Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
I find myself in a weird place right now. For one, the lack of sleep seems to have caught up with me because I find myself at the tail end of a five month battle with pneumonia. There’s also the fact that I broke up with my boyfriend on a Wednesday and then woke up the following Tuesday in the arms of another man. And now said man is bringing me milkshakes in bed.
I’m not entirely sure what happened there but I’m kind of liking it.
Shall we delve into the story together, dear reader? I assure you, it is a doozy.
Original Boyfriend (we’ll call him Nelson) was like a dream in the beginning. He was over six feet of bearded, bespectacled (and toned!) dork, and I loved it. He was utterly unprecedented in my book; twenty six years old, with a masters degree in psychology, charm to match, and a well paying job at the college where I work. We had lunches on historic Main Streets. He was a theatre kid. When we cooked meals together in my kitchen, he would insist upon doing the dishes afterward. It was like dating Danny Tanner and Johnny Depp’s love child. I was enthralled.
It came to light rather rapidly how troubled he was beneath that carefully crafted facade. He had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, had been out of therapy for a year, and had been off of his medications for months.
A couple months into the relationship, I was caring for him as a mother would for her child, and I don’t say that to sound like some great martyr. The infatuation had clearly died, but rather than run, I promised I would stay by his side as long as he needed support. While I was determined to stick to that promise, many nights went like this:
Nelson: “I’m so glad to have you in my life.” (8:00 pm)
Nelson: “I just don’t know if I can give you everything you need.” (8:03 pm)
Nelson: “We don’t spend enough time together.” (8:10 pm)
Nelson: “I don’t think I can give you more time.” (8:15 pm)
One week later: Repeat!
Exhausted, I found myself wrapping my arms around my body, trying to literally pull it together. I had a hard enough time keeping my own shit in order, with a full time school schedule and a job to balance. Trying to emotionally manage another person too was overwhelming.
Cue Guy #2.
Liam is a tall lanky IT geek with a passion for military mechanics, punk music, and technology. He builds literal computers with his bare hands, has a gorgeous curiosity for everything, and his wit is unparalleled. Liam is also employed at the college where I work.
I know what you’re thinking. Dear me! Another co-worker???
I must have missed that day in class when they covered the “Don’t Shit Where You Eat” concept.
Liam was one of the guys who regularly comes to chat with me at the reception desk where I work, and we got to be fast friends. There was an effortless banter to the way we talked, like a tennis match of facetious witticisms and old music. This was the ease of an old childhood friendship, minus the childhood part. I have distinct memories of laughing at Liam’s turned back as he walked away, returning to work having just uttered some ridiculous joke or other. These were the only instances of real laughter that I can remember from then. It was a dark time.
At this point, my boyfriend and I were rolling downhill with all the force of an armed tank. He was getting needier and needier, and while I was willing to work with him, I was getting the imminent sense that the amount of care that I was investing in our relationship was not being matched. It was like being on a rowing team in which only one person hold the oars.
Meanwhile, Liam and I were meeting (platonically!) for midnight Denny’s runs, and we went for aimless moonlit drives, during which we blared obnoxious music, took random turns, and drove onward into the night just to see where we’d end up. Once we found ourselves many, many miles from home on an old cracked road that wound and twisted through dark, hilled farmland. We turned off the headlights, got out of the car, and walked for what seemed like an eternity (still platonic!). Overhead, power lines hummed and the stars were our only source of light. We had nowhere to be, nothing to worry about, and an infinite world of conversation spread before us. I had never felt so free in my life. I can remember looking up at Liam’s starlit face as we walked, thinking that I had finally found that ever elusive wingman I had for so long dreamed of, and never thought I’d find. It was like having a best friend after a lifetime of being alone.
About a month into this, a friend of mine from work invited me to his beach house on the Eastern Shore for a weekend. It seemed a home renovation show was interested in filming his house, and he wanted me to be part of the process since I was an actress.
It was a fabulous work opportunity and I was always down for a road trip, but I did not feel comfortable sleeping in a grown man’s house by myself. I voiced this to my boyfriend, whom my friend had also cordially invited to stay. My boyfriend was not enthusiastic about accompanying me, claimed he had better things to do, and wished me luck on the journey.
Miffed, I voiced this same concern to Liam. He assured me that he was happy to come along, and that he wouldn’t let anything happen to me.
I returned to my boyfriend with Liam’s offer, and explained that I would be spending the night in a house with not one, but two grown men. If he was not completely okay with this, I would call off the whole thing right then and there.
“Nope. I don’t care,” he told me.
So I went.
Liam and I took my car, because I love to drive, and the first half of the trip was like flying. We were broadcasting the Beastie Boys, the Cramps, old jazz, and a myriad of ancient hip hop from the open windows. I was making good time on the highway too, cracking god awful jokes because I loved making him laugh, while also weaving in and out of traffic like a total ass wipe.
This explains why I was pulled over by state police for going 90 in a 55.
I was NOT given a warning. I was given a ticket, worth five points on my record and accompanied by a $390 fine. And then I was told to have a nice day.
I don’t recall much of the second leg of our journey beyond peeing a little and crying a lot, but upon arrival, my friend took us out for consolatory drinks.
It was a neon lights and sand floors type of bar, nestled upon the beach, and while sitting in a wooden booth by the water, sipping something that had quite a lot of rum in it, we started discussing tickets and speeding and the consequences of such a large amount of points on one’s record and what happens if you don’t pay the fine and shady things that others have done to avoid the ticket that resulted in arrest and all of a sudden the open-air bar got very small and very stuffy and the concept of breathing vanished from my mind like a tissue in the wind.
Then, Liam did something quite small, but very significant to me.
He simply cupped his hands over mine on the table. It was brief; he pulled them away, seeming to recognize what that small act signified only after he’d done it. I felt something stir inside of me, something new and strange, took a large swig of rum, and tried to forget about it.
Afterward, we hit another bar at my friend’s bequest, and also at my friend’s bequest, Liam got incredibly drunk. It didn’t take much; two Guiness and half of whatever rum drink we had at the beach bar, and he was tanked.
It had been my plan since this trip’s inception to spend the night walking on the beach, preferably until dawn. Around midnight, after Liam had downed a hard lemonade (much to my friend’s hilarity) he and I set off for the ocean on foot.
It was dark, and damp, and chilly, when we reached the sand. Something more than a breeze but not quite a wind whipped my hair into my face as we walked. Our menu of conversation consisted of existentialism and our whacky families and mechanics and our careers and things that still stung from our pasts, and before I knew it, we were miles away from our starting point. The four o’clock hour crept upon us.
Also on the menu that evening was the subject of skinny dipping.
“Well. Here’s a good spot,” announced Liam.
I stared agape at him, unsure of what to do. I’d given the idea a fervent “hell yeah” in discussion but actually exposing my thong-beclad ass to the beachfront hotel rooms behind us was something else entirely.
“I mean, you don’t have to,” he amended. “But I’m going to.”
A smile turned the corners of my mouth, I could feel it.
“You want to, don’t you?” he accused, smiling too.
“Well, you’re here. Why not now?”
I insisted upon mulling about for an extra 15 minutes to find an even darker, secluded-er spot, and then I went for it. There was a nervous sputter in the base of my stomach, but not for the reasons that might be expected. Ordinarily, I would have been incredibly intimidated by being so vulnerable, so, well, naked, in front of another human being. I was not so with Liam. Instead, having just committed my first offense with the law, I was concerned about public indecency charges. There were, after all, sleeping holidaymakers behind us in the distance.
There was also the ever prevalent notion that I was not a free woman. Liam and I were definitely nothing more than friends, I assured myself, but I was well aware of the anxiety riddled young man that I’d left at home.
Didn’t stop me though.
“You first,” I shooed him off. “I’ll close my eyes.”
Confession: I didn’t actually close my eyes.
Sneakily, I peeked just a smidge out of my left eye and caught a glimpse of Liam’s bare white ass glowing in the moonlight as he streaked across the sand to the sea. Part of me felt the urge to giggle like a little girl. Part of me wanted to heckle him for the way his cheeks jiggled entertainingly as he ran. And part of me was intrigued by the sight of his skin, and all at once I wanted very much to join him.
First the jacket came off. Then the pants, slowly, slowly, followed by my t shirt. I folded these items neatly in a small pile, placed on top of my shoes, and stood, ocean air moist against my body, feeling both liberated and intoxicated. I strode toward the water’s edge.
That water was cold as fuck, man. Holy hell.
I cowered up to mid calf in arctic frigidity as Liam threatened to drag me in deeper. I promised him a silent and witness free death if he did so, and he smartly opted to sit down in the water. We were quiet for a while. I noticed that there is something about those silent moments that drift by unsullied by conversation, in which two people can just be, that felt a lot like relief.
We watched the stone grey waves lap at the beach, leaving behind great froths of bubbly whiteness, and then one at a time, we returned to the sand to fetch our clothes.
Pro tip: do not attempt getting dressed immediately after climbing out of the Atlantic. There was a stickiness on our skin, like we had rolled some sort of salty sap on a forest floor, that bunched up our clothing uncomfortably. We ended up in the water again, but this time, fully dressed.
“Run with me.” Liam said suddenly.
My first thought, admittedly, was, “...why?”
“C’mon.” He extended one cold pruny palm toward me. “Take my hand.”
So I did.
We emerged even wetter and stickier than before, but god was it worth it. He picked me up and swung me around in the air, faking the swift movement in which he might toss me out to open sea many times. I was startled by how able he was, throwing my weight about like a small sack of potatoes. My arms interlocked around his neck for the first time, as though the movement had been rehearsed for performance, and I threw my head back, laughing gloriously
This was still totally platonic, by the way. Just to clarify.
After that, we made the long trek back. Showers were in order when we returned. Then, finally warm and clean, I discovered Liam sleeping in the overcast early morning light that filtered in through the dirty windows of the beach house, on the smallest available couch. He reminded me of a child, the way he was curled in on himself, half in the fetal position, entirely too big for that loveseat. He had a hand awkwardly tucked between his knees, and he burrowed his face into the pillow with little subconscious snuggly movements. I located a thick blanket, draped it over him lightly, and laid down myself on the larger couch opposite him. A moment or two passed.
All of a sudden, I was struck with something, something bigger and stronger than I had ever felt before. It was the sudden burst of understanding that I was a goddamn liar.
The unanticipated onslaught of protectiveness and warmth and familiarity and fascination and holy hell, attraction that I felt for this guy hit me like a bullet train. The past couple months that we’d spent together found me on a one way race track, continually passing the “We’re just friends! Honest!” mark about seven thousand times. But the truth was, I had fallen for Liam, unyieldingly, and irrevocably.
Ohhh, was I in trouble.
In time, exhaustion hit me as well, and I awoke a few hours later. We grabbed some greasy Denny’s food to combat his hangover, and drove home.
A week and a half later, in a dark and vacant parking lot, Nelson approached me with more emotional anxieties and we together decided it was better to part ways for good. He needed space to sort himself out, perhaps return to therapy. And just like that, I was free.
Days later, I awoke in Liam’s protective embrace, wrapped in my own blankets, in my own bed. We only slept together in the literal sense, but a week after that, it was revealed that Liam had feelings for me.
“We need to take it slow,” I told him. “I really love having you around and I don’t want you to become the rebound guy because that does exist and what happens if we break up? Could we really still be friends? Going back to what we were would be impossible and *anxiety* and *worry*, etc.”
Naturally after that conversation we found ourselves avidly making out on an afternoon train to New York City, approximately one week later. Now I find myself thinking about kids with him.
Something about him makes me breathe easier. Pre-Liam, I analyzed my life with the biggest honking magnifying glass I could find, going over extraneous details and nothingnesses with superfluous intensity. I wrote essay after essay after essay trying to figure things out. But this boy makes me want to do more than just analyze. He makes me want to live.
I also feel more supported and loved than I ever have in my life. We have spent holidays together. Our families are happy with our choices in significant others. This story has one of those sappy happily ever after endings that used to make me vomit into my own lap.
I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. I would ordinarily say “don’t date the people you work with” but my second attempt at this concept has worked out beautifully, so…
Maybe my point is that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to try things, and experiment, and not look back. In the end, you might end up finding the best thing that has ever happened to you.