On our way out to pizza, I was able to say something cute and something funny about the new purse my mom had given me. A purse that looked like all the small, sleek, dark brown purses. And I was able to say it lightly, with a tone of forgiveness for all the ways mom and I were intertwined and how that lead to the decisions that got me and him here.
I could feel my tone be really winning, and it was genuine, though still very fresh, tenuous. We laughed with nervous relief. The strain of a plucked wire. He plucked me off the porch, swung me around in a hug before he set me down on the driveway. I said, with wry caution, as we got in the car, "Don't get too excited Though I am the one who has the issues with excitement. This is clearly chemical. It may not last..."
It had only been 10 days since I'd started anti-depressants.
He was quiet, then said,
"Well, you know that joke about love and herpes..." then paused, considering. I was surprised since it was usually me that knew jokes and facts about anything sexually sketchy.
"My biology teacher in high school--who was really socially awkward--used to say it."
In describing the teacher, he could have been talking about himself, but he never, or rarely, judged himself by making reference to any character traits in others.. Itself, a trait I found unfathomable and somewhat admirable.
"Yeah...?" I prompted, in what I hoped was a naturally rhythmic way.
He spoke very slowly. It was this that left me feeling lonely in my racing head. Or gliding on the brink of shared discovery. Depending on the day.
"The difference between love and herpes is that herpes is forever," he finally supplied.
By now, we were driving, winding our way out of the suburban cul-de-sac. His joke and a drop in the stomach, though I was well aware of what I'd said just before it--in essence, Don't count
on this lasting, me persisting as this me...for you, for an us.
"So, I hope I have your herpes." He added, matter-of-fact.
"Oh, OK." Now, I was back, talking in a voice, which was one of my real, intimate, but light voices. "We'll, you definitely have that, because I have herpes."
We were on the highway now. Flashing by chain establishments. Walmart, CVS, Home Depot. I hated these buildings, monolithic processors of commodity...and I, left to my own devices, could mot reach any of them. Nor did I want what they had. What i wanted was a good escort community. Then, I hastened to add, in case he had forgotten,
"Just the cold sore kind--I've had since I was a little kid."
"Me too." He steered his aged Toyota in a gentle, but adept way, between two raging SUVs.
"Mmm--hmm," a long-awaited, haughty confirmation in my voice. "That makes sense, that bump just beneath the inside of your lip I felt, which I was afraid was something worse." I remembered trying to tactfully ask him about it and him refusing to name it--which I later learned had nothing to do with danger or evasiveness or the existence of something untrustworthy. Though, in fact, his refusal to name was the big thing I would never trust--my tactic being to keep pointing to all my wild cards, out in the open.
"No," he said "You couldn't possibly remember a bump because you never kissed me with your tongue when we were first getting to know each other."
This was disturbing, but plausible. Some version of me had an excellent memory, but I did realize there was lots I didn't remember about the months before I met him and after. Also, it was sad to think (no matter what we would decide about our relationship in the coming months) that there was a time when I had held back from really kissing him.
"Well...at that time, I was getting my personal and professional wires crossed. If I didn't kiss you at first, it was because I was stalling to see if I needed to get paid or not."
He slapped my thigh as we pulled into the parking spec. "That's my girl!"
This was the kind of tone we could hope to last if the medicine worked and, or, if I decided not to go back to the city.
We walked, hand-in-hand, across the strip mall parking lot, toward the pizzeria, which was painted a kind of neon sherbet color. It was not quite 5pm. I was not quite 40, but headed to the early bird special. He preferred it because of his acid reflux. Across many yards of glimmering blacktop, the cab of a semi rested In the shade.
"Oh la, " I sighed, "Remember when we met a year ago...and you were homeless and I was a prostitute?"
He squeezed my hand and said, softly, "That's my girl.”