The way a never-been-kissed 23-year-old feels on a date’s couch is the same way the last unpopped popcorn kernel feels in the microwave. As an anxious and over-scheduled kernel, I always stopped the timer before the ideal mark. But on a walk with a coronavirus-free individual, I gained the courage to complete the cycle of electromagnetic waves. These past months of death and injustice have taught me that life is short. I never knew what would diminish my first-kiss fear. Turns out a pandemic is a really good microwave. — Kate Kesselman

ImageI think I like popcorn.

I sit in my mother’s bed in Michigan. She asks, “How did I make you?” Her eyes are fresh flowers. Her thin arms are stems. “I came from your leg,” I answer. She has a long scar above her knee from an old accident. When we were young, she convinced my three sisters and me that this was how we were born. I run to the fridge before we continue our game. Nothing is there but a box, her hospice package. Morphine and pills. She has dementia and doesn’t know she’s dying. I do. Brave for love, I walk back in. — Nancy Shayne

She saw me in college, found me online and told me I was cute. On our first date at a New Delhi cafe, her anxiety made her talk nonstop. We discussed how the world had so many children that we would never want to procreate. When I left the city to look for a better career, she insisted on dropping me at the railway station. It became our ritual whenever I visited. Those farewells were painful. But I never realized how grateful I was for her seeing me off until our final goodbye, when I was standing on the platform alone. — Manik Saggar

Anna was at the age when pebbles or crayons could symbolize our five family members. Sitting on my lap, she played with my necklace, a pendant of nesting rings. Her little fingers separated each silver loop. “This circle is Daddy,” she said. “This one is Ali, this one is Michael, this one is me.” She left me out. I felt an irrational, childish wisp of disappointment. Was my mothering meaningless, my love invisible? She paused, then touched the tiny circle that joined the others to the chain. “And this one is you, Mommy, because you hold us all together.” — Leah DeCesare


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