I’m Happily Married to a Man. Why Do I Still Lust for This Woman?
Twenty-nine years. Nothing has changed.
It’s not even that she was beautiful. Dark eyes and lips that were strictly that: a set of lips. Long face with a Roman nose, which doesn’t always play well on a woman. If there was body geometry you’d never know it, with the baggy jeans and the old-timey button-ups. So no. It wasn’t her looks. Girl-lust doesn’t work that way.
But why am I on about girl-lust? I have a husband now. The good kind, the kind who likes spreadsheets; who doesn’t carry a balance. The kind who has a toolbox with the basics and the obscurities, like that pistol-shaped thing that shoots nails. I have a husband I love, and a dream home with trees and butterflies, and two dogs who follow me everywhere. I’m happy and secure and fulfilled. But that seam must still be in there, raggedy at the edges, waiting to be pulled.
She’s available on CD from the Salvation Army store in Seattle. $2.99 plus a shipping fee, $6.60. I leave her in the Amazon cart with some dusty yoga book, the electronic equivalent of smothering the campfire before you walk away. Trusting the fire to die.
Amendment: I leave her in the shared Amazon cart. Mine and my husband’s.
“A compact disc?” good husband laughs, adding some sweat socks to the cart. “We don’t even have a CD player. What’s ‘Saturday Night at The Sycamore’?”
“It’s nothing!” I sharp back. “I have a CD player in my car!” Cagey AF. Cagey as a teen with a stash.
It was 29 years ago when I knew her, and even then, I didn’t know-know her. She was just Nic, some chick I worked with at the brewpub. The lead singer of a local band. She knew my first name, but probably not my last. She didn’t understand how I felt about her. Neither did I. Neither do I.
I was forced to look her up a few months ago due to a Pride challenge on Instagram: “Share your first love!” I posted old photos of her, but nobody reacted appropriately. This situation didn’t call for the click of an empty heart. The situation called for shock and awe.
I was pissed. I needed to find something, to prove something. God knows what, but nowadays, so does Google. Which led me to Amazon. Which led me to the CD. Which arrived in the mail yesterday.
It wasn’t her looks. Girl-lust doesn’t work that way.
Thankfully I had a long drive planned. Me, the smooth roads of the North Carolina Piedmont and “Saturday Night at The Sycamore, Portland’s East Side sound…a documentary of Saturdays, an alehouse and its mates.”
Songs one through eight give me memory whiplash. The music scene in early-90s Portland, Oregon, played out in tiny clubs. While Pearl Jam and Nirvana held court three hours up the road, Portland’s bands cared more about their music than their hype. If you had a bike, a raincoat and a fiver, you could be close enough to the stage to touch the lead singer. And damn. I had heaven and didn’t know it.
Song nine comes heavy with the twanging guitar — bow-wow-wow, the auditory version of Silly Putty — and the bububu *bap* of fingertips on hand drum — faint, so faint, like the drummer doesn’t care if you catch it or not. I’m driving, heart-stopped, jaw-dropped with the takeback. I’ve read that it’s scent that rockets the brain back to childhood. Maybe it’s sound that ricochets you to your 20s. To the funk band you groupied for on Friday and Saturday nights. And Thursdays, too, when Portland got lucky.
After the intro guitar, it’s that voice. That voice. That female voice with no fucks to give; that voice that wolfs down creosote for breakfast.
“Well, we know this girl, she kinda down on her luck…”
Her voice. It knocks me back in my bucket seat, pins me in place like I’ve been shot around the edges by my husband’s nail gun. I can’t move, but Jesus, can I feel.
“She’s got an ex-husband, man. She really got f*cked.”
Complete with the U in f*cked. In 1992. Before U was OK.
My eyes are dry; my sex-parts are hard. My mouth moves just enough to grin. With teeth.
What is this? It’s lust. It’s love. It’s 29 years later. It’s stupid.
As I said, we weren’t besties. I wouldn’t even say we were friends. But the way it worked for us late-shift pub-workers was, we travelled in packs. After closing the grill down at one or two A.M., we’d get on our bikes and head for some bar. We’d sit at a table and talk. You can learn about a person when you’re at a bar with them at 2:30 A.M. That’s how I learned about her family back in Michigan.
She showed me her brother’s picture, and it was confusing. Because he was gorgeous. So I was attracted to him, too. What kind of whore was I? The kind that says, out loud, “Geez. Your brother. He’s hot.”
“He’s also gay,” she said, full-on creosote. This made things easier for my brain. He’s gay. He wouldn’t want me. Case closed.
Damn. I had heaven and didn’t know it.
But case open, with Nic. Her brother was gay, and she was cool with that. Which meant she was cool with gay. Which meant she’d be cool if I was gay for her. Right?
I could have lived with the question unanswered if she hadn’t used that voice on a whole empty pub one night. That was the moment that slayed me.
It was a late winter Tuesday. Lunch shift. Dead. No customers but for two tables of regulars: one way down stage left, one far off stage right. Nic showed up to serve an empty restaurant wearing train conductor overalls, a tank top, and a pair of Doc Martens. Straggly long-long hair. Lips in a plain straight line.
I stepped out of the walk-in to see her standing at the register, waist-tying her apron, about to reach for an order pad and pen. She looked left, looked right, saw nobody, and said, “How’s everybody doing.” Subtle as the hand drum. “How’s everybody doing.” I fell so hard, so fast. Catastrophic. 911.
Her voice. It knocks me back in my bucket seat. I can’t move, but Jesus, can I feel.
It wasn’t the band thing that made me love her, or the lead singer schtick. It wasn’t her stage stance, sangfroid hand on the mic like a Harley guy at a long red light. It wasn’t that she could talk, and sing, with the royal “we”; that she’d moved out West with friends and family, neither of which I had. It was that line, directed at no one. “How’s everybody doing.”
This is not the kind of love you reveal to its object. Not when you’re a loser, an orphan, the last-kid-picked-for-gym; not when the object is, almost literally, a rockstar. I probably never would have, either. If they hadn’t used me for my car.
The band had a gig at the beach. The one guy with a car had left yesterday. Nic and the drummer had to work another pub shift before heading out there. Who’d be willing to schlepp them four hours? I would, of course. If you ever need a favor, ask the orphan.
I was on the guest list, first and last names. The thrill of inclusion had me screaming yeahhh, too loud and too often, throughout the show. Afterwards there was a bonfire. Midnight swimming in the Pacific. Illegal camping on the beach. An appearance by the cops. And I was there, a part of it all. It felt better than I’d imagined.
This make-believe belonging gave me hubris.
I bought a card.
Wrote a “poem.”
Signed my name.
Found her guest house.
And left it on her pillow.
I did. I really did.
I rode back to Portland alone. Next time Nic came on shift, she said nothing. Not a word. Not even a look.
Soon afterwards I was fired by the brewpub for sexual harassment of my boss. I told him, in front of customers, that I had a bigger penis than he. My shame was mighty. I split town within the week.
Back on the East Coast, I slow my whorey roll. I learn at university that the orphan’s soul-hole can be filled with learning, with discourse, with achievement. I win awards, earn degrees, and get a career. I find a guy who makes me laugh. Who hugs me when I’m sad. Who punctuates written sentences correctly. So I marry him. Get dogs. Find contentment.
Then the Instagram challenge had to jerk that ragged seam, revealing some craving old part of me, some stripe of Gollum still keening to be so cool, so liked, that you can speak to an empty pub and know you’ll get a response. That people will show up for you, on a bike, on a Thursday, in the rain. Even with your baggy jeans, your Roman nose.
I’m so not there yet. For all the love I get, I’m still the girl who screams yeahhh too loud. I’ll still give you a ride to the beach if you’ll like me. Maybe I’ll always feel like that girl. Maybe everyone does. Everyone except Nic.
Good husband knows I have a colorful past, and that it includes rainbows. When I finally tell him about the Instagram challenge, he’s unfazed. “Do you feel something’s missing from your life? Because if you do, I think I’m okay with that….” He understands his toolbox, no matter how well stocked, has its limitations.
In my car, nailed back by her voice, I’m ready to take him up on it. I ask my hard sex parts, “If she was here, what would you want to do?” The answer isn’t sex, exactly; it’s soul. I want to touch the cold fire I saw in her, in the way she didn’t need. To smile. To be liked. To be pretty. I’ve never seen a fire like that. Not before. Not since. I want to know what it feels like.
I don’t think I’ll get the chance, though.
I sent her a DM. Back in June, when nobody responded to my Insta post correctly. When I needed God-knows-what.
I spent a long time crafting a good line, showing I’m not desperate anymore. Giving her a reason to like me back. She replied the same way she did to my beach poem: with nothing.