(Continued from Finding True Love, Part 1)
I didn’t want it to be too late. I wrote in my journal, “I want Bear, but I don’t want to want him.” He seemed too quiet. I was worried about how he’d hold up around my obnoxiously loud, raucous, opinionated family. They had destroyed the chances of many men before him, and, I figured, would destroy many after him.
I sat in an office combing through endless pages of material for an organization that wanted to make sure they were using the most inclusive language possible. I made lists of instances where “spouse” was used instead of “partner,” used the words “people of color” a lot, and added “Q” after “Q” to “LGBT.” And I thought about kissing Bear. It was a fun crush.
We wrote back and forth from our respective offices, flirting just the slightest bit. He found a Mark Doty poem I’d heard the poet recite but had never managed to track down online. Lilies in New York. One of about five poems I’ve ever loved. We sent each other the articles we were reading in the New York Times online. We made plans to walk around on the High Line, the elevated new park in Chelsea that used to be train tracks. We were dating.
So let’s just take a step back here. I had met Bear. And one day, I was going to marry him, though I didn’t know it yet. In fact, unbelievably, in about a week, I would begin to realize it. But even that was a long way off at the time.
But what was the context for our meeting?
Or, in other words, what was our heroine doing, other than clicking on internet dating profiles, when she met the hero of the tale? Isn’t it obvious? She was pouting at her reflection in the lumbering, ancient mirror that leaned against the flagstone wall by the hearth of the drafty great room. Her stubborn curls insisted on being disorderly, and her enormous violet eyes framed with the thick black lashes flashed with a passion that she’d barely learned to contain, despite years of stern instruction with the best and most proper governesses in Scotland. Her pert white bosom heaved against the rude constraint of her hunter green silk bodice, and she scowled and clenched her tiny hands into fists, murmuring, “Father wills that I wed Sir Edmund Weatherton, but how could any woman love such an old, jovial man? He knows nothing of love! The rogue Laird Bear Rockcliff is not old, and certainly not jovial. He always looks unhappy….But why do I think of him now? He is an outlaw!”
Or at least, that’s what I would’ve been doing had I lived in one of the romance novels that grace the esteemed shelves of Duane Reade. (What is with the obsession with Scotland?)
Instead, I was going to grad school, and working on my thesis. I was interning at some non-profits. I had lived in Manhattan for nearly a year. I was twenty-three, and there was no way I was getting married anytime soon. Not even if my father willed it. I admit—when I moved to the city, I had this little fantasy about meeting a guy at grad school. Not someone to marry, necessarily (my mind didn’t work like that), but someone to be, you know, my perfect soulmate. Or something. It was going to be a whole new life, and having a soulmate crop up might work really well. I thought he’d probably play guitar, but not in the way that guys who play guitar because they think it looks cool play guitar. In a much more sensitive, personal, introspective way. He would write a song called “Paper road,” about the gap in the forest where a road was planned, but never came to be, and how some things are better left incomplete. He might mention the meadow full of wildflowers that had grown up there. He’d be Jewish, but not observant or very religious.
Grad school had no such guy to offer. Which really wasn’t the end of the world. I had plenty to do. Grad school was a lot of married men and one other woman, who quickly became one of my closest friends. It also coughed up a boyfriend who I got along very well with, despite never having even a slight crush on. He asked me at some point after we’d had a lot of heated debates on gender and identity politics if we could date, and I said sure, not knowing what else to say, since we were hanging out a lot and there wasn’t anyone else. In retrospect, those are not the right reasons to date someone, but at the time, I had just come to the big city, and I was just starting grad school, and I felt shaky and lonely.
Meanwhile, Bear had been in the city for nearly three years already. He’d grown up and gone to college in California and come to the east coast for work. He was working all the time. About the time that he moved here, he was diagnosed with diabetes, and he was living on eggs and mustard and diet coke. He was working all night lots of nights, and sleeping until 3 p.m. on the weekends. He didn’t have time to date anyone. His friends were happy when he remembered to meet them occasionally. There was no way he was getting married anytime soon. In fact, he sort of suspected he might never get married.
So neither of us was going to get married anytime soon (or ever), and Bear thought he had just enough time to date, finally, and I thought it’d be nice if I met some new people and ate at some interesting restaurants, and then I thought that Bear’s sunflower was a nice gesture, and that he was fascinatingly awkward and competent at once. He didn’t play guitar. He wasn’t Jewish. And he was a diabetic, like my father. I had promised myself that I would never be with a diabetic, after seeing my dad struggle with the disease.
I told Bear that I had a rule about diabetics. He said, “I hope that’s a rule you’re willing to break.” I wasn’t willing to break it. But I wasn’t thinking straight about him.
None of it felt particularly romantic, except maybe for the strange pull Bear had for me. And I had no expectation of romance, whatever that even meant. I didn’t know how to be romantic, or what that might look like. I liked that Bear didn’t seem to know either. I liked that he didn’t try to sound romantic.
(the high line. source)
We went to the High Line. First, we went to Whole Foods, and got lunch. I distinctly remember the shape of the back of Bear’s neck as he went to get a bottle of water in the store. There was something vulnerable about it, even though it was big. When I asked him much later to describe what I seemed like to him then, he said hesitantly that I reminded him of a bird– small and graceful and somehow intimidating. It was very hot out, and we were sitting in the sun for a long time, talking about things. He said that he’d thought about putting his arm around me. I asked him why he hadn’t. He said, “Well, maybe I will,” laughing a little. We paused for a few moments. And then he did. I sat up very straight, like a moron. I didn’t want to let myself relax into him. It felt like if I did that, I’d give everything away too soon. And I didn’t even know what “everything” was.
I went home and called my ex-boyfriend. The one who I’d never had a crush on. For some reason, I wanted to hear his voice, and remind myself what being in a mature relationship had been like. A relationship built on graduate papers and mutual intellectual respect and polite friendship. A relationship that had nothing to do with how appealing someone looked when he had sweated through the pastel green teeshirt he had obviously bought at the Gap yesterday because this was a date and he obviously thought that this was a nice shirt that would go well with his New Balance sneakers and his tan cargo pants. This was obviously his most fashionable outfit. A relationship that had nothing to do with the way someone blushed so easily, and the way I wanted to touch him even before I knew whether or not he had any siblings. I felt myself sliding towards Bear, and I wasn’t sure I was OK with how quickly I was sliding.
And then, about a week after we met, Bear did something shocking. Something that should have seemed totally out of character for him. Except that I didn’t know much about his character at the time. He refers to it as the best decision of his life. And it all began with pastrami.
* * * * * *
Un-Roast: Today I love my ability to make myself feel better about negative stuff in my life by playing music.
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