Does it ever go away?
This urging, nagging feeling to do the wrong thing. Standing near a ledge and hearing that voice deep within.
Five years ago, we were young and in love. We had just moved into our first apartment together. No family to help, and no friends willing to make the hike so far out into Queens. We did it all together and alone, coordinating how to get the hand-me-down couch up the sharp cornered stairs, avoiding pulling on the dangling pieces that were holding everything together. Overloaded milk crates full of odds and ends that didn’t fit into their own, boxed categories. She held her own and impressed me. I didn’t know what I had expected, but she exceeded all of it. When I’d get frustrated and begin to lose my grip, cursing the lack of help, she’d make a joke or say the right kind of encouragement or force us to take a smoke break.
The day ended when we returned the moving truck. Driving to the rental place, there was a cloud of no return above us. And a scent. I sniffed the air, recognizing the sweaty, salty smell of a hard days work. Checking myself, two quick inhales, deciding it wasn’t me. She was mortified. “Do I smell?” Yes, she did. We laughed and laughed about it, how such a strong body odor could come from such a beautiful, dainty woman.
It was the foreshadowing to living with a partner. Sometimes they smell, sometimes they’re gross, sometimes they’re sexy, sometimes they’re totally normal. That first day was the beginning of being comfortable. The slow learned process of getting to know someone intimately on a daily basis. The acceptance we gave to each other, and the new kind of love that grew from it.
We still reference that first day that she smelled, creating a funnier story than the truth behind it. And with that story is a hundred others, an honesty that developed between us. There’s a certain language that exists between people who live together. As years continue, the language gets more complex, creating a division between the outside world and the one you’ve created with another.
Twice a year, work sends my office-drone peers and me on a retreat/conference. Every time, something happens. It’s a way to reset everyone’s mentality and keep away the burn out. Recently, I went to my fourth one. For some reason, and I’m thinking it’s because I’m younger than most, people use me as their confidant. Assuming I’m still cool and hip, they’ll tell me about the affairs they’ve been having, how twice a year they get to escape their lives and be free for a three day weekend of drugs, alcohol, and flirting. I know at least three guys who hire hookers for that weekend, and two women who continue to have their affair strictly through these events. Parents complain to me about their kids, girlfriends about boyfriends, boyfriends about boyfriends, the list goes on and on.
Maybe I’m too young to get enjoyment from these trips. I can do all the drugs and alcohol I want on any given day with Amelia, we don’t have kids, and as far as I know, we’re not cheating on each other.
But the pull is there sometimes, like a wandering thought that finds itself at the front of my brain from time to time. What if? With whom? Wouldn’t it be nice? Wouldn’t it be awful?
A crush will happen from time to time, but they never mean anything and always go away before they develop into anything more. This last conference, someone was telling me that there are two types of men: those who stay away from it, and those who let it happen. His whole thinking was that if you partake in any sort of flirt or crush, you may as well just go through with it, because the only way to avoid it is to stay completely away.
I’ll get right to it: I’ve got an office crush. She works in a different department than me, so its not a daily thought, not even close, but over time, she’s creeped into my peripherals. I’ve never known much about her, and when we talk, we seem to get along pretty well. We could easily be friends if it wasn’t for the sexual chemistry between us. Passing a coffee cup in the break room, our hands graze each other’s, and I’m not sure who started it. I’m reminded of all these feelings that I thought had gone forever, but turns out they’ve only gone dormant. Anticipation of a text (once numbers were exchanged), anticipation of taking breaks at the same time, anticipation of getting to know her better on the conference trips.
These thoughts began to plague me at work. A guilty cloud followed me around until I got home. At home, everything makes sense again and I’m put back onto my axis. I feel like such a piece of shit about all of this.
Was I becoming one of those guys that tries to ride the line? What was I testing, what was I doing? Why did I feel out of control? Why did I not talk about Amelia to her, when I did to everyone else? I knew I’d never cheat, but there I was, curious, looking for something, but I don’t know what.
Then the retreat happened. Bullshit team exercises (you’re encouraged to go outside your department for these), and there we were, always on the same team. Casual flirting, bumping into each other, creating inside jokes, held eye contact. Some animalistic urge was taking over and I was reverting to high school flirting tactics.
At the end of the long day, everyone goes to the hotel bar to get drunk. Some people want to go out on the town, but I know better. When she wants to go out, I smile and decline, making up some lame (but not too lame) excuse. I feel betrayed when she leaves with a small group. Did part of me wish she would stay back with me? What would we have done? Why did I want to put myself into a bad situation? I’ve never been much of the self-torturing type, but here I was, doing exactly that. Was I torturing myself because I knew it was the wrong idea and I was punishing myself for even thinking it?
I went back to my room alone, called Amelia, and we talked about everything but the crush. Filthy. We said our goodnights and I was left staring at my phone, willing it to ring again. I figured if I stared hard enough, it just might happen. I paced around my room, never letting the phone out of my sight for more than a few seconds. This is the feeling I had when Amelia and I first started. The dopamine rush every time I’d feel the vibration of the phone, knowing I was getting closer to her, knowing her better, falling in love with each new communication.
Then the phone buzzed: a text from the crush. She was heading back and wanted to know if I was still up. I stared at my phone, not sure how to answer. This was it.
Fifteen minutes later came a knock on my door. What was I doing? Had I really straightened up the room? Had I really brushed my already clean teeth again? Was I only just realizing that I needed to work on my posture? Amelia’s been on me about that for years, why was I only know realizing how much better I looked if I just stood up straight?
She entered, bottle in hand. She’d somehow gotten the bar to give her one for free. Intrigued, and now given an excuse to drink some more. I couldn’t do this sober.
We talked work and people, passing the bottle back and forth, forgoing plastic cups. The wetness on the edge of the bottle from her lips gave me chills. I hadn’t tasted another woman’s saliva in so long. Did I even remember how to do this?
We began to compare tattoos. An innocent, yet adult way to show each other our bodies and look on, analyzing. The one on her ribs, ballet shoes, curving around her ribs, hinting a bit of a faded stretch mark at the base of her breast. Maybe it was just the worn in mark from the bra moved out of place…my imagination went wild.
She put on music, showing me a song that she really loved (but not my taste at all). My thoughts went to shared interests, could we even date? This song was so not for me, and ballet shoes? Who was this woman in my room? When Amelia and I first began dating, all our conversations flowed from one to another, each of us dying to learn everything there was about the other, wanting to soak in each new piece of information and marinate in it. My mind couldn’t help but wander for a moment, faking enthusiasm for a bad song. I dove down a black hole of wondering how she would be at family barbecues, what her relationship is to her grandma, what kind of socks she wears around the apartment.
She asked me to dance, and I didn’t want to kill her vibe, which was so enthusiastic it was endearing. Maybe this is how she gets away with a bad taste in music, her unfiltered adoration. It felt wrong to bring her down. Maybe one dance and then a forced yawn and a goodnight. Would she try to kiss me? Would I try to kiss her? How do magnets work when you hold them at equal distances from one another?
If this night had been some small scene in a comedy, she would have turned around and began to grind on me. I would have been shocked, and the humor from the scene would have happened naturally from such an unexpected turn of events.
We both raised our hands into a ballroom stance (the more innocent, less high school approach). Our hands cupped, my hand on her waist, hers on my shoulder, and for the first time between us: silence. In the raising of her arms, and now in such frozen stance, I was able to peak at the sweat stains under her right armpit, and the smell that came with it. After all, we’d had a busy day, and she’d gone right from event to event without going back to change. It was an earthy, sweaty, sexy smell. In our shared, drunken moment, I let go of all the awkwardness, all the fear, and let myself feel comfortable for the first time since being in front of her. I told her that she smelled. Actually, it was “you stink.” I said it with a smile, with affection.
In a blur, everything else happened. She shied away, grabbed her things, and left.
She could never handle a family barbecue.
I fell asleep, flailing between laughing and loneliness. A moment I could never share with Amelia, yet badly wanted to. Our language so deeply ingrained in me. I don’t know how to exist in a world that she isn’t a part of. And now I have something that she can never know.
Maybe I found the line, maybe now I know I can’t ride it. Maybe I’m one of those that should just stay away. Overtime, I’m going to forget how to talk to anyone else except for those in the bubble in which I live. How sad. How comforting.