Open and Honest – Part V
“Old man,” she calls me.
“Yessum,” I say in my old man voice. “The problem with being such an old man is the thinning hair and receding hairline.” She giggles as my voices rises and falls over a range of pitches.
“Didn’t your students call you a 5 year-old yesterday?”
“Well, sure,” I reply. “I was a mature soul when I was younger. I figure I should act younger the older I get to make up for it.”
“At that rate, you’ll be a newborn in a few years,” she jokes.
“Perhaps, but I plan to go through a long teat-suckling phase.” She turns and our eyes meet. “Can you help me out with that?” I ask, eyebrows raised above puppy dog eyes.
“Oh my god, Ben!” She laughs. And I know she’s enjoying her surprise.
I can’t hear my phone ding from beneath my earbuds, but screen coming alive is enough to draw my attention.
It starts simply enough, her telling me about her craft project, me trying to logic out how to convince her to come over. But it’s a futile effort on my part; she’s wrapped up in her project gluing, holding, waiting. I switch into play mode.
“I can think of so many better uses for your hands,” I text her.
“Oh really? Well I’m very open to suggestions.”
“I figure we have to free up your hands before offering suggestions for them. But if you’re not too sticky, you should put those tactile senses to good use.”
“What exactly are you suggesting?”
“A variety of things. A touch of this, a touch of that, perhaps. With a stroke of luck, I’m sure you could feel out what I’m saying.”
“I get the feeling you’re suggestion something a little touchy for some people… You want me to sleep well?”
“You seem to be getting close to putting your finger on it. I’m sure it’s nothing you can’t handle. And I hope you’d sleep well with a little digital enhancement.”
“I desire to know exactly what you’re saying. I feel as though you’re beating around the bush. I’m literally shivering with anticipation to find out.”
“Relax. There’s always a palm before the storm. And as long as it doesn’t rub you the wrong way, I’m sure you can keep a grip on things with or without me.”
“How can I relax? I feel we’re getting to the climax of the conversation. Are you trying to wet my appetite for adventure?”
“You’re right. It’s been too light; too shallow. We should move more quickly, delve deeper, and see if we can’t get that motor really revving under the hood.”
“You don’t think I’d come… around too quickly?”
With that, she has the last word. It’s not an easy task with me, but I feel at a loss. I’m impressed, pleased, and excited that even from a distance, even over an hour and half of texts going slowly back and forth, she’s entertained.
I fall asleep with a smile on my face and her eyes dancing through my head.
“You should feel honored,” she tells me. “I’ve never really engaged in wordplay like that before.”
“Oh really,” I say, echoing her favorite phatic.
“Oh really,” she says with smirking, narrowing eyes. “Usually I just ignore it or let it fade away. I definitely don’t respond back.”
“Hmm,” I grunt. “You could’ve fooled me. You seemed rather good at it.”
“That’s how I felt!” she says with pride and excitement.
“Maybe you should do it more often,” I suggest.
“I’m not sure you could handle that,” she jokes.
All I can do is smile at the prospect.
“Sorry about kneeing you in the back,” I say. She glances at me quizzically. “When I dove across you to turn off my alarm this morning.
“It’s ok,” she says with a laugh. “I was like, ‘What’s that horrible noise? What’s that horrible light? Oh god, knee!’”
“Sorry,” I say again sheepishly.
“It’s ok.” She lets it sit for a second, her smile slowly fading as her mind wanders slightly. “Does it bother you when I stay over?” she asks.
“Not anymore. I didn’t sleep well at first,” I admit, remembering the early nights perched on the side of the bed, curled up next to her listening to her breathe, wondering what I had done to get so lucky. “I think it was the novelty of it. I’m not really used to sharing my bed.”
I think of the other women I’ve spent the night with over the years. I remember sitting up all night watching the traffic drive by one’s apartment, staring at her body shirk the covers in the summer heat, wondering what the morning will bring. I remember her arms clutching my chest, wrapped around me as if I were the only thing holding her to the earth, holding so tightly even in sleep that I wasn’t sure she would ever let go. I remember lying uncomfortably on the floor beneath the couch, paranoid she’d wake up in the darkness and find herself alone if I went to my bed. I remember reaching out with my leg across the expanse of the bed, just hoping that a little touch would be enough in a room shared with a half-dozen other people. And I never remember sleeping as well as I have the past few weeks when she’s beside me.
“I almost feel like I sleep better with you there,” I admit. “I’m very comfortable with you here now.”
“Yeah,” she smiles, “it took some getting used to, but I feel the same way.”
“Does our age difference ever bother you?” she asks me.
She has to ask me that now. Twenty-four hours before, and the answer would be an easy no. Now, it’s not so simple.
The age difference itself doesn’t bother me. It’s certainly one of the larger gaps I’ve even toyed with, and definitely the largest where anything’s come of it, but it’s never been about age. She’s smart, and beautiful, and I have a lot of fun with her. I’m fascinated by her passion, excited by her excitement, impressed by her willingness to learn and try new things even when its scary. Some of my references fly over her head, and our interests don’t seem to overlap well outside of kids, education, and snowsports, but I’m interested in everything, and if she’s willing to teach, I’m willing to learn.
Last night, however, I saw a gap that might actually matter. The way she acted, irresponsibly and dangerously playful, struck me as immature. The way she treated me and others, the way she moved through the crowd, came off as selfish and thoughtless.
For the first time in ages, I didn’t sleep well with her there.
I woke before my alarm, shutting it off deftly before it sounded. I lay in bed, angry, hurt, determined to sleep later than her. She’ll wake up and there won’t be coffee and breakfast, I told myself, wanting her to recognize my effort, to recognize me. She’ll wake up and I’ll still be lying here asleep. But in the end, it took too long. I couldn’t lie in bed any longer. I lost a contest of my own making, one of which she wasn’t even aware.
When she finally rose and saw me sitting there, she seemed so pained that my anger waned and felt childish. And in that moment, I wondered if I felt our age difference because I was still so young and immature or if it really was her.
“Not really,” I answer politically. “I mean, it’s not about age. It’s about maturity. I know plenty of older guys who aren’t very mature.” I wonder if I should count myself among them, but I don’t dwell on the thought. “I, meanwhile, was an old soul when I was young. Does it bother you?”
“No,” she sighs, as if there’s more there. “I prefer older guys. I can’t even imagine dating someone two years younger than me.”
“I know you’ve said that I’m the biggest age gap you’ve dated, but what’s the average?”
“Hmm.” She shifts in her seat as she thinks about it. “I’ve dated guys my own age, but not seriously. Well, do you mean dated seriously or…” She glances up as she says it, then quickly drops her eyes and voice, muttering, “I mean, this isn’t serious.” It stings slightly, but I try to ignore the reminder. “I guess I would say about four years,” she continues after a moment.
“I have a friend who’s about to marry a guy fifteen years older than her,” I comment, brushing off the disappointment.
“My friend’s aunt married a guy thirty years older than she was. I keep forgetting he died when my friend was about seven.”
“The older I get, the less the age difference seems to matter.”
“Yeah, that’s true. But I still can’t imagine dating a twenty-three year-old,” she laughs. “I mean, have you even tried to talk to a twenty-three year-old?”
“They talk?” I laugh with her, happy in the moment once more.
“I don’t know,” she says, her eyes at once guilty and determined. “There are a lot of families around.”
“Yup,” I say.
“And I’m not going to do anything awesome on skis,” she laments. “If I were on a snowboard…”
“I mean,” she sighs, “I don’t know. I’m more worried for you than for me.”
“I don’t blame you,” I tell her.
“I mean, if it were people our own age, people who’d be into what we’re doing, it’d be different. But all I’ve seen are kids, families and old dudes.”
We’re sitting in a mid-mountain lodge at Breckenridge. The bikini bottoms under my pants have been riding up all day. And now that we’re a beer in, food in my belly replacing the butterflies, I know it’s now or never.
She doesn’t meet my eyes, staring instead out the window. I already know she’s made up her mind. My only chance is a movie quality speech, and lord knows how rarely I pull those off. I remember giving an amazing “there’s always more fish in the sea” speech to a friend shortly after a breakup once. We were both crying by the end. I remember giving a “fear is good” speech to a kid in my class a few years back that earned compliments from passers-by. But those are the exceptions to the rule.
“Have you played drums for an audience yet?”
“Me? No,” she admits. Already, I’m wondering if my plan will work.
“When I first started playing music in high school, I had incredible stage fright. What if I embarrassed myself? What if everyone noticed? What if I made a fool of myself? I would get up on stage, and no matter the size of the crowd, there were people out there I knew, judging me.
“But every time, we got cheers, applause; perhaps not much, but some, and it felt good. I learned to feed off it, to expect that audience. I played for that praise.
“One time, we went to play a show and it was virtually empty. Suddenly, all my mistakes, all my fears came back. I felt awful. Without the cheers, the applause, the dancing, I started to question my motivation. Why am I really doing it?
“I didn’t stop playing. I found an intrinsic motivation for doing it. And I kept playing.
“You need to ask yourself why you’re doing this? Is it because it’s fun? Is it for the cheers and the crowd? Is it to challenge a social norm? I’m not worried about who sees me because I have my own reasons for doing it.”
She seems to contemplate this, continuing to stare out the window, her eyes tracking each passing skier. She glances over her shoulder at the class of kids sitting at the table behind us and then wistfully meets my eyes.
“It’s your choice,” I tell her, breaking the silence.
“I’m with you either way,” I say. She seems sad. I know my speech wasn’t enough. “But please tell me so I can take these bottoms off if we’re not doing it.” I grimace and shift obviously. “They’re driving me nuts!”
She smiles and giggles before giving me a sad nod.
“So I can take them off?” I posit.
“Yeah,” she says softly.
I slip into the bathroom. It takes forever to change. When I come back out, she’s about ready to go.
“Just so you know, the last part of that story,” I tell her as I approach, “is that my motivation wasn’t completely intrinsic. I played for myself, sure, but I played as much for my bandmates and friends. I always played for an audience, but the percentage of the audience that mattered got much smaller.”
She looks up and meets my eyes.
“Right now, the only audience that matters to me is you,” I finish.
“You know,” she says finally, “you could’ve gotten me to do it if you had just said that.”
I feel completely comfortable.
Maybe that’s a lie. The bikini barely contains my privates. The strap of the top tickles my back.
“Did you lose a bet?” a man asks as I walk down to my skis, a few eyes already alighting on the pasty flesh I’m displaying.
“No,” I laugh. “Some things are just worth doing.”
“Right on,” he says, laughing with me.
I don’t have time to break down the reasons I’m standing in the middle of Copper Mountain in her bikini. I’m in the moment. I want to go. I want to ski. I want to fly off everything. I’m on an adrenaline high.
And I’m calm. It’s another moment. I’m not scared or embarrassed. I’m not alone. I’m don’t care if I’m being judged.
I yelp as I drop between the chairs, launching into the small weekday crowd. A woman lets out a shriek of surprise as I speed past her. The drops seem easy, small, comfortable. I skid toward the line, realizing I need to ditch the backpack, and that she’s carrying our jackets down the other way.
She slides around the corner of the building, her patriotic bikini much more fitting on her than her yellow and gray peace bikini is on me. I grab the jackets and am about to go into a run up the slope to drop them on a rack when I spot the phones out taking pictures and video of me. The last thing I want is a wardrobe malfunction.
“Sorry, but she looks way better in that than you,” a woman razzes me.
“I know! I spent all Winter working on this beach body and this is all I got,” I joke back as I bolt for the lift line.
The seat is actually warm as we sit down on the lift. The Southern Gentleman has the backpack, our partner in crime and extra cameraman. He bolts as we stop at the top to let her buckle into her binding. She stops facing uphill, jamming her edge in as we had recently learned. From here, I have a perfect angle from behind. I can’t help but stare. I can’t help but fear the sudden tingling beneath my bottoms. I try to watch a cadre of snowboarders ride off instead, but my eyes whip back to her bent over her board. As she stands, I know it’s time to go.
We rip down the lift line, whoops and holler following from above. A ten year-old boy nearly loses his balance as he passes her.
“Don’t get too distracted, buddy,” I chide playfully as he skis by me.
“Can I take a picture of you guys for my blog?” a Woodward instructor asks us midway down.
“Sure!” I say. She’s game too.
“Crap,” he says, “wouldn’t you know battery is dead.
“There’ll be other opportunities,” she says. I snicker as I start riding again.
Every bump, every turn, feels natural. The bikini is holding fine. The lack of coverage isn’t bothering me. I feel focused and free. She looks good in the bumps too, riding with abandon. We play as we reach the bottom. I throw a spread eagle, everything holds as far as I can tell. I pull a small daffy off a lower bump. I do some switch carving. We coast back into the bathrooms to change back.
“How do you feel?” she asks me as we exit. “Liberated?”
“Sure,” I say. But really, I just feel happy.
“I think it was better that both of us were there. That we did it together.”
Her words make me smile. I look at the grin on her face, the sparkle in her eyes, and I realize it’s not just her words.
Open and Honest – Part VI