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What You Won't Say to Me

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You are so beautiful. I still get this rush, standing next to you, when we're close enough to touch but still not touching, that makes me think that I'm not even over meeting you. I feel like this hasn't even begun enough to be over. But it is over, unless you can tell me why I should stay. I've said my piece. It's your move.

It was your move first, too. On TV, there's always this woman sitting alone at the bar, and the assholes who gather to try pick-up lines on her. I've seen that, sometimes. More often, the people sitting in front of the bartenders are groups, or couples, or single middle-aged men who just wish some woman would wander within speaking distance. But you sat at the bar, pivoting back and forth, as if it were your stage, and the seats to either side of you were VIP-reserve or gold-ticketed only. I'd never seen you in our bar before, but you owned that space.

I sat down next to you, just for fun. You started telling jokes to me, and I started joking back. When it was the end of my break, and I took my place behind the bar again, I think that was the first moment you really, really noticed me. The part before had been a routine. I think you liked the idea that I also had multiple roles in that scene.

I found references, later, in blogs, to how picking people up in bars was something you were known for. The blogs made it sound like a scandal, a peculiar habit - instead of a thing that normal people did.

I don't think I could have dated you if you hadn't come home with me and taken in the shitty apartment (the toilet whose handle you had to crank three times for it to have a hope of flushing, and my roommate passed out in the hall, surrounded by energy drinks) and then fucked me anyway.

You fucked me - because yeah, that's what that was. It was really, honestly good, and I don't want to be thinking about it right now, looking at you and waiting for you to speak. I don't think it's going to happen again.

Someone said, "You're going out with her?" and then I looked you up. I'm sure the fact that I didn't know who you were - at first - was part of my charm. I don't watch a lot of TV. And I guess it says a lot for you that you didn't need to describe what you did for a living in order to talk about what you loved, what you laughed at, and everything else you were.

But it wasn't as if you hid it, either. Suddenly, I was dating this celebrity. I freaked out in private and dealt with it, because it was clear that you weren't on the other end of that freaking-out equation. The first time you invited me to an event with you, you didn't tell me to dress older or polish up extra nice. You just said that the blue jacket looked great on me, and then you said, "Someone might tell you that you're a bit young for me. There isn't an answer for that. Don't give them one."

My pride was a bit hurt. I'm in my 20s. I'd had girlfriends. I felt deeply younger than you, but I still didn't feel that much younger. I might have been tempted to give a smart answer when the press were pressed up against me and saying exactly that. But you'd tossed out your advice so simply and bluntly that I just took it. I said I was having a great time with you at the event. (It was an award you were giving.) I talked about my jobs, and I talked about my post-grad studies as if they were interests - well, they are - rather than classes and papers I was taking; it made them sound a little less anchored in time. I still sounded precious, I'm sure, but I did okay. You said I did okay.

Then we'd been dating for weeks - then for three months - and you invited to your fancy marble-floored Italian villa.

To babysit.

I know that wasn't your plan. Your daughter was home on the very first night, on summer break like me, and at first I felt so nervous: I'd always heard about how much scorn kids put on their parents' partners when it's this kind of thing: god, she's dating someone my age. Mariana's four years younger than me. She idolized me from the very first moment. It made me so uncomfortable; in my head, I kept drawing the same line from me to you that she must have been drawing from her to me. My first thought was this bizarre idea that you might want me to seduce her. Then I wondered if I was supposed to be a sort of pseudo-parent. I was on behavior that towered above my usual best.

Your daughter has a lot of problems. She confided in me about the drugs, and the blackmail, and the trouble with the guy she was trying to get to buy her car (which was just as bad, but a weirder and harder-to-label story). So there I was, listening to her. Being her shoulder to cry on. Looking after her.

You went off to the conference in Rome and left us there to bond awkwardly. I taught Mariana a lot of mocktails and watched sitcoms with her. I figured it was the least I could do.

Then things went sour for you, and Joseph showed up in Rome, and you called at 2am - it was okay, we hadn't been away that long, my brain thought it was almost a normal early morning - to ask me to fly over. I didn't understand why you were asking for me. I thought you had friends for this kind of support. I thought that my job in Italy was to look after your daughter.

And it all blew up when you returned.

Okay: so at least you didn't think I'd been doing stupid stuff with Mariana. There was that, though it took at least one conversation for us to make that crystal clear. But it took a week for you to tell me why you were mad at me, and you still don't have it straight: from what I can figure out, your anger has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with how scared you are for Mariana, and how scared you can be for yourself when you're alone. It has to do with how you're not sure what I am to you, and how you expected that by putting me through a sudden test, you'd figure it out.

Here's how I know I'm not too young for you: it's because I can say that this is enough. We've been dancing around each other for a month, and you still won't tell yourself that I'm worth that. I know you are, to me. I love you. I think I might be, to you, but you're still letting go of me. You told me you needed me once, and I didn't understand; and I don't think you can bear to say it again.

It's a pity you won't give yourself that second chance.