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Dori Hartley Headshot

A Kiss is Just a Kiss

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About 23 years ago, I sat with a friend in the front seat of his cruddy brown Dodge, buzzed out of our minds on hope, dreams and ambition. We were parked outside of some music-oriented establishment, maybe a recording studio -- possibly a place where one or both of us had either just done a gig, or were planning on doing one. We were high on adrenaline and I'm quite sure that if there had been anyone else in the car with us that night, they would be zapped by our energy. We were -- without a doubt -- electric.

We were going to be stars. That was the plan. Rock stars. We had both chosen careers in music, though in different categories. He was going to be the next hot Latin pop act, and I was hopefully going to fit my strangeness into something alternative and poetic. We were both singer songwriters at the beginning of our journey -- vastly different people, but with the same burning desire to shine for a world that -- if all went well -- would take us into their hearts and vault us to celebrity status.

The excitement was almost too much to take, just sitting there in that car, planning our victories, feeling as palpably alive as two friends could possibly feel. So much positivity, so much promise -- we'd come such a long way as friends, it only felt right to celebrate the union with a kiss. We'd never kissed before. I mean, we were music buddies -- writer pals, co-workers. Our relationship was platonic -- of this we were painfully aware.

He turned to me and said something I will never forget. "I'm afraid to kiss you." I asked him why and he explained that he cherished our friendship so much and feared that if we took it to a different level, we might end up losing the friendship.

Well, you know how those things go. In the heat of the moment, friendships are as valuable as the words, "Well, let's just not lose the friendship, then." We kissed.

And that kiss launched an 8-year courtship that -- after many ups and downs -- turned into a marriage.

Our careers hadn't panned out as expected, but we were still hanging in there, still cheerful. We decided to have a child, and we did. Love took on a new focus: our daughter. She was, is, and always will take the number one place of importance. She is everything to us.

The marriage survived sickness and health, but the years took a toll on the friendship. The one thing that brought us together -- that embodied passion for all things hopeful and optimistic -- felt like it was stuck beneath a bunch of old overcoats. Financial stress, impatience, lost dreams, lack of communication -- most especially lack of communication -- these were the things that eventually drove an irrevocable wedge between us.

And so, the kiss that never should have been -- but had to be -- took two people, made three out of them, gave them a life together and then broke them apart. We divorced.

As single parents, we went our separate ways, always mindful of our responsibility as parents, yet sad that we didn't have the fortitude to stick it out -- together. Unfortunately, we lost what little friendship we had left in the deal. And without the friendship there to soften the situation, we began to indulge in unnecessary anger. Divorce became the stereotypical battleground where we could relinquish all personal responsibility for the break-up and freely blame the other for whatever conflict we felt. In other words, we divorced ourselves from blame. All was fair in love and war, and somehow we got stuck in that stupid glitch in the universe where we chose to be cold and unforgiving, instead of friendly. It was awful.

Until five years into the divorce, when our daughter needed us. It was no ordinary cry for peace; it was a legitimate call to arms. She was in trouble and we needed to act as one loving party in order to help her.

And we did. Suddenly, all bets were off. We dropped whatever we were doing and focused all of our attention on our child. The priorities were instantly revealed: take care of the child, no matter what. It was easy. There was nothing more natural in the world. My ex-husband and I, after five years of being estranged, began to work together once again -- as friends.

And close friends we remain. The ice storm is over.

Every once in a while, as we talk, we get that ol' silly laughter going on again. I can still picture us in the car, during those moments -- naïve to the world, unaware of life's up and coming impact. It's like the friendship wanted back in, but the egos were just too big to make room for it. We were always meant to be "just friends". That's how it started, and that's how it ended up, thankfully.

But -- we had to have that kiss, because the kiss is what led to us having our child. And it was she who taught us that love was bigger than any friendship, marriage or divorce could ever be.

A kiss is just a kiss? Perhaps. Perhaps not.