All That Existed Was Her Mouth, And That Strawberry Red Lipstick

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Gint Aras’ first kiss, on the shores of Lake Michigan, comes back to him every time he washes his face.

The first time I saw Gemma was at a high school dance, where we had both lined up for punch. I had never seen such full lips or such striking lipstick. I caught her name when someone called to her, and I imagined how it would be to kiss Gemma. But I didn’t dwell for very long— at that point in my life, I wasn’t the kind of boy who got kissed by girls like Gemma.

She turned out to be a year older, the friend of a friend of a family friend. I happened by her again the following summer at a Great Lakes resort along the coast of Lake Michigan. In the evenings, the adults would sit outside cottages while the teens went down to the beach to hang out and build bonfires.

I spent an entire day mesmerized by Gemma and her strawberry red lipstick, which was magnetic and somehow accentuated the fullness of her mouth, adding fullness to her entire body. Gemma was so attractive that the feeling frightened me, and I’d drag my eyes along the dirt anytime she faced my direction. Somehow, without searching for her, I seemed to know where she was at all times.

We first spoke while I was waiting to play pinball. She asked if I liked pinball, and I said that Oh yes I did. Very much. I told her my name, that I was so-and-so’s friend and lived in such-and-such a suburb of Chicago. I did not mention that I knew her name, that I had memorized her face instantly while standing queued up at a high school dance many months before. Though impossible to imagine how, I somehow maintained a conversation through the fantasy of kissing her. The only thing that existed in the world was her mouth.

Evening soon fell. Two dozen of us teens sat around a beach fire telling stories and poking fun at each other. Gemma had not joined the group yet, and I feared she wouldn’t come. But then she appeared right next to me, even though her friends were all on the other side of the bonfire.

Couples started to withdraw, some to the dunes, others to disappear into the darkness away from the fire’s glow. An odd person here or there would yawn and announce that they were ready for bed. But Gemma sat next to me the whole time, and I got to hear all about her terrible Driver’s Ed class and her hope that she would get in to the University of Minnesota. While she talked, she managed to inch closer to me. We were soon the only ones sitting by the bonfire. She had her hand inside my knee, her head pressed against my ear. How had this happened? My shock and elation stunned me silly.

Very gently, she pushed me back into the sand, and kissed my mouth and face, my forehead, my chin and neck. She nibbled on my ears, kissed the bridge of my nose, her mouth delightfully soft and warm. I lost all track of anything; perhaps we kissed for minutes, or maybe it was hours. We walked up to the resort together and, in a shadowy space beside a pathway that led to her family’s cottage, she planted another soft kiss on my mouth. Gemma whispered, “I’ll see you tomorrow” and disappeared down the path.

I slept the deepest sleep of my life. In the morning, still in partial disbelief, I lay weighing what words to say when I’d see her next—at the tennis courts or pinball machines or beach. I finally got up and went to the kitchen where my brother and our friends were arguing over a pack of doughnuts.

When I appeared, they all started howling. My brother threw a doughnut at me and the other guys started heckling, “Score!” and “Work it!” I had no idea how they would’ve known about my night with Gemma. But then saw myself in the bathroom mirror.

My face was smeared with strawberry red lipstick. It was everywhere, my cheeks and forehead, my upper lip and neck. The smears resembled bruises more than kisses, a scene so sloppy compared to the feelings of the previous night that it seemed absurd, impossible. Of course, I washed my face quickly with loads of soap, sure to check every place.

The ensuing teenaged romance with Gemma was short-lived, lasting only one summer, but it was powerful. I am happily married now with two children, and yet I recall Gemma’s mouth most anytime I wash my face.

This post is brought to you by Dove Men+Care. Take Better Care of Your Face.

Photo: Flickr/tobiastoft

About Gint Aras

Gint Aras (Karolis Gintaras Žukauskas) is the author of the cross-generational family epic, The Fugue, from The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. He's a photographer and the author of the cult novel, Finding the Moon in Sugar. Learn more at his website, Liquid Ink. Follow him on Twitter, and like him on Facebook.


  1. As beautifully written as this is, I can’t help but feel several contradicting emotions after reading it:

    1) sadness for someone who is so absorbed in their past that they recall a fleeting, trivial encounter every time they wash their face;

    2) disgust and grief for your wife, as she is mentioned as barely a footnote to the vivid and elaborate conjuring of Gemma’s memory; and –

    3) concern for the mental health of children everywhere who are involved in adult behaviors.

    Your wife deserves respect, and you deserve peace and growth away from the heady and distant past of a petty childhood make out session. I would feel shame for involving another person in my life if I were incapable of letting go of a memory, or felt that rush of nostalgia every time I washed my face – it feels disturbingly…voyeuristic, in an odd way.

    ( Remember the movie Titanic? Wasn’t it kind of crappy how Rose never told her husband about Jack? When she died and went to ‘heaven’, instead of dancing with the man she supposedly loved enough to marry, she dances with some guy that she never told her husband about and her husband was…where exactly? Standing at the bottom of the stairs in the crowd, trying to figure out who the heck his wife was dancing with, huh? )

    We live life as if it ends at adulthood, and anything new or “adult” that we experienced in childhood is somehow better or different than what we experience in adulthood – when really childhood has no use or place for adult things because we idealize, gloss-over and gild them with our child minds and place them in our memories like prettily-painted dead-weights that will slow and distract us from the here and ever present now, muting or disturbing our ability to grow into well-adjusted adults.

    I know this because I lived it – the constant recollection of childhood sexual escapades with my “first love” drove me to compare everything to those events, and left me angry, depressed and bitter and making terrible choices, until – through therapy and self-reflection – I learned to move on and let go of childish things that did not matter.

    Did those events make me who I am today? Perhaps. But they have no business living inside me when I am busy living a different life with someone who I love and will never betray, even in my own mind.

    Mental discipline seems to be something many of us lack or outright refuse to learn for the sake of fantasy and an inner-world that betrays who we are and what we claim to stand for far more than we could ever understand or explain.

  2. Hey Gint, just stumbled upon this article and am glad I did. Best description I’ve read in a while. I still remember my first kiss. Sixteen years old, 1983; we saw “The Outsiders” and I can still remember what her mouth felt like and how her perfume smelled. Best to you my man.

  3. Gint Aras says:

    Thanks for the wonderful comment, Jimbo.

  4. Gint you continue to be my favorite writer on this site. I find the things you write about to be thoughts/memories/feelings that are shared by many men.

    I too remember my first kiss as something that can compare to nothing else. Even losing my virginity was not as “electric” as that first kiss (probably because I wasn’t as nervous or worried I was going to get the girl pregnant or get an STD). 19 years old, sophomore in college, in my dorm room. The girl kissed me and it made my whole body feel good. It was the most pleasant, amazing sensation I’d ever felt in my body or brain. I don’t think I can even give the way I felt (physically and emotionally) a proper description. Obviously I’ve had more physical experiences with women since then, but there’s no memory like that first kiss.

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