This was a long time ago. I was dating a guy who was several years younger than me. How many is up for debate; he was self-dramatizing and a chronic liar and I suspected he was younger than he said (I’d seen his i.d. and he had a convoluted explanation as to the discrepancy). Of course this makes him sound bad, as it should, but he was also smart, funny, and up for fun – which I enjoyed. Initially anyway, he seemed to be a kind, generous soul. Still, he was very young and had a lot of growing up to do. This was wildly demonstrated in one particular incident.
I had driven him back home to his apartment complex to drop him off. We were idling in the parking lot and having a mundane – i.e., about nothing all that important – dispute. He was acting badly and initially refused to get out of the car. I was ticked but held my temper while gripping the steering wheel. Eventually he did get out of the passenger seat. Wisely, I locked the doors because he began to throw a tantrum outside the car and attempted to open the door again. As I drove away this scene culminated, to my horror, with the sight of him in my rear view window throwing himself dramatically and bodily down onto the pavement in a fit.
It’s almost funny now. But I still cringe.
It was probably the most genuine, tender interaction between us. We were both in the vicinity of middle age. Our relationship to each other was ambiguous, not or not-yet defined. I was sussing things out you could say. We were in public together, in a social setting with other people. I don’t remember what precipitated it – had anything? – when, without speaking, he suddenly inclined his head my way, almost bowing but not too low. Maybe it was an act of supplication, maybe it was a declaration, I don’t know. Without hesitating I reached out and put my hand on the top of his head and rested it briefly there. I said nothing. To me, the moment was not quite maternal, not quite romantic, but something else or something in between. It felt, despite the eyes on us, private.
He spoiled it not much later, hopping around, bleating, “Touch my head! Rub my head!” while leaning in toward me the way a cat or dog does when it wants to make you pet it. He was clearly playing to the other people present, acting the fool. I had a fair idea this time was going to be used for a joke or punch line. I wouldn’t do it. I paid him no mind.
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He was a middle-aged man. We had not spent much time together. Now we were outside walking through an overgrown area where plants blocked the path. He walked in front of me and as he passed various shrubbery and branches, instead of holding them aside or saying, “Watch yourself” or some such, he let the branches and stems fling back and hit me. Once I realized it, I slowed my gait and fell behind slightly so that the branches stilled before I reached them and I could easily move them aside for myself.
This small action on his part spoke volumes to me. He was not doing it on purpose – trying to make foliage hit me the way someone might do if they were trying to be either playful or rude – as much as he was oblivious to what he was doing. He wasn’t thinking about me, the woman walking behind him at all. I instinctively knew he’d had no one teach him the little niceties of interacting – or he’d had no interest in learning – and I further knew I wasn’t going to be the one to do it now. There were already too many other things about which I had deep reservations.
He was, by his account, wild about me. We were talking about someone we knew who had died, and the topic of funerals generally.
HIM (not in jest): “If you died, I would take off work to go to the funeral.”
(A man well into middle-age, who I’d met previously, in the exact same location we were now in, introduced himself. Surprised, I told him we’d met before, here.)
HIM (straight-faced, not joking): “You must not have made much of an impression on me. Maybe you will this time.”
ME (turning away): “Maybe not.”