Me: Freshly minted copper-colored girl of 13 new to the city. That city. Hailed from its armpit, Garden State, paradox of a neighbor.
Them: Subway-riding-since-birth, born and bred Manhattanites, the “Gossip Girl”-esque characters of my nightmares come to life, their doormen plenty, my anxiety palpable, the defense of sharing my former neighborhood with Stephen Colbert nonexistent at this point — it is a few years too soon for us to be watching Comedy Central.
“Livin' on a Prayer” can’t save me from the inevitable — new girl joining middle school right as that horribly awkward chapter is finally nearing its close.
When was your first kiss?
Oh you know, with a boy in Jersey.
What was he like?
Blond…with blue eyes. It was nothing though — what about you?
The first kiss: the imagined kiss.
The real first: sweaty, long, against the wall of a party, 15.
Why does anyone do this? What is supposed to be fun about this? His teeth clinking against mine, his wide nose fitting horribly with my long one, spit. Spit everywhere, fusing with the sweat on the wall.
My eyes squeezed shut like I’ve seen them do it in the movies. I imagine them fluttering like moth wings, but that cannot be what mine look like, because I start to see vivid colors behind my eyelids.
I’ve only really spied bits of kisses on TV, in the spaces between my fingers, the fingers shielding my vision in case my mother walks into the living room. The passion evident on those screens feels more alien now than it ever has. I make the mistake of opening my eyes to get a glimpse of his.
Instead, I witness a sea of white faces, shocked that their sober Muslim friend has finally succumbed to culture — that culture — hook-up culture. Ours the only Brown bodies, intermingled, as if by coming together we can form a fortress against the white waves encroaching, as if by merging with each other we can convince ourselves we love that part of ourselves too.
The next first: the last one for the next three years.
Ramadan in our native Pakistan on the roof of my aunt’s sprawling home in Gulberg, the lush green of Jam-e-Shirin Park peeking out across the street between the emerald green spikes of the gate, the gate that shelters us from the rest of Lahore.
The sun had set — he’d made sure of that. The moment his cousins knowingly leave us alone on one side of the pillar-like structure on the white roof, he bends his six-foot-one body down to my five-foot-four one and our lips touch. Our tongues weave together in what I think is the sweet embrace of new love, and what becomes evident to me later as the amateur attack of my tongue in his mouth.
But, he is older and more experienced and the kiss does not deter Him. We fall in love that summer as young teenagers do and know how to.
We didn’t know how to.
First drunken kiss: first chance dance. He is a Legacy, white, blue-eyed, cultured, a sister at Yale too. The first kiss in three years, the first since Him.
The valve opens: a series of drunken kisses throughout college.
The next kiss: an almost kiss — the first date with a Muslim since Him. I get too drunk and end up crying that night. I thank God anyway.
The first kiss with a Muslim since Him. He is taller than me too, but younger, so I am less afraid. He is from New York, and this puts me at ease, because the last Muslim was from Pakistan, from the same city as Him, probably went to the same parks and restaurants and weddings as Him, maybe even knows Him.
We are at a party and I semi-initiate. I sit on the edge of a folded-up table leaning against the wall, shrink before him to be even smaller than I already am, allowing him to tower over me.
Our next kiss: We are in his bedroom, and I tell him I can’t sleep with him. I do not tell him that I’ve never had sex because I am Still Afraid. I do not tell this to any of the boys I kiss, catching the occasional wetness in my eyes before they can notice.
I wake up naked, almond-brown hair sprawled on one side of the bed, his body facing the wall, our legs entwined. My eyes open to the dappled sunlight slowly overtaking the room, his follow.
His underwear is bright red. It was highlighter yellow last time. European boys are odd.
I put on my own underwear as he exits the tiny room to the even tinier kitchen. Having no success in locating my shirt, I stand stupidly in my aqua skirt and black bra, begin to clean to have something to do with my hands. It is a sofa bed — I piece it back together.
He emerges, two mugs in hand, a cappuccino for me and an americano for him.
He sits down beside me, a boyish man of 28, an immigrant to this country like I am to mine, but a temporary one, unlike me.
He turns to me, we kiss.
You’re wearing too many clothes.
Laughing, I peel them off again, undoing the work of the last 20 minutes.
It was the last time I saw Rodrigo that summer in Paris. It was the last first kiss I think I’ll ever have: the first sober kiss in seven years. The first sober kiss since Him.
I feel relief.
—Contributing writer Minahil A. Khan’s column, “Unlearning, Decolonizing,” navigates the landscape of identity in her journey as a Brown Muslim immigrant woman decolonizing her psyche. Through personal narrative, it will explore the vacillation between self-love and self-hate, relationships with one’s family and cultural as well as religious communities, and the homeland, both imagined and lived.
My Favorite Things
The FearThen, he turned off the light, but of course I kept going. I did not need to see my limbs moving, taking shape — he knew any possible form they could take anyway. He knew it better than anyone, and besides, now I could be wilder, even less controlled.
Chicken Soup with a Side of Hypnosis
In Defense of Ignorance
Stop Two: Metro Center