The Yearbook Office
Writings on staying alive

The Wordless Reply

(or: The Vase and The Lioness)

As the dark blooms in someone else’s house, and the house begins to move with sighs from next door, and the rumble of trains filled with silent bodies going to see their loved ones rocks through the walls, I like to think about all the people I have kissed on the mouth. I like to wonder if I will be kissed again, and why, and when.

A boy kissed me when I was sixteen and in a Supergirl costume. I probably looked hot at this time in life. I had long shiny dark hair. I was some sort of prefect or house captain. I had a competitive swimmer’s figure, though I had stopped swimming that year. People were unkind to me often enough at school to have me think that I was worthless to them, which probably made me unaware of my nice figure. (I am told by films like She’s All That that being unaware of your hotness is very desirable.)

At sixteen I was very bored by everything, had a very high libido, and felt like a wizened and weary adult trapped in a universe where all the people my age were preoccupied with the dullest bullshit imaginable. I played football, hockey and netball, liked video games, was a stage manager in the theatre company, played in the school band, stayed behind to talk with teachers about whatever it was that I was reading at the time, all because I was so desperately intensely bored and just looking for something to do. None of these things could provide me with much real interest. Many adult books I read at this time of life, the Beat Poets especially, described this listless state of mind, a boredom with the world that might only be cured with sex and drugs, but these were all fully grown men. Now I know that is just because these fully grown men were late developers, but it makes me angry that they get the kudos for this state of mind and teenage girls do not.

The worst part of being a girl at this age stuck in this physically aroused and bored state of mind was that the only thing left to do was have sex. If you’re smart and have read all the books and have done all the homework and are consistently unchallenged by the people around you and the work put in front of you, the only thing left to you, as a girl of this age, is to have recreational sex, to feel human and not like some polished fucking vase of flowers that will only be useful once you have a house. When some of my friends fell pregnant at fourteen I felt seethingly jealous: they’d been participating in the only goddamn activity that I hadn’t found a way to sign up to.

At this time in my life all I wanted to do was prove I had agency where I had none. I wanted to do something that was entirely of my own desire. I wanted to do something where I connected with someone else who felt the same. But the ‘unchallenging’ part of the people around me dampened any attraction I might have had to anyone, and I know that now because I am constantly around people who challenge me, who excite me, who want me and need me to be engaged and good and interesting and be on fire with life and I’ve never been more overwhelmed with choice in kissing partners.

I like intimacy more than pleasure. I like humans more than pleasure. Pleasure is hollow without another person. I knew it then without ever having kissed a man.

In the end I settled for experimenting on the least awful human I wasn’t attracted to, a boy in the year below who looked much older, who kissed me when I was dressed in a Supergirl costume. But the worst of being a girl at this age (and this is something I wish they’d warn girls about) is that you discover that people think of you as something that has no intent or desire at all. That you are just a gatekeeper to someone else’s desire instead of something that goes to get something. You are something that waits. That you are, again, a pretty, pointless vase, a vase that gets poured into, and occasionally broken, and then you just have to bear it because that’s what you’re for.

It is strange to think about this, because at that age I had no idea I was supposed to be a vase. I thought I was a lioness, one with the same expression you see on nature documentaries: disinterested until it is time to hunt. It makes me sad to think about this, because I know now that being a lioness was taken away from me and I’ve had to kick and scream and rail against my twenties to get a semblance of it back.

Two teenagers in a chemistry lab, pouring chemicals into a beaker to see if anything happened. It really never did: if he was attracted to me it seemed like a transaction, it seemed like, from his rough touches, that he wanted to be able to say he’d done it, though those rough touches would have been so much more welcome if we’d been truly playing. And the feeling never left me that he might think he was punching up, to an older girl, something that could be a locker room story, even though we both liked to talk about Scorsese films and had a genuine love for DeNiro’s ‘d’you fuck my wife’ refrain, and that was why we spent any time together at all. Because we liked each other’s taste. (When I eventually found someone I was helplessly attracted to a year later, we’d talk about The Godfather. Italian-Americans have always been good to me.)

I am pretty sure people thought that I was into this boy in a relationship way, because they insisted on bringing up how I was ‘so into him’ or that I was ‘in love with him’ in a jeering manner, as if my base interest was non-existent, as if to pretend that women couldn’t want to fuck anyone without there being some obscured motive, an emotional trap. There’s this angriness still left in me that I was not in love with him and I wanted to be. It would have been more interesting than the greediness I felt.

But they never asked me if I was in love with him. They assumed I was, and it implicated me in all sorts of complicated interpersonal situations, where I just had an embarrassing amount of desire and no one who was good enough for it. Years later people still try to do this to me: to assume that I am ‘in love’ with someone whose sole use to me is as a brief obsession on my way to somewhere else. If there’s anything I’ve learned it is that no one has the same definition of love, and people will use it as a weapon against you. To say that one heterosexual person is in love with another before they have even decided to be a ‘couple’ is to trash a promising flowerbed, and it’s often used jealously by silly young men against other silly young men who think that it’s totally unbelievable for a woman to have her own agency, her own base motives, her own asinine Beat Poet resentment.

Life was empty at that time. I desired desire, and it was absent. He was the least boring person I had ever talked to, and my libido was fully developed, and it was very angry with me for not being in the proximity of anyone I was attracted to, particularly him. All the American high school films we were subjected to at this time went with the narrative that young men are pretty much attracted to any woman, but it was underserving both me and him, because I was angry that I was not attracted to every boy I came across, and he was being told by all the social cues that his manhood, his reputation, depended upon him being attracted to me.

I remember how clumsy and rigid his jaw felt; I remember how much he seemed to want to use tongue in a persistent manner; I remember his stubble, which, and I had chosen well, was quite rare for a boy his age, and in an abstract manner I considered the latter the hottest thing about him. I was curious about what might happen if I let him go as far as he wanted, but it never really went very far because I think we both knew what it was by the kissing. We’d kiss many times before we called it a day. When we kissed, on those occasions, we knew what we were saying to each other.

A kiss is a wordless reply.

We focus on the silhouettes of dames by candlelight, we think about how a man’s corrugated stomach leads up to the jaw, we think about the eyes and the smile. And if you are lucky, and you ask, desiring these things may lead to touching, pressing round curves, the soft skin, sweet-smelling hair or something even more intimate, but really, touching to communicate something is all intimacy. It is all something that you do because you try to embrace someone else’s deep, fierce, hot determination to be alive. You try to bind it with your own, because what else is fuel?

Being in someone else’s presence is always completely overwhelming. Their surface areas are extraordinary. The way those surfaces can communicate, they reinforce almost everything about humans you can love. The surface area of a person is the thing I love most.

But late at night it is the wordless reply that I think about. Kissing is like talking but it is wordless, and when I have finished my day, all I have done is traded in words. And you come to crave something else at this time, after writing. The wordlessness of bodies. The wordless reply. Another person’s mouth with no words in it. The kiss is the full stop. The “”.

In the past year I’ve sat on a couch in Paris, in a café in Berkeley, by a restaurant in Amsterdam, outside a German beer pub in Kuala Lumpur, inside an espresso bar in Tokyo, typing thousands of words about my surroundings, but each time I finished I wanted everything to shut up and kiss me, because the words are useless, pointless, hollow, like jerking off but you never climax. Sometimes I brief men before I have sex with them: I say, I’m ready when you are. When you kiss me I’m ready. When you touch me I’m ready. My being attracted to you, and just being near you, makes me ready. Do what you want with me, because I am ready. It’s all yours. I’ve written words all day and never really been spoken to. Not the way I wanted to be spoken to. If a kiss is the response, I am glad.

I write about video games and it’s so strange to regard my work as being about wordless replies — but it is — that is all it is — the examination of the wordlessness of video games, of the response and the input at the same time. If someone asked me what it is that I write about I’d tell them, to perplex them, that it is about what happens to the body and mind right where the connection connects. And that is what a kiss is, too, but instead of telegraphing the person to you, the person is right there. It’s that moment in the animated section of Kill Bill where the word squeezed out of O-Ren is ‘whimper’, but in my version the text never appears, and the word is still welded into your skull, a Roman candle nailed to a wall.

The last time I kissed someone, not the French bisous but really kissed someone, it was a reply of resignation, of sadness. I think about it often. One wants to remember your last proper kiss as if the Louvre’s La Victoire De Samothrace was built to commemorate it, those reckless messy wings, tense thighs, the headless force of nature thrusting itself into whatever doom history wants to throw, like the force of the kiss has beheaded her.

But that kiss was something that tried to say, lingeringly, quietly, upset: Life is unfair.

I stay up most nights and think that I should have kissed how I’d felt, replied that it was something worth losing, and that I wanted that loss to be tasted. Instead all I do is write words, as if words are an adequate reply in the thick dark, nursing a glittering desire to be the lioness who smashes the vase and then moves on without a sound.