Yesterday in the car – we are on a two-hour road trip to Westchester, Tamar in the back seat – Fred, searching his iPhone for the date of some election says, “I think it's September 13th,” and my impulse is to say, “Oh, that's Jeffrey's birthday,” but I don't say it because that wouldn't be much fun for him to hear, I imagine, why would he want to know an old boyfriend's birthday, or that I am remembering it?
A few weeks ago I thought seriously for about 15 minutes of calling the old boyfriend and suggesting a short visit when I was next in the city, just because he is probably there, and when I look at certain bits of the past he looms large, that boy, now old middle-aged guy, looking at 60.
He was a wiry boy then with the long wild dark frizzy curls I demanded from a dream boyfriend. He was the opposite of the clean white high-school boys who were still virgins too. His studio apartment was an parent-free pile of houseplants and record albums, a TV, a phone, a waterbed and an electric typewriter, a bong and a tiny kitchen where he made me something called Chocolate Chess pie. He seemed confident, his movements jerky, he wore tortoiseshell glasses like I did for movies and TV.
And from that collegey beginning we had a phase in Manhattan within the penthouse walls of his family's extra apartment, walls painted a dark salmon, rooms with furniture, a mixture of things chosen by someone who never lived in the place and scraps left from Jeffrey's unglamorous childhood. In that apartment things were harder. The doors slammed. I stood on the balcony, wishing I had the nerve to jump, not knowing how else to bear the stab of that postcard propped on the bureau from the woman he'd met in screenwriting class, and when we had burned pretty much every fire we could think of, and he was set to leave for Los Angeles to become a director he asks if I'd like to come, and then says he'd only waited this long because I was still in school. I had not known this, had thought he was just going to go to L.A. and have his big successful life and me, what would I do, I had no idea, somehow be a wrter though that seemed so much something only Jeffrey and the people who had been born differently from me could do. So when he asks, I say yes – a mix of oh, he must love me and now I have an adventure too. And after a month's drive across the country in an old Mercedes with a black cat, a collection of his meticulously engineered mix-tapes and the joints rolled tightly by his sister we began the California phase – the white stucco cottage, the green shag rug, the fish tanks, the palm trees, and that too became too hard and there were no sidewalks to run to for comfort in L.A., just cars and heat until that too escalated so high and I was jettisoned back to N.Y. as if by an explosion of despair and good fortune.
And years go by in which he plays no role, where others take over the center stage of how I wake up in the morning, how I go to sleep and how I do everything else in between, and when that escalates and blows, it's him I reach back out to, him, certain that the connection that feels as strong as ever to us both will have the rosy fairytale ending it was supposed to.
And this chapter plays out again in N.Y. It only takes 6 months this time. And that was almost 20 years ago. There's been a couple of visits where I expected connection and found none, and a short phone conversation two years ago when I hung up mid-sentence.
Once in awhile, though, I still think to do a live check-in, like a scientist or an anthropologist, examining a speciman.