Ryan’s efficiency apartment hangs off the side of a perfectly manicured duplex like an abscess. As I navigate the maze of dried brown hedge and partially lifted sidewalks, the cold winter air whips around me and practically pushes me to his wooden door. The paint peels under my palms as I feel for a doorbell or knocker in the darkness. The main house is beautifully lit with sconces and little solar pegs illuminating its front sidewalk. The owners have tastefully decorated for Christmas: white candles in the windows and a glowing wreath hanging from a peg on the front door. The only light on Ryan’s side of the house is a series of flashes coming from what I presume is the television inside.
It’s a crisp, cold Saturday night and barring any unforeseen disasters, it will be the night. The night that I finally break the hold my ex-husband, Jack, has over me and spread my legs for another man. The preparation has been intense. Since I sent Ryan home panting last weekend after our night at the New Penny, I have been waiting for his phone call, preparing, praying it would come.
Then, this morning at around ten, my phone shook with Ryan’s ringtone. I tried to disguise the surprise in my voice. He said he thought it was cute that I sent him packing last weekend and that he wanted to make sure I was ready before we had sex. I thought it was cute that he confused sheer terror with self-respect. We made plans for that night. I mentioned that I would cook him dinner; he replied that he had a very limited kitchen and that food would not be necessary. When we hung up I made a shopping list that looked like this:
1. Sexy underwear
The chicken was optional.
Condoms. I’m actually spending money to prevent pregnancy. An irony not lost on me. Three years ago, Jack and I were emptying our bank account trying to get pregnant. Then, two nights after he moved out, in a moment of forgiveness, I slept with him again and, when I didn’t get my period on time, felt for the first time ever a true panic boiling up inside of me at the thought of an embryo forming and attaching inside of my uterus. When my period finally came, I was so relieved that I drank a bottle of wine and smoked a whole pack of cigarettes.
I was pretty sure I didn’t need the birth control. The doctors were pretty clear that my chances of ever becoming pregnant were almost zero. Still, there was another risk with Ryan. It was well known that he had charmed his way into many beds throughout the years. Sleeping with him unprotected was like playing Russian roulette with gonorrhea.
Ryan is a textbook example of a boy who’s best days were in high school. His looks, while better than most, are not extraordinary. His hair and eyes are a plain brown. His height is rather average as is his stature. I imagine you could use the same two crayons to complete his portrait: brown and tan. But it’s his smile that gets you. The rarely seen, yet widely coveted parting of his lips to reveal a grin so wide and warm, I want to roll up into a ball and live in the dimples it creates. I want to drown in the chuckle that accompanies that flash of perfectly white teeth over ruby red gums. I fell for Ryan when I was fifteen and it didn’t matter to me that he had no loyalty; if he flashed that smirk, the panties came off.
Now, twelve years later, I am at his door and he is not smiling. He is inconvenienced by my arrival twenty minutes early and has yet to straighten up. His apartment consists of only two rooms: a kitchen with mismatched appliances and open shelves piled with dishes rather than cabinets, and a living room with a couch smothered with a stained sleeping bag. I follow him to the living room where a small television is playing Seinfeld.
“Oh, I love this one,” I say and sit down on the thick, blanketed couch. I sit carefully to control my muffin top from popping out above the rim of my jeans. I place my purse on a small wooden table next to the couch, afraid to set it on the discolored carpet. Ryan sits next to me on the couch but far enough away that you could drive a Volkswagen through the hole between us.
“Yeah, it’s the one where George moves back in with his parents and Elaine breaks up with the guy over his punctuation,” I tell him.
“Oh. Yeah, that’s a good one,” Ryan answers.
I hate this. The agony of small talk. How are you? How is the weather? Do you like your job? What’s your blood type? Did you feel loved by your parents? I want to fast-forward through this. I want to grab the remote and skip to the good parts, the part that should have happened last weekend but didn’t because I chickened out. I want him to shut off the television and rip my clothes off in a passionate fever. I want to be ravished, much in the same way I imagine Fabio treats those women he is always groping on the covers of cheap romance novels at the supermarket.
I honestly imagine it happening that way, my first time as a single woman. In terms of first time sexual encounters I am a novice. I had slept with only a handful of boys in my adolescence — Ryan having been one of them — and I had been young and knew next to nothing about orgasms and intimacy. Sex with Ryan had consisted of wearing our pants around our ankles and him making erupting gasps while I stared at the sky over his right shoulder and wondered what was so great about “getting laid.” We were usually outdoors and the whole event lasted no longer than five to ten minutes. Afterwards, we would brush the dirt and loose grass from our clothing and rejoin the booming beer party from which we had defected moments earlier. In our brief six or seven month relationship we never had sex sober. Despite this, or maybe because of it, I adored him.
Ryan was the boy that was faithful to no one, the boy who refused to put down roots, and the boy who claimed to never love anyone. Except me. He confessed his feelings for me one night while lying on the ground behind a small firehouse on Scranton’s north side. His lips slurred the barely audible sentiment into my right ear and my chest swelled up like a hot air balloon. I was so touched, I let it slide when he also revealed he forgot to bring a condom. I was so young, so in love with him that I OK’d the breach in procedure. In retrospect this turned out to be a huge bullet dodged, considering that in the ten years since I had seen him last, Ryan has fathered three children by three different women. None of whom he married. None of whom he even lived with. Had I been more fertile, I probably would have belonged to the club of women who receive his monthly stipends.
Not much has changed with our relationship. Ryan is still a confirmed bachelor, and I am still determined to change him. I’m still immersed in his smell, his smile and his chuckle. My body tingles as I sit next to him. My skin explodes in goosebumps as he moves closer and his arm brushes mine. He is the ultimate fish. The one no woman has been able to catch. But he loved me once. And I was the only one. He taught me that I had the power to turn a man, to persuade him into belonging to me. If I could make Ryan feel that way about me again, then I could forget about Jack, and the fact that I wasn’t good enough to keep him.
Suddenly, I summon all of my courage and lunge at him like a starving dog. He is shocked; he slumps back into the couch under my weight. I run my tongue the length of his rough, rigid neck. My fingers fumble with his pants, but before I can unbutton them fully, he throws me onto my back and climbs on top of me. The Seinfeld credits roll from across the room as we lick one another like lollipops. The inside of his mouth tastes like stale Marlboros and cheap beer. But his hands, they feel just right as they cross the plains of my newly flattened stomach and head north to my fleshy untoned breasts. The scruff on his face leaves red blotchy traces of where his mouth has been, like breadcrumbs, between my breasts, around my belly button, and finally the inside of my thighs.
Soon, before I can think through the consequences of this evening, his pants are coming down and I am faced with a huge problem: a not so huge penis. I bury my face into his lean, tight neck to hide my disappointment. I slide my hands around the thin organ, hoping the darkness skewed my observation. No such luck. Despite this, I decide to soldier on, twisting and contorting like an acrobat trying to enhance our reunion sex. I moan, I sigh heavily and I whisper dirty words in the dark. I have spent a whole week preparing for this moment — I’m not letting anything stand in my way.
When it is over, Ryan leaves me wrapped in the germs of a light green satin sleeping bag as he fumbles in the refrigerator for a beer.
“You want one, Aim?” he calls in from the kitchen.
Poor Ryan. He never sees it coming, the freight train of desperation heading his way. While he is in the next room digging for two cans of Budweiser, I am lying on his couch planning our future. Because it doesn’t matter that the sex is not great. The emptiness inside of me, the hurt, the pain, the vast cavern of loneliness that Jack’s leaving has opened up, needs to be filled. I cannot face more empty nights in my queen bed. I need a replacement, a Band-Aid, something to stop the hurt. And food is no longer an option.
I am imagining how it will sound when Ryan whispers that he has fallen in love with me again. I am planning our wedding, picking out our children’s names and practicing my speech to his current children whom I will embrace as my own.
“You still have a mother. I am not here to replace your mother,” I would tell them as Ryan smiles and wraps his arms around my thin waist.
“Isn’t she wonderful, kids?” he would gush and bury his head in my long, slender neck.
“Hey.” Ryan comes back into the room interrupting my train of thought just as I am picking out our china pattern in my mind. “You better get dressed and go, I have work in the morning.”