First Kiss (Photo Essay)

Words and photos by Andres Tardio.

My wife and I met as teenagers in high school, during an era when high school sweethearts weren’t expected to love beyond prom. But, we knew we had something special.

Our journey began in high school, but our first kiss was at a Burbank, Calif. bookstore that felt like a throwback even back in 2003. I walked into the bookstore recently and noticed not much has changed. It still looks the same, smells the same, and feels the same.

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Old movie posters decorate the entrance. Used books of all kinds take up every inch of every shelf. Issues of classic magazines are still collecting dust. Boxes are jam-packed and stacked up in every aisle. But despite all this, the store still has an interesting charm, and it reminded me of me and my wife’s first kiss.

That day, we held hands, shared stories, and learned what makes the other laugh. Bless my younger self. I knew I wanted to make my move that afternoon and I wanted it to be memorable. The bookstore, though old and filled with quirks, was the perfect place.

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Before I met my wife, the bookstore was my hideaway. I’d often walk through the store when I needed time to think. I’d go in with headphones on, usually listening to jazz, blues, or bumpin’ introspective raps by my favorite MCs. It was where I escaped to. At the time, I didn’t understand what I was trying to escape and had no clue why. I just knew I found comfort in music and words.

Since the store provided so much peace of mind, it seemed like the right place for this kiss. After all, there was a similar calm when I held her hand, only much more soothing. And somehow, I knew she felt the same way. We entered the store that day and as I shared my oasis, I knew the moment was near.

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We walked through aisles, checked out books, and held hands until my palms were sweaty. I stopped and looked into her eyes. At that very moment, I had no clue exactly what the future would hold–life has a way of throwing curve balls that I wasn’t familiar with then–but I knew I wanted my future to feature her. So, I closed my eyes and went for it. Magic.

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The world stopped. We were either alone in the bookstore, or it felt like we were. The rest of the universe didn’t matter. Teen angst didn’t exist. Neither did anything else in that moment: our struggles, our pain, our friends, our families, or our pasts. It was just us.

The store is a 25-minute drive from where we lived as teens. And throughout our relationship, we’ve gone back often. The block houses a record store, a movie theater, and some other cool shops and restaurants, but every time I walk by–literally, every single time–I think of that moment when we were in our own world between those shelves full of books, when time stood still, and when my refuge became our refuge.

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These days, we find peace in many different places, one of them thankfully being our home. But, that bookstore is a reminder of our story’s unforgettable first page.

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