The Slow Slide Down
I have done the things I should not have done,
I have left undone the things I should have done,
and there is no good in me.
I sat outside on the little patio. A Solo cup stood next to my feet as I reclined, looking into the darkness. The rest of the group was inside, watching some mindless frat-pack comedy. I had just gotten off the phone with my girlfriend when she came outside.
We were wondering what happened to you.
I came out here to think. I didn’t mean to disturb anyone. It’s just not my scene.
Thinking about what? She stood next to me. I looked up at her, considered my odds, and poured my heart out to her. I told her about my girlfriend, the troubles we were having. I told her about my doubts about school, my troubles with my family. She listened patiently, beautifully. She offered advice, which consisted of things I already knew but needed to hear again.
When I’m with her, I’m the happiest guy in the world. But when we’re apart, she may as well not even exist. And you… I paused.
You need to stop being so perfect.
She laughed, shocked, and stopped when she saw my face. I wasn’t happy or playful but tormented. I smiled thinly.
Let’s go inside. Thanks for listening.
I didn’t tell her how she had filled my thoughts since I had first seen her. I didn’t say how I had wanted to kiss her during our long talks alone, how I noticed she always ended up sitting near me, how her body language indicated something more than mere friendliness. Her smile was the brightest I had ever seen. Her laugh was enough to make me a clown, that I might hear more of it. I thought back to a conversation as we stood watch together.
I couldn’t continue the way I was going, not with my conscience keeping me awake at night, so I just had to say it.
Have I told you about my girlfriend?
She froze, than one corner of her mouth lifted.
I figured as much. You were too nice; either taken or gay.
Thanks. I didn’t tell you earlier because I figured you knew, I paused.
Or you didn’t want to know. I put on my wistful face and smiled.
We went back inside, rejoined the party. We were packed at a friend’s house, the six of us crashing in the basement. It was late, so we undid some of the damage and rearranged the furniture for sleep. The couch that dominated the room pulled out into a larger than king-size bed, enough for four of us to sleep on it. We slid the loveseat over so it adjoined the bed and fit another person. The last one had to sleep on the floor, but he seemed to prefer it that way. As we lay in the oversize bed, the blankets thrown haphazardly across us, she and I ended up next to each other. The others dozed off to the flickering blue light of a late-night movie, but she and I stayed awake.
I reached out and slid my hand over hers. Innocent enough; she turned and looked into my eyes.
I hadn’t noticed how green her eyes were before. Like the sea after a storm. She looked up at me as I traced her fingers. I smiled again, and she bit her lip. I slid my hand higher up her arm, enjoying her soft skin and her scent. We were surrounded by sleeping friends, and here we were, lost in each other. She began to do the same to me, and I reveled in her touch, running my fingers through her hair, amazed at how beautiful she was.
I inched closer to her, slipped my arm around her waist, and kissed her softly on the lips. She kissed me back. That was all I needed to know. I grazed her breasts with my hand, skimmed the edge of her shorts, and then I stopped.
There’s an empty bedroom upstairs, I whispered, my lips brushing her ear.
I’m going to go up there. If you want, follow me in a few minutes. I kissed her again and slipped out of bed, making my way past our sleeping friends. I crept up the stairs and sidled into the empty bedroom. And I waited.
After eternity, she came into the room. We kissed, and peeled each other’s shirts off. She kissed me like she was drowning and I was air.
That’s when I began my slow slide down.
The next morning, I woke earlier than everyone else. She lay next to me, her cornsilk hair spread out on the dark blanket. We were again in the middle of a jumble of blankets and bodies. I lay in bed, remember the events of last night, before getting up and making breakfast. The group spent the day together. She and I acted nonchalant, but the tension was fairly obvious. We went sailing and the weather was absolutely perfect. That night was my birthday, and we celebrated with a big dinner at our hostess’ house. The group would split early the next morning, out summer obligations finished, headed our separate ways.
We had to be up at oh-dark-hundred for outprocessing. There was a glitch and we were delayed for another few hours. She and I spent them together, an encore of the previous night’s performance.
I had invited anyone who wanted to come with me up to the beach. My family spent the summers at a beach in Long Island, and I was going to eke out the last little bit of surf and sand before returning to school. They expressed interest, but she was the only one who came with me. We slept in my car before the drive up. On the journey, we listened to music and talked. Sometimes about nothing, sometimes about serious things.
I felt connected to someone like I hadn’t in a long time.
Once we arrived in Long Island, I delighted in showing her around my little beach town. The shops, the boats, the houses. The memorials to the fallen police and firefighters. Much of my extended family lives there as well, and I introduced her as a friend from the summer.
My parents insisted on throwing a birthday party. They hadn’t expected me home, and were delighted to have a reason to get the family together again.
Family is very important to us.
I continued to introduce her as a friend. I overheard one of my cousins remark,
He goes away for a month, and brings her back? I guess he’s not as dumb as we thought! I watched her play with my little cousins, ranging from newborn to ten. She looked great with the kids. I couldn’t help but think of her with my kids, our kids.
That night we slept in separate rooms.
The next day we went in to the City. We talked as I drove, and I got lost because I was distracted with her. She had mentioned in passing that she had never been to see the Museum of Modern Art. I took her to see Van Gogh, Matisse and Monet, while I wandered among the paintings looking for Rousseau, Gustav Klimt and that Italian whose name I can never remember. We turned out noses up at the Cubists, and lingered in the design gallery, appreciating chairs and cellphones. We walked in Central Park afterward. I told her stories of my times in the city, people I had met, jobs I worked. She laughed. We held hands, sat close to each other on a shaded rock.
I knew it couldn’t last.
My girlfriend called as we walked back to my car. I chatted idly for a few minutes, then smiled and replied.
I love you too, I said before hanging up. I turned to her.
I’m such a bastard.
That night, we returned to the beach. In the dark, we watched the stars, the lights of the great container ships, the glow of New York on the horizon. She leaned against my shoulder, and I got to feel protective.
I made us highballs back home and when the house was asleep, we ‘played’ some more. The next morning, I woke her with a kiss. I had never done that before. My father made us breakfast, and I drove her to the airport for her flight home. We didn’t say much.
She leaned over and kissed me before leaving.
Thank you. For everything.
Later on, I went to my closest friend for advice.
She and I got along like you and I do, I told him,
except she’s a woman, and . . .
Yeah. He nodded.
You need to figure out what you want.
I still don’t know what I want.