What the hell?
This is MY home, and I should be able to do whatever the fuck I want to do in it! It’s been nearly two years since I left our suburban “starter” house in a big hurry and bought this condo in the city, so why am I still following her
rules? And, believe me, there were lots
of them. Heaven forbid the spice jars weren’t lined up in alphabetical order- she would act like that was a sign of the frickin’ Apocalypse!
Like just now… I sat down on the couch, swinging my feet up onto the coffee table, only to drop them back down to the floor almost immediately. Am I still that
pre-programmed to follow the friggin’ rules?
I sink into the cushions as I raise my feet back up to the table… this time with a more deliberate motion, resulting in a solid, satisfying “thunk”. If I’m going to spend yet another Friday night home alone, I might as well get comfortable.
After digging the TV remote out from under a pile of mail and newspapers on the sofa beside me, I turn on the baseball game and rip open a bag of pretzels, a.k.a. “dinner”. They’re the “whole-grain/low salt” variety… want to guess who got me into the habit of buying those
Damn! It’s the bottom of the eighth inning and we’re down by four runs. But the top of the order is coming up to bat, so maybe we’ll get something going.
Settling even deeper into the smooth brown leather, I stretch my legs out until they’re completely straight, my feet now hanging off the far side of the table. Had she walked in to find me in this position, she would have, undoubtedly, let out an exaggerated sigh while standing at the end of the sofa, shaking her head in disapproval. And I, no doubt, would have responded with semi-feigned irritation: “What? My feet aren’t even touching
the table!” Then she would have flashed me her “Why do I even bother?” smirk, which I would have countered with my “But you know you love me” grin, and then she would have sauntered closer, trying to maintain a “Now you’re gonna get it, mister” pseudo-scowl.
Oh, hell… I’m doing this far too often… not just remembering how things were, but imagining her here and playing out a whole scenario in my head. After a few too many shots of tequila, I recently admitted this to my brother. His sage advice: “Fucking doesn’t require loving. Maybe you should just go out and get some and it will calm you down.” What did I expect from a twenty-three year old? But, then again…
Determined to escape my own thoughts, I return my attention to the television. The game is over; we lost by two runs. Typical. Those overpaid sons of bitches…
I lean forward, lifting a bottle of water from the coffee table and raising it to my salty lips. With the bottle in my left hand, I reach into the pretzel bag with my right. Without a free hand to change the channel, I am subjected to one of those irritating infomercials. This one is hawking DVDs with clips from the old Ed Sullivan Show. I vaguely remember hearing something about that show from my parents. All I know is that Letterman now occupies Sullivan’s old studio.
The TV screen is filled with a grainy old clip of the Beatles… damn, McCartney looks so young… nice haircut, dude. Next is a comedy bit… some goofy puppet with a foreign accent. Then a couple of guys I don’t recognize until the announcer’s voice fades and the two guys are heard singing.
“…only trouble is… gee whiz… I’m dreaming my liiife awaaay…”
Suddenly my throat tightens and it takes great effort for me to swallow the water in my mouth without choking on it. That song used to be on the jukebox at The Sandbar, a little place by the beach that we used to frequent back in our college days. Christ, that was almost ten years ago, but it might as well have been yesterday.
The TV announcer is now reminding me that this offer is not available in stores, so I hit the mute button, lean my head back, and close my eyes. In my mind, the music still plays, and I am transported to another place and time. To another Friday night long ago, when the salt on my lips came not from pretzels but from a warm breeze off of the ocean.
We met friends for burgers and beers, but decided not to go to a party with them afterwards. Instead, we finished our beers and decided to take a walk along the beach, past the dunes and down to the lighthouse, before heading back to my uncle’s bungalow on the other side of the narrow peninsula. He had taken a job overseas for a year and I was more than happy to be spending the summer in the little house “down the shore”. Neither my dorm room nor her room at her parents’ house had afforded much privacy, so our previous liaisons, while amazing, had never been what one could call “leisurely”. The bungalow had become our very own harbor and haven for that long and blissful summer.
As we stood to leave The Sandbar, the first strains of that song came from the jukebox, and she took my hand and led me to the dance floor. There was something about the way our fingers intertwined so naturally… I was more comfortable with her than I had ever been with any woman.
While I had never been much of a dancer, I thoroughly enjoyed holding her close and swaying to the music as our feet found a rhythm and our bodies followed suit. Her hands rested upon my shoulders for a moment, but when I rested my own hands on either side of her slender waist, she stepped in closer, sliding her hands upward and weaving her fingers together to rest on the back of my neck.
Though I had only had two beers, I suddenly felt light-headed. It was more than just the intoxicating scent of her honeysuckle shampoo as it mingled with the sea air. I swear I could smell her desire just as surely as I smelled her perfume. When her hip brushed my thigh as her lips grazed my neck, I knew we weren’t going to make it to the lighthouse that night. The Everly Brothers were still singing as we slipped out and ran home hand in hand, barely closing the door behind us as our lips met and we melted into one another. We landed on the blue and white striped sofa just beside the front door; I doubt either one of us even considered taking a few extra moments to make our way into the bedroom at that point.
She loved kissing, and could have done it for hours. Just
kissing, that is, but she was far too good at it for me to go very long without needing more. She kissed with her whole body. While her lips and tongue welcomed and explored, excited and invited, the rest of her body urged me forward with promises it never failed to keep.
At first, her hands were in perpetual motion… clasping my own hands, sliding up and down my arms, across my back, neck, and shoulders, burrowing into my hair to massage my scalp. But as our kisses deepened, her hands slowed and she held my face tenderly between them, her thumbs caressing my cheek bones.
She closed her eyes when we kissed, but opened them while our faces were still touching. The flutter of her eyelashes against my face was an improbable combination; it was entirely innocent and thoroughly provocative at the same time.
The swell of her ample breasts against my chest thrilled me… and the prodding of her hardened nipples dared me to slip my hands between us and set my own thumbs to work.
My growing erection suddenly grew uncomfortable within the constraints of my clothing, but relief came quickly as her nimble fingers unbuttoned my trousers and began stroking my hard shaft. We alternated between caressing and fondling and tasting each other, and removing each other’s clothing. Before too long, all of it had been cast aside, and our bodies struggled to fill each other’s desire as thoroughly as each sought to quench its own.
My hands clutched the curves of her hips and my mouth covered hers completely as we pressed our warm flesh more tightly together. I slid one hand across her thigh and between her legs, where her dampness assured me that her excitement matched my own. She let out a little gasp as my fingers slipped over her clit and began rubbing her in a slow, circular motion.
Her moans, murmurs, and exclamations formed a language all their own, and her bright green eyes said more than any words ever could have. Whether she was stroking me or sucking me, receiving me or riding me, her eyes rarely left mine.
That night, as I entered her, her eyes bore into my own, offering silent but certain encouragement as I began to thrust. She raised her hips and inhaled sharply as I pushed deeper, groaning as I felt her muscles tightening around my throbbing cock. For the second time that night, we soon found a rhythm that brought our bodies together in perfect harmony…
I jolt into an upright position, my eyes flashing open to take in my surroundings… I feel a disconcerting mixture of sadness and familiarity upon realizing that I am indeed on the brown leather sofa and not the blue and white striped one. Normally, memories such as these would have had me fully aroused and in desperate need of my right hand or a cold shower. But instead, the heat rising within me was born of anger.
I am angry with myself and with her. Yes, we had appreciated what we had then, but not enough. As was typical of the young and stupid, we simply lived in the moment and never realized that life wasn’t always going to be that good or that simple, that time marches on, and that the only thing constant in our lives would be change. We had mistakenly believed that slow dances, cold beer, and hot sex on a summer night could sustain us indefinitely.
I turned off the TV, tossed the empty pretzel bag in the trash, and stomped off to bed.
It’s Saturday morning. My time to indulge in cold cereal and cartoons… and more imaginary conversations: “No, my love, I don’t
suppose that I will ever grow up completely, but you knew that when you married me, so hush up and pass the Fruit Loops please.”
Scooping coffee into the machine, I add an extra measure. I’ll need all of the help I can get today. Though I had hoped for a dreamless sleep, my subconscious mind had not complied. As I slept, I had relived some of our best and worst moments. Upon waking, I was left to wonder if the best had really been as good and the worst had actually been as bad as they were in my dreams.
I remove the milk carton from the fridge, then open the cupboard. Crap! There’s no more than a handful of cereal in the box… I guess she might have been right about making a list before you actually go grocery shopping. I never did, and I had forgotten to buy more cereal. Fortunately, I have other options… I reach back into the cupboard and pull out one of the six boxes of cookies that my niece the Girl Scout just gouged me thirty bucks for. At least I can drink the milk right out of the carton again, without having to hear about it from the complaint department.
As I wait for the coffee, I take the cookies and milk over to the sofa, where I sit and turn on the television. I opt for the morning news instead of cartoons, but nothing they report captures my interest. My thoughts turn to the day ahead.
Today is her birthday.
We always had a big party, even if she wasn’t turning an age that ended in a zero or a five. And the party had to be on the actual
day, not on the nearest weekend, which is how I would have done it. But what the hell do I know about parties that Martha-friggin’-Stewart hadn’t already taught her?
I’ve been thinking about this day for several weeks now, and have promised myself that I’ll grow some balls and show up, maybe even bring her some flowers… unlike last year, when I had taken the afternoon off from work with that same intention, but never made it further than the bar across the street from my office. By five o’clock, I was pretty much wasted, so I took a cab home before my co-workers started showing up. I spent the evening… you guessed it… on the brown leather sofa with a six pack of beer and, eventually, a pizza. And yet more eventually, a bottle of Jack Daniels. The whole bottle of Jack Daniels.
The aroma of the coffee catches my attention, and I rise to go pour myself a large mug of it. I decide that maybe I’ll just sit here watching cartoons, drinking coffee, and sampling another box of cookies… maybe the peanut butter ones this time. Peanut butter is nutritious, right?
That plan works out just fine for the next few hours, and I even manage to ignore the ringing of my telephone on several occasions, until a commercial for laundry detergent shows a bunch of kids running around and spilling stuff on their clothing at a birthday party.
It’s well past noon, yet I’m still wearing the sweatpants that I slept in and I haven’t even brushed my teeth. If I’m going to bite the bullet and go, I need to get it in gear. After turning off the TV, I swallow the last mouthful of coffee in my cup, wincing as I realize too late that it’s now cold and bitter. Yet one more thing to add to the long list of things I didn’t realize until it was too late.
I tell myself that showering, shaving, and dressing are not necessarily a commitment to anything more than good hygiene. I take my time, and the longest, hottest shower I have had in a while leaves me feeling a bit less apprehensive. I shave slowly and carefully, and spend a few moments thinking about what I’ll wear. I settle on a pair of khakis and a light blue denim shirt, and decide not to wear one of the baseball caps that is part of my standard weekend attire. It’s sunny, but still cool, so I’ll express my allegiance by wearing a baseball jacket instead.
I get into the car, thinking that I should stop at the flower shop near my office before I head out of the city. Despite her love of flowers, red roses were long ago deemed “too traditional” and “unoriginal”. Wildflowers and flowers that carry a deep fragrance were preferable. Daisies have always been her favorite (“because you can’t help but smile when you see them”), but I’ve always felt cheap giving them unless I mix in some other flowers. But which ones? It’s been a while since I’ve made such a purchase… I remember what some of the fancier flowers looked like, but I’ll be damned if I remember their names.
I arrive at the florist without a clear idea of what I want, but soon depart with an armload of daisies and yellow roses for her. While the florist was wrapping them, I noticed that they also sell balloons, and I impulsively added one to my purchase. As I return to my car, it bobbles about overhead… a large red helium-filled balloon with the words “Happy Birthday” spelled out in bright yellow letters.
I wind the balloon’s ribbon around the flowers, so that it doesn’t float about in the car as I’m driving. After settling the bundle on the rear seat, I take a moment to mentally plot my course before I start the car and set off.
The flowers are strongly scented. At first it’s a pleasant reminder of the approaching springtime, then suddenly it becomes a bitter aroma that surely exists only in my mind. It annoys me nonetheless; I refuse to allow its harshness to fill me as it has filled the car. I lower the window, admitting some cool air along with the fumes of the freeway, then tune the radio to a heavy metal station. It’s not what I usually listen to, but I’m fairly certain I won’t hear an unfortunately timed ballad or something we danced to on a long-ago summer night. I don’t want to arrive with red-rimmed eyes, even if I suspect that I’ll end up leaving that way.
When I reach my destination in the suburbs, I wonder if this outing might be some perverted form of self-torture or if I’m subconsciously making a vain attempt to address some unfinished business. Or am I, as usual, over-thinking things and simply conducting myself as warranted and expected.
As I park the car, I tell myself that I can still leave… that I’m not necessarily obligated
to be here. I believe myself when I think she would surely understand if I chose to spend this time elsewhere… perhaps she might even prefer that.
I look around at the other cars, specifically to see if her parents’ aging Oldsmobile is among them. I owe her mother a phone call, but I keep putting it off because I don’t know what we might end up talking about. I almost sent her mother flowers when it was her own birthday, but I wasn’t sure if there’s a protocol for that kind of thing. I mean, her mom has always been very kind to me, even now, and I do feel bad about keeping my distance from her. It’s nothing personal, it’s just easier that way. If I don’t run into her parents here, maybe I’ll call next week to say hi or something. Or maybe I’ll call tomorrow morning, when I know they’ll be at church and I’ll get the machine. Yeah, it might be easiest to just leave a quick message then.
I walk up the path slowly, admiring the well-kept grass and the stately old elms. Quite a change from the weedy lawn I never seemed to keep up with, and the skinny new trees of vague origin that graced the front yard of our little house on the cul-de-sac. I begin to wonder if I should have purchased a flowering plant instead of the cut flowers I’ve brought her. Too late now, though… too late for lots of things.
I steady myself with several deep breaths, then rake my fingers through my hair in some half-assed effort to make myself more presentable. A meager smile curls my lips as I think of a better time, when I felt her fingers smoothing my hair away from my face as she reminded me that I needed a haircut. It was a gentle admonishment, followed quickly by a full-on lip lock that said “long or short, I’m about to do something to you that will make your hair stand on end and your toes curl”. And then she had done just that…
All too soon, I am back in the present moment, now just steps away from her. My throat tightens and my heart begins to pound as I approach, wondering what to do next. What’s “appropriate”? What “makes sense”? None of this, damn it… NONE of this makes sense! I shouldn’t even be
here. SHE shouldn’t be here. She should be the one eating the god-damned whole-grain pretzels and Girl Scout cookies. She should be home with me, in our bed, making love slowly, fucking wildly, or giggling as I play connect-the-freckles with my fingertips, lips, and tongue. She should be in my car, singing along, not entirely on-key, with some cheery tune blaring from the radio. She should be sitting sideways on one end of our couch, her long denim-clad legs extended, with her always-cold feet tucked in beneath my leg, doing the crossword puzzle as I sit on the other end reading the sports section. And always, ALWAYS, chewing on the friggin’ pen… Christ, how that annoyed me! And I usually told her about it, too. If only we had a do-over… there are so many things that I would do differently.
OK. Deep breath. Stay calm. I can deal with all this shit when I get home. Maybe. Not now, though. Not here. Now, for the next short while, it’s time to celebrate her birthday… the day she came into the world. The day that made it possible for her to later come into my
world. No matter how briefly. No matter how badly it ended.
I extend my hand and, in my mind, … ever so briefly… it is greeted by the warmth of her own hand, our fingers mingling effortlessly, as they always had. In reality, though, it is the coolness of the granite headstone that I feel, leaning on it as I bend down to lay the flowers on her grave.
As I release my hold on the flowers, the balloon slips from my grasp and hurtles skyward, then slows to a lazy float. I watch it until it becomes no more than a barely discernable speck in the sky. I silently blame the glaring sun for the tears burning my eyes as the balloon disappears from view forever.
“Happy Birthday, sweetheart. I’ve been missing you.”