Issue No. 2 – December 2013
You never wore underwear. To this day, you’re the only person I know who lived completely commando. It seems a silly thing to fall in love with, but the eccentricities get me every time.
You had deep set eyes, full lips, and a small nose. You wore blazers and vests and fitted button up shirts and tight jeans and jewelry. You wore more rings than me. You were in a band. You spoke French. You worked at a little charcuterie shop to pay your rent when you weren’t taking regular gigs. I thought you were trés cool, even though I knew little else about you.
My best friend and roommate, Liza, was engaged to Jack, your lead singer. Word had gotten around that I was interested in you, and I guess that made you interested in me too. One evening, the band was doing some band-bonding over crockpot venison stew and a B-movie, and Jack invited Liza over, suggesting that you bring me along.
We showed up just as the movie started. Everyone was scattered on three old couches. I avoided your eyes, wanting to pretend like I didn’t know this was all a grand meet-cute. Liza and I shared the loveseat, cuddling in that faux-lesbian way girls our age do in front of guys. Jack soon came over and snuggled between us. He leaned in to give Liza a deep kiss.
“Get a room!” you yelled, clearly watching the whole thing.
Liza and Jack paused to laugh, but Jack didn’t move.
“There’s a spot over here,” you called over to me.
And so it began. We sat close, but not touching, making goofy comments during the whole movie. There were a lot of boobs and bad dialogue (the B in B-movie, I guess?). I was no prude, but seeing naked bodies when you’re next to someone you’d like to be naked with is almost as uncomfortable as seeing naked bodies with your parents in the same room. You have to pretend not to be titillated.
When the movie was done, I said quietly, so the others wouldn’t overhear: “We should get coffee. Or beer—if you’re not a coffee drinker.”
“I drink beer and coffee, so I’ll let you decide.”
We exchanged numbers and hugged goodbye. The hug lasted an extra beat.
You met me after closing at the gallery I managed. I waited for you outside, and it was snowing. You’d just come from a show. I hugged you as soon as your footprints reached mine. Your damp hair brushed my cheek.
“Let me give you the tour first,” I said.
I showed you our most recent small show, a collection of ten paintings of the same woman from different angles.
I clicked off the lights when we reached the end. We stood close in the dark for a few seconds. I wrapped my arms around you, kissing you, tongue against teeth and hands in hair. We went back to my office to make out on the couch, which is when I learned of your underwear-free existence.
You were matter-of-fact: “I grew up in Europe. That’s just what we do.”
“It’s sexy,” I said.
And, strangely, it was—enough for me to initiate a first date blow job.
When you finished, I spit into the trash can.
“Sorry,” I said.
You took my face in your hands and kissed me deeply. Then you turned me over on the sofa.
“Hate to disappoint, but I’m wearing panties.”
“Not for long.”
Two weeks later at two in the morning, you texted me, our first contact since that night:
You awake? I’m outside.
I rushed to apply a little makeup and change out of my pajamas and into jeans and a t-shirt. I put on my glasses to appear like I’d just been casually reading in bed. I quickly scanned for anything embarrassing: Zumba DVDs, feminine hygiene products, pimple creams, my stash of Sara Mclachlan CDs.
You were up against your car smoking a cigarette like a goddamn album cover.
“You look pretty.”
You exhaled your smoke to the starry sky. I tried not to swoon.
“So do you. Want to come in?”
“It’s cold out here.”
Inside, you picked up a boxed set of movies from the top of my bookshelf.
“Vampires, eh?” you said, leaning in and brushing your teeth against my neck.
I pulled you onto my bed. We kissed and fooled around for hours, but there was no condom, and you said, “It’s better this way.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s early. Sex always ruins things.”
“But I want to.”
“But we can’t.”
I rolled off of you and pushed my hair back from my face. I sighed.
“Can I still stay?”
“Stay here? Overnight? In my bed?”
“I could sleep on the floor if you want.”
“Get over here,” I said.]
We kissed goodnight for another hour. I set the alarm and turned out the light. I fell into love and sleep.
The next morning I made you espresso (badly), and we kissed once more at the door before you went to work. We said, “Talk to you later.”
But something was off in the tone of your voice, the shift of your eyes. You radiated a little force field. So I wasn’t surprised when you stopped responding to my texts and emails. There was no apology.
A few months later, Liza asked me to go on a day trip to Pittsburgh, where the band was recording. We planned to visit the Andy Warhol museum in the afternoon — Jack invited the whole band, but you were the only one who replied that you’d like to go.
We picked you up at the friend’s apartment, and you and I shared the back seat like two awkward teens being escorted to a spring fling. Jack slipped in the demo you’d been working on and turned it up loud, so we couldn’t talk. The windows were open, blowing our hair around. I trailed my fingers in the wind. You and Jack sang along loudly, and Liza drummed her hands on the steering wheel. To outsiders, our car must have looked like one of those twenty-something road trip films. The kind with happy endings punctuated with long kisses. Or subtitles that said Je t’aime.
As soon as we arrived, Liza and Jack went off on their own. You and I made small talk as we circled each other around pixelated celebrity portraits and Campbell’s soup cans. At the end of the lower exhibit, we both got into the elevator. Our forced proximity made me lean closer to you like months hadn’t passed without a word. You kissed me for no good reason. I tried not to care. The doors opened. Upstairs, Jack and Liza were camped out on a white sofa, making out beneath a video installation in a darkened room.
We went outside to the street to buy cigarettes. I asked you how recording was going. You didn’t ask me anything about what I’d been doing since the last time you saw me. There was a real half-peeled banana in the middle of the sidewalk a block from the convenience store. You took a picture of it with your phone, both of our shoes at the edge to make a frame. We smoked outside in the sun. It was late April in the Northeast, so we still wore our coats. I was thankful for the insulation that kept me from pressing myself up against you. I swallowed all of my questions.
Near the restrooms, there was an old photo booth. You agreed to get in with me. The first three flashes, we both laughed as we tried to adjust our positions. In the last take, I rested my temple against yours. We looked like a real couple. You let me keep the strip. I knew what that meant. Back at the house, you said goodbye to me the European way, with a quick kiss on each cheek.
I tried to forget you existed, but for weeks, I found myself imagining you with some petite French girl, riding bikes with a basket full of baguettes and fromage, a girl who would never overthink things, a girl who was cultured and effortless and, in every way, the opposite of me. The kind of girl you write songs about.
Always one for the grand gesture, I photocopied our picture from that day and wrote you a note, one phrase for each image:
- I keep thinking about this day.
- I’m sorry if I came on too strong, if I was too weird, if I wanted too much from you.
- I would love to see you again, even for coffee.
- I hope you don’t think this is too weird. I just miss you.
I signed my name, folded it up and mailed it to you.
No surprise, I never heard anything back.
Four years later, at an outdoor concert I’m attending with my husband of one year, we lock eyes—a flicker of recognition—and I pretend you’re a stranger. You do the same. Because what would we say to each other? I’m three months pregnant, too soon to be showing, but with a glow I hope makes you think twice. Even though I’m happy now. Even though I’ve found capital-L Love.
I notice you are wearing your usual button up, one you’d probably worn when we dated or whatever it was we did. It’s unbuttoned lower so a lock or two of chest hair peeks out, and you’re wearing three necklaces. Now, instead of thinking how chouette you are and getting that wistful feeling, I just think you look kind of silly.