Two Martinis and Seven Years Later…
It had been seven years since I’d last seen him, or heard from him. I don’t know what exactly possessed me to reach out, but I did. I couldn’t remember his last name, didn’t have his phone number, his email address. Google cryptically revealed nothing. But I suddenly felt a need to get in touch. Not urgent, not even pressing, but a humming somewhere in my brain. What happened to Graham? I wondered. And I wondered for the first time. I’d been through so much, a marriage, a divorce, several other longer and shorter-term relationships, quite a few new careers. I had hardly given myself time to consider me, let alone this man that I’d known so briefly, so many years ago.
Maybe it was just that. I’d finally started to feel like I’d settled into my life just enough to consider myself and all that I’d been through, all that I’d put myself through. The choices, the millions of choices I’d made up until now. The countless mistakes, the few small victories that had landed me where I was: alone at last, and happily so, and 32. I’d survived the coked out trouble of my early 20’s, the pompous posturing of law school and then law firms; the drama of relationships, the drama of finances, of family; the constant psychic twitching that led me to jolt from job to job, and sometimes bed to bed. I’d finally landed in my own gorgeous apartment, with a job I actually liked, and could support myself with, and had just barely begun to feel an inkling the confidence that I assumed would never come. Naturally, this seemed a good time to dig up an old flame that never quite caught fire.
After fruitlessly searching the internet (neither of us, it turns out, are on facebook, twitter, or instagram, or, I guess, anything else), I combed through old emails — emails from 2008!! I had sent his info (name, alma mater, city of origin) to a friend in the hopes that her older brother who went to the same college and was around the same age might have known him and could provide a little background info (he didn’t). He was a stranger, and I was 25. I had just snapped my Achilles tendon playing soccer on some corporate lawyers league; I was on crutches and in my third year of law school. It was September. I was sitting at my usual coffee shop around the corner from school, studying. I don’t remember what he said or how he said it, but he approached me (the crutches were probably an easy place to strike up a conversation) and I left with his phone number and he left with mine. He was on his way to the airport, I think. And he told me he’d call me from Hong Kong in a week. He did! I remember it so clearly. It must have been the weekend because I was at the beach with my parents and my best friend from college, Annie. I was still in a cast, and I remember the phone rang while I was on the second floor and I had to hop all the way up to the third floor to take the phone call in the privacy of my bedroom. I flopped on my bed and I don’t remember what we talked about that day. But I remember being excited that this handsome stranger with a strange and grownup job that took him all the way to Hong Kong had called me. From Hong Kong, no less!
He came back from Asia later that fall and we went out a few times. Once or twice for drinks. We had dinner at Il Mulino. I got extremely drunk and I wasn’t embarrassed then (25!) but am a little embarrassed now. We went to the movies once. We saw Slumdog Millionaire. We both liked it.
He never invited me over and only came up to my apartment once. I don’t even think we made out. We might have only barely kissed. I remember thinking it was so strange that he kept asking me out and then never wanted to sleep with me, I mean, never tried to. At all. Like, at all. I remember discussing this with my girlfriends. Was he gay? Was he hiding something? Did he have an embarrassing physical defect that physical intimacy would reveal? Because I was 25! And I couldn’t conceive of taking it slow, or good manners. In fact, seven years later, I still can’t.
It ended after what seemed a mere moment. I’d met my future ex-husband while Graham was taking it too slow. I don’t know what possessed me to cut it off with this handsome, smart, sophisticated man who treated me nicely and clearly wasn’t interested in taking advantage of me — in favor of a not-so-handsome not-so-smart asshole whose main interest was to do exactly that. I guess I was 25. I guess I was a moron. Shrug of the shoulders, what can I say? It was a mistake! I’m still unraveling the insanity of that particular thread of decisions.
As I mulled over my marriage and divorce and everything after, I guess my mind wandered also to a few things that happened before. Graham was just one of those things. So, equipped with gmail and his last name, I decided to launch a missive into the ether and see what came back. Direct hit, it turns out. The conventional firstname.lastname worked and he wrote back almost right away. I suggested drinks, he concurred, and we set a date (a Wednesday — perfectly neutral and low stakes). 7pm, a bit on the early side, but it seemed a fair hedge. If it went well, it might turn into dinner, and if it bombed, it was early enough to go have dinner somewhere else. Or maybe, he had a wife and a family to get home to, who knew? Seven years is a long time. He might be fat. He might be bald. He might be anyone with any amount of baggage or bullshit.
He wasn’t. He was charming and successful and more handsome than I remembered. Tall, fit looking, with all his hair, and none of it grey, which seems mysterious given that even I have a few (well hidden) greys. I remembered his face as soon as I saw it. Big eyes, big nose, wide full mouth and an awkward shy-seeming lopsided smile that lit up his face and produced a charming dimple on just one side. We met at a hotel bar, which, if memory serves me correctly, was just the kind of place he took me to the first time. The conversation was smooth, if not easy, but there was a large amount of reserve in him that made me a little uncomfortable. A little on edge. I’m so not reserved. I’m mostly so out there and in your face all at once that I usually break any ice down. I’m used to making people feel comfortable, but he ended up making me a feel little uptight with his handsome hedge fund waspy pedigree. We had two drinks apiece and split a not very good burger, and I couldn’t quite tell if he was having a good time. I couldn’t rightly tell if I was having a good time. But I was certainly enjoying watching his mouth shape words while I thought dreamily of what it might be like to be kissed by those lips. It seemed much like the first time around — I couldn’t get a feel for where I stood. His good looks and good manners were throwing me off and maybe the latter prevented him from an early escape. But before I’d finished the final olive of my final martini, he signaled for the check, slapped down a glittery Amex and hustled me out the door. Oh, I didn’t know we were finished, I managed, knocking back the last hopeful drops of vodka. Were we going somewhere else? He had to take a call, he explained, at 9:30. And it was ten after. Asia, the time difference, it was tough, had he known we were going to hang out so long, he might have moved it. I was a bit baffled and put off, but also rather drunk. He hugged me goodbye, never leaned in for a kiss, and told me he was away for the weekend. He failed to make a plan for a second date, and didn’t tell me he’d call me. But he did ask me not to get engaged before I saw him again. He offered to get me a cab, but I declined. Said I’d walk. So he got one for himself and that was that.
I walked half a block, around the corner to sixth, where I was sure that he wouldn’t be headed. My first thought was to have a cigarette, but out of sight of course, how un-lady like to smoke on the street. So I hailed a cab instead, called my best friend, complained and giggled and gave in to the haunting insecurities that still populate my mind. Was my face being weird? Was my make-up ok? Did I sound stupid? Did I have too much to drink? Was he thoroughly unimpressed? Was my hair frizzy? Who the fuck knows, and I guess, who the fuck cares? I survived without him (and survived the mystery of him) once before and I am fairly confident I’ll be able to do it again.
I got home, starving. Ate a piece of chocolate, and finally smoked my cigarette which burned, as it always does, too quickly. I sucked it down to its firm little recessed filter. I kicked off my new shoes, peeled my black jeans off of my 32 year old ass and washed my face with my very expensive cleanser, brushed my teeth with my very expensive and indispensible Italian toothpaste, and said good night to Annie.
I crawled the steep staircase to my lofted bedroom and got in between my perfectly white perfectly soft sheets and put my head back on my perfectly propped pillows. I clicked on the light and watched one episode of Louie (I laughed out loud) and then read a few pages of Elena Ferrante to sober up. I nibbled the smallest piece of Ambien from my bedside pill stash, and passed the fuck out.
As sometimes happens with over-indulgence of vodka, I woke up parched and with a pounding heart around 1:30am. I rolled over and looked at my phone. Five texts, three from a girlfriend inquiring about the date, one from the guy with whom I have a date on Friday, and one from Graham: “Really great seeing you — sorry I had to leave. Let’s not wait seven years again.”
I tossed and turned the rest of the night and finally got myself up at 6. I trotted down those steep steps, went to the bathroom, peered in the mirror. Nope, not ugly, not remotely. I looked pretty good, actually, for 32. Ass still tight, face still holding its shape, tired as I was. I made myself a pot of coffee, and settled into the couch with a mug and the paper. In an hour, I got up, made my perfect bed perfectly, and went for a run. The day was gorgeous, and the sweet stink of low tide blew in on the cool air from the river. I nailed six miles and tried to sweat out the booze and the nicotine, tried to sweat out the shape of the mouth that hadn’t kissed me the night before. I sprinted the last few blocks, awake, refreshed, and ready for more.