overheard at the table near the door
we never say goodbye

sleeping alone

January, 2011, 1118 words

First, the shoes. Proper shoes, from a time before men could get away with wearing so-called athletic shoes all day every day. Shoes that don't look quite right with jeans, because they were meant for something better. 
 
The digression spirals. It's a game I'm no longer very good at. At which I'm no longer very good. Further digression into concerns over syntax for sentences that were never going to be written, because they're all forgotten by morning. And then, as though I'm 17 years old again, bored in class and working over my list of requirements for the Composite Male, I suddenly start worrying about the feet inside the socks inside the shoes. Of course the socks are all right; a man with the correct shoes will naturally be wearing the correct socks. But what deficits do they hide? 
 
When you are 17, this can seem to matter greatly. When you are 45, it shouldn't even enter your mind. But it enters mine, because I can no longer easily trade in idle fantasy; reality intrudes and keeps me from sleep. Because that's all this is: an exercise for sleep, my own version of counting fire engines. 
 
The point is, or was, the shoes are a deal-breaker, or would be, should a situation ever again arise during which a deal might be struck. This is the theory, anyway. 
 
I've always been a very good sleeper. And whenever I have been not such a good sleeper, I play a game; the exact same game I have played for 30 years: creating a man to find in my dreams. At 15, these men were most often major league baseball players, classic film stars, or exotic Mediterranean men who were looking for just the right girl to coax them fully into heterosexuality. I had no experience with men at that time, of course, or even boys. I wasn't thinking about sex; that sort of hunger that takes hold of most of us just hadn't presented itself yet. I wanted to experience the tension that comes before the sex; the little tastes of pleasure that lead us toward more, though more of what I did not spend much time considering. It was largely about the drama, and it was also about the presentation. 
 
He'd have a short, sharp haircut with dark hair that set off his angular features and well-chiseled lips. He might have a slight early bit of grey over the ears. With strong, squarish hands, he'd be slim and possibly lanky, standing four to seven inches taller than me, and he'd know how to dress and how to walk in what he wore. 
 
My tastes in this regard have changed little, though the typical baseball player's physique has changed considerably, and I'm no longer interested in showing any man on which road his sexuality should naturally travel. 
 
The thing about the shoes is that it demonstrates a particular strength of character; one that fits well with my own, indicates an attention to detail, and also reveals a becoming sense of self-satisfaction. So it's not just one certain style of shoe, you see. It is a manifestation of personal style. But to think on this too long spoils the game, and that's the problem I'm dealing with lately. 
 
When I was younger, it was enough to compose a picture of someone with an attractive countenance, and then decide what I wanted to happen next. I'd drift off to sleep in the midst of a cool or cozy date, and not unoften, end up seeing it played out in my dreams. Lately, burdened with a sensation of being permanently stuck on an elevator going down, I keep stopping at the shoes, mind wandering off in no good direction, restless and bothered by the heat of the pillow. 
 
Because, of course, now I know what comes next. All the excitement, pleasure, joy, misery, pain, loss, confusion and loneliness. Neverending grief over what was, and what was, what is, meant to be. But at night, none of that should matter at all. At night, only the sleep and the dreams should matter. The dreams should be composed of anything I like, and not merely the unravelling knots of consciousness that tangled themselves through another endless, relentless day. Even if the combination Jimmy Stewart/John Slattery/William Holden of my creation doesn't appear during sleep, and he rarely does anymore, the counting still leads to a more peaceful rest. Only the numbers, worse than appearing out of order, keep getting stuck at one. 
 
So. The shoes. I chose them for him, and although he wouldn't have stopped to look at them twice, he's delighted with how they fit and how he somehow thinks he looks taller in the mirror. I warn him they'll take a little breaking in, but once he has, he'll feel like they always belonged there. He strides away with confidence, attracting the eye of a woman younger than me as he passes out of the store and sets off down the sidewalk. She catches up to him and I watch them both laugh as they disappear around the corner.
 
Well, that's hardly the guy, is it? I never even got to imagine loosening his tie and unbuttoning his collar. Just handed him off to someone younger, the same way it happens to women my age in real life. 
 
No one ever tells you about that when you're 17, and that hunger begins springing to life. You think you'll be 17 forever, and, worse, you have no inkling of how much that hunger grows, demanding to be fed and to feed another in turn, only to learn that a man's hunger is often fickle, desirous of newer, if not always more raw, energy. Sometimes the hunger still comes alive at night, in dreams, and these are not the dreams of a girl fumbling through the newness of sexual identity. But neither are they, by now, the dreams that startled you awake, sated without quite understanding or remembering how. So, like Ernie counting fire engines, I surround myself with pillows and compose a scene that will never happen, but might happen, in the enchantment of sleep. It's a romantic scene I attempt to compose, but it is not the romance I had in mind before I'd ever experienced any of my own.
 
(I like meeting him in a cemetery. We talk about people neither of us know, it begins to rain, we rush across the street for cover, I order hot chocolate and he orders tea. This is because the cemetery is in England. I've never been there, but I've looked it up. )
 
(And a fictional man will always already be wearing the correct shoes, if he's the fictional man for me.)

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