Sleep has never come easy for me. My body accepts it with reluctance at best and rebellion at worst. On this particular night I am somewhere in between the two when a sense of unease sidles me. I feel the space around my body tighten and an awareness of a slight pressure between my legs. I blink. What is happening?
When I realize that my childhood friend Tom is touching me, that he has moved from the couch where he was when we gave up on studying for our college music theory final to the floor of my parent’s basement the safety of the quiet darkness becomes thick with question marks. What do I do?
Tom is my best friend, the one I call at 2:00 a.m. from my pink princess phone and heave strings of vowels at when my boyfriend cheats with a blond dancer; The one who, when I tell him I feel ugly inside and out, says that if he could give me anything it would be the ability to see myself through his eyes; The one who searches for four leaf clovers with a flashlight as I stare at the moon morning the death of the boyfriend who cheated.
How can I make him stop without hurting his feelings or angering him? The thought of losing the only other person who thinks I am beautiful and funny and smart and talented would be a death sentence for me.
I roll over on my side, away from him, shrinking into a fetal shadow of myself and pretend to be asleep.
A few seconds pass. I listen for movement, breathing, anything. All sound is suspended, like the moment just after a song ends and the applause begins.
My sleep-lie doesn’t work. He persists, perhaps believing if I wake up I’ll feel his attempt at pleasure and go from “actually, you’re more like a brother to me” to all the lyrics of every Barry White song ever written.
Instead, this mixed meter dance goes on for several more verses before Tom rolls over, with a sigh. Oh, thank God. He drops quickly into sleep, his breathing measured and deep, while I lie there staring at the embers seething at the bottom of the fireplace.
In 1996, he was Man of Honor at my wedding. After the bachelorette party — after we both had drunk beer through a margarita straw and after he held my hair back as I vomited into the bushes of my future mother-in-law’s yard — he offered me one last chance to experience his “stamina and generosity.” I hid my exasperation behind a flurry of nervous laughter, shaking my head and holding my stomach like I was too sick to consider it.
After my divorce in 1999, he rode two buses and a train to my apartment in Brooklyn, leaving his baby daughter and wife at home, bringing with him two brown paper bags. One with my favorite cookies – Mint Milanos – the other with one of those vibrators that looks like a rabbit. That night, after several drinks and tissues full of tears, he woke me up and tried to convince me to try it while he watched.
Once again, I let his offer hang in the darkness as I thought about the consequences of what it might be like to scream, “NO! I DO NOT WANT YOU TOUCHING ME. NOT WITH THAT, NOT WITH ANYTHING. EVER.” Instead I whispered, “no thanks” and shrank into the tiniest version of myself, as my resentment double knotted.
In 2006, 20 years after that night on the basement floor, Tom stopped calling, stopped emailing, stopped trying to arrange “playdates” with me–his word, not mine. This silent treatment came with no explanation. There was no precipitating event, no falling out to reflect on, and I never asked.
Still, when I drive by his neighborhood five or six times each year on the way to visit my parents, I am tempted to cue up some heavy metal on my phone, stomp into his life, and shake him until all the shards of my dignity, my power, my ability to see myself as anything but an object comes falling out.
I won’t though. I won’t.
Because I have come to realize the distance that silence and time has put between us is the only place I’ve ever been with him that feels safe.
(I wrote this for the Yeah Write Super Challenge Round One. I revised it here, because I’m not good at letting things go and I wanted to see what it would be like to think about this story when I didn’t feel so pressed for time. I welcome any and all feedback. The original is here.)
image credit: yomyomf.com