Falling in Louisiana, Smiling in Seattle

All rights © Marc Vandecasteele

And then one night he told me about his heart transplant. He was 19.

He told me about the day he finally met the boy’s mother. Ten years later. A full decade after the surgery he felt like he was finally ready to meet her. He sent me a picture of them together.

Swan dive. In an instant life seemed like it was suddenly so acutely fleeting, careening away from us —and too bitterly fucking precious, too short for dating games. Suddenly I wanted him in my arms. I wanted to hold him and rock him while I stroked his back and murmured how happy I was he was still here. I wanted to soothe him the way his voice soothed me.

His voice was edible. Caloric. I suggested he should record audiobooks which immediately offended him. He took it to mean I found his voice dull enough to bore me to sleep. But it was rich and full and literary, a late-night story or a lullaby, brie melting off bread.

I don’t remember what metaphors I tried to gift him with so he would understand. I knew I couldn’t say it felt like an embrace even though it did. It was too soon for honesty. Whatever I wound up saying he understood. His consternation was gone and his voice was all spun honey and warm soil again.

Ohhh ... Ok. I’ll be that deep voice that drifts you off to sleep …

What an impossibly sweet thing to offer, the virgin sacrifice who receives no pleasure from the selfless act but the knowledge of the greater good.

When I got his first message, a simple missive from a 30-year-old in New Orleans I wasn’t initially inclined to write him back. But I read his profile and saw that he was 6’4”. He was Black and said that he can’t swim and that he’s been fulfilling stereotypes since 1983. I laughed, charmed by his self-effacing humor — and his height, let’s be honest — and decided to write him back. Despite the fact that he was younger and on the other side of the country.

After all, what I wanted was to meet The One. Just like every other unique snowflake. I wasn’t going to settle for he-who-just-happens-to-already-be-in-my-zipcode. My dream was to find my timeless love, my Croatian stork, my Japanese-husband-planting-flowers-for-his-blind-wife-to-smell. A sweet and deep intimacy that builds slowly but lasts forever. I was 34 and divorced and finally unashamed to admit that I wanted an amazing love.

Our daily conversations came quickly and easily. Our first text messages were sweet but simple inquiries. The first time I asked him how his day was his response was upbeat and gentlemanly.

Went to dinner, the Saints managed to win, got a nice run in. And I earned the privilege of getting your number. Great day.

That night we talked for six hours. I was wracked with guilt the next morning as he was not only three hours ahead but also had to be at work but I didn’t. He wanted to talk again the next night when he couldn’t sleep. I was torn between wanting to warm myself in the sunset of his voice but also not wanting to exacerbate his insomnia.

Do you have any peppermint tea? I asked him, hoping to encourage a quiet winding down as it was already late.

A whole container of it! He responded with the charm and effervescence I at first assumed was his personality. I would later learn it was a front for a deep depression.

(I bought it the day I learned I didn’t like peppermint tea) he followed up, making me laugh again. He was adorable.

We wrote back and forth a few times. Each message made me smile. Some made me laugh. Which I told him. And that made him blush. Which he admitted. He told me it was now his goal to make me blush every day. And he did. Our flirty messages naturally progressed into flirty phone calls. We talked deeply and openly about growing up Catholic, about the cultural differences between Lousiana Black Catholics and third-generation white mutt Catholics. About our families. Our fears. Our favorite music and movies. The ethereal lost-in-space echo of Planet Caravan.

If you want me to listen to Black Sabbath and drink red wine I will. But only if you’re in my arms.

Maybe it was just a line. But fuck I liked it.

I sent him a song I’d been playing on repeat, a bare diaphanous soprano. I want to make out with you to this song all. day. long. he responded. There was a behind-the-bleachers middle-school charm to him saying “make out”.

He made me laugh. A lot. He was tall and smart and funny. He hadn’t read Umberto Eco in ages but he was convinced that I shouldn’t be intimidated by it. I’d just bought two of his books at my favorite secondhand store and had yet to read either. A woman like you can handle it, he told me. It had been years since he read In the Name of the Rose but his next read was going to be Prague Cemetery. As deliberately pretentious as ‘sapiosexual’ reads now I didn’t know that word back then. But I probably would’ve tried to impress him with it if I had.

Everything was a rope swing across the river at the beginning, light and fun like childhood summers. He was flirty without being pushy, inquisitive without prying. I could feel an involuntary smile light across my face every time he texted. He texted consistently. It felt natural. Each firefly night-bright with possibility.

His charm and enthusiasm didn’t seem disingenuous at first. His flirtiness had a calm patience to it. He wanted to make me blush. The first time I told him I was blushing, his response was unexpectedly affectionate and unmistakably Southern. Adorable as always, darlin.

Was I ‘darlin’ already? As much self-control as it took, I tried to encourage him to go to sleep. Our new weeknight all-nighters were not sustainable and we both knew it.

Want me to read you to sleep? Something boring like an HVAC instruction manual? I offered when he woke up in the middle of the night (his time) and texted me just before my bedtime.

How did you know EXACTLY what I’m hoping Santa brings me this year?!?! His response was instantaneous and even via text he sounded wide awake.

Female intuition? I wrote back in an attempt to keep the conversation short.

From over 2,000 miles away? They call that vooodoo around here you know. I’d be scared if I weren’t crushing so much.

I was taken aback by the admission. And I believed him. But I wasn’t ready to reciprocate. I was not about to divulge actual feelings yet.

Instead, I told him I loved falling asleep to the sound of rain.

Alice-in-Wonderland-deep into a bottle of cab one night we were on the phone again. Nights like that feel more like patchwork, swatches of color, than hallucination but I remembered little the mornings after, kaleidoscoped details that never quite told the whole story.

Somehow we got to talking about getting dressed for work. I told him I wanted to put my heels on so I was tall enough to tie his tie for him. He said he was purposely going to do horrible knots so I’d have to pull him down by the tie to fix them. I thought that was adorable and told him I would. And I’d kiss his neck while I fixed any knot he’d sabotaged. Run my tongue along his jawline. Stroking his face when I finally pressed my lips full against his, soft driftwood against the wet sand.

It was only a matter of time before long-distance flirting turned into phone sex. Another glass of wine.

I remember moaning into the phone, writhing on the couch, telling him too much, pouring more wine, not disguising my breathing after a while.

I took a deep breath and told him how I liked it. I admitted how much I wanted to start with affection, his hands in my hair, then cupping my face, looking down into my eyes. I told him how rough I wanted it once I felt safe, trusting, then — only then — would I want to be held down and taken, how exhilarating it is to be scared when you know you’re safe. How comforting it can feel to be overpowered by a good man pinning you down by the wrists and muffling your screams with his deep full kiss. I wanted him to ravage me as much as I wanted him to protect me.

My body was throbbing. I was kneeling on the blue couch and clutching my phone like a grenade.

I don’t remember when my phone died. I don’t remember where I fell asleep that night, whether I blacked out on the couch or actually brushed my teeth and made it upstairs. Back then I usually put down a bottle of wine by myself. Mostly reds. Sometimes with a whiskey chaser. It made it easier to sleep alone but of course I wasn’t admitting that to myself yet.

Bleary and hungover the next morning, my phone still dead, I sat in my cold car shivering, waiting for the damn thing to recharge. I was housesitting for my friend/former neighbor, in her adjacent half of the duplex my ex-husband and his new girlfriend and her white dreads still lived in. I had forgotten my wall charger. I was grateful I had never heard my ex-husband and his new girlfriend or the beads and shells in her white dreads but I suddenly wondered if they had heard me. He was cemetery-silent in bed. Jay and Silent Bob-silent. I’ve been in libraries louder than he is so I likely wouldn’t hear them no matter how hard she fucked him. We had parted amicably and I was at peace with our breakup but that didn’t mean I wanted to hear the woman he’d replaced me with on my way out our door. Or worse, hear him audibly enjoying sex for the first time because she was some kind of magic I was never able to conjure. He was the first person to talk to me about my drinking.

As I sat there shivering in my car, hoping neither of them would come check the mail, the Pavlovian ping of text messages gave me that instantaneous gratification. I still didn’t know what time it was. But the dopamine rush crashed fast. There were lots of apology texts I didn’t understand until I scrolled back.

Although he still had his boxers on, it was still the fabled dick pic — unsolicited. He had sent it during the night after I blacked out or my phone died. I don’t know which one happened first. But I doubt I requested bathroom selfies.

He was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, most of his face cropped, his mouth hanging open in mock surprise. His body was beautiful. He was a lovely man. Strong but not Narcissistically sculpted. His hard-on was so big it immediately made me think of that huge rectangular block of ice that shot out of the rain gutter in Christmas Vacation when Chevy Chase fell off the ladder. This dick could probably break windows too so I’m sure it would wreck me. It looked wide enough to be a footbridge. And tall. Like a sideways building.

I was impressed. But I wasn’t ready for any of it, perpendicular skyscraper or not. Navigating cross-country intimacy would be difficult enough without rushing it.

Since I’d stopped responding whenever my phone died he thought I was upset or angry. After the dick pics were the apologies.

We both apologized for getting carried away, for showing too much of our full selves too soon. Our carefully crafted romance, the beautiful songs balanced by friendly college football banter, had been sexualized over the phone in one fell swoop. In the light of day it felt more awkward than sexy.

Not long after that, he had another heart attack. I didn’t know that. I just thought he had ghosted me so I stopped texting him. Weeks or months later, who remembers anymore, he accused me of ghosting him and said that he was mad at God and life and me and didn’t know what he wanted to do.

And he stopped signing his text messages like love letters: Falling in Louisiana.

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