Here’s an ugly story: I’m riding shotgun in an early 90s Saturn while my friend Cedar drives away from our remote inland NorCal college town. We’re headed toward her sleepy wine country suburb, about 40 minutes away from The City (SF). It’s maybe mid-October.
I’m nursing an absurd crush on this chick, truly like a smitten kitten. It’s stupid: she’s dating my friend Joe, although she refuses to admit that’s what’s happening. He got dumped (by my former roommate) earlier that summer and Cedar broke up with her boyfriend, too. Neither wanted to sleep alone, though they both wanted to remain single, so they came up with an arrangement. If nothing else was going on, they’d find a way to one or the other’s bed. Usually, that meant Cedar would go do whatever she did for the night and then drop by late at Joe’s place. If he did not have another lady around – and he sometimes did – then Cedar would blow him and snuggle herself to sleep in his arms.
Something like that.
I met her that summer on a trampoline at a house party and made the mistake of telling her I was interning in the media lab at the library. She came by a few days later and walked me home. Then she asked for my phone number. After that, she called me all the time. We talked a lot. And she kept sleeping with Joe.
Two months on and I’m going along with her for a weekend with her parents, sister, sister’s kids, and all that crap. She invited me because bringing Joe would make him into too much of a boyfriend, but she didn’t want to go alone either.
Before we left, Joe told me if given the chance, I should hook up with her. He said he knew the score and he was okay with it. The nature of my relations with Cedar up to then consisted of longing looks and longer chats. This was common knowledge among our group of friends. Joe, in particular, knew what I wanted and I guess he expected Cedar to possibly give it to me.
At 22, I was greener than a new pickle, but not afraid of the table. I was just emotionally illiterate, as if I could sound out words but make no real meaning from them. I knew nothing of love and barely understood lust. To be clear: I’d been sexual, but only while drunk and mostly with people whose company I did not otherwise enjoy.
Cedar was the opposite of all that. I greatly enjoyed her company. But I just could not see it for what it was. Young men are often accused of not being able to think ahead, but I had the opposite problem. I was paralyzed by the likelihood that there was no future in a tryst with her. Maybe I was afraid if I kissed Cedar and it was as magical as I expected it to be, then I’d never get over it and end up living out my days alone with the poetry of a kingdom by the sea. Because I knew our love was destined to die.
All dogs die, of course. That’s not a reason to keep them out of your life. It’s actually why we must give them good homes when we can. And pet them. Pet the sweethearts, because sometimes they bite.
Whatever. We arrived late at Cedar’s parents’ house, her childhood home, and she immediately suggested we go sit in the hot tub. Naturally. Let’s go down there and smoke a joint. She’d instructed me to bring swimwear, so of course I was prepared for this.
Cedar came out of her room wrapped in a towel and led the way to the backyard. She powered up the mechanisms and revealed as much of her body as I’d ever see, covered only by small briefs on the bottom and a strapless length of fabric tied around her tits precariously, but effectively. We probably could have had some kind of sexual experience – at minimum made out and shown each other the usual hidden details. Where memory meets dream, I choose to believe we did discover enough to qualify as intimates.
But… no. I sometimes return to this moment while cleaning out the cupboard of regret to remind myself that youth is, indeed, wasted on the young. With nearly twenty years of life lived since then, I do not disdain my former self. I was already too far upstream for a weak swimmer (that’s the last metaphor, I promise).
So we talked. What a doofus I was. She thought I was sweet and shy and she was right. But that’s not what kept her from fooling around with me. By that I mean, it’s not what kept her from making a move, because she’d have had to be the one to do it. It’s that I was already heartbroken, but still stupidly hopeful that she could remedy the situation with some absurd promise of forever. What a sap!
You see, Cedar was already on her way to paradise. But I had no idea. She was the first person who I could theoretically impregnate who I also told directly that I had no desire to make babies, probably ever. I don’t remember her saying someday I’d change my mind or any other nonsense like that. I also don’t recall her saying what she wanted to do with her life in that respect, but it would become clear soon enough.
Cedar had earned a degree in Interior Design, which she did not intend to do very much with any time soon. After graduating, she’d get a job selling nice furniture in a retail franchise branch in her hometown. Then she would start dating some guy and move in together around talk of engagement, which would progress to marriage, buying a house, and making her a mother of at least two little darlings. Maybe at some point after the kids were in high school she’d start up an interior decorating consultation practice or something like that.
Look, it should be clear none of that shit sounds good to me. I’ve known since I was 12 that I never wanted children or to live that sort of pedestrian life in the burbs. And it’s absurd to me that some people still believe babies are a natural consequence to heteronormative sex.
That night, I said something even dumber to Cedar there in the tub: I said I knew my mother wanted grandchildren, and I was already feeling the pressure to provide them. What a stupid thing to say. It was true, but who cares? We should have been sharing a moment of passion, not pretense. We should have fucked around and moved along.
For a long time I believed that Cedar did not want to think I was capable of casual sex. That I couldn’t handle it; it would ruin me. If she was wrong, then my affection for her was just thirst. Of course, I think it’s more complicated than that. If we were really destined to be great friends, then the sexual tension needed a release. She’d probably feel rejected or used if I did not become even more of a drooling idiot than I already was, had we taken our teasing a few steps further.
Who knows? We did not become great friends either way.
Transparency: Later that year, I showed my mom a photo of Cedar and insinuated we were dating. I knew my mom would be pleased because Cedar looked wholesome (in the picture). This was a mistake, because where I thought my mom would be excited that I was maybe involved with a pretty young thing, my mom was actually projecting her ambitions onto this 4×6 print. It was not clear to me then that my mom chooses not to live in the unpleasant present, but instead builds her reality around magical thinking.
Post Script: My mom now speaks to me with unmasked bitterness and resentment every time I call, because I’m not delivering the only news she’s ever cared about getting. I was going to write a screenplay based on this aspect of my life, in which a (possibly gay) man brings home a pregnant sex worker to appease his mother’s desire for a grandchild. It would be a romantic comedy, but the formula for that genre is so unappealing to me that I haven’t bothered to develop the concept past a logline.