I finally stopped looking for him in crowded places – malls, bars, restaurants, parties. It feels good to relax, to not see his face on a random passerby and suffer those few moments of terror and anticipation, inevitably followed by disappointment. And I finally stopped rehearsing what I’d say or what I’d do should we ever end up in the same place at the same time. Letting him go wasn’t the hard part. Forgiving myself for transgressions he never once named was the most difficult.
I was nuts about him from the moment we met. He was the most beautiful geek I’d ever seen – black hair, blue eyes, and a smile so bright it hurts my eyes just to remember it. He was quiet, well mannered, driven – the perfect Christian boy and every mother’s dream. Somehow, despite our vast differences, we became friends...and that initial attraction I felt was pushed to the back burner. I knew he would never return my feelings, so I took what I could get.
Throughout my high school years he was the one constant theme. We went to the movies and bowling, we hung out at “the parking lot” with all the other kids, and he spent more time at my house in the summer than most of my girlfriends did. He was there, playing with my sister while I got ready for a military ball or cross legged beside me on my bedroom floor, mucking out desk drawers.
But things changed during my senior year. He was serious about a girl. Not just any girl, but a girl like him – beautiful, insanely smart, soft spoken, and religious. She lived an hour and a half away and he would drive his motorcycle there on weekends. While he was gone I spiraled out of control. I don’t blame his absence for my bad behavior, but I know I was a better person when I was with him.
We grew apart. One year of sporadic phone calls and random run-ins turned into another year in which we completely lost touch. I was moving all over the place, partying it up, and he was in college and from what I heard from mutual sources, still with that girl.
Then FLASH BANG everything changed again. I became a mom and moved back home.
I well remember the day we reconnected, though I can’t remember who called who or how it came to be. It was a beautiful June afternoon and there he was standing at my door, looking exactly the same - Messy black hair, slouchy frame, awful shoes, and a huge grin. No one I knew gave hugs like him. He would squeeze so tightly that you’d beg him to let go. That day I squeezed back just as hard.
We spent the afternoon walking down old back roads, catching up and reminiscing. He was newly single, he said, because she wanted to experience other people. I was angry at her for hurting him, but there was a part of me that was jumping up and down and fist pumping the air. After all that time apart, all it took was one afternoon. One afternoon and I was consumed with thoughts of winning him over.
I still had some feelings of inadequacy. How could I not? An unwed mother back at home with a penchant for trouble, compared to a man on the fast track in the real estate world. The main difference was that I had new confidence in my appearance. And, like so many women that use sex appeal to get what they want, I had developed an ego that needed constant feeding.
We became even closer than we’d been before. We slept in each other’s beds and cooked dinner together. I helped him work on the house he bought and he went to the zoo with me and my daughter. He lay with his head in my lap when we watched movies and read sex articles in magazines out loud to make me laugh. We did everything together, except what I wanted. He never once tried a thing.
Underneath the best friend role I was playing, I was dying to really touch him. I did everything I could think of to tip his hand, to make him do something. For the life of me, I just could not come out and say, “I’m in love with you. I want you. For the love of gawd, can we have sex already!?”
Beneath the messy hair and sweatpants of his seemingly relaxed best friend, the legs (etc) were always shaved and the underwear was always lacy. I was determined that when he decided to pull his head out of his ass, I’d be ready. Every flirtatious word he said, every intimate gesture he made I saved in my head and filed under “He loves me”. Likewise, anything that gave me pause was filed under “He loves me not”. Half of the time I was positive that he wanted me and the other half I was convinced I wasn’t good enough for him and he knew it. But his shyness with the opposite sex was legendary, and I clung to that too. It kept me from tipping the scales in one direction or another.
To an outsider we looked like a couple. People questioned me about our relationship incessantly, especially my own family. The only answer I had for them was, “I don’t know”. And I didn’t.
I didn’t know how we could curl up next to each other on the couch, his hand caressing my calf when he thought I was sleeping. I didn’t know how we could drive two hours to Charleston and spend an entire day browsing the market, laughing over lunch, and strolling along the battery at sunset. I didn’t know how he could look me in the eyes and not realize that I was crazy about him, that the childhood crush and years of friendship had turned into something much, much deeper.
I needed him to be the man and make the move, but it just wasn’t happening. So when my friend invited me to go to an outdoor music festival in Florida with her and her boyfriend, and suggested that I bring him along and seduce him, I agreed. After all, what could be more romantic than a hippie festival in the woods? We could listen to the music, get drunk by the campfire, and keep each other warm in the tent at night.
I was too busy with my fantasies of fireside confessions of love and erotic tent sex to really think about what I was agreeing to do.
I’d never been camping in my life, and for good reason. I didn’t do dirt, I didn’t do bugs, and I most definitely didn’t do using the bathroom in the woods.
He agreed to go, of course. He loved camping and anything outdoorsy. Yet another of our many differences.
He couldn’t make it down the first night because of work and would have to drive down alone the following day. I used my time alone with my friends to pump them for thoughts and suggestions. These particular two had never met him before and I was anxious for their take on the situation.
We arrived in Florida, stoned and in good spirits. Everywhere we looked there were hippies in long skirts and bikini tops and plumes of smoke filling the air at intervals throughout the crowd. We bought our tickets, drove past the crowded campsite areas, and chose a spot my friends were familiar with from the previous year. It was far enough from the main area to seem remote, but still close enough to be involved.
It was blisteringly hot and I was suddenly horrified by the realization that I was going to have to pitch a tent. Work, in any capacity, was not something I relished at that point, while the sweat dripped down my back and makeup began a steady slide down my face.
That first afternoon and evening without him was filled with several more daunting realizations.
Most worrisome, the communal showers and bathroom were over a mile away from our campsite. The distance didn’t bother me as much as the word “communal”. I kept picturing a row of showerheads pointed at a row of hairy, natural women that were feeling the “free love”, outdoor concert vibe. And nothing about the description of the facilities suggested there would be any place to plug up my hair dryer or apply my makeup comfortably. My girlfriend insisted that she’d tried to warn me that my idea of camping and their idea of camping were about as similar as the Ritz Carlton and a Motel 6.
Then after the area was cleared, tents pitched, and fire set up, it was discovered that when advising me on what camping gear I’d need, no one mentioned an air mattress. I never, in a million years, would have thought to bring one. So that night while I huddled, freezing, in the center of my tent with only a sleeping bag, pillow, and small blanket, my friends were living it up next door on their queen sized air mattress. Roughing it indeed, the bastards.
Food was another thing I apparently never thought about. I wasn’t too keen on putting a hotdog on a stick some creature might have defecated on at some point. Nor was I excited about the vast array of chips that, with words like vinegar and BBQ, spelled out “toothbrush” rather than “kiss me, you fool”.
Still, reclining in a chair with my feet propped up by the fire and gazing at the stars through trees dripping with Spanish moss, I had a bit of hope left. Being stoned the majority of the time also helped keep my anxiety level lower than it would have been otherwise.
The next day we made a few rounds of the fields, checking out the different bands. The Allman Brothers Band, The Derek Trucks Band, Susan Tedeschi, Sister Hazel, Nickel Creek, Gov’t Mule, and a lot of others were there that year. I was a newly converted fan of that genre of music and seeing it live, in such a beautiful, open area was amazing.
That afternoon, when he showed up, I was definitely feeling the love. I was nowhere near the point of growing out my leg hair or sucking on a communal bong in the back of a van, but I was having a good time. And, as it turned out, there were curtains to separate the shower area and I’d made use of them twice. My friends found my obsessive showering and my horror over lack of makeup hilarious. It was too hot during the day to put it on; it would just slide right off. And the nights were very cool, but putting it on by firelight or flashlight wasn’t a good idea. Not that I tried that...
After introductions were made and lunch was eaten, the real fun began. He joined in the drinking and smoking without batting an eye, which surprised me. He didn’t normally do either.
By the time night fell, we were lounging on towels in a field and listening to a band. His legs were stretched out next to mine and I leaned into him, watching the lights flash onstage. I was relaxed and comfortable and I thought to myself, “tonight”.
As we left the field we passed rows of food vendors and t-shirt booths. There was a sort of Chinese teriyaki stand that everyone wanted to try. We got “chicken on sticks” all around and happily munched them on the way back to camp.
That night we got drunk and played a game where one person would take a long stick and put one end on the ground and the other to their forehead. Then they would spin around and around until they couldn’t spin anymore and attempt to walk without falling into the fire or breaking a limb. Part of the clearing was made of thick sand that seemed to make every move more labored and we tired of that quickly, pulling up our chairs around the fire. Before long the conversation died out and one by one we retired to our tents. My friends went first and he suggested I go ahead of him if I wanted to change.
I made quite the drunken production of stripping of my clothes, knowing the light from the fire on the tent would show my silhouette. I had no way of knowing if he was even looking, but I wasn’t willing to cut corners. When I had my sleep shorts and t-shirt on, I poked my head out and told him he could come in.
He’d brought extra blankets at my request, but it was still rough lying on the ground. We lay close, but not touching and I thought about what I would do. Now that the time was here, I wasn’t sure if I should just reach for him or speak. I thought I had it all figured out this time, but I was rigid with nerves.
How long this internal battle went on, I couldn’t say, but the moment of decision was suddenly upon me. I whispered his name, and then said it a bit louder when he didn’t answer. While I’d been agonizing and debating, he’d fallen asleep.
As I half sat up and stretched my hand toward his face, intent on waking him, a sharp pain tore through my body and I doubled over. My stomach began cramping so badly that each wave of pain stole my breath. I lay down, rolled away, and curled into a ball, willing it to stop with my silent mantra. “No, no, no, no, no.”
But it didn’t. I’d only have a minute or two of relief before the next cramp arrived. By that time I knew what I would have to do, but I was fighting it anyway. I only succeeded a few minutes more before I vaulted up and out of the tent, slipped my feet into the first pair of shoes I saw, grabbed a lantern and a roll of toilet paper, and took off running into the woods.
It’s safe to say that during that painful sprint into the dark Florida wilderness, seduction was the last thing on my mind.
To be continued...
2 weeks ago