It is hard to say when one falls in love. Is there a moment that defines the meaning of love? Can you find that moment within 24 hours of making love to someone? I have read about Oxytocin, and the chemical cocktail that weld a woman to the man who can make her orgasm while he is inside of her. Still, I hear Beatles:
Would you believe in a love at first sight
Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time
What do you see when you turn out the light
I can’t tell you, but I know it’s mine
Is it love to wake up next to someone and ache at the idea of leaving them there on the bed, warm, groaning from the crack of day after vodka, sex and poetry?
It was 8am, and I had to run to class. He offered a pair of shorts and t-shirt to lend me so I could attend class in a different outfit than the day before. We made sure it was something no one would recognize as his. Oddly, the t-shirt and summer shorts looked like something I would probably wear on my own.
“You can leave your stuff here while you go to class,” he said, buried under wet sheets.
I thanked him, not knowing what to expect. In France, I had 5 nights that were each a little love story with a different person. There was the chemistry, the romance, the passion- and when the morning came, I started all over again with someone new. Each man had the makings of a possible soulmate, each in different ways.
So when I left Huck, tangled in our dirty sheets, I prepared myself for ending it. If it was like France, I could let go almost immediately, and start all over again, but I ached for his arms around me, to feel the weight of his body on the mattress, and the heat of his breathe through my hair.
For the first time, I showed up to class with my hair down. I wasn’t tired and in great spirits. There was that fuzziness to the world that warmly clouds over you the morning after falling in love. You feel like the sidewalk is made of sky. When you relax, you still smile.
What separated Huck from all the other suitors in France was the levity to his company. I can’t recall a time I laughed so much in one night. Sure, the conversation, the exchange of our bodies and writing, all of that had us bound. There was no doubt something special happened. I didn’t believe enough on the “special” to make a bet on it, not yet.
After class, I was reluctant to go back and tinker with him, or tinker with us. He had offered to let me leave my clothes there, so the invite to return was open but I wanted to be sure we wouldn’t ruin it by going any further. There is a delicate exchange of power when you court a man, who initiates, who agrees. Who initiates. Who agrees. I hate it.
Huck gave me fair warning, as did his peers, that he had the propensity of being an asshole- though I saw nothing like that myself.
And then there is me; if you were to independently interview some of the men I have been involved with, I am sure they would say I am an asshole, though most of them still communicate with me. I can get flirtatious and sometimes surly when I have had too much to drink. I think about the moment I had with an American Professor my first night in France, the kiss we shared, only for the next night, when the Professor wept over his beer in front of our peers, sharing a story about his ex-wife saving him from a house fire, I openly flirted and obtained a number from a French stranger in the middle of the story.
Sometimes I think about who I am, and it scares me.
After a lecture, and a quick conversation with my mother, I texted Huck asking if he wanted me to bring him something to eat. I waited . . .
Huck: “Sure. Anything is fine.”
I stopped for sandwiches, got fries and soda, and returned to his hotel room. I knew bringing him food after multiple orgasms was making a step, did I want him more? I did. I wanted a whole lot of him. He was making me happy. And I was in the poor habit of continuing to do anything that makes me happy without the care of foresight.
Walking down the hallways of Huck’s hotel and riding the elevator up with another hotel patron, a man, I waited as we both reached the 7th floor. The man, in his 50s and looking distinguished enough, walked down the hallway to where I remember coming from earlier that morning. He heard my footsteps behind him and looked back to smile at me.
“I am not following you, I swear. I am just headed down this way,” I explained without question.
“That’s fine. We are neighbors, huh?” he said, smiling.
I kept my face and smile down, calling Huck on my cell. In my mind, I repeated, “Don’t flirt. Don’t flirt.” It is something I have to stay on top of, and usually a cause of friction with my suitors. Usually, I am not really flirting, just engaging, laughing, smiling- to men it gives the wrong impression, so I force myself to be disinterested and brief. My friend George calls it the “Julia Roberts Effect”. If I were homely, overweight or much older, my signals wouldn’t be misinterpreted. I could laugh a little too loud, touch a shoulder, stare intently in someone’s eyes, and no one would bother to rethink it. Being who I am, I can be slinky, tomboyishly sexy, maybe my smile, on first impression, is often thought to be personalized just for them. It is just who I am, to everyone. In 15 years, that will all change and I will miss leading men on with a flash of my hazel eyes and Lolita-esque smile. (May face not look like 14, but my fucking teeth look like a 14-year-old’s)
That said, there is no denying I have a large libido for a woman, so maybe not all of it is misinterpreted. Abe always gave me the silent treatment on the rides home after a party. I didn’t want to fuck up with Huck. Did that mean I was falling in love? For the first time since Abe, I wanted to deliberately not fuck up, sometimes for me that is like trying to walk a straight line when you know you have had too much to drink, just to see if you can do it.
Waiting next to the man, I held my cell phone up to my face, keeping my eyes down. Huck picked up the call with a cold, “Hello.”
“I am at the end of the hall, which room are we in again?” I asked.
He repeated the number of the door I was outside of and I said, “Knock, knock.”
The stranger was still standing next to me, as if waiting to open his door, “Have a lovely afternoon.”
“You too,” I said, blushing.
Huck opened the door and I waltzed in with my bookbag and food.
“Meeting the neighbors?” he asked.
“Yeah, I had to follow him all the way down the hall, it was a bit awkward.”
He was writing, in his underwear and a blue and black flannel that wasn’t buttoned up, revealing the skin I spilled, kissed and sweated on the night before. His blonde hair was all brushed forward, over his face, and his glasses drooped slightly over the end of his nose.
We ate together, and I set up my mini-laptop to join him at the desk. Something terribly romantic happened here, there we sat, side-by-side, and we wrote together. We only spoke on occasion to share a large, blue-ish, Naked smoothie, or fries, while playing 50s music.
“Don’t spill anything on my shorts!” Huck said.
Smiling, “Well, I wouldn’t be concerned with that. I am not wearing any underwear,” I said.
Never in my life, have I been able to write with a lover. Usually, I am pestered; they constantly bother me, ask me to write when they are gone or get restless. Abe especially hated it and called it “wasting time”. Huck just sat next to me, typing away. It was an intimate space with no interruption.
Occasionally, I got up to stretch using some old hamstring stretches I used to do before soccer practice.
“What did we do last night? Why do my hamstrings ache?”
“That was some rigorous lovin’,” he answered, smiling, sipping.
I put my hands on the chair, as I pushed one leg forward at a time, “Jesus Christ.”
We shared music. He played something called “Paranoid in B Flat Major”. I played “I Fall to Pieces” by Patsy Cline.
We briefly invaded each other’s Facebooks; mine littered with rescue posts for homeless dogs and cats, his less frequent- pictures, posts, sometimes a girl cuddling up to him. I asked if he had animals, and he said he had a cat, then said, “But I think I carry a different view of dogs and cats than you do. I don’t think they should be domesticated.”
“But they are already domesticated. They are drawn to people. Its in their nature to pair with humans.”
“I don’t know, I mean, I have a cat. I just don’t think we should be keeping them as pets and trying to save all of them all the time. I know you think about it differently.”
I thought a lot about this one thing he said, because in a way it made sense. I think we overproduce everything- including people and animals. It’s stressful to realize how much is born and how much must suffer. When looking through my Facebook feed and seeing graphic pictures of dogs that were injured or put down, dead cats dumped outside a county shelter or animals skinned in China, my mind is blinded in anguish. Not just the animals, the stories of children being raped, women being beaten and killed, men dying in a war everyone has forgotten about, it creates this white, screeching blank screen in my mind and I can’t function. All the information out there, and our heads have to be held under it all day long, drowning, gasping for a moment of silence, for a moment of personal reflection.
If we didn’t, as a society, create more than we consume, we wouldn’t need to wade in so much misery, shop through so much crap and carelessly throw so much away. And we have come to treat life like a product, so in a way, I did agree with Huck. I long to simplify all the time, pair down, love only what is in front of me and do away with desire, want and longing. It all can snuff out a person’s spirit.
Huck’s mother called, and I put on my iPod to give him privacy, occasionally lowering my volume to eavesdrop. He crossed his legs while resting his feet on the edge of the seat. His legs looked like a woman and the thought occurred that he would probably walk better in high heel shoes than I do. Then I took a cigarette break outside on a tiny patio outside the only window; we had to climb over the wall and through the window sill using a footrest from the corner chair. I like to smoke and write, it gives me a chance to catch up on what comes out of my fingers.
In mid-cigarette, on the glass window, Huck jumped against the pane and sang whatever tune was playing on his computer. I watched his face bend down and coo, realizing he was indeed effeminate. I believe the bravado and low voice he uses on introduction throws you off of the real Huck. Sometimes, when he gets too comfortable, you might question if he was gay. My first thought was, “My mother won’t like that about him.” Who gives a fuck about what she thinks?
He came out to join me and saw my bare feet. The pedicure I paid for just before France was wearing off, the nail polish was chipped, the nails just a bit too long, and my pinkie toe was bashed up nicely from all the walking I did in Paris. It was the day after our anticipated night together, and he noticed my first flaw.
“What is going on with that pinkie toe?” he asked.
“I know, she is in bad shape.”
“You need to cut that thing.”
“Usually I get pedicures, but I didn’t have time between France and school so . . . there it is.”
The nail was a little too long, and a piece of skin that was once a blister was hanging off the side. I turned my foot over to reveal an even larger blister that faded into dead skin.
He jerked out, “Eugh.”
“I ran out of money for the metro so I had to walk everywhere in shitty shoes.”
He was mesmerized by how battered my feet were and I tried to overturn them so he wouldn’t stare at them anymore.
Every woman remembers the first time she is dethroned from a man’s imagination. We are often expected to whirl into a man’s room, smelling of perfume and feeling of satin. It’s hard to disguise how human you are once he’s orgasmed, and the daylight shines on your face. We try though, as exhausting as it is. So when the moment comes that the fantasy has faded from satin to polyester, I try to keep my head high.
I have a friend who was hotly pursued by someone on the heels of her last relationship. She resisted him initially, because she was still heartbroken and self-conscious. This played nicely into the game of chase- and he won her. The moment they were intimate, and he was holding her in bed, whispering how badly he wanted to enter her, she admitted to him she had genital herpes.
Despite how much character she exhibited with such an uncomfortable truth, she said that was the moment she fell from grace. He leaned back and decided he didn’t want to enter her so badly anymore. Eventually, they did have sex and the affair dried out shortly after, but she marks that moment as the first time she clumsily tripped out of his fantasy. I told her, “We all fall from being the fantasy girl. Its just a matter of time.”
My pinkie toe didn’t seem all that bad. However, the veil was lifting and it was soon to be decided if he really liked me or if we were only the affair we invented for each other on Facebook.
Back inside, “I told my Mom about you,” he said.
My eyes brightened, “You did!?”
I smiled and threw a pillow at him.
The only place to sit together was the bed, and we spoke about his mother. Huck was worried about her because of how other people in the family were treating her. And somewhere in the moment, as I rested my chin and pressed all my weight on his chest, I asked about his father. “He abused my mother the first couple years until he left. And then he remarried and he never . . . uh . . um, hurt her. Just my mother.” I wondered what it was like to know your father only beat the woman who created you, not the new one- the one who has nothing to do with you.
“Did he ever hit you?” I asked.
“No, just her. He did hit me before my grandmother’s funeral. I said something disrespectful to him, something about the way he was dressed . . . something terrible. I was sitting in the backseat and he turned around and punched me in the lip. Then he got out and tried to open up the back door. I hit the lock on the door and was laughing, with blood coming down my face and he kept tugging on the door, saying, ‘Open the damn door. God damn it.’”
Huck acted out his father with this very comical, old-school Midwest voice. “Then he got back in behind the wheel, and I started crying, ‘I am bleeding, you hit me in the lip . . .’” He overacted his own part, again, to the point where it was funny. I laughed along with the story. “He just kept his head turned, (mimicking his father again, this time over-emotional and on the verge of tears) ‘I can’t . . . I can’t look at you.”
I laughed again, feeling my breasts patter against his ribcage. And he looked into my eyes, lazily, took a finger to stroke a piece of hair out of my face and said, “Yeah, that was it.” He mentioned earlier that he noticed green in the browns of my eyes, no one ever really has before, so I knew he was looking into me when we stared at each other.
We had already started on our first beers of the day, and planned on staying in for the rest of the day. It was towards the end of the week, and both of us had hit our fair number of lectures, seminars and workshops. One faculty member said, “If your creative soul wants to go down to the beach one afternoon, that is what you should do.” My creative soul wanted to bounce on the bed with Huck, drink beer, have sex and make him laugh for the rest of the day.
I think back on that day, and I remember never wanting to leave the room. We were hungry and kept bringing up what to eat, where to eat- but neither of us really wanted to leave our sanctuary. He motioned towards the room and would say, “I mean, look at this place . . .”
The trash was overflowing with a huge, empty vodka bottle teetering on top. Anytime we threw something away, it bounced back out onto the floor. There were beer cans everywhere, the bed sheets and blanket were kicked off and the bed looked well worked in, pieces of paper lay on piles by the floor or the nightstand, notebooks left open on the chairs, his suitcase open and neat in the corner by the door, my book bag and clothes scattered all over the other corner by the window . . . it looked like true love to me.
There was something about falling for each other in a neutral space, without his roommates and my dogs constantly interrupting us. Without jobs and everyday life knocking on the door or calling on the phone. We were in a bubble; a fresh, clean, pristine bubble where nothing could touch us. It also kept us from really knowing the other person, since there was no evidence of our real lives there.
I couldn’t flip through his book collection and see what pictures he kept, which poems lingered and about who. He couldn’t see how happy I am when I wake up and see my dogs first thing in the morning, he couldn’t taste how good my coffee is or what jazz sounds like after a morning orgasm.
The sun was setting, and I waited. I waited for him to give me the cue to leave. He really wanted me to have the impression that he was a womanizer, and here we were getting used to each other’s ticks. He knew I needed the commercials muted on the television. I knew that I needed to keep 20 feet away from the bathroom if he used it. When I lay on the bed, taking notes from my reading, he would tickle the bottom of my feet as he passed by. “Look at us, we are so domesticated.” I giggled like I should have as a little girl. “Look, um, you can’t spend the night tomorrow,” he said.
My first thought was I was invited for another night, the next thought was, “Why not tomorrow?”
“Because I need to get sleep.” He chuckled a little, as if this was obvious.
“I am going to have to go back to my friends’ for clothes and toiletries, at some point. I have had my contacts in for over a day. I have to take them out tonight.”
“I will go with you.” He flipped over the “Do Not Disturb” card and said, “Should I have them clean the room?”
It made me a little sad to surrender our pit of lechery, but I nodded and said, “If for nothing else than the clean sheets.”
We swung by an old diner nearby for a bland and overpriced meal. I could see his eyes swinging around, looking for anyone familiar from the program. My usual leads into odd, personal stories that capture any man’s interest didn’t seem to catch his, but it didn’t bother me. I found him more interesting than myself. He was eating a lot of fried chicken, I think he ordered a side order of fried chicken to go with his fried chicken.
“Do you know this quote, ‘Bring me four fried chickens and a Coke.’ ‘You want chicken wings or chicken legs?’ ‘Four fried chickens and a Coke.’ ‘And some dry white toast please,” I recited in various high and low voices. He shook his head at first and I giggled through the answer, “Blues Brothers.” He smiled, remembering the film. We would quote it for the rest of the week.
When we left, I felt I had to ask permission to hold his hand, and he grabbed on without reluctance. We walked from Culver City down to Playa del Rey, which ended up being about a 40 minute walk through an industrial area, underneath the freeway, swinging our hands. He gave me his sock hat to keep my head warm. It reminded me of Junior High courtships, when you had no privacy and no car, all you could do was roam the streets, keep warm and talk about the future.
The light died overhead, and we sang songs to kill the time on foot. Anytime we started a song, I rang out several lyrics until I lost my place or he switched songs. One tragic note about myself, I have a terrible singing voice and a superhuman ability for remembering and loving music. My parents think I am tone deaf, but how could I truly be a lover of music if I don’t hear the tone?
We sang George Michael, Roy Orbison, Michael Jackson and the Beatles.
During a chorus break, I said, “You carry your body in a very graceful way.”
He laughed,“Thanks, most people would call it effeminate.”
I thought about whether or not it bothered me that he was so effeminate. A woman always likes being with a masculine man, and I don’t mean the beefy kind of guy who lifts weights, trims his eyebrows and drowns himself in cologne. I mean the type of guy who walks on the traffic side of the sidewalk to protect you from cars. The type of guy who won’t let you carry a grocery bag even if its not that heavy.
Even as I look now at synonyms for effeminate: womanish, dainty, delicate, fragile, impotent, sissy, feeble . . . none of these properly describe him. Its even as if our own language refuses to acknowledge that femininity can be about strength and quality.
Huck was still harboring qualities of a boy before manhood, despite being 27-years old. He had a rhythm with his body movement, he was more elegant than I was. He had a confident stride, while I occasionally slipped off the edge of the sidewalk into a flower bed trying to get ahead of him to explain a story or idea. That grace and confident sophistication didn’t rob him of his virility or strength. He was still my lover.
Though he isn’t what my parents would picture for me, and there would be questions towards our compatibility and his sexuality, I didn’t care. There were some women, not a lot but a few, that I found more attractive than some men. I wouldn’t let anyone else’s box keep me from loving someone who was different from everyone else I loved.
Huck and I walked, hand-in-hand, up to Jeph’s condo, and I let us into the dark kitchen. The roommate was behind her bedroom door, with only a sliver of light through the door frame to alert us of her presence.
He was tired, and dragged his body onto the futon to settle in a spot for a moment and play with the cats. I gathered some things and sat with him in the dark. Our bus wouldn’t leave for another half hour. He suggested we could stay there for the night, but I thought that was a bad idea, mostly because I was more comfortable in his hotel room. He already felt like more of a home than anywhere I had been the last few months, maybe even the last year.
We walked to the bus stop and saw the bus waiting there with its engine off and the driver in a seat, texting on her iPhone. “It must be her break,” I said.
We were a little early and hung from the tree branches singing:
“Yeah, you got satin shoes
Yeah, you got plastic shoes”
“It’s plastic boots,” he gently corrected.
I started again, “Yeah, you got plastic boots . . .
Yall got cocaine eyes
Yeah, you got . . . something.
Can’t you hear me knockin . . . on your window”
“That’s such a good song,” he sighed, exhausted.
The bus driver opened the doors. We dropped from the branches and watched as she slowly walked away.
I asked, “Is the bus leaving . . . at some point?”
She turned her head, thrusting her obese hip away from us, “At some point.” She was a middle-aged black woman with thick, wavy hair. I could see that was the one part of her she took pride in. That and the elaborate acrylic designs on her fingernails.
We saw her disappear in the horizon. “Well, they can’t just leave the bus here,” I said.
Huck slumped and hung his head over like a rag doll, “I am so tired.”
I hugged him and lifted his body up, in baby talk, “We’ll be home soon. Don’t worry. Just a little longer.”
Ten minutes later, she came back, opened the bus door and climbed the steps to her sovereignty. Huck leaned in through the doors, still folded open, “The schedule says the bus was supposed to leave fifteen minutes ago. Is there another driver coming? Or maybe another bus?”
She silently withdrew her iPhone, and punched a few buttons. Huck continued, in a low, monotonous voice, poorly masking irritation, “Maybe you could tell us when the bus is leaving?”
“It leaves when I make it leave.”
Then she closed the door on him. He kept his arms outstretched on either side and hung his head like Jesus dying on the cross. I thought this was hilarious, and broke out laughing.
Ten seconds later, before Huck could even move, the bus door opened, he lifted his head to the light and we ascended to our long awaited seats. Huck was rolling up into a ball, and fading before my eyes. I kept laughing and retelling the story, “When she closed the doors on you . . . that was hilarious . . .“ Chuckling, struggling to finish the thought. He smiled, but I could tell the story wasn’t captivating him. I swallowed the laughter and smiled at him. His cheeks were cold from the night air.
“This is our story. We are making stories right now. This is one, right here, on this bus,” I said.
He smiled and looked down at his shoe, “Maybe.”
When we arrived to the clean hotel room, we slid into the fresh sheets with a couple of beers. He turned on the television and we watched “Total Recall”. We fondly chatted about the film as it played, both of us liking the old special effects and the poor performances. I felt myself falling asleep, and mumbling. Huck would ask a question, and then I felt him jerk my shoulder and shout, “WHAT?”
I hadn’t felt close to someone in a few months. I enjoyed my freedom, floating around the planet without commitment to a place or a person. I made lots of friends and lots of lovers, but no one I could just be myself, without monitoring what I said, what I did, without worrying what they thought. Even at Abe’s, I was always cold and a little uncomfortable with how clean it all was. Huck laughed at every joke I made, and that was the first anyone had picked up on my humor so quickly and with such affection.
Digging further under the covers, I kicked off the top sheet- something I do at home.
“Don’t like the top sheet, huh?”
“I just don’t see the point,” I mumbled.
“You know, there is a toe nail clipper in my bathroom.”
I ignored this at first, as well as his notice of the hair in my armpit growing just above the surface of my skin. I just wanted to sleep . . . then I remembered how much I liked him, enough to work a little harder on that fantasy.
So I forced myself back up and hid in the bathroom for a few minutes trying to saw off my pinkie toe nail, then realized the whole thing might come off if I kept going. Reaching inside his small, black travel bag, I pulled out his razor to quickly trim off any evidence of hair growth.
Quickly shuffling out of the bathroom, I crawled back under the covers and pressed against him. He smelled sweet, like faint cologne or deodorant with that musky scent you love immediately during sex or when you wake up with a man.
We made love again, despite being too exhausted to stand, his face hung over mine, and we both shared the same breath, like our spirits were firing into a ball of hot air, slowly exchanging from one mouth to the other.
Occasionally, he would put his hand around my throat and squeezed. I never fought it. I never was scared about being strangled, or losing consciousness. I knew it was part of his fetish, part of the need to be in control, and the instinct to be his father the “Dominator”, not his mother the “Victim”.
After sex, bathing in the blue hue of Arnold Schwarzenegger, he asked what I was thinking about. “I was thinking about how I am forced to trust you when you put your hand on my throat, or hit me during sex. I immediately have to trust that you won’t hurt me. And I never thought that you would hurt me. But I had to trust you immediately, and I don’t think most couples do, or aren’t forced to initially . . . the way I do with you.”
Huck took a moment then chuckled a little, “God, ask a guy what he thinks about after sex, and you will get a much simpler answer.”
“Look, I identify with you, so I get it. I identify with the darkness. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been attracted to you.”
His arm around me, his low voice returned for pillow talk, rattling his ribcage, “You are attracted to the darkness?”
“The darkness and the innocence.” I repeated it, over and over, turning my head from open palm to another, “the darkness” “the innocence”, “The darkness” “the innocence” . . .
“Awww, that’s kind of sweet.”
“I don’t know if you know this about me, but I rescue pit bulls,” I said.
“That explains everything!”
With a half empty beer warming on the nightstand, I let my mind drift to unconsciousness, sadly knowing it would be time I spent away from him. Are you falling in love if sleep means you miss them? Are you falling in love when you know their happiness is contingent on yours? Their hunger, contingent on yours? Their orgasm, contingent on yours. They become a part of you, for a day, a week or a lifetime. There they are- in you.
I was in love.