FULL STORY APPEARS IN THE JULY 2009 ISSUE!
It’s the firsts with Dale that stand out in my mind. Like the first time he smiled at me; the first time our hands accidentally collided when we both reached for the sugar at the South City Diner, how Dale had withdrawn his hand and let me have the sugar, and how I’d wished I’d let go and taken Dale’s hand back instead. How we stood outside Dale’s front door while I hemmed and hawed until, after a silent, awkward moment, Dale asked me if I’d like to come inside.
And other firsts, I remember those too.
We were lying in bed; it was our fourth—date? I didn’t know what to call it. I was on vacation, visiting my friend Eleanor in St. Louis. Dale was her tenant. He lived in the upstairs unit of her two-family house on Arsenal across from Tower Grove Park. I hadn’t spent much time with Eleanor, and I would have felt guilty about that if I hadn’t been spending most of my time in Dale’s bed, which tended to keep my mind off of anything else.
It was Thursday afternoon. I had just finished telling Dale about my stable but boring upbringing in rural Maryland and asked him where his parents lived.
“Yeah, that.” Dale stretched his arms over his head, tucking his hands underneath the pillow. “It’s kind of complicated.”
My chin was resting on Dale’s abdomen and I stared up the line of his sternum to his face. Dale continued to stare at the ceiling. “What, were you born on an airplane or something?”
“No, not exactly.”
“Well then, how is it complicated? I mean, everyone’s born somewhere.”
Dale sat up, dislodging me from my resting spot. He drew himself up into a cross-legged sitting position, his back against the headboard. “It’s just that I don’t exactly know where I was born.”
“Oh.” I reached out and placed my hand on Dale’s forearm. The hairs were soft; they were so blond you almost couldn’t tell they were there except by touch. Touching him that way was arousing, but I tried to ignore it for the moment. “Were you adopted? It’s not like there’s anything wrong with that, you know.”
“No, it’s not that. Look, do we have to talk about this?”
What was this about? “Why shouldn’t we talk about this?”
Barely audible, Dale said, “Because you’ll think I’m crazy.”
“I don’t know about that.” I sat up too. “But you’re beginning to drive me a little crazy. What is it? You’re not in this country illegally, are you?”
Dale lifted his head, alarm painted in broad strokes across his face. “What makes you say that?”
“Well, what else is there? You’re not adopted, you weren’t born in transit. Either you’re not of woman born and this is some Shakespearean weirdness, or you’re an illegal alien. So which is it?”
Dale sighed. “I’m not illegal, but I’m an alien.”
I threw up my hands. “Well, why be so coy about it? Most people have a certain national pride, you know. Unless you’re from Canada. Every Canadian I’ve met has had an inferiority complex. Is that where you’re from?”
Dale shook his head. “You still don’t get it.”
“I know.” I was going to start yelling any minute, I knew it. Great, our first argument. Would there be make-up sex? “You’re being so evasive, for all I know you’re going to tell me you’re an alien from Mars or something.”
“Well, not Mars. More like ‘or something.’”
“Oh.” I looked down at my hands. “Oh.” I was sitting cross-legged too, the sheet tucked over my lap. I wasn’t feeling aroused anymore. What should I say next? Are you sure? Are you nuts? I couldn’t say that, though. It was what he was expecting, I could tell.
I’m sure I wasn’t quiet for long, but it was long enough that he looked at me in that way that wasn’t accusatory, but made me feel like I was accusing him with my silence.
“So,” I blurted; I had to say something. “You don’t remember anything about home?”
He shook his head and started talking about being brought up in the foster system, bouncing among a few families in California until he was a legal adult and on his own, as he had been ever since. I don’t remember many details of what we talked about after that —jobs, education, friends—and eventually we segued into the make-up sex that I’d wondered about earlier. Of course, we hadn’t really had an argument, but it was close enough, and he seemed so relieved that I didn’t think he was crazy that he really put his effort into it.
But I wasn’t relieved, and I wasn’t sure I didn’t think he was crazy. Afterwards, when I was lying in bed still exhausted and Dale was taking a shower, these things flipped over and over in my head. Of course he couldn’t be an alien; that was absurd.
Where was he really from, though? What happened to his parents? And what happened to make him believe in such an outlandish fabrication of his background?
The questions piled up as I lay there thinking. I wished I could go back to my happy ignorance of just a couple hours earlier, when I was high enough on lust that I didn’t need to know where this exciting new man in my life was from. And the longer I lay there, the more I realized how little I knew about him.