When I was twenty-two, I fell in love with a man who had a girlfriend. We went out for drinks and I didn’t let my hand brush his over the table. I snuck off to see him at the coffee shop where he worked. His black hair was tied back and as I stood there, waiting for him to finish making a cappuccino, I wanted nothing more than to feel his mouth on me, his hair splashing across my skin. But when he turned, I smiled lightly and joked, took my small cup of coffee and walked out alone. I tried to play it cool. I was not the kind of person who broke up relationships.
I moved away and he married his girlfriend, as I knew he would. Although I was invited to the wedding, I did not make the trip. A few years later, they came up to visit me on their way somewhere else. We took the subway together after lunch. His wife found a seat in the busy car and he and I stood in the aisle near her, holding onto the overhead bar. I looked up. His face was inches from mine, as it is when you stand with someone on the subway, as if you were going to kiss. I looked down quickly. I did not measure the space between our bodies, I did not need to; I could feel the heat coming from his skin. When I looked up again, he had moved halfway down the car.
I met a man whom I loved. We got married. I was not worried about being faithful. It was hard enough for me to get laid when I was single, I didn’t imagine it would be a problem now. And then facebook came along. I friended the man who I used to know after years of being out of touch. Just his name on the screen brought it all back, the sting of lust, the time in my life when I equated desire with wistfulness, a thing that would never be satisfied.
I still love him. It is a small, warm love, like the love I have for my friends, except that it is laced with desire. I see pictures of his wife and I’m jolted by the thought that she gets to have sex with him and I never will.
The love for my husband is different. It’s the way he talks, it’s the way he makes me laugh without even trying, and the way I curl my fingers into the flesh of his arms. Every day we wind our lives ever more tightly together, not to become one person, we are too ornery for that, but we’re learning to make our choices, in part, for each other.
That sounds so unromantic. Our love is compromise. But how else does one accomplish the complicated, difficult task of living with another human being? We no longer have sex four times in an afternoon, quietly each time so my roommates didn’t hear, my shoulder, my mouth muffling his cries. But every time his hand meets my skin, some part of me remembers that afternoon, the way my face was sensitive the rest of the day, as if I had a fever, the way I felt the warm length of his body against my back and wanted never to leave my bed again.
And so what do I do with my minor treachery? For years I felt guilty that I was in love with a married man. Now I feel guilty that I love him still. But I try to keep the love in perspective, to keep it small. To not imagine things that are unrealistic. To use the desire for one to proposition the other. Not once have I watched my husband come in my arms, his face smooth and open, and wished he were anyone else.
Tell me about a quiet love, a small love that lives behind the bigger one.