I don't know who started this absurd Christmas ritual, but it's become as essential to family get-togethers as pecan pie or honey-baked ham. As soon as the food is served and we're all seated around... [+]
In college, I went on a date with the son of my mother's coworker. I couldn't remember if his name was Jason or Justin, so I spent the entire night maneuvering my way out of saying his name. He was handsome in the way most college guys who do their own laundry are handsome, and my mother always said to decide at the beginning of the date whether you would kiss a man or not, so I watched his lips as we talked and the way they stretched wide to wrap around his burger. They were fine lips, if a little chapped, and he opened doors for me, so I thought I could endure a kiss. Maybe even enjoy it, if he was good at it, because I had been disappointed before.
He had a defined jaw and a sophisticated amount of facial hair. But the girl working behind the bar was beautiful, with brown hair tousled as if she'd made out with her boss in the storage room and hastily tucked her small breasts back into her T-shirt before going to work. She smiled at customers as she poured drinks and had one of those off-kilter grins that made you wish you could pluck her internal dialogue from her head and place it on the tip of your tongue. Her nails were cut short, and I crossed my legs.
Jason-or-Justin manspread beneath the table and his foot brushed mine. I wondered if this was flirting. I wondered if the girl-behind-the-bar could see it from there, would look and say, "Ah, that is flirting, she should kiss him tonight." I wondered if she would want me to kiss him tonight.
I would rather kiss her, oval face, smooth cheeks, no scruff, no stubble, her lips looked pink in the dim light. I uncrossed my legs and crossed them again. Jason-or-Justin asked me if I wanted to try his fries.
The girl behind the bar felt like every girl I had ever seen. Every girl I had looked up at, stuttered at, and given a small fraction of my heart to until it dwindled down so small I wasn't sure there was any left for another person. She was all these pieces in one, back to me at last.
Yes, I told Jason-or-Justin, I'll try your fries.
He picked one up and said, "Open wide."
He pushed it into my mouth, down my throat, into my esophagus, where it lodged. A soggy lump just behind my collarbone. I felt like I could see it bulge beneath my shirt, like everyone could see, look, she has his fry in her throat.
I told him thank you, I told him I was happy. Every girl wanted this, a gift from a man, and I did not look at the girl behind the bar again.
He took me home and I let him kiss me and I never did learn whether his name was Jason or Justin. And the lump in my throat, I got used to it.
You don't say anything after I tell you this story. Fist tucked beneath your chin, you're probably not sure if you can still love me after all. Because I accepted this thing I thought I wanted. You look at me and your eyes are so brown but I can't read them, or I don't want to, and I wish you would say something, you, this woman who is all the pieces of my heart back together. A collection of the things I wish I'd had before.
Eventually, you speak.
"Open wide," you say.
And I do. I open my mouth and your hand is warm and soft going down my throat. Not invasive, not forceful. I welcome you in and you take the lump and pull it out.
"Look," you say, and in your hand is a pendant, round and worn. It is beautiful, and it is from me. "It doesn't belong to him after all."
You tuck it into the notch at the base of your neck and it's lovely. I tell you this. It is lovely and it is for you, it is for you.