THE LAY-AWAY LOVER                                                                (C) Susan Mason
She was never quite comfortable when it came to defining relationships with men.  She’d had
plenty of them, but what she felt wasn’t easily verbalized.  Part of the problem (as she saw it,)
was that most of what she’d felt had been unrequited.  In situations like that, it was safer not
to reveal herself to anyone, much less the object of her desire.
Her longing for love and affection was intense, but never desperate.  Every time she became
enamored of someone, it was easy to see why she might have chosen him.  Typically, he was
beautiful--but not (necessarily) in the conventional sense.  From her childhood crushes to the
choices made in adolescence and adulthood, these men radiated an innate sweetness and
vulnerability which was often hidden beneath layers of pain and sadness.  They were always
talented and intelligent in the arts or sciences...but most had suffered emotional damage
because what made them beautiful and special also set them apart.  It would be easy to
understand why she sought men of this ilk, considering that she too was packaged
“differently.”  But the truth is she never consciously sought “the type.”  She was drawn to
them as were moths to a flame, bees to pollen...a heart to a soul.
In those years which followed the “Wonder-Bread years,” her devotion was accepted but rarely
reciprocated.  Even then, it was only in the most platonic way.  Still, she gave herself without
question.  Somehow, the act of being a friend kept her loneliness at bay.  Except late at night.
In the hours of darkness, her loneliness seemed to swell, consuming her with pain and a need
to create something more than just a diversion.  While the world around her slept, she wove
dreams and fantasies in which she felt whole and strong.  She exorcised her pain by writing in
makeshift diaries, certain that some day, those who had used  (or even worse,) shunned her
would read her and instantly recognize themselves (despite the fact that names were rarely
mentioned.)  Some might try to make amends, but most would be judged by their own
reflections in the mirror.
She survived, despite years of emotional malnutrition.  She took nourishment where and
whenever possible, but never mistook the fulfillment of a physical need for love.
On the eve of her thirtieth year, it seemed as though the tide was turning in her favor.  She’d
met someone who promised her what (until now,) she’d only given to others.  This man
wanted to love her!  It was too good to be true.  He was too good to be true.  Literally.  She fell
in love.  With him, with his promises, with his strength and his weakness...but when his pain
manifested itself in cruelties and acts of deceit against her, the love could not survive.
She escaped with her life.  With the exception of a few bruises, the vessel in which she resided
was unscathed.  Her heart was not so lucky.  No x-ray could show how badly broken it was, but
looking in her eyes, one could see the extent of her injuries with chilling clarity.
She began to heal herself, slowly.  She was relieved to find that some men still found her
desirable, but what they had to offer was not in sync with her needs.  Still, figuring that it was a
step in the right direction, she took solace in physical pleasure--something she hadn’t known
for a long time.  It didn’t take long for her to realize that that could never be enough.  Not
since she had known a greater connection.  Still, from time to time she would seek the comfort
of another warm body.  The sweet, gentle pressure of a kiss, the magic of a passionate embrace
and the closeness and intimacy of lovemaking assured her that she could give and receive
pleasure.  However, it wasn’t long before nights of passion gave way to harsh, cold mornings.
Last night’s lover looked like the stranger he really was, and she was plagued with a cold
emptiness which quickly erased any memory of satisfaction.
While she held out for “something with an afterglow,” three years passed.  Then, she met Him.
Their meeting was fated, he told her.  And he said things she hadn’t heard in a long time.  “I’m
not going anywhere unless you tell me to leave,” he said.  He’d made up his mind about her
almost immediately.
On the night they met, each told the other about the marriages that had failed them.  His
candor was captivating, and his deep brown eyes hypnotic.  He spoke in complete sentences,
touching her constantly.  She felt no threat in his touch.  He told her what a good listener she
was, and she looked at him with amusement, saying “Not really.  It’s just that you haven’t let
me get a word in edgewise!”  He did talk a lot, but she was happy to listen.  in the deepest part
of that warm summer night, he asked if she would let him see her again...She said “Yes.”  He
walked her to the door and gently kissed her good night.  She marveled at the feel of his kiss,
sensing that this man might want something with her, not just from her.
And so, their relationship began.  Their values were seemingly compatible.  It seemed as if
they were searching for the same things, and his determination that their meeting was fated
gave her hope that they might find those things in each other.  Even with all these factors in
their favor, the road seemed inordinately bumpy.
His commitments precluded the spending of time together, but he promised it wouldn’t
always be like this.  She wondered what it would be
like.  In dulcet tones, his words wafted over the telephone line caressing her hopes, diffusing
her doubts.  He lauded her patience and faith, promising that she would be rewarded with “a
good relationship.”
“What defines a good relationship?” she asked.  “The people in it,” he replied.  Vague, yet
She decided to wait, as he had asked.  If she walked away from him now, she might forfeit the
best chance she had of finding real love.  For her, “real and enduring love” was a composite of
friendship, romance and passion that time could not extinguish.
Months passed since he’d found her.  He called less often now, and their
conversations lacked the intensity and flirtatious sense of fun which had made her heart
race--but he said it wasn’t her, that he hadn’t “changed his mind: nor did he feel any
differently about her than he had.  His other obligations were taking an unmerciful toll (on
him.)  She hoped that waiting for him was (still) the right thing for both of them, and that him
knowing she would be there when he “arrived” would help propel him to his journey’s end.
Meanwhile, she remained on the outskirts of his life.  Before she could even contemplate what
their “good relationship: might be like, (well, the truth is that she did speculate some...about
its mood, texture and of course, long-term potential.)  She worried still that he might not
come to her.
Most of the time she felt tentative:  wanted, but not quite taken.  Their relationship happened
in installments, based on his budget.  Sometimes his budget allowed  only a brief encounter,
and on rare occasions, a trip to the movies.  Though days could pass without a phone call and
weeks could go by without a visit, he seemed secure about her.  Yet, when they went to a
movie, he held onto her tightly--as though he was afraid of losing her.
Ironically, that possessive behavior surfaced only when they were together in public.  He didn’t
care for public displays of affection.  That was something he made clear early on.  Yet, his grip
on her was unmistakable.  Sometimes it felt more parental than intimate.  The harder she
tired to understand, the more confused she felt.
In the privacy of her apartment, his touch was pleasing, but not affectionate and it seemed as
if each and every stroke or caress was a means to an end.  Physical contact for the sake
of...physical contact didn’t occur to him.  Certainly not in the same manner it did her.  She had
a ravenous appetite for intimacy.  He allowed her to minister to him but did not reciprocate
even though she had asked him explicitly to do so.  She was (in the words of a Kathy Mattea
song,) “Standing Knee-Deep in a River and Dying of Thirst.”
Lovemaking (his term for the sex they had) was also done “on a shoestring.”  He initiated it by
directing his energies toward giving her pleasure, then taking her for his.  It was physically
satisfying but emotionally devoid of passion and intimacy.  He wouldn’t accept her kisses, and
he only kissed her upon his arrival or departure--rarely both.
His distaste for this crucial expression of tenderness and longing made her doubt her
attractiveness and desirability.  He did not touch her breast or stroke her skin.  As a direct
result, she was starving, and the rate at which her sexual self-esteem and desire for him were
deteriorating seemed to be growing by leaps and bounds.
Whatever he’d done to keep her was not a testament to his romantic prowess.  They were
bound to one another by need.  At the core, their pain was the same, but that’s where the
similarities ended.  After all, not everyone who bleeds needs a bandage.  Some require only
time to heal.
He must have considered himself one of the latter.  She needed (at the very least!) a band-aid.
And she needed him to be something he was not capable of being.  He was not open to the
concept of change for himself, but seemingly demanded it whenever and wherever her
philosophy and expectations exceeded his willingness or ability to give.  The bottom line was
that one day he would arrive to collect his lay-away lover only to find her no longer available.

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