by: Mimi Nguyen
Throughout each day I stare at the mouths of strangers and wonder how my lips would feel pressed against theirs. A client walked up to my reception desk one day and asked for an optometry appointment. As he described his irritated eye, I gazed at his soft, puffy, lower lip. Years ago in college, a friend came out of her dorm room wearing new lipstick. The bright red was a stark contrast against her white teeth and pale skin. Secretly, I pictured a crimson lip print smeared across my mouth and tanned Asian face. Yesterday, a stranger with enticing stubble passed me on a crosswalk. His beard was light brown and short like he forgot to shave. He caught me staring at his mouth and smiled. I immediately fantasized how he would smile before kissing me. Kissing me. Kiss me.
The mouth is a sacred and intimate portal. We take our sustenance through the mouth, we communicate vocally through the mouth, we share intimate messages through the mouth.
Ancient Romans sealed business documents with a kiss. Catholics kiss the Pope’s ring. Jews kiss the Torah. Gamblers kiss dice for luck. Politicians kiss babies for votes.
Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. The kiss of death. Sleeping Beauty was awakened by true love’s kiss. The kiss of life. The frog prince was transformed by a kiss. The kiss of truth.
Life and literature teach us kisses hold power.
I believe touch is incredibly important in each person’s daily life. Touch connects us to others. It keeps us sane. It helps us feel real and not alone. When we touch we share space, air, and energy through our skin. This sharing becomes even more intimate when a mouth touches another mouth.
Some cultures in Africa believe the mouth is a portal and kissing could invite death or the kidnapping of one’s spirit. Cultures in the Himalayas don’t kiss because it’s considered unsanitary. It is estimated that ten percent of the world does not kiss.
Perhaps they would change their minds if they didn’t kiss on the mouth?
There’s a peculiar kiss common in Southeast Asia that can only be described as the “sniff kiss.” Being a Vietnamese girl brought up in a somewhat traditional household, I have been subjected to the “sniff kiss.” My mother still does it to this day. First she pushes her nose into my check. Then, she inhales quickly and deeply through her nose, making a sound similar to sniffling. The “sniff kiss” is affectionate and can be placed anywhere on the face or neck except for the mouth. That would be awkward.
One night I was snuggling with a boyfriend. We were just about to fall asleep when I leaned into his neck and gave him a “sniff kiss.” Immediately I froze. My boyfriend was Caucasian from white-bread Iowa. I had never kissed him like that before.
“Oh my god. I’m so sorry.” I hid my face in his neck.
He started chuckling. “That tickled. What was that?”
I started laughing, too. “That’s one way my family kisses. Lots of Asians do it. Oh my god. I’m so embarrassed.”
“No, it’s fine. It was strange, but nice.” He chuckled some more.
Looking back on it now I feel silly for being embarrassed. I was in love. In this small moment with my boyfriend I had both safety and intimacy, two difficult feelings to come by. But being intimate also means being vulnerable. At any moment my boyfriend could have rejected my “sniff kiss.” He could have rejected me. I often live in fear that my kisses are not good enough, that I am not good enough.
Everyone is in search of the ultimate kiss, the intimate embrace. You may not think you are, but that’s just because you haven’t been kissed yet. I mean really kissed. I mean lip locked in such a way your breathing quickens, what you were doing with your hands doesn’t matter anymore, the music from the radio has suddenly been muted and all you can concentrate on is the tugging connection between your wet lips and that little beating in your chest.
Biologically, kissing demands special attention and synchronization from the body’s muscular, cardiovascular, respiratory and endocrine systems. The mouth is normally used for eating. It takes great instinctive ability to kiss rather than consume a partner. During a kiss, a total of thirty-four facial muscles and 112 postural muscles are used. The orbicularis oris muscle, informally called the kissing muscle, is used to pucker lips.
Kissing is extremely pleasurable for many reasons. The lips are abundant with nerve endings that contribute to them being a tactile sensory organ perfect for erogenous stimulation. Kissing gets the heart beating, blood pressure pumping and skin blushing. When kissing, the human body releases Oxytocin and endorphins to the brain. Endorphins relieve stress and depression. Oxytocin is a hormone released during orgasm.
Kissing before sex. Kissing during sex. Kissing as sex. Kissing heightens the anticipation, starts the momentum, and gives a sneak peek for what’s to come. The poking and prodding of the tongue mimics motions later used with the hips and penis. Kisses lead to fondling and fondling leads to penetration.
To be honest, sometimes I would be completely contented with just kissing. The teasing and tasting keeps my body trembling with anticipation. The delicious moments before sex are full of carnal want. Anything is possible when two lips part and two mouths meet.
In my experience, boys and girls, men and women, do not kiss the same way.
Mike was shy at first. He leaned in and hovered before touching my mouth. He didn’t want to cross any lines or over step any boundaries. Sean had stubby red facial hair that rubbed my lips raw. Anthony kissed so deeply I forgot the rest of my body; I only existed as a pair of lips. Mark had really thin lips and teeth that crashed into mine. Darren had a big lower lip that I loved to suck and take bites on. Once I asked him if I could name it because I felt like it was mine. He said no. Jeff kissed softly and paused occasionally to whisper my name.
Girls and women are different. They’re softer.
Brandi let her lips brush against mine. Ellen laughed between kisses, always keeping her hand on my neck. Jamie liked to chew gum. She smiled big and closed her eyes before kissing. Christina wet her lips slowly and sensually. Kissing her was like slipping around mouth to mouth. Mary ended each intense make-out with a simple peck on the lips as a finishing touch like hot red wax pressed with a seal.
I want to hold someone special. I want to press my lips against their neck and smell them. I want to be held. I want someone to kiss my mouth and let me hold them for a moment in the softness of our lips. In the softness of our touch. In the softness of our embrace.
I love the beginning of things. When I meet a new friend getting to discover their quirks and mysteries is like opening a new toy. The first blush of romantic relationships gives me bursts of energy every morning. I can’t wait to see or speak to that person again. The start of spring makes me feel alive. All the green buds on bushes and trees ready to pop open with color.
Kissing is a discovery of the new and different. Mouth to mouth I am tasting the other person as if their identity hides behind their tonsils. I am allowed to explore them intimately with my tongue, a muscle that few get to touch. My lips suck and caress the weight of their mouth. My breath twirls around their breath, breath that comes from deep inside them. Breath that’s hot and damp, the way I imagine a soul might feel.
Tien (Mimi) Nguyen is a former TriQuarterly Online Art Director, and nonfiction and fiction editor. She is currently pursuing an MFA in creative nonfiction at Northwestern University. She contributes regularly to TriQuarterly Online and has worked for The Long Beach Press-Telegram, Runes Literary Magazine and The Iowa Review.