by Sylvia Math
I could tell he thought I was younger than I was, and so when he got that adorable predatory look men get, when he started to strategize, I accepted it as a challenge. I was going to draw it out, take him on a wild ride called “I’m Not An Ingenue.” But I made such a good honey- tractioned trap that I got stuck in it too.
It was actually the second time we met. The first time was a book party. His book party. I didn’t know him but I knew his friend, who was going to be part of the reading somehow. I went with my friend. It was a themed book party; we were supposed to dress like the 70s.
This was part of the fun and partly why we went. We drank vodka & grapefruit juice and played 70s music and went through a lot of outfit changes before we arrived, fashionably late, wearing far too many outre accessories. . We made an entrance in sunglasses, tipsy fake rock stars who couldn’t see well in sunglasses in the dark club in Dumbo. We did a glamorous fumble on in. Everyone else was dressed as some kind of a hippie, lotsa tie dye, lots of headbands. We were the only ones in fur and platforms and purple glitter. So we were really stood out. We sat directly in front too, because that’s where the last available seats were. I saw him notice us from the stage. We were a goofy version of the groupies everyone hopes to see from the stage, or maybe exactly the ones he had been hoping to attract.
I remember almost nothing after that; too many greyhounds. Only the end—at the end, before we left, I asked him to sign my copy of his book, which I hadn’t read yet and bought that night. He signed it. We talked. One of those completely meaningless small talk encounters shrouded in animal information gathering. We checked each other out: pulse, breath, gestures. We didn’t even need words they were an excuse, a flimsy pretext for smelling each other up close . He was tall with dark hair and eyes, and while I have an automatic response to dark hair, dark eyes, about 6 feet, that wasn’t what attracted me. It wasn’t his reading either. I liked his writing, and how he looked…but it was something else that attracted me. I didn’t know what yet. Something maybe in his presence. He had a solid presence. He was definitely there. He was comfortable inhabiting space; not about to fly off, not wondering if he was there or not, not at all unsure. He was his own planet. His eyes went places, but he did not.
I added him on social media later that night, and he sent me a message right away. He was a good flirt, but that is where our troubles began, because it wasn’t shallowly clever flirting, skimming along. But the heavier metaphorical kind, and there was a touch of the combative. If there are two things I cannot resist, it is metaphors and fights. He had my number.
The metaphorical war went on for pages and pages of messages. I had to reread Kierkegard. . I lost interest in almost everything outside my inbox, or a passage in a book that I thought of to quote to him, or a passage of a book he referenced. Books piled up in bed next to me one by one until there was a mess and the cat gave me dirty looks. I brushed my teeth in a haze and poured seltzer in my cereal. He had distracted me. When the messages were on the verge of book length, he suggested we switch to gmail, which we did. Then I was really on the way to lost.
When we saw each again, about a week later, it was at his next reading, in Greenpoint. At the end, when he thought I was leaving, he called out to me. I was at the top of a staircase, and he was halfway below, at a midpoint landing. That’s when he had the look. He was trying to figure out how to spend time with me & keep me from just running off into the night with my friends, sans him. but I could see there was a more complicated strategizing underneath. He didn’t want to seduce me or have me, he wanted to keep me somehow. Not in the usual ways, but somehow. He wanted to keep an ingenue, I thought though, and I was not one. That’s when I decided to let him try his game, while I played mine. It would be fun. And educational. For him.
We went with my friends to a bar across the street. For hours. I drank way too much. He was attentive and witty, and there were entertaining moments because my friends are hilarious. We drove him home afterwards. In the car, somehow everyone was guessing everyone else’s height. How tall do you think I am, I asked him. “You are 5’3” he said with complete confidence and some affection. He was exactly right. In those days, I was always trying to look taller, and spent a lot of time having pants perfectly hemmed to cover boots with a two or three inch heel, for optical illusion. Nothing extreme, nothing that looked like heels. Passing. If anyone mentioned my height they thought I was 5’5 or 5’6. Even people who had known me when I was a teenager occasionally mentioned that I had grown. I had not grown, I was still 5’3. He was very observant. Or he was closely observing me anyway. In the same way that he was a solid presence, he correctly ascertained that I was not. I was unstable, not completely sure I was there at all times or not, flitting about. But I had physical dimensions I couldn’t escape and he reminded me. He was sure. Exactly sure. I hadn’t noticed yet, but I was attached already like a magnet to something with more magnetic power than I had surface.
I brought out all the big guns of word related seductions after that, the full mindfuck. In seducing him, i eluded his solidity with timing. I got him fascinated and aroused, then disappeared then returned at right moment. I built & built an image in his mind of a sexy girl who got older and more layered and complicated until I felt I had the upper hand; he was utterly mine and I was nobody’s ingenue, so there. Unfortunately, by that time I was a wreck, who spent all her time thinking about this man and crafting this elaborate seduction of him. I was stuck in my own trap, with no way out. He was married with small children. I was definitely not sleeping with him & fucking that up, and it wouldn’t be casual if we did it. There wasn’t even a way to just do it once. We would be wrecking stuff, our lives, other people’s lives trashing a hotel room so fancy we couldn’t afford to pay for it like, ever. There was nowhere to go and I was buried, immobile under the weight of all the luggage I packed to go… nowhere. To the fancy hotel suite in hell we weren’t ever checking into. I had never seduced anyone so assiduously and devotedly with no intention of satisfaction , and I had not thought things through. I had foolishly assumed the ensuing longing would just be his problem. It was very definitely my problem too.
So I ached, just ached. It was a terrible aching, wanting. I felt like the neighbors could feel it. The downstairs neighbors AND the upstairs neighbors. The neighbors down the block. I was going out in all directions, taking up more and more space but it wasn’t a pleasant expansion; I was agitating the air, giving it a negative charge. Strangers were attracted or repelled without knowing why. I irritated people just by entering a room, with my jagged expanding longing. I jerked off until I couldn’t get any friction, until my wrist hurt, until my sheets were sweaty and the cat avoided me. Dogs on the street sensed my passionate sexual frustration and either tried to bite me or hump my leg. It was a long unusually stormy summer with one thundering rainstorm after another and so even the weather seemed to be reacting to me and my sexual and emotional frustration. I got soaking wet I was soaking wet. Outside in sudden storms and inside in sudden storms. My feelings were involved, contorted. Honey caked in the jar, sweetness with all the viscosity gone. I couldn’t reach it anymore to make it move, I couldn’t melt it everything that had been good was now just stuck, stuck, stuck and I wanted to smash the jar against the wall as hard as I could. It made me mean. I was mean to him finally. Being mean is sort of sexual. Hey fuck you. No really FUCK you.I dispelled my tension in a satisfying burst but then I was sorry. I hurt him. He didn’t trust me anymore after that and why would he.
We stayed on speaking terms, but it was less intimate and less and less frequent until it was only once in a while. Years later, I apologized. It wasn’t enough. Nothing could ever be enough, because I requited the attraction. I finished it. With one sided emotional violence . With meanness. I smashed the honey jar across the room. And swept up the glass like I didn’t care and then then threw it at him. I was aiming, too.
Sylvia Math fled Williamsburg for Hell’s Kitchen, and is working on a memoir called Looks Bad on Paper.
Photo: Michael Jasmund/Unsplash