I don’t know how many hours I have left. Dave called from Reno at 8:00 last night, left a message that he’s coming home. How many hours is Reno from here? I knew he would do this. I freaking knew it. He went to Burning Man, was originally planning on coming back Tuesday, but before he left he cried and told me he had been thinking of canceling his trip, this trip that he has made every year for the last five years, because he didn’t want to be away from me for that long. I knew he would come home early, somehow find a way – drive through the night, sleep in the car for only short stints during the drive, risk everything, falling asleep at the wheel, a car crash, death, all to get back to me, making a heroic, caffeine-charged marathon quest to return as quickly as humanly possible to my side, whatever it took, with the utter desperation with which he has, from the beginning, approached me, his time with me, my attention, and whatever you’d call this relationship we’ve started up. When I saw in the paper that someone had lit the man on fire ahead of schedule, on Thursday or Wednesday, when it normally isn’t burned until Sunday night, I knew instantly that he’d use that as his excuse to come home four or five days early. As it is, he is cutting my reprieve short by a day, only one day, but each hour of peace and solitude lost makes me feel all the more smothered and irritated and disgusted with his puppy-dog-ness, his watching me like a dog watches you when you have food, waiting for handouts of approval and affection, and oh, the coveted golden bone: love.
In The Female Brain it is explained that men have 10 times the brain space devoted to sex, sexual thoughts, and arousal that women have. When a group of men and a group of women were shown a picture of two people, a man and a woman, talking, it triggered activity in the brain’s sexual center for the men in the study; they saw it as an opportunity for sex. The women in the study were stimulated in the communication center of the brain; they saw it as two people talking. I guess this explains why, when I am stretching at the beach, him sitting beside me – I told him in advance to bring a book or something to entertain himself because I’d need half an hour to stretch while we were there – he can’t or doesn’t keep his hands off me. He strokes my arms, strokes my legs, has to readjust how he strokes me because I keep moving, changing positions. I am stretching, after all. and when I do the stretch where I am laying on my back and I pull one knee up to my chest and then across my body, he uses this opportunity to lean over and kiss me right on the twot. Me stretching isn’t about sex; it’s about me stretching, I don’t say. And when we’re mushroom hunting and we run into two of his friends who have beaten us to the stash, and we’re standing in the meadow talking to them, and I bend down to tie my shoe, he later says, “It’s a good thing they’re gay because when you bend down like that, people can look down your shirt.” Me bending down to tie my shoe isn’t about showing you a little glimpse of my little cleavage; it’s about me tying my shoe, I don’t say. And when I’m gardening, dressed in an appropriately ratty, stained and full-of-holes t-shirt, baggy and loose, mind you, and with a tank top under it so that no naughty, tempting bits are visible through the holes, he interprets the shirt as an invitation because the holes make him all the more aware of what is underneath. Me wearing a ratty, holey t-shirt isn’t about sex; it’s about wearing clothing appropriate to the task at hand, I don’t say.
This is uncomfortably close to him, as a man, believing that I, as a woman, based on what I wear, how I look, how desirable or tempting he thinks I am, am responsible for his desires, impulses and behavior. Or maybe it is much more than just close; maybe it simply is that, completely and totally; he thinks that I, being female, am directing, controlling and eliciting his sexual impulses as a male. I suppose he can’t help it.
In my early 20s when my parents were having a really bad time in their marriage, they were both confiding in me, quite inappropriately, about their relationship. This was shortly after my mom’s boob job and she was complaining to me that suddenly the only use my dad had for her was sex and my dad was complaining to me that he couldn’t help it; that when he touched her or hugged her he got an erection, that he just couldn’t help it.
Now, if I don’t want this, my last day of solitude and peace, to be invaded by Dave’s early return, I have to find somewhere to go, somewhere where he won’t find me, because he will be at my front gate the second he gets home, wanting to be together, fused, enmeshed, entangled, inseparable for all the remaining hours of the day and evening, until I forcibly send him home. I was stupid enough to start dating a man who lives two houses down from me, so he can see when I’m home — except that, because I often ride my bike or walk places, the fact that my truck is here doesn’t necessarily mean I am here. So I can hide out, be very quiet, not answer the door, pretend I’m not here, not play any music, not shush dogs’ barking when he knocks. Leaving would be simpler. I can go to Barnes & Noble, sit in the café and read; I can go do errands. I don’t know really when he will be arriving so I don’t know when and for how long I need to stay gone. I could go to my island, my secret special place where I never ever see any other humans, but he knows where it is because I was stupid enough to take him there with me one afternoon, to share my secret special place with him. He did say that day that he recognized the fact that it is a special get-away place for me and that he would never come seek me out there. But I bet that under special circumstances, such as these, having been deprived of my company, attention and affections for a whole week, he would make an exception.
Did I mention that Dave is my neighbor? His living two houses away, across the back alley from me, means that he can, and does, listen for my garage door to open, which signals a coming or going via bike on my part, on which cue he can coincidentally pop out into the alley to put something in his garbage can and OH! look! here you are, coming or going from your garage right when I had something to throw away! How amazing, running into you like this in the alley! His living across the back alley means that he can, and does, listen for my courtyard/alley gate to open and/or close which signals that I’m taking something out to the garbage can or compost bin, on which cue he can, again coincidentally, pop out into the alley and wander down, just to see what I’m up to, just to say hi, just to see me, oh so casually, because he heard, was listening for, watching for, signs of movement upon which he could pounce. His living across the back alley means that he can, and does, see the skylight in my bedroom from his back yard and comment the next day on what time it was when I finally turned out the lights and went to bed last night.
My alley gate opens into my courtyard, walled by 6 feet of stucco, nice and private, private enough to have an outdoor clawfoot tub and not need to worry about peeping toms. Contrary to Dave’s assumptions, my outdoor tub is not about sex; it’s about the luxury, the solitary, peaceful luxury, of bathing in the open air.
One Sunday morning he came knocking on the courtyard door, bright and early enough that I was still wandering around in my pajamas, still only partway into my second cup of coffee. I had (very briefly) stood on the edge of the bathtub to tie a straggling vine to its trellis, making my arm (very briefly) visible above the courtyard wall. Seconds later he was at my gate: “I saw your red sleeve stick up so I thought I’d come say hi.”
Okay. okay, okay, okay, okay. (Read that a la Danny DeVito. Or is it Martin Short?) I just looked it up on Mapquest. Reno to here is just over 11 hours. If he left at, say, 4am, since he is an insomniac and would most likely decide to make use of those early morning hours when he isn’t able to sleep anyway, he could be here as early as 4:00 this afternoon. Earlier if he decided to drive through the night. Shit, if he slept for only a few hours and started driving at midnight he could be here as early as noon.
Obviously I need to deal with this situation. I need to stop seeing him. I realized this during this week that he’s been gone, when, instead of missing him, I was struck by the sense of relief that I felt in not having him coming at me every day with his neediness, with what Byron Katie calls the “I want you to like me” stamp, trying so hard that I feel exhausted in his company, trying to say and do all the things he thinks I would want him to say and do, trying, essentially, to extort love from me. I’m sure to many people I sound like an unappreciative, cold hearted bitch. Here I have this sweet, attentive, affectionate man who adores (needs) me (someone, anyone) and wants to be with me (someone, anyone) and who, knowingly, proudly, wears his heart on his sleeve and I am not happy with it. The problem, you see, is that I don’t want to be with a man who relies on me wholly and solely to supply him with his sense of self worth, to stroke his ego, tell him he’s wonderful, tell him he’s my hero, lift him up and buoy him because he is entirely dependent on another person to do so, because he doesn’t know how to stand on his own two feet, because he doesn’t feel he’s ok unless I’m telling him I think he is so. And I want a man who can handle leaving me alone for two, three days at a time to do my own thing, to read, putter in my garden, sit and watch my vegetables grow, eat popcorn for dinner if I want to, be alone, peacefully, with my dogs, or do whatever else I feel like doing, and not watch me the entire time from two houses away and call that giving me space.
You don’t have to ask it; I already have, a hundred thousand times: What the hell was I thinking dating my flippin’ neighbor?!