Sunday, January 04, 2004

A Whiter Shade of Grey

I woke up and he wasn't in bed. I lay still for a moment and listened to hear if he was in the bathroom, or perhaps couldn't sleep and was surfing away on the computer, but I heard nothing but the normal hum of the heater and a birdsong from somewhere far off. It was a grey time of the morning, too early for him to be awake unless something was amiss, so I weighed my options. Roll over and go back to sleep? Go look for him? Maybe, but would he think I was snooping on him if I went to find him? After all, we had stayed at his place, and as comfortable as I was there, I always made sure not to overstep what I thought were reasonable expectations of privacy. It must be said that my ideas of what his expectations of privacy should be are almost always much greater in scope than what his requirements are, and he has sometimes looked at me quizzically and shaken his head when I explained that I hadn't done such-and-such so as to not invade his privacy. At any rate, I puzzled over whether to mind my business, or nose into his.

As I weighed and measured, a paranoid thought crept in: What if he's chatting online with that woman again? The one that found him through, and who had been one of his teenage girlfriends. Then it occurred to me for the first time since it first came up, that it bothered me that he was emailing and occasionally chatting with her online. Is it because they'd been chatting for a few weeks before he mentioned it? Is it because he went out with her so many years ago? God, I hope that's not what's bothering me, because that's just stupid. Is it because he said that she's a single mother with a handicapped child and is unhappy in her job and social life? Bingo.

That tidbit set off an inner alarm, an instinct that told me that although she lives a few hours away, here is a woman who is unhappy in her current life, and is digging back into the past to find people from a time where her life was simpler, and presumably happier. What could fit the bill better than a teenage J? Was she hoping that he would be the person he was, only all grown up now, and he'd come and sweep her off her feet and like those old Calgon bubble bath commercials, come and "take her away"? Much worse still, what was he getting out of these chats?

As all of this sudden anxiety swept over me, I was practically holding my breath as I strained to hear the tappity-tap of typing from the other room. I was letting my imagination get the better of me, and I was ashamed of myself.

To be fair, he wasn't hiding their correspondence from me, nor flaunting it or making a big deal about it in any way. It came up in a rather matter of fact way, one day as I woke from a nap on his couch. He was typing away, which he usually doesn't do, and he offhandedly mentioned, "Oh, I'm talking with this woman who I knew in high school. I got online to get email and look around, and she "I-Med" me>" He told me the rest of the story later. There was nothing in his manner that day or since that should have made me start oozing this sleepy paranoid fantasy. As a matter of fact, his family came over his place during the holidays, and he brought up some photos she'd sent him by email on the computer to show them. Many years ago, she'd been on a family vacation with them, and his family all loved seeing her snaps from their day on the beach. There was one of J that I loved, where his long, appropriate-for-the-times hair was being blown up and around his face like a great lion's mane, and he struggled with a beach umbrella, wearing nothing but jeans shorts. I noted to myself that he still had the same slim body as now, those familiar arms and long fingers, but, as he joked, he now has far less hair.

So, what about this correspondence made me worry? Was it that I was jealous that she got to know the teenaged him, and I never could? After a certain age, it's absurd to expect that your boyfriend hasn't had other loves in his life before you came into the picture, and it's sillier still to be jealous of other people for having shared his life when you weren't even a glimmer on the horizon. So then what is this all about? Perhaps it's something that I feel deep down in my gut, an instinct about her borne from personal experience, having once been a lonely, unhappy woman. This woman didn't seek him out just to send him some old pictures and reminisce about old times. She's fishing for an escape from her misery, and is casting her net into the past instead of the present. Is this my paranoia speaking? Perhaps, but I'm trusting my gut on this one. J does not seem to be looking upon this as anything but a friendly correspondence, but my instincts say that this woman is up to no good. And maybe he even knows that, deep down, or wouldn't he have mentioned it before several weeks had gone by?

I was driving myself crazy, lying in his bed sleepless, so I got up to get some answers rather than lie there stewing and conjuring images of potential emotional infidelities. But before I was through the doorway, I could see that the computer was off and the chair in front of it empty. Then I saw him, curled up on the couch, with the blanket that I didn't even notice was missing from the bed. The way he was curled up was the way he does when he's cold, so I got another blanket and ever so slowly and gently placed it on top of him. Unfortunately, I wasn't gentle enough, because I woke him with a start.

"Jesus Christ!" he gasped, before realizing it was me standing over him. "Was I snoring again?" I asked, and he very sheepishly admitted that my stuffy nose noises were what had driven him to the couch. I apologized for being so noisy, embarrassed for snoring, and secretly embarrassed for so much more. He said, "Oh, it's okay," as he smiled and wrapped a big paw around my calf. He was so sweet, and I felt so silly for conjuring up all of these reasons for his absence. I bent down and kissed him on the forehead, and went back to his bed to sleep for hours more.

He poked his head into the bedroom just as I woke up, and told me that he'd made me some coffee. We spent the morning and a better part of the afternoon loafing in pajamas, listening to music, talking, fooling around and laughing. Finally, we decided that rather than going out to eat dinner, we'd go to my place, because I had a lot of leftovers in the fridge, and a good idea of how to make them into a quick, delicious feast. We watched the DVD he'd gotten me for Christmas, and snuggled on the couch, as the grey cat and the black cat took turns jumping onto the couch for petting and attention. J rested his hand on my leg while I rested my head on his shoulder, trading comments on the concert we were watching and the various musicians' performances.

As he helped me clear the dinner dishes, he made a particularly harsh comment about someone. When I asked, "Do you think they are really that bad off?" he said, "I was talking about me." I swung around to judge from his face whether he was making one of his usual self-deprecating jokes, but he looked unhappily serious. Without hesitation, I said something to the effect that he was being too harsh, and that it wasn't a fair observation, and listed three reasons why. He thought for a moment, then smiled warmly and said, "I have to admit that I like that, the way you become incensed whenever someone dares criticize your boyfriend...even if it is me doing it." Again, I flashed back to my early morning worries, and thought as I hugged him hard that I know what he's about. I know the man I'm with. Just because some woman miles away may have designs on him doesn't mean that he's going anywhere. We have a good thing going, and he knows it.

Later, he was finishing reading a magazine article in bed, and my back was hurting a little bit, so I turned over on my side, facing away from him, but with my butt pressed up against his side, so he knew I wasn't ignoring him, just getting comfortable. As I turned over, I realized that I was inadvertently tugging on the sheet under his arm in such a way that it was jostling his arm, and the magazine was bobbling back and forth, making it impossible to read. "Oops, sorry!" I giggled as I flipped over, and he asked, "For what?" I turned my head round to look at him as I explained, and he grinned and said, "Oh, for this?" and exaggeratedly flailed the magazine back and forth. Laughing even harder, I said, "Yeah, for that", and he laughed too, and teased, "Well, the joke's on you, because the longer it takes me to finish this article, the longer the light's staying on!" Then he affectionately hugged my foot with his grey socked feet, and I fell asleep, smiling to myself about our interlocked feet.

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