“There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and the tales for other times.” —
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
He was young — oh, so young! — but not convoluted at all, which is a rarity in itself. He sat with his body turned toward me at a 45-degree angle, playing with the ice cubes on the bottom of his tall glass; but never letting go of me, with his eyes.
“What are you drinking?” he started up. I could feel it with my skin cells: The kid was NOT into chatter much. He actually wanted to know.
“Um,” I chuckled and looked at my ice-less glass. “Tomato juice.”
And I nodded. I am not a barfly, mostly for that very same reason: I don’t drink. So, I nodded while bracing myself for the irony some tipsy idiot was about to point out.
The kid picked-up my glass and he sniffed it.
That scene! It reminded me of that scene, in a quirky film about doomed love: She asks him for a piece of chicken, and without his answer, takes it. Just like that! She reaches over and takes a chicken leg from his paper plate; and he is immediately disarmed at her lack of pretense and the intimacy at which he’d had to do no work, whatsoever.
The kid put down my glass, exactly into the water ring it had marked on my bev nap earlier. Then, he nodded and pouted with his lower lip:
“That’s cool!” he said, without showing me his version of a deprecating smirk.
My self-defense was unnecessary, here; and all the jokes at my own expense popped, like soap bubbles on a child’s palm.
I had been approached by men at bars before (and I had been approached by women, as well). Most of the time, with their courage slightly loosened by liquor, they negotiate their desire immediately. But they’re never drunk enough to say it bluntly:
“I want your sex,” for instance.
“I just want to fuck around, for bit. Is that okay?”
Instead, they loom, while flirting clumsily and waiting for me to bite the bait. It’s amusing, most of the time, to observe the habit of other people to get in their own way. (It’s also the reason I don’t drink: I like to watch, instead. That; and the fact that my sober tendencies of getting in MY own way — are already quite sufficient; and I needn’t be drunk to get a clearer look at myself.)
Soon enough though, the men get distracted: Their drunken charm refuses to work on me. What they don’t realize is that their honesty might’ve gotten them a lot more.
Eventually, they move on though — to someone easier, I suppose. But while they loom, my drunken courtiers sneak peaks at other barflies — and butterflies — with whom their charm wouldn’t happen in vain. They’re always pretty, those other girls, and more willing, perhaps. So, I let the men move on quickly:
“Go loom elsewhere, honey. It’s okay. Really.”
But this kid: He was different. He would study the other women openly, and sometimes, at my own direction.
“SHE — is gorgeous!” I’d mutter into my thin straw; and so, he would look, in silence.
What was he looking at, I would wonder? Was it the silky shimmer of her brown shoulders? Was it the beauty mark revealed by a backless dress? The curvature of her rear? The endlessness of her naked legs leading up to heaven?
What was it like to be so young — and to want so much?
So, he would look at the other women, but then return to me — always. He was one of those: The type that tended to hit things right on the nose. He would ask me questions that would make me shift in my seat; and under his examination, I, too, began studying the girl in a wraparound dress with no underwear lines, anywhere along her body. I was studying — me.
I surprised myself when I asked him about his mother. I could feel her, distances away, praying that her son was under the care of only good people. Only good women. She would have a confident face, I imagined, just like her son’s: With no ticks to betray her habit of getting in her own way. I couldn’t possibly know the extent of her courage yet; what it was like to let her child leave her watch. But I was pretty sure that if I were a mother, I too would hope — and I too would pray! — for the goodness of other people. Of other good women.
He spoke of her willingly. It was unlikely for a young man to be aware of the sacrifice a mother must make. But this kid — this young man — understood the courage of a woman’s heart: The courage it took — to be a good one!
“I’m not sure what it is…” he would say to me later. “I’m not sure what it is — about you.”
His hands would be steady: They knew the common crevices along a woman’s body; but he had yet to learn the specificity of mine.
“It’s just sex,” I’d tell him, “and that’s okay. Really.” And I would cradle his head, brush his hair and soothe his eyelids.
He was under a care of one good woman. And the good woman, waiting, praying for him from distances away, had absolutely nothing to worry about, that night.