When we talk about unrequited love, it’s usually referring to a crush on someone you can’t have. But as for me, it turned out to be quite the opposite.
You see, I’m about to go out on my second date in two weeks. The guy was Lenny: a tall, thin club promoter with a shaved head. I met him four years ago at Wasteland, a vintage clothing store on Melrose.
Whenever I’d go there, I’d run into him in the changing rooms. I wasn’t sure about his sexual preferences since we’d always be eyeing the same skirt.
“Any new romances?” I’d ask as we tried on clothes.
“I only have eyes for you. When are you going to let me take you to dinner?” he’d say, peering over the changing room stall.
“You only like me because I’m not giving in to you. You must have a thing for hard-to-get women,” I’d tease, laughing him off.
I finally agreed to go out with him since I made a real effort to do what most single people do: Date. My previous date had been with an utter stranger. So I thought I’d give it a try with someone who I already knew.
“It’s ladies’ choice tonight. Whatever you want to do,” Lenny said on the phone from his club. I had canceled on him last night. “It better be important. I’ve been looking forward to this all day,” he mumbled.
I read a book and ate a pint of Ben and Jerry’s newest flavor. When he called at noon today, I said okay, but I really have to push myself out the door to do this. I will put my hair in rollers, but no Nair on my upper lip. I don’t plan on kissing him. I wish I could be a breezier person.
Lenny picked me up at ten minutes before nine, just as I had taken the curlers out of my hair. “Shalom,” I said as he kissed me on the forehead. He replied with a lengthy story:
“Shalom. You know I don’t want to disappoint you, but I’m not really Jewish. I mean, my adopted parents are. Actually, I met my real mom the other day. She told me she was a 16-year-old showgirl in Vegas when she got pregnant with me. The owner of the hotel where she worked, Bobby, sent her away for the whole nine months…
He was the love of her life. She said he was pretty good about it and he paid for her to stay in some resort in Palm Springs. He’d fly up and visit her once a week. ‘I sang to you every day,’ she told me. ‘I was the happiest I had ever been. I thought as soon as I had you I’d bring you with me and I’d go back to Vegas and dance again. See, like I said, I was real young …
I thought Bobby just wanted his baby to be healthy. Sending me away to swim and lay by the pool all day … You see, I just didn’t know what was happening. Then you were born and, well, Bobby said he didn’t think it was right to raise our baby in a casino.’ Anyway, I’m not Jewish. You know, I don’t know what to do with that experience. Where do I put her in my address book? I’ve been trying to write a song about it.”
We shoved off in his midnight blue pick-up truck to the Laemmle, a movie theater on Sunset Blvd. A box of McDonald’s french fries was scattered on the passenger seat. Lenny brushed them onto the car floor with a dirty sock before I sat down.
“Check this out,” he said, cueing up his music. “My new band. We’re really onto something. It took me a long time to move on from ‘Cloud Ten.’ Who knows? I might have ended up like Freddy if I continued on being their drummer. Heroin. I only like weed.”
He tried to hold my hand as we got into the elevator. He stared at the floor levels as I looked at a Cary Grant poster on the wall. On level three, two ghost-white musician types, with blue-black hair shuffled in.
“Sandy,” Lenny said giving her an extra long hug.
“Oh, my god. I haven’t seen you… when was the last time? Was I flat-chested then? I know! It was at Lollapalooza. You were with Rebecca. No… oh, I don’t know. It’s so good to see you,” she said planting a wet black kiss on his cheek. “This is Darr, my friend… no… what did we decide yesterday? Boyfriend, but we’re, like, open,” she said turning to me with a sly wink of her long, silver false lashes.
Darr and Sandy began to fidget under the fluorescent lights. Darr kept silent. He took out a pair of rhinestone cat glasses and put them on. Sandy took out a similar pair and put her shades on as well.
“Oh, this is…” Lenny began to say, looking over to me. The elevator opened and the couple scurried out.
“See ya,” Sandy said with a wave of her veiny pale hand as Darr tugged her away.
“You’re so cool,” Lenny said, tucking a stray, blonde curl, behind my ear. “I’m used to girls being really jealous. I can just tell you’re not that type. I think I can really be myself with you.”
I felt like telling him, “Yeah, with you I’m not jealous. But believe me, with someone else I sure could be.”
At the Virgin Megastore, we listened to world music, rhythms of African-Celt, Latin and the latest in techno. He bought me a CD that I liked.
“That is so generous of you. Thank you,” I said.
“Just make me a copy,” he replied.
I wanted to hand it back to him then. How did he know we would see each other again? He put his arm around me as we strolled up the escalator to see Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown. The whole time I kept thinking of what it would be like to see the movie alone. Or beside someone who I was actually attracted to. Why couldn’t I just be easy going about it?
“More Junior Mints?” he’d ask every ten minutes.
“Popcorn?” he’d whisper, leaning in close to me, passing the huge bag my way.
I began to have a combination of the two melting in my hands. I thought how differently these would taste if I were alone. Is he enjoying this movie more than me? Is he even paying attention to it with me beside him? What a different experience for both of us.
As we watched the movie I thought if I was attracted to this person, how aware I’d be of his hand, the feeling of our legs almost touching, sitting so close to one another. Or how, out of the corner of your eye, you look to see the other’s expression.
I wanted to feel the nervous tension of Lenny’s thigh next to mine. But I just didn’t. Yet how would Lenny guess I was so indifferent? Are we so easily deceived? He could perceive my distance as nervousness. Or my giddiness over chamomile tea after the movie could be interpreted by a stranger, that it was I who liked Lenny more than he liked me. For I’m the happier looking one.
I often wonder about that. A man and a woman, walking arm in arm. Is he who looks happier, in fact, the one who is more in love? Or is the glum person more in love?
“You know, I’m thirty now,” Lenny said gazing into my eyes. He continued:
“My friends around me, well… some of them are beginning to make me think about things I never thought about before. I had this dream the other night that a little Lenny was floating above my bed. Man, he was so beautiful. His eyes were, oh, you know the color of the coral reefs? Yeah, his eyes were like giant reefs. Heavy, sleepy eyelids… like yours, he had.
And this incredible woman… this woman lay next to me. A warm, cozy type. I was slowly gliding my cheek on her silky, smooth, porcelain stomach. She had the kind of belly that when I’d lay my head on it I felt like I was sinking into her womb. I woke up and… why am I telling you this?”
He cocked his head, slightly to one side, waiting for me to say something. I lowered my eyes, staring into the pool of clover honey at the bottom of my teacup. I stuck my thumb in it and licked it off. He looked out of the window and continued.
“I went to the club that day, as usual, but the dream stayed with me. I missed little Lenny. I missed that comforting, warm, unknown woman next to me.”
I began to button up my dark gray sweater. I suddenly wanted to go home immediately. I felt for him, but this was too much. I’m close to his age, but floating babies are not on my mind. Nor do I want them to be.
“I have to tell you, Lenny, I like someone right now.”
This wasn’t exactly a lie. Don’t we all like someone at any given time? It doesn’t mean we even have to know the person’s name. I wish I had said this before the movie. A slight smile of relief spread across my face.
He carried on as if he didn’t hear me, talking real fast:
“I just got dumped, you know. I mean, I’ve done my share of that. So I guess I had it coming, but I really liked this girl. We were living together. Everything seemed good. I’d go to Dead End around noon. We’d have dinner together and then she’d go back to the club with me. She helped me run things.
One night, I came home as usual, at five. I brought her favorite kind of sushi for dinner. Spicy eel and avocado rolls. I even went out of my way to pick up a couple of fortune cookies at this Chinese place we’d go to. Our whole fridge was covered with our fortunes that she had taped on. So I came home, and she wasn’t there. I went to put the eel, which I hate, in the fridge. She had removed her fortunes from the fridge. She took off with her old boyfriend.
Now I sit in my apartment, on this fuzzy leopard thing which she picked out as a rug, and stare at her fat, orange cat. I don’t even like cats. She left it there. I’m like some chick, waiting for the phone to ring. I was at the club the other night and suddenly thought what if I miss her call. I dashed over to Good Guys at 3 AM and bought caller ID.”
There was a long silence. He stared down at his feet. “You know that guy you like? Well, he can’t be that great if you’re out with me. I hear what you’re saying, though.”
Crap. I didn’t know what to say. I felt like crying. Only a few months ago, a guy I liked tried to let me off easy. Trying to tell me in a round about way that I didn’t turn him on. “I hear what you’re saying,” I had said to him.
Love is not one person obsessing. It’s mutual obsession. I slowly leaned over and kissed Lenny’s cheek. The loving couple across from us looked over. I took his hand and held it in mine.
Hannah Sward is a writer whose work has appeared in Anthology of the Mad Ones 2016, Rozyln: Anthology of Women Writers 2015, Erotic Review, Word Riot, Hypertext, Alimentum, Other Voices (Canada), and Milk Magazine, among others.