--"Emotions", Mariah Carey
Spas, hot tubs, whirlpools--whatever form they take--are amazing devices, you know? When you're tiny and you see one for the first time all you can think of is how the jets, bubbles, and assorted whirrings must be some sort of magic. Then your folks place you inside one, flank you to either side. All you can think is how amazing the feeling is. All you can picture when you get older is purchasing one for yourself in order to take advantage of its mystical qualities again and again. When you finally grow up into your teenage years they take an added sexual quality. They become the settings for adolescent mating rituals the world over. Soon it isn't the place itself that holds the magic, but the themes of exploration and expansion of one's body and what it can do that holds the magic. All through it all the simple ingredients of near boiling water, a nighttime sky, and one's body placed squarely next to that of the object of one's desires remain.
When you reach twenty-seven, like I did two years ago, and you're sharing the hotel spa in Chicago with one's whatever-you-want-to-call him, then these same ingredients can quickly become a recipe for disaster... or something surprisingly serendipitous. It's like they're what my daddy refers to as "the steep hills of temptation," in that there are some places, some situations, once you get yourself entangled within them, you can't help but start rolling along with no end in eyesight. No, they are not all bad situations, but they are all situations you didn't quite see yourself in at the outset. But that's the thing about hot water, I reckon, once you get yourself in sometimes you just don't want to get yourself out again.
I used to think that moments like staring somebody in the eyes, demurely averting your face to steal glances at someone, or anything else where two people's meet was something only reserved for films. I thought it was as realistic as a riding a horse backwards. With certain people, though, moments like that do happen. People's eyes do meet across a limited space and two people can be locked in a gaze so long and so tender that it truly defies description. Now I'm all for staring a person down when you want to catch their attention. Honestly, that's been one of my tried-and-true tactics of getting all the boys' attention over the years. And all I'm for staring a person down when you're cross with and want to express your seething rage without boiling over into damnations not fit for churchgoing folk like myself. But I've never been too keen on those moments of sincerity where two people share a tender moment that nothing need be said and nothing need be filled in to occupy the empty silence.
It's only happened with a few folks. Torry, for one. My husband for another. My folks, of course, Katie... and, naturally, Eeyore.
"My theory is you can display a lot more fangs to someone by being overly courteous to them, please, thank you," I said to him while we were seated in the jacuzzi at the Sheraton in Rosemont, Illinois. At the time I think I was seated astride him, my lily white ass seated on the seat and my legs draped over his lap.
"So you're kind to be cruel? Is that it?"
"More or less."
I watched him study me over. Then he nodded his head in agreement.
"Yeah, I can see that," he laughed.
That's when it happened. That's when our eyes met like they had for thirteen years' time, give or take a few months, and we fell into that comfortable place where neither one of us were embarrassed or had the slightest inkling of looking away. Perhaps it was the alcohol from a short night out in Chicago or perhaps it was the fact we were both tired. However, I prefer to fly my kite a bit higher than most. I think with certain people you just can look at them and they don't mind, or you can be gawked at by certain people and you don't mind. It's a state of comfortability you achieve when you've already bared it all, heart and soul, body and mind, that you stop feeling like they're looking for something specific in you to mock. I reckon that's the basic fear we all have when people stare at us too long, that they're searching for something to hold over us in order to berate us. The terror that someone knows something specific with which they can belittle us is enough to make even the most well-adjusted person paranoid. Yet there are other people who really do know it all, who have really seen it all. When these people, whom we have let so deeply within us, look at us they're not seeing anything new. What they see, or at least what I think they see, is something old and familiar. When they look upon us, they're looking at something that brings them joy time and time again. Or at least that's what I tend to think of when Patrick looks at me in those rare moments. I see somebody who is looking upon a piece of art he has yet to grow weary of, someone who has seen a thousand versions of the sunset yet still cannot but help turn to look when the sun is steepling down the horizon yet again.
And when somebody looks up at you with nothing short of reverence, you're not exactly are going to turn away, are you?
We sat like that for a good five minutes if someone were to have been keeping time, but it felt like only the briefest of moments. It was like being locked in a staring contest. We weren't intent on disrupting the other's concentration. Our face shifted from half-hearted smiles and contemplative countenances, but they weren't done in a facetious fashion. We were locked in a battle of how long we could keep on seeing each other without wanting to proclaim something in the spirit of communication--else, we might have spent the next four hours just looking at one another longingly. But the theme of the night was communication and we were determined to have a hoot-and-a-half doing so.
"I'm serious. I've gotten a lot farther in being taken seriously when I've made it clear I will not abide insouciance from anyone, especially somebody who ostensibly works for me. Would you?"
"I don't know--I'd probably just yell."
"That is what you do."
"Everyone's gotta be good at something, Breanne," he said half-jokingly.
"You don't have to sound so proud about it, though. You can at least pretend that it bothers you in the slightest that you have a fuse as short as cricket's tail."
"Okay," he replied, as he massaged both his hands into my thighs, "for you I'll pretend that I'm a saint."
"It's only fair if you want me to portray the sinner on remainder of this trip."
"Oh, is that the deal? I had no idea. It's sort of a cosmic balancing of the scales, I see."
"One person being on their best behavior for one person being on some may say her worst? Hell's bells, I'd call it that."
He pulled the whole of my body till I was sitting side saddle on his lap. I wrapped my arms around him for balance. All the while he waited for me to get comfortable. Soon after, I gently laid my head, wet hair and all, in the crease where his shoulder met his arm pit.
"I don't think you've been at your worst," he said assuringly. "I've seen you at your worst, you remember."
It's never sat well that I spent the balance of that trip living it up in sin. I've always understood the implications of my actions as being against the spirit of marriage and of devotion to one's husband. That part I've always understood. I've just never been able to reconcile that understanding with the understanding that what happened there was never in the least bit uncomfortable for me while it was happening. I've been asked that question a lot over the last few years, why didn't I stop it from progressing further when I knew it would be something I would regret later on? And my answer to that has always been that I didn't know I would be regretting it later on. At the time, I thought I was still living according to my code of no one being the boss of me. And I still have to say at the time and to this day I don't still feel remorse about what we did or why it happened. I could never be sorry for that. I do regret that it had to have happened under those circumstances. It's like the difference between borrowing a car when your folks know about it and "borrowing" the car when your folks have expressly forbade it. The act is the same. It's only the rush that changes.
For me, driving the car will always be fun, regardless of the implications. That's the way I see it. It doesn't mean I want to drive the car ever again or I want to put my parents (or, in this case, Greg) through all that misery, but that's focusing on the implications and I've never been one for the implications down the road. I've always been one for focusing on the stretch of road I'm currently on and the wind in my hair, the breath of life spilling on my neckline, and how it feels to be real for hours and not minutes like most people feel. It's all about experiencing what I experience when I want to experience it and not settling for something life wants me to accept.
And right then I wanted to be held in his arms and not Greg's. And that's the grit of it, favorable or unfavorable as it may be for me.
"And when have you seen me at my worst?" I asked him.
"Are you kidding me? I've seen the girl who threw her ice cream at her cousin just because she stole a bite," he whispered into my ear.
"You can't prove that, please, thank you."
"Or what about the time you casually mentioned to my mom that we needed new sheets for my bed because we 'ruined' the other ones while in the course of sleeping together the previous night? Just to be evil, that's you."
I muffled a laugh beneath my breath and ran my fingers up his back, really digging my nails along the shoulder blade.
"It was the truth, wasn't it?"
"As far as it was concerned it wasn't."
"Hmmm. A boy of twenty-eight visiting his parents' house with his on-again off-again girlfriend at the time and they don't think we're having sex? That's about as likely as unbaking a cake."
"They're not like your parents. They didn't have to grow up with sons and daughters who just rattle off their conquests in excruciating details."
"Like I've ever done that."
"Hey, I can only be me. I can only be Breanne--no more..."
"No less," he finished as he lifted my face to his to kiss it. It was a short kiss, more in the spirit of joviality than anything overtly romantic. But it had its effect. I lost all concentration in what I was about to say next to him. Taking in measure, we weren't exactly setting the fire alarms off in the hotel. We were still afraid of the other hotel guests wandering into the jacuzzi with us to start something torrid. The cumulative effect of the stolen kisses, the lingering embraces, and the deliriously dramatic stares still would have made it clear we weren't exactly brother and sister to one another... even though, at times, that's exactly how we acted on that trip.
And when our mouths met, it wasn't like kissing my husband, which was interesting. Kissing him was like executing a perfect dive into the swimming pool. It had an exhilaration all its own. It was like doing something so perfectly that it bordered on heavenly. Kissing Eeyore while I was in that jacuzzi was like doing a cannonball off the highest of high dives. It was fun and dangerous and just the least bit silly. But that has always been its singular appeal. It reminds me of being thirteen and crushing so horribly on a boy it made me feel like bursting into thousand giggles and tears all at the same time. It's like having an ice-cream eating race while you're out on your first date. I don't know--it's always just been like a reliably fun and warm experience.
I readjusted my bikini top as our mouths separated. Nothing near nothing would be happening as long as we were still in close proximity to the public's eye.
I shut my eyes and breathed deeply through my nose while the grip of the warm, bubby waters continued to reach for me. Feeling Patrick's arm behind me, propping me up, it was like I was being carried by my daddy when I was a little girl. I felt as safe as a little chick nesting beneath the weight of its mother hen. I felt as protected as an armadillo and as loved as a glass of water in a chili-eating contest. For his part, Patrick never interrupted my reverie. Perhaps he was lost in his own thoughts, but I'd like to think he knew me well enough to know the best favor he could ever do for me at that time was do or say nothing at all. And that's exactly what he did.
That's when I started to ruminate on the crux of his question. When, indeed, had he seen me at my most vile? When had I been my most garish and insufferable in front of him? Only one answer sprung to mind.
I opened my eyes with the ferocity of my tiger namesake.
"What about the time after, you know?"
"After what?" he asked, not picking up on the subtle shadings of my voice.
"After the after and before the before, darling" I sing-songed for him.
"I'm not understanding you at all right now, Breannie."
I placed my hand on his cheek to indicate to him to give me a moment.
"What about the time after I had thought I was carrying a child. I wasn't very pleasant to you at all."
It took him a moment to register the exact moment I was referring to, but once the mental movie started spinning on its reels, he furrowed his brow. He then put his hand to his face, sliding it down from his closed eyes to his firmly shut mouth. I wondered if he was actually gritting his teeth beneath his mouth. He probably was.
"No. No, you weren't. But it was understandable."
"Still, I could have handled it better. There was no need to say all that to you, not while we weren't sure, at least, sugar," I tried to recover. "It was deplorable what got said by me."
"I knew you didn't mean it."
"Just like you never mean it when you say mean things to me, correct?" I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I thought so. You knew I meant them at the time. I should have never said them, is all."
If you're scared and alone, the first thing you're going to do if you don't cower in fear, is to want to fight your way out of what is causing you to feel scared and alone. A good almost thirty years of spinning ghost stories has reinforced that fact. But what do you do when the very thing that is causing you to feel scared and alone is also the only thing that could possibly alleviate the situation? How would you react? That was the conundrum I had to broach when the proverbial boat had completely capsized on me when I was the tender age of fifteen. After I had let my mother know the reason for my consternation, and after the both of us had set down to explain it to my daddy, it was him I called. Those first few days weren't too bad. I was scared shitless, but at the very least it felt like I had somebody there willing to be scared shitless right along with me. He was comforting. He was assuring. He was everything one would want in a situation like that out of a best friend and potential husband. I felt confident for the first week or so that I would be okay. I felt confident that we (or all three of us) would be okay in the end.
Then one day that feeling of confidence all came crashing down on my overburdened shoulders.
I forget the exact reason, but my nerves became frayed in the briefest of moments while we were on the phone together. Somehow I kept seeing the nightmare of my whole life falling apart a piece at time if I maintained the course I was headed down with Patrick. Somehow I kept seeing how it all could go wrong. And I started in the middle of the call taking it out on him. I started to play the blame game. He had became the burr in my britches that I just couldn't find. It didn't matter how hard he tried to console me. I was inconsolable. I started in on him in a variety of areas, areas I knew he was already sensitive about failing to live up to. I brought up the fact that he still lived with his parents, that he worked for barely minimum wage, that he hadn't been with anyone but me at his age. If you could think of a button to push at the time, I probably pushed it during that one phone call. To put it another way, if one were to judge the severity of a phone call's devastation by comparing it to a plane crashing, my call would have been the mother of all air tragedies. I wouldn't hesitate to compare it to the Bermuda Triangle with the amount of catastrophic wreckage I caused that day on that phone. It wasn't only the severity of the berating I put Eeyore through, it was also the sheer volume of insults, attacks, and berating I subjected him to. Ten minutes might have been more than enough to get my point across and twenty even more so, but I think the final tally of how long I proceeded to denigrate him neared a full thirty minutes.
He never even fought back. Not really. He defended himself where he could, but eventually he saw the massive size of my anger was a juggernaut that would not be stopped. For the last fifteen minutes it was just me alternately yelling and crying into the phone without interruption.
"I never properly apologized to you for that day, did I, Patrick? It just ain't right what I said. I don't know how you ever saw fit to let it go. If you had ever tore into me like a lion devouring its prey like I did to you, I would have never forgiven you."
I watched him think about it for a second. I watched him try to smile. I watched him place his hand on top of my chest, somewhat near where my heart was. I watched him as he tried to make it all better.
"Sure, you would have. I know you, Breannie. You're a lot more forgiving that I ever could be."
"But of something like that? I don't know."
"I know. With everything I've done and you've still forgiven me?" he paused. "Of course I know."
He tried to pretend that everything was the same after that. Yet the truth was that day was the beginning of our gradual realization that we would never truly be together. We went out a couple of times after that. I even stayed with him in California about three years later, but something changed that day that firmly placed a finishing line of where our relationship would end up somewhat short of marriage. He very well may have forgiven me for my outburst, but I don't think he ever truly forgot what words were said and what transpired because of that day. In much the same vein I have never really forgotten what it's like to have your best friend be the root cause for such heartache and confusion and ever sort of nightmare under the sun about sleeping with someone before one is married. Like it or not, it affected the way related to each other. Before that day, before that phone call, we were like those kids doing cannonballs off the high dive. We were thought we were invincible and that as long as we were having fun, we could go right along doing as we pleased. After that day we started to be more cautious, more practical--well, as practical as the two of us could ever be. We started to relate to each other as two adults relate to each other instead of the way two first loves relate to one another. Sure, we still fooled around like we were amorous jackrabbits. But everything else? Everything outside of the way we related to each other physically had all these pitfalls that simply were not there before. Every discussion of the future and of settling down with one another carried with it the scarlet letter of us almost distending our future before it had even began. And that just ain't any way to look upon your future with a potential husband, you know? In one hand, it's like I never lost that part of me that could relate to him as the closest of friends and the most beloved of older brothers. But in the other hand, it's like the part of me that daydreamed of marrying him someday started slowly shifting its focus to seeing him as more of an ex-boyfriend or, more precisely, an on-again/off-again boyfriend. He was somebody I could see myself of being together with for a very long time. But never forever. Never forever.
The love between us was still there. That would never change.
But it's like that phone call, that one phone conversation, was a signal to cancel the last part of the trip we had been on together. "We'll never make it far," we had decided. "Let's just be happy making it most of the way and not all the way," we seemed to have decided.
"Well, that's what we do, we hurt each other and we forgive. That's our schtick, you know, sugar?" I said, smiling at his dark brown eyes, now staring back at me. "We love, get mad, and then love each other again. All with the full force of nature itself."
"And it's been that way for a very long time now."
"A very long time," I replied in earnest. "I don't plan on changing a thing. Do you, darling?"
I felt him kiss me again more than I ever saw it coming. It saddened me a bit to think that this would always be the extent of where the two of us would end up. It's like reaching the the second highest branch when you're climbing the tree or only owning the second-best CD your favorite band. In some respects it's even more difficult never getting anywhere substantial, this knowing how close you came to going all the way.
"Not a damn thing," he answered, before sweeping my head down to the water's edge and kissing me passionately for a lengthy period of time--certainly more than we'd ever been comfortable with that night. He kissed me like he was improvising the solo to a jazz piece he had just composed. Instead of playing it by memory, he held the moment note by glorious note. He completely stunned me into submission. We kissed like we had never ever fallen out of love with one another.
Which, I guess we hadn't. In some respects, coming close still is one of the most amazing feelings in the world. Three-quarters of the pie is still a damn lot.
And, yes, jacuzzis are still magical places after all.
Labels: Comfortability, emotions, honesty, Mariah Carey, sharing