I thought I was done with my relationship stories, yet I have found another one. Names and minor details have been changed to protect identity. This is a first draft. I don’t know if I will continue with this one, but I thought I’d post it, as a friend once requested I write it.
Lisa is straddled over me on the couch hiking up her blue-cotton sun dress and kissing me nonstop, deeply and passionately, as if we have fallen in love all of a sudden, like an unexpected downpour in summer. I don’t like her much, but I guess she’s my new girlfriend. The entire time she has me pinned to the couch, I worry my mother will come downstairs and see this girly-girl swarming me and coming on like torrential rain. An apt image, given how wet she tells me she is, when she stops kissing me for a second. Okay, we’re not teenagers. I’m a grown-up woman and so is she, but I’m worried about my mother seeing this spectacle, not because we are lesbians, or in her case, acting the part of a lesbian, but because this is embarrassing — this femme has her sundress hiked up and she has me clamped to the couch. I have muscles in my arms and a lot of upper body strength, but I can’t get up.
“I’m so wet,” she says again. Oh, Mom, do not come down those stairs. I cannot toss her off of me. So we kiss. It’s a little like drowning. I don’t want to drown, but I allow myself to drown. Why? God, it’s complicated. Isn’t everything?
My mother called me at work at 4 p.m. on Friday, one of hottest days of the summer in July of 2011.
“The air conditioning isn’t working,” she said. “The house is very warm.”
“How long has it been out?”
“I don’t know, since one o’clock.”
I didn’t ask her, because I was afraid I’d scream, but why did she wait until near the end of the work day Friday to call and tell me the air conditioning was out? The temperature was close to 100 degrees. It was easily the hottest day of the year, and now I would need to leave work early to see if anyone could come out to the house to fix the a/c.
I called Lisa. I was attempting to keep her at bay, and to find a diplomatic way out of this friendship about to turn dating. I’d asked her to do meet me for an ice cream, a completely unromantic activity.
“Lisa, the air conditioning went out at my house,” I said, about to cancel our ice cream meeting. But before I could get the next sentence out, she said, “I’ll be right over.”
“Okay,” I said, when I really meant “no,” but she’d already hung up the phone, anyway, and presumably dashed to her car to come to my rescue.
Lisa and I pulled into my driveway at about the same time. She exited her vehicle wearing her blue sun dress, and I exited mine wearing blue jeans. She smiled wide, as we entered my house. It felt like a thousand sweaty degrees in there. My mother was in the kitchen. She was 81 that summer.
“Mom, this is Lisa, a friend of mine.” After the introductions, Lisa got down to work.
“We’d better get the bunny out of the hutch and onto the floor,” she said. She was right. A rabbit can die from heat stroke, and the stone floor in the kitchen stayed quite cool. So, as the rabbit rested on the floor dropping shit pellets and pee, and Lisa stood centimeters from me with her face stuck right next to my own, I frantically looked through the local shopping guide to see who could come over on a Friday evening and fix the a/c.
It took three tries, but I got someone to answer on the third phone call. He sounded drunk.
“Yeah, I can fix your a/c, but I’m eating dinner,” he said. “I can come over after dinner, around 6:30.” What he said made sense but the way he said it – with slurry speech – made me very nervous.
I sat on the floor with the bunny. Lisa sat next to me. She made small talk with my mother. I was angry at my mother for not having called earlier so I said nothing.
At precisely 6:30 p.m., the doorbell rang, and I was afraid to let in this man I’d called. He hulky, with a red scraggly beard, and his eyes didn’t look right, drunk or nuts or something. He had spaghetti sauce in his beard and on his shirt. Somehow, that made him seem somewhat less threatening, although not anymore inviting.
“I’m John,” he said. “Can I come in?”
Against my better judgment I let him in. He had no internal filter, he made that clear. He leered at Lisa in her little blue sun dress and said, “Damn, you are looking mighty fine, lady.” I tapped John on the back, more than once, with my knuckles, until he finally turned around, and I said, “Hey, Mr., I’m the one who owns the house. I’m the one who is going to pay you.”
“Oh, yeah, yeah,” he answered, “She’s looking great. So, tell me what the problem is.”
I explained to him that all the equipment in the house turned on but the unit outside didn’t.
“Ha,” he said, an out of place chuckle. “Yeah, yeah, I can fix that.”
I seriously doubted he could fix anything. I had one hand on my cell phone ready to call the police. He was still lewdly staring at Lisa whenever he could turn his head away from my (apparently annoying) voice.
“I’ll follow you outside,” he said finally. So we went out the door and around to the side of the house where the a/c unit was. He lifted the top of the unit and giggled, scaring me further because what was so fucking funny? I could see Lisa staring out the window at us, also scaring me, two strange people surrounding me, filling my space on this sweltering day. How does one so quickly become surrounded by strange human beings, spaghetti man and come-on girl?
“Oh yeah, yeah, I can fix that, I just gotta get a part from my van.”
John went to his van and came back with a small tubular item. I have no mechanical abilities and I couldn’t fathom how that little tubular thing could fix my big a/c unit.
Lisa continued to stare at us through the window. I was sweating.
John pulled the old part out of the a/c unit and pushed the new one into it. He shut the lid. It took him 3 minutes. (The bill was $290.)
“That’s it,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s it. These things last about 10 years. This will be good for 10 years. Go turn on the a/c.”
We both went back inside and I turned on the a/c. Son of a bitch, it worked! The guy with spaghetti sauce in his beard and on his shirt, the lewdly staring creep who had come to my door, fixed the a/c.
“I can fix all appliances,” he said. “Everything. Whatever you need!”
“Fabulous,” I said, as he handed me his card, as I directed him toward the door, “I’m sure I will need that.”
“Bye, honey,” he said to Lisa.
When he left, my mother went upstairs as the house began to cool. I put the rabbit back in his hutch. Lisa and I fell to the floor laughing over the absurdity of the situation.
“The slob was a mechanical genius.”
We cracked up again, rolling on the floor. Laughing like that with someone is such an intimate act. I wasn’t thinking of it in those terms, but looking back now, I see this was the beginning of my mistake with her, which would arrive within the hour.
I had met Lisa at my personal trainer’s. She had recently joined the workout group with a friend of hers. I didn’t notice her, at least not in any kind of love-interest way. I did notice that she was very verbal, very intelligent, and extremely intense. I didn’t think she had noticed me at all. I didn’t care.
I can’t recall exactly when the transition happened, and Lisa started to notice me and I noticed her attention. I had purchased a bike and wanted to go bike riding over the weekend. Nothing too strenuous, just a few laps around the local park under the trees, by the pond, safe, easy, a way to get outside and exercise.
“I love to bike ride,” Lisa said at one of our workout sessions. “I’ll come.”
I thought: great, seriously, this is great, someone local can meet me at the park, and I don’t have to do this alone. I was so used to doing everything alone.
“We can go out for coffee after, Lisa.” I said.
Her smile was wide and a little over the top. I put it down to her intense way of expressing herself in any situation.
That Sunday, she showed up at the park with an ancient bike, all black, a man’s bike, probably from someone’s basement, probably it had been abandoned there for decades, but Lisa had dug it out for this occasion. Obviously, she hadn’t ridden a bike for years. I pulled it in from the back of my head, her statement, “I love to go for bike rides.” Maybe when she was five?
Why was she here?
We made it around the park once, 3.9 miles. I wanted to go around two or three times. You don’t burn any calories on a bike till you go at least 10 miles.
“Let’s go for coffee now,” she said. And I said “okay” because that’s what I always say.
At Panera, as we were sipping coffee, she stared at me as I spoke. I hadn’t told her I was gay, but I figured now was as good a time as any. Why? I didn’t know what else to talk about. When I told her, she said, “I know,” because that’s what everyone says when I tell them.
“I’m looking for someone,” she said.
“A man?” I asked. She didn’t say anything. The last I’d heard from her at the gym was about a breakup with a guy. I wanted us to be clear.
“A man?” I repeated.
“I don’t know what I’m looking for.” She stared right into my yes.
“Fair enough,” I said, thinking this isn’t at all fair.
I still didn’t understand the series of mistakes about to happen, that would lead to her pinning me to the couch in her blue dress.
I was working out on the elliptical at the gym on an early Tuesday evening in June, when Lisa arrived, strode right up to me. Her smile was wider than any smile I’d ever seen, but rather than find it beautiful, I found it disconcerting. Her smile felt aimed at me, like a pistol, and I didn’t get it, what was about to transpire.
“This has been the best Tuesday ever!” she said as I did rotations on the machine. “Ever.” And then she stared right into my eyes and said, “This is the best part.”
Was she in love with me? Why was she smiling at me like that, as if she’d just discovered the love of her life sweating on an elliptical machine?
What did I say back to her? Something like, “I’m glad you’re having such a good day.”
Yes, I said something lame like that. But I didn’t know exactly what she was getting at, since every word she spoke held innuendo and therefore was not straightforward. I could only read her face, which was brighter than the June sun at noon, and that smile, wide as a ruler. Okay, wider. She had shoulder length light brown hair. In a way she was pretty. It was hard to see her as pretty because her personality was so overwhelming. Overwhelming on her was like a facial feature, like a too-big nose on a small head, although in reality, her nose was quite small.
“Yes, the best Tuesday ever,” she repeated, and I became even more uncomfortable.
There was a point, between June and July, when she made it clear she wanted to date me. I tried to warn her off. I brought up our age difference.
“You’re 32 and I’m 49,” I said. “I’m an old woman to you.”
“I loooooovvvvvvveeee older women.” Okay.
“I hardly know you. We barely know each other.” Another good argument, I thought.
“That’s what dating is for!”
I had spoken to my trainer about Lisa. At the time she said she liked Lisa. She was intelligent and pretty and fun. I couldn’t argue with that. Lisa worked at MIT, had a sharp mind, and as I said, if you could look past her overbearing personality, she was fairly pretty.
So I set up the ice cream date out of fear. Fear of what? Fear of hurting her feelings or fear of having an adult date with this young woman. I set up what amounted to a play-date for grown-ups, meeting at Big Daddy’s Ice Cream Parlor in Stoughton, where we could sit outside and watch the traffic go by. Great ambiance for a five year old. But we never made it there, to our non-date, because the a/c broke and because we fell to the floor laughing over the lewd spaghetti repair man, and became intimate through shared laughter. I became vulnerable: Lisa and I had shared a moment of mutual support.
“Do you want to go out to dinner?” I asked after we’d stopped laughing. “Out to dinner” sounded much more like a real date, but I couldn’t see going for an ice cream now that she’d gone through this air conditioning debacle with me.
“YES!!!!!” Well, you can imagine.
And then, as if she’s already become a high maintenance girlfriend, she said, “Why don’t you go to your car and turn on the a/c? Last time, it took a while to cool down.” I think that statement unnerved me as much as any; she sounded like a wife.
Okay, I said, with a nervous pit rolling in my stomach.
I took her down the road to Rick’s, a family restaurant, where I sometimes bring lesbian dates. A few years back I’d had another woman falling all over me at the piano bar in the middle of the floor, as we requested Beatles’ songs from the piano man, and while we provided the heterosexual nuclear families an education in “gay.” Across the street was The Randolph Country Club, an actual gay bar. That night my date and I went straight from terrifying the straight patrons at Rick’s to a party across the street complete with cross dressers, beautiful gay men, and an assortment, let’s say, of gay women. The spectacle, then the spectrum.
I had no intention of making this dinner with Lisa into a “date.” I just wanted to thank her for hanging in with me during the air conditioning crisis at home. Still, I squirmed in my seat as they served us the warm bread and butter, as her smile was so wide — double-wide — it was if she were opening her legs for me to enter. I found something unnervingly sexual in that unabashed smile.
I don’t remember a word we said to one another. I imagined we joked again about Mr. Spaghetti man. I do, however, remember leaving the restaurant with her because this where the real escalation into “dating” began.
She kept bumping into me as we walked through the parking lot. I didn’t know what to do, what to say. She was bumping into me on purpose, and smiling, of course.
Do you know what I did?
I took her into my arms and kissed her.
Have you fallen off of your chair? Even looking back, I am ready to fall off of mine. Why did I kiss her? I can’t count the number of times I have misled women, as well as myself, confused them (and myself) by acting in ways nearly opposite from my words. “I love being with you,” and then I go home, for example. Or, “I don’t want to date you,” but I kiss you deep and long in a public parking lot.
I don’t get it either and I believe this is what therapy is for. I imagine now I kissed her because she wanted that from me, and I wanted to make her happy. She’d made it clear that she wanted to date and who was I to say no to her? Why say no to a bright, relatively attractive young woman who appears to be crazy about me?
Bra shopping finally did us in. During that hot summer, it became apparent that I was in dire need of new bras. I’m small-breasted so bras are never top in my priorities, as I can get away for years on the same couple of bras or can get through a day or two in a sports bra. But this was the year of the bra. Lisa wanted to go bra shopping with me. As we seemed to be dating, I said, “Sure, why not.”
I don’t recall what store we were in. It might have been Sears, but it was a department store with many dressing rooms.
“Can I come in?” Lisa asked. I hesitated. Her question felt at once like an invasion of privacy and at the same time, harmless. We hadn’t slept together. She would be seeing a good portion of my body. I didn’t want her to come in.
“Okay,” I said, “Come on in.”
So, there she stood, with the double-wide grin that made me feel swallowed or fucked or something smothering due to its inability to reign itself into any semblance of controlled emotion.
“Turn around, please” I said. I needed to try on another bra, and I was shy about having her see my naked breasts. Lisa moved to the corner and turned her back. Before I had the bra in place, however, I felt her body against my back. She used her hands to squeeze my stomach and held on tight from behind. I could feel her nether regions pushing into my ass. Oy.
“Does this bother you?” she asked when I failed to respond to her overture.
“Yes, it does.”
Oh my god, I actually told the truth.
She was upset. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” It’s okay, it’s okay, I assured her but it wasn’t. I knew that statement “Yes, it does,” perhaps my first statement of truth, was the end for us.
I am not a liar. I don’t blatantly lie to women I date or to anyone. But what I am is self-delusional, hoping always that I can overlook issues in a girlfriend that in the end I cannot overlook. I try to convince myself that I need time, need to get to know her better, need to lighten up what my usual type is – relatively feminine, usually pretty, much girlier than I am. Of course, Lisa was girly enough, it was the force of her personality that was so hard for me to take. In any case, the self-delusion always breaks at some point, and I am left with no choice but to face the truth and the speak it.
After the bra incident, Lisa and I ate lunch at Panera and I had very little to say to her. She called me from home that evening to continue apologizing. I said to her something along the lines of, “What you did wasn’t wrong or bad, Lisa, it just made me uncomfortable. I think we should not date. This isn’t the right relationship for me.”
The honesty was just gushing out of me at this point.
She called again the next day, or rather, she texted. I had a trip planned to Colorado in a few weeks and before I told Lisa I didn’t care to date, she had (over eagerly) agreed to take care of my pet rabbit while I was away for 12 days. My mother was not up to caring for such a creature, which requires particular feedings and tray cleanings frequently.
“Even though we aren’t dating, I still plan to take care of your rabbit,” she texted.
“Really? I don’t think that’s a great idea.” That’s all I needed, to leave this woman with a key to my house.
“Yes,” she texted, “Even if I killed you, I would still take care of your rabbit.”
Oh, my, right? “Even if I killed you…”
“Don’t bother, Lisa.” For the next few weeks, I was looking over my shoulder for this woman. I expected her to come at me, with that smile a mile-wide grimace, screaming crazily as she stabbed me in the back, right through to the chest. At least, I expected to come home from work one day and find my rabbit being boiled in a pot, like the crazy shit that happened in movies.
But nothing happened.
It would be fabulous if I could say that after being mauled on my couch by this femme woman in a blue sun dress on that very hot July night, and realizing she wasn’t right for me after she mauled me again in a dressing room while I was bra shopping, I moved forward in my life never making the same mistake again. The truth is, the self-delusion I experience continues to be a fault of mine, no matter how much I work at it in therapy, and no matter how old I get. In different shapes, ways, forms, and experiences, there is conflict inside myself – give the relationship a fair chance, convince myself that it can work and realize in a nanosecond that it’s not what I want. I end up hurting the other person, at least superficially, sometimes more deeply.
This is my bane, my fault, and my folly.