Andare, Partire, Tornare


Skeletons in the closet

Being 26 means that you can look back at yourself at 18 and laugh. But it's not really a mean, bitter laugh, because you can remember how right all those stupid decisions seemed at 18. At 18, I thought I was finally starting to make more mature decisions. After all, I wasn't doing the stupid things I was doing at 16, now was I? No, I was a far more sophisticated creature than that.

Which doesn't explain why at the age of 18 I was convinced that I was madly in love with a married man older than my father.

It was during those heady days when you're a freshman in college and tasting that freedom. Unfortunately, I was also tasting something new and vastly exciting - the power of the Internet. For once, my lack of skill at face to face relationships could be overmastered by my skill at writing - a large vocabulary gets you attention when you wield it on MUSH's, as I was doing. And of course I was terribly flattered by all the attention I was getting - when you go through high school as an invisible person, especially to the opposite sex, it's easy to persuade yourself that you're making a CONNECTION with somebody, even if that connection is as tenuous as the electrons dancing between you and them. I had friends, and then I had friends who shared my delight in these online games, and who would sit with me late at night, roaming the worlds that existed only as text on a screen, teasing and tweaking and making friends.

I didn't know, at first, that he was so much older than I was. He was a professor at a fairly prestegious university, and my head was turned by the attention from an older, wiser, more learned man. So when he disclosed that he was married, I was shocked, but managed to buffer it by wrapping myself in a cocoon of pink gauze. I was in love, I told myself. He was in love with me. His wife was irrelevent. This was all aided by the unreality that he was - he was a voice on the telephone, wry and witty, and a presence on my computer, full of anecdotes and fun.

We met in person. I, knowing the dangers possible, insisted on meeting in public - a local McDonalds where I knew there were always people. When he appeared, recognizing me by my pile of books and a bandanna I said I would be wearing, I was a bit shocked by his appearance - so much older than he was in my head! Tall, with a pot belly that looked out of place on his frame, a straggly beard, glasses that were twenty years out of date. He was still witty and warm, but suddenly the reality of him was shoved in my face

It didn't stop me from going to a nearby park and engaging in some kissing - although I was rapidly beginning to understand that if he was real, undoubtably his wife was real too. Flesh and blood, a woman who *existed* up somewhere in New York, somebody who had married this man and had had children with him - children who were much closer to my age than I liked to think about. It meant that not only was I kissing a man I found rather repulsive, but I was kissing a man that should not have been kissing me. I'm not sure which was the stronger - had he been handsome as well as well-spoken, would I have still delighted in him? Impossible to say.

He went back to New York, and we continued our relationship, although it was distinctly less enthusiastic on my part. Eventually, I began to distance myself from him, and even get angry - I threw his age and his marriage back in his face. He found himself another young woman who moved to New York to be closer to him. After that, I don't know. I've had infrequent contact with him over the years, but sometimes it shocks me to look back and realize that it's been nearly nine years since this happened. So much water under the bridge. So much time to learn. So much time to question why I had made such a fool of myself. I fought with Persia over it. I hid it from my other friends, knowing that they would disaprove. I reveled in the secrecy and skulking around. It was my precious thing, and I hugged it to my chest until real life intervened.

I don't know what horrible decisions I will look back on from age 35. I just hope they're not as fraught with the potential for extremely bad mistakes. And I'm glad that even at age 18, I had some small sense of self-preservation that kept me from giving myself to a stranger who didn't deserve me.

8:04 p.m. - 2002-04-30


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