It’s half past 9 at my sister’s wedding, and I’m in line at the bar. I order a Pinot Grigio, and turn, my bare arm brushing someone’s suit, and discover a groomsman, ten years my junior, grinning at me.
“Emily,” he says, “I think you just touched me in a naughty place.”
“Perish the thought,” I say, raising an eyebrow.
“Having fun?” he asks.
“Sure,” I say, sipping my drink. “You?”
“Always,” he says, and I can tell this is the kind of thing he says regularly, a stock response. Always, baby… He’s a cop– at the time, he was in the police academy, was “sprung,” so to speak, for the nuptials. His hair is gone, the harsh reality of the weird militarism of the police, and it gives his already youthful face an even younger air. I size him up–he’s really smart, and really kind, and strikes me as unsure about his decision to join the police force, which appeals to me. The first time I ever saw him, I told my then future brother-in-law, “I like your friend with the nice biceps.” He laughed, and very likely repeated this to him. What the hell, I think, it’s a wedding…
“Ok, kid,” I say, sipping my wine through the coffee straw the bartender inexplicably stuck in it. “I’m drunk enough to tell you I wanna make out with you.”
“Oh, I already knew that,” he says, and I make a mental note to punch my new brother-in-law in the arm tomorrow.
“Oh, brother,” I say, punning unintentionally. “Well… are you up for it?” This is how I approach most of these encounters. I am too impatient and too logical to deal with prolonged desire. On the Autism spectrum of flirtation, I have, at the very least, a serious case of Asperger Syndrome. God in heaven, I find myself thinking, why must we carry on with these pretenses??? Who has the TIME?!
“What like, right now?” he says, and looks in no way disturbed by the idea of kissing me in front of 250 of our closest friends and family.
“Good god, no,” I say, sucking down more cheap Italian wine. “Outside. Later.”
“Of course,” he says, pulling a Justin Timberlake smirk that makes my stomach flip just a tiny bit. Gol-ly, he is one handsome young man, even without the hair. “I’m up for anything.”
I don’t know if this means he’d kiss any willing woman in the room or he wants to do more than “make-out” with me, but I decide not to worry about it, and we slow dance. Earlier, I had a forced slow dance (“Now, let’s have each groomsman grab his bridesmaid and join the bride and groom in a dance to Etta James’s ‘At Last!'”) with the groomsman who escorted me down the aisle, a tall, slender, artsy guy who was the embodiment of every fantasy I had in college. He was very sweet; his hand pressed warmly against the open back of my gown. “This is great,” I said to him, grinning. “You’re like a built-in date.” He cracked jokes that were genuinely funny; I laughed so hard, at one point, that I threw my head back, and noticed his girlfriend glaring at us. But the cop-in-training is single, and pressing me against him. “Come find me when you’re ready,” he says, and the song ends. Twenty minutes later, I grab his hand on the dance floor and he follows me without a word; on the side of the building, in the warmth of late spring, we kiss…
I’m meeting an ex-student for lunch at an Indian restaurant. This is something like a date, or at least I think it is. He was my student quite a while ago, although he is, like the cop-in-training, quite a bit younger than me. He’s also brilliant. Years ago I had him in freshman composition; he wrote his diagnostic essay on Don Quixote and I thought, “Fuck… this kid’s better read than I am.” I was right, or at least, I was right about certain subjects. He had read more philosophy than some of the graduate students I knew; when we talked about Enlightenment influences on the framers of the Constitution, I’d just look to him, as if to say, “You wanna take this?”
And we’ve been friends ever since. He was even my TA, briefly, during which time I would let him lecture my students on the Gnostic Gospels and Milton and Aristotle and whatever else was relevant. I felt immensely proud of him during these lectures, immensely warm– he had a big, generous brain, and I felt privileged to witness its outpourings. Back in the writing center at school, talking with one of the students from that class, I mentioned how pleased I was with his latest lecture.
“You guys totally like each other,” she said, matter-of-factly, flipping her beautiful, nearly white, poker-straight hair behind her ear.
“Huh?” I sid, nearly dropping my stack of essays.
“We all talk about it,” she said, and signed out of her email. “Anyway, I gotta go. See you Tuesday!” She waved efficiently, and bolted from the room, leaving me staring balefully at her, sure I’d been unintentionally, and obviously, lusting after him in front of 25 freshmen.
Which is how, at least partly, I end up walking into the Indian restaurant wearing a yellow silk dress in the middle of a blazingly hot Wednesday afternoon.
“Hi,” I say, sitting down. He’s already there, drinking tea. He has a cold. He’s just broken up with his long-term girlfriend, a young Spanish woman, an art major at the college, with long slender limbs and cruel eyes. He smiles his lovely smile, with his full lips, and I say, “I ah– I had a meeting at school, before this– and I tried this dress on, and I looked in the mirror, and I was like, Jesus, Van Duyne, you can’t wear that, you look ridiculous, totally overdressed, so anyway I went to take it off, but I couldn’t get the damn zipper down and I was home by myself, and I realized I was going to be late for the meeting because it was taking me so long to try and get this fucking thing off of my body, so I just thought, what the hell, and left, and anyway, whatevs, here I am– how are you?” I plop down in the chair, sweating, and breathless.
“You look like a marigold,” he says, and his eyes light up.
We lunch. At one point, I smother my lamb in green chili sauce and take a bite, unwittingly; it’s so hot, sliding down my throat, that I think, I’m going to die, I’m going to suffocate, and it will be so embarrassing, but I manage to get it together without him noticing. After lunch, we wander Birch Grove Park, closing the trail loop, talking about Lolita.
“He doesn’t love her,” I say, vehemently.
“He does,” he says.
“No. He does not. He wants to control her. She’s a slave. Have you ever read–” I pause. “Anyway, no. He doesn’t love her at all. She sells herself to him, she’s plotting to escape him.”
“It’s real love, though,” he says.
I wonder if he has any idea what that means.
Past 1 am on a Friday, and I’m alone in my house with another man, a different one. Off-limits, for any number of reasons. We lie on the couch. He holds me tightly, and talks about the depression he fell into in college, the way it took over his whole life. I stroke the inside of his bicep. I kiss it. Earlier, we discussed particle physics: I had listened to a radio show with a theoretical physicist who said some advanced math showed the same ones and zeros that were present in binary codes were also present in nature. We talk about fermions and bosons. He stares at me with his lovely brown eyes. I think, “This is trouble.” I feel myself adoring him, prematurely.
On the couch, he says, “I suppose there’s no reason why I shouldn’ttell you this,” and continues his story, his dark story. The article I read tonight, in the bath tub, about particle physics, said, “A particle in your body is not strictly in your body.” It made relatively wild claims: “particles can lose their individuality.” “When particles are entangled, an observer has no way of telling one from the other. At that point, do you really have two objects anymore?” I wonder whether Emily Bronte would have placed a comma after “objects;” Emily Bronte, who wrote a book about two people, a man and a woman, who believed they were the same person, made from the same stuff. Did some particle from my body jump into his? Into Emily Bronte’s? Back off, something in me said, that something which so rarely speaks up. Where was my Autistic pragmatist, asking him frankly when we would make out? Which particles choose to retain their this-ness? Why? We hold one another firmly, with the certainty of people who know precisely what they want–
but our lips never fuse.