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The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison A Study in Obsession

Filed under: General — MurrayBacon @ 10:49 pm Fri 24th July 2009

The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison
1350 Avenue of the Americas New York, New York 10019
In this extraordinary memoir, one of today’s best young American writers transforms into a work of art the darkest passage imaginable in a young woman’s life: an obsessive love affair between father and daughter that began when the author, then twenty years old, was reunited with the father whose absence had haunted her youth. Exquisitely and hypnotically written, like a bold and terrifying dream, The Kiss is breathtaking in its honesty, power, and beauty. It is a story about taboo, about family complicity in breaking taboo, and about the most primal of love triangles: the one that ensnares a child between mother and father
We meet at airports. We meet in cities where we’ve never been before. We meet where no one will recognize us.
One of us flies, the other brings a car, and in it we set out for some destination. Increasingly, the places we go are unreal places: the Petrified Forest, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon-places as stark and beautiful and deadly as those revealed in satellite photographs of distant planets. Airless, burning, in-human.
Against such backdrops, my father takes my face in his hands. He tips it up and kisses my closed eyes, my throat. I feel his fingers in the hair at the nape of my neck. I feel his hot breath on my eyelids.

Separated from family and from the flow of time, from work and from school; standing against a sheer face of red rock one thousand feet high; kneeling in a cave dwelling two thousand years old; watching as a million bats stream from the mouth of Carlsbad Caverns into the purple dusk-these nowheres and no-times are the only home we have.
We quarrel sometimes, and sometimes we weep. The road always stretches endlessly ahead and behind us, so that we are out of time as well as out of place. We go to Muir Woods in northern California, so shrouded in blue fog that the road is lost; and we drive down the Natchez Trace into deep, green Mississippi summer. The trees bear blossoms as big as my head; their ivory petals drift to the ground and cover our tracks.
Separated from family and from the flow of time, from work and from school; standing against a sheer face of red rock one thousand feet high; kneeling in a cave dwelling two thousand years old; watching as a million bats stream from the mouth of Carlsbad Caverns into the purple dusk-these nowheres and no-times are the only home we have
My mother’s parents raise me. I live in their house until I’m seventeen. In it, my father’s name is never spoken, his existence is not acknowledged.
“Where’s your dad?” other children ask. “I don’t know,” I answer.
“Why?” they ask, but I don’t know what to say to that either.
He and my mother divorce when I am six months old. I stay with her and her parents; he leaves.
My father is an absence, a hole like one of those my grandmother cuts out of family photographs. Rather than discard the entire picture of an event that includes someone she dislikes, she snips the offender out with untidy haste, using her manicure scissors.
The few snapshots my mother has of my father she keeps hidden. If I ask to look at one, she might show it to me. In every photograph, he is a tiny figure in a suit and glasses; the only person in the frame, still, he is never in its center or its foreground, he seems as incidental as a bystander. I can’t make out his features.
The girl my father sees has blond hair that falls past her waist, past her hips; it falls to the point at which her fingertips would brush her thighs if her arms were not crossed before her chest.
In the terminal, my father leads me out of the flow of passengers and the friends and family who have come to meet them. He finds an empty spot by one of the big plate-glass windows that look out onto the air-fields. “Don’t move,” he says. “Just let me look at you.
My father looks at me, then, as no one has ever looked at me before. His hot eyes consume me-eyes that I will discover are always just this bloodshot. I al-most feel their touch. He takes my hands, one in each of his, and turns them over, stares at my palms. He does not actually kiss them, but his look is one that ravishes.
“Oh!” he says. “Turn around!” I feel his gaze as it moves over my neck, my back, and down to my feet.
“God,” he says when I face him again. “Oh God.” His eyes, now fixed on mine, are bright with tears. “Your hair,” he says. “It’s … it’s longer than I imagined. Than I could have. It was behind your shoulders in the picture you sent.”
I nod. I don’t speak. His eyes rob me of words, they seem to draw the air from my mouth so that I can barely breathe.

The trip home from the airport is mostly silent. I can’t think of anything to say, and I don’t dare do what I want, escape into music on the stereo. Turned side-ways in his seat, my father watches me, and his look doesn’t allow my hand to reach for the knob. As I drive I make mistakes I rarely make. My hands, wet from nerves, slip on the steering wheel. As we cross an intersection, my foot loses the clutch and I stall the car in traffic..
I’m as captivated by him. I’ve never really known who my father was, and revelation is inherently seductive. There is, too, the fascination of our likeness, that we resemble each other in ways that transcend physical similarities.
One afternoon, when we’ve returned from a gallery, I fall asleep sitting next to my father on the couch. When I wake up, whole hours later, my head is in the crook of his elbow, like a baby’s. I startle, arms jerking in alarm. “I’m sorry!” I say. “I was so tired.”
“Oh, no!” my father says. “Please don’t apologize! I’m not sorry at all.” He looks at me with his hungry eyes. “My arm went to sleep,” he says. “I had to go to the bathroom, but I didn’t dare move. If it was up to me, I would have sat holding you forever, I would never have woken you.
We look at each other. We search each other’s faces. “What happens now?” I say, and we make promises that we’ll be together again soon.
“In the summer, maybe,” I say.
“No,” he says. “Sooner. Sooner.”
With his hand under my chin, my father draws my face toward his own. He touches his lips to mine. I stiffen.
We look at each other. We search each other’s faces. “What happens now?” I say, and we make promises that we’ll be together again soon.
“In the summer, maybe,” I say.
“No,” he says. “Sooner. Sooner.”
We look at each other. We search each other’s faces. “What happens now?” I say, and we make promises that we’ll be together again soon.
“In the summer, maybe,” I say.
“No,” he says. “Sooner. Sooner.” With his hand under my chin, my father draws my face toward his own. He touches his lips to mine. I stiffen. I’ve seen it before: fathers kissing their daughters on the mouth. A friend of mine’s father has kissed her this way for years, and I’ve watched them, unable to look away, disquieted by what I see. In my family, lip-to-lip kisses between parent and child are considered as vulgar as spitting in public or not washing your hands after using the toilet, all of which failures my grand-mother would judge as evidence of poor upbringing. She might excuse such kisses from a person raised in an exotic, backward culture, but never from a decent American.
I am frightened by the kiss. I know it is wrong, and its wrongness is what lets me know, too, that it is a secret. In years to come, I’ll think of the kiss as a kind of transforming sting, like that of a scorpion: a narcotic that spreads from my mouth to my brain. The kiss is the point at which I begin, slowly, inexorably, to fall asleep, to surrender volition, to become paralyzed. It’s the drug my father administers in order that he might consume me. That I might desire to be consumed.
I recount the surface of the visit. I reconstruct it up until the kiss. I say how bereft I feel at having lost what cannot be recovered: twenty years with a father whom I now find I love and who seems to return that love.
My boyfriend’s own lost father makes him a sym-pathetic listener; he seems not just to understand but to share my anguish, and this encourages me to tell him what I haven’t told anyone else. “Something weird happened at the airport,” I say. We’re in his car, parked in the driveway of the little house he rents off campus. “At least I think it was weird. Maybe it wasn’t,” I finish hopefully.
“What?” he asks.
“Well, my father was saying good-bye. We were saying good-bye in the airport. And he … Well, when he kissed me he sort of put his tongue in my mouth. Do you think that’s weird?”
“Are you fucking kidding!” my boyfriend yells at me. “I can’t believe that! Yes, it’s weird! Of course it’s weird! It’s wrong! Did you tell your mother?”
I shake my head no. I cover my face with my hands.
My boyfriend’s outrage forces me farther into secrecy. I realize that what I felt in the car while driving back to school, that the kiss has separated me from everything else, is true. It’s not a conceit or an overly dramatic interpretation. As for my mother, she is the last person I would tell about the kiss; she’s the one most likely to respond hysterically, even violently. She would prevent me from ever seeing my father again. And I can’t not see him again. From the time he left me, my first thought, the one that pushes aside my fears about the kiss, has been When.
When will I see him again? When will we be together? He calls each day-the phone’s ring summoning me from the green chair even if registration and classes and friends cannot-and we ask each other the same question over and over: When?

I take my hands from my face. “I made a mistake,” I tell my boyfriend. “I exaggerated. I described it wrong. It wasn’t exactly like that. He may have done it by accident.” Bit by bit, layer by temporizing layer, I work to obliterate the truth.
My boyfriend, threatened himself by what I revealed, colludes with me in this process. Together we forget what I’ve said, even as privately I forget what my father did. It is as simple as only denial can be.

When he gets there, he never sees it. He sees nothing but me.
“Mine,” he says, holding me with hands that are hot and shaking. “You belong to me.”
He cannot keep from touching me, looking at me, reaching for my hand, my sleeve, my hair. In restaurants, his food grows cold as he stares across the table, his hand holding tight to mine. Tears gather behind the lenses of his glasses and fall silently down his cheeks. They convince me that what I want to believe is true: his love is genuine.
At night I give him my bed. I take the sleeping bag unrolled on the floor beside it.
“That can’t be comfortable,” he says, but he does not offer to trade places.
This time, when we return to our separate homes, I am relieved. The constant calls and tapes and letters assure me that my father is as much mine long distance as he is in person, and without the complications of staving off his physical advances, and denying my own response to them.
I sleep not because of the shock of my father’s lust-at least not shock in the sense of something sudden and surprising. I have known what he wants from the start. And yet I am shocked, as I have been from my first sight of him, when he turned from the drinking fountain, his mouth wet, dripping. So yes, I sleep be-cause I’m shocked, and because I’m frightened. I want to avoid contemplating the enormity of what we’re doing-an act that defines me, that explains who I am, because in it is all the hurt and anger and hunger of my past, and in it, too, is the future.
It’s anger that frightens me most. I sleep to escape my rage. Not at him, but at my mother. To avoid owning a fury so destructive that I would take from her what brief love she has known, because she has been so unwilling for so long to love me just a little.
The other object of my anger is myself. The good girl who failed, the thin girl, the achiever, the grade-earner, the quiet girl, the unhungry girl, the girl who will shape-shift and perform any self-alchemy to win her mother’s love. She failed, and I must destroy her. Obliterate this good daughter with one so bad that what she does is unspeakable.
At the same time, I can, of course, make myself the sacrifice my father’s love demands.
Please listen patiently, in humility
Best regards, MurrayBacon – the impulsive axe-murderer.


  1. I bet many of the women reading this are turned on by it, especially those with daddy issues. Girls are far naughtier than they let on, thus the appeal of all the torrid romance novels about ravishing at the hands of dashing strangers.

    Comment by alphadominance — Sat 25th July 2009 @ 6:49 am

  2. I thought you may have been spam at first but then I read some of your gangster blog. I don’t know any gangsters who would say what you have but then I don’t know all gangsters.

    Maybe it will turn on some overseas women. Again I don’t know what all women think, feel etc.

    Hey Murray, thanks for sharing this. She’s a talented writer.

    Comment by julie — Sat 25th July 2009 @ 10:32 am

  3. Only the paranoids really know what goes on……

    Comment by MurrayBacon — Sat 25th July 2009 @ 10:42 am

  4. Very true.

    Comment by julie — Sat 25th July 2009 @ 10:57 am

  5. Hi Murray,
    You are right that truly is a very stunning and haunting book. I read it years ago, stumbled across it in the library and it has remained vivid in my mind.

    Comment by Raspberries — Sat 25th July 2009 @ 9:23 pm

  6. Incest is a violation of everything our movement stands for.

    Bruce Tichbon

    Comment by Bruce Tichbon — Wed 29th July 2009 @ 2:11 pm

  7. Dear Bruce,
    I hope that this book supports the conclusions that I was trying to demonstrate:

    After clicking the link below, look down to find the conclusions….
    I hope that two conclusions are clear:

    Cheers, MurrayBacon.

    Comment by MurrayBacon — Wed 29th July 2009 @ 5:00 pm

  8. Curiously Kathryn Harrison seemed to not know about Genetic Sexual Attraction, as a general phenomenon, that is in all people, but only rarely triggered into action.

    If she had been aware, she likely could have protected herself more effectively and enjoyed a better relationship with her father. Knowledge is power….

    Comment by MurrayBacon — Tue 21st February 2017 @ 10:21 am

  9. Incest and sex with children and animals is permitted by Islam and the Talmud. Islam was created by the Catholic Church to carry out holy wars in the guise of another religion and it looks to be the world religion that will be imposed on the flock. In 2016 The Pope said that Catholicism and Islam must unite. Incest does go against what men’s rights stand for which includes the right of a child to not be molested. This should also include circumcision against an in-consenting infant male. Circumcision was how the Pharoahs marked their slaves and causes severe psychological problems as well as extreme insensitivity, causing the violated men to turn to children and goats (all permitted)

    Comment by Doug — Wed 22nd February 2017 @ 12:28 pm

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