It was autumn and the 80s hadn’t wrung themselves out yet. The tree branches, free of summer’s frivolities, crackled in the November breeze and pushed the funk of leaf rot, a foreshadowing of eventual growth, into my apartment. I sat on the scuffed linoleum kitchen floor, low-lit, filled with anticipation, alcohol, and a kind of hope.
With a shiver, I pulled a blanket around my shoulders, faced the empty room, and dialed information in Pittsburgh, where P had gone for graduate school. I’d slept with him once, had been obsessed with him before and after. It was his thrift store coat. It was his thick orange wool sweater and international acumen. It was my absolute need.
But now that I’ve built the scene up–have returned to that kitchen and that apartment, to that mostly fucked-up time—I don’t have any follow-through. P answered. We talked briefly, my diction blunted by booze. I never called him again and hold no torch for a three decades gone projection of need onto a stranger. But still that time, that phone call, did return to me recently one evening as October’s wavering and breezy twilight fell into darkness.
I’m on the eve of turning 50 and these kinds of scenes seem so far away and so achingly tender and lonely, a series of empty memories where salvation was just around the corner, one man away. It’s romantic in a way that I no longer am, along with desperate and so. . . young. My youth was made up of these obsessions, a focus on potential saviors, men to distract me from the ache (the basketball whiz; the older man; the dorm punk; the wounded WASPs; the artsy Mancunian; the bad idea.) Autumn was new hope and ache and alcohol, my mind fuzzy with loneliness.
I wouldn’t want to return to it, though a dash of naïveté sounds refreshing. I no longer blur the lines with drink. I am sensible in my expectations. I know that no person can complete me and am also grateful for my grounded and funny husband and my boy on the verge of independence. My obsessions were fires that kept me distracted and wishing, hoping, to be chosen. Those unwitting strangers were stand-ins for the undefined parts of me, projections of a need to be seen.
Here I am. Visible to myself. And perhaps to you. Autumn stretches before us with its aches and pains, with its little declines and slow deaths, all in service to spring’s soft greenery, the future, fuel for the young fumblers who will figure it out eventually.