Are you married?

Have you ever, in the dark and musky moments after deepest intimacy, wanted to be? Have you ever fantasized the woman, the man lying beneath you as your life partner, your willing captive, held by ancient vows taken before a benign audience of loving friends and family?

This is for all you idealists, all you lovers out there.

I was a one night stand, once upon a time. I was a firefly caught in a mason jar, a seasonal incandescence, never meant for long term anything. I was meant to die with the morning, christened with dew and preserved in the amber of memory. My fingerprint was meant to be temporary, my whispers ephemeral, my touch feathery and and liquid, evaporating with the dawn. I was a sway of hips, a flip of hair, high breasts long legs small waist, something tantalizing just out of reach, something as carefully cultivated as an orchid, in your bed and in your head but never really in your life.

But he...he looked me up. He knew friends of friends, and he tracked me down like an animal. It was flattering, this desire; it was shivery in its cold fire and worthy of another night, a chaste and proper evening replete with a meal and a bottle of good wine. I wanted to see his eyes in candlelight this time, wanted to see how adept he was at the lie.

To my surprise he was earnest. I don't mean earnest in the sense of a nineteenth century novel, either. He was earnest in a uniquely twentieth century way that was as rare as a vein of uranium. His eyes were wide in appreciation of what I'd done for him a week before. His brow was sheened with the sweat of a hundred tiny memories, of a thousand points of remembered contact. Nothing in my life had prepared me for what he seemed to be. Nothing in his life had prepared him for what I'd pretended to be that long and humid night.

Of course, the key word there was "pretended". I suspect I knew, even then, over sushi and sparkling conversation, how impossible it would be to live up to the beautiful fiction I'd created for him, for myself, that previous evening.

We met in a darkness punctuated and pulsed by strobe lights. We met to the languid strains of Margo Timmins's inimitable vocals. We met in a jungle of coupled bodies welded together by sweat and desire. We met to a soundtrack of longing and loss. Our path was mapped before we took our first step.

I stole his eye with a stare and a falsely shy downward glance. I captured his attention in a room in which conversation was impossible. Every time he tried to ask a question his voice was hijacked by Margo's, and the end result was a bluegrey-eyed stranger with a voice as alto-rich as starvation itself. We stood wordlessly at a bar, warmed with alcohol and lust, listening to the honeyed death knell of relationships long past, of loves immortalized in song and moans and sighs. Before the night collapsed into tomorrow our fingers were tangled and we swayed together, hip to hip, our appetites piqued by slow rhythms and good scotch. We got high on loss before we ever had a chance.

The streets were steaming with July rain and the first hot kiss of dawn when we stumbled onto them, and our sweatslicked bodies felt elemental and electric in the summer heat. We knew where we were going long before we knew the cadence of eachothers voices, the topography of eachothers bodies. We knew that whatever the outcome of the evening we were in lockstep with the blues, bound by a hunger set to music.

I knew he wanted more than I could ever be, and I was hungrier than I knew, so each of us pretended to be what the other needed.

I did not know that he would look at me that way later on. He looked at me in a way that sliced through the alcohol and the remembered flavor of the music, in a way that created a seismic frission. He looked at me in a way that penetrated the pretention of what I'd so carefully constructed. He looked at me as though he wanted to know what was under my skin. He ate me with his eyes.

There was sweat and salt and all the expected, mundane ingredients of a one-nighter. But later, when he called my home phone - when he violated my space and invaded my sanctum - this is what made me play his message over and over again in a tantric trance: he had looked at me. Looked through me.

And so I succumbed to the most insidious form of self-delusion: that I was special; that I was unique; that I had somehow managed to carve out a niche in his soul; that I was irreplaceable.

After a few dinners, after a movie or two, after a walk on the beach and a few minor headgames, we wound up in bed together. (Whose bed it was eludes me now - it bothers me like a missing tooth: was it my bed or his? Did the sheets smell like my rosewater perfume or his sweat? Was it a futon or a fluffy double? I can't remember, and my memory is an unforgiveable Judas.)

That night cemented a humiliating pattern. Suddenly he was the one in control: he was the gourmet to my glutton. I couldn't get enough of his gaze, of his impassive desire, of his distance. I thrashed, I moaned, I squirmed, I did all I could to draw him in but he remained stubbornly apart, maddeningly other. He refused to be assimilated. I was used to men of clay, men who warmed and became malleable in my grasp, but he was stony and self-contained, a vessel that refused possession.

And there it was: I was the vessel, quite suddenly. I was the receptacle, trembling and vacant, wanting nothing more than his weight on top of me, his fingers licking my body, his sweat dripping onto me like a benediction, an absolution, a baptism of hunger.

I spent the next several months in a womblike state of constant longing, wanting nothing more than the nights, hoping for nothing less than the gaze that rendered me pliant and wet and molten. There was always that moment when we made love - sometimes afterward; he doled that gaze out the way a dealer shares cocaine. That was his crystalline and bluegrey lie: a glance that made me feel singular, an unwavering stare that pinned me to the mattress, the couch, the floor.

When he looked at me, I was perfect.

How could I say no, then, when years later, after a painful separation and half a decade's worth of serviceable sex with comfortable partners - how could I say no when this glittering filigree of a lie insinuated his way back into my life, into my bed, into my body?

How can I say was like walking into a quiet, gaslit room from a snowstorm, a room that smelled of leather and time, a room with a snifter of brandy and a deep soft chair and an endless promise of comfort and warmth. His gaze flickered over me like firelight, warming my extremities and melting the memory of snow. No man I had ever loved since him - and I had loved many - had fixed me with that blue and steady scrutiny.

He touched me as though I'd disappear if he weren't careful. He cupped my breasts as though they were freshly minted and fragile. He traced the curve of my throat with a tenderness that was unbearable and addictive. He met the arch of my body with something fierce and tender and not at all tame. He sipped me as though I were a rare vintage. He gave a new meaning to the word hunger as he made love to me - just me, only me, me alone. There was nothing on earth but me and his eyes in the moments when we were fused, and once again I lived for those moments. I sleepwalked through my days. Food was cottony in my mouth, conversation was something to be endured, work was an intolerable purgatory - nothing was anything but a prelude to those nights in his arms, those nights where I was crucified and resurrected in the blue ocean of his gaze.

And so I came to believe that my body - my breasts, my hips, my waist (girdled and spanned by his expansive hands) - my entire chassis, the sum of my infinite parts was irreplaceable. I learned to take what happened in the darkness into the light of my day-to-day life. I walked a new walk, shoulders squared and head high, stalking the streets with a borrowed confidence. I was the girl in your office with the three-cornered smile, the lips that beg for a kiss, the casual awareness of what moves beneath the skirt and the slip. I lived in that assumed reality of nighttimes full of gentle touch and endless eyes. Nightly I was reminded that I was beautiful, that I was irreplaceable.

It was, of course, a lie.

Now, after a few years of willing captivity, held by ancient vows taken before a benign audience of loving friends and family - now, alone in a cold bed and separated by a continent of land and loss - now, in the baroque shadows of nameless hunger and antiseptic sheets - now I lie alone in the awareness that lies, no matter how gossamer and lovely, are just that.

They are lies.

Woman, listen: none of your parts, however exquisite, are irreplaceable. Man, hear me: no eyes are deep enough to satisfy that particular and unwavering brand of desire; its current will drag you under and leave no trace. Lovely though it may be, your body is not smooth or taut or young or strong enough to endure the insatiable stare of an experienced liar. No body is or ever will be.

Do not trust an unyielding and bluegrey gaze. It will own the deepest parts of you. It will not return them.

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