Your limbs loose in faded blue jeans, you scrambled up the side of a deserted building that Saturday afternoon on Coney Island, and I liked the way your body moved as you strained to peer into the cracked windows. The Atlantic Ocean was sapphire in the diffuse light. The white gulls wheeling in the cold sky. I kicked off my shoes and waded into the water, my feet arching in the damp sand. I felt your eyes on me. I felt as if I should perform for you, there on the silver beach, show you how graceful I am, that I could fly if I wanted, or the frailty of my heart, but I didn't. Instead I insinuated myself into your arms as you lay on the sand, and even though my feet were cold and wet, and even though I felt awkward in your arms, I was happy.
Earlier, when I came downstairs to meet you, I liked the way you lay stretched out on the hood of your car in the sunlight, early November, waiting for me, the yellow leaves falling into the street as you read a magazine. I liked the plastic lizards on your dashboard, the odd assortment of tools in your glove box, the way you drove with the map in one hand, the other in my lap. Your laugh is manic, your fingers are long, and we criss-crossed our way through Brooklyn all through that afternoon; Park Slope, Prospect Park, Bed-Stuy, Brownsville, Kings Highway, until we reached the ocean, Little Odessa. The Cyrillic alphabet scrawled across shop windows, the Russian women trailing fur coats, the Jews on their way home from schul. And there we were, mismatched, holding hands, telling stories.
Mostly I longed to rub my tongue up against your teeth, my nipples up against yours. And it wasn't just your limbs, long and loose in faded blue jeans, or your manic laugh, or the way you keep yourself so tightly wrapped. I think it's more the fact that I loved the smell of you, under your arms in particular, that it was so provocative, so familiar. And later that evening, the way your cock unfurled in my mouth, and the way I felt so beautiful, finally, beautiful as you opened your mouth to mine. But, we are so mismatched, your mother would never approve of me, your father would desire me, and I am older than you.
The night I met you, I was aware of you the whole evening. A Halloween party and I decided to dress as myself, cowboy hat and denim jacket. The neighborhood bordering Queens, an industrial loft. I knew no one there, so after a couple of drinks I twirled around on the dance floor, dressed up as myself, happy in some small way to catch glimpses of the night through the wide loft windows. Happy to see the full moon, the indigo sky, the stars so vulnerable. Suddenly there you were, dressed up in a coat of blue light, arms flapping, such a tall man. I asked you to dance, yes, I remember that, asking you to dance. Suddenly I was in your arms and kissing you before I even knew your name. But it was Halloween and late and I was drunk. Something in your eyes, something in the way you held yourself, the way you spoke to me, told me to go home alone. That I shouldn't take you with me, spread your legs across the length and breadth of my bed, light candles, undress and make love to you, because I would make love like a fool.
No. I wanted to wait so I could remember everything because it was almost like love. It felt like I should wait, we should wait, to do it right. So I hopped in a cab and you wrote your phone number on my wrist with a magic marker, and I wrote mine on yours. The next day you called and asked me if I wanted to go to a museum, the Giacometti exhibit. But I was terrified and hung over, so I lied and said I was busy. Terrified because I am worse than the long-lost girls in fairy tales. Because I have been hiding my heart in a tower of stone for so long now, I have lost the key. And I have worn this solitude for so long now it, too, is like a coat of light, but it is lit by the moon. It is lit from reflected light.
So we met the following Thursday and your body immediately filled up my home. And I was glad. You stretched the length and breadth of yourself against me, you pulled up my shirt, pushed aside my blue velvet brassiere, and I felt the extravagant warmth of your skin and your mouth. But I was shy because I liked you. So I couldn't make love to you. And for once, I was stripped of all my masks, and in all honesty, I am so, so tired of them: the woman of the world, knowing, sophisticated, jaded, wise, cynical. Enough. I called a friend the next day, someone who has known me all my life and said: Can you believe how I behaved? Like a shy little girl? And he said, Of course I can believe it. Because you are. You are a shy little girl. I have never been so happy to hear anything in my entire life.
Because I have been to London, Edinburgh, the South of France and back. I have had lovers from Australia, lovers on the East Coast, lovers on the West Coast. Men have poured champagne down my belly, proffered raw oysters by the light of the Mediterranean, and amber glasses of cognac in elegant hotel lobbies. Charming, handsome men with foreign accents, gold and silver credit cards, some with wives, some with girlfriends and it was never like love. It was only a game that I got very, very good at: Round and round I went wearing French lipstick, high-heeled sandals, silver earrings, offering up a provocative smile that promised nothing. Dinner with a film distributor from Manchester; steak frites and cordials. Dinner with a producer in London, in a deserted bistro on the cold and romantic streets of Edinburgh.
Oh, I got to be so good at this; onion tart and merlot with the dark-haired Israeli. He thought he had me hooked. But I could walk off at a moment's notice and not care for one second what I left behind, because it certainly wasn't my heart. Walking into my small apartment in Brooklyn, beset and besieged by jet lag, I would linger for a long, long time in a hot bath lit by candles. Transformed into a shy girl. Longing for love or something almost like love. Drinking scotch at 4 a.m. because it was 10 a.m. in London, listening to music, watching the sun rise. That was my secret life.
And somewhere between a bleary sunrise on a 747 and an aching hangover in an overheated hotel room, I lost my innocence. There were mitigating circumstances to be sure; a divorce, a death. But none of that compared to this loss. You are a shy little girl. You are. Not five years ago, not four years ago, not even last week. Yet after I met you I easily slipped into the skin of an adolescent girl. Suddenly I could conjure up all that heart-fluttering innocence, fresh from the pages of my diary; the maroon leather faded, the ink now the lightest of blue, the pages yellowed, brittle. I could practically smell the sand from the beach, taste the boys whose mouths I kissed. That is what I mourn most of all, after all these years, years you have not lived, and there is nothing I can do about that. But somehow the sight of you, the smell of you, made this innocence possible again. Because it was almost like love, love. Because the potential for that innocence beckoned me and I became reckless in search of it. Suddenly it became the most important thing in the world to me.
So when we had dinner again the following Thursday and you said you wanted to come home with me, I decided I would show you who I really was, I decided for once the masks would come off. When we walked into my apartment, I immediately turned down my bed, I let you lay across me, I let you unzip my pants, pull up my shirt, I opened myself to you. And we made love, we really, really made love. Yes, we did. When you entered me, you said, "Oh baby you are so tight" and I loved that. I loved the way you kissed me. I wanted you to say my name over and over again, I wanted you to be sure that I knew you were there, deep inside me. I wanted you to be sure you knew that's exactly where I thought you belonged. It was almost like love, love.
And then last Saturday. One o'clock. Perhaps a few minutes after. What color was the sky? It was more than blue and the leaves, yes, were yellow but lit from within, lit from the light of the sun, so the sky was blue but it was also gold. I remember these details. I do. I wanted to frame every minute of that afternoon, and every minute of that evening like a series of photographs, and so I have. And I am offering them to you.
After Coney Island, after the boardwalk, after the gulls, the sunset, after we left Little Odessa, it was dark and we wound our way on the highway that rings the East River and snakes beneath the Verazzano Bridge, music playing on the radio, your long fingers wound around the steering wheel. I couldn't resist cupping the back of your head with the palm of my hand, stroking your short black hair. I didn't know who you were then or now, but I liked the mystery, I liked the way the back of your head fit into the palm of my hand. The way it was understood that after dinner, you were coming home with me. The way there were no questions asked, so no answers were expected.
At the restaurant, I kept your knees locked between my knees. I didn't care what I was eating or drinking. I didn't care who was there or how much the meal cost. I didn't even care what you were talking about, or that the medium rare steak was bloody. I was impatient to get you home. To my home, to my bed. Yes, yes, yes, here's the money for the bill, but where will we park when we are back in my neighborhood? In the end, we parked in a garage across the street and then finally I opened the door to my home, and again, I was assailed by shyness. In the end, I got into the shower alone. But I knew you were standing outside the closed door, naked. Waiting for an invitation. After a few moments, you got tired of waiting, pushed aside the shower curtain, and stepped in. Under the sharp spray of hot water, your brown eyes glassy, your erection slapping against my thigh, the dark night from the skylight showering sparks from the moon, you kissed me.
Your mouth filled with water, your hands traveling over the soapy slippery contours of my body, you kissed me and kissed me, and I kissed you back because it was almost like love. Your mouth literally imbedded in mine, your tongue literally wrapped around my tongue. That was the kind of kiss we kissed. The kind of kiss you get once or twice in a lifetime, and then afterward you are glad and say: That's all I want. My wet hair streamed down my back like a shank of damp silk, my naked breasts glistening from the hot water, I was so clean. Freed, even if for a few moments, from the weight of my history, wholly myself, my heart lit like the yellow leaves under the clear November sun.
Then the fall onto clean sheets, surrendering to the light from the red candle, surrendering to your long loose limbs, legs and arms, wrapped around me, my back arched. In the morning, I still didn't know you but I asked you to make love to me again. I asked you to kiss my back, and you did. An hour later, a hot cup of coffee and you asked me to part the gauze curtains so you could watch the sun rise. I saw the clouds shot with pink light, I surrendered to that image, to that innocence. It surrounded me. It did.
Things went awry after that: A tangle of missing socks, of questions, of things unsaid. The awkward sheets undone and scattered on the floor. Misapprehension, suspicion. I'm so sorry. I would've done anything to undo that, but I couldn't. I think that sometimes words fail me, and so I didn't try. Instead I thought: Watch me. Watch me closely. Because I am older than you, I know more things than you, and it's more than how to kiss someone, it's this: This series of pictures. They are rare. Trust me. What time was it? It was 1 o'clock on Sunday, 24 hours later. In the end it wasn't love, but it was almost like love. Yes?
The next time you meet a woman, and you kiss her the way you kissed me and the next time the day rains down so much gold and blue light you are almost blinded, and the next time you step into the shower with the moon overhead and kiss her, your mouth filled with water, white seagulls wheeling overhead, the morning sky shot through with pink light, remember this is one of the reasons we are given breath, remember that even if it's not love, but almost like love, it's why we are alive. For me, it is a gift unwrapped; the yellow paper, the gold and silver ribbons at my feet.