People want to know if he’s my father. They want to know if he’s my uncle, my strange friend. When Adam and I go out in public, I don’t have enough body to hold all the eyeballs that are tackling me. I feel nervous to touch him or kiss him or smile at him because there are people everywhere and what might they think? And I know Adam is thinking the exact same thing because like clockwork he says to me, “People are trying to figure us out.”
In the beginning I asked Adam if he had told anyone about me yet. He shook his head, “Just one friend. A woman my age.” I was curious, “And? What did she say when you told her I was twenty one?” Adam sighed, “She shook her head and said, ‘Oh Adam’.”
I wasn’t altogether surprised by this reaction but still I wanted to know who this woman was.
I wanted to know what style of clothes she wore, how she fixed her hair, her tone of voice. I wondered what it would be like to have a conversation with this woman. I imagined it would probably go very poorly, considering she would try to talk to me about thirty nine year old things, like the housing market in California and I would have no idea why that even mattered and I would try to talk to her about the Gatumba Genocide because perhaps if I described the tribal rivalry she would respect me more as an adult, except for then I would be talking about genocide just to score “grown up” points and this seemed an awful lot like bull shit to me. So I would probably say nothing at all and then she would think that I was scared and so very very young.
All the while I would be sitting there thinking about the thirty nine year old Australian man I met in the bar on Main street and that great conversation we had about Australian history and then wondering why it is so much easier for me to get along with thirty nine year old men than it is to get along with thirty nine year old women or twenty one year old women for that matter and then my mind would launch into all kinds of questions about power struggles between women and what they look like and what they mean and how it is all so sad. And meanwhile this woman would probably still be looking me up and down, talking about the housing market in California and I would be nodding my head absentmindedly thinking about gender inequalities while she sat there thinking, “This scared young girl.”
I thought about that for a minute until I remembered that I was sitting across from Adam. “Ah, so she judged you?” I asked. He nodded his head. A simple yes that dangled harmlessly in the air between us. I shrugged at him. He shrugged back. And that was that.
We get along well, Adam and I.
But people have so many questions and I have no answers. They want to know if this is a daddy thing and that’s fair except for that I have a perfectly kind father who tells me things like, “I love you” and “I am so proud of who you are” and all those other words that young women claw for once they reach that age when their bodies turn into kaleidoscopes and men trail along behind them like lost puppies.
To me it does not matter whether Adam loves me or likes me or is ever proud of me at all. Those truths are buried in some untouchable place inside me, the kind of place that has been built by my mother and father’s bare hands and Martin Luther King biographies and sister’s bedtime stories and Denise Levertov poetry and Spanish dictionaries and that one time in middle school when I stood beside the vending machines every day until I’d collected enough change to buy a plane ticket to Sao Paulo Brazil.
Still, you cannot get a tattoo, pierce your nipples, and date someone nearly twice your age without people asking questions.
I imagine it is his body that confuses people. All of this gray beard and balding hair and the rhythm of his aging skin. It’s confusing. Mostly because there are plenty of brown beards and young muscles and smooth skin surrounding all four corners of my college life so why should I concern myself with a man as old as him?
But there’s no use in trying to explain it.
Some people have no idea what it’s like to seek integrity, to follow it wherever it lands even if that means the body of a thirty nine year old man.
Of course there is that single glaring age gap that sits stubborn between us but what can you do? He once asked me if I remembered the Rodney King riots in LA and I responded with a simple, “No. I was one year old.” And for a moment neither of us spoke. A tiny disconnect that reminded us of how absurd this entire relationship is.
There is nothing a stranger could tell us about our relationship that we don’t know already.
Do not think that I have not begged my body to grow up and grow up and grow up some more, have not cursed his body for not waiting for me, and have not felt the guilt of cursing a body that has held me so holy in its oak tree arms.
When Adam asks me about Rodney King, I tell him that I was one but I also tell him that my biggest concern in the year of 1992 was mastering the journey from the couch to the coffee table. And then we laugh and laugh and give each other high fives and climb on our bikes and ride through the foot hills making jokes about each other’s bad haircuts and how he is just a lonely thirty nine year old man going through a mid life crisis and I am the dumb insecure twenty one year old he is taking advantage of.
The distances are vast. But the company is something beautiful.
Every now and again we climb outside of time and look down on ourselves to see two humans caught perfectly in each other’s shapes. There is something so honest about the way that they love each other. An alignment that is sure to shift or cave at any given moment but is so unspeakably beautiful all the same.
And when we climb back down, the clock starts ticking again. And he is a single father, working towards the greatest love of his life (Emery) and I am a college senior just barely unhinging my boundless future.
The deck is stacked against us, we know. And the cards are flimsy and worn and some of them are missing, we know.
If you want to know the truth, then here it is:
I didn’t mean to find Adam. I didn’t mean to so unfortunately complicate my life by stumbling across this strange and impossible relationship. The problem is that I have spotted this man and like a beautiful work of art, no matter how hard I try, I cannot un-spot him.