The night after he told me he took me for granted The Neighbor knocked on my door at 9:30. I was in my pajamas, had just lit some incense, Peyton was snoozing, and The Black Angels were playing. I opened the door and he stood in my doorway with his backpack over his shoulder, sweaty, and in his gym clothes.
“I need you to sniff me,” he said and walked in. I let him pass and walk a few feet into my apartment, gingerly holding my wine glass out of the way.
“Ok,” I said and I leaned in to his neck and sniffed. He smelled clean, but sweaty. “You smell fine,” I told him and turned us around and herded him back to the front door.
Outside my open door I quickly added, “But I’m not sniffing your shorts. They’re fine.”
He looked at me mischievously and pulled out the waistband of his shorts and said, “I have something you can sniff.”
“No, thanks,” I replied succinctly. “Goodnight,” and I shut the door on him. But before I could close it all the way I saw his face split into utter shock, his mouth open, and he jammed his foot to prevent the door from shutting.
“What?? Really??” he asked incredulously.
“Yep. No, thanks. Goodnight!” I said again pushing against his foot.
“Uh… ok. Goodnight,” he relented and removed his foot. The door slammed resoundingly. I walked away with a smile and my chest puffed up.
That night began a week of an embargo on Me. My heart needs to heal and fortify. His words, “I take you for granted,” echo in my mind every hour of every day. How can I possibly recover from that? I give him every piece of me, yet get so very little in return. I am not allowed to talk about him with my friends or family; I may not rely on him; I have no overt control over when we hang out or the nature of those visits. The only way in which I’m allowed to connect with him is through acts of affection — which he determines based on his current mood and needs — and through my body, but I am limited even in that.
As he very honestly admitted to me that night, unwittingly, he cares for none of what I do or who I am. Frequently, and with pleasure, he tells me I may not have the only thing I’m allowed to ask of from him: his cock. I am alone and sinking in a frozen pond and he is waving at me from the shore, bundled up and warm.
It was a devastating blow, much like his “six strikes” comment, and I cannot unring that bell.
This week has been relatively easy. I’ve been distracted and engaged elsewhere and I’ve flitted in and out of his life with detached smiles and polite words. I’ve yet to have the pleasure of texting, “Sorry! Busy working on a project!” but I am ready, poised to parry.
Thursday night I had a dream of him. He’d told me he loved me and I knew it because he’d turned his doormat, which reads “Welcome”, around to face out properly. (I had turned it around weeks ago as a joke in real life.) We fucked and connected and my heart had soared in my sleep. He loved me! I’d thought. But then I crumpled and was fearful it was all a joke, possibly a mistake or a misunderstanding.
I couldn’t shake the dream yesterday and decided to tell him.
His response was, “Yeah, that’s crazy.”
“Outrageous,” I said dryly. “So this means you can never turn your mat around now hahaha (actually, I’m totally kidding in case you take me literally)” his logical, programming brain often misses the nuances of my sick sense of humor.
“I’m going to flip it over,” he typed back.
“Like upside down?”
So before I left the apartment that day I took the liberty of flipping it over myself. The word, “Welcome,” hidden from us both and a giggle in my throat. I thought it was incredibly funny and poignant.
Last night the grey clouds that had hung wet and heavy over the city all day spit and soaked the streets. The loamy smell of earth filled the world and the bugs sung as I wearily climbed the 40 steps with Peyton. I was bone weary and fighting a slow, blue sadness. And when I cleared the last set of stairs to my apartment, a little hand gripped in mine and out of breath from singing, “The Old Man is Snoring,” I saw TN’s mat rolled up inside out outside his door. It wasn’t enough to leave it flat as I’d left it. He had probably kicked it so its ends curled under.
Again, the message. Clear. Concise. Thanks. Was this supposed to be funny?
I took a deep breath and walked inside with Peyton and did the bedtime routine and prepared for my best friend to come over, my long week not yet over. This would be the first time I’d see her since the week of Fourth of July when TN shredded my heart.
She had abandoned me in my hour of need. I’d called her and begged her to come be with me multiple times and she had simply said, “No.” My response to this years long pattern between us was to pull back, spread out my needs among other friends who could be there for me — Internet Boyfriend most certainly included — and to simply wait and see what would happen between us. She did not rise to the occasion.
She remained distant and preoccupied with her own life. She confirmed her attendance to my birthday party and then simply never showed up and I didn’t hear from her for another week. My heart crusted over further as other friends showed their mettle and fortitude in my time of need and I began to move on. I simply could not close the gap between us anymore. It was clear that I only got a friendship out of her when I made the effort. She didn’t care.
But Friday afternoon she asked me what was really going on and I gently and honestly shared my feelings with her. She said she wanted to see me right away to talk. I agreed that once I was home I would let her know, so it was around 9:30 when I heard her knock and let her in.
She was distraught and strange looking, her eyes intense and watery. I assumed it was because she was broken-hearted over losing me, but in reality it was because her husband had put her in a choke-hold and thrown her across the garage to land in a heap on her side, her feet never touching the ground. She sobbed and apologized for having to talk about this horrible night instead of our friendship and with tears in my eyes and my heart pounding with rage I assured her it was ok, that I was there for her.
She cried harder. “Of course you are, Hy. You’re always there for me. Always. For every single major moment in my life you’ve been there and I have let you down for so long. I didn’t realize it until now how important you are to me. I love you more than anyone else and I want you in my life forever.”
I thanked her and hugged her and assured her we would be ok. I had never heard such beautiful words from anyone in my life. “You are so good, so kind. You give so, so much, and I am limited. I know that. You deserve more and I can’t promise to be as good a friend to you as you are to me, but I want you to know that it’s not because I don’t love you, it’s because I can’t handle things and I shut down. I wish I could be the same kind of friend to you. I’m going to work on it.”
The conversation turned to catching up. She was shocked and disappointed to learn that I had picked back up with TN. The last she’d known was when he’d left me for 4 am girl. I hung my head shamefully, sucking on a cigarette. “I know. It’s like we’re two rutting magnets. But back then the big deal breaker for me was when he’d said Peyton was ‘six strikes’ against me and then he took it all back and he’s been wonderful with my baby ever since.” She shook her head at me. “Don’t worry,” I quickly added, “he’s done it again, something I can’t forget. He told me he took me for granted.”
“Like I took you for granted,” she said quietly.
I only gave her a pained look of apologetic agreement.
“Hy, you have to stop letting us take advantage of you. I’m glad you did this with me, I’ll never do it again. We don’t deserve you if we don’t value what you do for us. You have to stop this with him, immediately.”
We talked some more, she cried some more. Our conversation bumping like a pinball from TN, to her next move, to my struggles with my ex and his new girlfriend who is overly fond of tagging him on FB with notes like, “My hot, hot boyfriend” and exchanging inside jokes with my old family, to her friendships that recently fell apart and back again to her safety, her fear, her pain. This was not bubblegum chit-chat. It was chewing on gravel and spitting out dust.
Then, naturally, TN popped his head out. My heart sank. He, caring about me, has known my heartbreak over her and she my heartbreak over him. I held my breath. They said hello and quickly warmed up to each other. He wasn’t leaving, I wasn’t inviting. I poured us some more wine and he noticed that we were almost out. “I still have some wine if you want some,” he offered.
My best friend and I looked at each other. I gave her the tiniest nod. “Why don’t you bring some over?” she suggested.
“Really? Ok! Hy, which kind do you want? The vintage we’ve had already or a new one?”
“Surprise me,” was my only response.
He disappeared into his dark apartment and my best friend asked if that was ok. I said it was. It wasn’t breaking any of my rules, we wouldn’t be alone together, and maybe she needed a distraction from our Big Girl Talk.
He brought the wine out onto the balcony that now only had two chairs instead of the usual four. He stood awkwardly for a minute then went to leave. I thanked him for the wine, the bottle tucked in my arm like a baby, and he shut the screen door.
“Well, I guess I’ll leave you two alone now,” he said with a droop, and in a heartbeat, my best friend invited him to drink with us. His face lit up and he looked me square in the eyes. “Really?? Is that ok?”
I held his gaze, my dark blue eyes to his icy ones. “Sure. Get a chair.”
He returned with the chair and sat down to my left, she was on my right. No sooner had his ass hit the chair than we all heard the pool fence clack and rattle and 3 women in bikinis, a small child, and a man came to the hot tub.
“Hey, hey, hey,” he said suggestively as he looked down over his shoulder.
My response was immediate and unfriendly, “Shut the fuck up, TN. Just shut. the. fuck. up.” This had been a mistake.
“What??” he asked, looking to my friend for assistance who looked at him with pure disdain.
“‘Shut the fuck up,’ I said.” I wrestled infinitesimally with myself. I had smacked him down hard, like a child. He sat frozen, waiting for what I would do next. I let the tension hang a beat more before I picked up the conversation and moved on. It didn’t feel right to make a scene and ruin what my best friend and I had so tenderly woven between us. I have learned to give TN more and more rope each day. Let him be a disrespectful prick. It only helps me.
We talked for some time, my friend sullen, yet trying to be open and present, and TN mooching whatever it was he needed from me for a couple more hours. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was strange and somewhat forced, a pill that wouldn’t quite go down.
My poor, broken friend was in no mood to socialize in reality like I think she’d hoped, and I was in no mood to be gracious, yet there was a sense of dejá vu. She was my first conspirator in my affair with him and we spent countless hours together last winter in just this constellation of chairs, wine glasses and cigarette butts.
Eventually, he begged off, and I let him show himself out.
He passed through my apartment as he has hundreds of times before, but this time without so much as a wink, a rub, a touch, or an innuendo from me. My heart shriveled a little, a piece turned to ice. My hope dwindles away every passing minute.
My friend apologized and I assured her it was ok. I want nights like that to happen. I want him to see the “after.” I want this to be visceral, real, like realizing he’s burnt the fucking chicken on the grill. You can’t undo the char, motherfucker.
It took several weeks of polite distance from me for my best friend to realize what had happened, but what I learned is that I am capable of holding firm on my boundaries. I wasn’t trying to punish her, just as I’m not trying to punish TN. I’m simply done. “Hy, please get better boundaries,” she implored upon me. “Please.”
This last week with TN was a good start, but I know it was easy. I had Peyton, I was angry, I was filled with things to do, places to go, friends to see. Next week is Peyton’s father’s turn for two weeks straight. I am nervous. Polite distance, polite distance, polite distance. I repeat it over and over.
If he approaches me and asks what’s happened I will share, but, just like with my best friend, I’m done doing all the work. I am comfortable with taking a break for a change and watching what happens. This allows me time to wrap my head around a formal goodbye. Goodbye to the friendship, the chemistry, the cock, my heart, my hopes.
That cruel sliver of hope which always resides within me is only needle thin now; it’d be a robber’s moon if it shone anywhere but on my soul.
Yet shine it does. I would leap at the chance to see him be the man I know he could be — present, loving, all-in with me. Yes, even now. If he admitted he loved me and stood to face me he would be incredible. It makes my heart patter faster even typing this.
But I can’t take less. Not one inch less than, “I love you, Hyacinth. I am so sorry for everything I’ve said and done. I was such an idiot. Will you forgive me? I want to be the man in your life. I want to hold you when you cry and laugh with you when you’re beaming. I want to share my day with you and my hopes, thoughts, and fears and hear and hold all of yours. I want to see where this goes, Hy, and I am all yours. I love you.”
When my best friend and I finally gathered our battered selves together and crawled into my bed I gave her half my pills, put on a Frasier, and checked my phone. There was a text from TN from about an hour before he had shown his sweet, infuriating face. It read, “Busy tonight??”
I wish I’d seen it sooner.