for the past few years i have been dreaming about a man. we were once together. sort of. my usual...on again, off again. lots of endings, no real beginnings. it took a while after it all ended — the real ending i mean, when i was finally the one to say stay away for good — to know it wasn't love. i had loved before. twice, to be exact. with him it wasn't so much love as it was determination. "honey, just give it a chance"...that's what my mom said every time i called, looking for a reason to get rid of him. giving chances in the absence of attraction — the immediate kind — was never my way. but when i met him i was over 30 and figured i should, i don't know, grow up or something, date the kind of men who want girlfriends. i even checked up on him..."he's a great guy," said the people who didn't know or care about me. and i'm sure it was true. for them. into my jar full of life lessons i tossed another penny: people will tell you a lot about a man, and it means absolutely nothing. you can never know someone until you know him.
it was maybe 6 weeks after we met when we parted ways for the first time. a few weeks later i went to the park to meet some friends at a game. he looked happy to see me. we sat side by side on the bleachers, flanked by strangers, friends, the sky. i remember thinking how i missed him, and that surely he missed me, too.
outlined against the soft blue of september he turned to face me, ragweed posing as goldenrod. his head lowered and he looked up at me, making his big eyes bigger than normal, buying time for his rusty jaw to fix itself in that lopsided grin of his; i watched in slow motion as it spread unevenly across his sun-stained cheek. that day the longer i looked, the harder the sun glared, making me squint until i couldn’t see his smile at all. the aluminum bench was warm, but not hot enough to burn. he bummed a cigarette, told me it was too bad he couldn’t stay long, and then cackled like he did when he got away with something. he was always getting away with something. in the months ahead, he would get away with even more. he would show up with the wind, gather up my kisses, my loyalty, my trust...and then he would leave just as fast, scattering all the parts of me along his way.
one night he showed up, very late, very drunk. as usual. i had friends staying over, so we met on the front porch of the house in front of mine. he walked up the sidewalk, that grin of his leading the way. you've missed me...i said it with a smirk of my own, and wasn't at all sure it was true but saying it gave me some semblance of power in a situation where i had relinquished too much already. he looked at the ground: i do miss you...i just don't know what to do about it. i could count on one hand, and with a finger or two to spare, the times a man has told me he missed me, so at 3 am, standing in the driveway, watching a mistake walking my way, i forgave myself for the few seconds i allowed myself to savor it.
we sat in my landlord's folding chairs and talked for a minute or two, long enough for my heart to fall out of my hand and roll off into the far corner of the porch, cluttered with leaves and dirt and hair from the nameless, homeless cat we fed. it lay there, forgotten. there were other, louder parts of me yelling, inside, while he and i whispered, outside. within a few syllables i crept over to his lap, kissed him on the cheek. it's a habit of mine, collecting a few seconds of sweetness in the most loveless moments.
as i walked barefoot back to my house to get my shoes, he followed behind for a few steps, then let out a low whistle...you are the sexiest thing i've ever laid eyes on...and i remember it perfectly...how i looked back at him, tracing the back edge of my waistband with my index finger, lowering it just enough that the hint of my tan line was visible from the pale yellow glow of the porch light.
i left my friends at my house. shortly thereafter, i left him at his. in his stupor he murmured something like "you don't have to leave"...it makes me wonder, did he know...do men ever know?...that it would have meant so much more had he just said, "i want you to stay." maybe it was that night that i knew he didn’t know me at all. he had never even tried.
...or was it that day on the bleachers? when that cigarette burned just as quickly as my hopes..."gotta run. i have to be somewhere. it was good seeing ya, dani"...and then that grin. the lack of honor in it mixed with the sweat dripping from his temple...i watched it trace his jaw line. we sat close. as close as the crumpled pack of Camels to my left and his right. closer still to becoming ash.
months later, he told me he had been thinking that it was too bad i looked so good on a day he had a date.