How I Found My Young Old Man, Part III
It became a standing ritual for M. and I to hang out in his tiny cell of a room on Thursday evenings. More than once that spring we stayed up talking all night, alerted to the lateness of the hour only when birds began chirping as the first light crept into the sky.
KC was also spending a lot of time with M. Partly as a result of our breakup, he was still depressed, sometimes so much that we worried for his health. Support for the broken-up couple became like a full time job for M. Somehow he managed to get his end-of-semester class work and grading done on the side.
I didn’t see that I was falling in love with my friend, though a few close friends noticed. After we were officially united, I’d find out that Feral Mom and the third member of our band (drummer Joie DeVivre) speculated that M. and I would “make a good match.” (So Jane Austen!) Talking long-distance to my old friend K, who had been crashing with me for several months and was now traveling the world, I mentioned I had some big news. “You and M. got together?” she guessed. “What? No. The band is going to record a CD!” (The band, man!) M. and I went to visit friends in Chicago, a couple we’d hung out with together numerous times before, and they pointed us to the guest room, saying “you guys can sleep in there.” We just looked at each other and cracked up. “Um, we’re not together.” Where did they get that idea? It was silly, so silly it wasn’t even uncomfortable. The fact that we were taking numerous road trips together alone did not seem weird to us. We were pals, playing Fugazi at top volume as we sped down the highway, chucking inedible Long John Silver’s hushpuppies out the window of my ’82 Subaru wagon, having a blast.
But more and more, he was the person I wanted to be with at any given time. There were certainly signs I should have seen. Why was I lugging my $700 acoustic guitar through the driving rain to keep the date I’d made to play guitar with M? Why were we suddenly swapping so many backrubs? Why was I feeling this weird tug in my stomach every time M. couldn’t hang out with me because he had plans with KC? Was I jealous of my friend hanging out with my melancholy ex-boyfriend?
I was actually suffering from that pang the very night we got together. It was a Thursday, and I dropped by M’s on my way to the library to find out what time I should come by later. He had made plans with KC, and he could see that I was disappointed. “Dude,” (he called me dude) “I’m sorry… but he’s so bummed right now. He really sounded like he needed to talk.” I understood, of course. “Come by later, like midnight. We’ll hang out for a little while then, okay?” Okay, I said, and I felt a little better, but I was beginning to understand that at some point, M. was going to have to make a choice between me and KC. And it felt to me like he’d probably choose KC. And in my heart, I loved M. for that. He was a very decent person, and KC needed him. And I needed him, too, but maybe not as much.
Walking the rest of the way to the library, I resolved to make peace with the fact that I was going to have to let go of my dear friend M, maybe not altogether, but somewhat. Still, after I arrived back at his place around midnight, we sat around for a long, long time talking and listening to music. So long that, for once, we both actually fell asleep on his single bed. Neither of us is really sure exactly what happened next. We both agree that neither of us really made the first move. We just sort of woke into an embrace, and then a kiss - a kiss that lasted a long time. And when it was over, we were both astonished, a little thrilled and very scared. It was clear to us both pretty quickly that it was a wonderful thing, falling for someone we already loved so much. But it was also wracking to think what effect it would have on KC to learn that his ex-girlfriend and one of his best friends were hooking up.
Were we hooking up? It took awhile to know for sure. There was the KC issue, which loomed. Was he mentally healthy enough to be able to handle this? Should we put the brakes on it, throw it into reverse for his sake? Was that possible? If we went ahead with it, how should we tell him? Should we tell him? In a close-knit community where everyone was someone’s friend, roommate, ex, or band mate, could we really expect to keep it from him?
Then there was the additional issue of risking a good thing. M. was one of my best friends, ever. I cherished what we had so much and feared that our friendship taking a romantic turn might ruin it. We spent a couple of painful months going back and forth over the question of whether to run with this, or try to chill out and turn back the clock.
But in the end, of course, we realized how little control we had over our love. As we talked and talked about whether we should rein it in and how and for how long, it continued quietly to grow, unabated. One evening might find us resolving to chill out our intensifying animal passion, the next morning vowing to engage in a vigorous campaign of “more concerted chilling out,” and that very afternoon soaping each other up in a hot shower. The fact was that we had grown incredibly close well before we’d had any inkling of love-in-the-making. We were used to spending time alone together, and weren’t willing to give that up. But now spending time alone together had a new element, an urgency, and it was beautiful, intoxicating, and impossible to set aside for some less complicated time in the hazy future.
So we went through several weeks of elated affinity tempered by agonizing self-doubt. Little by little we accepted our love as something bigger than the chaotic situation we found ourselves in. Just when we had resolved that M. would tell KC that we were in love, and deal with the fallout as best he could, KC confronted M. with an ultimatum: me or him. M. said he couldn’t choose, and in doing so, he chose me. KC cut off contact with both of us, thus breaking out of a cycle that was healthy for no one, least of all him. We went around our smallish town for a year or so, trying not to bump into each other and pretending not to notice when we did. And after some time, we all miraculously and very tentatively began to be friends again.
KC cutting M. loose was the opening of the floodgates for M. and me. We had our first real date. We began sleeping over at each other's places regularly, spending most of our free time together. I worried when we had our first real fight that this was the beginning of the end, that we'd ruined an amazing friendship for a short-term romance. But the more time went on and the more complex and wonderful our love grew, it became clear that, as cool as our friendship was, our love was even cooler. And it would only grow cooler as the years went on and we got our first apartment together, started a band together, got married, and became parents together.
I said in the first installment of this story that M. is the only man I’ve ever been totally, one-hundred-percent committed to, and that's not to say that I haven't been in committed relationships before. But every time - even with my college boyfriend, who I was with for six years - there was a little part of myself I reserved, a slight suspicion toward romantic love and its perils. In some small way my heart always kept its eye on the door. I never realized this until I was with M, when I felt that little bit of wariness gone. And I think it was because he was my friend, full on and unambiguous, before he was anything else. If we had both been single when we met, we might never have gotten together. I might have dismissed him as "not my type," or been suspicious of his intentions. I feel very lucky that we became friends, and I'm grateful that we're still friends, and so much more.