I was still recovering from horrific food poisoning, so I should have probably cancelled dinner, but he suggested we use recipes from the new Ottolenghi cookbook so I was willing to risk it all. I was deep in the cathartic process of confronting and bathing in all my defects, destructive behaviour, and unresolved trauma from before lockdown. Nothing groundbreaking or unique about the process, and it was unquestionably long overdue. I was living with my parents again, looking for a job, and kissing my most fuckable years goodbye. I wasn’t interested in any of the useful things most sane people had taken up like learning to sew or make bread. Instead I micro-dosed mushrooms and wrote a demented country song. Five years of autonomy and nearly all my aspirations had completely slipped away by the end of March. Being back in my hometown without my closest friends to help me steer the ship, I worked tirelessly to wrangle my intrusive thoughts that were running rampant again. Meeting him was an unexpected ray of light in the seemingly endless funnel of uncertainty. For the first time in months I felt a faint glimmer of hope coming back to the surface. Maybe that glimmer was just feeling wet again. I was truly grateful to be fucking someone that lived within walking distance of my house, but today I had a sense things had shifted for him.
Our quarantine romance had accelerated quickly. It felt like months rather than weeks had passed. I first met him in high school, where he was the wholesome golden retriever type. He had two parents that fiercely loved and supported him and a gorgeous girlfriend who was a natural blonde camp counselor. Our high school had a disproportionate amount of girls to boys which created an environment where the boys didn’t even have to be able to read or make eye contact to be considered a desirable love interest. He would have done well anywhere, but he was on fire there. He loved every minute of a school life that I despised, and fantasized about escaping as soon as possible. He won awards, had a successful band with all his best friends and was well liked by teachers and students. He was handsome, confident, flirtatious, and to top it all off he was good at math. It was sickening. I, on the other hand, was in and out of the hospital for treatment of my recently diagnosed autoimmune disorder and looked like an unwanted extra for Skins (the short lived North American remake, not the original). I took a test which I thought was for entry into the gifted program and was then told I wasn’t actually gifted but had short term memory loss, among other things. I was working long shifts at a “restaurant” that exclusively sold hotdogs, babysitting, and cleaning houses to save up for my subsequent escape over the pond. Very much a virgin, I had started taking birth control pills for my excruciating menstrual cramps, but the pills were even more problematic than the cramps could ever be. The hormones fucked with me and I became severely depressed almost over night. To fight the insurmountable veil of depression I began taking drugs and binge drinking. To add to this delightful cocktail of shite, I was severely bulimic, another addiction it would take several years to get space from. I won’t get into my home life. All that generic adolescent suffering had propelled me forward, but was catching up with me in lockdown.
We couldn’t have been more dissimilar back then, but for some reason he was sliding into my DMs mid pandemic and I was into it. He’d reached out to me asking me to teach him Spanish. Not the first time I’d heard this line but he said he was serious and offered to pay me. Even though rough, slang ridden Chilean Spanish was my first language, I had no business teaching it to anyone. After two socially-distanced park lessons, he confessed he had feelings for me. Time had been kind to him and I was reminded of how adorable he was at school. It was hard not to be distracted by his new mustache, an upper-lip situation which cradled his strong nose. The kind only porn stars (not actors) can pull off. When I watched his face light up as he filled me in on his life, I quickly realised maybe he could pull it off too. He seemed on the precipice of great things. Our long, sober, distanced walks prevented the standard, immediate hookup. No small talk, just a refreshing rawness and vulnerability from the start. Pandemic foreplay. I felt that I could trust him, I led with all the things I would normally withhold. I think he did too. He was the only one I had let in this far, in years. All the moments that usually took place during a drunken stupor were spaced out at a delicious, sexually charged pace. After we both got our COVID test results back and we could finally kiss, it was like being kissed for the first time. He would call me late at night even if I’d seen him the day before and we spoke for hours. He made me a playlist with song titles Love If We Made It, I’m On Fire, Keep Falling In Love, A Case Of You and the cherry on top, Harvest Moon. I forgave his somewhat questionable music taste and let myself ferment in my new found smugness. He brought me to meet his entire family before he’d even been inside me. He invited me to his parent’s sailboat (LOL) and said we should be monogamous, and not just because of the pandemic. He made a grand speech about overcoming obstacles and wanting to do things differently. He asked me to take him with me when I go back to London, whenever that is. It all happened fast but I figured he was clever and had realised how amazing I am from the get go. The familiar streets of a stale city took on new importance every time I walked them with him.
En route to dinner I suppressed my new worries by buying expensive organic heirloom tomatoes and figs from Fiesta Farms. Even though I was unemployed and considering selling my hair I felt like this night was worth it. He was worth it. He was waiting for me on the balcony and waved with a big beautiful smile. He greeted me with several tender kisses and gave my bum an affectionate pat. His sister’s apartment was cozy, decorated in a familiar way that reminded me of his bedroom. I recognized some of their grandfather’s paintings on the wall and it even smelled a bit like him. There was sage on the countertop and lots of neutral tones. His mattress and apartment were still infested with bedbugs so this was his home for now while his sister was out of town. I spread out on the sofa and put my arms behind my head, he climbed on top of me. We kissed, and I said with a big smile, and only half serious, “aw I missed you”. We’re in a monogamous relationship now and I would say I missed you to any friend of mine, I didn’t have the energy to be strategic and hold back my affection. His response should have been the giveaway that I was in imminent danger, but I was still in the dark. He laughed in a way that didn’t initially worry me but his words cut and had no tenderness to them.
“It’s been like a day, haha”.
The energy was intense as usual but I mistook signs of disaster for sexual tension. The heat was almost unbearable and there was no air conditioning. He kept kissing me after his comment and bantered as if he hadn’t just pushed me away with his words. The kissing got more heated and we started to have sex. He went down on me and I forgot about everything. As you do. The couch was too small to properly mount him so we moved to the floor. We went to his favourite position. It was quick and he finished on my back. I didn’t orgasm but he seemed relieved. Not ideal but these days I was content with any skin to skin contact. After he cleaned me we laid on the floor with his head on my chest. For a moment everything was still. I listened to his breathing and ran my fingers through his gorgeous curly hair. Our breathing slowed and then synced up. I basked in the sweaty embrace. Suddenly and with a slight urgency in his voice, he said he wanted to get going with the cooking. Then he said something along the lines of “or do you want me to finish you off first”. He said it in an unfamiliar baby-like voice that was clearly something he was used to doing with another partner in the past, and it repulsed me. He said it in a way that made it sound like an optional task instead of the blatantly obvious. It felt as if by saying yes I was asking him to do me a favor. I made my best effort to sound nonchalant and said “it’s ok we’ve got all night”. He jumped up and left the room. I lay on the floor for a couple moments trying to manage my disorientation. Naked and alone, I searched for my underwear.
Had I just been masturbated into? Was I supposed to beg for my own pleasure to be taken into account? Where was the woke modern man? At this point I started to listen to my gut. I started to retrace my steps and realised where it all went wrong. The day we first had sex, one week ago. He seemed drained, not as present as he usually was. I had just come back from a protest and when I arrived at his flat he seemed out to lunch. At the time I assumed it was because of the heat. Right after we finished, he’d made comments about being afraid to hurt people in his past relationships. He’d then clarified that he was usually the one getting hurt and his apprehensiveness was a way of protecting himself. He promised he wanted to work on it. I was too busy being blown away by his apparent honesty and self-awareness to worry about what that meant for me. From that day on he had been not so subtly pushing me away. Why did I fuck him anyways?
I tried to gather my thoughts and be in the moment. We started cutting vegetables. His warm, calming presence was replaced with a new frantic one and the conversation wasn’t flowing as easily. I did something rogue and put on a podcast to fill the silence. We thankfully both burst out laughing several times and it sparked a conversation about bleeding and female rage. We discussed older generations attitudes towards women and their bodies and he told me stories about his sisters. His strong bond with them was endearing, which I’m sure he knew. The way he spoke about them made me feel like I knew them, I could feel the love in every story. I appreciated that he seemed to understand a lot of what women go through physically and emotionally. That’s all it took for me to put the rose-tinted glasses back on.
We danced to salsa while we waited for an aubergine that would never properly be cooked. He had incredible rhythm and I felt nervous even though I’ve danced the dance so many times. I lied and said I hadn’t done it before. I fell for him even more as he tried to spin me around the unbearably hot kitchen. The aubergine was nowhere near being finished (we used the wrong conversion for the oven but didn’t know it yet) so we moved to the balcony to watch the sun go down. I was being more observant now and could tell he was agitated and trying to hide it. The conversation was taking bendy turns. His words flowed but his ideas didn’t. He told me several times that he was a sponge and people had gotten into his head about our relationship – he mentioned a flatmate and his friend’s sister, two people he isn’t particularly close to. They’d offered unsolicited advice apparently, and less than positive comments. I lost respect for him hearing that this was all it took for him to have doubts about us. I made a lot of assumptions about how he was handling the pandemic overall. The bedbug situation was also clearly taking its toll and he acknowledged that not having a proper home and moving around a lot had gotten to him. I understood the feeling more than he’ll ever know.
For the first time I could properly see how overwhelmed and fragile he was. Even though what he was saying hurt me, I tried to comfort him. I stood up to give him a hug. “Don’t”, he said with distress in his voice. I sat back down. The fact that he didn’t even want me to touch him made fighting back tears nearly impossible, somehow I contained myself. He said he wanted to take a solo trip into the woods for a reset and afterwards go to therapy. It was the most Canadian thing I’d ever heard, he was so lucky to have a car. I told him that I wholeheartedly supported that decision, I hoped he could feel the warmth in my voice. It was around then he realised I could see right through him. He told me it was both amazing and unsettling how emotionally aware I can be, he seemed to be equally impressed and uncomfortable with this discovery. The dynamic had shifted from a conversation with us both sharing, to me playing therapist. He knew it was happening and tried to undo the shift by addressing it. It didn’t make a difference, we were already here. When things about our relationship came up I started to feel physically sick. The way he spoke about us was in past tense at times. He mentioned expectations and used the word marriage often as a way of describing how quickly things had progressed. Clearly burdened by the thought of me loving him, he tried to put space between us. The past month was flashing before my eyes. Meeting his lovely family, declaring we should be together and everything else felt like an elaborate trick. Was I that stupid? Was he just using me to pass the time before a second lockdown? He seemed to appreciate my presence and confessed he has problems setting boundaries. Almost everything I thought I knew about him was evaporating. I regretted fucking him without a condom and inviting him to sleep in my family home. And then with no context or warning he said:
“This has felt so amazing and also so intense, I wonder if you’re like, in love with me? Because, and I’m sorry if this is too honest, but I’m not in love with you”.
He looked somewhat manic, with his walls up and no warmth in his tone or body language. It made my skin crawl. I started to feel just as unhinged as he did but I knew I had no one but myself to carry me through this moment. I now know that I shouldn’t rule out acting as a career because how I responded was absolutely sensational. I spoke slowly and calmly but with just enough confidence that I pulled off my delivery. By this point I was already in therapist mode and he was unraveling in front of me, and quickly. With strength and conviction I said “listen, it’s been a month and we’re still getting to know each other. I am comfortable being honest about how I feel and letting you know I like you, but it’s early days. I’m not in love with you either”. That seemed to calm him down an alarming amount. Before I had time to catch my breath, he said “another thing that’s really been on my mind a lot lately is that I want to explore my sexuality, like now. It affected my last relationship and I think it’s important for me, I want to fuck more men, right now”. I asked “as in right now, now”? He then said no, but alluded to COVID being the main reason he wouldn’t. We had discussed his sexuality in length since the first day we met. He told me he’d been experimenting for over three years and may not even necessarily need to be with more men anytime soon. I didn’t really care about anything other than getting to know him better and having some company while the world burns and turns. He didn’t know that no matter what he needed to do, I’d be there for him. I admired his honesty and how in touch with himself he seemed at the time. I said we should enjoy the summer and see what happens. I asked him about his needs, wants and expectations. I didn’t want to hold him back in any way. I cared about him so quickly that I genuinely wanted for him whatever would make him happiest. If the time came when he wanted to be with other people, men or women, he’d be free to pursue them, but with me in the picture as a friend. I wasn’t about to be fucking multiple people during a global pandemic when it was already dangerous enough being exposed to him and his three flatmates. Regardless of being high risk, living with my parents and fearing for my life, I knew my limits and this wasn’t the right time for me to dabble in polyamory. I had enough on my plate. Head-fucked beyond comprehension, I realised he’d built a narrative in which I’m waiting for him to propose, and want him to repress his sexuality. The flip-flopping and indecisiveness was upsetting to witness. He didn’t know his own mind. I was transported to a weekend this time last year when my then boyfriend cancelled all his plans to comb lice out of my hair. Upon hearing the news he immediately went to the shop and bought a fancy metal comb from Boots and individually pulled every louse off my scalp. All our friends were en route to The Windmill to celebrate a friend’s birthday and I encouraged him to go to that instead. He ordered us a takeaway and kissed me until I started smiling again. How the fuck did I get here?
I was grounded and calm, but felt myself leave my body. Even though every part of my being was instructing me to flee to an emotionally safe space, I stayed. He was clearly in a delicate state and needed someone to be kind to him. The balcony was stuffy and we went on a walk. Some moments I held him. I tried to convince myself we were holding each other. He told me he was really disappointed in himself for dragging me along like this. It sounded like he was saying sorry for leading me on. His tone diminished our shared experiences but I continued to loiter in the rotten air. He took “responsibility” but seemed disturbed at the nature of our conversation. He thanked me for being understanding. I nodded and smiled and asked the questions he needed me to. I told him not to be too hard on himself and acknowledged that he’d been through a lot. I hoped validating his experience and feelings would make the rest of the night easier for him. I rubbed his back the way my dad used to rub mine when I was little. I smiled and didn’t let him see how ravaged I was. We made rounds through the dark streets while he processed. I felt so unimportant and discarded but I wanted to be there for him while he spiralled. I spoke less and less, and gave him two deep hugs which he didn’t fully melt into. I can’t remember my exact words but I said something along the lines of “we need to take a breather or break for now while you figure this out”, I told him it would all be ok. He wanted me to sleep over. I asked why.
To absolve his guilt? If I stayed over it would be even worse in the morning. If I stayed it would set the precedent for how I allow myself to be treated. I wanted nothing more than to hold him all night and feel close again, but I repressed my urges. If I stayed he would feel better, but it would be my undoing. I said “I think you think that’s what you want, but you will wake up with a hangover from this conversation and feel even more anxious”. He knew I was right. We walked back to the house and I collected my things. His sister’s beautiful apartment felt hollow and claustrophobic at the same time. He had moved my overnight bag into the bedroom. He passed it back to me. We lightly hugged, the kind of horrible ass-out hug you do with people you don’t know. My heart broke again. He closed the door immediately instead of watching me go like he always had. I was in the staircase of the apartment building alone now. I remembered there was still ten dollars worth of perfect fresh figs in the refrigerator. Fuck.