I got a later start in life than most when it came to love. As a young person, I was reserved, a little aloof to rituals of dating, much more focused on writing and my studies. A gawky teenager with thick glasses, I preferred to read about romance than bother with the mess of actually experiencing it in real life. That's not to say that I didn't go on my share of first dates, even second dates, but I shied away from hand holding or anything more than conversation and a few laughs.
In 2000, when I was 26, one of my friends provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: a chance to go with her to Egypt. I had enough money in the bank, and she wanted a companion to go with her to Egypt to visit members of her family. Her aunt lived with her Egyptian husband and two children near Heliopolis. This was a rare chance to visit Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, the pyramids, the Spinx, and a host of other marvels. Whenever I flip over a dollar bill and see the symbol of the pyramid, I still have to remind myself that I actually climbed around inside the Great Pyramid at Giza. I stared the Spinx in the face.
Still, Egypt would make an even deeper impression upon my life. My friend and I scheduled a ten day cruise on the Nile. It would take us to many ancient sites. We would travel with other tourists from a host of other countries--Ireland, Slovenia, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands. They provided each group with a guide who spoke the language of their choice: French, German, or English. Joseph was our tour guide. A handsome man probably in his late 20's. He wore a gold band on the ring finger of his right hand. An older woman, Truus, in her early 60's said that he was likely married, that in this part of the world some men wore their wedding rings on their right hand, but Joseph never spoke of a wife, only a sister. He was complimentary and flattering. He had a job to do and wanted to be paid well. He talked about being a Coptic Christian and having strong moral values. His stories about attempted seductions by previous guests of the ship seemed to indicate that he might've had other things on his mind.
I was young, in possession of an athletic body from my years of playing tennis and exercising. I had long black hair and tried to comport myself with intelligence and awareness. Joseph was attractive, like you might imagine the Joseph of the Bible looking like. He was attentive to all of us in his tour group, but he did seem to favor spending time with my friend, another American around our age, and me.
How I ended up alone with him on the opposite deck from everyone else eludes me. I think we three girls were probably sipping some Stella and playing ping pong after a hot day of sightseeing. It was becoming dark as our ship slipped through the placid waters of the Nile.
I think he asked me to accompany him to the quieter side of the ship. I felt no threat or reason not to. I was on vacation and across the globe from my home. I was out in the world to experience the world. He gave me a scarab beetle necklace, a modest trinket that I still have in my jewelry box. We were sitting next to each other in the wicker deck chairs. I was nervous. I could sense that something was required in exchanged for the necklace.
So, there, at the age of 26, on the Nile under the moonlight, I received my first kiss, more a kiss on the teeth than anything else. I was laughing when he suddenly moved forward and pressed his soft, warm lips to mine. That was all. Nothing more. I sat a little stunned, still with my giggling. I couldn't wait to tell my friend and the other American girl who had both grown close to.
I came late to many experiences in life. Many people tell stories about kisses behind trees with childhood crushes, fumbling and bumbling in the backseat of a car or in the dark of a movie theater or under the bleachers at a football game.
That kiss from Joseph was the best souvenir I brought back from Egypt, just a quick moment, a milestone met. Life has a funny way of exceeding all expectations, sometimes. A bookish young woman had to travel across the global to finally experience something so simple as a first kiss. I couldn't have imagined it, let alone written, any better myself.