Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Kiss

In the summer of 1977 I moved from Boston to Atlanta, looking for a fresh start after three very punishing years of law school simultaneous with two failed relationships. Moving to a place where I knew no one, and no one knew me, was about as new 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 and just two rooms away from each other. Our goals were aligned, 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 own 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 found ourselves in a pleasant and surprisingly easy going 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 when he was not and to be available anywhere and anytime he wanted her company. This arrangement with Dr. Chicago included about twice a month out-of-town travel to upscale destinations, just the two of them, along with all the gifts, trappings and promises that went with such an arrangement and eventually, some day, she would be the second Mrs. Dr. Chicago. 

Cindy was a stunner, a young, beautiful, aspiring and maybe most of all trusting, former bunny. She was the kind of woman that attracted men on a primal level. Men would become frozen in stares at her on the street, in restaurants, clubs, malls, anywhere she was out in public. She would be the constant recipient of attention, and not the kind of attention that Dr. Chicago wanted for her 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 met 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 late 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 attention and at times the too aggressive behavior 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 a corporate shuffling Carolyn's employer, American Express, transferred her group to their regional headquarters in Denver. 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 on our own separate paths. Her's 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 who could fill Carolyn's role as friend, companion and distraction, or move Cindy to the much more convenient and practical Chicago. They chose the latter, but the move needed some time to arrange.  Who would keep Cindy company, entertained and protect Dr Chiacgo's interests before the arrangements could be made? Someone who posed no threat and who could be trusted to keep Cindy from temptation, to keep her out of the vibrant singles scene that Atlanta had become in those days. It was too short a time frame for her to find a new roommate. 

"What about Carolyn's old boyfriend, the lawyer you said you liked? Would be be willing to hang out with you for a few weeks, maybe a month? 

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

I willingly became Cindy's safe male companion and her social life 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 all the while getting to know each other, day by day by day, with each day better than the last. I made Cindy laugh taking her it seemed every time by surprise, almost as though no man ever cared about making her laugh as much as he cared about getting in her pants, of possessing her. They were all caught up in the shallow pursuit that the beautiful people make their pastime. Character and friendship had little if any role to play. Idiots.

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, effortless.   

Carolyn and I were smitten and affectionate with each other, just enough to keep Cindy from feeling uncomfortable while not threatening the good thing she had going with Dr. Chicago. I was just Carloyn's boyfriend and acted like, nice to Cindy, friends with Cindy, inclusive of Cindy in everything Carolyn and I did outside of the bedroom. Without Carolyn on my arm, I was still that same guy, the one Cindy liked and felt safe around. There were only two of us now, one male, one female, but with an unspoken, untouchable boundary between us.  We were extra careful to respect the line between and romance and didn't cross it, ever. I had as much to lose as she and her far way beau. 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 seemed to have mastered the art of not falling in love. We thought.  

In her own way, Cindy was an innocent bystander to her beauty and the life she was leading. I never let that get in between us and always treated her with friendship, not desire. Because of the way I had come into her life, that was unlike most of the men in her past. I was not hitting on her, not chasing her, not trying to impress her. We were just enjoying our time together and with no pressure on either one of us. It made being together so much easier, we both gave and we both got. 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 not a threat, not to her, to Dr. Chicago and not to their plans to be together. It was a win-win-win.

We had gotten to know each other well and a natural affection had grown between us. In any other circumstance, I was out of Cindy's league, overshadowed by the tall, dark, handsome, Rolex laden men that were her world. Men of every type were always around and staring at Cindy, even with her and I being 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.

It didn't take too long for me to fall for her. Even knowing she was pretending to be with me that way, I ended up pretending she was not. As our time was dwindling down, my feelings were ramping up. I knew was I setting myself up for another stinging loss at love. So long as I kept my feelings to myself, nothing had to change. If she even suspected what was going on in my head, in my heart, she would feel betrayed. That was the last thing I wanted to do to her. She so deserved better. It never occurred to me that any of what I felt for her was reciprocal. Looking back now, how could it not be? 

The move to the expensive downtown Chicago penthouse of Dr. Chicago finally arrived. Our undefined relationship, which had become so valued by us both, would soon come to an end. We made a special date to spend her last night in Atlanta together, 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 a lot more eye contact, the first hint of what was to come.

When dinner was over we left  and walked slowly back to her place, not a word being said about pending good-bye waiting just ahead. It wasn't long before we found ourselves at her front door, turning into each other, neither one of us knowing what to do next. 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. But it was our last night, there were no more rules. She was leaving tomorrow. I had nothing to lose.

We stood in front of her door, face to face in complete silence. I could see her eyes beginning to swell with tears as she looked at me for our long coming good-bye. Before she could say a word I leaned in and softly pressed my lips against hers. I meant to quickly pull back, but before I could Cindy kissed me back, harder and deeper than I had kissed her. I put my arms around her and pulled her into me. I held her close. She held me closer. We wanted to make the moment last and all without a word being spoken.

Looking back now I realize that she held that kiss just long enough for her 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 and something different, something genuine, something with a future she had never thought about wanting, an adventure with different, 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, a flow of tears now running down her cheek, full in realization that something had just happened, something had just changed between us and that she was never going to see me again. We held one more affectionate, intimate embrace, this one filled with feelings, possibilities, and confusion that reached deep into our hearts. 

"Allan, what are we doing?"

"We're saying good-bye."

Sometimes things just happen. You just see each other. There is a moment, a recognition that you both know something, and just as fast the moment has passed. It was there, you saw it, you felt it, and then it was gone. You let it go. 

I kissed Cindy because I felt that moment and wanted her to know. Kissing me back was her way of letting me know she too felt something and it was my kiss that let her know it was all right. All right to feel something for me, that maybe I wasn't so out of her league after all, that there was a part of me she was attracted to, that she wanted and that she could not find with Dr. Chicago, or 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 reason. In the confusion of it all, because we were young and stupid and thought there was nothing else either of us could do or say or change in that one brief beautiful and sad moment of our lives, she spoke first: 


Then me, and because at that time, in the Atlanta of 1977, and because of who I was then, not who I wanted to be, maybe not who I would ever be,

"Good-bye, Cindy.”               
She turned around to her apartment door. I watched in silence as she slipped her key into the lock, and then turned door handle. A second, or two, or three  passed as she walked inside. There was no look back. As I turned to leave I heard the door close behind me.  I walked down the hall and heard the dead bolt turned from the inside. I walked slowly as though if I walked slow enough the ending would be different. Once at my car I opened the door and got inside, sitting and staring blankly, my eyes now moist with a deep sadness and what would turn out later to be a life long 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 have 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. How close it came to changing everything. Another word, another kiss, holding our embrace just one millisecond longer. How different our lives could have been. It was there, I reached out and touched it ever so briefly.

Then I let it go.