We were in your apartment alone. The night we almost kissed, when your hand was wrapped around my waist, when we were belly to belly, nose to nose, you said, “Do you really want this?” My yes was emphatic, breathless. I’d wanted it for months. Your mouth on mine. I’d dreamed about it regularly and woke up disappointed. And if it happened, it would be the gateway to something. The answer to so many unasked questions.
I am the only passenger on this bus. Save for the driver, an older woman with a scratchy drawl, cackling into her Bluetooth headset like I’m not even there. I hope she will not forget me.
I hope you do not forget me.
I wish I could forget myself. The sensation of wondering if people are watching me. What they see objectively and what I want them to see. The woman I am vs. the woman I portray. The way I push my hair behind my left ear, unable to decide whether to chop the sideswept bangs or grow them out. The title to the book in my hand—obscure, but not too obscure. The faint edges of music drifting from my headphones.
What did you see that first day when you said you were drawn to me?
There are no people in the aisle for me to watch, so I turn my stare out the window to watch the human blurs on the sidewalk: lovers embracing, friends huddled together on benches holding coffee cups, women in heels, men in suits, so many cell phones plastered against ears.
We used to ride the bus together, thigh to thigh, a pulsating almost between us. We were both other halves, but not of each other. You were more firmly tethered than me. When we’d get too close, you’d remind me of that.
We talked about the city. We talked about books. We talked about God. Wrapped in our rusting armors of faith, we thought it safe to divulge secrets and doubts. Your image of God was female. Yes, with amazing breasts. Just kidding. I remember you blushed when you said the word breasts in front of me. I didn’t believe in hell as an actual place, just an idea. An absence. I suspected most things in the Bible were just ideas, metaphors, not meant to be taken literally. You disagreed.
You’d always been more devout than me. My faith was the hand-me-down faith of my parents. No origin story, just something I was born into, even though I’d outgrown some parts of it. I believed in something—all the beauty in the world couldn’t possibly be random. But that’s all I really had to hold onto. You’d had an out-of-body experience at seventeen after a motorcycle accident. A bright light. An eerie calm. Weightlessness. Certainty—faith’s opposite.
We avoided all contact on Sundays—an unspoken decision. Perhaps out of reverence to our spouses. Or to God. Perhaps just out of guilt. I missed you on those days. I would check my emails and texts, hoping, even after napping soundly next to my trusting husband, even after making love to him and trying not to think of you when I came.
That was the reality of my life: thinking of you or trying not to think of you. Nothing in between. We spent two weeks apart at Christmas when school was out of session, and I was in a state of constant distraction. It was then I knew there was trouble to come. There was no way out that did not involve heart casualties: his, hers, yours, mine.
Your dad had been a cheater. A pastor who’d fallen for a young college woman in the congregation. You were seven and could only comprehend parts of what happened. He tore your family apart. The custody battle was messy, and you ended up in Pennsylvania with your brother and mom, close to your grandparents, spending summers with your dad. He relocated to Florida, remarried to Jessica, fifteen years his junior, and switched careers, destined to be shunned from ministry for his indiscretions. He and his new wife bought an old Airstream and opened a traveling coffee shop where they’d also live part of the time.
At first, you remembered, it was all newlywed bliss—too much touching and kissing and whispering when they thought that you and your brother were out of earshot. But the age gap quickly became a chasm and Jessi was soon bored, missing out on the twenty-something wildness she saw in her friends’ Facebook pictures. She left him before their second anniversary. He sold the Airstream, became a real estate agent, made a boatload of money selling oceanfront properties, and saw a new woman weekly.
You had vowed at seven—as a hurting boy who’d never been in love, who’d never experienced lust—not to become him. Never to commit adultery, never to divorce your wife, who would be God’s chosen partner for you, your one true love. We’d argued over Biblical divorce, its historical/geographical context, whether it was ever permissible: for abuse (yes), adultery (probably), falling out of love (silence).
We had both saved ourselves for marriage and married young. We were inexperienced, easily swayed by desire, easily guilted by any stray thought that was not of the person we’d promised to love and honor and cherish forever, in front of our families and in front of God.
We were in your apartment alone. The night we almost kissed, you backed away suddenly, angrily.
“This is wrong, this is so wrong, how can you not see that? Do you need me to prove it to you?” Your voice got louder and louder. “Should I get the Bible out and show you where it says we’ll both go straight to hell?”
It was so ridiculous when you said it out loud that I almost laughed, but we were both crying now. Your tears were angry—I could tell from the red-tipped edges of your ears.
I shouted, “No! Stop it. Stop being like this.” I wondered if the neighbors could hear us arguing. What they would think.
You left the room. You came back holding the holy, heavy book. Its gold-embossed edges caught the lamplight. You flipped through the pages, shaking. I turned away. You slammed the book down on the table. Its weight shook the whole apartment.
I moved to the foyer, in a rush to leave before you could hurt me more. Next to the door, like salt in the wound, was a framed photo of you and your wife on your wedding day, both beaming. The wood was inscribed with a verse about marriage.
You were so young and boyish, and I wish I’d known you then, wished I could have been your one true love—if that’s what you believed in.
And I wished I could have known you as an old man, your beauty fading, mine too, side by side on this bus, still laughing years later after the storm died down.