Piece from Natalie Goldberg’s Workshop by Sandra Willey

The Story of a Last Kiss

We sat in an airy light, high ceilinged room open to the cerulean Taos sky. A mostly female, mostly leaning toward middle age gathering of writers from novice to published, we had come to engage in writing practice as taught by Natalie Goldberg in a workshop titled, “Doodling Hearts” where we would look at love and relationships, turning them like diamonds to note and learn to describe the light reflected and refracted from different facets. On day one came the prompt, “Tell me the story of a last kiss”.

A romantic last kiss? Not the last time my sweet Ian wrapped his fifteen month old arms around me and planted a sticky wet one right on his Gramma’s lips, tender, so tender. He touches my necklace and whispers, “pretty”, adding his own verbal shorthand for whispering sounds, “skerssy, krss, skriss”. Not the kiss from my eighty-two year old mama when I left for New Mexico, and I could feel the scratching of her chin whiskers, and I hoped she wouldn’t try to shave on her own (nearly blind, on Coumadin).

No, the last loving kiss was from the man I am no longer married to, the only man I have kissed since 1974, the man whose bride I was, and at some place in some way in that paralysis of the eternal now, whose bride I am. . .
and I can’t recall it. We had so carefully negotiated a shared space, so cautiously separated from one another. Is this what an organ transplant team sees when the donor cadaver displays terrific vital signs maintained by the most fantastic technology? A perfect heart EKG on the monitor with adequate blood pressure to keep those treasured hearts, lungs, kidneys perfused, but the body housing them is dead, dead, dead. Know ye not, ye are the temple of the living God? This removal of the heart is so carefully choreographed. First, ligate here; cut tendons, fascia; suction the blood, the inevitable blood that testifies to the viability of the organ being removed, suction to maintain enough of a visual field to harvest the heart, a final cut and it is free, waiting for its new home where, God willing, it will resume beating when newly and appropriately tethered.

I know there were final kisses with the final clinging together before the final rending. Because neither of us had the skill or discipline of a surgical team, the final severing was more like tearing apart a whole chicken when you knew you should have just bought the boneless, skinless breasts in the first place, but there was yet, still, and again no money for food, only for bars and the whole raw chicken. The dull knife makes for an uneven distribution of meat between the leg and thigh.

In our bedroom, which was our refuge, our passion held on so much longer than the details of day to day living. We shed our clothes and still loved looking at each other, our eyes, blessed by the memory of how we used to look naked, graced the stark, clinical reality of who we had become.

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