Poland and spent 20 years of her life there, eating pierogies and raising almost every cat in town. She’s an only child, but her parents didn’t let her use that against them. She falls asleep to Ted Bundy’s tapes and loves eating food that came from anywhere but her own kitchen. She started writing when she was around 8 years old, and her first story was about a magic toaster that could talk.