She was a bundle of energy with a happy pretty face. I always saw her running, laughing, talking fast, and looking at the world with dark bright eyes full of curiosity. She was twelve years old, like me, but her precocious nature carried experiences beyond our age; experiences of sensual games I had only barely begun to fathom from rumors and books.
Her name was Luz, and with her I shared my first kiss.
I didn’t know her well. I only saw her here and there, played the occasional game of hide and seek, racing, or tag. I also heard that she kissed boys already, and my mom told me that the nurse that helped her during her miscarriage—and tended to her after the subsequent necessary operation to save her life by making sure she didn’t get pregnant for the tenth time—lived in that building, the number 7. She also told me that the kind nurse, who we all thought was always too angry because she never smiled or said “hello,” had a pretty daughter she was trying to keep safe from all the boys that kept hovering near their apartment, some of them too old to be having any good intentions. It took me a minute to realize that the kind and gentle nurse, that had helped my mom, was the same surly woman dressed in white who would always balk at us if we were sitting on the stair-case leading up to the fourth floor; the top floor of the building where she lived with Luz and her younger brother, Rafael.
I understood, then, why she was always angry and frustrated. But I still didn’t understand why, the other day, when she had come home and found me and Rodolfo sitting on the stair-well right above the third floor, she had mumbled a “buenas” when I said “buenas tardes” to her, but started to insult Rodolfo. He said “Muy buenas tardes,” under his breath as she was walking past us. I didn’t understand why she turned around after having gone up a few more steps, and why she started insulting him and hitting him with a rolled up newspaper that was hiding a hammer inside. She called him a hijueputa and a maricón––some of the most common insults in San Salvador. I also didn’t understand why it was an insult to be the son of a prostitute, or to be homosexual. There were many things I didn’t understand yet, but I knew you were supposed to get angry if someone said that to you, and fight. Of course, Rodolfo didn’t fight. He was always nice, kind, and generous. I have always known him to be gentle, and never get into fights. He was 18 years old, and he was with me all the time. He always came to see me after school, and showed me his books of high school math, chemistry, and electronics. He taught me to use the sliding rule to make calculations, because calculators and computers had not been invented yet. I loved learning these things. I couldn’t wait to be in high school, where I could learn these advanced and exciting things, and not the boring things they insisted on teaching in the sixth grade.
I didn’t understand why she was angry at him. Why was she hitting him with a hammer inside a rolled up newspaper? Why was she calling him those names, and “dirty” as well? I thought later that perhaps she thought he had insulted her when she walked past her, or maybe she thought Rodolfo was one of the older boys circling her pretty daughter, Luz. He wasn’t. He didn’t seem interested in girls. Never had a girlfriend. He spent all his time with me. He picked me up at 5:30 a.m., because I liked attending the morning service at the christian church I had just joined when I went to see that strange group of religious people who had taken over an abandoned church in the Colonia Magisterial. It was a neighborhood designed only for teachers and their families, with apartments for sale that they could afford on their salaries. The church had been abandoned two years before, because the priest working with the teachers had been kidnapped by the Mano Blanca, one of the death squads committed to fighting terrorists and communists, and to kidnap and torture everyone who opposed the government or help the poor organize. The church building had been abandoned for a while now, and Rodolfo told me of this group of christians, “evangélicos they call themselves.” He told me they seemed different from Catholics. They really read the Bible, and they didn’t have priests, but called each other “brothers and sisters.” They seemed to have a good community that loved each other and Christ. They loved God so much that they came into the abandoned Catholic Church, after her priest had been kidnapped and his cadaver dumped in some hidden place, and proceeded to destroy all the statues of saints and virgins because they were not God. I wanted to go see this community that talked to God directly, without a priest or mass. So, he took me there. I was already fascinated with the Bible, which my father had taught me to read. They were discussing it and reading it together. They were all praying together, too, with fervor. When the moment came when the pastor asks if “anyone here present wants to take Jesus into his heart,” I raised my hand and everyone was happy for me and prayed for me with all their hands like antennae over me. Since that day, I started going to their service every morning at 5:30, which gave me enough time to get back home for a quick breakfast before going to school. Rodolfo would pick me up in the morning, take me to the service, and wait for me outside. He never went in. In the afternoon, he would come after school and we would spend the afternoon together.
She shouldn’t have hit Rodolfo like that. He hadn’t done anything wrong. Luz was too young for him, and he didn’t even seem interested in getting a girlfriend. He had never had one. He wasn’t one of the older boys circling that pretty girl with the curious eyes and the bundle of precocious energy. Of course, I was interested, but I didn’t think at the time that any girl would want to kiss me. I had seen my face in the mirror while making kissing faces. I looked too comical with my lips pursed, and if I opened my mouth like I saw a guy do in a movie once to kiss a girl by putting his mouth around her lips, I looked even worse. No, there was no way any girl would kiss me if I looked like this. Besides, I was too short. Everyone said that, and I talked too funny and made everyone laugh when I said my name or any other word with the letter “R”. How could I ever kiss a girl, when they are all too tall for me? Even if they didn’t mind how I talked, they would laugh and run away, for sure, if they saw the face I saw in the mirror when trying to see how I’d look if I went for a kiss.
It wasn’t that I had crush on Luz, you see. She was very pretty, however, and she liked to kiss boys. Every one said that. I didn’t feel the pangs in the heart and the void spot in the stomach like I felt with Alba, the girl from Colonia Magisterial I had a crush on last year. Still, Luz was very pretty and it was a lot of fun when I played with her and the other boys. I actually had never seen her kissing anyone, but everyone said she did. I had also never seen her brother, Rafael, kiss any boys, but everyone said that he liked boys too, and that he was gay and that was why he spoke like a girl too.
When I told Rodolfo that I was thinking of asking Luz to be my girlfriend, he laughed at me and said I didn’t have the courage. That angered me, and I said I would prove him wrong. Toñito was there, too. He was a quiet boy who often came to my side of the neighborhood with Rodolfo. He would hang out with us, but was mostly very quiet and shy. I told them both that this day I would ask Luz if she would be my girlfriend. Rodolfo said I would chicken out, like I had chickened out with Alba the year before. I promised to myself I would do it, “no matter if she laughs at me or makes a face of disgust.” I would ask her, and prove to myself that I could do it. So, I went up to the apartment buildings, around building 7 where she often hanged out with her brother and the other kids.
There she was, talking fast next to her bycicle, giving commands to other boys and looking around as she always was, like attempting to drink in all the colors and shapes around her. I walked fast, ahead of Rodolfo and Toñito, and called her to come to me. I had to be assertive, so that the doubt and fear couldn’t crawl in. So that the thought of my kissing face in the mirror wouldn’t come up to remind me of how I never said anything to Alba the year before. I came up to her, and when she heard me call her name, Luz stopped what she was saying and ran to meet me, her curious eyes opening wide and fixating on me for a moment, to see what I had to say with such urgency. I was in the middle of asking her the question, if she wanted to be my girlfriend, when Rodolfo interrupted from behind me, and in a louder voice said: “He wants to make out with you.” A hint of anger or contempt in his voice. I didn’t finish my question. She looked up at Rodolfo, her attention going to the sudden and louder voice. Her mind, quick as her eyes, understood what Rodolfo was saying before I could say what I wanted to say. She then looked back at me, and asked, “Really?” With my mind now confused and scrambled, but the impulse that brought me there still carrying me through, I simply heard myself say, “Yes, I do.” She smiled, and looked to the side. It was a sweet smile. She quickly said, “Okay, meet me at seven on the stair-well.”
At seven, I arrived, and she was there. Her short dark hair fell over and below her ears, emphasizing and framing the features of her face under the dim lights of the evening. Her denim shorts had been replaced with a soft skirt with flowery design. Her freckled face, smiling mischiviously and happy. “Okay, like this…” she said, moving to the landing of the stair, one step below me. She had already calculated the maneuver that puzzled me. This way, she didn’t have to lean over too much to be able to kiss me. We were almost the same height, if I was standing a step above her. She put her arms on my shoulders, and I held her waist. My mind went silent, no more worries. My left hand went behind her light green t-shirt. She pulled me closer, still smiling. I didn’t purse my lips, or opened my mouth wide. She took over, and I absorbed everything. Her small chest pressed agains mine; and this sensation of firm breasts on me, I had never considered. Incredible as that was, even that evaporated when her lips touched mine. She parted my lips with the tip of her tongue, and started playing with mine. My eyes closed, like hers, and my hands went to rest on her back. She held my neck and touched my hair, and breathed into me a life I didn’t know. I smelled fire in her skin, and tasted nature in that kiss: the wet grass after the first rains of May, mixed with the fragrance of the many orchids in the Salvadorean fields. I thought for a moment that I was flying over the green and flowery cloud forests of El Salvador, when the taste of honey combined in our tongues. Electrical fluids coated my senses, and the smell of lighting opened my forehead. The sweet multiplicity of nature expanded the sense of taste and smell for the duration of that kiss. That kiss was no longer lips and tongue, but an expansion of nature itself within my frontal cortex.
I didn’t expect this much from a kiss. After that, it didn’t matter anymore that I was too short or too shy. It didn’t matter that kids and grown ups made fun of my speech. It didn’t matter, at all, that Rafael came downstairs and laughed hard at me standing on a step to reach her lips, or that she turned away embarrassed and laughing too. It didn’t matter that she ran away. It didn’t matter that the next day I found out that Toñito had met with her an hour later to get his first kiss too, a meeting instigated by Rodolfo after I had proven I did have to courage to ask a girl for a kiss. It didn’t matter if I thought we were going to be something couple like, but we weren’t. Yes, it all hurt, but it really did not matter anymore, not really. Just like it didn’t matter that a week later Rodolfo would try to wash the confidence and courage from me, by holding me upside down by my ankles over the railing of the fourth floor of building 7, to make me look at the drop four stories below, to make gravity pull out of me the joy and courage, to hear from me a shriek of terror. None of that mattered in the end, and not because I didn’t scream, and not because I held my terror inside until he put me back on my feet, and not because I summoned the rage and terror of ages within me and punched him hard on his testicles and saw him bend over and lose his breath. No. It all didn’t matter because I had been kissed, not just by a girl named Luz, but by her namesake within the thunderstorm, and the fullness of nature had truly penetrated my mind without regards for how small, insignificant, and petty I and all my people can be. And because in the presence of such a gift from the Goddess, all kisses became, after that, the first kiss into the santo sanctorum of Life; and that undeniable fact melts and and dissolves all other experiences unto the endless fields of Her bosom, eternally impregnated by the Light of the first rains of May.