Some romances are destined to last forever. My romance with Tom reached its apogee under that barren tree in Prospect Park. I sensed we wouldn’t last, and that knowledge didn’t make me sad. Even as Tom and I continued our furtive kissing dates, and our constant flow of poetic notes, I felt restless and consumed by other boys. As would happen to me so very often through my teens and twenties, once the blush was off the lust, my feelings would ebb and retreat until the same embraces that I plunged into only last night now felt like unpleasant invasions of my personal space.
In the background of my lusts was an older boy, Martin, 17 to my 12. I believed Martin might be my one true love, that “one true love” that novelists always wrote about. Frankly, it was hard to imagine there being only one, given how many different boys intrigued me and drew my eye. But if there WAS that one special ONE, I was hungry to establish that fact and get on with our life as a pair. Meanwhile, though, it only made sense to explore as much as I could before I settled down with Martin. Love and sex, as I understood them, were good things. From my extensive reading of French and Russian novels, that's what made adults the happiest. I wanted to be happy too!
I’ll write another time about the forces which shaped me to be, at so young an age, so morbidly obsessed with growing up. For now, I’ll say that my childhood was a prison, and that adulthood represented freedom, sanity and redemption. I couldn’t get there fast enough.
The following year, Tom and I went to different high schools, making meetings even more difficult than before. Once, when my mom was on a shopping trip to the city, I invited him home and we kissed all afternoon. We had stripped down to underwear, but I was as yet too shy to take a peek or even touch him “down there.” I did a good job pretending his lower anatomy wasn’t there until I noticed that a greasy wet spot had oozed onto his bright white BVDs. I had no idea what it was, and he seemed embarrassed by it, so I got embarrassed too. We quickly dressed, just in time for my mother to return home.
The year after that, my parents moved to Sheepshead Bay. Geography put an end to things. He had to take a subway and three city buses just to see me. But he did visit once. He traveled almost two hours to see me in this new world. It was a neighborhood of trees and parks and comfortable brick homes, nothing like the neighborhood where I’d grown up among the children of other poor immigrants. I remember leading him to my parents bedroom to use their queen size bed with matching cushions and bedspread. For us, it was pure luxury. We began with passionate kissing but something was off. Our passions quickly dwindled to affectionate touches and conversation.
By then, I was dating a lot of different people, having my own adventures. Tom was still in the old hood, a very gritty place in those days, and his high school was rough too. While my life had changed for the better in a bourgeois neighborhood, filled with hippies and older kids who accepted me into their cliques, his life was unchanged.
Before he left, he told me he couldn’t stay in Brooklyn anymore. He was quitting high school. He was running away from home. He was going to join that circus we talked about. I would probably never see him again.
I felt like such a fraud then. Here I was, the rebel, the revolutionary, the run-away, settled into a cozy middle-class life. I even had an allowance now and could afford to treat him to a burger at McDonald’s. I was a sell-out. Tom was the true rebel in the end, the working-class poet who would fulfill the dreams I didn’t have the courage, or even the urge anymore, to pursue. We kissed goodbye like lovers at a train station, one going off to war, the other left to ponder the safety she had chosen.
Tom was wrong, though. I did see him again. I think he wished I didn’t, but I did.
It was about dozen years after that final kiss. I was working at Morgan Stanley as a financial analyst, now married and living in the Bronx. I’d been a Wall Street analyst for several years by then and had the program down. Business suit, check. Designer heels, check. Fashionable accessories, check. Leather briefcase tightly clutched in one hand, Wall Street Journal in the other, check.
I darted into Au Bon Pain for my morning coffee and roll. Ahead of me, I saw a familiar face and shape in a heavy denim jacket. It looked like Tom! Could it be? In the chaos of morning rush, the place was jammed, and I couldn’t get to him. Then, before I knew it, he had vanished. I went to work that day wondering if it was just my imagination but began making a habit of getting to Au Bon Pain at the same time for the next week.
It finally paid off. He was already in line when I got inside one morning. The place was having a lull, making it easy to get to him. I had barely reached him when he swirled to face me as if he'd seen me there all along.
“I thought it was you,” he said.
“Tom? Oh my God, Tom, how are you?”
He looked at my briefcase. “You’re doing well,” he said.
Was his voice tinged by anger? Contempt? Or was it envy?
He looked like hell. His face was bloated, his eyes puffy and lined with creases, his skin sallow. He looked ten years older than me. I saw a thousand nights of hard-drinking written all over him.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I’m working construction at a site across the street.” He repeated it as if I didn’t understand what that meant. “I’m a construction worker.”
“Oh!” I was more self-conscious by the second. What had happened to him? And what had happened to me? We were once one soul; now we could barely speak without stumbling.
“It’s so good to see you,” I lied, scrambling for words. “Did you…did you ever join the circus?”
And then for a brief second, he was Tom again. “No,” he said softly, “no, I stayed.”
Then he leaned in aggressively. “I have kids now,” he said, holding up two fingers. “I have kids. Do you have kids?”
“No,” I shook my head, “I don’t have any.”
“I have two,” he snapped. “Two boys.”
“Well, that’s great Tom. That’s really great.”
He seemed vaguely mollified when I said that. Then he was gone. And that really was the last time I saw Tom.