When he handed them to me, that sticky, Brooklyn morning – I was crouched naked next to his bed, fishing through my over-sized purse for concealer.
Down the street, the M train screeched to a stop at the Knickerbocker platform.
Shit, I mumbled – fumbling through makeup brushes. I’d be late for work.
We had slept for the equivalent of a nap the prior evening, having spent the dew hours on his apartment roof, watching the sunrise, blankets tucked around our naked bodies and a wine bottle sloshing back and forth.
It felt like love – to watch a city wake up with one another. And New York has a tricky way of making you feel like every interaction is a story waiting to be told, and every love affair and sunrise – unique.
The window in his apartment was cracked open, blowing sheet music off his keyboard and onto the floor, scattering around us.
I was tired; painfully hungover. The type that sits behind your eyes, and nestles into your temple.
But, I felt it was worth it. And I also thought better than to say that.
Why do we do this, I moaned instead, in a less-than-subtle desperation to see where he stood on the evening.
In my mind: I envisioned him sweeping me off my feet “because we’re falling in love, you beautiful, unique AND interesting woman.”
I watched him from the mirror, shuffle, heavy-footed around the room, comforter slipping down his back from his shoulders.
I don’t know, he muttered, back turned. You don’t let me catch a break, girl.
My cheeks flushed.
A sex quip.
Not what I was going for – but ok ok.
People say, with such certainty, that you can see situations like this coming – when someone doesn’t want you the way you want them – and they make it obvious.
But the truth is, when you’re young, you don’t see for yourself yet; it’s just that everyone is busy seeing for you – and you ignore them.
I met W through mutual friends on a weekend camping trip in upstate New York. He was slim, tall, with long, confident blonde hair – and when he smiled, you noticed it. When he spoke, you looked up.
Early on, he mentioned that his father founded Earth Day in the ’60s. Earth Day, I made sure to tell him, is also my birthday.
What I really wanted to say was: Soulmates.
Mostly, W was aloof, and not in the Psych Today emotionally unavailable way, but in a way that you understood this person was always running thoughts over in his mind, and selectively choosing when to share.
He was mostly quiet in large groups, speaking when spoken to. Smiling in union with others. Often, when he asked you questions, you realized he had listened to every word you said, and was not quiet out of total disinterest.
A rarity in New York.
When people spoke to him, they used their words carefully. On the contrary, when I spoke to him, I overshared in a vein way to appear more interesting.
When you’re older, peering back, you recognize that on some unconscious level not only did you see certain situations coming, but you created them, in your own blind, stumbling innocence.
I was 25, insecure, lustful, new to recovery, and when he kissed me hard on that camping tarp in the woods – rocked by idealization.
He was 24, in a band (c’mon Linds), arrogant enough to know how to be aloof, and mostly emotionally unavailable and mostly noncommittal, which is worse than definitively noncommittal or definitively emotionally unavailable.
Sometimes, he told me about his broken childhood, late at night and buried under unkempt sheets.
And when I told him things about mine, he asked follow up questions.
Usually, after a few whiskeys, he’d kiss me on the temple in public.
I even met a few of his non-mutual friends. Albeit, on accident.
Sometimes, he texted a few times a week. Mostly, he texted at night – but not too late, only just barely. Some weeks, he only texted once.
Those weeks were agony.
Right before ‘Underwear Gate’ I’ll call this story – we had banged on a balcony of our friends New York beach house – twice.
He didn’t call again for a week.
So, when he handed me someone else’s beige, lacy – and dirty – underwear from the laundry basket – it shouldn’t have come as a complete shock.
But, when you can’t see in front of you, life is nothing but surprises. Looking back, there are truly so few of them.
I took the underwear.
You left these last time you were here, he said, handing them to me with the tips of his fingertips.
The lacy thong dropped into my lap.
I peered down.
And I took them.
I took a random woman’s dirty underwear.
I was a sponge for incident at 25.
And not only did I take them, without incident, I shoved those babies to the bottom of my big ass purse, and carried them with me from the streets of Ridgewood, Brooklyn, to the M train headed city-bound, to my office in Manhattan on 57th.
I carted that bunched up lacy thong all the way to my 4th floor office and past the coffee station before promptly dragging my ‘work’ husband into my office to show him.
Naturally, his response was what yours is now.
Throughout the years, I have told this story over wine-fueled buzzes, and through fits of giggles, I am always met with the same, rhetorical question:
Why the actual fuck did you take the underwear?
All I can really say is this:
When you are naked, running late, insecure, and sleeping with someone who is treating you like you are disposable: you will probably do things you otherwise wouldn’t.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t momentarily also think they were mine.
Who sleeps around and then hands rando underwear out with such certainty?!
Here, he said – thrusting them towards me.
“The fuck” – my first thought.
“Oh GOD” – my second thought.
“Don’t make it awkward” – my third thought.
Like any good southern woman knows, most of us are brought up to diffuse situations, stay small, and take up as little space as possible.
A flicker of heightened emotion regarded as dramatic or unnecessary.
I didn’t want to cause a scene. I didn’t want to lose ‘this’. This obviously BEAUTIFUL love affair that was unfolding.
So, instead, I orchestrated a life where I was taking someone else’s dirty underwear to work in an attempt to play cool.
For a long time following that incident, I consoled myself with the fact that it wouldn’t have mattered, seeing it or not seeing it. I was, in fact, a sponge for incident at that time in my life. And hey, maybe everyone is when they’re young.
Days filled with unsolicited advice you defiantly don’t take and subtle warnings you can’t hear and the whitewashing of all your excitement. Yes, I definitely saw all of it coming, exactly the way it came.
I did end up telling him, later that day, after enduring a day’s worth of berating from co-workers who were stopping in on the reg that morning to hear about the now infamous dirty thong smushed into the side pocket of my purse. (Yes, I did eventually also rid myself of the garment.)
He apologized. Profusely. Of course he did.
We went on a date. A proper one after that.
And I continued to sleep with him for months. And was somehow still shocked at his continued non-commitment.
At some point, it ended – like all things do, when it comes to situations like this. There’s an expiration date over the horizon, and though it’s glaring at you in the face, you do everything you can to avoid looking directly at it.
It’s only once the protection of time sets in, that it’s easier to gaze.
He left New York later that year. Not long after, I left too. Funny enough, we both live in Colorado now, and have yet to bump into each other though I still think about him sometimes.
I used to roll my eyes at the mention of his name, in that “don’t-care-but-kinda-care-and-still-hurt” way. But, overtime, what I really came to understand was that I was hurt by my own actions. And I felt a shitload of shame for not being able to assert myself.
He’s not a bad dude. He just didn’t want me the way I wanted him. And I never told him otherwise.
Oh, and he stupidly gave me someone’s underwear.
There have been worse crimes.
Albeit, probably not many as careless.
What I remember of my time with him was that he cared to the capacity that he cared. He asked questions and he was present when he was with me, and he offered perspectives that I still cherish today.
Nothing is ever really black and white. He gave me something y’know?
Every situation can offer you something, if you wanna see it. And accept your role in it.
The harsh truth I had to learn is that you cannot flirt, fuck or fictionalize yourself into a reality that you want.
There wasn’t enough fucking to be done that would get this dude to be any more committed to me than the next orgasm.
That was on me – to demand better.
It is on me – to look up from the story I create – and compare it with the truth.
It is on me – to want better.
And eventually, I did demand better.
And life moved along, though I still smile when I think of this story.
So, to the woman with the missing beige, lacy underwear:
I wish you well in your journey. May your life be adorned with plenty of other lovely beige thongs.
And to you, W, I wish you a happy life as well. Thanks for the sunrises.