Poly Question 1.1
Have I ever felt romantic love for more than one person at the same time?
A beam of light pierced me through the van window, and I came to, suddenly. The sun had shifted in the early morning hours, and now it was trained on me like a search light, cutting through the barest spot in the oaks sheltering our camp site. I was startled to notice my arm had wrapped around Noelle.
Oh, last night. It actually happened.
Well, I thought, listening to her sleep. If the church is right, I’m definitely going to hell.
After many years of off and on, cat and mouse, that was the dirtiest, most unapologetic night we’d had together. Making eye contact while I stuck my fingers in her, licked them off, let her know how delicious she was. I was tired of all the don’t ask, don’t tell with her. I was fucking asking, and I was fucking telling. Grabbed her breasts in a way that meant business, like I needed them to survive.
Following her into the camp shower. Returning to civilization.
“I love you,” she said, “but I can’t leave my boyfriend. He’s the only person it really works with. You’ve got to understand.”
I had forgotten all about him, consumed by my own desire.
“But… I thought you broke up,” I said.
“Well, we did, but it’s not for good. It never is.”
There was such a long line of boys, one after the other, sometimes a multi-boy pile-up where she had a few she was seeing where none of them were to know about the others. That was my role, too, to divert them from one another, keep them from discovering how many baskets her eggs were in.
She was so perfect that I was content to be in her shadow, to take whatever she could give me. We watched Playboy TV that we didn’t quite have, masturbating to the moaning sounds, which were a little staticky but still quite discernable.
And she was right. We had an ebb and flow. The tide went out, and she was back with him. I had to find another place to crash, somewhere else to be.
Practically on cue, my ex Greg emerged, regretting breaking things off with me. “You shouldn’t have hit me,” he said, “but I missed you. Do you want to hang out?”
Their hips reminded me of one another’s, Greg’s and Noelle’s. No one would ever mistake them for the same person. He was tall and blonde. She was my height and sandy haired. No facial features in common. But their skin had a similar creaminess, a similar color, and their hips sloped precisely the same way. When I’d go down on one of them, it was like falling into a familiar pond, and I never knew moment to moment which one of them I’d crawl out of, a faint taste of salt on my lips.
One hang out turned into another, and then we were riding everywhere in Greg’s mother’s car, parking, letting the sun wash in. He touched my arm with that fondness, that ineffable tenderness that tells you there’s nothing but joy on the other end, and it was as though we could set aside the years of trouble. It didn’t matter that he’d dumped me twice, that he got another girl pregnant while we were broken up, that my friends despised him, that I called so much at times he feigned mental illness to get a break, that we couldn’t communicate, that I hit him when he said I must have cheated on him in Spain because I had come back kissing differently. This was not a sissy swat; I smacked him so hard his glasses flew off his face.
In the car, in the sun, it was like none of that had ever happened. There was a thing quite like love emerging from him, and it was something to see. I’d always been quite fond of him, but he held back with the vulnerability. He had always given me his sex and his time, but now for the first time, I started to feel that Greg was… as sappy as it sounds… giving me his heart.
And as things seemed to be sliding back towards monogamy, I felt I owed it to Greg to level with him on the intense fling that had happened with Noelle while we were broken up. For me, it changed little if anything. I loved them both, and out of all the people that had been in the picture romantically, it was these 2 connections that were most fluid, most unpredictable.
I didn’t think that anyone would ever want to marry me since my mother was very clear on the fact that I was more of a “small doses” person, and I absolutely believed and internalized that. But if I did get married, I always thought it would be either Greg or Noelle. They were the ones I kept loving no matter what prevented us from being together, the ones I never really got over.
So I told Greg about the camping trip, that I’d been physical with Noelle, that it was over but I wanted to be completely honest. It seemed like a triviality, just a throwaway disclosure. We were broken up during the encounter.
Instead Greg flipped out, broke up with me then and there, this time for good. A month later, he called me to let me know he had a boyfriend and wanted to know if it hurt me.
“Yes,” I said, “but it’s because you’re not with me anymore, because you’re with someone else. It’s not because you’re with a boy.”
We cried and fought for over an hour on the phone.
He called another time to let me know he was going to a strip club and hoping to have sex with a dancer. Did that hurt? he wanted to know.
“Yes,” I said. “Because I miss you. I love you.”
He called me a liar and hung up on me. I could hear his friends’ laughter in the background as he fumbled to get the phone back to the cradle.
When the semester started, I found out he was dating a girl down the hall from me, a girl who just happened to be the sister of the boy he had briefly dated. They were perfect together. They made so much more sense than he and I ever did. And I really liked her as a person. She looked like the female version of him. Between our mutual friends, theatre projects, and the fact that she lived 4 doors down, I saw them often and hung out with them from time to time. At idle moments, I’d consider bedding them both, but then Greg would somehow pick up on my stray fantasies and get twitchy and suspicious that I wanted him back and refuse to hang out with me, confusing her and me.
Regardless, he did a marvelous job acting in one of my plays. Greg and the girl down the hall went on to get married, and last thing I knew, they were running a liquor store together three states away.
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay.
For the entire list of questions, please see this indexed list.