This piece appears in my newest collection of poetry and memoirs, Now Let Me Find A Stopping Place. Click here to check it out on Amazon!
You were, for all intents and purposes, an amorphous mist I tried to cling to as if you could resuscitate my arid heart. We kissed in your sweltering apartment in New York.
“Come over,” you said, “But they don’t turn the A/C on until later this month, so it’s a thousand degrees in my apartment.”
You came down to the lobby to let me in. I had driven over instead of biking, despite the warmth of the night, and you assured me I was okay to park there.
You were short and beautiful. Your mediterranean features were high and olive-colored, framed by dark hair which tonight was messy. When you pulled it up into a tight ponytail, you looked like a freaking Persian princess who had become matriculated into the midwestern business world.
Only in hindsight do I realize that you were not very fun, but you did have a certain strong allure.
Like that evening we got caught in the massive downpour, I skipped down the sidewalk rejoicing while you sought shelter beneath the nearest skyscraper that would lend its ledge.
We didn’t create this city, we just got caught in the rain and begged its charity. And it was all too happy to oblige. New York was the sprawling metropolis where an atheist and a Christian could meet in a Chipotle and initiate a summer fling.
That night you cautioned me repeatedly that you were gross and had been poolside all day without a chance to clean up. I assured you I preferred the natural look of your skin.
The sharp ledges of your lips drew me in, with their gentle curves and pointy corners. The way your cheeks softly folded over them into a dimple spelunkers wouldn’t dare to disturb. I began to wonder, sitting in the chair next to the couch where you sat, why you would allow me into your space. Into your apartment. Into your home. And why there were no better suitors found to fill your sheets this evening.
You told me you stopped believing in God because He just kind of stopped mattering. You simply realized that He didn’t exist anymore, the way one realizes they only got 11 chicken nuggets in their box for 12.
For you, God was nothing more than numbers that didn’t add up.
I told you about how Jesus is, like, everything, and there is nothing beyond Him.
Zoom out far enough and you always get to Him.
But I was zoomed in. I was focused on the sharp slivers of your eyelids as they rested above the dark irises as you examined my visage. I was talking about God but you were studying me.
“I need to go home so I can shower,” I announced. “Got an early morning tomorrow.”
“I have a shower,” you lowered your eyes, dead serious. “And you know what’s here that your house doesn’t have?”
“You have a steam shower??”
My stomach twisted into a complex knot of premature guilt and intense desire. I imagined your small, tan body pressed to mine while we stood in the tub. To accept would be to break a barrier from which there is no retreat.
“What if we were just friends?” I asked. Deep inside my head I plotted out how I would befriend you, continue these lengthy talks on religion and God until you finally caved and asked Jesus to come live inside of you, and I could properly woo you, wed you, and follow you behind that shower curtain. But that was at least….seven months away.
“I could never be friends with you,” you stated bluntly. “I would just want to make out with you all the time.”
I thought for a moment.
I moved from the chair toward you, into an awkward crouch-slash-bend over the edge of the couch.
And I kissed you.
Your lips were the exact right elixir of soft and firm. They were possibly better than expected. Not only were they phenomenal to the touch, but they left the most delicious tang on my own lips. Not a manufactured fruity taste, but a very human flavor. The kind you would imagine if you were to try to conjure what an exotic woman tastes like.
I knew in the back of my mind that kissing atheists was wrong.
“Wasn’t expecting that,” you said, authentically surprised.
I can’t remember what exactly was said in the following minutes, but I ended up seated directly in front of you on the ottoman. We faced each other and spoke closely. Our knees touched. My hands held your elbows and I noted how soft the skin on your arms was.
We kissed more.
You told me I was bad, but you would help me get better.
“Just do less,” you said in a low voice. “Let me…”
You kissed me again. And to this day it was the greatest kiss I’ve ever had.
And when I’m honest and alone, I miss the nearness of your skin. I miss the red warmth of your sunburnt shoulders and the naturally succulent tang of your lips.
And you know what? I’m afraid. That’s what good kisses do; they put a little bit of fear inside of you.
Fear that, when this one doesn’t work out—which it won’t, our religious differences have made sure of that—I’ll never have another kiss like that. Perhaps the next girl’s lips will be too smushy, or her flavor won’t be like yours. Fear that, when I do meet the right one, her body will be all wrong and maybe she won’t put her hair up into that sleek black ponytail like yours.
I’ve had dreams since then that I stayed longer. That I spent the night and woke up holding you. But I didn’t. After the third or fourth round of kissing, I stood up and departed. We both knew it was over. We both knew it never had been.
I remember turning to talk to you in the doorway, said something about moving a mattress you wanted to get rid of, and was off. We both knew I’d never be back for that mattress. No kiss goodbye. It was over the moment we rose from the couches. We both knew it, and to this day I still wonder if it ever did exist.
Ontologically, I can’t help but wonder if we are different, you and I. Is it more than a line on a form that segregates our religious differences, or is it more? Is it more like the difference between apples and a 10 million tonne glacier floating lonely in the Arctic?
I kissed you, but what was it? What was that substanceless thing we held between us like a child passing water from one hand to the other as he sits in a pool? The thing about trying to hold water is it runs quickly and before you know it, you’re sinking your hands beneath the surface again to scoop up more.
You left me thirsty.
Because that’s the thing about substance. It is satiating. It doesn’t leave you wanting like a burrito made of celery.
You were beautiful but you left me wanting.
Ours was a relationship made entirely of negative calories.
Ours was a kiss that reverberates through a thousand punk rock songs but will be forgotten in the High Country to come.
When everything is shaken and only the unshakable remains, that night in your apartment will be lost in the dusty annals of trivial—but pleasurable—mistakes. And I am eager to consume something substantive once more.
Ethan, I so wish I knew you. I would love to get to know your heart because reading your posts, I can tell you have a passion for Jesus and are living your life through him. I highly respect you for that and I hope you keep on writing.
This aches. This hurts. It’s beauty, truth, pain and hope all rolled into one. Thank you for your honest heart and beautiful words.
My heart feels funny. 💔
THANK YOU. This is probably the first post written by a Christian about physical compatibility. We’re not made of stone! Kissing is probably the best thing you can do with your clothes on and you described it perfectly: when someone just _matches_ with your lips and you forget what day, year, century it is.
This post was pure poetry and raw honesty at the same time – captured the way only good literature does. You, sir, have a gift. So keep writing. Keep being honest. The Christian community desperately needs that.
The High Country and the unshakeable. May they always be enough.
This cuts deep. The rawness.
Keep going, Ethan. We single Christians need more stories like this.
Man, this is deep! Thank you for being so raw and relatable to Christ-following singles!
“but that was at least… 7 months away.” too good. thank you for your honesty, vulnerability, and humor.
Beautiful… I felt like I was there.
I love this! I am actually currently reading your book and am wondering if the Lord has a book idea building in me about the woes of Christian dating at our age. Missionary dating seems to be my thorn and I’m in the throws of a break up with the one I thought was “the One” now, after he decided he no longer was sure he wanted to be on team JC…Next time I will need to remember its worth it to just walk away. Thanks for sharing!
I haven’t been able to really read anything for a while now – nothing was calling out to me or could keep my attention for very long. I’ve also been in the midst of moving provinces, finishing grad school, starting a new job, and exploring the realm of being open to partnerships that could lead to marriage. A lot going on but this piece of writing had me relate to so much of life esp. because as far as physical appearances go, I could really see myself in this girl but it was really the inner struggle of single Christian life that got to me. This is an area that I haven’t experienced much of but have been thinking about….blessings to you!
PS – Random Q but were you Jewish in another life?! I have a hunch lol.