To say that I loved her would have been warping the word. At the time, it was the only word I knew to describe the way she made me feel. I was a freshman in high school. I wanted love so badly, wanted to feel important to someone. But more than anything, I wanted to suffer for love.
I craved the unhealthy attention of a girl who didn’t give a shit. I wanted a girl who would string me along. I wanted something tragic, and she was perfect. The only reason she wanted anything to do with me was because she was in love with my friend. They had loved each other with purity and innocence, and he had had enough and walked away. In her pain and heartbreak, she came to me. He didn’t care, and she took it out on me.
Like a wounded puppy, I followed her around, and out of pity, or in pursuit of a vengeance she was unable to get on my friend, she took me in and called me her boyfriend. Her family then promptly moved away.
They went to a cleverly named town in Missouri. The name doesn’t matter. The town doesn’t matter. This was the type of town people get lost in, the kind of town that swallows kids whole and binds them to a small life. Her father had retired from the military, and with his riches, he had bought a Victorian hotel.
The structure was old, ancient, and falling apart. He must have gotten it for a steal as it was nearly uninhabitable. The abandoned hotel had four floors with scores of rooms. It looked bitter and angry. It seemed to hold only ill will for the town it haunted, and when she moved there, the building had opened its gaping jaws and devoured my girl.
She now lived forty minutes away from me. This was in the time of land lines and long distance, a time when to call your girlfriend to chat would cost way too much for your working class family to afford. I had the girl, and she was well out of my hands. Deep in the summer, I reached out and got ahold of her. She agreed to entertain my friend and I if I could get a ride, and Sam was willing if I gave him gas money. With a fist full of sweaty dollar bills, I climbed into his Ford and off we went.
No one had ever been this nervous. No one had ever been this excited. No one had ever been this hopeless.
I knew as we were driving to her house that my obsession with her was dead. With no way to call her and the miles between us becoming a reality, I knew this would be the last time I would ever see this girl, the last time she would ever waste with me. I was a part of a life that was dead, a ghost of a life she had once lived, and she would be best to banish me from her mind. I had to figure out a way to do the same.
When I got there and looked upon the monster she had moved into, I felt it looking at me. I could hear its stomach churning as it contemplated the meal, and I suddenly didn’t want to be there.
She met me outside with a sweating glass of tea that she held to her beautiful face as she smiled. To my teenage mind, body, and soul, nothing had ever looked so good. Her sweat accented her body. Her perfectly tanned skin called for fingers to caress it. Her lips asked for more. She was a goddess of girls, whimsical and light, with a grin that could stop a bullet, and a body to match. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and she was mine, if only for one more day.
He arrived almost immediately. He pulled up on his bike, and I almost vomited. He was a god of boys, country and perfect, with a body corded, a tanned and bare chest rippling with power, and a smile that stole hearts and broke them. I hated him intensely. When she walked down the stairs to meet him with a laugh and a smile, I knew he had already won her heart. They were all but together, a vital couple, vivid and real, with no hint of specter and no sign of death.
She talked to him for a while, and stared after him when he left. Then she took me by the hand and walked me into her house. I was swallowed up by it, and what I saw there would stain me forever.
We talked and laughed, and I enjoyed her while I could. She was a fading dream, and I would not let myself wake up yet. She talked for hours, and I watched her lips, aching for a kiss, a first kiss, one that I had been waiting my entire life for. When night began to play out, she took me on a tour of her family’s monster, and I felt the true overwhelming power of the dead thing I stood within.
She showed me rooms, all shattered and ruined. “This will be my room,” she said. “See the window, how it looks out over the back yard and the river that runs through it. At night you can see the stars reflecting off the water. It is serene. It is divine.”
We moved on. “This will be grandmother’s room. It is big enough to fit her sewing machine and her great rocker. I was rocked to sleep in that thing, and it is immense and beautiful.”
Rooms and rooms passed by us. Every one of them had an obscure purpose coming for it. Every one of them had a guest who would stay in it. Cousins, friends, acquaintances, everyone they knew could have a room of their own. Of course, this was not for me. This was for her new life and the people who would populate it. She took me up and up, showing me room after room. As we ascended through the building, the creature I stood in began to rot. Every step higher, the rooms deteriorated. Every tread on every stair creaked louder until the beast around me groaned and spit, screamed and popped, at my passing.
When I reached the final floor, I saw the true state of the hotel. For up here, the outer walls were collapsing. Here, the building was skeletal. The night sky could be seen between rib-like slats. The floor had sagged, and there was no possibility of further travel. Here was the corpse of the hotel. I stared at my surroundings and cold fear rose up within me like the coming strains of some terrible dirge.
She turned around.
She was close, so close, the heat of her body coming at me in pulses. By the slices of moonlight, I could see her lips as she licked them. She took my hand in hers and pulled me close. This was it, the last moment we would ever have, the last breath of her air I would ever take. She was blessing me with a kiss—my first kiss ever, my last with her. My heart ran like a lunatic in the night. My erection howled like a lonely beast, starving and desperate. I closed my eyes to gather myself.
When they opened, I saw that we were not alone.
They stood, sat, and lay all around us, faint wisps of rumored shadow, turning to look, pulling close to watch. A glowing specter, laying on a bed that no longer existed, propped himself up on an elbow to stare at me with black eyes. Phantoms stepped closer, watching us.
Fear was new to me then. I thought I had known it, thought I understood it as an entity. But this was beyond the understanding of the word. My heart raged to escape. My body trembled and quaked. I wanted to run, wanted to scream, wanted to get out of that building and away from the dead that were, even now, pulling closer. They could sense young, vibrant flesh, could feel passion, hot and yearning, and they wanted closer to it.
She closed her eyes, she parted her perfect lips, and she sighed.
Never in my life had I ever wanted anything more than that kiss. I had dreamt of it, planned for it, ached for it. My teenage body demanded her mouth. I could not run away. After this moment, I would never see her, touch her, experience her, ever again. This one kiss, and then the car, the ride home, and a heartbreak I could feel swooping down upon me as I stood there. This was the end of it. I was incapable of walking away.
I kissed her.
It was glorious and messy. I drooled all over her and made a complete idiot of myself. But when our lips touched, I heard the ghosts pulling around us release a sound that still echoes in my mind today. I can hear it now filling my office, a low, mournful cry of such utter sadness and yearning, that to hear it was to never be parted from it. It was a sadness that stains, a sadness that clamps on and will not let go.
As she turned around and pulled me down the stairs, I watched them draw ever closer, their faces taut and stretching, their hands grasping and begging for one more moment, one more image of youth and sexuality. I left them all crawling toward me, and I never went back.
She is still out there somewhere, my first kiss. She has forgotten my slobbering mouth and my sad desperation. But I will never forget her mouth, and the way the dead moaned when I kissed her.