‘Second and Third All My Life’
It was six months and fourteen days since my break up with my boyfriend, well now ex-, then boyfriend. We’d been together for four years: three years of joy and one year of desperate “It’s not you, it’s me.” But enough about then, six months and fourteen days later: single, in my twenties, and free to go as I please. Granted, I’ve learned that my definition of “free” on a Friday night is slipping into my uncle’s hand-me-down cotton pajamas, eating Chinese food: boneless spareribs with white rice and sitting in front of my television set watching the first season of E.R.
Don’t get me wrong; I hadn’t been a hermit the last six months and fourteen days. There was the initial three-month period of a guilt-ridden existence. When I told him “It’s not you, it’s me,” I was telling the truth. After ninety days of sitting on my pity-potty and working twelve hour days which, by the way, is a feat for a starving artist, I began to try my luck at dating. Luckily for me, I did not have to endure sharing a fifteen-dollar salad across from someone my grandmother set me up with. Instead, all my first date wanted to do was watch World Tournament Poker on his couch. The sad part was that he didn’t even make any moves on me which would certainly have made up for eight hours of watching a bunch of guys flip from watching their “hand,” to watching other guys watch their “hands.” Yes, I stayed for eight hours. What can I say? I’m optimistic. Well I suppose it wasn’t such a horrible way to pop my dating cherry. After that, one figures, “Can’t get any worse? Right?” Wrong.
After a quick recovery from my compulsive gambler-watcher, life threw me bone. Or so I thought. An ex, an ex-high school sweetheart to be specific, came into the picture. After our first meeting, I spent a week daydreaming in the clouds of “We were meant to be together.” But by the end of the week, I found myself on the corner of her bed. Yes, it was a woman, a subject to be discussed at a different time. Anyhow, I’m there, watching her tear apart her apartment in search of her wallet. She needed money for her drug dealer. It ended with me staring at the back of her head and hearing, “ I’ll be back, okay.” Believe it or not, I considered staying. Either that or leaving and finding that compulsive gambler-watcher’s phone number. I figured, “At least, he wasn’t committing a crime.” I entertained this thought as I walked towards the train station checking my wallet.
After couple of weeks and a couple of sessions with Meredith, my therapist, my gambler-watcher and addict were mere journal entries of the past. Six months and fourteen days since my break up with my boyfriend of four years, two months since my last episode of World Tournament Poker, and two weeks since my five-day rekindling of an old flame (who, from last I heard is on a juice-detox diet): single, in my twenties, and free to go as I please. This is when I bumped into John Keys. We met two years prior, he had been an in-class tutor for one of my writing classes and I hadn’t ever really seen him beyond the confines of his chair under the florescent university lighting. “Keys!” I hollered from across the coffee shop he was about to enter. “Wow,” I thought to myself as he smiled at me with his more-pepper-than-salt goatee. I smiled back. Who wouldn’t?
John Keys: six-foot-five, part Austrian, hazel eyes and a writer. He was breathtaking (sigh). Despite the delirious trance his presence ignited, I managed to utter a few sentences. The typical, “How have you been? - Have you seen so and so? - What have you been up to?” - conversation happened. Turns out he was now a professor and was on his way to teach his class. I then realized I had a class of my own to attend. In the rush of it all, I managed to actually ask for his e-mail address. In any other circumstance, with any other person, I would have probably scribbled his information on a matchbook or a gum wrapper and manage to lose it with no regret. Instead, I pulled out a yellow legal pad and a permanent marker. He wrote down his e-mail, walked away and waved good-bye. I smiled at my giddiness, humored and relieved that I could still feel this way after my recent stints with dating. But as I entered the elevator doors and pressed “8”, I knew that John Keys was out of my league and that I probably wouldn’t see him for another two years. “All the best,” I supposed. “After all, in my imagination I never get hurt. I’ll keep him there.”
Much to my surprise I arrived home and e-mailed John. I don’t know what I was thinking. It was late, I was tired, and I heard a voice say that he was so out of my league that I wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not he liked me. I could just e-mail him and perhaps make a new friend. (Note to self: this voice had other motives).
as promised, i am e-mailing you.
so, what pleasant distractions have been appearing in your life?
would love to hear about it.
Simple as this note may have seemed, it was filled with intention. Notice the lower case caps; John is a writing professor and the lower case caps convey a casual conversational tone in order to excuse any grammatical errors on my part. The same reasoning applies to the short sentences. Note also, the opening line, which reminds him he asked me to contact him and that I was not stalking him. Staring at my computer, I debated if I really wanted to set myself up to be disappointed, by not receiving a reply, or worse yet, receiving a reply that opened with “Hey kid.” Although I didn’t know how old he was, he was a professor. Despite my talking head, I clicked “Send.” Oy.
The next afternoon, I received a reply:
Lovely seeing you too. What are you doing to distract yourself? What's catching your eye these days? You mentioned you were avoiding reading by writing. What are you working on?
“Oh dear,” I thought to myself. He responded with the words “Lovely” and “What's catching your eye these days?” I was flustered, nervous, and excited. His questions weren’t generic. His inquiries were evidence he was actually listening to me. He said it was lovely seeing me. I stared at his e-mail and lost myself in images of him towering over me on the sidewalk with his collared shirt and backpack. “His eyes think I’m lovely,” I whispered. This was then followed by doubt, “This can’t be real. What am I thinking? It isn’t real. This man just e-mailed me back. He was being polite. So what if his questions were specific. He’s polite; he listens. His words are poetic and fluid? That’s cause he’s a writer, you idiot!” Despite my mental rants, I replied, five hours later.
I don’t know what I was expecting and maybe that’s what motivated me. I didn’t really expect anything. A little online flirting at most, but nothing more, right? Wrong. After a week or two of daily e-mails, filled with words like:
enjoy enticingly delicious distractions…
Give a shout when one of those distractions calls you…
I'm sure it'll be possible…
sleep and sweet dreams find you very soon….
Growing girls require a lot of both…
gracing me with your presence in my abode….
John and I met, and met, and met. The e-mails, his e-mails continued:
Thanks for a wonderful night. It's been sticking with me…
I'll take you on a Florida beach any day…
Thanks for a special night yesterday…
I feel that I am still held in its particular vibration today…
Every part of me wishes the story ended here. But it doesn’t. I failed to mention two things. First, I began to fall for our potential. What John and I could become. Second, John had a girlfriend. I didn’t know right away; that I was falling for him, or that he had a girlfriend of two years. When I did realize these two things, I pushed them away, aside, inside, whatever. I closed my eyes and pretended it didn’t matter and that it wasn’t real. I hadn’t fallen for him and he hadn’t lied to me.
I’d never felt so broken.
No matter how emotionally devoid I tried to make myself, I couldn’t deny that late-night romances come to an end. I knew that the romance of late-nights on rooftops would wear away. I would eventually want to see him in the light of day. I would eventually cry upon seeing his back as he walked out my door to catch the last train home. Reality would set in and I would want more. “But why?” I thought. “Why couldn’t this work? He’ll break up with her? He’s just as scared? Or is he? Did he have anything to lose? Did he even feel the same way?” In a short time, however, my excuse driven thoughts dissipated, slowly replaced with pangs of hate and anger. “Why would he act on something that had the potential to hurt me? Why did he return my kiss? Why not deny my passes if someone else had his heart?”
I was torn between wanting to say, “Fuck it! So what if it isn’t real?” and putting it aside for the sake of a potential friendship. But then there was another part of me who wanted to tell him off, blow smoke in his face and walk away. These voices didn’t take turns, but rather battled for prominence. After another one of our late-night romances, which ended with me watching him melt into the darkness of the street, a thought came to me: I had not just left a four-year relationship to settle for a relationship where in which I was going to come second. I have settled for second and third my entire life, and although my four-year relationship had come to a screeching halt, I had learned two things: the capacity at which I could love someone and the capacity at which I could be loved. But now, how to practice this?
Lost and confused I turned to where John and I began. I e-mailed him:
I felt like a whore after you left. I have been hoping that you’d offer to meet to discuss the recent events, during daylight hours. I am having a hard time shaking your presence off, particularly in my home. I am struggling between not feeling like a stereotype of a woman and not being treated like shit. I’m not looking to rent a u-haul, but I’m also not looking to waste my time with things and people who provoke my insecurities and fears in an unhealthy manner.
I didn’t bother re-reading it. I stared at my laptop, closed my eyes, and clicked on “Send.”
It is now eight months and twenty-nine days since my break up with my boyfriend of four years, four months since my last episode of World Tournament Poker, two months and a week since my five-day rekindling of an old flame, and six weeks since I bumped into John Keys: single, in my twenties, and free to go as I please. Waiting for elevator at work, on the way to lunch, this is when I meet Peter…