Until now, I’d always been a one-man woman. Sometimes it was the wrong man, or the right man at the wrong time, but it was always just the one. Now I’ve discovered the pleasures of having multiple men in my life at once. I can’t say there is any swooning, but there is great lift to it. Brief as some encounters are, they are the sugar in my coffee, the dab of red paint on my day. For a single woman of a certain age, this has been one of life’s surprises.
New York City, where I live, is an incoming tide of fast walkers and changing neighborhood restaurants. Friends, jobs, ambitions, and romances come and go.
Lust, too. Well most of it, but I’ll come back to that later.
Brief as some encounters are, they are the sugar in my coffee, the dab of red paint on my day.
At first—a period that can last years—you thrive on the newness, the midnights, and the music. Then, one day, the crowds are rushing past you, a conveyor belt of strangers. It could all be so much noise and confusion were it not for my boyfriends—the ones who draw the lines on my map and connect me to my street, my day, my life. Let me introduce you.
My Morning Man
My morning man, Jovino. He reminds me to take an umbrella or button up.
The exchanges accumulate into something that can be called a history.
I laugh at his same old jokes and his salsa. With the state of politics, we agonize about the world together. If I go out-of-town, he promises to take in the mail and water the plants I dearly love on my tiny terrace, just as he did the year I tried living with a man in Seattle and the months I was gone to take care of my sister. It’s been 15 years, and if Jovino ever leaves his job as doorman, I don’t know what I’ll do.
Our only meeting place is between the elevator and the street, and sometimes it’s just a quick hello, an acknowledgement of a good day or bad, but the exchanges accumulate into something that can be called a history.
My Second Avenue Men
Around the corner are Roger and Boris, who’ve made a block of Second Avenue into something of a hometown. Roger owns the bike shop and Boris the pharmacy. They kept their stores open through years of subway construction that left the streets a debris field of bulldozers and men in construction hats. Roger, in his bow tie and jeans, is blessed with a wry smile and a long lease. I wave, we chat. I sent him postcards of da Vinci’s first bike; he asked me to take his geraniums for the winter.
Boris is patient with my questions about arthritis pills or shampoo. His assistant, too, never shows a scowl or shred of indifference. Even if his prices weren’t lower than the discount chains, I’d buy my toilet paper and calcium pills there just to hear him say, “How have you been? Love your glasses.”
My Saturday Man
Saturday mornings mean Billy. I can’t remember when it began, but in summer I walk to the farmer’s market and he yells out, “Be careful, here comes Sara.” He’s as weathered as old rope from hard winters and years (long gone) of drinking with his Vietnam buddies, and as kind as can be. He drove an hour to find the white marigolds I like. We compare our winter’s damage, his heart, my hip, and then which tomatoes to buy. After September, food shopping is just another errand.
They are not the instead-ofs or make-dos, they are real and their constancy over time creates a force field all its own.
These modest, unspectacular encounters may not have the weight of permanence but they are of a lasting value. They are not the instead-ofs or make-dos, they are real and their constancy over time creates a force field all its own. A wave, a laugh, a place to walk. Fragments, perhaps, but it’s foolishness to still think all our pieces fit. Or should.
A married friend told me she never minds when her sink clogs because of the long soulful conversations she has with the man who fixes it. Do I go across town to see Arthur only for the great haircut, to feel prettied? Aren’t our conversations—about happinesses and heartbreaks—part of it now? The playfulness and the poetry. Being encouraged. Being known.
The Man Who Makes You Remember
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to sexual passion. I confess, with more astonishment than embarrassment, to a recent gushing caused by a fantasy boyfriend.
Suddenly I was flirting, pretending not to, imagining he would see me not as I am, but as I felt inside.
The nephew of old friends in Italy, a serious twenty-year-old carved like a marble Roman statue, came to visit medical schools and took me and my loins by surprise. Suddenly I was flirting, pretending not to, imagining he would see me not as I am, but as I felt inside, throbbing with want (although I could never let him see me naked). These passing strangers—they make a fool of you every time.
Memories of your crazy desires make good stories, and I could tour this city pointing out the corners and hotel bars where mine took place. Once, I fell for New York because of its breathlessness and my own, but now—passing strangers notwithstanding—it is the pauses, the familiar faces along an ever curving route. Feelings of connection that show up in different ways and guises. All these funny small touching gestures. They take root in the city’s cement. As do we. Me and my bevy of boyfriends and our moments in time.
A version of this story was originally published in September 2017.