Oh, my whole heart. There's so much to tell, and my head is spinning. I feel a guilty sort of hope that I am afraid to even try and articulate. It's so much. It feels like freefall. Like drowning, but welcomed. Like the little death, slipping a finger across my clit and igniting me to combust in the basement apartment, looking upturned into his eyes, my head in his lap all over again. I'm getting ahead of myself. The Boy in The Basement. The one I thought I'd lost forever—my secret heart, sitting in my inbox.
This morning, I reconnected with an old friend, Jen, on Facebook. We'd been thick as thieves from the day we met near on a decade ago, and I was excited to catch up. I felt like we'd been transported right back to Madison, smoking a clove between us and laughing about some silly thing my lover, Jay, had said earlier that same day. That's how I met her, of course. She was the then-roommate and former lover of the guy I was seeing, and we fell into that instant best-of-friends-vibes that terrifies people- nobody wants their recent ex and their new partner to pair up like sisters, but that's exactly what had happened.
I felt guilty because I was practically ravenous for information about Jay. I know I should have been more interested in catching up with her- and I was... but not nearly as much as I wanted to know about him. It's only out of the pure rudeness of it all that I didn't just scream through the internet for whatever info she had, as though her access to potential news of him trumped any love I might have for our own friendship. I felt horrible because the truth is, at that moment, I saw her as access. A means to a news cycle I couldn't breathe without.
And I was.
I was holding my breath.
Jay!! Jay again, so close to maybe being a part of my life? Information about The One That Got Away. I couldn't remember his legal name and hadn't been able to find him. Over the years, as the internet took shape, I'd looked for him without success. I thought he was lost to the way my broken brain eats the things I love- how toxic shame traumatizes you into believing you never deserved the things that bring you happiness. I found the memory I'd carried through the past decade the way nomadic tribes carry the coals of the last fire to build the next. The rapid flash-bang of imagery long loved and often returned to, blazing across my mind. Riding the memory to a secret joy I nursed through the sadness of a lonely marriage.
I'm laying in a spill of blankets on the floor of a basement studio apartment. A television is playing snow from the VHS tape that has run out. The Cure is singing "Friday, I'm in Love" across a staticy airwave from a cheap plastic alarm clock. My head is resting in his lap, as he sits cross-legged above me. Looking up into his face, I see him upside down, smiling a sweet smile with his big eyes sparkling. His finger is electric, a singular pulse against my clit, slipping delicious across my whole body. I see his eyes, and the tiny motion of the pad of one, single finger carries me across to fire, and I crest into an intense orgasm, safe in his loving embrace. He leans down to kiss me, upside down in his lap, and his finger shifts lower to curve inside me as I tremble. I can taste the honey and the ginger of his mouth, and I moan into him as I unfold.
Jen casually yanked me back from the safe space of my memory, honed to perfect reclaim through the years, by telling me she thought he'd essentially married. The upturned vision of his handsome face snapped closed and I felt the cold start rush in. She said he was raising an adopted child as his own- with the woman he hooked up with after I left for the East Coast. My heart fell, and I tumbled around untethered between so many frozen, jagged stones. The one named "She isn't good enough for him" stabbed me in the kidney, and I ricocheted into more- Jealousy, bashing me over the head with the knowledge that it should have been me; Rage, with the knowledge that I'd CHOSEN to move forward with the wrong man, burning hot and shameful in my stomach. I loved my husband, and had NO RIGHT to be so jealous of her! Then, ever my savior, the memory of His Eyes smashed against "Maybe Jen is Wrong" and sparked flintlock hope through all of my fresh bruises. I wore them like hopeful badges. I'd nurse the bleeding later. I clung to the fading twinkles of the hope that maybe, Jen was wrong. Or maybe... maybe he felt the same stones under his mattress each night. Maybe he tried his best to ignore them, too. I'd lost him once, and I wasn't about to forget his name again. Jen's text to me, with the proper spelling of his full Japanese name, felt like coming home. I copied it as fast as I could, tears spilling over hopeful, even through my shame. I felt like I was clawing up from being buried alive. I had to find him, or I would suffocate. I let the hope nurse my courage just enough to Google his name.
I remembered that other woman, of course. We'd had lunch together, the four of us together, my new husband and I on one side of the bistro table, and the two of them on the other... her plaid face. Her nervous tittering. How at ease he looked, sinking my hopes of getting out of my new marriage while an annulment was still possible. My whole being was screaming for a break in the normalcy I was supposed to present- I'd tried so hard to get him alone to tell him the truth of how I knew my new husband was cheating. How I knew I'd fucked up, and wanted deeply to return to his loving arms. There was so much to say, but gods, I knew I was in trouble. I'd married the wrong man, I knew it immediately, and she just... SAT there, next to him, as though she were worthy of a right-hand place at his side. I remembered her literally throwing herself across his body and shouting "MINE." at me. I can't remember (or begin to imagine, for that matter...) a situation where that would have been an appropriate response, but there we were, and it played like a loop in my head, reading the texts coming down the line from a million miles away. Jen was still telling me more information, and I was lost in a looping sea of shameful memories, wild hope, and the google search that gave me so much joy:
He'd made it! Artist. S. Jay Tomioka, Japanese Artist, recreating the world. It was beautiful. The first picture I saw stopped my heart. There they were- those perfect eyes- smiling back at me with a cascade of colors and prints tacked up behind him. He was in the midst of a solo show at the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art in Haifa, Isreal. Isreal! Did he live there? Jen had said they were somewhere outside of Milwaukee. I couldn't believe he would have stayed in Wisconsin for her, or for anyone else... Jay was Going Places. Jay was a rocket, shooting across the sky to show us all what achieving your dreams looked like. Was she with him in Isreal? Was he happy there? I found his email address in the article and rode that streak of bravery into a short email. "Maybe you don't remember me," is started, "but we used to date back when you were at UW Madison, and I just found out about your show in Isreal..."
I hit send and walked away, shaking. He wouldn't respond, of course. It'd been almost ten years, after all. They must have other kids by now. I put on a movie and curled up on the couch to try and put myself back into the box I belonged in, where my hopes are secret things I never let out to hurt the good man I married. It's not his fault he's not Jay. I didn't really marry the wrong man... I married a good man. We'd spent many years working through infidelity and rebuilding trust. He's kind, and he makes me laugh. I don't love him less for the years we've had... and this feels so complicated. Polyamory comes with its pitfalls, but when we wed, I agreed to monogamy. I didn't agree to secrecy, however, and lies don't become us. He's grown into someone I'm proud of. I told myself that so many women don't get to marry good men and felt the depression settle around me like an old blanket, fuzzing out the hope and numbing me back into my proper place in the world. It's amazing what we allow ourselves to normalize. It's incredible how easy it is to be complacent. I'm ashamed of it- and yet, I still pull that blanket tighter around my shoulders for warmth.
When my computer dinged a new email less than two hours later, I nearly fell off the couch in a scramble to read it. So much for tacitly accepting the lot I'd agreed to. The lies we tell ourselves, and all of that... I yanked the laptop into my lap and nearly dropped it on the floor. I was convinced it would be spam, but I knew it would be him. Deep down, I knew it would be Jay.
"How serendipitous," he'd written. "I was just thinking of you the other day."
I fell apart, laughing. Crying. Hoping. He remembered me. Further, he'd been thinking of me. Serendipitous, he'd called it. It was such a Jay thing to say. I fell in love all over again and tried to sound calm as I replied, sending him my phone number. Maybe he wanted to talk and catch up? My phone rang less than 5 minutes later, and I heard his voice slamming true into my heart, connecting new textures into my memory of The Boy in The Basement. He said my name, and it felt like a flutter of birds breaking bright into a new dawn. His voice was warm. I tasted the ginger. The sea salt way the sound of him. I remembered the way his skin always felt warmed by sunlight, even in the middle of a Wisconsin winter.
We spoke for almost two hours until commitments demanded we hang up. I know I should feel ashamed, but I don't. I feel alive again. I'm going to call him next, tomorrow evening. I've already put an international calling plan on our Vonage phone plan. I can't believe he misses me, too. He's in Japan- alone. And the woman from lunch? She's back in Wisconsin. He left her there, where she belongs. There were no children. There was no little house outside of Milwaukee. Now, there's new hope, though I don't know why I always feel guilty when I feel joy. I only know that it feels like freedom, but freedom always feels like a trap.
Originally published 12.02.2020, pea 🌸 tea.