I think the first time I really talked to Jay was two months ago. It was my 20th birthday on February 7th and I think that was the first time that we really talked, just the two of us. We’d talked before—we hung around behind the counter and went on and on about records and our favorite independent films and which bands were coming to town. But on my twentieth birthday, we sort of hit this new level. We were leaving work, heading to our cars and just as I was turning the key to unlock my door he says over the roof of his car parked next to mine, “So what’s it like to be 20?” And he told me that I’d been alive for two decades, two eras, and five presidential terms.
And it must have had something to do with me never thinking about it before that point in the day. Not really thinking about it. I had to turn and I left my keys hanging in the door. And I told him that I hadn’t seriously thought about what it was like. But that it did feel different—because suddenly I was aware of numbers more than I ever had been. When you’re a kid you think numbers are the most important thing in the world. Especially when it comes to age. Little kids are always throwing their fingers in the air, showing the world how old they are today and how old they’ll be next year. When you turn ten it’s the biggest thing in the world because you’re in the double digits. And even when you grow up, you freak out at 25 because it’s closer to 30 and you freak out at 40 and wonder why you were freaking out at 25 because it was mostly great back then and now you have a bum leg and you’re losing your vision.
The kinds of numbers that I was having difficulty with weren’t that kind. They mostly had to do with how many times I’d experienced certain things. Like kisses. The truth is that at that point on my 20th birthday I had only been kissed 36 times. And that seems like a big number until you consider that almost half of those were stage-kisses for the theater and half of the stage-kisses were for rehearsals which count even less. And even out of all the other times I think maybe three of them were real, meaningful, good kisses. I thought about all of the missed opportunities for kisses. I thought about why kissing was such a big deal. Then I thought about wine. I’d had 13 glasses of wine. Mostly with my family for special dinners or events. I’d never had any hard liquor, never done shots, never even a beer. I was clean. Virtually un-kissable and sober at twenty. Those were the kinds of numbers that were suddenly bothering me. I was in my second year at college—almost to my third. And there were so many kids drinking every night, and being kissed. The kisses might not have been meaningful to those kids, but they were plentiful. And that gave them better odds.
It’s strange, but I told all of this to Jay without apprehension. I just sort of unloaded it on him and afterwards I told him how good it felt. I forgot to mention this but while I was telling him about numbers he was slowly taking steps around to the other side of his car—to the side that was close to me. I don’t know why I stopped caring about whether or not he knew the real person I was. Suddenly it didn’t matter that he knew I was probably an accidental virgin or that I chose not to drink or that I’d probably never smoked a cigarette in 20 years. I didn’t feel like that would make me less cool to him. Instead, I felt like now I could tell him anything. Like I could ask him anything.
Jay had told me that when he was twenty, he was in a band and that his band was going to make it big in New York City and even if they didn’t, they were just going to head out there to play the underground clubs and let out their sound. But then he met this girl. And he married her and didn’t go. I always felt bad about that because when he talked about his band his eyes just got so much more sincere. So that night, on my birthday, I asked him if he regretted being married. And then he kissed me and I think it was my 37th kiss. I was twenty years old and as I felt the inside walls of his shoes bump against the toes of mine as we kissed my 37th kiss, I became less concerned with age. I think he was 39. I’ve stopped caring. My keys were still dangling from the door when he pulled away. I couldn’t look at his face at that moment, but in my side view mirror, his eyes were locked upon my own and I had never seen them looking more sincere.