When I met him, he was not yet thirty-five, had one child, and his wife had been killed in a giant skyscraper two years before. He was disconcertingly young-looking: shorn hair, a boyish smile, a wily goofiness. I expected constant sadness, but he had somehow absorbed the blow, integrated it, and came out freshly laundered as a stronger man. His body was strong, six-two, tailored, strong straight shoulders, eyes straight ahead. He smiled easily.
I loved his stomach. I couldn’t stop touching it, marveling at the flat hardness, and his obliques — hard braids of muscle into his hips. Placing my palm over the flatness, I would let my fingers softly spread out over his hot golden skin, which was velvety soft. Such softness, to protect such strength. Sometimes I’d rub my cheeks against it, like a kitten, pressing soft kisses against the plush skin.
Later, when I was in DC, he would send emails saying we had to be together; if I wanted to move to New York, he would make it happen immediately.
I did go to New York. I went with him that summer to Nantucket, spending long days either on his boat or in the sofa in the living room, reading books with the windows open to the salty air. He would barbecue lobsters on the grill, pour wine, and we’d eat outside on the deck with the Atlantic shushing in the darkness.
He went back to work, and I returned to DC. I wasn’t sure what I was doing. He left me rattled. Some days I would be at my office on the Georgetown waterfront and just get up, lock the office, and wander along the Potomac, missing him. Memories, projections superimposing themselves over each other, until history and future and present was all one uncombable knot.
Some days he would simply show up. Usually this was at my apartment, around 11pm, having caught the last Delta shuttle from NYC. In his arms, damp and exhausted, all the worries vanished. It became clear what I was trying to do, what I wanted, how to get it. He offered it with an openness that tore at my heart. When he would leave on Monday morning, I would be moody and irritable. Nothing was okay when he was gone.
I finally went to New York. The first day he went to work, I was left to my own devices and an AmEx. I was home by three. He arrived home early, and I ran into his arms. “That was nice,” he said.
“You being here when I got here.”
I didn’t leave for a long time. When I finally left the East Coast, he offered to come with me, but I said no. I said I had some things to do myself. I wept bitterly. I wanted him desperately to come with me, to protect me from the things I knew I would encounter. He wanted to protect me. But I shook my head, crying with the bitterness of it.
He was the light by which I read, the voice at the bottom of the stairs.
Looking back, the city flashes, a white flash, and is gone. But he remains. I shut my eyes, and there he is. Holding the mystery and the certainty, the trembling future in his outstretched hand.