Chapter Four – John
by Christine Wild
I shaved my legs because we agreed to meet at the lakeside sauna and steam room joint. I had not seen him in over a year and we were not that close before that either. We just both happened to need a good steam on a Friday after work, and why not catch up. We met at 5 o’clock. I was a bit early, so I sat on the other side of the building, my feet on the pebbles. I watched the lake and smoked a cigarette. It was one of those semi gray days, with little wind. It was quite peaceful actually. He arrived all smiles, happy to be finished with the workweek. He was quite tall, with broad shoulders. His hair was buzzed short to disguise the fact that he was balding. He had nice blue eyes, and dimples. He looked quite handsome to me, although I had never noticed before. We spent a good three hours in the Bains. We talked about all and nothing; we never ran out of conversation. He gave me a scrub in the steam room. Mostly he was focused on my back, being very careful not to appear touchy. This was very hot. I knew he wanted to touch me, and he did. Yet he kept me on my tippy toes, never overstepping the polite, though European, boundaries of my privacy.
As our afternoon was quite pleasant, we decided to continue to enjoy getting to know each other at a local bar. It was a bar I liked. Very casual, there were couches everywhere and hippy staff. I think we even drank coffee. Casual, as I said. We both got hungry rather fast. It was getting late and we were all sweaty and heavy from the baths. We both hesitated on what was going to happen next. Since it was never a romantic ordeal in the first place, we decided it was not too inappropriate to grab a baguette, some cheese and a bottle rosé, and go back to his. We ate, drank, and listened to music overlooking the entirety of Geneva. The jet d’eau was beaming.
Suddenly Damien Rice came one and everything stilled. It was one of those slow-motion moments, where he leaned in and gravitated half a centimeter from my mouth for what felt like an eternity. The “Moroccan corner”, as he called the veranda, was furnished by a couple of floor lamps, lots of pillows, and a blowup couch. It all sounds so cheap and mundane now. At the time though, it was magical as hell. He kissed me finally and it was like an explosion of energy occurred. I was turned on by the transgression. It was probably my youth, my body and my excitement that aroused him. I cannot say I remember the sex that well; it was a long time ago. I do remember walking home, at around 5:30am. It had officially been my first 12hour date- that was not even one to begin with.
At 2pm, Lea* called me very upset. I had totally forgotten we were supposed to meet for coffee and she had come all the way to Geneva. So I got up, totally unsure of what had happened the night before, and put one whatever clothes I could gather into a decent outfit at my father’s place. As I walked towards the coffee shop, I wondered how far I had gone last night. The man was two decades older than me. I was still a teenager. Lea, as per her usual, was waiting for me reading the newspaper’s trash section, scratching her head underneath her luscious red hair. When she saw me, one of her eyebrows raised, preparing to playfully scold me. Before I had the time to say anything, she looked at me and said: “Please, please, please tell me you didn’t.”
That one-night-stand turned into my only two-year relationship. How did I not see the disaster coming, you ask? It is as simple as being eighteen, and listened to for the first time. I will always thank Lea for not completely shutting down on me when I started repeatedly hooking up with John*. I could tell it made her uncomfortable, but that she was trying her hardest to stay as open-minded as she possibly could- for me. Even when the scenarios got so fucked and weird due to our huge age difference, Lea would listen to me laugh and cry and try to give me the best advice that she could.
The twelve-hour date was sometime in April. In September, I was due to embark on my solo eight-month trip around the world. He was being relocated through work in June. The circumstances indicated perfect conditions for reoccurring sex, however morally wrong, no strings attached. What could happen, I thought? He is leaving. I am leaving. Why not have some fun in the meantime? (It seems I have not learned this lesson yet.) What happened is I screwed myself over. We stayed together until I moved to Canada for university, just short of two years later. Oh how Dickens was right. It was indeed the best and the worst of times. For the first six months, it was idyllic. We were in love and managed to see each other at least every second weekend, no matter the distance. As I landed in New York City, for the first stop of my world tour, my phone rang. “Baby, I’m coming to see you on Friday.” I was jumping up and down in the airport, not believing my luck. He had been so attentive and wonderful; this ought to be simply dreamlike, I thought. It turns out travelling is best done alone. It was the worst four days of our relationship till that point. We could not agree on anything. Our interests could not be more different. And no amount of hotel room sex could fix it. I spent my remaining two weeks in New York, trying to explore. Half of the time I was on the phone trying to explain to him that I, in fact, was not cheating.
That is the thing about jealousy. Only those who would cheat are paranoid. Do not get me wrong: a certain dose of jealousy is healthy. Certainly at times it is just the expression of your inner signals, protecting you. In his case however, he was persuaded that because he had a wandering eye, I must have too. Well I really do not. I never have and doubt that I ever will. Remember that undying loyalty? Yeah, well it bites me in the ass time and time again. The thing is, because I am faithful, I never bothered to ask what he was spending his time doing. I assumed he was working and missing me. In any case, the New York episode was the beginning of the end. We stayed together for another year or so, including a trip to New Zealand with his kid, baby-mama, new husband and their baby. But that is a story for another day.
Anyway, my three weeks in New York were still rewarding. I met an incredible amount of fascinating people. I met one of the last people to own a houseboat in a marina on the Upper West side. I had dozens of roommates in my little shabby hostel, some of which I am still in touch with. I love that about hostels; the more you frequent them, the more you start being familiar with total strangers, growing tired of forced, faked introductions. I had lunch in Central Park with a black guy from Kentucky. I remember it because we both sat comfortably in silence, content to be together and alone, at the same time.
The reason I say my relationship with John screwed me over is because after it was done, there was no going back to regular early twenties flings. I entered at my young age of eighteen into a real relationship, with real problems and big decisions. He was going to move for me. I lived with him when I was visiting him in Hungary. I had to invest all of my being into being a twosome, with a lot of baggage. When it ended, I remember distinctively smoking a cigarette in the open halls of my building. As I was looking at the moon, I remember thinking: “I could so easily fuck up right now.” I was completely on my own for the first time, well, ever, on the other side of the planet, doing something completely new. I mean I had just travelled alone for eight months, but he was always nearby, his name shining on my phone. In Vancouver, I thought well if there ever was a time to be at risk of a seriously violent crash and burn, that was it. Luckily, I got up on my feet and swallowed my tears. A whole identity to be built, I considered what it all meant. I was truly alone for the first time. But mostly, I was single and about to start college.