Last week I officially let go of my faux-boyfriend. The moment of truth happened in a lavender room with a gray sofa and wooden lectern at the Office of the City Clerk on Worth Street. Jamie and Tomoko said, “I do,” and smiled. They kissed each other and thanked the clerk. I waited for something to feel different, but it was still Jamie – my Jamie – only clean shaven and in a tux.
It wasn’t till after lunch with his parents and a few friends that it started to hit me. The official letting go happened on the corner of Canal and Broadway. Under a high-noon downtown sun we stood around making awkward jokes and offering hesitating goodbyes. I punched Jamie’s arm – too hard, apparently, “I’m a wimp,” he said – and then touched Tomoko’s shoulder. “I know you’ll both be so happy,” I said to her. “You’re perfect for him.” She seemed moved. I said goodbye and crossed the street alone to get the 6 train.
I met Jamie five years ago at a party in Hell’s Kitchen. He was standing in a hallway behind someone I knew. I smiled at my friend, and Jamie smiled back at me. I fell for him because of his tall stocky frame, strong jaw, sweet eyes, and an energy that, it turned out, was approaching the manic side of bipolar. A few weeks later I found him alone at a midtown sports bar he’d mentioned. He ate wings, I ordered a drink, and he told me he was in a relationship. Standing with him on Sixth Ave, I tucked his scarf into his leather jacket while we decided what to do. He came home with me, gave me a massage, came to bed with me, told me “don’t get attached,” borrowed my copy of Postcards From the Edge (paperback, not DVD), and left.
While I waited to hear from him, he broke up with his girlfriend (it was over with Mona anyway, he said), lost my copy of Postcards, went to Costa Rica with his brother, went on a bipolar spending spree, left his brother at the airport, and landed in a mental ward in Atlanta for a week. Next time I saw him, he was an overmedicated zombie. The bipolar diagnosis wasn’t new, but he was finally talking to specialists and trying to get his meds right.
Jamie is a relationship guy. He’s the opposite of me. He’s good at waiting, he doesn’t judge quickly, and he’s ok sharing his space and giving his time. He tried sharing and giving with me, for months, but it never clicked. Jamie’s no fool. He’s been a talent agent for twenty years. He’s been involved with beautiful actresses and aggressive agents. He’s been in long-term relationships with a dentist, a wedding planner, and a stripper. He knows how to be happy in love, so I assume it didn’t work between us because of some fundamental confusion in my own head. For example: That first night with him was hot, mostly because the undercurrents of his mania were revving me up. I saw him through a fantasy, and it gave us both power and allure.
The reality of Jamie was different. He was in trouble. He needed nurturing and patience. He was human and vulnerable. The more he revealed to me, the more I withdrew as a lover.
My instincts have always been off. I’m aroused by the wrong things. I fall for chemicals and surface charm, not quality. I like fantasies and tragedies.
After one tragedy – a double-whammy involving my grandfather, drunk and belittling, and a boyfriend, moochy and mildly abusive, I called Jamie. He told me to come to a midtown theatre where one of his comedians was filming a Comedy Central special. Before the show, he sat with me at a bar while I drank a scotch and ate yam fries and babbled about my grandfather not loving me and how stupid I was to put up with Mickey. Jamie then ushered me across the street, propped me up against a wall in the back of the theater and stood next to me while the comedian made me laugh so hard my stomach pressed into my spine. After the show and more scotch, I went back to Jamie’s. We had sex, neither of us loved it, and then I lay there in a stupor until I starting crying. I fell asleep in his arms.
I’m not sure what Jamie needed from me, but he told me once, “You’re not afraid of anything.” He suggested, “I’m your beer goggles guy.” He loved that I brought candy from the drugstore to the movies, and he liked my body. There was nothing he could do about my attraction to chemicals and mania; if that’s me trying to escape myself and live in someone else’s extra-human ego, trying to live in a blur by speeding past my insecurities, then there’s nothing Jamie could have done.»
He waited. He let me cry when I needed to. The day my grandfather died Jamie was at my apartment in a flash.
We stopped sleeping together after the first year, more or less, but the warmth never went away. I’ve curled up next him a million times and stared quietly at his walls. I’ve called him when I couldn’t make sense of a recent dating fiasco and couldn’t bear another early night alone watching Sex and the City or Golden Girls on my mini DVD player. He took me to a Mets game at Citi Field and listened to me lust after Martin Prado (Braves) because he reminded me of a personal trainer I’d obsessed over for months. In an intense, sexy, masculine city, where I lose and find myself constantly around every corner, Jamie always responds to my texts and picks up the phone when I call. I go to him, open him up like a sofa-bed, crash on him for a few hours, and go home knowing I’m not alone. But I’ve spent 10 years in New York trying to prove to myself that I’m not alone. During those years I’ve gone mainly for guys who make me feel lonely, rejected guys who make me feel good, and taken many as-yet-undecided situations and worried them into oblivion.
Somehow, I failed to worry Jamie away. He’ll always be there, my big brother, the guy whose constant presence says, “You’re safe, valued, and you can orient to me.” But Jamie got married. He met Tomoko about a year ago, liked her and went with it. She has a kind face. She’s uplifting and cute. She makes amazing maple walnut cookies. She transformed his apartment from dark man-cave to bright, organized home. The once dim rust-cream walls are now a cheery sage, and Tomoko’s bright red sleeper sofa has replaced Jamie’s spine-crumbling black leather couch. She also brought plants, a small shoe rack, spices, dried goods, Hello Kitty figurines and an Elmo stuffed animal. Oddly, it works. It’s Jamie’s place, but cute and clean. Tomoko is home and nestled in.
She has no more concern over me than I have over her. Jamie never lied to her about spending time with me, and she never pressured him to eject me from his life. She brought those cookies to my last birthday dinner.
The truth is, I don’t know what I want. The other truth is, I know what I want, but I’m afraid that if I get it, it’ll be taken away from me. Tomoko may have the same fears tucked away inside her, but she also has some tricks up her sleeve.
She recently suggested to Jamie that he refrain from eating the ice cream in the freezer when she wasn’t there. She wanted them to only eat ice cream together, from now on. Whatever her motivation – to keep him from gaining more weight, to give him a small rule he could break and thereby feel independent, or to make sure there’s ice cream when she gets home from work – Jamie went with it. The idea bothered me at first, but the truth is I’d like a set-up like that. When I want to share ice cream with someone, I pick it up last minute from the corner market, drop by, open the lid, produce two spoons, dig in, and then go back home.
A week after the ceremony I met Jamie at a cinema downtown. He handed me a gift bag. “This is from Tomoko,” he said. “Is it cookies?” “No,” he said. “Did you get it in Atlantic City?” (Their pre-honeymoon.) “No, she had it already,” he said. “We thought you might like it since you’re a cat person.” It was a glass with cartoon cats on it. The cats were portrayed in various feline postures – lounging, cleaning, pouncing – and printed under each was a command the cat was clearly ignoring: Speak, sit, stay. I know I lack all kinds of training. I’m mesmerized by my own inner world. Some people call me independent. What does it take to heed some basic commands? Can I train myself to make some healthy concessions? It should be simple: Wander up to a good guy, make his home my home, leave my ice cream in his freezer. Nestle in, control my passing cravings, and share it with him when he gets home.
Nina Camp is a copywriter and essay writer in New York City. Her recent publishing credits include featured personal essays at The Huffington Post and AOL.com, as well as literary nonfiction pieces featured by the e-zine Ducts.org.