The Beautiful Kind
By Valentine Bonnaire c. May 2013 firstname.lastname@example.org
He was still all of that, and so was I and we both knew it as we ran into each other again after years in the kind of town that we live in. You can go for years here without bumping into people you knew from the years you were in school.
He’d become an urchin diver. He’d lost half a finger. He held his golden finger toward me and I took it in my hands. “I’m pickled in brine.”
“You look fantastic,” I said.
He did. He hadn’t lost any of his sun rays. We both had glasses on, dark the way we shield ourselves from too many eyes. From the kind of eyes that are always staring.
“Didn’t you like me?”
“Do you remember what you used to call me?”
“Didn’t you like me?”
“We had this class together called Vocabulary.”
“Remember that guy Stefanopolus who was the teacher?”
“The dude was gay.”
It was hard for me to take my eyes off his face because he was so handsome and that’s what I look for first. The hands come after. I dropped his suddenly.
“How’d that happen?”
“Off that old pier by the Biltmore right after High School.”
“Yeah I was diving. Accident.”
“I learned how to smoke on that pier.”
“Too bad they tore it down.”
We were standing there and suddenly my husband came around the corner with the dogs. “This is an old friend,” I said. They shook hands. We made small talk, in the way that people who live here make small talk about weather.
“Great to see you,” I said as we moved off, the way that married couples move off and there is a silence in that space where so many thoughts are running through each other’s mind about whole areas of life that you can never know. Like, how much I had really liked him once upon a time in the years I got my first lipsticks. In the years that every time he saw me he’d say “Hot lips,” and I’d get so embarrassed I wanted to flee, anyplace — just flee. Because I liked him back.
The town is small. Very small. So small that the following week we ran into each other again down on the breakwater and he was with his wife. My husband and I had the dogs with us all flashing fur and tumble pulling at the leads and I thought to myself, *Oh god, you married that.*
The thing is? I knew that he thought the exact same thing about me. So there we were, staring at each other and thinking about an entire alternate history that might have unfolded between the two of us had we made a different choice at the kind of crossroads life continually throws at everybody. That’s why he’d asked me, “Didn’t you like me?”
She was a short woman, and she was incredibly heavy in the way that pear-shaped women get. I could see the size of her in those baggy pants she was wearing — three women could have fit in those pants. She’d borne him a couple of sons, and she’d backed him in all his endeavors and they’d been together for ages it looked like, at least from behind. It was hard for me to imagine them in bed together. They probably didn’t anymore, because that’s what happens. Somehow, I couldn’t see it. He still looked just like he had in school, still had that tanned glow and the boyish smile and the wicked glint in his eye. What neither of our spouses knew in that moment was that, yes, there was still something there — the kind of thing that never changes when there is that electric charge between two people. I would have fucked his brains out, because I was older now. And he was staring at me like he would have wanted that too. If there had been a chance? We would have done that.
He was trimming the hedge down the street when I saw him again, because now we lived on the same street as each other and circumstance had thrust us near, in the way that circumstance or karma can thrust two people. He’s not home much. He’s out on the sea far away from her. I think he might come home every couple of months. I stopped my car, because I saw him. All that tan goldenness standing there trimming and he must have been doing that all day long because the pile of the greens was tremendous and I said, “Oh, are you living up here now?” and he said, “Yes.” It was the house he grew up in.
We stood there together for a long time on the street, just talking. I’m not sure how you are supposed to make small talk when that electric current is still a thing that surges, because it was, and you edge around things about each other carefully, gathering details, the kind of details you don’t really want to know, not really, because you liked each other once.
“I was so shy,” I said. “You were so handsome.”
“I’m away a lot.”
“I’m a writer now.”
“We sure lived in strange times.”
“Funny how we took that class. All those words.”
“I traveled after.”
“Around the world.”
“Oh. I moved to Hollywood for awhile, with my first boyfriend.”
This is what I know, now. There are no guarantees. I wonder what it would have been like to have chosen somebody like him instead of what happened. Instead of guy number one and guy number two and guy number three and guy number four and guy number five and guy number six and guy number seven and guy number eight and guy number nine and guy number ten and I could go on but why?
“You’ll always look like that,” my husband says.
“You’ll always be handsome, just like you were then,” I said to him. Standing sweaty in the long green vines as he clipped them.
“Why didn’t you like me?” he asked again.
“I did,” I said slowly, taking in his golden tan, the halved finger, the life spent in brine, the life spent offshore and under the sea picking the spiny purple urchins up.
“I liked older men, then.”
After I said it, I wished I could have retracted it. I wish I’d had the courage to be somebody like her, to be really in love, to bear children and make a history and have fat, fat hips covered in her kind of cellulite sitting at home waiting for her man to get back except I’m not that kind. I’m the kind who had a copy of Plath’s poems in my purse way back when we sat in that class so long ago together and there was this darkness I never wanted to fall into that belonged to Sylvias.
“Why didn’t you let me fuck you?”
I knew that’s what he was trying to say to me. They all do.
I wrote this for my friend Remittance Girl because of something she wrote. Read this. Our truths are only beginning to be unpacked in the generation of women who lived Post-Plath. Here is the link to “Separate States”
what I was listening to — “Time in a Bottle”