The Last to Know

by Peter Gannon Crumlish

I woke up early. Across the street I can see the Methadone junkies visiting the center. Same as last year when I'd get up early to write. Probably same junkies.

I went to bed around 2 last night but still woke up at 6. Then came the sadness, except I had slept on it so it wasn't as heavy. It was just as real but harder to crawl back into. So now it hangs in its complexity somewhere off to the side, but longer, convoluted, less immediate.

I wanted to cry yesterday, but I refused. I guess there was a limit to the self-pity I could tolerate. I kept trying to understand why I was sad and if it was legitimate. She had been free to make the choice, with no obligations to me. It wasn't, as she said, a betrayal, after all. And they were sweet together. He was a really nice guy, pretty and kind and I knew they were close, intimate. They had shared so much for almost a year.

We met through work. She caught my interest right away, but I remember not paying too much attention to her, just assuming she had a boyfriend and wouldn't be interested in me.  So I was unsuspecting when she came over and sat next to me one night when the whole office went out for drinks. We were at McSorley's sitting at a round table, sawdust on the floor. I had to lean close to hear her speak over the barroom noise.  Our knees were interlocked and our heads bent together. Someone further down the table yelled, "Can you two get any closer?"  We danced that night.  Very wild and abandoned.

At that point I guess I thought I had a chance. I couldn't wait to see her again. Our office threw an end-of-the-season party. I went and waited for her to arrive. She came and looked stunning. We danced, but the party was lame so we left.

Actually we slipped out a back door and ran down the street laughing. We both knew they'd be talking about us.

I asked her if she wanted to go to the Park. I showed her the place where we used to climb over the wall when we were kids. We clambered over and sat entwined, smoking and kissing. I didn't remember this until later but she told me then she wasn't sure she wanted to make a commitment. She told me about breaking up with her ex- and how she'd gone through a bad time afterwards and wasn't ready to become so attached. I told her I was in the same boat. My girlfriend and I had come to the end of our relationship, but both of us were reluctant to say the final words. As we ran back to my place hand-in-hand I repeated, "No commitment, just fun! No commitment, just fun!" I had forgotten about that till later when she reminded me.

During the night she said, Do you do this all the time? Take girls back to your place? How many women have slept on this bed? You're the first, I told her, really. Later, just before we slept I apologized for my narrow bed. She thought it was sweet, my narrow bed. The last thing she said was, remember to kiss me in the morning.

I remembered. I gave her my robe and we squeezed orange juice in the kitchen and made tea and toast.

I didn't see her till the following night. We met for coffee and talked. We were a little careful of each other. We walked to Riverside Park and sat and talked for a couple of hours. It started to rain a little. She invited me inside and said we could watch a movie.

Her roommate was from Spain.  He was tall and had a gentle smile and soft eyes.  I wondered if there was something between the two of them. 
He had a very slight attitude of protection for her.  I met her cats.  After a while the roommate went to bed and left us alone.  Like the first night we spent together we didn't sleep much.  I had an itch in my throat and chills and realized I must have caught a cold sitting in the rain.  We stayed in bed all day.  Her roommate politely averted his eyes when he came out of his room. He talked to us without really looking at us as we lay in the bed in what was basically the living room.  He had this charming gesture when answering a question.  He'd place his finger near his eyebrow as if scratching and look to one side like he was thinking. "Aahhh..." he'd say putting his finger to his brow, "yesssu, maaaybe." They seemed like they were really good friends.

He had to go somewhere and said good bye. She said, aren't you going to give me a kiss? He smiled, slightly embarrassed, then leaned down over her and kissed her lying next to me. Just as he kissed her he looked over at me. I couldn't tell if it was an apologetic glance or a touché.

After he left she told me he'd moved in about a year ago. For a while they were interested in each other and there was a lot of sexual tension in the air, she said. Finally they both decided it was better to be friends.

He was a real ladies' man back in Spain, apparently. That surprised me because he seemed so nice. I always thought it took a certain amount of meanness to be a real ladies' man. I have to admit part of me was gloating that she should have chosen someone like me over him. He was taller and better-looking and had a nice accent and was really polite and dressed neatly the way an American never could. Yet she'd taken me to her bed, not him.

When we finally got up and managed to get out of the apartment it was almost 6.  We walked through the Park and finally sat on a bench half-way between her place and mine.  Even though we both had to be somewhere we couldn't pull ourselves apart.  I walked the rest of the way home about a foot off the ground.  It was, naturally, an incredibly beautiful day with the clearest sky and the loveliest people everywhere.

We met often after that even though both of us had become busy. Then there was a turning point. It had started to get hot. I stood waiting to meet her at a bus stop near my house. She was late. I started to get into a bad mood. Actually, I was getting mad, but wouldn't admit it to myself. I didn't want to be angry at her. So when she came I had a strange expression on my face, stiff, with a forced smile. We didn't kiss and even when we got inside there was some sort of barrier between us. I didn't feel like I should touch her even though I wanted to. We sat on the bed and talked.

Her ex-boyfriend had come over the night before at 4:30 am.  They talked for hours.  He still loved her.  They'd been together for two and a half years, but a good seven months of that was spent trying to break up and the first six months he wouldn't commit until she threatened not to see him anymore.  The break-up had been messy, the whole relationship unhealthy and it had taken her a long time to deal with things in her life.  He'd opened up a place inside her, she told me, through their sexuality, that she'd needed to express, to get in touch with.  But he'd filled up that place entirely.  When she was with him she felt so safe, so secure, too secure.  She felt she couldn't live without him.  Then after they broke up she had to heal over that place he'd opened up and sort of claim it for herself.  She wanted to own that place.  She wanted it to be hers.  And now that she felt secure and able to be involved with someone new she wasn't sure she wanted to fill up that space right away.  She wanted to claim that space for herself, she said.

I said I understood. We became matter-of-fact and touched less. Every time I saw her after that she seemed happier and enjoying life more. There was so much going on and she was almost high with living. It was the spring. It had freed everyone up. It was like musical chairs. The winter ended, the music started and we all raced around the city. The music stopped and I sat down with her. But then the music started again and she was gone.

She'd told me it didn't seem fair to call it a betrayal, but she didn't think it was fair not to let me know either. We sat across from each other over brunch in a small cafe on West 4th.

They'd spent the whole time together, from when he picked her up at the place where she was getting her legs waxed, around 4, all the way through the night till the next afternoon when he had to catch his plane back to Spain. She made him promise he'd write a long letter on the plane.

Things usually have a delayed reaction for me so that I don't always know what's going to affect me, or whether what's affecting me is the first thing or something else that comes after it.

They had taken a blanket and the bottle of Spanish wine he'd been saving, up to the steps of Columbia and sat on the grass. It was late. They made toasts each time they drank. It was where they'd met, she told me. The first night they'd met, they had also stayed up all night right there sitting on the lawn by the steps.

As soon as she told me, it sank in heavy. I looked away to get a better picture, to understand exactly what she was saying. Do you mind my saying this, she asked. No, no, I told her. I'd rather know.

They'd started their toasts with what they hated the most about each other as roommates. After they'd finished the wine, one of the glasses broke, so he smashed the other. He'd said that was something Hitchcock used to do.

We went over to see some friends of hers.  I really didn't feel like being with anyone, especially her friends.  But I still wanted to be around her and being around her alone would just mean more talk.  I walked along with this stupid, little-mouthed, sullen expression, like a singed cat.  She just seemed normal, like it was something I was going through, but she'd be supportive, keeping up the conversation, acting like nothing had happened.

Her friends were nice and they were moving into a really charming apartment in an old, old house on Hudson Street. The backyard was all green and shady. The front windows seemed not far above the street giving the whole place, the apartment, the neighborhood, the company, an intimate air. But I didn't feel like having a good time and I just sat down in a chair. I wanted to go to sleep. The funny thing is, I happened to know even before I'd met her friend that she (the friend) had had an affair with some guy (whom I later met), even while she was moving into this sweet apartment on Hudson Street with this 'really sweet' guy. All her friends, who all knew, (except him of course) thought it was terrible. Really inappropriate. He was nice.

We went downstairs to a cafe and sat out back in the garden. We talked and played cards. I looked up and smiled at the other guy at one point and thought, how odd: the two cuckolds play cards.

I got home and decided to clean. At one point as I stood over the kitchen sink I felt like vomiting. At another point I was carrying a bucket and I had this air pocket trapped in my throat that I think was a sob.

But I really didn't think I wanted to cry. Maybe it was because, as she said, it wasn't exactly a betrayal. I mean, it wasn't like she'd made a commitment and then broke it.

And maybe it was because the more I'd allow myself to look at it and imagine, and see them together, the more I was envious of them. The more they seemed right together, that the whole episode was so damned sweet and perfect it made me want to cry. And who's allowed to cry over that?

Copyright © 1995
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