Every year at this time, I think of that summer. We were “just friends,” John and I; he had been my First Official Boyfriend more than a year ago, and left me silent and sodden with tears after only six months. He was big and beautiful, his legs were like the trunks of some sturdy tree and his blue eyes framed by fans of lines radiating out after twenty-eight years of smiling. There had been a time, during that sliver of a relationship, when he had liked to lie with his head on my lap and close his eyes. “Play with my face,” he would ask, and I would stroke the smooth, faintly waxy skin, feel the first tiny tips of stubble pushing up around his jaw, and glide a fingertip over those fanned lines.
Things had ended badly, with decreased interest on his end creating increased panic on mine. I entrapped him in pointless and agonizing conversations. He could not say the words necessary to make it all stop, and I could not allow myself to see that he was saying nothing that meant it should continue. I drove past his house at night to see if his car was there, I left notes on his windshield, and eventually he contrived to disappear. He did not answer calls at home or at work, I could never find him anywhere, and eventually I disappeared, too. For a week I stayed in bed sleeping, weeping, and looking out the window at the barren, icy trees. Eventually I had to go back to work or lose my job, and so I did, and I kept getting up every day and crying a little less, laughing a little more, finding small things to anticipate.
More than a year later I ran into him at the grocery store, in the bread aisle. He was still handsome, lightly tan, the embodiment to me of romance and True Love. I remembered that he was an idiot, that he believed himself to be a “writer” and cranked out thousand-page manuscripts which he sent out in paper boxes to be rejected without comment. He talked too much, his voice was kind of high-pitched and whiny, and he had made me a tape of a Brahms concerto with the movements out of order because he knew no better. I didn’t care. I followed him to his new place, a room in a student rental near campus, and we laughed about how we could “just be friends” now that so much time had gone by. After a long conversation, and being in receipt of the latest manuscript to “look over” when I had time, I went home alone. I wanted him back, sticky with summer sweat, saccharine thoughts, and some song about “have you ever really loved a woman” on the car radio.
Almost every night I ended up on the front porch of his dilapidated white four-square house with the green shutters. At the end of the street was a giant hole surrounded by flexible orange fencing and gigantic dinosaurs that moved earth all day long. They were building a hotel, and every so often a drunk undergraduate would manage to breach the fence and make loud and exhilarated noise at having beaten The Man. We sat on the porch with one of his roommates, and I spoke animatedly with the roommate in the hopes of making John jealous. The roommate, Joe, I think, played me Pat Metheny tapes and I went into faux raptures over the vague, watery jazz. He also played the guitar and sang. He was a fairly good foil for an hour or so, and then I became desperate for him to leave us alone so that I could shine. I was leaving soon, moving to Boston to start law school, and I was sure that I would be less terrified about the whole thing if I knew someone loved me, wanted me, missed me. I envisioned tearful phone calls, cross-country drives, and telling new classmates about “my boyfriend, back home.”
He was an idiot. He was still an idiot, his book was terrible, and he was starting another one. He told me, earnestly, that anyone could be a writer, could write a best seller if they figured out what people liked and wrote it. He discovered Rod McKuen. One night, as we sat watching “Brazil” and eating a cheap, cardboard pizza, he reached over and began to play with a ring on my right index finger, turning it around and around. Startled, I asked him what he was doing. Despite my yearning, my focused, palpable desire, he had not touched me once in the three months we had been sitting on the porch in the hot, enclosed swelter of a Michigan summer.
“I’m seducing you,” he said, looking at me with those pale, blue eyes framed by the beloved crinkles. I did not yet understand that if a man has to tell you that he is seducing you, he isn’t.
He’s long gone, my blue-eyed boy, He’s married, an air-traffic controller somewhere in the Midwest, a convert to orthodox Judaism. The hotel is long since built. He never published anything. He was not The One, not even close, and when I think about the hours of editing his tormented prose, the nights of listening to music that I hated and willing him to want me again, I feel foolish. I feel foolish, and human, and glad that I now have my own white house with a big porch on which I can sit on a summer night and think my own thoughts. It’s the same town, the same heat, the same intimation of rain in the air, but I am in a different universe now, casting about for nothing that is not already mine.