Monday, December 6, 2010

andare via

Are you playing? he asked.

He had pulled me aside at the milonga to do this, dragged his folding chair to meet mine, trapped me between his lanky knees.

Funny how the simplest phrases are the most easily misunderstood in translation. Or the most easily evaded.


I think I know what he's talking about, but the question exhausts me. How am I supposed to know what I am doing? I met him at an Irish pub last night near Grand Central, for burgers and Cokes (he doesn't drink) and we sprang through the cold to listen to music on his computer (must be a generational thing) at his hotel.

Now, hotel rooms typically bring me joy, a comfort I can't quite understand. It was all I could do not to kick my boots off and flop down on one of the two double beds, enjoying the midtown office diorama through the plate glass window. But something told me to be uneasy, even with this bookish and slight specimen from Livorno who sent me roses on my birthday.

He kissed me. And it was nice, and to be expected. But then Italian men have this charmingly lax concept of time everywhere but in the bedroom. Late to everything, but the absolute first to try and peel off the turtleneck, reach for the jeans button, all the while whispering how much they want to fare l'amore con te. And I'm no prude, but this was all moving a little too fast.

Maybe it's the new nun-like digs—the twin-sized bed, the plaid flannel sheets, the room eight by ten. Maybe it's the vows I've almost taken not to own anything or love anybody ever again. Maybe it's the man, the men, I've not quite mourned.

Maybe it's me, wanting to carry my heart like the covenant and let it fester into mystical ether that melts the faces of the infidels. I just want to wait. It has been so long since I have been seduced, properly seduced, but I remember the attendant ceremony. As in: there ought to be one.

Roses, while lovely, words, while pretty, are no substitutes for knowing it is time for your clothes to slip to the floor, when your mind and your body are in easy lockstep, racing forward into the trains colliding overhead, and it is all you can do to keep up to the tune of so many trumpets. There's a great deal of wooing and winning to be done before this may be effortless.

Hai paura? he asked. Are you scared?

Yes, I am scared.

Also my heart is tired. Also, I say to myself, you are not yet worthy.

It is okay, we have time, he says, because they know what to say to get what they want. Va bene. We can just lay here, fully clothed, our thin, girlish frames, me conscious of my boots on the white duvet.

I fall asleep. Or he does. It is comfortable. He holds me in a practiced way (they must teach Italian schoolboys to do this), one arm squeezing, the other cupping the back of my hair like a child. It is the way a predator lulls you to safety only to suck your organs through your punctured skin. And it feels nice.

Everything feels nice—the eye contact, the furtive handholding racing through intersections, and this: being in someone's arms, even when I shut my eyes and imagine those arms to be the fleshier arms of others. Even when I shut my eyes and imagine dancing with someone else. My eyes flap open in the dark and I wonder, am I only here because I like to feel?

Either way, this is not fair to him. I am undecided here, and I have to go.

Devo andare, I say. I interrupt his snore.

Ma non... dormi qui con me. Dormi qui, piccola.

But I did leave. I read myself home on the F train, picked up a pint of sorbet to soothe my newly aching throat, went to my cell and to sleep.

And tonight he asks if I am playing with him. He wrestles the colloquial and I could hedge some more, but he deserves a straight answer.

I just need to be very careful. I always dive. This time I have to wade. You understand?

He pretends to, but then it's all . . . If I return next week, I come for you . . . and: I just need to know, when I see in your eyes, what I see there, are you lying?

My eyes never lie. But that is a stupid thing to say. And what do men see there that some find so captivating and the others fury-making. The innocence, the stores of love, the deer caught in headlights. The caution crusting over the abandon. Short answer: how should I know.

Can you come with me now?

I look at him sharply as if he has asked for me to kill someone, he sees my panic, understands, and leaves. It is the gentlemanly thing to do. Okay, we go this way, bit by bit. Write to me.

Yes, I say, and he is gone. I've got the whole milonga speculating about playboy flyboy and me. Are we or aren't we? Aren't, I'm embarrassed to admit. Or relieved.

I'm in a cluster of girls telling stories. Keep different men for different things, they say, diversify.

Then Gatsby is there at the edge of the dance floor, winking. And though I've sworn him off, it's been so long since we danced that I nod and make my way to take his hand.

He has a heart shaped sweat stain on his shirt.


Anonymous said...

Beautifully written -- but you are so not over Gatsby.


Anonymous said...

So beautiful and true. I am thinking it is a good thing he at least has a heart shaped stain because he obviously doesn't have an actual beating heart.

Bathwater said...

I had to read this twice, it is hard to figure out where you are. It is obvious you are not ready for the Italian but I'm interested to see if Gatsby still holds the same fascination too.

Phoenix said...

I'm glad you were honest with yourself about where you were and what you were capable of with the Italian man, but I can't help but be a bit worried that Gatsby has popped back up.

Girl, New Year's Resolution 2011: start dating outside the dancing community. How are you supposed to get over these guys if you still get sweaty with them?