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by Simon Cole
The woman I love is marrying another man this weekend.
I met Mariska at the start of our final semester in college. I’d made a mistake on my schedule and showed up for the wrong class. I walked through the lecture room door, surprised to see about 20 chairs arranged in a circle.
She sat there. It was just us. Her hiking boots shed melting snow into a slowly growing puddle at her heels. She didn’t care. She was jut there, present, waiting. There were 19 available seats.
I can’t tell you what it was that made me long to know her but I did. I chose the seat directly to her right. I sat and turned toward her.
Hi, my name is Simon.
Wow. You’re very friendly. I’m Mariska.
Not all the time. I just wanted to meet you.
There’s nobody else here to meet.
That’s true. Tell me why none of the buttons on your sweater match and I’ll leave you alone.
She did. I didn’t leave her alone.
We kept talking. It turned out I had shown up for an advanced Spanish Language class. Other students showed up. We kept talking. The professor walked in and prepared to begin class.
I’ve got to go.
It’d be funny to see how long you could go before she [the professor] throws you out of class.
True. I’ll head out though. How can I make sure to see you around?
She tore a corner from her notebook and quickly wrote two numbers. A phone number and a time.
Call this number at this time in exactly 2 days. I’ll answer and we can get lunch. Call at exactly that time.
That seemed pretty strange. I could dig it. I waited, I called, we had lunch. What followed was three of the most emotionally fulfilling months in my existence. I had found a person who really saw me. She would walk past all the bullshit excuses I gave for inferior work, bad choices, and uncertainty about what I wanted from life. She pushed, she pulled, and she loved with all her heart.
One late Friday night in early March, we went for an aimless walk around campus. The sidewalks were wet with melting snow and bits of salted sand crunched beneath our feet. It was getting cold. I moved my right hand from Mariska’s gloved clasp to the warmth of my pea coat pocket. She looped her arm through mine and pressed her shoulder against my arm.
I’m sorry for being so terrible in bed.
She hadn’t expected me to say that. I knew I was though. I was fun to be with whenever I had my clothes on, but the moment I stripped–it’s as if I took on a whole different persona–I was uptight and methodical. I was not a joyful lover and I knew it.
I want to tell you why I’m so awkward in bed.
I like having sex with you. I like sleeping with you. I like being with you. If you were unable to have sex I would still want to be with you. Just know that.
I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t planned on ever saying anything. I felt sheepish, stupid, and embarrassed to have mentioned the subject at all.
I was introduced to sex earlier than most people are. A friend of my parents thought it would be good to have a little fun with me when I was seven. I fit neatly into the stereotype of the little boy in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was the pastor of an adoring congregation. I was the child delivered into his care by trusting parents. I don’t know why I’m talking about this now. It’s something I’ve talked to a therapist about but he said I seemed to have things worked out. I’m not sure I do. I wish I’d told somebody. I wish I could know that other kids didn’t go through the same thing. I wish I could be with you the same way you are with me. I wish I didn’t hold back. I’m sorry.
I choked out the apology. I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t know what she’d say.
She didn’t say anything. We had stopped near a bench. Its dark iron curves were too wet to sit on. Mariska slipped her arm out of mine and, grabbing my elbow, pulled me toward the bench. She hopped up onto the bench, her 5’2 frame towering above me. She unzipped her coat.
I hadn’t known what to expect. I certainly hadn’t expected this. I had thought she’d say something. I thought she’d ask questions like all the others had. She said nothing. As I stepped close, she directed my hands inside her coat. I wrapped my arms around her waist, my grasp resting on her hips. She was so warm. I don’t remember if she was wearing a sweater underneath her coat or just a shirt. I was too caught up in the silence to care. She pulled me into her warmth, one hand twined in my hair as the other dropped to press against my back. She pressed her face against my hair. My world was absolutely silent but for the steady bump, bump, bump of her heartbeat. Or was it mine?
She said something into my hair, realized I probably didn’t hear it, and said it again.
Thank you for staying alive.
How could she have known about all the times I’d considered the benefits of not living? How could she have known that I’d said all I could and that asking more would be too much to ask? How could she have known precisely what I needed at that very moment?
She just did. Mariska was like that. She still is like that. I was immediately reminded of that fact when I heard her voice this past Sunday.
Simon? It’s Mariska. Do you have a moment to talk? I got your letter.
To be continued…