Short Term Lovers
Allison L. Hilborn Tatro
A High School in Lake Tahoe, Age 24
When I write about you, which I have done rarely in the past twenty years, I leave out your name. I spare you. I keep you out of harms way, protect you, your job, your relationships. To write about you now, even without using your name, feels like a betrayal, like I’m breaking an unspoken pact we made to keep this to ourselves, an unspoken pact we made when I was seventeen and you were thirty, when you were my teacher, when I was infatuated with you.
There was something between us, something flirtatious, something dangerous. I imagine it began innocently enough, my developing a crush on you and you developing a taste for the attention, and overtime the lines that were meant to keep things clear, the lines meant to keep things tidy, the lines meant to keep you as the teacher and me as the student, were blurred. They were blurred when you gave me the keys to your car so I could ditch class. They were blurred when I let you read my journal and we started exchanging letters. They were blurred when a male classmate and I showed up at your house over summer break and you let us sleep over on your couches. They were blurred when, a few months later, I was again at your house, and it was nighttime, and it was raining outside as I stood on your deck brooding, and you said you didn’t know if you wanted to hit me or kiss me.
But you didn’t kiss me that night, or any night. I never knew what to make of it, of us, of that night on your porch, of the things you said to me, of the time we spent together when no one else was around. I never knew what to make of the secrecy, the innuendo, the blurred lines. What we were to each other was never entirely romantic and never entirely not, the two of us staying far enough apart to keep something physical from happening, but not so far apart to think it never would, that poorly defined space between us becoming the canvas on which to paint all of my desires and my resentments and my fears.
There was something between us back then, something magical, a kind of magic that hinged on the danger of the thing, on the impossibility of it. It was a magic I used as fuel to get through the angst of being a teenager who felt on the outside of her own life, to get through the discomfort of being a young woman with no real sense of her self. It was a fuel I needed until I didn’t anymore, a magic that left me when I graduated high school, when I met my first true boyfriend, when that space between you and I became so vast that I just didn’t think about you anymore.
But here I am, thinking about you now, twenty years later, and what I’ve found in thinking about you now, in writing about you now, is that if I think about that time in my life long enough, if I think about you long enough, I begin to wonder if my memories are accurate. I begin to wonder if I got it all wrong, if my mind is playing tricks on me. I begin to wonder if maybe the letters were never written, if I was never in your home, if you never hugged me in the rain on your porch after you thought you might kiss me. I begin to wonder if my memories of you are too fractured by time, too contaminated to believe, too one-sided, too self-centric, for it is possible I read it all wrong, and you were just my teacher and I was just your adoring student. Maybe you were simply trying to be kind to me. Maybe you are just a story I’ve been telling myself since I was sixteen. And maybe that’s exactly what you hoped I’d feel as I got older, uncertain about the facts and unflinchingly loyal. Maybe, somehow, with the letters and the secret talks and the way you made me feel, you made sure that I would never, ever write your name.
The Acute Ward of a Psychiatric Hospital in Reno, Age 24
I was in the hallway walking toward the nurse’s station, that’s when I saw him first, this boy I knew from high school. I hadn’t seen him in several years. It didn’t make sense that he was here, in the only hospital that locks from the outside in. He had always seemed rather sane to me, stable. I had to know what had happened to him since high school, where he lost his way, what his great psychic injury was. This was a part of the neurosis for which I had been hospitalized, an obsession with uncovering why things were the way they were, a desperation for answers, an urgency to put order into a disordered world, an existential fury which fueled often troubling behavior and suicidal inclinations.
He said it was good to see a familiar face, and it was. He was so thin, thinner than I remembered him being. He was all arms and legs, like a puppy who still runs sideways. He had some growing to do before he’d be considered a man, and this made him seem safe to me. The availability of his emotional wounds made him approachable. I wanted to be near him. I wanted him to want me. We sat next to each other during smoke breaks and meals. We stole looks from one another in group therapy. When we were in between groups, or smoking Camel Lights in the courtyard with the concrete walls going up three stories high, he didn’t talk much, and when he did, he was silly, avoidant, indirect. He flirted with me in this unsettling way, like he had forgotten whatever moves he once had. He was all looks and insinuations, notes passed back and forth with little drawings on them, stick figures and jokes. His budding mental illness made him clunky, his psychotropics made him too muted to be accessed.
The reason for his hospitalization was never made clear to me. He was incapable of answering a question directly, whether it be about his madness or what he wanted for lunch. I knew only what I could surmise from our time spent together; it seemed he was lost inside of himself, lost to some sort of static in his head, paranoia, conspiracies, white noise. I too was lost, lost to a different set of sounds, a different set of keepers. And this was as close as we would ever get to each other, both of us lost inside of ourselves, but in the same room at the same time.
I was released from the hospital a few days before he was. When he got out, he went back to live with his parents in Tahoe, 40 miles away from where I was living, also at my parents’ house. We hung out a couple of times. Once he drove all the way to my place in Reno with a Harry Potter movie during a depressive episode in which I’d not left home for a week. Once I took him to a strip club in the middle of the afternoon, to try and help him feel something, and when that didn’t work we tried fucking, and that didn’t seem to make him feel anything either.
By the end of the summer, I had gotten a part-time job at a Blockbuster video store down the street from my parents’ house. With the job came a sense of routine and a little hope; I was inching my way toward getting better, making small moves on the arduous climb out of insanity, but Nate had gotten sicker. He stopped calling me or coming to visit. When I’d call his house, and ask him to come out and play with me, his mom would answer and say he wasn’t there. He could no longer bring himself to take a phone call, to leave the house, to remember there were things worth getting out of bed for.
I drove to Tahoe a couple of times to see if I could find him. I wanted to get through to him. I wanted to save him. I thought I could. I didn’t know where he lived, so I went to the Shell station where he had been working, and he wasn’t there anymore. His co-workers hadn’t seen him, and no one around town could tell me where he’d gone.
A House in the Suburbs of South Reno, Age 25
The purple comforter on her bed was down, the kind that, when pushed upon, you sink into with a splash, falling and falling. The way she held me was different than how a man does, softer, less wanting.
We were trying to be quiet, quiet like two kids in church paying footsie, forcing ourselves not to laugh. Her two-year-old son was taking a nap in the room next door, her blonde-headed son, the first little boy I ever loved, he who unlocked this maternal thing inside of me. His hair smelt of baby shampoo. He was blonde, towhead blonde, and had small gaps between all of his front teeth. I’ve always respected imperfect teeth, for their honesty, their rebellion.
Her hair was blonde too, just like his, and short. Her bangs draped over her eyes. She smelt of expensive, feminine perfume, but the rest of her was all Tomboy, the baggy clothes, the deep voice, the chip on her shoulder, the well-earned chip of a single parent on her smooth, pale shoulder.
I’d never wanted a woman sexually, not like I wanted to be able to want her, not like she wanted me to be able to want her. She came to me at a time in my life when I still thought I had influence over my own passions; I was wholly ignorant of how powerless we humans are over what we do and do not desire. Alex knew what she wanted, and I knew only what I wanted to want.
Her entire being fascinated me, her quiet being, her woman-wanting being. The body underneath her loose fitting clothes was all curves, her frame larger than mine, and she moved with it, like she was in exactly the right skin. I envied the oneness she seemed to have with herself. I envied a great deal about her and the life she shared with her son, primarily that they had one at a time my own life was all ideas, all fantasies not yet fully formed.
For weeks we had been orbiting around each other, building up toward contact, circling in closer and closer until there was no longer any space between us. With her son taking a nap in the room next door, she and I drowning in a sea of her sheets, she leaned over me, her bangs hanging toward my face and tickling my forehead, and she kissed me, her warm mouth bringing me in, her soft lips pulling at mine, her yearning measured, considerate, direct.
Her sheets all around us, between us, a web of cotton and hair and limbs all smelling of her perfume and fabric softener, as soon I felt her mouth against mine I knew that I didn’t want this, that I couldn’t make myself want this. It was humbling, and terrible, like being dropped and landing hard, having once thought I’d enjoy the fall.
I stole my lips away from hers and giggled awkwardly, feeling much like a child experimenting with an adult thing. We went about the rest of the afternoon as if the kiss hadn’t happened, as if everything was routine. We watched a movie with her son, made dinner, drove around and played house, but from then on all I could feel was the loss, the loss of the tension between us, which it turned out, was the only thing we ever really had.
About the writer:
Allison L. Hilborn Tatro is a neurotic and yet slightly effective psychotherapist and writer. She was the second place winner of the Janice Farrell poetry prize and her poetry chapbook, Crooked, was published by Puddinghouse Press in 2006. She recently completed her second memoir and spends her free time with a polite Labradoodle, a frenzied Pit Bull, and her wildly supportive husband.
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