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 Iíve kissed 19 women in my life. Typically, Iím told that number is somewhat low, but it doesnít seem like it to me. Nineteen people who would share something as intensely personal and uniquely human as a kiss? With me? Sheesh, Iíd settle for that many people who will talk to me.

Iíve been doing a lot of thinking about this lately - I donít have a TV; what else am I supposed to do? - and Iíve decided that No. 20 is going to have to be special. Iíll be officially out of the teens, and I plan on celebrating the occasion more appropriately than I did No. 10. (I never told Niki Ziegler she pushed me into double digits; I thought I was too mature for such a thing. Balderdash!)

Confession: You might find me to be a borderline psychopath for doing such a thing, but I have a list of every woman Iíve ever kissed, in chronological order. I also have an alphabetical list, but I donít bring that one out that often. Iíve always kept up an unofficial list. (You know, like horse racing results; pretty much accurate, but youíve got to check every last detail first.) But only recently have I etched it into stone. This list is very important to me, but Iíd have to talk to my mother before I tried to determine any particular reason why.

Having such a list might seem trivial or even offensive to you, but, I swear, this isnít some kind of notches-on-the-bedpost exercise in self-congratulation; itís sincere. I look at the names of these 19 women in wonder. Am I one of their more embarrassing partners? If asked if they had ever kissed me, would they admit it? Do they think of me fondly? Do they think of me at all? Considering that Iíve only spoken with one of the 19 in the last month - and I had the feeling sheíd rather be talking with anyone but me at the time - I guess I know the answers to those questions.

When I kissed the first girl, I should have had some kind of warning about the path my life would take. My first kiss was at the Cinema 1-2-3 theater in Mattoon, Illinois, during the movie Ernest Goes to Jail. Ah, my hometown.

Looking at such a list is a most disconcerting activity. Itís like reading the story of my life in outline form: Met this girl in the church youth group, met this one at the movie theater, met this one at the college newspaper, met this one in Los Angeles, met this one while recovering from the breakup of my engagement. The list exposes my flaws and excesses. The first time I kissed the first nine had nothing to do with alcohol; nine of the last 10 were during or after drinking.

Iím a big baseball fan, so itís fun to do statistical breakdowns of the list. Of the 19, six are married, two are engaged, three have children, 16 have college degrees, six have graduate degrees. Ten were from my hometown, four from college, five from the scary grownup world. Weirdly, 12 on the list are older than I am, including a shocking last nine in a row. I donít know what that means, exactly; my only guess is that I reminded them of a little brother they picked on all the time, and they were trying to make amends.

The women fall into different categories. Some were one-time aberrations, random occurrences that likely would be forgotten if it werenít for the self-doubting kid with the word processor dredging them up from their rightful home in the subconscious (Traci, Amy, Jennifer, Kim, Angela and Danielle: 31 percent).

Then you have the false alarms, the ones I thought were a big deal at the time, but turned out to be, in retrospect, fond footnotes in the sand (Barbara, Andrea, Kyla and Michelle: 21 percent). Like any human, Iíve had my share of the people who would have every right to hate me. (Well, I was kind of a jerk, and they probably do). I either stopped calling them, or I met someone else, or I simply left town without a proper goodbye. Before you lash out at me, dear reader, make your own list, and see how many of these there are on yours (Amanda, Rachel, Niki, Laura, Carrie: an alarming 26 percent). Strangely, Iíve only really had one relationship that started with no expectations, ended with no expectations and had nothing all that crazy happen in between. Kind of a perpetual dating holding-pattern (sorry, Joan, wherever you are: 5 percent).

Then there are the ones who stick in your craw, the ones you never quite get over, the ones who pop up in your dreams every once in a while just to haunt you. Theyíre the ones most likely to spur one to write a column to try to come to mental terms with the 19 women one has kissed. These might have ended badly, but whatís most important is that they ended, and I havenít quite come to terms with it. These women are the ones that if I ran into one of them on the street, Iíd probably hide under a table, whimpering. They were too beautiful, too smart, too hip, too beloved by all to be wasting their time with me - most common phrase overheard when we were together: ďWell, Iím sure heís got qualities we donít know aboutĒ - and it was of course inevitable they would eventually move on to bigger, better and less neurotic things (Myra, Diane and the ex-fiancee: 15 percent).

Iíve always thought it might be cool to track down all 19 and find out what theyíre up to, try to find some common theme among all of them to help me understand why I do some of the things I do, why Iíve turned out the way I have. After researching all their lives, Iíd probably have enough material for a book, though Iím sure it would never work. Seems like such a project would be destined to be titled 19 Restraining Orders.

Which leads us to today. Now, understand, Iím hardly actively searching for No. 20. Good thing: Anyone reading this column has probably already eagerly dismissed themselves from competition, if they hadnít done so long before - and Iím in no hurry. In fact, 19 sounds like a good number to end on. Itís about in tune with what Iím used to; right on the precipice of a milestone, a new horizon, but stopping agonizingly short.

Nineteen is probably too many anyway. I have a good friend who has kissed only one person, his wife. They have a beautiful child, a happy home and matching 401K plans. They even have one of those cross-stitched wall hangings on their wall that says, ďGod Bless this Mess.Ē I have posters of Woody Allen movies about longing, loss and the absence of God on my wall. Iím sure my friend isnít haunted by old girlfriends in his dreams. Iím sure he doesnít have various women across the country who, if they think of him at all, giggle about how he sweated too much, stroked their hair too much or often smelled terrible. I think I like his life a little more; less complicated.

But one thing is certain. If there is a No. 20, Iíll have to tell her. Though I have a feeling if I do tell No. 20, Iíll be on the search for No. 21 pretty soon thereafter. Very good chance of that, actually.



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