We are sitting next to each other at the bar, knees touching.
“I don’t think we should talk anymore,” I say.
He turns to look at me. It is excruciating to meet his gaze.
“That is the worst possible option,” he replies.
“You cannot possibly be enjoying this. Us.”
“Of course not. It is miserable.”
We turn back to our drinks – some trendy rum-chili-ginger beer concoction that I ordered for both of us, only to immediately regret; he always gets us straight Patron.
Our knees are still touching. This minute point of contact—ordinarily platonic or somewhat awkward by nature—signals a laundry list of clichéd accompaniments: electricity, heat, unrestrained imaginings and the possibility – or likelihood – of really excellent sex.
We have not slept together.
Am I wrong to feel as though it is ending before it has begun?
It is not just the absence of sex that is stopping us from becoming what we are meant to be. In classic WASP fashion, I do not even talk about sex, but have also historically taken a laissez-faire attitude toward it. But this – him – is different. Ordinarily, I use sex as is an instrument, as a way to stave off boredom, a snapshot of intimacy from which I easily extricate myself. And, as with most other things, it is always better in theory than in practice. Would it be the same with him?
Somehow, I can’t imagine it could be. If nothing other than the way he holds himself, the caliber of his touch – he would not be capable of the sloppy jackhammering that has become acceptable at this college. But it is much more than this. I worry that if I were to allow him physically inside me, I would never be free of him; it is as if he already inhabits my body, as if he knows my mind better than I do. I do not want to let him have me, even if I were to think of myself as something I could give to him rather than something he has already taken; and yet, I want it, I want it all immensely.
We have talked about it; having (really great) sex, that is. But he knows my reservations. So we don’t.
“I need to be where I am,” I say. “This…is too much for me. I cannot authentically be at school if I am always thinking about you, when it is impossible for us to be together.”
He does not understand my life at Dartmouth. I know this implicitly—he is thirty-four. And explicitly, because he’s told me: “Why do you bother yourself with all of that sorority drama?” he asked me once. “Why do you want to waste your time with guys for whom you know you could never truly care?”
I am terrified of risk and of regret, that’s why. I force myself to buy into this moment, the college experience, so that later I can look back and know that I tried.
He is not like this.
At each moment, he decides what he wants and goes after it, foolhardy and almost blind in his relentlessness. He does not want to abandon something that is unprecedented for us both, even if that means living in it, as it is, in all of its unrealized, unconsummated glory.
I admire this attitude, but I will never adopt it. How could I? I have spent most of my life in avoidance, compiling exit strategies, girding myself against disappointment, failure, and pain. But now, I don’t know which I will regret more: ending this, or not ending it.
How often does a real connection come along? I do not believe in things like this – soul mates, irrepressible linkages, perhaps even love itself. Even now, I am half convinced that we have imagined our connection from the projections we place upon each other – the collected disappointments of both our lives converging on an invented person, an illusory connection, creating something out of a nothing to which we are willfully blind. But then again, maybe I will wake up in a week or a month or a year and realize I made the biggest mistake of my life, making him go. In all likelihood, I won’t, though – I may encounter brief blips of astonished pain, experienced as a pit behind my ribcage, but can I ever feel the absence of something I never had?
Outside the bar, he pushes my hair back from my face. His fingers trace the line of my nose, the curves of my cheekbones, and move slowly along my clavicle. He kisses me. It is infuriatingly good – I again find myself wishing I had made up “us,” and yet I want to devour him. He bites my neck and goose bumps raise themselves on my skin. If we were fucking, if this was not just interminable foreplay but the means to an end, would I still feel so utterly helpless beneath his touch?
He pushes me up against the wall, and I feel his wedding ring knock against the protrusion of my hipbone. The moment is not shattered, but I know it should be.