Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Kiss

In the summer of 1977 I moved from Boston to Atlanta, looking for a fresh start after by two very punishing and failed relationships while in law school. Moving to a place where I knew no one, and no one knew me, was about as fresh a start as I could find.  I met Carolyn at a Motel 6 on Cheshire Bridge Road. We were both newly arrived in the city, staying at the motel temporarily, just two rooms away from each other. Our goals were to get out of motel living and find our own apartments as soon as possible.  A budding romance began. Carolyn was first to move away, answering an ad she found in a local newspaper for a roommate.  I went next, finding my own place not far from where I would eventually be setting up my law practice in Marietta, a suburb just northwest of the city. Two weeks after arriving in town, we settled in our new homes, now part of the growing South and pleasant and surprisingly, in a light and easy relationship. But that's not what this is about. 

The ad that Carolyn had answered was placed by Cindy, a woman in her mid-20's who had lost her prior roommate due to marriage. Cindy was a former bunny at the Atlanta Playboy Club, before a suspicious fire closed the club down a few months earlier.  While working at the club she had started a long distance relationship with one of the club's regulars, a wealthy, infatuated philanderer from Chicago. He was married, with kids, his wholesome "Chicago family," and with more money than he knew what to do with so he hired Cindy as his full-time on-call mistress. The arrangement was that he would support her, lavish expensive gifts on her and pretty much take care of all her needs, wants, and happiness until he could extract himself out of his marriage, all in exchange for exclusive rights, not only when he was in Atlanta, but anywhere and anytime he wanted her company. A life with Dr. Chicago with about twice a month out-of-town travel to upscale destinations, and all the gifts and trappings that went with such an arrangement and eventually, some day, she would be the second, Mrs Chicago, all within the natural promotion hierarchy for a young, beautiful, aspiring and maybe most of all trusting, former bunny. 

Cindy was a stunner, the kind of woman that attracted men on a primal level, transcending desire. Men would become frozen in stares at her on the street, in restaurants, clubs, malls, anywhere she was out in public,  She seldom was alone for long as she would be the constant recipient of attention, and not the kind that Dr. Chicago wanted in his absence. Cindy was like a queen bee, with a gaggle of horny drones flying all around her when she was out. I had never seen anything like this before, she drew attention by simply being out there. Cindy didn't help the situation either. Women like Cindy can put out an air of flirtation just by how they smile at the world, and every man would think she was smiling right at him. That was Cindy, that's why she needed a female roommate and companion, a buffer between her and the leeches all around her. That's why she placed the ad for a roommate, that's how she found Carolyn, and Carolyn was how I found Cindy.

Carolyn, Cindy and I started hanging out together, we would go as a threesome to clubs, to concerts, movies, shopping, and spending a lot of time together. There were days up at Lake Lanier, renting a sailboat and spending Sunday's just being 20-somethings floating on this beautiful mad-made lake in northern Georgia. Carolyn and I were Cindy's fortress, keeping the wolves at bay and protecting her from temptation, from the incessant unwanted stares and at times the too aggressive attention from the men cast under her spell. Carolyn and I loved our roles, protectors of the Goddess and Cindy loved her part, replying to all the unwanted lines from the hopeful staring masses of men:

"I'm already these two."

All good things must end and my relationship with Carolyn wasn't to last. In an unexpected corporate shuffling, American Express, Carolyn's employer, transferred her to their regional headquarters in Denver. It was a promotion, but one of those take it or leave it promotions, a mandatory promotion. It was Denver, or find another job. Carolyn and I just hadn't been together long enough for it to be an issue between us. We were young, it was the late 70's and new adventures awaited us both. Hers was to Denver. But it wasn't just me who was losing a girlfriend, it wasn't just Cindy losing a roommate, it was Dr. Chicago losing control of the good thing he had going with Cindy in Atlanta. Arrangement or not, a woman like Cindy doesn't stay single very long. Men have a narrow vision of women: If she's alone, she's available.

Cindy and Dr. Chicago were faced with a dilemma, find Cindy a new roommate, one without a gaggle of men hanging around her, one that can replace Carolyn and be her best friend and constant companion, or move Cindy to the much more convenient Chicago. They chose the latter, but the move needed some time to make happen. Who would keep Cindy company, at bay, to protect Dr. Chicago's interests before he brought her up to the windy city? 

"What about Carolyn's old boyfriend, the lawyer you said you liked? What does he know about us?"

"Yea, I like Allan, he's really nice, and has never come on to me. He knows and doesn't seem to care. I'll talk to him." 

I willingly became Cindy's safe male companion and her social life for the month or so until she moved to Chicago. When she was out of town cavorting with Dr. Chicago, I had my own life as young lawyer with a red Fiat Spyder convertible in Atlanta in the mid-70's, where dating Southern women was casual, easy and just like with Carolyn, liaisons carried no strings attached. When Cindy was alone in Atlanta, the two of us hung out, went to dinner, concerts, shopping, movies and sometimes just talking, and talking and talking. I made Cindy laugh and I think it took her by surprise, almost as though no men ever made her laugh before. They were too caught up and trying to fall in love, and laughter had the role to play, at least from their point of view.

I accepted my role and played the part very well. We were both careful enough to not cross the boundary of being just friends. It was fine with me, I enjoyed the company of a beautiful woman and I grew to like Cindy well beyond her looks and incredible sex appeal. She was safe with me and most important of all, not alone. Our former threesome had seamlessly become a twosome, but with a platonic asterisk. We had fun and without the pressure of romance weighing on us, it was uncomplicated and effortless. She liked me and I like her. Period.  

It didn't take long for Cindy and I to build our own special bond. It was clear to her from the moment she met me and then as she grew to know me that I was different from the men she was used to. Since I was dating Carolyn and the two of us were smitten and affectionate with each other, I had posed no romantic threat to the good thing she had going with Dr. Chicago. What I may not have had in his money, or social status, I had in personality, and a playful sense of humor.  I wasn't rich, not yet, nor urbane, or anything like the pick of men she had in her days at the playboy club, but I was nice, low key, funny, smart, professional and most of all unthreatening. Without Carolyn around my arm, I was still that same guy, still the guy Cindy liked and felt safe around. There were only two of us now, one male, one female, but with that invisible, untouchable boundary between us.  We managed, and we both were extra careful to respect the lines between friendship, companionship, and romance. We purposely avoided too much eye contact and stayed well away from even the most innocent, inadvertent touching. As the days, then weeks, rolled by we mastered the art of not falling in love.

Cindy wasn't just beautiful, she had a kind and seductive heart and in her own way, was an innocent bystander to her beauty and the life she was leading. I was unlike any of the men she had known in her past not constantly hitting on her. I came to like and appreciate her for what was behind the beauty and sex appeal, for what was inside and her increasingly engaging heart. I wasn't chasing her, just enjoying my time with her, treating her with respect and was genuinely interested in her, the road that she was on and brought her to where she was today, and where she would be tomorrow, in Chicago.  I don't think any man had ever asked her so many real questions before, or ever asked her about dreams, regrets, or hope, or the future. We talked a lot and I wasn't just some goggled-eyed creepy handsome stud spewing out lines at her, trying to get into her pants. I was her friend, probably the only male friend she ever had. In return, she gave me the gift of letting down her guard. I was no threat and was without any carnal desire for her, at least none that that I would admit to or even hint at, not to her, not even to myself.  

Eventually, the move up north arrived, to the expensive downtown Chicago penthouse which was much more convenient for Dr. Chicago. Our undefined relationship, which had become so valued by us both, would soon come to an end. We had gotten to know each other well and a special affection grew between us. In any other circumstance, I was out of Cindy's league, overshadowed by the tall, dark, handsome, Rolex laden types that seemed to be all around her. Even with us being seen clearly together as a fake couple they were always trying to make eye contact with her, unwanted glances that she would never return. Cindy was a faithful pretend girlfriend.

We made a special date to spend her last night in Atlanta together, just the two of us, for dinner at nearby restaurant and then a walk back to her apartment to say good-bye. It went well, a little alcohol, another great conversation, and when dinner was over an das planned we walked slowly back to her place, with not a word being said about pending good-bye waiting just ahead. Way too soon we found ourselves at her front door. Cindy and I had never kissed, an unspoken, accepted and never violated rule from the start. It was understood that any trappings of romance between us was off limits. That's probably why it was so easy for me to fall in love with her. Rules or not, I wasn't about to let her go without one show of the affection that had been building up inside of me for weeks. She was leaving tomorrow. I had nothing to lose.

Finally the walk, the words, the increasingly awkward small talk had ended. We stood in front of her door, face to face, and in complete silence. I could see her eyes beginning to swell with tears as she looked up at me to start our final good-bye. Before she could say a word I leaned in and softly pressed my lips against hers. I meant to pull back but before I could Cindy kissed me back, harder and deeper than I had kissed her.  Our lips lingered pressed together, exploring.  I put my arms around her and pulled her into me. I held her close. She held me closer. We both wanted to make that moment to last, all without a word being spoken. 

Looking back now I realize that she held that kiss just long enough to wonder about the road she was on and how a road with me might be different. Were those feelings for me that had secretly and unexpectedly grown in her the real deal, the feelings that diamonds and fur coats didn't have a chance against? I realized later, and for many, many years afterwards, that all I had to do was ask if she was ready to take a different path, one not to Chicago, but to somewhere, something different, something genuine, something with a future she has never thought about wanting until that moment. An adventure with me, on my path, wherever that was going, and where anything would be possible.  

We finally pulled apart and opened our eyes in unison, her tears now running down her cheek, full of realization that something had just changed between us. Just as our time together was coming to an end. She was never going to see me again. Our eyes still locked, my hands sweeping gently across her arms, one more affectionate, intimate embrace.  We savored the moment. For one more second, I held her close while feelings, possibilities, and confusion racing through both of us and reaching down into our hearts and uo into our souls. The night was suddenly filled with wonder and surprise.

"Allan, what are we doing?"

"We're saying goodbye."

Sometimes things just happen. Seeing a person you never saw before, you can be passing on the street, sitting at a stoplight looking over at the next driver, in line checking out at a grocery store, walking in a mall, anywhere. You just see each other. There is a moment, a recognition that you both know something, and just as fast the moment is gone. It was there, you saw it, you felt it, but then it was gone. You let it go. 

I kissed Cindy because I felt something very special for her and wanted her to know it. Words wouldn't do. When she kissed me back, it was her way of letting me know she felt something too. Maybe I wasn't so out of her league after all, that there was a part of me she was attracted to, she wanted, that she could not find with Dr. Chicago, that she may never find with anyone, anywhere. Maybe that scared her; maybe for once in her life she felt desire for a man for the right reasons. In the confusion of it all, because we thought there was nothing else either of us could do or say, or change in that one brief moment of our lives, she spoke first: 


Then me, and because at that time, in Atlanta in 1977, I was who I was, not who I wanted to be, 

She turned away from me toward her apartment door. I watched in silence, that was then broken by the sound of her key slipping into the lock, followed by the turning of a door handle and the squeaky hinges serenading the opening of the door. There was no looking back. We had said our good-byes. As I turned I heard the door close softly behind me and as I began to walk down the hall I heard the dead bolt turned from the inside. I continued walking out into the street and down to my car. I opened the driver's side door and got inside, sitting and staring blankly, my eyes moist with deep sadness and regret. I would never see Cindy again.

Four decades later, as I write these words I'm still standing there with Cindy at her door, kissing her and being kissed back. What a time that was, and with all that has gone by, the lives that she and I created apart from each other in the years since, all of the people, places and things that have happened to us, yet I remember that night so clearly, what we did, what we said, what we felt. 

That was our moment. We saw each other, we knew something, we felt something, then it was gone. I found her. Then I let her go.