It's getting late and we're still lingering on the couch talking. He massages my hands and feet and I occasionally reach up and lovingly touch his face. Sometimes he looks at me shyly from the corner of his eye. He feels like my boyfriend already but I have a history of both automatically making someone the love of my life, and attracting unavailable men, so I'm on high alert about how natural this feels, like, what kind of natural are we talking here?
Like how I'll just naturally slither into an affair or an obsession because my damaged radar and warped cravings are guiding me, suddenly finding my brain very pleasantly locked into the idea of "love" with this person, experiencing floods of dopamine and serotonin and whatever other feel-good chemicals I can produce in my brain just by seeing their name on my phone. But you're thinking: that's how everyone feels when they're experiencing the early sparks of romance. Well, normal hits of infatuation usually only last a few days for me. The best people-as-drugs are the hard ones I can only get in doses, like hits, or shots. That kind of natural?
We go upstairs and into our separate rooms. I get my pyjamas on, feeling the exciting tension of getting undressed just a thin wall away. We bump into each other at the bathroom. He stays at the doorway while I wash my face. I pat it dry and look closely at my face in the mirror unselfconsciously. I am inexplicably just a little bit prettier in this moment. I spray some dry oil on my face and rub it in slowly.
"What is that?"
"Dry oil from Paris."
"It smells really good," he fidgets awkwardly, like he's not sure if he should stay or go. I walk towards him and grab both his hands pulling him in gently then lean forward with my eyes closed waiting for a kiss. He puts his face near to mine and breathes in, smelling me. I open my eyes and he's pulled away, his eyes are sort of darting around, his body squirming.
Fuck. He probably has a girlfriend.
I tell Harold about the most recent affair I've been trying to quit since it started. I explain how I cut him off but then when I see him again, I get a huge rush that feels so crazy good, I dive right back in. And the cycle starts all over again. I tell him how even just seeing his name on my phone will produce intense physical sensations. That feeling though, I wonder, that's love, isn't it?
"Does he have kids?" he asks me.
"Yeah. Little kids."
"That's rough." Harold lets out a long, honest sigh. "Shit I don't what the hell it is about you, but I feel like I could tell you all my secrets right now."
"I've heard that before. It's cause I tell all my bad stuff first!" I say laughing. Two plump women drinking iced coffees look over at us. Harold leans in a little closer.
"Thing is, just listening to you. I mean, it's all really typical addict behaviour. Like I'm very familiar with all that..." he takes a slug of his coffee, "See, truth is I've been kind of seeing this woman."
"Nobody knows about it. Not my friends or anyone."
"She's married with two little kids."
"Daaaamn, Harold. What a fucking pair we are!"
We both start laughing and can't stop. It's absurd. This middle aged guy and this 30-something woman sitting at Dunkin Donuts swapping really sordid stories, both looking like they walked out of a Land's End catalogue. Mary Gaitskill couldn't have written it better. It's such a relief actually, to be this honest with someone you've just met. We're laughing because we're flawed and because we know we're wrong and because we know we have to change. We're actually sitting at that table confessing our sins because we need to move through them and change.
The man who would marry me took a risk. He really did seem to have all the tools to fix me in that moment, and I seemed to have the tools he needed, too. I used to say that we were bridges for each other. He laid over the water for me, then I for him. Isn't that real love?
I tell him later on the phone, "The day of my wedding I looked up into his eyes and he told me 'Don't worry I'll take care of you' and I believed him. I believed he'd take care of me."
He says back, "So you learned."