* Alchemy Farmhouse *


The Ex-Boyfriend List
July 2, 2007, 10:09 am
Filed under: Non-Fiction

 

My newest idea was born from a dream in my best friend’s bed. She poured herself, drunken and clammy-skinned, into the sheets beside me. I had been facing the wall, my hair wrapped around her sepia-in-the-ridges corduroy pillow; I always used it when I slept there.

                                                                                  

“He told me he sees only my face when he’s fucking her, when he’s fucking anyone.”

 

I thought for a minute before responding. The newest guy didn’t know of her love, and the last significant other was a woman. This meant we had to be talking of someone either very old, or incredibly new. I asked her who.

 

“John. Because I always think about how he’ll always be that one. John told me that this morning.” She repeated his name, so unadorned and ubiquitous, as if repetition could signify him from the crowd.

 

            And so, I too conjured a past love that night. It had been years since we had even crossed paths, except just a few days before we chanced to attend the same going away fete; we argued Bob Dylan lyrics, and his eyes glinted with a familiar fever. In sleep he returned again, years now bridged into days. We rode Hudson waves in canary kayaks, that blended at times with outrigger-style canoes; the water was as unnaturally warm as his gaze.

            It seemed that fateful meeting had dredged him up- PCBs of the heart. Without thinking of him, he did little damage in the low, sandy bottom; now he had renewed strength as he stirred, and I feared him knowing that. This time he did not seem out to fool me, and there were no red-carpeted hippie houses or Looking Glass albums with which to seduce me. He had always been like that—acting all Brandy in the dark, but sounding like the rest of the material once the morning came, and so-called friends surrounded us. I drifted downriver cautiously.

            I realize then we have no paddles, and that the water is getting rougher. He grabs my hand and pulls my fingers to his lips, a gesture I had never seen before. This is a boy who once pushed me out of bed for being turned on by his armpit smell; he was scared of himself. Still clasping tightly, he drags the hands underwater and waves begin to flow over our prows. I feel giddy and exhilarated by the tropicality of my usually dirty, cool river. We crest another swell and suddenly, are on shore.

            Still entangled in fingers, we’re facing each other now. He must have dropped my hands, because suddenly his are all over my face, publicly admitting as he never would have then. Index fingers stencil imaginary tears down my cheekbones. I ask him if he knows I am married. Holding my face still now, he says,

 

“Lauren, I don’t care.”

           

I do not curse him or ache to change reality; all I remember before I wake is thinking “but, I do”.

 

* * *

Driving home a few hours later, I decide to put this odd fantasy to paper, in hopes it may pay its way somehow. It feels guilty-good, and throughout the day, I wonder if any other paramours will visit. I contemplate who I’d wish for, and who ought to stay in the past, when the idea takes shape to bring them back myself. I decide to compile a census of all the men I have taken to heart, and then attempt to invoke concrete memories of my experiences with them. I imagine turning men into poems to entertain and enlighten me, to be evidence of a life that, right then, seems a little far away.

With notes in the margins indicating depth of relationship, kisses, and name coincidences, the list totaled 52 men over two and a half decades—equaling roughly two per year of my life. I ate yellow cake with chocolate frosting to fuel my memory, and could not bring myself to stop; I ate more bites than kissed men. With the Pyrex pan scraped clean across all but one corner, I begin to draw lines denoting parallels: There are five first names each shared by two men, and one name shared by three. The last name of my first kiss is also the surname of the boy I dropped out of college and ran to Portland to be with—and that name is engraved on the street sign where I almost bought my first house. Then there are the fun, popular culture name-matches: one motorcycle, a set of tires, a pirate, and a rooster. There are no brothers by blood. A supermarket chain, line of Buicks, a state capital, and a metal band all have boy-foils who have made me weak.

I count off the kisses with green hi-liter, and grimace when there are some that leave me unsure. So much time has passed, and the lines between wishing and tasting blur with volume. An occasional oldie floats out of place, remembered after their era and spontaneously added to the mix. I notice who never reached their full potential, and whose body I would now have traded for another that might have made a better memory.

Impatient, swollen tongues and rogue, Catholic hands dominate the earliest check-offs. I see one marked, then crossed out, after recalling we had never actually kissed. He was quite possibly one of the nicest loves of my life, sharing the middle name of a fabled United States president and permanently walking Montauk beach roads of my mind. He had a watch that beeped at 3 am—sneak out time. We met while I stayed in a cottage on a road named after my boyfriend.

 I tried to break up with that boyfriend once I was back home, on the track at dusk. I ran 400s to escape him. His Irish face did not make up poems on the spot that night, as it had steeping in the Van Cortland Park breeze a few months before. Instead, in the heavy twilight that last night, all I breathed were gnats.

Some lovers brought back the sweetest of memories, real-life clichés that I cannot erase: hand-holding in new snow under lampposts, that first chance meeting and classic opening lines, iconic times playing house. I begin to see these names as a tangible part of me—a history of my phases and development. They calcify and create my ribs; I am not born of theirs. Instead, they enable who I have become, steer who I now choose to love.

 

***

            Several days pass, but the list remains paramount in my mind. Suddenly every old song on the radio has me in love with another flame; we dance, we whisper, we forget what made us fall out of love. Somewhere, driving west on route 347, an unlisted name flashes through Motown thoughts and I am so glad he has returned. With him comes three more names—how did they ever escape my meticulous cataloging? They weigh heavily on the table, shifting the mode from ‘Brian’ to ‘Steve’. They double the co-worker total and include one person blocked out with Freudian typicality. I know I am not on his list, because, not only is it too lengthy for recitation, our actual encounter would perhaps not qualify for his brand of recognition. Nevertheless, few have burned the things left undone on my soul as he has.

            In all this, I think suddenly of my husband. In the days since my experiment, he has been relegated to my cerebral background. For all the emotive significance I have bestowed on these many ancient loves, it may imply his banality or misunderstanding of me. You might think us disconnected or hastily wed. We are none of those. He is the best and worst of this list. Though he could never be the first name, unspoken rules dictate he ought to be the last. He is not. But he is the only one I still make sense, love, and tacos with.  And that I still want him, when he lets me conjure every old incarnation of myself in sentimental samsara, is why he is the only one on the list who has evolved from past to future.  

           

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