This is the story of a slow burn.
Like all vague first meetings, ours seven years ago is missing any particulars. I can faintly visualize his then-clean shaven face, that he was sitting, engrossed in his computer editing an animation. The oldest feeling I have with him is nervousness.
An impulsive character, he is all stages of unpredictable. His eyes best show erratic energy and his stare a straight-on honesty, qualities that made me shy and unsure how to meet him. He smiles when he talks, either pulled by sarcastic jokes, impersonating a character, or a smug sign of interest. His eyebrows arch up to line the contours of his temple revealing a mind that examines bullshit and calls it out. His humor is abrasive, an intelligent directness I enjoy. Watching his muscular build gesticulate in conversation and wilding blondish hair curl from afar, I conjure him as The Centaur.
In person, our exchanges brim with sweet flirtations and sharp humor. We had a strange habit of running into each other at random coordinates throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. A regularly expected surprise I always prefaced in my mind with an, “Of course…”
Leaving the Quad Cinema with a friend one night, we went down to the belly of West 4th station to the Brooklyn-bound platform. Turning from our conversation, I looked up and saw him walking directly toward me. His hello was a tight grip on my right shoulder. Even when flushing, I held constant eye contact. As much as he intimidated me, I prided myself on not flinching. My friend noticed this and wasn’t sure whether to act defensively on my behalf until I introduced the two and attempted at ordinary conversation. Conveniently, my friend went for the A train, and he and I rode the B. Our trip over the Manhattan bridge gently rocked as we debated about the fairness of requesting a refund if a movie was terrible. He is a refreshing conversationalist, someone who is willing to entertain audacious rules of conduct. My stop was first, and I left bubbly, replaying our exchange, and each time his brow would scrunch when we looked at each other. I wanted more of him. From arm’s length.
Some months later, I needed a capable person to redub a poorly acted voice-over for my short film. Posted on acting boards, I advertised $75 for a 1-hour session. My inbox was full of disgruntled messages from working actors pointing out that my rate was offensively low. I sympathized and couldn’t bear to rebut that I didn’t even have $75 to spend. Resorting to Facebook, I hoped that one of my digital friends would have the chops to do so. The Centaur responded that he would do it. I trusted his cadence.
Our session took place in his bedroom. My script was composed of fragmented lines from one lover to another. As a director, I’m able to imagine feelings with my actors, push them to ignore the ridiculousness of saying words unprompted and without context. I went into film because I could convincingly role play. I’m also learning now that doing everything for a project means disconnecting from the real moment. The Centaur struggled to recite some lines louder than a quiet whisper, reading the lines to himself. I first worried the material was corny, as scripts about romance can be. To my tender surprise, he was actually embarrassed to recite them to me. “I can’t say this,” he shook his head.
I didn’t want to agonize him, but I needed to get the right audio. After coaching him through a few stuck passes by saying the lines myself, I imitated a growling masculine voice, and acted as a spark for him, until I heard him hit the right affectation in the phrase, “I want to do bad things to you.” I imagined pushing him on the bed. I imagined him pulling me on top of him. I wondered who would dare first.
Coiling the microphone, I pulled out an envelope full of cash to hand to him. He sternly refused the money, and said he too relied on friends to make his films. Thanking him, I left to run home as I was cooking dinner for friends at my house in an hour. I realized in hindsight, to my dumb ignorance and insensitivity, that he was profoundly uncomfortable with imitating any kind of sexual aggression. Stirring the coconut curry, I simmered in the safe realization that he is not capable of dominating without consent, a mistake I had subliminally made while being afraid of his intensity.
It is now a few months later, with a change of season, at a birthday party; we briefly leaned into each other for a forehead-to-forehead conversation. Then, I became lucidly curious what was stopping us. A gulf of unspoken feelings followed me when parting ways.
I felt him for over a week after. I’m a shy lover, but not afraid of intense and filthy sex. I knew from stories and his approach that he liked to fuck. I feel a constant discomfort with my gentle temperament as I feel like my demureness disguises the woman who I want to express. Replacing suaveness during an encounter, I occupy flirtation by writing words that turn on.
Hesitating for the duration of an entire coffee, walking through the Lower East Side during a late evening, I look up at a closed metal storefront painted as a pixelated rainbow. I feel the residual punk off the streets and hit send to the Centaur.
“We have a fever we should explore.”
He responded with interest. Quickly, he gently told me that he'd got a girlfriend and he was giving monogamy a go. I felt exhilarated by my confession and slightly relieved that I wouldn’t be accountable for my proposition. We chatted openly. He said that he felt intrigued by our chemistry.
“I wanted to during our voice-over recording session.” I wrote.
“Aren’t we foolish?” He responded, ending the conversation.
Our run-ins were just as regular, and friendly. We felt settled and kind.
After a house party I hosted, he was last to arrive. Until he left at 6 in the morning, we discussed the restraints of monogamy and how impossible it felt to give all feelings to one person. Loving and fucking many people felt more natural.
Over a year later, one night, in a profoundly somber mood, I decided to go solo to an IFC screening of Oscar-nominated documentary shorts. Bad fucking idea: mainstream docs are rarely uplifting. I left feeling dismal. Cycling through names and texts, reaching out to friends who might be down for an impromptu late night beer on a Tuesday, I felt more heart heavy. The Centaur came to mind—he’s a night owl himself. I invited him for a drink at the Manhattan Inn.
I waited in front of the darkened Nights and Weekends, apprehensive, and debated about the hidden meaning that he might read into my late-night invitation. He greeted me dressed in a military-style jacket, proper and handsome. Not unfriendly, he side-eyed me with a questioning look. “Was there no one else?” he asked. I ignored the question with pride and started walking with him to the bar.
Two Sly Foxes in hand, we rested on our elbows and got lost in a syrupy conversation about heartbreak. I was recovering from a relationship that confused me about myself. The Centaur opened up that his girlfriend had left him a year ago. Crushed, he spent long hours alone, drenched in sadness. He kept the details vague, but it was clear the relationship ended partly because he wasn’t faithful. We together were making sense of feeling stuck in love. He named a book which the title I didn’t quite catch. Part way into his description, I realized he was talking about “Metamorphosis.” Energized, the conversation transformed from him explaining a book to me, to us having an on-par dialogue. He turned to me, “I was wondering how the fuck someone like you didn’t know Kafka!”
The bar shooed all the patrons out. We stood in the early morning cold holding an intense stare. Still feeling sentimental, I wasn’t quite in the mood to move from heartbreak to hookup. Suddenly interrupting our awkward pacing, he quickly asked me how much a taxi was to Astoria.
“Ah… $35?” What was happening? I didn’t understand.
He hailed a taxi, swiped his debit card, and sent me in the car to Queens. Before shutting the door, I frantically told him he didn’t have to pay my way home. He should come in the car with me. He could go with me. He waved the car off.
Stunned with too many emotions, I quickly texted him.
“We should connect again soon.”
He responded with an agreement, “Goddamn, you’re right. Another missed opportunity.”
“Let’s not miss it next time.”
Dancing between desire and nervousness, I wrote, “Swear to God you won’t fall in love.”
“There is no God!”
“Swear to Kafka then!”
“After you read one of his books!”
It would be a long while before I saw him again.
We had another run-in at Uniondocs. He was on a date with a younger woman, and I was with my close friends. The beer was cheap and plentiful, stirring a raucous summer evening as conversations were stacked up to each level of the backyard steps. I moved up, and he shifted down, greeting another friend along the way. Sharing a bench, we spoke and touched lightly. I noticed a necklace with a ring still on it. I reached over, saying, “I’m not making a move right now.” He let me look at it. His eyes were shut, and he kept his head down in a private grimace. I didn’t press. I could wager a guess. He split before the night was over.
He reached out by text the next morning. We shared details about each others’ whereabouts. I was at the Met Breuer; he was spending the day lounging in his room staying cool.
“Want to join me by the fan?”
I’ve got to laugh at myself. Walking to his house, I stopped twice to pick up four different kinds of carbonated drinks to share: blood orange San Pellegrino, ginger beer, root beer, and a second san pell. It was gruesomely hot. Carbonation would dissolve my thirst, and maybe my nervousness.
Sitting in his room, I wasn’t sure how to make a move. I kept the conversation going and going. He stood by his window, listening, nodding with intervals of “Right, right, mhm, mhm.” He looked out the window, and I saw a portrait in my mind. I leaned against the wall facing him, feeling my seams come apart. He looked at me. Then his room. I nodded. He took my hand.
We already knew each others’ bodies.
In a split moment, we are clasped, feeling every limb. My subtle hands met with his grip: I’d find a light trace behind his ear, feeling him move his head into my hand, and he would abruptly pin my wrist above my head. No space was between us.
We lay side by side, his sweaty leg encircling my hip then in between my legs. His heart pounded into my trembling ribcage, and I interlaced my arms in his until we started to fuck again. It was never slow and always full-bodied.
Foreheads pressed, then rolling our noses down to kiss. His palm firm under my jaw. My fingers carved a new crevice along his shoulder blades. Our arms competing for strength. He’d test my flexibility by spreading my pelvis further. I’d buckle his leg stroking a hip bone. My thighs squeezed, inadvertently lifting him when I’d come. He’d ejaculate on my stomach.
I wanted to try different positions, which I had been too embarrassed to perfect with past lovers. He propped me for all of them. Facing his feet, I found rhythm in spilling my vag while grinding, my thrust making us both barely gasp. His hands encouraged every maneuver, each posture I had previously ruled out to be unflattering. Some kisses were expert in tongue flicking, other moments were probing. Each time we fucked, I felt the control to seize him.
We are wordless, muscular and tireless.
Laying stomach down, he is on his side stroking my baby hairs as I’m gently holding his flaccid penis.
We talk about how we could be something. We talk about bonobos.
We meet up again, the day before I need to drive six hours to Syracuse to leave the country. When we fuck a third time, I’m distracted. He tightens his hold.
At my going away party, I’m so caught up with my friends that I don’t see him leaving.
I rise at 5:10 in the morning teary-eyed. Seven years of my life is staying here. I’m laying, stalling the moment, watching the morning stir in Brooklyn.
Right at 5:30, he texts, “Safe drive, love. Thanks for the memories by the fan.” I’m heartened that he remembered my departure time. It’s when I need a message the most.
Opening the passenger door, I place my cat in the shotgun seat.
Sipping my coffee, I respond,
“Bonobo kisses to you. I’ll think of you fondly.”