You meet him over a year ago in the cafeteria at your work place. You often buy a cup of soup and five packets of crackers and slowly dunk them one by one into the soup while you read your book and sip your green tea. Sometimes, if there is that really good pineapple upside down cake, you will order that too.
You are eating your crackers and senate bean soup and reading a David Sedaris book. You keep trying not to laugh out loud but finally just give in to it. David Sedaris is just that funny. He's a laugh-out-loud kind of author.
You look up and he's standing in front of you, tray in hand, head cocked to see what you are reading. You hold it up to show him and he grins, says that he LOVES David Sedaris too.
You immediately wonder if he is gay.
He says, "Now, you think I'm gay, don't you? Well, I'm not. Straight guys are allowed to love David Sedaris too. I also enjoy Augusten Burroughs quite a lot. So there."
You still think he might be gay, just one of those in the closet types. He is just standing there with his tray looking like he really, really wants you to invite him to sit with you. So, you do. This is out of character for you. You don't usually do this sort of shit. But...something...? Anyway.
He sits down and says, "I like the books you read. I always try to peek at what you're reading. I've heard of people devouring books before, but I've never actually seen someone do that until you."
You ask him if he works in this building. He looks sad. Sad because you have never noticed him? Not sure. He tells you that yes he does. He is a podiatrist three floors above you.
You nod solemnly. Then, deadpan, ask him if he'd like to see your hammer toe.
He pretends to think about this. And then says no. Not at lunch, please.
You banter for nearly an hour. This is very unlike you but you can't resist a good banterer and he is just that. He tells you that he has ridden up in the elevator nearly every day with you for the last five years and often tries to stand by you because you are always listening to your ipod very, very loudly and sometimes he can hear it through the earbuds. He likes your music choices. Nirvana. Nine Inch Nails. Springsteen. Keith Urban. Elvis Presley. Joni Mitchell. But not that one guy that you listen to a lot, he has no idea who he is, but his music is sort of "coffee house,"
It is your turn to look sad. You tell him that Lee DeWyze is going to surprise the hell out of everyone one day and explode into the music scene. He looks a little incredulous, but nods dubiously.
"Do I really play my music THAT loudly?" you ask.
He says that yes, absolutely you do.
You are intrigued. So is he. You keep having moments.
This doesn't bother you much because you figure you won't see him again and this sort of flirtish bantering is okay as long as it is fleeting.
Until the next day when you are reading your David Sedaris again and laughing and there he is again, standing in front of you with his tray.
You begin to meet for lunch frequently. Not every day, but often. You never make plans, it is all very impromptu, so you tell yourself that it doesn't count.
Except you are really loving those lunches. And on days when the cafeteria is serving soup that you enjoy (senate bean, chicken noodle, chicken with rice, minestrone, tomato or beef noodle), you dress with just a little more care than usual. You wear that Chanel suit that makes you look very svelte for a short person.
You have wonderful conversations. You know a lot about him. You know he went to med school in New York and that he did his residency in Alaska and then worked there for several years. You start calling him "Joel Fleishman." He gets the joke and this makes you like him even more. You have a long conversation where he tells you why he chose Alaska (he wanted to experience some place different and of course, then he met a girl...) and why he stayed so many years (the girl...)
You find out that he did not marry the girl from Alaska, that he moved to Chicago and met a hand model. Yes. A hand model.
"Not a foot model?" you tease him, because you tell him that this would make more sense.
No, he tells you. She was a real life hand model who also did some real estate on the side.
You tell him that you bet she used her hands a lot when showing people homes and demonstrate by gracefully moving your hand as if you are Vanna White moving letters of the alphabet.
He throws back his head and laughs like a much younger man than he is. Later, Taylor Swift will put out a song about a man who throws his head back laughing like a little kid... and you will never be able to hear this song without thinking about him.
He tells you that he and the hand model were only married for four years before they divorced and he moved to your city. Since then, he's been doing the dating thing but so far has not felt lonely enough to dip his toe into online dating.
He is actually 4 years older than you are. Once as you are talking, he says, "I always fall for women who are too young for me. My ex-wife was 20 years younger than me. You're the first woman whom I've been attracted to that is actually age appropriate for me."
As soon as he says this, he realizes his gaffe and blushes. You blush too and shortly after you both get up with your trays so quickly that you almost knock into each other.
Because he has treaded where you both have been VERY VERY careful not to go.
He knows that you live with your partner, a woman, and your teenage daughter. He was surprised by this, as most are. Said, as most do, that he doesn't see you as a "lesbian type." You told him that you are bisexual and wisely he didn't pursue the topic.
But after his comment about being attracted to you, you vow that this will all end now. No more lunches.
And then you do it again.
Because there is just so much about him that you find so interesting and because there is always this part of you that has enjoyed walking right on the edge of danger. It is the part of your personality that made you do foolish things in your youth like go off on a motorcycle (without a helmet) with some guy whose last name you never knew. It is also the part of your personality that allows you to tell other people to go to hell when most wouldn't risk it.
So, it has its good and bad points.
But, this is a bad point and you really, really know that it needs to stop.
These lunches go on for a year. And things advance between the two of you. Once, he offers to look at your hammer toe and you laugh and think he's kidding, but he isn't. He's serious. He offers to look at it, tells you to come to his office after you get off work some night and he'll give you an assessment of your hammer toe.
You ask him a lot of questions about being a podiatrist and he asks you a lot of questions about being a shrink. You ask him if he has ever had to deal with someone with truly disgustingly smelly feet. He says yes, it happens a lot. That smelly feet can usually be treated. Just like hammer toes. He asks you if you've ever dealt with someone who was really, really sick, like serial killer sick. You tell him about that time when you were on call in the ER for psych and you were called to come make a diagnosis on a man who was telling everyone he was Satan.
You tell him about how you were so smug about it all, joking in the elevator with another doctor as you went down to the ER.
And then you met the guy. And he scared the hell out of you. He had piercing, brilliant eyes that bore right into your skin and although he sat across the room from you and never lunged, etc. that you got the impression that if he chose, he could kill you with one swipe. He spoke in fluent Latin from time to time and although you knew enough Latin to know that he was speaking it, you didn't know enough to know what he was saying. How he looked at you and said, "You will get what you want in life, your little girl, but it won't be easy. Your good looks will fail you one day and those high heels and hot little legs that you wrap around all those men and women will fail you too. You wanna know how you will die? Silently screaming as you tumble through the sky...."
You tell him how, eerily, this has all sort of come to pass, that you decided late in life to have a baby and almost didn't get the chance and well, you had relied on being pretty far too much and now you weren't able to easily sway others anymore with a dimpled smile. And then...there is that recurring strong feeling that you will die on an airplane, alone.
He starts to ask what happened to that man but gets interrupted by his cell phone. It is his sister's husband, telling him that he is a great uncle. Again.
He decides to go to Detroit to visit his new great niece. Very, very carefully he says that he wishes you could come too.
Impulsively you say that you wish that too. Because, by this time, you do.
And then, looking tortured, he says, "Is it so terrible to want to spend one night on a sofa with you while we both read? I could have my head in your lap and we could read out loud the best parts of our books to each other."
You don't answer, just look at the floor for a very long time. Then, he sighs and gets to his feet. Tells you to have a good weekend. You say, "You too!" in a falsely bright voice that is so fake that it makes your teeth hurt.
After that, you both studiously avoid each other for weeks. You don't set foot in the cafeteria. He isn't on the elevator ride up in the morning, where you have been smiling and allowing him to share one of your ear buds so that he can listen to your ipod too. He must be taking a different elevator on the other side of the building or something. Or maybe he is gone to see his great niece.
But, you miss him. A lot. You find yourself staring at nothing and your partner nudges you and asks " Where ARE YOU? " in this playful, innocent voice and you feel terrible and say that you are just kind of stressed out at work. She offers you a foot rub, a back rub, a vagina rub...you decline, plead fatigue. But at night, next to her as she sleeps, you think about him.
One day, you go to the cafeteria again and there he is. And you'd like very much to tell your readers that you shun him but you don't.
It all starts up again. But worse, because now you both know that the other is yearning. And while it makes your stomach do flips, it also makes your conscience flare. You don't discuss this with anyone except your best friend, Harriet. During a boozy dinner one night, you confess to her what has been happening. She looks at you carefully, gently and says in a very quiet voice, "Don't do it, Maria. Take it from me, you will regret it." She goes on to tell you of something that happened to her with another man a few years ago, how she did not stop and let things happen and it all fell apart after a few months and now she has to carry this weight forever. And when she looks back now, she sees all the places where she could have stopped it and didn't. Where she SHOULD have stopped it and didn't.
You ask her why she never told you and she says that she was too ashamed, is still ashamed. You reach across and take her hand and she squeezes it, tells you again: Don't do this.
You vow to listen to good advice but then you get to work the next day and the two of you have a wonderful conversation about why Annie Hall is the best Woody movie of all time. And you talk about The Fall and Chariots of Fire and all those other movies that you both love. Movies that your partner thought were stupid.
The good conversations just keep building one on top of the other. The books that you both love. The songs. Why turkey dressing is so delicious cold in a sandwich the day after Thanksgiving.
One day, you tell him what the hell...you'll stop after work to have him look at your hammer toe. This is how comfortable you are with him.
So you do.
After work, you go to his office. You have never been there. Have only seen him in the elevator or in the cafeteria. He has his scrubs on still and he takes you to one of the rooms and tells you to remove your shoe and stockings and that he will come back in a moment. He gives you privacy and you do this. So, there you are sitting up on the padded table with one foot bare and your other still ensconced in your stockings and high heel. He comes in almost shyly and sits at your feet on a stool and gently examines your foot. He rubs his thumb softly over your hammertoe and murmurs an apology when you startle. But, you haven't startled from pain, you've jumped from his thumb on your toe. It's the first time you've really touched. He turns your foot around with his hands and examines the toe from different angles, then tells you that yes, you will most likely need surgery at some point, but since it isn't crippling you yet, you can wait if you wish. The toe looks relatively healthy even with the hammer toe.
He smiles and says that your dark red toenail polish is very "snazzy." You both laugh. He sits looking up at you for a long time, holding your foot in his hand. Neither of you say a word.
This is where the kiss will come, you think. It is quiet and private. A good place for a first kiss. But..then?
NO. You can't do this. His eyes are glittery and his voice ragged, and you know that all it will take is one aching look from you to make him kiss you.
So, you thank him and tell him it's time for you to get back home, that Liv has a basketball game, you need to hurry on home.
He takes the hint in a manly way and gets up immediately and walks swiftly out the door, leaving you once again to your privacy. You carefully put your stocking back on and shoe and reach blindly for your purse, realizing that you are beginning to cry. You swipe the tears away with the back of your hand, furious at yourself.
You are thinking of that scene in that movie, The Piano. The one where he gently touches her skin through her stocking. And you want to sink to the floor.
But, you don't. You walk out the door with purpose. He is holding your sweater, which you had flung on to a chair. He doesn't say anything. Neither do you. You just walk out.
You want him. There. You said it. Now it is time to stop this.
And this time it is really, really over. No more Friday night promises to yourself that you won't see him again. Promises that get broken Monday morning.
This time you avoid the cafeteria and start coming in to work fifteen minutes early, avoiding him. He doesn't seek you out and you don't seek him out either.
Several months go by. It is not as hard as you thought it would be. You have a sense of doing the right thing. After three months, he starts to fade a bit around the edges when you think about him. What was once a sharp, piercing memory begins to take on a mellow, soft quality.
One day, you get to work late and there he is, waiting for the elevator at the same time that you are. You look at him and he looks at you and for the first time, you are a little put off by how...puppyish he looks at you. You realize that your feelings have begun to fade and that now that you aren't knee deep in sentiment, he has lost some of his...gloss.
That evening, when you get home, your partner is taking a meatloaf out of the oven. She smiles at you briefly.
In a sweet fast flash, you remember so many things.
You remember the time when Liv fell out of the tree in the back yard and broke her arm. You called your partner from the hospital as you watched the doctors make the cast for your daughter's arm. You remember as you and Liv were walking out of the doors of the hospital and there she was running across the parking lot, coat unbuttoned, face frantic as she tried to reach you. How she gently hugged Liv and looked at you over the top of her head, your eyes meeting in parent understanding and sharing. And then, she told Liv that she would stop at Orange Julius on the way home.
You remember all those nights in bed with your partner, her face floating above yours, a smile flickering across her face as she leaned down to kiss you again and again and again. Her eyes true and so so brown.
You remember all the times she played Name That Tune with you in the car as you put your ipod on scramble and you both tried to guess the song playing first. How she groaned every time a Lee DeWyze song came on and asked you just how many of his songs you had on the ipod, this was getting ridiculous.
You remember her coming into the bathroom as you bathed and picking up the wash cloth to wash your back and then your front and then....well. How nice that was.
You remember the way she sat at her cousin's funeral, shaking with grief. How you held her hand tightly and she put her head on your shoulder, grateful for you.
You remember her playing the guitar and singing Ventura Highway out on the back porch on a hot summer night when all your friends were there and how her eyes found yours across the room and held as she sang. And how you thought how incredible that she had put up with your wandering spirit for so many years, was so patient and how lucky, lucky, lucky you were that she was still here, still loving you after all those colossal fuck ups.
Dinners with family, with friends, with co-workers. Her gentle hands helping you button up your blouse when your rheumatoid arthritis flared up.
All the long talks, the shared secrets, the big laughs. The small moments. All adding up to this one marriage of two very different souls.
So, you go to your partner and you take her in your arms and kiss her hard on the mouth. And then more softly. A long lingering kiss that you both feel everywhere and all around you both.
She says, "You're home. My girl!"
And you say, "Yeah, I'm home. Only your girl, always your girl. Forever yours."
And you mean it with your whole heart.
You've dodged a bullet, like so many other married people.
And you are exactly where you want to be.