Sunday, June 9, 2024

Not Even Not Zen 357: Biomythography - Note 95: Strange Bedfellows, Part VII

Strange Bedfellows, Part VII

We started dating. She was cute and witty. That was the good side of the relationship. When she relaxed, I enjoyed my time with her. A lot. A whole lot. After all, she was my crush. Thin, beautiful face, entrancing wit, enticing, wry smile. Whenever she breathed close to me, I inhaled and shivered. She made me giddy.

I had dated women who identified as lesbians before. But I had never dealt with one who was in the closet. I'd grown accustomed to the activist-minded sexual politics in western Massachusetts. It was an open, expressive environment even when it was disapproving of who I was dating. I'd never given thought to how the politics in a small town below the Mason-Dixon line, a handful of miles from Appalachia, might be different. 

We were sitting in The Old Town Tavern, a bar a few blocks from work. That evening, we held hands across one of the low tables. She smiled at me as we touched. Every now and then, people walked by. Suddenly, she removed her hand from mine. She turned away from me. 

A pair of women strolled by us along on their way to the dance club part of the bar. 

"We need to leave, now." My date glanced at the backs of two women. She rose from her chair. 

"What's wrong?" Like her, I rose. I wasn't alarmed, though, only bewildered. 

"We can't be seen," she hissed. "This was the wrong choice. Some of my friends drink here."

The encounter seemed to ruin the evening. She spent the next hour shuffling her feet, looking around, trying to make sure she wasn't being seen with me. 

Our next date, we met at a more remote bar, one with pool tables where we could play and talk. She felt good enough about it that only a night later she invited me to another bar, where she didn't quite relax but she did feel able to talk.

"No, you'll never meet my parents," she told me. She sipped her beer. "I don't want to give them hope."

"What does that mean?" I protested. "You said they don't know you're gay. So what's the difference?"

"They would ask about you forever." She rolled her eyes. 

"So I can't meet your friends," I finally realised, "but I also can't meet your family."

"I know it's difficult." She pulled away from me for a moment but she leaned forward again to touch my arm. "But you only have to do it sometimes. I have to live this way all the time."

She arranged our next date at a restaurant she despised because it suited her privacy needs. I was starting to understand I wouldn't be allowed to suggest places. Any location in which we were to meet, she had to ensure the public part of our encounter would be secluded or else so open and busy, none of her friends would suspect she was dating a man. 

Finally, she put us on hold. She let a few days go by and hardly talked with me, even at work. We sat side by side at our cubicles, isolated from most of the other writers except for our third roommate, the younger woman, who was furious with both of us.

Eventually, my crush set up another date. Even to talk about it, we had to walk out of the building on smoke breaks at roughly the same time. She brought a pack of Marlboros and a lighter. I strolled over to bum a cigarette. 

"Let's meet at the mall," she suggested as she watched me light up.

"Where will we go from there?" I asked.

"We'll figure it out. I want the meeting to look like an accident." She flicked the ash off her cigarette. "Just in case."

The rendezvous at the mall involved shopping near the fountain for twenty minutes and keeping an eye out for her in the meanwhile. She did the same. In time, she noticed that I'd seen her. She took her place on a bench near the fountain. I waited about a minute, as per her instructions, and took my place on a different bench. By apparent accident, we sat close. I glanced at her but apparently it made her uncomfortable. I let my gaze drift back to the fountain and listened. 

"This isn't working out," she said. 

"Um, yeah." Probably, I shouldn't have nodded in agreement. But I did. 

"I thought I could make it work." She picked up a pebble, small enough that someone had bought it into the mall in their shoe. She tossed it into the water in front of us. "But I think I'm just taking advantage of you."

I wished she were taking advantage of me more and also more often, but I understood the point. She had re-thought the date, tonight. This was goodbye. 

"No way to make it work?" I asked. My crush on her made no sense. I guess it never had. Making sense is not the way crushes work.


"Okay." My heart slowed. My muscles collapsed a bit but I was sitting and I tried not to let it show. A moment later, I felt a wave of shame and hopelessness sweep over me. It warmed my skin.

"You should walk away first," she said. 

I nodded, as if to myself. After a half minute, I got up and walked to the fountain. I paused to have an almost-thought, more of an instinct, and turned toward one of the bookstores. Books were my friends. I could read a little, maybe laugh at someone's humor, maybe speed-read through a few chapters of science fiction. Maybe I could buy something if I found a way to justify the money to myself. And so I began my stroll. 

Behind me, I heard her rise. She picked up her plastic shopping bag. Even over the sounds of the other people in the mall, my ears were tuned to her. She picked her direction opposite mine. She started walking. 

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