I sat at an outdoor café with an old friend I hadn't seen in nearly a year. It was spring. The pond was beginning to thaw. The daffodils were in bloom. Triangles and rectangles of pale yellows lay patchwork style around the trees. A teenage girl with a series of pierces in her earlobe tucked her hand into her boyfriend's back pocket as they waited for a table, and I remembered the boy who had slipped his hands into the pockets of my hiphuggers and asked, "Do you want to?" before we lay down in the grass. At the table next to us, a couple hovered over their cappuccinos in intense conversation. I noticed the woman had taken off her slingback sandal and was rubbing her bare foot against the calf of the man across from her. My friend and I conversed nonstop. We moaned about how tired we were, between cupcakes to make for the class picnic, expense reports to finish, a novel that needed to be turned in. The long, lavish lunch was a brief intermission in our lives. We gossiped about mutual friends and fantasized about trips to Italy and France. During dips in our conversation, I found myself looking at the teenage couple now seated at a table, their chairs side by side. They kissed. The boy with the lean body underneath a V-neck sweater put his hand under the back of his girlfriend's shirt. Our conversation moved to our children, kindergartens, tantrums, bed-wets. We talked about our mothers and sisters. At the end of the lunch, my friend looked into my eyes as if she were peering into the farthest reaches of my soul and asked me about my marriage. "Are you guys having sex?" she asked bluntly. And this image blossomed in my head of D.'s face covered in pox marks as he lay on our couch, miserable and not talking, quarantined in our house like a leper, having caught chicken pox from our son. I wanted to burst out laughing.
It was not the picture I visualized 12 years ago, talking with D. long-distance from my office, when the sound of his voice made my body nervous and tingly. I had dated my share of men, but none of them were men I could imagine being the father of my child. When at dinner parties the conversation would come around to how we'd all met, ours was the story that made people smile. We discovered each other at our ten-year high school reunion. D. was a jock and I was a flower child. In high school our lives barely intersected.
D. was athletic, boyish, possessed of a wry and sometimes angry humor. Both of us were middle children, and watching how he interacted with his family, I saw much of myself. We were both listeners and mediators, ambitious do-gooders motivated by the compulsion to make up for crimes we hadn't committed. He was going to law school in the Midwest. I was a poet working as an editorial assistant in New York. To this day we thank People Express Airlines, those $39 airfares that made it possible for us to sustain the long stretches where I thought I'd go insane if I didn't see the shape of his body leaning against the wall beyond the airline gate as I deplaned. After one of our weekend trysts, D. drove me to the airport and, just as the plane was about to board, convinced me to take the next flight. We sat in two seats facing the runway, mad with the inexplicable euphoria of two people in love, until the next flight began to board and D. tempted me to call in sick and stay another night. When we were apart, I fell asleep curled into the Princess phone while we talked long-distance. In the morning his was the first voice I heard as I reached for the phone and cradled it next to my goose-down pillow.
Once we moved in together, in my studio apartment just large enough for a pullout couch, our days and nights were fueled by adventure. We sat in bars and drank gimlets. We maxed out our credit cards over romantic dinners and weekends in front of fireplaces at bed-and-breakfasts throughout New England. We slept late. We awoke watching the moon slip into the sheet of the new light of morning. Or we didn't sleep at all. We went skiing, ice-skating, and to the movies any night we pleased. He pressed up against me in dark alleys. We made out in taxicabs. There was a volatile tension wired through our relationship that made my body catch fire, feeling his arm resting against mine in the dark cavern of a movie theater.
Next: The beginnings of something wonderful